Long Way Home 1

Update - Gear


F650GS 2002 Model   The single spark engine was noticeably less economical, taking usually 2Ltrs more than the twin spark Dakar, each time the tank was filled. In general the bike ran beautifully and didn’t use any oil or water. Surprisingly, there have been no after effects from having to run the bike on poor quality fuel. With the octane rating in Mongolia as low as 76 I had expected some damage to the catalytic converter and possibly the valves, but after a full service at Rainbow Motorcycles they were pleased to report absolutely no change to the valve clearances and gave the bike a clean bill of health. (For the next 70,000 miles?)

Setting off from home, negotiating my steep drive I pulled the most amazing ‘wheelie’, unintentional I might add, but my ‘street cred’ went up in leaps and bounds. This meant we had to drop the front forks by a good half inch to try and stabilise the handling. Dropping the forks put the bike level countering the heavy weight on the rear – and I don’t mean me! It did work, making the bike handle like a better class supermarket trolley when fully loaded.

For the level of skill I showed handling the bike in the deep sand, I doubt whether having a 21 inch front wheel would have made any difference, though Mick swears his was better. What I did find frustrating was, I couldn’t see over the top of the screen to see where to put my front wheel – THAT is the excuse I used explaining why my bike had the front wheel in one rut and the rear in another.


BMW F650GS-Dakar 2004 model.  The ‘bike has a heart of gold and a backbone of steel. It makes me cross that BMW market this ‘bike as an entry level or beginners ‘bike.  It’s an accomplished long distance ‘overlanding’ machine, a serious tourer, and a giggle on the back lanes.  It has also embarrassed a few at the Nürburgring.  However… for this trip it was ideal and gets a resounding “Yes” vote from me.  One tough little cookie!  The twin spark 2004 engine is noticeably smoother than the earlier single spark version, uses much less petrol, and will pull a higher gear at lower rpm.  It ran on the very poor quality petrol poured down its throat without too much complaint… and doesn’t appear to have suffered any after effects or lasting damage.  The Remus exhaust is a fraction of the weight of the original, does away with the cat. And although a little noisy it’s not uncomfortably so.  Especially with the excellent earplugs supplied to us by Deaf Leopard errr mmm sorry… Green Leopard (Sheffield).

Chains and sprockets, much to my surprise, lasted the whole nineteen thousand plus miles. Fitted new to go with, they were on their ‘last legs’ when we rolled into Rainbow five months later.  Thanks probably to the regular (read most every day) quick spray with Putoline Ceramic chain spray. We each carried five tins of the stuff, but where? … the secret will be revealed later, just to see if you’re really paying attention!



Supplied by Jim Brown of Custom Ear Plugs.  As it says, custom made professional ear plugs from Instamould material.  A superb product fitted with filters, they were all day comfortable even in the 50 degrees of Turkmenistan.  Dear Jim was later to be diagnosed with terminal cancer and I took over the business from him. Have a look at me over at Custom Ear Plugs UK


The standard seat was still comfy after 10 hours in the saddle and riding day after day. Sue


Wunderlich seat supplied by Wunderlich… All day riding comfort, no complaints, but Sue was happy with the standard BMW saddle anyway.  Mick


Hepco & Becker. If marks were given out of 20, these panniers would have to have 25. They were superb. Considering the number of times my bike ended up on its side in Mongolia, the dents are not too bad. The corners may have been chamfered a little more, and I did actually break the locking mechanism after one particularly hard fall, but due to the design of the panniers, it was easily strapped on securely. Mick had made some brackets to carry 2Ltr plastic containers; one for water, the other for fuel, these fitted easily to the front of the panniers and were worth their weight in gold.


These were supplied by Wunderlich and were the Hepco & Becker ‘Gobi’ (how apt eh!) double skinned, plastic, and very very tough!  Sue made several attempts to destroy hers and failed miserably.  We even stood her ‘bike on one to get it (the ‘bike) onto the top of a truck… didn’t even mark it!  Lockable, secure and waterproof, they didn’t vibrate, and carried much more weight than was ever intended. Top notch tackle that does what it says on the tin!

