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Travellers' questions that don't fit anywhere else This is an opportunity to ask any question, and post any notice you wish that doesn't fit into one of the other sections.
Photo by Josephine Flohr, Elephant at Camp, Namibia

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Elephant at Camp, Namibia



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  #1  
Old 6 Aug 2011
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Question Biking in Mongolia - Wild Animals - Tires

Hi Everyone!

I am new to all this and a drastic change in my life made me fall in love with motorcycling. I am still dreaming and I still haven't managed to get myself two wheels, but I am studying to get my license and I'm reading lots of books. I have never been on a motorcycle in my life and some questions come natural... they may be obvious to the experienced traveler, but they are surely far from obvious to me.

I have been watching Long Way Round and Long Way Down and these guys constantly complain about how horrible it is to ride off road, how much of a terrible time they are having and most of all they fall off their bikes continuously...

:confused1: Question 1:
Is it really like that?!? I was under the impression that the off road bits were the most fun, but it certainly doesn't seem to be the case with these two guys.

The title of this post is related to my long time dream: travelling from London to Mongolia, as I believe Mongolia to be a place where you feel absolutely free... for a while, but then you would probably feel very bored. Maybe that's the beauty of it, but I am tired of hearing it... I want to experience it for myself!

The thing is that if it is really as painful as they showed on TV... is it really worth it? I want to believe that it is more fun and that if you are careful enough you don't end up on the floor as much as they did.

I am terrified of wild animals and I cannot imagine what I would do if a pack of wolves will approach my tent at night... or a solitary bear... there are both these animals in Mongolia.

:confused1: Question 2:
How do you deal with wild animal encounters when you are on your own in the middle of nowhere?

Another one of my silly questions is related to tires. I imagine myself riding a lot on roads and motorways at first, but occasionally and when I get the chance, I would love to leave the road and go exploring exactly where there are no roads on a map. I would say that in my imagination 95% of miles would be on tarmac and the rest off road. I can well imagine that road tires will perform extremely bad off road and especially on the ever so popular British wet grass.

:confused1: Question 3:
How bad are off road tires on motorways? How fast can you safely go with them? I mean tires like the BRIDGESTONE M102 MX

Any advice about my silly questions will be greatly appreciated and maybe one day I'll be able to advice someone myself.

Thanks,
Michael
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Old 7 Aug 2011
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Hi,
This comes from a 4 wheel traveler, so others will be better placed to comment, but I've been around here long enough to pick up a thing or two about bikes.
The main reason (as far as I am aware) that they moaned so much about the off road struggles, was their bikes were too big and heavy & they carried too much crap.
Get your license, get a smaller cheaper bike and go ride. You'll soo find what style of riding and so what type of bike floats your boat.

Hope that gets the ball rolling.

Happy travels
Sam
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Old 7 Aug 2011
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You have to realize that the primary thing those movies show you is what it is like to travel the world when you have more money than you know what to do with.

Off-pavement riding is a perfect example. Money solves all problems right? So they got big expensive bikes and loaded them with lots of the most expensive gear. Then they have a horrible time off-pavement and complain about it. What they never understood about the experience is that money does not solve this problem.

The further away you get from good pavement, the more you need a small, light, and nimble bike. To some extent, skill can overcome the difficulties a large, heavy, overloaded bike can cause, but that skill can only be gained with a smaller lighter bike.

My recent experience on the Dempster Highway in Canada (up to Inuvik) is a perfect example of this. It is a road with a bad reputation. One of the days I was on the road there was a lot of rain and the mud was pretty bad. Five people went down that day (and the bike had to be carted out on a truck). One of them died. I only found this out later because to me, the mud so easy it never even occurred to me someone would have a hard time.

The difference? I ride a KLR650 very lightly loaded. Those five people were on BMW GS1200's, and one sport-bike. No clue on the gear, but I'd wager most of those five were carrying far more gear than I am (and I still carry more weight than I want to!). I've also practiced a lot in bad conditions, prepared the bike for it, and planned to travel far more slowly than most people do up that road (I planned up to 4 days each way, most expect 1-2 days each way).

If you know you like to get away from pavement, start off with a lightweight dual-sport bike. Do not get something expensive and heavy like a F650GS or a KTM 990. Get something cheap, light, and nimble. A KLR650 or DR650 is a good compromise between dirt and highway, but is still a bit heavy for off-road. A 250cc is far better if you think you'll focus on dirt.

