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Author: Bryn Davies
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Follow Kevin Turner, also known as ‘The Hapless Biker’, on his great Russian motorcycle adventure as he sets off with nothing more than an 11-year-old Ninja 636, Michelin Pilot Road 3 tyres and the challenge of reaching Moscow on two wheels…

Last August I embarked on a 6,000 mile motorcycle adventure, from London, up through Norway and across Finland to Moscow. I gave myself three weeks to squeeze in a trip that should rightly have taken three months (or rather, my employer gave me three weeks…)

Still, over those 21 days, I experienced some of the most wonderful moments of my motorcycling life, and also some of the worst. I rode along the extraordinary Trollstigen pass in Norway and felt my heart skip a beat as I looked down on the majestic Geirangerfjord; I experienced first-hand the beauty of St Petersburg and felt the presence of so much history in the Russian capital. And I also came very close to a horrible, mangled death beneath the wheels of 1,000 enormous trucks as I bounced across the loose rock and rubble which constitute so many of Russia’s roads.

 The journey represented the culmination of ten years of riding: it was a challenge set for no good reason; a mountain to climb simply because it was there. Throughout, my only companion was my bike, an 11-year-old Ninja 636; stock, except for the after-market exhaust, a tinted screen and a few too many stickers.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s nigh-on impossible to pinpoint a single highlight from a trip packed full of discovery and surprise, but my time spent riding through Norway was very special. The beauty, the silence, the isolation felt like one long soul-cleansing experience after so many frantic rush-hour battles across London.

As a counterpoint, the brutal reality of the Russian roads could not have been more striking. For 13 terrifying hours I weaved my way through a never-ending convoy of tankers and juggernauts as I rode first towards St Petersburg and then onwards again to Moscow.

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It seemed unimaginable at the time that the journey from the border to St Petersburg would not represent the very worst that Russia could throw at me. It was dreadful in a way I was completely unprepared for. The M10 was a road without embellishment; a patchwork mess of crumbling tarmac, potholes, trenches and gravel, its surface pounded into parody by the relentless motion of heavy traffic. At its edges, among the detritus, stood a ramshackle collection of sad-looking people, selling trinkets and bits of fruit. A broken line of hopeless faces dotted along the highway, like desperate refugees that had stumbled from the trees, hoping ‘the road’ would bring salvation. But it didn’t; not to them and not to me, nor anyone else stupid enough to try and ride a sports bike along its decomposing surface.

At such times it’s very easy to forget that the angst, the fear and the desperation are all part and parcel of a journey that felt at times like a very real metaphor. But the lows were almost always followed quickly by towering highs, as was the case when I finally staggered off the Kawasaki late at night in central Moscow and felt myself overcome by a wave of jubilation upon reaching my goal.

If the ride was tough for me, it was ten times worse for my bike. The Ninja is a sports-tourer, but it is not an adventure bike. It was not designed to ride across hundreds of miles of rubble, lugging two heavy panniers, a tent and a hapless biker way out of his depth. I lost count of the times I felt sure the poor machine was about to grind to a halt, its chain and sprockets thick with congealing mud and its suspension hammered beyond belief. But it just kept going.

As did the tyres, a set of new Pilot Road 3s that I’d had fitted a week or so before I left. I had read that the Pilot 3s were very good in both wet and dry conditions, and in truth that’s all I expected they would have to contend with. I had not anticipated so many miles of lunar-like surface, so many huge pot-holes and loose gravel tracks. I could have forgiven them for expiring at any time, especially on the return leg. But like the Kawasaki, they not only survived, they excelled.

As I write this, the Ninja is parked outside my house, clean and polished and fully recovered from the adventure. In fact, it’s just returned from a rather wet track day at Donington Park, followed by a weekend’s touring in Wales. It’s still wearing those same Pilot Road 3s that I left for Russia on nine months ago, and barring errant nails and broken glass I suspect those tyres will remain wrapped around the stone-chipped wheels all summer long. Hopefully that will include a few more adventures, though perhaps none quite as epic as my Russian marathon.

Kevin’s Russian adventure features in his new book: From Crystal Palace to Red Square – A Hapless Biker’s Road to Russia, published by Veloce Publishing and available from Amazon and all good bookshops. More information on Kevin’s books can be found at www.haplessbiker.com

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