Tank bag

Wunderlich with side panniers.  These stood up reasonably well to the test. I  (Sue) carried light, flexible items in these bags, so that if I fell off, there was nothing hard to damage the side panels of the bike.  The zips performed adequately, though I had to wash some sand out of the teeth on more than one occasion. The plastic map case really was waterproof when put with the zip on the underside. After about 15,000 miles and countless times taking them on/off, the strap that secured the bottom of the bag to the bike pulled out. A strap around the bag and fastened to the engine bars was enough to secure it.


BMW’s own (Mick) … which I like, and always use in preference to other makes.  Let down only by the zips!

Roll bag

Wunderlich and totally waterproof.  This carried sleeping bag, roll mats, three legged stool, food supplies, pots and pans – and from Uzbekistan onwards my Bukhara Carpet! Without doubt an excellent piece of equipment.


BMW’s own… which I like.  Totally waterproof until the zip let go… C’mon BMW!!


Continental Escape and TKCs. We started off on the Escapes and after 6000 miles once into Mongolia, changed to the knobbly tyres, the TKC’s. I didn’t much like the feel of these to begin with, but in the loose sand and gravel they came into their own. After 10,000 miles we changed back to the Continentals for the rest of the trip back up through Europe. Perhaps the TKC’s would have been ok, but I had a feeling that on the wet roads they didn’t have the same stability that the Escapes did. It was astonishing how many miles those TKC’s did though – and just for the record – not one puncture!


tyres were supplied by Wunderlich (in liason with Continental).  The ‘Escapes’ being their version of the road/trail type like the Metzeler Tourance which I’m so in love with, and their TKC 80’s for off road use. One pair of each, for each ‘bike. The TKC’s are fitted to the BMW’s for their ‘Off Road Courses’ and I have no doubt whatsoever that their limits far exceed mine.  I liked these tyres, and to be honest, in over nineteen thousand miles, I never had a slide.  OK, only once, uphill right hander and both tyres, ‘Escapes’, let go… but hey, they didn’t throw me off, so no complaints there.  Sue’s heart was in her mouth as she watched my ‘bike slide broadside, wobble, and then re-compose itself! Not tell you where my heart was…

Two ‘bikes, over 38,000 miles between them, over some of the worst terrain imaginable, through deserts, mountains, potholes, and rubble strewn highways… and not one puncture!


Wilber suspension and front forks. Again, I can’t speak highly enough of the Wilber suspension unit. The bike floated over the atrocious road conditions of Russia, with potholes big enough to swallow the bike, not once did it ‘bottom out’. A really smooth ride and the unit is as good as the day it was put on, 20,000miles ago. I had hoped that it would ‘sag’ a little but unfortunately for me it hasn’t, and now the bike is stripped of luggage I find it difficult to touch the floor!


Suspension was supplied by Wunderlich (in liason with Wilbers) and was truly one of the
of this trip. I have a new 1200GS ‘Adventure’ on order… and it’ll be fitted with Wilbers. An offshoot from WP Suspension, Wilbers are made in Germany.  They supplied rear units with slightly stronger spring rating, and new front fork springs and oil. The suspension was at all times totally unfazed, and riding along side Sue in the Gobi desert her front and rear wheels, forks and swinging arm were just a blur on those roads (roads… ha!).  The front fork stanchions blued with the heat… but the damping didn’t go AWOL.  Totally impressed… if I had the money I’d buy the company!  As an aside… Wilbers want the units back to see how they’ve faired these last nineteen thousand miles, check for wear, problems etc.  The units will be rebuilt and we can have them back.  I’ve removed mine and it’s cleaned up like new!  The rebound damping adjustment still turns freely and apart from a few scratches the unit really is like new. I’m rather afraid that my Öhlins fitted to previous machines would not have faired so well… I know this for sure.

