This is the travelblog of Cyril Ducau and Niccolo Manno on their adventure from London (Cyril), Munich (Niccolo) to Hong Kong on motorbikes.
It took us short of 3 months to do 20,000km on bikes, trains and planes. We crossed the following countries together:

Austria - Italy - Slovenia - Croatia - Serbia - Bulgaria - Turkey - Georgia - Azerbaijan - Turkmenistan - Uzbekistan - Kyrgyzstan - Kazakhstan - Russia - Mongolia - China - Hong Kong

On this site you will find some info on both of us, our bikes, some of our friendly helpers in Hong Kong and London and loads of pictures on our trip. 

Latest top picture

Latest top picture
Thanks for watching our blog - Enjoy as we did it!

Our path

Our path
Click picture to download Google Earth kmz file !

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Finally Hong Kong




We arrived in Hong Kong, our final destination on this trip (Cyril still got to go to London) Monday night. We were both relieved and happy that we both arrived healthy, but somehow sad that the journey is ended.
I was more than glad to sleep in MY bed, such a great feeling. Cyril on the other hand was clearly missing me in his room after all, I broke the tradition. 
Cyril seemed to be impressed about the city and its super-high skyscrapers whilst I just found it reassuring to be back.
We met good HK friends yesterday night for a drink and celebrated the successful completion of this adventure.
Today's biggest mission will be to get our BLOODY BEARD shaved! I hope we'll find a good barber.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Beijing

After 30hrs in the train we have finally arrived in Beijing. I was so excited in the train and couldn't sleep as I was going to see Manon again after 3 months. I picked her up at the airport and was soooo glad to see her again. She was quite shocked to see her Barbarossa. She really doesn't like my beard, I wonder why...

We are staying at Laurent's (a friend from HK) place. Thank you so much for the hospitality Lolo.



Beijing is so modern and so big that it seems impressive in particular coming from Ulaanbaatar. We spent today visiting the forbidden city, some smaller roads and the parks in the centre of the city. We had an excellent day of visits with Manon. We really appreciated the nice warm weather after all the cold we had along the trip. We were sweating but at least we got excellent shots of Beijing.

Tomorrow we will go and see the Great Wall.

Ciao Mongolia and our Motorbikes

Our last 48-hours in UB were quite hectic and after visting the cultural highlights of the city, a day rock-climbing in the Terelji Natural Park (only a few kilometers away from UB) and a lot of time trying to sort out the shipping of the bikes we finally left beautifull Mongolia.
The shipping of the bikes proved so far to be far more complicated than expected and despite spending a lot of time running around UB and opting for the safe (and more expensive) option with DHL, we have still a lot of doubts that the bike will ever make it back home. We spent most of day last Wednesday at a timber factory dismounting the bikes in the smallest possible space and watching the crates litterally being custom-bulit around the bikes. Quite impressive indeed even if the bill turned out to be much more than expected...
We left UB onboard the Transiberian on Thursday morning for a 30-day journey to Beijing. This is exactely what one would expect from such a trip; nice landscapes and most of the time is spent reading and sleeping in a 4-people cabin. The border crossing process was fairly simple but we were quite impressed by the change of wheels on the train wagons to accomodate for the different systems between Mongolia and China. They separate the entire train, elevate each cars 2meters above the ground and change all the wheel-base.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Waiting in UB

Yesterday was a bad day for me. I hoped the mechanics would come to see if he could repair my suspension and he never came. The guesthouse is far from town and hence I spent the day reading...not bad to have a real quiet day.
Today, we went in town and visited some remaining cultural sights and museums.
Tomorrow we expect to crate the bikes and to ship them back home...byebye girls, we will miss ya!