If you find you like street more than dirt, you will find that quickly once you start riding and you can adjust the bike you use accordingly, or find a different bike. Or you might even consider separate street and dirt bikes initially (I wish I had done this).

Tires: Start riding, then worry about tires. You are putting the cart before the horse. But the short answer is that you worry too much.

Wild Animals: 99% of avoiding wild animals is using common sense. Bears, for example, are attracted to food and anything else with an interesting scent. There is lots of information available on this subject, so just start reading. In the past couple months through Canada and Alaska, I've probably seen 50+ bears just on the road, spent every single night in a tent, and never once worried I would have a problem, even wild camping.
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Old 9 Aug 2011
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Thank you!

Thank you very much for your help!
Mike
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Old 9 Aug 2011
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I tihnk its worth pointing out that the Long Way Round guys had no experience with adventure touring and didnt ask anyone's advice on how it should be done.

As a result they took the heaviest bikes they could find (at 240kgs dry weight) then loaded them up with about 70 kgs of luggage, ... and despite plenty of training, found it a real handful. They were very naive.

I dont think their case is unusual. If you fall in love with the idea of a big bike and then try and make it fit your dream of Mongolia, you are going to have some significant internal conflicts once you hit the road, and especially once you cross that Mongolian border at Tashanta and the paved roads of Russian fade away in the distance.

Regardless of your budget, I would advise you to take a light bike, single cylinder, and be quite critical of the weight issue. If you do, you will find places like Mongolia and endless hoot and totally non-threatening. Try and restrict yourself to 150-160 kgs of bike (dry weight) and 30kgs of luggage (soft luggage is much lighter and used by many experienced riders).

A read I would recommend is of a couple of british guys who just passed through Mongolia on their way to Magadan a few weeks ago, the blog of Ed and Dan. - A couple of engineers who have put some thought into bike selection and preparation and those thoughts are well documented in their blogs.

Its worth noting that Ed and Dan rode to Cape Town a few years back on big heavy 210 kg Africa Twins. With the benefit of experience, their choice of bikes, luggage and gear for this trip was quite different - a 115kg WR250 and a 130kg DRZ400.

Blog | Brighton 2 Siberia | Dan and Ed are back on the road, destination: Kamchatka, Siberia!

As far as bears and wolves go ... forget about it. Not an issue. There are bears and wolves in the Pyrenees and in the Alps too ... does anyone not go skiing because of that?

Re tyres ... there are plenty of topics related to tyres on this site if you search for them. I think your example of tyres is not really a good one for any kind of touring. You might want to look at more commonly used adventure tyres such as:

Mefo Super Explorer, Heidenau K60, Continental TKC80, Metzeler Karoo, Michelin Desert.

To be useful for travelling, a tyre has to have some sort of longevity and durability. The tyres you looked at would be lucky to get you 800 miles. If you are looking to do 95% of your miles on paved roads, then stick to the first 2 tyres mentioned.
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Old 10 Aug 2011
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Thank you!

Thank you, that was so interesting and useful!
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Old 10 Aug 2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The-Silk-Road View Post
Thank you, that was so interesting and useful!
Especially for somewhere like Mongolia, the difference between a light bike and a heavy bike can be the difference between endless freedom and all day chores.

Another story I heard on that front this year was a couple of other friends of mine who crossed the border into Mongolia from Tashanta on a Monday morning (the border is closed on weekends). Because it was a Monday morning there was a queue of foreign bikers crossing there ... dutch, germans and an american. The Germans were on large BMWs with lots of luggage. They went through the border first. By the time my friends got through 2 hours later, they had barely ridden 10 minutes into Mongolia when one of the Germans on the big bike was riding back towards them. When they stopped for a chat it turns out the German hadnt fully appreciated the concept of Mongolia on a big heavy bike with lots of luggage and had decided within an hour to turn round and head back to Russia. The big bike and big luggage had made it a misery for him.

It is of course possible to ride somewhere like Mongolia on a big heavy bike, lots of luggage, and enjoy it, but you would have to have a lot of experience riding that kind of bike, with that kind of luggage in those kind of conditions before you got to that point.
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Old 5 Mar 2012
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Water

Hello hubb!