Throttle rocker

This I (Sue) found difficult to use. The idea is good, allowing the heel of the hand to rest on the rocker so that the fingers do not have to curl around the throttle, but what a pain it was when not on long straight roads. It got in the way and after one or two instances of accelerating when I didn’t want to, it was soon tossed into the bottom of the tank bag and ignored.


Throttle rocker (Wunderlich) I (Mick) loved it.  It will live in my tank bag and whenever I’ve got some miles of motorway or ‘A’ roads to do it can be fitted in seconds.  Just saves having to ‘grasp’ the throttle.   Good kit.

Extended sump guard

Says it all really. Extends the cover to the bottom of the engine, handy for keeping a bit more dirt out – and an excellent place for storing the spare chain. Also great for catching an engine mounting bolt when it dropped out of the frame – as Mick found out!


Extended sump guard  Grrrr… I (Mick) had already fitted mine, good kit, but Wunderlich supplied Sue with hers!  Helps the ‘bike bounce over rocky terrain, and keeps the crap from underneath the engine, suspension links etc.  We wrapped up a spare chain in plastic and secured it on the top of the sump guards, underneath the engine.  Great eh!  Not only but also… checking the ‘bike’s over one day I noticed this ‘ere bolt thingy sat on mi extended sump guard! It was only my rear (only) engine mounting bolt that had not only come loose, not only come out, but had been caught by the sump guard extension.  The threads were well dirty, it had been there several days, we had been over some rough roads… how the engine hadn’t shaken itself out of the frame I’ll never know!  One tough little cookie to be sure!

Handlebar raisers

A nice touch, they look good, they probably do the job, but after one horrific sand tumble that put me (Sue) in the hospital in Khovd with a suspected broken ankle I didn’t do much standing up on the pegs, so I decline to comment on these.


Auxiliary lights

Wunderlich. How does a woman tell the man in front she needs to stop –for a photograph, a coffee, to stroke a camel or go for the obligatory pee? She puts her auxiliary lights on of course! When I ride by myself these are essential as the BMW headlights on the F650gs, to be frank, are dreadful. But for this trip when we did very little riding at night, they came into their own as a signalling device – and cheaper than an intercom system! Seriously though, they are brilliant at lighting up the surrounding area without dazzling the person in front. With so many potholes, on the rare occasion we had to ride in the dark, they were invaluable.


I (Mick) have a Xenon gas discharge light fitted, and though I make a habit of not being on the road at night (bar or bed… but not on the road!) this is a lifesaver for those times when the planning has gone AWOL.  Four hours in the dark, in the Gobi, and I would not, at any price, have been without it. The new ‘bike doesn’t come until the new year… but I have one ready for fitting… honest… and I don’t ride at night!


Wunderlich. The totally sealed batteries never gave any problems.  Maintenance free and leak proof they were quite literally out of sight and out of mind, and no worries when the ‘bike (Sue’s) was on its side!

Extended rack

A plate made to fit on the back of the bike (Sue’s) A home made affair, cut out from alloy checker plate, the idea was that the tyres would balance on the rack and then lean on the kit bag. It was a total success. Room for a rucksack in the tyres and with a cargo net stretched over, it became a safe haven for all sorts of bits and pieces. Only once did I loose something, a packet of biscuits dropped through the gap, and a box of cakes with a six-month shelf life followed. The biscuits were reduced to crumbs falling from the bike at 50mph – the cakes? – not a scratch or dent. Says a lot about the ingredients eh?

Camping gear

Mick will cover I expect, as he carried the tent and the bivvi. My own concession to ‘comfort for the aged’, was to have 2 self inflating Thermarest mats, fastened together with boot laces so that they wouldn’t come apart. This worked well and made a big difference on my poor old back.


