World Travelers

Text: Ramona Eichhorn • Photography: RoadRUNNER Staff

"Ramona, please see to it that Uwe brushes his teeth properly!" exclaimed his mom, a dentist, when I gently broke the shocking news that her son and I were planning a motorcycle trip around the world. Her little birdie was about to leave his warm nest and fly away for the next five years - more than enough time, in her mind, for some serious dental decay to set in.

Uwe and I had grown up as neighbors in a sleepy village in the mountains of the Thuringian Forest on the southernmost edge of what was formerly East Germany. We lived only a stone's throw from the deadly Berlin Wall, and when we climbed a hill we could look into the west and catch a glimpse of a castle on the other side.

Traveling was highly restricted in the communist bloc. Like many others, we dreamed about lands on the other side of the Iron Curtain that we only knew of from the maps we studied in our geography lessons. Sometimes, we thought of escape. But there were three barbed wire fences guarded day and night, landmines, bloodthirsty dogs and booby traps. This was more than enough to smother the most adventurous spirit. In those days, under those circumstances, thoughts of achieving any freedom of movement were only entertained by the connected or the deranged.

The fall of "The Wall" in 1989 came as a surprise. For the first time in our lives, we were free people, no longer caged. It was the best thing that had ever happened to us!

But after a couple of years in the new democratic system, we felt that a conventional life in good old Germany was not our cup of tea. There had to be more to life than working, consuming and sleeping. Did money also rule the rest of the world?

We questioned the values we were brought up with. How did people view things in other cultures? The desire to discover the world beyond the televised "reality" grew. The horizon was calling us. And when Uwe, already making plans for a trip around the world, asked if I would come along, I was only too willing.

There was, however, one condition: It had to be on a motorcycle. And why not? The only problem was that I did not know how to ride one. By mid-November I finally had a license in my pocket. The very next day winter arrived and heavy snow fell. Therefore, my "riding experience" was severely limited to a short trip to my office and back - without luggage. I would eventually have to improve my "riding skills" on the way! It was like a jump into icy water.

Even our closest friends doubted us. They thought we were nuts and would likely be defeated within a month at the latest.

But for us, there was no turning back. We had already quit our jobs, sold our belongings and stowed away the rest in our panniers.

On March 8, 2001, we waved goodbye to our families and set off for the Middle East to dive into a completely strange and fascinating culture.

From there, we wanted to travel the length of Africa and ride along the Nile, going from Egypt down to South Africa. If we should happen to survive the Sahara Desert and the "wild men" on the way, we would then jump over to Australia like kangaroos.

Down Under done, New Zealand is next, and then our journey takes us from the southernmost tip of South America to Alaska.
Finally, we travel to Japan, take a ferry to Siberia and ride our steel mounts back to their German barn via Asia.

The choice of motorbike was a compromise. We wanted to ride off the beaten track - mainly on dirt, gravel and sand - and, somehow, intuitively, we knew that the worst roads always lead to the most beautiful places.

I preferred a light bike that I could drag out of a ditch myself. I had already figured that dropping it would take up a great part of my journey. But, of course, I also wanted some power, and I knew that Uwe's male ego would suffer terribly should a little scooter ever overtake him.

We wanted to travel as light as possible and only take one set of spares and tools. Therefore, the two machines had to be identical. We could simply swap parts when facing a difficult technical problem, which would then make detecting the fault easier.

Uwe had ridden a 640 KTM before and had thoroughly enjoyed it. Based on that, we chose its big sister, the KTM 640 Adventure. This motorbike had everything we wanted: a solid seven-gallon tank providing a range of 350 miles and an excellent suspension. With its rally-proven chassis, it was ready made for the big trip off-the-shelf.

However, on my first ride, I discovered that the KTM was none too comfy and vibrated a bit. Oh, well - our buns would certainly get used to that, I thought, imagining the tough, reptilian rump I'd have in five years.

Before setting off, we made some modifications: Uwe swapped the original mechanical clutches for hydraulics and used stronger clutch springs. He mounted a CLS automatic chain lube system, Touratech panniers and Neoprene fork cuffs. He also used a CDI unit with a different ignition sequence for low-octane fuel. A friend welded a 10-litre aluminum toolbox around the original engine protection, and though it didn't look particularly pretty, it was practical for the storage of tools and spares, with the advantage of lowering the center of gravity. The handlebars were lifted, and heated grips installed. And then sports mufflers were mounted to add some torque and scare the lions away.

Even though we were traveling on a shoestring budget - camping and cooking our own "gourmet food" on a petrol stove - we still needed to earn some money during our trip. And we couldn't think of a better way of doing that than to become travel writers and let others take part in our adventures. So, here we are - wherever you are. Please join us.

In the next issue, we'll relate our take on the journey through the Middle East and reveal a secret: why the Arabs loved us.