Albert to answer some of your questions:
I had the suspension pre-load 7 clicks out and the damper 1 turn out, so I was riding full hard suspension. I was travelling lighter than usual as we left some stuff in UB, so it must have been premature failing.
For China, if you have no ties to China, go for it and ride illegally but it seems with HK in the back of your mind, I wouldn't try it. China will open-up at some time and then we will be able to check it out. If you need any more advice, post me a private chat on the HUBB and I will give you my details.
Good luck on your trip, you will love it.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Gobi - the end it is...or so it seems right now

Yesterday was a good and a very bad day...good as the weather was alright and we finally left Ulaanbaatar to go into the Gobi desert for a 5-day tour, the last destination for our bikes...bad as my rear suspesion broke down in the middle of the desert! This meant, riding back ultra slowly (1st and sometimes 2nd gear) and with no traction on the rear tyre, finding a small truck and then riding in the truck back to UB. We left at around 10ish and arrived in UB in the guesthouse at dark past 21h30, hence a long but fun day of driving for Cyril who felt like a Paris-Dakar competotor. By the way, Cyril's carbs were playing up a bit again, so both bikes suffered in the end...it seems they are just screaming STOP!!!
Unless I find someone that can repair the suspension today or tomorrow, this means the end of the trip for the bikes (they'll thank us for that).
The desert was interesting as so different from all the other places we have been so far in Mongolia. It was great riding again and the track were ok. I realised that Cyril and I had really got the hang out of the offroad riding as we weren't scared of sand, corugated tracks etc... and mastered the bikes well and with quite high speed.
This morning we washed the bikes - in case someone wants to buy them and mine was full of oil from the suspension - and Cyril also cleaned his carburtor one more time (full of dust - the air filter is definitely dead).

The next steps are shipping the bikes back home (not so simple...), taking the Transsiberian to Beijing next Thursday and flying to HK on Monday 26th. This will mark the official end of the trip.

We've posted new pictures in the photo album.
See you soon!
Chopat tu vas prendre cher.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

SOS Children Village Ulaanbaatar

Today, we spent some time with SOS Children Village in Ulaanbaatar.
It was great to be amongst the children, to talk to their SOS mothers and the admin staff.
The children really enjoyed the view of two men with beard on their bikes. They sat on our bikes, started the engines and reved them so high, Cyril and I were a bit worried, but it was fun.
(Cyril and Nicco in a SOS Children Village home)

SOS Children Village Ulaanbaatar looks after 130 children in Ulaanbaatar and are building a new village up North, in Darkhan. The children come from numerous backgrounds but with one need, the love of a family. SOS gives them a mother and the required attention to give the kids a chance to succeed in life. The children are taken-up in the village at 0-10 years old and usually stay until they finished school (18 years old). SOS Children Village also does some parenting courses in order to reduce the amount of orphans and mistreated children (nothing beats a good working biological family).

(Cyril going for a spin)

(Nicco going for a spin)

Please remember that we are raising funds for SOS Children Village. Click on the link to the right and give them any donation or alternatively use the account details I sent in my first email. The best way is to "adopt" a child with a small monthly donation. Please remember that SOS is a private charity and hence doesn't receive any government funds, so we need to act.

Thanks for your help, the children will love you for that.

Future steps in our journey

Hi all,

yesterday night we slept over a very important question and this morning we discussed it in length and we decided not to proceed through China. The likelyhood of us getting through without permits (we have visas though) is minimal and the risk of getting caught inside the country with a foreign registered bike and no Chinese driving licence is too high as this would mean an expulsion and potentially a persona ingrata (lifelong ban of entering China), not something we wish to put on our resume when we look for a job (me in HK!). In particular now that the Chinese government is focusing on the olympics.



We had several options (one was doing the return journey using the transiberian but the Russian consulate needs 12 days for a visa!) and we decided to spend more time in Mongolia, ship the bikes home, take the train to Beijing and then fly to HK to end the journey.



We plan to sort out the shipping tomorrow (we already talked to DHL today) and will then head for the Gobi desert.

The Mongolian Videos

video

Nico's Mongolian ride...

video

Cyril's Mongolian ride

video

F...ing Mongolian petrol!

video

Gentle river crossing

video

Riding the steppe- where s the road again?

video

Tuuunnnna !

video

Cold morning

Monday, May 12, 2008

We made it to Ulaanbaatar!

(Sunset over our Ger in Karakorum)

Yesterday we had a long and though day where we drove c.400km from Karakorum to Ulaanbaatar and we made it in 7hrs! The road was ok for the first part, i.e. good tarmac but as we came closer to Ulaanbaatar the road deteriorated and 130km before the Capital it became a horrible gravel/rocky road so all locals drove on tracks next to the main road...and this meant driving fast on tracks (I had my 2 scary moments but we both handled it well). It was hotter and very dry and there was so much dust (from the car in front of you) at times, that you couldn't see more than a few meters...very scary.

