The Lads & Advice Section

The Tokyo to London Project was born out of a disastrous ski trip to Falls Creek in Victoria.Walter Colebatch and James Mudie started dreaming up the idea on the two day drive back to Brisbane.That was September 1993.James was near the end of a Law degree and Walter was half way through a Business degree.Over the next three to four weeks, endless nights were spent pouring over atlases and encyclopaedias before a real route and real obstacles began to emerge.

Walter Colebatch, James Mudie - Ulaan Baatar, MongoliaThe first major obstacle were that as students, neither Walter nor James actually had any money.The only way we could fund such an audacious adventure would be to get someone else (sponsors) to pay for it.But unless we are offering media exposure, sponsors had no interest.So the key from the start was to get sufficient media interest to attract the sponsors.The sponsors could then offer us the cash and equipment we needed and the whole thing could be funded.

The second major obstacle was that China doesn't let people just motor around the countryside like most countries do.In fact we were endlessly told that it couldn't be done.The only way it seemed China would let us go there with bikes was if we were accompanied by a tour guide in a jeep.And that would cost US$150 per day.We didn't like the idea of being babysat around China, and in any case, the lack of cash ensured we threw that alternative out the window.

In the end we simply had no choice but to put the heads down and do a lot of creative thinking.Nine months of faxing, letters, telephone calls all over the world followed.In the end, everything came together, just in time.We weren't 100% sure that the project was actually "on" until around 14 days before we departed.But it was the restrictions and difficulty we had getting permission for China that ended up being what attracted the media to the trip.....and without media, we could forget sponsorship.

James finished his last law exam 3 hours before we boarded the flight to Tokyo.He was quite literally picked up from University examination rooms and driven directly to the airport.He found out when we were in Inner Mongolia that he actually had passed all his subjects, which we both thought at the time was quite remarkable in itself.

So finally after nine months of work, involving around 3 hours each per day, we were underway.The journey itself took six months.We arrived in England just before Christmas 1994.Two more months were spent sponging off friends in the UK while we recuperated, compiled the story and went through the 12,000 slides from the trip.

Walter Colebatch, James Mudie - Mongolian GrasslandsWalter returned to Australia in February 1995 to go back to University and finish his tragically interrupted degree. He moved to the UK in 2000 and works as an investment banker in London. James just couldn't get off his damn bike and spent most of 1995 touring Europe under the guise of selling the story, before finally returning to Australia to pick up his degree. He also ended up in the world of finance, moved to his beloved Japan in 1998 and is now managing credit derivatives for an investment bank in Tokyo. Readers will be pleased to learn that we made back the $10,000 we borrowed at the last minute to make the trip, by selling the story to motorcycle magazines. The end result is we actually came out a little ahead financially, plus we had 2 bikes and a load of top quality gear, and of course the rich experience of the trip of a lifetime.Not bad going considering we literally started with nothing.