Equipment was a miss-match of tried and tested old and new equipment! The tent was a ‘Mountain Hard Wear’ supplied by our good friend Arnold, of Trapper Equipment.  Designed for Everest ‘Base Camp’ conditions it quite simply… worked! It didn’t blow away, was roomy… and we didn’t use it if it was raining!  Well, with hotels at £3 a night would you?  The ‘Tarp’ as the Dutch call them, was useful… again supplied by Trapper Equipment, used in high winds and sand storms in the Gobi desert when it was impossible to put a tent up, gave ‘safe haven’ for the night.  I shared my space with a rather large beetle… woke up with eye to eye contact, we didn’t frighten each other and had mutual respect…

Sleeping bag

A Snugpak Softie 9 Hawk (Sue) A three-season bag which was totally adequate for the trip. We also took a sheet sleeping bag each, which we didn’t use, as all the accommodation we found had clean, if not pristine, bed linen.


By Mountain Equipment (Mick) … the beetle slept outside though! 


MSR Expedition. Initially this worked well, although the flame was pretty fierce and food would not ‘simmer’ in the pan. Mick’s patience was severely strained when it gave up working altogether. This was the night in the Gobi when we were cold, tired and battling with a sand storm. The reason it wouldn’t work was that we hadn’t cleaned it properly; the poor quality fuel was ‘sooting up’ the pipes. Our apologies to Arnold of Trapper Equipment, Holland, for the curt e- mail, the stove worked every time after it was cleaned correctly! Initial grumbles with the MSR Expedition cooker were unfounded. (Sorry Arnold) It quite simply didn’t like 76 octane petrol! 


My  (Sue) Garmin GPS III Plus was a little beaut! There was enough information on the base map to be able to navigate without detailed maps. I used it for total mileage of the trip. 18,910miles for my bike, with several hundred more covered on the top of a lorry, and 500 more on a train which we will not talk about! – Interestingly there was a discrepancy of 252 miles between the bike mileage and the GPS mileage. (GPS showed more) Maximum speed for my bike was 96.9 mph and average speed for the trip was 35.2mph


To put it quite simply, there are things in life that we cannot do without.  Well, put another way… we’d rather not do without!  I (Mick) navigated the Gobi, at night, without a GPS, without even a map… and I’d rather not do it again!  The old fashioned magnetic compass was called into use, and it, and the Xenon headlight, were my very best friends I can assure you.  GPS every time please.  GPS are a bit like MZ’s… we can do without them, but the only people who call them are those that have never owned one!


Sue - Kodak EasyShare DX4330 Digital Camera. A no nonsense, point and press, foolproof piece of equipment for somebody not really interested in photography. It threw a bit of a wobbly in Russia with the extremely cold temperatures and the continual vibration it was getting in the tank bag. When I turned it on, it would whiz through the options I could choose, landscape, close-up, night mode etc., before it decided I could only take videos. But as the weather warmed up it started to behave and it took some really good shots. A good camera for a beginner. I had three camera cards, 2 x 64MB and a 256MB. These photographs were transferred to a CD whenever we could. Facilities in Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan were exceptionally good for this.


Mick -  Canon Ixus 400 Compact, and a Canon G3… both digital, with plenty of Compact Flash storage, but took along an Apacer to write the cards to CD, works off the mains or 12v, would even write Sue’s SD cards (Kodak) to CD also.  It very quickly gave up the ghost!  We then had to call in at photographic shops en-route and have the cards written to CD.  No probs.  Plenty of places could do this, so next time (next time?) I’ll just take plenty of memory and have them written to CD as and when we can…. no probs.

Mobile Phone

Nothing fancy, just my (Sue) usual Nokia. Wished I hadn’t taken it really, one call home for 8 minutes cost me a whacking £22 from Kazakhstan. There was only one occasion we wished we had satellite phones and that was when we were separated on the way to Altai, in Mongolia.  There was no signal in the desert for an ordinary mobile.



“One should arrange ones life in such a fashion that every moment has a meaning”  

Ivan S Turgenjev