The scenery was nice and we even saw some sand dunes...and so many tornados (hundreds), it was unbelievable. At one moment, there was quite a big one just crossing our path, so for once, I took out the camera and had a good shot at it.
(tornado on the road to Ulaanbaatar)

We arrived in Ulaanbaatar, a very busy city. Man, it is difficult to adapt to traffic again. We found a nice guesthouse with parking space. And thanks to the Hubb, we even got an address of a very good guesthouse (and motorbike fan) that referref us to an excellent mechanic. Today, we got Cyril's bike fixed and the result is that I never saw him smilling so much since the start of the trip! The mechanic (address in the photo album) completely took the carburetor apart and cleaned it in such a short time that we even had time to visit the city. Thanks for Rene for sorting the mechanic out and thanks to Hachiro for the efficient work.
(Ulaanbaatar)

(the carburetor)

(UBS team in Ulaanbaatar...look too fit to me)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

On the Road to UlaanBaatar - Karakorum

After a good night sleep and a nice Occidental style breakfast (pancakes!), we kept pushing east today and it was again a glorious day despite my mechanical problems.

After a bit of fun on the tracks... we reached the town of Karakorum which was once the capital city of the country and hosts the first and still one of the greatest Buddhist monastery in Mongolia - Erdene Zuu Khid.
If all goes to plan, we should arrive in UlaanBaatar tomorrow evening and will then have a few days to find a proper mechanic work out what to do about China.
A big thank you to Walter for his support... very grateful!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Super day again

We drove today from Tariat (next to the Great White Lake) to Tsetserleg. It was a good 163km drive along some very nice roads in Central Mongolia. We actually had 17km of tarmac (brand new) and it felt so good to be speeding again.
Both Cyril and I have improved a lot when it comes to bike handling. The small trails, the sandy tracks and the offroad don't bother us anymore and we are riding quite safe at much higher speed than we originally thought we would ever do in these conditions.
We arrived in Tsetserleg at around 14h and had a great lunch at Fairfields, a guest house and restaurant owned by 2 Brits. We had our SHOWER!!!!! (finally) and ate some good old English pub food, nice. Steak sandwich for Cyril and burger for me.

We even had some time to visit the city (small one) and find a great internet cafe.

Cyril is a bit worried as his bike is playing up again and he doesn't have power at low and high revs, hence he drives all the time between 3,000-5,000 revs. Anyone has any idea? We hope the bike makes it to Ulaanbaatar (2 days away from here).

Oh and you'll see from the new pictures that I was attacked by a tick at the leg.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

On the road again



Yesterday we were stuck in Tosontsengel as Cyril's bike had some problems again with the engine. We had some good 92 Oktan petrol and still it didn't want to accelerate.
We started working on the bike in the middle of the street but we amassed so many people that we decided to push the bike back to the hotel parking lot and worked on the bike their. We tried several things, draining the mixed 80/92 petrol tank and using only pure 92, changing the air/fuel mix, changing the fuel pump, etc...until we decided to open the carburators and have a look and clean them. And the carburators were indeed dirty (i.e. the air needle was stuck!), hence too much air was coming in the engine. We cleaned one carburator and tried the bike and it did work fine. As it was already 17h, we decided to stay in the same hotel for a further night and move on only the next day.
A quick interjection on the Mongolians and privacy...none exist! They enter your room without warning (not the hotel employees but other guests), have a look and then leave again leaving the door open. When we stop, they touch your bikes all the time. At the internet cafe, they literally sit next to you and check the things you do...but they are always nice and helpful.

Anyhow, today was a superb day again. We had nice blue sky and a bright sun. We left Tosontsengel with the aim of reaching White Lake, one of the most beautiful spots in the country according to our guide. The road leading there was beautiful with a mixture of valleys with rivers, Alpine scenery, frozen lakes everywhere and yaks in pasture. The pass to the high valley where White lake is situated (2,100m) was at 2,600m but the sun was warming up the air, so we had pretty much 8 degrees celcius all day long. The road itself was quite interesting as it changed from a dirt and sandy track to a very nice gravel road, to a great offroad type road to a gravel road again...etc...