My first post!

I have been lurking on every site on the web, for the past 6 months, researching for a trip I plan to make around this time next year to Mongolia and back. I registered to pm colebatch (Who seems to be the guru on all things Mongolia) a couple of questions but since you have to have a minimum of 5 posts I thought i'd ask on this relevant thread.

It's my understanding that there are 3 main routes through Mongolia however defined/clear they may be. I was just wondering... How easy is it to source water along any route in Mongolia? One requirement of my partner before setting off into the unknown is a reliable source of water along the way. Even if we carry several litres on the bike that would only last us a day or so if we were caught short. Would running out of water down Gobi Dessert way be a real problem?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
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Old 7 Mar 2012
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Mongolia on 1200???

Gosh I really want to do Mongolia on my BMW 1200 GS Adv in Sept/Oct. What do you guys think? Rode lots of dirt on small bikes long ago. Rode this bike 2 up throughout Baja late last year. Hmmm???...
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Old 8 Mar 2012
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Does anybody else know the country well? There's been about 50 views on this thread since I asked my question 3 days ago.
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Old 19 Mar 2012
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"Gosh I really want to do Mongolia on my BMW 1200 GS Adv in Sept/Oct".

Hi, I am looking into the same topic/problem. After crossing the Sahara in 2007 it was evident that I would not have been happy with a bigger bike, I was riding a Tenere 660.

My next project is Mongolia 20013, and one guy who wants to accompany me drives a BMW 1200.


We are not so sure that this is a good idée, so please tell us you’re final decision, and how it all worked out.

Thanx ahead

Haakon
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Old 19 Mar 2012
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Hello robb36,

I'm no expert on Mongolia, but did spend 3 weeks there last year doing the middle and some of the Gobi down south. Re your question about water - I never found it a problem; down south there were occassions when it was about 100 km between villages, but there was always water available from a well, a pump or a stream. I carried 4 litres on the bike and 2 in a camelbak and found that sufficient and never felt at risk of running out. The thing about Mongolia is your never a huge distance from people, the population density may be low but they are spread out, and where there are people you can always get water. So with a bit of care, no I don't think water should ever be a worry.

As for the big bike / small bike debate all I can say is I took a KLR 650 and for a few days (and after umpteen times picking it up) in soft sand down in the south I'd have loved a lighter bike, but for the rest of the trip (for me) it was fine. A DRZ400 or WR250R would have suited me better for the harder off-road days but a GS1200 better during some of the longer transits in Russia - everythings a compromise.

Happy planning
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Old 5 Apr 2012
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Thank you for that navalarchitect. Just one more question, is it generally alright to drink from a river? Or would you recommend boiling first?
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Old 5 Apr 2012
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Robb, on the Northern route you dont really touch the Gobi desert. On the southern route, you skim it. There are towns with food, water, coke, petrol spaced regularly along the way.

I have never had to drink stream water in Mongolia in many visits to the place ... there has always been shops selling bottled water, , coke or whatever else I wanted to drink. Its easy to plan your day around the location of towns.

Last edited by colebatch; 5 Apr 2012 at 18:04.
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Old 5 Apr 2012
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Drinking water from Rivers

Quote:
Originally Posted by Robb36 View Post
Thank you for that navalarchitect. Just one more question, is it generally alright to drink from a river? Or would you recommend boiling first?
If you ask Mongolians, it's always safe and healthy to drink from any of their rivers. The problem is that Mongolia being so huge and in the middle of nowhere big corporations don't really care if it gets polluted or contaminated, because before anyone will realize the damage, they will be well gone and we all know the ethics of large corporations. In recent years Mongolia has begun to host a variety of foreign corporations to extract minerals and make money in any possible way. The reality is that there is no control over pollution or contamination. Let alone that the USA has quietly asked the Mongolian government to arrange (with good financial compensation to the government and government officials) the dumping of radioactive waste somewhere in Mongolia. I personally wouldn't drink anything without filtering it first. The real problem is that not only you don't know, but nobody else really knows the level of contamination of the water deep in the ground... there is just no data available. What I would do is get a Lifesaver Bottle (read more here Overland to Japan - Expedition Equipment) and just be safe. It's a bit expensive, but considering the lifespan of the filter I think it's worth it and you have peace of mind. Hope this helps.
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