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Regularly there are questions on the HUBB about the Zilow Gap, between Chyta and Khabarovsk in Russia. The FAQ is: is it doable? I did it, in september 2004, so it is doable. Here I give the information about driving by motorbike through the Gap. I did it from Chyta to Khabarovsk but as most people will come from Vladivostok I describe the gap in the reverse direction.
From Chyta to Khabarovsk is 2165 km.
My motorbike is BMW F650, model 1999, with carburators. Tires: Continental TKC-80's. For the front wheel is no appropriate 80's tire, so I took a somewhat wider one.
I passed the Gap in september 2004 and it took me a week. When I started from Chyta weather conditions were good (dry weather) and were so a week before. I had one day of rain. I used the Atlas Automobilenje 2004 which is available in bookshops in Russia.
Don't worry for the first 250 kilometers: good asfalted road from khabarovsk up to 70 kilometers north of Birobidzjan.
From 70 km north of Birobidzjan to Zawitinsk the Atlas promises paved road. However when I passed the road was under renovation, largely unpaved but with a hard surface with few grit on it. Good to drive but the trafic caused large and dense clouds of dust. So dense that it was not possible to see the boudary of the road. Because of the dust driving over 50 km/h was not possible to me.
From Zawitinsk to Sjimanovsk you will find a good local road, covered with asfalt. Easy to drive, like a holiday.
From Sjmimanovsk to the village of Siwani, about 100 km north of Sjimanovsk there is a new tracee. Unpaved but with hard surface, few grit on it. 80 km/h and more is possible.
From the village of Siwani to village of Gonzja (about 150 kilometer east of Skoworodino) the tracee follows a local road (indicated in yellow on the Atlas). The surface is loam, very damaged. When I did this part it rained and the surface was covered with mud. Under dry conditions it will probably be very dusty. 20 - 30 km/h under wet conditions.
From the village of Gonzja to Skorowodino is a unfinished new tracee. Unpaved, hard surface, many potholes, washbord, locally thick layers of coarse grit. 40 - 60 km/h
From Skoworodino to the village of Yryzja (100 km west of Skoworodino) is a new finished tracee, unpaved but with a hard surface, few grit. Excelent to drive but very dusty. 60 km/h.
From Yryzja to the town of Mogotsathe road is under construction as are the bridges. This part is riddled with detours and locally covered with very coarse grit. Difficult to drive. 40 - 60 km/h.
From Mogotsa till the village of Sbegd is a local road, loam surface and absolute riddled with potholes. Very difficult to drive. 20 km/h.
From the village of Sbegd to the town Sjilka is a new finished tracee. Hard flat surface, few grit, excelent to drive. 80 km/h and more is possible.
From Sjilka to Chyta the road is paved, asfalt.
Fuel stations: fuel stations are indicated in the atlas. In practise there are more because the atlas indicates only the AZS-stations. To get fuel is not a problem but stations may be far from each other. 95 is not always available.
Maintance: maintenance stations are also indicated in the Atlas. They are far from each other. Locally you may find "Zjinomontag", changing of tires. There they can repair tires too.
Overnight stay: "gostinitsa's" (hotels) you find in Birobidzjan (a real tourist hotel), in Sjimanovsk (horribly overpriced, to avoid at all costs), Magdagatsj, Skoworodino and Zjireken. In Zjireken the hotel was temporarily closed but the manager arranged overnight stay at local people. Apart from the regular hotels there is overnight accomodation at the regional railway stations. I stayed in the railway hotels of Zawitinsk and Mogotsa. Simple but cheap. Probably it is possible in Sjimanovsk too. Other possibilities are the camps of the road workers or just asking locals for "kwartiri" (B&B).
Don't do this road under rainy conditions. It should have been dry for a week and stay dry for another week.
Check your bike before you leave, not only the engine but the frame too.
Take your time.
Three freinds riding KLR 650's recently rode this road. They met a couple of blokes who had done it on Honda Gold Wings comming the other way..yep the large tourers with electric reverse! It took the KLR riders one week to do the gap.