So what is our opinion on White lake? Hmmm, I think it is certainly not the most beautiful spot in the country (Uureg Nuur was nicer) but indeed it is quite nice as most of the scenery we saw in Mongolia.
Judge for yourself and have a look at the pictures below.


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Mongolian dreams and nightmares







The last few days have been very intense in emotions. While, we are cleary living a dream and enjoying every second of the amazing Mongolian scenery, the riding has been particularily challenging on both the riders and the machines...


We spent the last 4 days travelling from Ulaangom to Tosontsegel in Central Mongolian on a mix of dirt roads, sandy tracks and pure off-road, getting lost many times and fully relying on our GPS for the proper directions. The landscapes are simply breathtaking and we hope to be able to download more pictures soon.


Yesterday was my worst day (by far...) since the beginning of the trip. It all started with my engine not running very smoothly and delivering very little power at low revs. As a result the first steep climb in the mud was simply hell with the bike not even able to start on 1st gear. On a fall, I completely destroyed the protection underneath the bike leaving the engine completely exposed to any hit. A few kms further the front brakes got completely stuck and we had to dismount both brakes pistons at 2000m high. A few kms further... the engine just stopped ! We dismounted the entire engine on the side the road to get access to the carburators, clean them, clean the air filter, the spark pluggs... without success. Niccolo had to go on his own (for the first time since the beginning of the trip) to get some help and found a bunch of very helpfull Mongolians and a old Russian jeep... After many miscommunication and iterations, we loaded the bike in the jeep, removing the jeep seats in the process.


We got to the nearest town (more a few houses/yurts stacked together) and got told that it the nearest decent mechanic was 700km away in UlaanBaatar... and the transport would cost about USD500. Moral was at its lowest and on that note, we decided to take the bike all apart and try everything possible to get it fixed. We spare you the details but it seems that it was due to the very bad petrol quality and changing the air/petrol mix did the trick so far (engine not running very smoothly still...). Thanks to Nicco for the patience and the technical support.


After a snow storm yesterday evening, and a night inbetween a snoring Mongolian and ... couple (no privacy here in the yurts), today was simply beautifull with greatest sunshine, blue sky and superb scenery.


We will keep going east over the next few days and hope to reach UlaanBaatar in about a week. By the way, so far, we have not found any shower facility in the country... but we keep asking !


Now it's my turn (Nicco)...For me it was an excellent time even though we had these tensions and problems with the bike. My bike (Fat Bertha) behaves so well for the moment even though I mistreat her badly by throwing her around big time and she still likes me somehow...

The last few days have been what this trip was about, a real adventure! With the technical problem solving, the off-road riding, the GPS navigation, the personal tension sometimes, but in the end we have come so far and this is a testiment of the great team we are..hehe, a bit of self motivation.

We have both learnt so much in the last few days and these are the experiences we were looking forward to. Let's hope both our bikes keep up to the mistreatement and we arrive safly back on tarmac (near Ulaanbaatar).

Friday, May 2, 2008

Genghis Khan, here we are!

After a beautiful time in Russia and the Altai (really woth a short trip on its own!), we entered Mongolia with snowstorms and lots of wind. The Russia side of the border took us quite a while (1h) but the Mongolian side was super easy (15mins) and off we go to check out Genghis's place.

I was quite worried for Mongolia as we saw so many nice things on the road over the last 2 months, that I felt Mongolia couldn't impress me anymore and was sad about this...but I was so wrong, it is clearly the highlight of the trip!

The first impression was, where are the damm good Russian roads?! No roads, but sandy/rocky tracks and offroad is the word here. The second impression is the lack of vegetation. On the Russian side there were trees, here in Mongolia, very little vegetation.