THANKS & ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

James Mudie In roughly chronological order:The Australia-China friendship society in Melbourne for their letters of support - which may have helped sway the Chinese officials; Tony Hill in Sydney for logistics advice; Phil Beaumont in Brisbane for lending us a couple of bikes for assorted media commitments, James' surrogate family for housing and feeding us in Tokyo, Tamsin from the Australian Consulate in Shanghai for the guarantee we would take the bikes out of China, Lyall Crawford who housed us in that mighty big black compound in Beijing. Jwee San Tan for general help in and around Beijing and showering us with more chocolates on leaving Shanghai and Beijing than we could carry;Qiqige for her efforts at the Mongolian Consulate in Huhhot.Erkhembaatar and Gerlee who housed us, fed us and put up with arriving back in Ulaan Baatar at 5am... three times.DHL for losing 40 rolls of valuable exposed film somewhere between Ulaan Baatar, Leverkusen and Moscow and showing no interest in finding it;To the gang of expats from the Intourist Hotel in Irkutsk who all helped stop us going mad while we waited for our spares in Siberia, thanks to John and Patty (Rolls-Royce) Brooks; Barry (Boeing) Parmenter; Sally the Stewardess; Chris, Cathy and the folks at the Raleigh International camp; Marina Vozniak - the nicest woman who has ever charged me US$7 per minute for faxing services; Mel, Kamal and Veronica for putting us up (and for putting up with us) while we waited for our spares; All the lovely girls at the Irkutsk Foreign Languages Institute for showing me around town and for laughing at my Russian.Walter ColebatchA very big thanks to Igor and the crew at the Irkutsk Toyota dealership for doing such a good job on our "Sukhoi jet fighter" brake pads and refusing to take payment.Thanks to David Waterhouse and all the crew at Telstra Almaty for taking in a couple of dirty, smelly guys who'd spent a couple of days crossing a desert - and to the British Embassy in Almaty for avoiding (like the plague) a couple of dirty, smelly guys who'd just crossed the desert:To Kristina and family for housing us in Vladimir and guiding us around Suzdal:To various staff at the Australian, British and Canadian Embassies in Moscow for their help:To Valdis Brants, who found us, housed us and looked after us in Riga:To Asko Hakkinen (and Finlandia Vodka) who in his absence arranged 5 star accommodation in downtown Helsinki:To the guys at Brandt Honda in Helsinki:To Malin and Cecelia who took exceptionally fine care of us in Stockholm:Roger Brown in Vienna and Rachel Mor and family in Moscow and Fontainebleau for same, and finally a very big thanks to Andrew (Swizzels) Matlow, Cathy Woellwarth, (Big) John Daley, Pete Bantick and Melanie Devlin for so graciously letting us sponge for two months after the trip! The "Tokyo to London" story and photographs were published in around a dozen countries throughout the world, but predominantly in Europe where interest in motorcycle travel and adventure is highest. For more on Walter's motorcycle travels, follow this link to www.Endless-Highway.info

 

ADVICE, TIPS, and ESSENTIAL READING

If you are planning your own trip, then I hope this small advice section will help.Hopefully some questions will have been answered by this story. The most comprehensive advice site for international moto-touring is at www.horizonsunlimited.com - AKA "The Bible".Horizons Unlimited has a widely used bulletin board with up to date commentaries on what borders are open, what roads are passable and good lively debate about what bike does the job best. Also housed on a branch of that side iswww.horizonsunlimited.com/forwood/.When it comes to exotic motorcycle travel, Peter Forwood is the daddy.He has compiled an index of motorcycle travel experience by country and has 177 countries under his belt, from every continent.Whereever you wonder if its possible to go on a motorcycle, Pete has been there, done that ... on a Harley.Peter's journeys everywhere from Afghanistan to Zambia are well documented and make for good reading.Worth a visit is Eric Haws' site at http://rio.com/~tynda/.Eric has put together a useful though sometimes hard to follow site that provides links to all sorts of moto-touring adventures.

Walter Colebatch, James Mudie - Cold Siberian Campsite Another essential site is www.adventure-motorcycling.com.The Adventure Motorcycle Handbook is full of tips on bikes to take, clothes to take, documentation to carry....all the technical details, and is of particular use if your destination is Africa.The author, Chris Scott, is a desert biking / Africa specialist. A good read (especially for the financial minded biker) is Jim Rogers' book, Investment Biker.Jim packed up his New York hedge fund life, spent 18 months starting in 1991 and rode pretty much everywhere.From Ireland to Japan via Turkey and Central Asia; then back to Ireland via Siberia and Russia; down across the Sahara and through Zaire to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand; finally from Tierra del Fuego in South America to Alaska and back to the US.Two people, on two bikes.Jim's girlfriend who accompanied him on the trip had never even ridden before they decided to make the trip, so that in itself should wipe out a whole bunch of excuses not to make a trip for yourself. Of course, there is the guy who started it all, Ted Simon, and his book "Jupiters Travels". Ted travelled around the world over 3-4 years 1973-1977, and has recently repeated the trip almost 30 years later, aged 70+. His book began the adventure by motorcycle craze and he even was bizarrely whisked in to Mongolia to make a guest appearance for Ewan McGregor's documentary (see below), rode down the main street of UB and then got sent home. I can only assume the producers thought that would add 'street cred'. At least it boosted the sales of Ted's book.

