Listed below are my top ten suggestions I have compiled for anyone traveling through Russia by motorcycle. These are lessons learned before, during, or after my trip. During July 2010, I traveled from Vladivostok to Moscow, and beyond, completing a round-the-world trip from my home in San Diego, California. I would never be able to properly thank all of the people who befriended and helped me on my trip – but a small thank you to everyone who helped in any way to make this a success! If you are interested in learning more about my travels, visit my website for pictures and my blog for day-by-day comments: www.planetearthquest.com
. Know that this top ten list is made up of my ideas and you do not have to agree…but I hope at least a few of the suggestions will help you! I will respond to all emails – but give me a few days as I am still traveling.
1. Stay Out of the Large Cities for a Hotel:
I love to ride, but I did not like the large cities. Most of the larger cites are between 200,000 and 1.5 million people. They are very difficult to navigate and find a hotel. It was not only difficult to find the hotel, but leaving the next morning is equally challenging as the road in is not the same one out as your approach is east and you leave going west. I would encourage you to visit one of the cities if there is something of interest for you – otherwise, ride through and stop at the roadside.
2. Sleep at the Roadside Motels/Cafes:
The local motel/hotels are located alongside the road and they always seem to have room. In Far East Russia, they are not as common, but as you move west, their frequency increases. There are many different options: shared room with shared bathroom (you are bunking with strangers); private room without a bathroom or toilet; and private room with toilet and bathroom. All three are not always available, but some combination of the above seems to be available.
3. Learn the Language:
This was my biggest challenge of the trip. I can speak passable Spanish, a bit of German, I can order from a menu in French, and know many words in Polish (a Slavic language), but I was greatly challenged by the language. Know most people you will encounter (on the street, in a café, at the hotel) do not speak a language other than Russian. Also know that the Cyrillic language looks very different on maps with city names. Here are my sub-suggestions for this area.
a. Spend at least 10 – 20 hours studying the common phrases before you start. Your attempt will be well appreciated and respected!
b. Learn the Cyrillic alphabet.
c. Learn the bukfas – the phonetic translation of the Cyrillic characters.
d. Translate all major city names into Cyrillic and backwards again – so you will have both. Know how to pronounce all city names as you will need this when asking for directions.
4. Travel Light:
If I did the trip again (which I may), I would not take any camping equipment. Not that I do not like camping – I love it, but it takes up a lot of room and weight. Two of my heroes of the trip were two young men from Ukraine who each rode a Yamaha 125 all the way from Ukraine to Vladivostok and back. They traveled light and passed the KTMs and BMWs in the hard parts of the trip, including some BMW owners who got off and walked – they rode right past due to being so nimble!
5. Take Clothes That Can Be Laundered in One Night:
Because of limited laundering facilities, I would suggest to take all high-tech fabrics that can be washed in the sink in your room and dried out overnight. A cotton t-shirt, albeit comfortable, does not fit this requirement. I have read about summer temperatures ranging near freezing at night and I incurred temperatures in excess of 35 degrees Celsius (90+ Fahrenheit). Because of the consistent rain and heat, your clothes underneath your riding suit may undergo some pretty serious need of cleaning. Be prepared to do all your laundry on your own and you will be happy you prepared for this.
6. Take a Few Spare Parts:
You cannot bring everything! My starter went out and shorted out my battery – the score was two things down and very challenging to get parts. When talking with a friend, he asked why I didn’t have a spare alternator, wheel, frame, etc. – you cannot bring everything that can go wrong. Know that using an express service like FedEx or DHL still requires customs clearance in Moscow and the entire process from outside the country can take two to three additional weeks added to the airtime. My rear brakes went out do to riding through days of mud – and I had a spare set! I also took things I thought I could not get on the road or have repaired, including: tire-patching kit; an electric air pump; spark plugs; universal cable repair kit; clutch lever; fuses; duct tape; electrical tape, hose clamps; fuel line; nuts and bolts for your racks, etc. You may have other things on your list, but this is a beginning – but keep it light and know you wont have everything. I saw almost everyone with spare tires, but I started with a brand new Tourance set and they worked fine. I would have rather had knobbies, but I didn’t want to use two sets and add the extra wait and clutter of having an extra set.
7. Prepare Your Motorcycle in Advance:
Make certain you go through all the regularly scheduled maintenance in advance. You may want to add a new battery as they are very hard to acquire on the road due to the specialized size. Get the best one money can buy. I know the Hawker/Odyssey batteries seem to be up there on the list. If you have never ridden in the mud, sand, or dirt – do this ahead of time – with your bike fully loaded. I ride motocross in the desert of California, so this was not a problem, but add all my gear on bike that is at least two times as heavy and the situation changes dramatically. There were times that the experience came in handy – especially in mud and very deep gravel. Know how to pick up your bike if it is dropped when it is fully loaded as, if traveling alone, you may need to do this.
8. Take Souvenirs to Share
: I had some cards with my name and email, but I think having stickers or a souvenir from your home city (refrigerator magnets, a pin with city name, postcard, etc.) would be a nice touch. I met so many nice people who gave everything from time, to money (one man thought I got the wrong change at a fuel station and handed me 500 rubles, despite my instance that it was me who miscalculated), to food – that having something to give back, albeit small, would be quite nice.
9. Prepare Documents for Easy Sharing:
I laminated my title for my motorcycle and had it at the ready for ease in showing the police (many USA registrations are only paper and not very official looking). The California registration looks like a joke, so I only had my title with me, as it was color and more official looking. I had a place to easily show this to police, along with my driver’s license, and it made the stop a quick and efficient event. By the way, I encountered nothing but friendly and respectful police, even when I was in the wrong – like speeding. I never argued and always was pleasant and smiled – and never paid any fines. I would NOT turn over any permanent documents (title, driver’s license, passport) unless it was in a police station. All of these documents were colored photocopies and shared – but the official ones were safely stored. I learned this a few years back while traveling through Ukraine and the police thought that having my license (a copy) he had me for good and could extort money from me – until I started my engine and then he threw it in the dirt.
10. Relax and Enjoy:
I met so many wonderful people on the trip and hope that I will have a chance to meet them again – either in Russia or the USA. Do not believe all the horrible stories of crime, violence, and theft – I think Russia is like any other country where all of these things do exist – but not on a common occurrence. Regardless, be smart and be safe and do take precautions – but do not allow the rumors to get in your way of having fun! I left my tank bag on my motorcycle at every roadside café (with passport, camera, money, etc. inside) and kept a watchful eye from the window – but allowed myself peace and relaxation while eating – with the alarm on. Relax and enjoy the small and wonderful events of each and everyday. Enough said!