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I just received this from a guy who knows the guy and am using a shortened version in the new AMH. It describes what Mondo called the 'Zilov Gap' and may be useful to some.
The Road - Chita to Khabarovsk.
We had heard there was a section of eastern Siberia where there was no road. The distance varied from 800 kms to 2000 kms, depending on whom you listened to. This put it into the same category as every other subject concerning Russian travel. Finding up-to-date, accurate information about anything to do with traveling in Russia had proved an elusive task, so the "no road" question simply joined a long list of things we were not clear about.
A very detailed and accurate Russian Road Atlas (2004 edition) had dotted lines (road to be completed) and some solid lines (road, but not necessarily paved) between Chita and Khabarovsk. This is over 2200kms in total.
A Russian Travel agent in Vladivostok told us there was no road between Chita and S (about 450kms).
A friend in London said he saw the Russian President Mr. Vladimir Putin, opening The Road between Moscow and Vladivostok.on TV in April. This was the final remaining section to link the two cities which were linked by rail about a 100 years earlier.
Tom from Alice Springs was traveling from east to west, the opposite way to us. He had ridden The Road a month earlier. He spoke of gravel and rocks "as big as your fist". He said 40 to 50 km/h was his maximum speed for the "3 or 4 days" it took to complete. We didn’t ask how many kilometres it was, but calculated it was probably about 1500. Tom said camping on the way was easy, petrol was available, but there were no shops for supplies.
Two Brazilians an American and two Latvians had also just completed The Road. The Latvians were two-up on a bike similar to ours (dual purpose 650 single). The bike was invisible under their luggage. They were both over 185cm tall and said The Road was horrible and they would not recommend it, but we would be OK because we only had one person per bike and less luggage weight as well.
The Brazilians and the American were on Gold Wings and a Valkerie respectively. These are the biggest, heaviest, longest and lowest highway touring bikes money can buy. Designed and built in America, they are the last bikes I would imagine as being suitable for The Road. They said The Road varied from good to bad. Bad was probably about 500 kms in total, they said. The Latvians said they were sure it was more than that.
They all said we’d be fine on our bikes.
The Japanese guy riding a 200cc single (cruising speed - 75 km/h) said The Road was bad, but OK on his bike. He said it took about 2 or 3 days to complete the bad sections. He was able to do 40 to 50 km/h most of the time, he said. He said he didn’t camp, but stayed in hotels. His bike was packed up in a way that I’d never really seen before. It looked like he lived on the fifth floor of a block of flats and packed his bike by dropping his stuff out the window onto it.
The Russian man had just driven a car from Vladivostok to Barnual. He went over our touring atlas methodically indicating where the road was bad and good. Bad totaled about 450 to 500 kms. He said.
Before we left Australia, to ride from London to Vladivostok, we had assumed we would put the bikes on the Trans Siberian railway for the section with no road. Now we find there is a road. What to do? Ride The Road or take the train? With the help of Pavil ("My English name is Paul") we found out about the trains. Costly, difficult to arrange, bikes on a different train to us…different day too. Of the three of us, one wanted to ride, one didn’t and I was in the middle, but leaning towards the train. This is because we had agreed that if we were in a situation where one person did not want to do something, then none of us did it. Not an uncommon rule for these sorts of journeys.
Over dinner we agreed that the time for a final decision had arrived. All the information we had was considered again. The guy who wanted to ride The Road had not changed his mind, but said he would go on the train happily if that was the group decision. The guy who didn’t want to ride decided to give it a go. I agreed. We would ride The Road, starting the next morning.