Also of interest and more recent is Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman's 2004 ride from London to New York, via Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Siberia and Alaska. While a lot of other adventure bikers criticise them for enjoying the luxury of a support crew (yes, it is much easier when you have half a dozen people planning it for you and 2 four wheel drives to carry all the crappy luggage like spares and tyres), have 3 trucks and a cohort of locals escort you all the way from Yakutsk to Magadan, not to mention their bizarre decision to put their bikes on the train to Skovorodino when President Putin made such a huge fuss just a few months previous of declaring the Trans Siberian Highway finally "complete". Adventure biking is still short of 'on the ground' video footage and is mostly documented by photographs and text. James Mudie LWR thus builds on the pioneering work done by the British "Mondo Enduro" expedition of 1995/96 (see below) in bringing adventure motorcycling to the small screen. Whether you like the Long Way Round or not, one thing it has undeniably done is to boost the profile of adventure motorcycling dramatically.

Thanks to the Long Way Round, people who know nothing about motorcycles get the concept of the long ride across the world. I would estimate at least 1000 people cross Siberia on a motorcycle annually now, between May and September (only a pair of halfwits would be still trying to cross it in October). It is however unfortunate that the LWR producers edited out all the meetings with other motorcycle travellers they met along the way, but if they showed how easy it was and how many people do it these days, then it would hardly make it look like a challenging adventure now would it?

Probably the most interesting, genuine and original documentaries I have seen in recent years are 'Mondo Enduro' and 'Terra Circa', by Austin Vince and the Mill Hill gang. In Mondo Enduro, (click for video link) a group of 7 guys sets out from London in April 1995 (4 months after we arrived in the UK, and just 2 months before the first instalment of our story hit the UK motorcycle press) to ride around the world.Over a year later, 3 of the original guys made it back into London. This is followed up by Terra Circa, (click for video link) a 2001 venture that sets off with 6 guys to go from London to New York via Kazakhstan, and Magadan in Siberia .... basically the template for Long Way Round 3 years later. The contrast in styles with Long Way Round could hardly be more different though, as the Mill Hill crew ride tiny 350 cc Suzuki bikes and run strict cost reduction policies such as always camping out, and self catering. They eschew sponsorship - or at least purport to. During preparation they "pooh pooh" the over-prepared "German" notion of $1000 custom fabricated aluminium panniers for the more "authentic" approach of strapping a 6 steel surplus British Army ammunition box to the back of each bike. Excellent entertainment and a load of fun. These DVDs are the templates that Long Way Round purchased during their preparations and unashamedly copied, but unfortunately (or unpleasantly) failed to acknowledge. A more modern, funky and Polish tribute to Mondo Enduro came out recently, called MotoSyberia (available at www.MotoSyberia.com), and documents a journey from Poland to Magadan. It's more like Mondo Enduro meets MTV with snazzier, modern editing.

For reference sake, as at 2011 it still appears that China is difficult (or near impossible) to get permission to travel through under your own steam and without a guide. As we found out 16 years ago, it is possible, but you have to be patient and try every door you can as many times as you can.If you don't have the patience, either pay up for a guide the whole way or skip China altogether. All the information I can give on that subject is on already on here.

Finally, if motorcycle adventures in Mongolia and Siberia float your boat, then you may want to take a look at more recent website, documenting 3 crossings of The Eurasian landmass, via Siberia and Mongolia, in 2009 and 2010 - Siberian Extreme - www.SibirskyExtreme.com




Publication Media

The story and photographs behind the Tokyo to London Project were published in 13 magazines around the globe, including:
Walter Colebatch

colebatch@hotmail.com
All text and images copyright © 1994; Walter Colebatch and James Mudie www.TokyotoLondon.com