So off we thought to our first camping in Mongolia...close to Tsagaannuur...but the wind was so icy (3 impression, it is damm cold here!) that we decided to find a warm home for us. We found a family in Tsagaannuur that was willing to let us sleep with them in their room. It was a great experience and the family was lovely. The next morning the wind was still there but we had another surprise, -7.5 degrees. After a few snowstorms (they come within mins) the sun came back and we decided to give it a try and go to Uureg Nuur. The landscape was breathtaking with a gorgeous valley, an immense plateau (where we got lost several times even with GPS), beautiful mountains and the best sun ever...but with lots of wind. When we finally arrived at the last pass (2,400m) after several hours of being lost in the valley below, we had an unforgetable sight on Uureg Nuur (mountain lake). After a few hours to finally reach the destination (offroad or small tracks, so you can't drive more than 50-60km/h) we found a nomad that offered us to sleep with his family in his ger (Mongolian yurt) which we happily accepted as it was icy again.

After a good night sleep we headed for Ulaangom but using a small valley were the driving was mostly offroad. We made good progress until we arrived at a very large river with so many big pebbles (the size of a football) on the ground, snowcovered water, icy water, etc... and after me falling at least 6 times in the river bed, we decided to find another route to go around it.

The driving here is a pleasure as the sights are unbelievable wild and beautiful. Yesterday we encountered 2 other vehicle in 1 day. Today 4 or so and this on the main road to Ulaangom, so the rest of the time, you just ride, watch the scenery and enjoy this country whilst feeling your the only one in the world.

For the bikers amongst you envisaging a similar trip. Don't do the same mistake as me. I am a short (1.70m) and light (65kg) guy and whilst I LOVE the 1200GSA, it is too heavy and too high for me. On tarmac, you're the king. On tracks and offroad I learnt a lot and am getting good at it but when it comes to pebbles (river beds) and very rough offroad when you can only drive slowly, it is a nightmare and once down it takes 2 to put it back upright...take something lighter and lower. A big thanks to Cyril who helps me once the GSA is on ground.

For some reasons, I can't attach pictures to the blog but have a look at the Russian and Mongolian photo albums, we've added pictures.

Anton the Russian mechanic

Altai

Altai

video

Amazing time in the Altai !

The Altai mountain range well kept its promise ! We had heard that it was amazing and we were not disappointed despite the very chilly temperature - we recorded -6C on a 1700m mountain pass, our lowest so far. We spent 3 days there on the way to the Mongolian border and the landscapes were simply breathtaking - people very friendly and the road (still - cf. the Mongolian post above) very good.

Cherry on the cake, we managed to replace my dying drive chain in Gorno Altaisk thanks to Anton, the local moto mechnic and genuine motobike fan - a true Russian genius! A very good contact for any motorbiker traveling in the region who will also help you find the good adresses in town.

The border crossing into Mongolia was not too painfull for once but lasted a good 2 hours and interestingly there is actually a 10km no-man's land between the two countries - an Mongolia does not ask for an custom declaration (i.e. likely possible to sell your bike/car there without going through the registration hassle...).

More pictures in the Russia photo album

A BIG THANK YOU TO:

Cyril:
- Maddy, the head of our "London HQ", special technical and weather advisor, and because she is simply the best and has been so supportive over the last few months
- My family and friends for their understanding and moral support
- Robert Roe (alias Bob) from Motoselect Franham for preparing the bike with such good care
- Anastasia from thevisacompany for helping me deal with so much red tape
- Claudio von Planta for sharing his valuable experience on Long-way Round and Long-way Down and answering so many of our questions
- Ronnie, Emmanuel and Benjamin for their enthusiast support and precious advise
- The Techtransalp team for their excellent website and advertising our adventure

Niccolo:
- clearly Manon as she has always been supportive of this trip even though this means 3 months without me
- My mother for not giving up on me, for receiving all the parcels at home in Austria and for not freaking out!
- Amy and Steve for pushing over several months to keep focus on the organisation
- Xavier, for trusting me to be in France in June and be his best man at his wedding
- Cyril, for posting our tracks on the blog
- Louis, for looking into getting Continental to sponsor us
- Romain, for getting us the Turkmen visas
- My friends for all telling me "DO IT"!
- Claudio von Planta, Sambor and Maciej for sharing their great experiences on their numerous motorbike trips
- Henry, Yau and Tan from BMW HK for their support with the bike, the preparation and the bike sale
- Yasser, Mark, Michael and Christoph from BMW Munich for their help with all the accessories and the last minute bike purchase
- Bertrand and Alice for your help with the tyres in Almaty