Chita to Khaborovsk is 2264kms. The first 110 kms is good bitumen. There is about 500 kms of OK to good bitumen in the final 800 kms including the last 200 kms into Khabarovsk. The rest (over 1600kms) varies from good hard dirt to soft deep sand/gravel. There are rocks as big as your fists, but less than a couple of kms in total. However, when you think you are about to fall off every 5 seconds, these few thousand metres stick in your mind. There is dust. There is mud, water and river crossings where The Road and the new bridges are yet to be joined. There are road crews working 3 shifts virtually the entire length of The Road. There are temporary road workers’ villages on the sides of The Road. The biggest bulldozers and earthmoving equipment you have ever seen prowl The Road at all hours. In parts we were doing 10 to 20km/h for an hour at a time. Once we were stopped by a road crew. Next minute the earth moved followed quickly by a loud explosion and lots of smoke and dust. The side of another hill wasn’t. We were waved on. Fill for The Road…
There are no hotels. Camping is not easy. The Road is built up over the swamplands. Armco fencing stops you disappearing over the edge. It also makes finding camping spots difficult. One night we camped on a siding that is a storage area for bluestone screenings. All night trucks drove in and dumped their loads of screenings. The next day we saw the bluestone quarry about 30 kms from where we had camped.
There are a few truck stops. These are best avoided as, first, there are no commercial trucks yet (they couldn’t get through) and second, to fill in the empty hours too many of those who hang around the truck stops have been sipping vodka. Not that this makes them aggressive. Far from it. They want to cuddle you, take photos, pose on the bike, ride the bike, come with you……….it can get too much.
There is petrol, although once we had to fill up with 80 octane (usually 92 was easy to acquire). We almost got caught out as there is a section of 400kms with no petrol. (Our bikes carried enough petrol for 450 to 500kms depending on the conditions.)
Apart from road building vehicles, there was virtually no-one going our way (west to east). All the traffic was the other way. This is a booming business in Russia. Importing second-hand cars from Japan. They travel in groups of 2 to 8. Safety in numbers. We heard stories of car high-jackings. The cars are hammered over The Road on their way to their new owners in central and western Russia. The life expectancy of these cars must be reduced by 50% or more by most of the delivery drivers. We saw many cars showing evidence of crashes and several which had been patched up after being rolled. They are all right hand drive (as in Australia) but Russians drive on the right (as in Europe). Makes passing an interesting event.
We did find some turn-offs to villages, but only in the final 800 kms.
It took us 6 days to do the 2264 kms.
Both fuel tank support brackets on my bike broke. (Those on the other 2 bikes had broken before we started The Road). My steering head bearings are now shot. One puncture (the only one for the whole trip… rejoice.) My left ankle and knee still remind me of when they were pinned under the bike at the end of the first day on The Road. I couldn’t walk, but I could ride. That was 3 weeks ago as I write this. (I was up a muddy side track looking for a suitable camping spot and slipped over at 1 km/h after deciding the track was too muddy to ride on.)
The psychological scarring. It’s hard to enjoy riding when you think you are about to fall off. I was in this state more often than I’ve ever been before. You don’t forget times when you are so on edge for so long…day after day.
But we can all dine out on the fact that we did it. We rode all the way across Russia.
Anyone could do the rest of the trip, if they didn’t mind lots of crazy traffic, but not everyone will do The Road.
The Road is a living, dynamic organism. It is ever changing, slowly evolving into a fully surfaced 4 lane freeway. Hundreds work on The Road. Already over 5 years of work with perhaps another 5 to go. A huge project, which makes you think how amazing the building of the railway was, over 100 years ago. When it reaches maturity, it will become a 2000 km long race track. It will cut through hills and over swamps and valleys, by-passing the few villages that exist out there. Trucks will pound the surface into oblivion as they do in western Russia.
By then The Road will not be a challenging adventure in itself. It won’t throw up the surprises it currently does. The myths and legends will fade………and grandchildren will no longer say, "Grandpa, tell us about the time you rode The Road."
------------------ Author of Sahara Overland II and Adventure Motorcycling Handbook 5 - due April 2005
having made a 33.000 km trip in summer 04 across Russia, Mongolia, and China by TLC, I found an interesting article (in English) in the Almaty weekly ALMATY HEROLD on the conditions of the Chita-Amur-Wladiwostok Highway confirming in principle what has been said here. You may find that report on
Moreover, there was a detailed report on French/German TV station ARTE one week ago showing that the road is used now on a regular basis by cars, trucks and buses in both directions. However, road conditions may vary heavily due to weather conditions and seasons. So be careful when making your choice to ride your bike.
[This message has been edited by Reinhart Mazur (edited 21 February 2005).]
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