About a year ago, two friends, Evert and Willem, rode from the small nation of Georgia to their home in the Netherlands. The two were 25 and 24 years old. Their trip was roughly three months and 10,000 kilometers. It took them through 15 countries via remote roads and some of Europe’s most beautiful cities, all on two old Honda Shadow Customs.
YouMotorcycle: What inspired your big 15-country ride?
Willem van Houten: Both of us have been riding bike since we were 18 years old and always had a dream to do a big motorcycle trip and to feel the freedom of riding for months. Having our bags and tents tied to the sissy bar of our motorcycles and going wherever we pleased. This combination of the freedom of the road and enjoying live gigs, either in underground bars or festivals was something we were eager to do.
YouMotorcycle: When did you start trying to lay out a plan?
Willem van Houten: Before I went to Tbilisi for work, about 6 months prior to our trip, we had the classic bar talk about that it would make a great trip to go back home on our bikes. So I ended up buying a one way ticket and that was the start of it.
YouMotorcycle: What happened next?
Willem van Houten: We did very little planning, and most of our accommodation (camping, couchsurfing and hostels) was on the road. The main thing we had to plan was getting our bikes from the container ship. Motorcycles in Georgia are very expensive, hence our current business (Tbilisi motorcycle tours & rental). Waiting for our bikes in Batumi, a city with a port, was terrible and took some weeks and bribes.
YouMotorcycle: That sucks. What did you use for navigation?
Willem van Houten: Honestly, we just duck taped our phone to the gas tank as soon as we hit a city. For the rest traffic signs were our main source of navigation.
YouMotorcycle: Did you set a route before you left?
Willem van Houten: Not really. We knew we were gonna hit Turkey from Georgia, and not Russia and Eastern Ukraine due to the situation in the latter. After that we decided on our next destination from wherever we happened to be at that point.
YouMotorcycle: What about a sense of timing?
Willem van Houten: We knew we had about 3 months. So we were able to ride around a lot didn’t need to be very efficient about it either. We went back and forth, just because. When we hit Prague, money was running out, since we were basically living it up before that. So after the Czech Republic we went a bit faster to be able to enjoy the trip and not drag it out with little cash.
YouMotorcycle: What would you do differently?
Willem van Houten: I think we would do more couchsurfing. Its great to come to a city and not have to find everything out yourself. You have people tell you about the city and the culture and show you the best places for music, drinks and food. I also think we would do less hostels. They can be quite tiring with all the stereotypical travelers you meet there. Lastly, a bit more road planning would have brought us to even more beautiful roads.
YouMotorcycle: What were some of your favorite parts of the adventure?
Willem van Houten: We couldn’t have wished for a better start than Georgia. Following wine routes, riding through immense mountain passes and on top off that enjoying the hospitality with always being invited for more and more food, wine and chacha, a 65% strong liqueur that Georgians drink like water. The authenticity, history and treatment you get there as a foreigner, especially if you’re on motorbike, is overwhelming.
YouMotorcycle: What other countries come to mind?
Willem van Houten: For riding Albania and Bosnia were really great. Amazing scenery and good roads. Also Slovenia was great by bike, but culturally less raw than the other countries mentioned. Riding the coast of Montenegro is also beautiful.
YouMotorcycle: How did your Honda Shadows do on the trip?
Willem van Houten: Evert took his 2003 Honda Shadow 1100, which held up perfectly. The only problem he had was that his clutch fluid overheated after 3 hours of city traffic in Istanbul on the busy Taksim area. After letting the bike cool down half an hour it was good to go again.
YouMotorcycle: And what about your Honda Shadow?
Willem van Houten: My bike is a 1986 Honda Shadow 750, my cylinder gasket burned in Ankara due to a failure of the ventilator. It held us up for a few days. We still own both bikes and we use them for tours and the rental business we have running in Georgia now.
YouMotorcycle: On that note, what were some of the hard parts of the trip like?
Willem van Houten: A thunderstorm came right when we were high up in the mountains of Albania. It was spooky. There was no one else out there. On that road my mate Evert fell. He slipped and just slid away to the side of the road, frighteningly close to the cliff. Luckily we were already going slowly because of the weather.
YouMotorcycle: Any broken bones?
Willem van Houten: No. Both Evert and his bike were unharmed so we hit the road shortly thereafter. Later that day the weather turned into a sunny and beautiful day for riding, but a fall like that stays on the back of your mind.
YouMotorcycle: What was your favorite place along the way?
Willem van Houten: Definitely Georgia. That’s why we started our business there (Tbilisi motorcycle tours & rental). The diversity is amazing, riding is rare but getting more common, and that creates a great feeling of brotherhood among motorcyclists in Tbilisi.
YouMotorcycle: What did traveling through 15 countries on motorcycles teach you?
Willem van Houten: People are definitely nice and ready to help you all of the time. There are beautiful girls to be found everywhere, making new friends on the road and becoming close with people in a short time. It taught us that we really want to do more long travels by motorcycles. My dream is to do a South-America cruiser tour next.
It also taught us that we want to work on something that we really like.We want to enjoy motorcycling among people that share that passion. Shortly after arriving in Tbilisi, I did an internship at the Dutch Embassy. Soon I found out did not like the office style of work and all the bureaucracy and rules. I fell in love with the country, with riding through it, and with playing music with Georgians. They are incredibly good musicians. The Georgian people really do make us feel at home here.
Check out Mototravel.ge to find out more about motorcycle riding in Georgia.
Photography by Robert Cooper.