In 2014, a two year journey on a bitch of old Ural 650 motorcycles with sidecars was started by a group of artists stitched together from all over the world. They began their journey from Halle Saale (East Germany) with the aim of reaching New York in 2016. Their journey was split into three stages. Stage 1 was Europe, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Siberia. STAGE 2 was Far East Russia including the Old Road of Bones and ending up in Magadan.
We sat down with Suzy for an interview.
YouMotorcycle: What inspired you to hit the road?
Suzy: It was really important for us to remove ourselves from the privacy and comfort of everyday life. We wanted to get out there and explore the many faces of the world without being hindered by the pictures created by the media. We wanted to question and push both our sense of practicality and creativity by trying to adapt to foreign geographical regions and to learn a thing or two from the cultures found along our way. What is amazing about the method of the motorcycle is how in touch it is with its surroundings. This brings us much closer to experiencing firsthand information – it reevaluates cultural preconceptions – it can create more space for understanding.
YouMotorcycle: How long had you been riding before leaving for your trip?
Suzy: Not much – Some of us had just got their licenses like a month before we started and some even after we started! Half of our group had done a trip with Simpson mopeds a few years back where they tried to reach India. Kaupo (we call him the Estonian Free Rider) managed to get his license during our last Wintercamp in Georgia. Straight out of a 5 minute test and he was on the Caucasian mountains, swivelling towards Vladikavkaz.
YouMotorcycle: How far along on your ride are you?
Suzy: This is our 2nd Wintercamp, which is taking place in Vancouver. Now we are preparing for STAGE 3 which is to manage the off-road conditions through Chukotka up to the Bering Strait. The first challenge that we will encounter in Chukotka is the crossing of the Kolyma river. To manage the 1600 km extension of water up to Seymchan we want to reconstruct the Urals with propellers and floating pontoons. At this point we are looking for new sponsors which are interested in working with us to make things possible!
YouMotorcycle: What has been your favorite part so far?
Suzy: It’s difficult to point at just one part in particular. You know… these Urals from the 1990s… they’re not the speediest or the most reliable pieces of machinery. We actually chose them for that reason: they can breakdown at any given point and force us to take a closer look at some of the most unexpected places. It’s also pretty amazing to see how much help people stop to offer as we’ve had one breakdown after another – after another – after another… Plus these motorcycles are widely known in the regions that we’ve been through. Finding spare parts – spare gearboxes, even the 9 spare engines that we ended up needing was never a problem. This “slow-motion” bike with all its breakdowns have brought us into some pretty cool situations.
YouMotorcycle: What was a particularly difficult part?
Suzy: Most definitely the Old Road of Bones. This road has been shutdown for the past 20 years. The bridges are falling apart across some pretty wide and strong river currents. The amount of swamps is… absolutely ridiculous! Especially with a 400 kg 3-wheeler. This was A LOT of sinking in mud – pushing/pulling – road construction improvisations.
YouMotorcycle: What’s a moment you’ll remember and cherish forever?
Suzy: There are so many moments to hold on to but perhaps one of the most significant ones was by the end of the Old Road of Bones, around 15km before Myaundzha. We camped at the foot of a 100 meter bridge which was clearly out of order and prepared to use our “SYSTEM” to get all 5 Urals across the following morning.
With the break of day we emptied the motorcycles and all our luggage and started pulling Johannes’s bike (Susanne Schwepchess) against the current and over the river. A few seconds after pulling the 1st motorcycle over we were greeted by the honk of a ural truck. These 2 wonderful Russians (Alexey and Tolik) arranged to come with their truck and carry our motorcycles over the river. You cannot imagine how happy we all were to not spend the next 20 hours transferring a total of 5 x 400kg over the river for the 5th time.
I think we are all happy to have done this road and that none of us really regrets a minute of it. It was difficult. extremely difficult. But even with a total state of exhaustion, sleeping by swamps, fearing the disappointment of the next crumbling bridge it was really amazing to have the chance to see how people from so different background origins can come together to find practical solutions to extreme situations – almost impossible looking situations.
YouMotorcycle: What’s next?
Suzy: First of all we need to finalize STAGE 3 – Go up the Kolyma – Cross into Alaska and make our way through Canada and the States. We hope to reach New York by fall 2016. Furthermore, we’ve been documenting the journey through film, photography, illustration and blogging. We really enjoy experimenting with short clips which alternate between documentary and fiction by the end of our journey we plan to publish a series of short films based on our adventures.
For 2017 we plan a book release with our publishing company in Germany, Monsenstein & Vannerdat, which will give a more in depth picture of what our journey is about. In addition we are discussing the creation of a theater script based on our research: The Theater of the Ural – A Play in Breakdowns
The artists have recently launched a 2nd crowd-funding campaign on PATREON. They live under the stars, sun or rain, and their whole financial objective is to keep the engines running, and to help them to manufacture their innovative Amphibious Ural and to get through their expedition using only the bare necessities. Please consider making a donation.
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