After printing out and re-reading your post a couple of times, some further questions have occurred to me - sorry to have so many.
Other than the one day of rain, how was the weather in September? Did it get uncomfortably cold at any point? What part of September did you ride the gap - early? late? Were places to eat readily available?
I did Siberia around half of September. Yes, it was very cold. Freezing at night and in the morning. It took untill two o'clock before temperature became comfortable and after 5 it started to become cold again. From the end of september you can expect snow. East of Skoworodino climate is much milder than to the west.
i'm thinking of doing the northern hemisphere route (london, europe, siberia, alaska, canada, usa, london) next summer.
some questions, info and thoughts.
1) when you refer to the gap, are you referring to the whole of the route from khabarovsk to chita - or is that just a part of that route? from the opening message, it doesn't seem that it's all problematic.
2) you say that fuel is reasonably available. my tank will give me 170 mls/270km. is that ok?
3) if you need a copy of the atlas mentioned, i got one at stanford's, long acre, london, wce2 9lp. it's a kick-ass mao shop in central london and i'm sure they do mail order. it's only available in russian, though (so the map-expert lady told me), so you have to learn cyrillic script! (what a headache - but necessary, i suppose).
4) you say 95 is not always available - how does a bike that uses it respond to other fuels?
5) which carrier did you use to get to the area? dhl?
Thanks for the info on the climate. I think I shall plan on doing this route no later than the end of August.
Thanks for the info on the Atlas. I'll try Stanford's - hopefully they have a website? Regarding low octane gas, it's my understanding that bikes vary greatly in their tolerance to the low octane stuff. You might need to talk to your dealer regarding your particular bike. Perhaps you could carry octane booster if necessary.
I emailed DHL about bike transport and they replied they will only transport a bike that has never had gas or oil in it. They referred me to a subsidiary, which I emailed, but they have never responded. I also emailed Mavial Magadan Air (they fly from Anchorage to Magadan once weekly), about bike transport, but also have not responded. I remain stumped on getting the bike to eastern Russia from Alaska.
Although Alaska to Russia HAS been done, it remains very difficult and sporadic. Seems to be very much on again / off again. And, none of the possible shippers really WANT to do it, it's a lot of hassle.
I'd recommend shipping to Japan and taking the ferry over - dead easy, done all the time.
1. I described the whole route from Khabarovsk to Chyta, which is generally known as the Zilow Gap. However, it is not really a gap.
2. Fuel capacity 270 km will be OK. Fuel Stations are indicated in the Atlas I mentioned. It will be wise to take a jerrycan of fuel with you.
3. Fuel octane. This topic has been discussed many times on HU. A BMW F650 wants first class food but can run on 80 if you drive carefull. I lowered the compression of my motorbike in such a way that it can run in 84 without a problem.
5. I didn't used a carrier. I drove from the netherlands all the way down.
Thanks, Grant and Werner, for the advice. I may be forced to use the Vancouver (or Seattle) to Vlad option although I prefer Anchorage (a nice ride from Idaho and I have relatives near there) and hoped to avoid Japan for the same reason as Marco (another thread) - the carnet, also one less visa, etc. Apparently my next step is to check into the cost of the carnet (unless anyone happens to know).
Thanks again, and once again thanks for the original post on this thread which I greatly appreciate.
Re the russian road atlas..you can get them in any book store in any russian city as well. The road signs are in Russian cyrylic script which makes reading a russian map easier. Its a bit like pictionary until you get the hang of it..but it comes quickly.
been reading werner's book (nice one w. - i realised i sent you the wrong dollars - hope that's ok - no slight intended!) and it describes the process of obtaining necessary travel documents. does intourist deal with carnet, werner?
on the hu homepage there's a link to shipping through which i found reference to magadan airlines. i haven't been in touch yet. i also found a reference that i can't find again to a specialist bike freighting organisation. anyone know about either of these?
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