Holiday Destinations

Extreme Bike Tours: Traveling Western Mongolia on Royal Enfield motorcycles

Extreme Bike Tours: Traveling ...
Loz Blain with his Royal Enfield Bullet 500, in the middle of the Altai Mountains as a guest of Extreme Bike Tours
Loz Blain with his Royal Enfield Bullet 500, in the middle of the Altai Mountains as a guest of Extreme Bike Tours
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Mongolian capital city Ulaanbaatar - Chinggis Khaan Square from the sky at night
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Mongolian capital city Ulaanbaatar - Chinggis Khaan Square from the sky at night
Mongolian National Song and Dance Academic Ensemble, Ulaanbaatar - an absolutely brilliant show. Traditional dance number.
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Mongolian National Song and Dance Academic Ensemble, Ulaanbaatar - an absolutely brilliant show. Traditional dance number.
Mongolian National Song and Dance Academic Ensemble, Ulaanbaatar - an absolutely brilliant show. Traditional dance number.
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Mongolian National Song and Dance Academic Ensemble, Ulaanbaatar - an absolutely brilliant show. Traditional dance number.
Mongolian National Song and Dance Academic Ensemble, Ulaanbaatar - evil spirit cleansing
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Mongolian National Song and Dance Academic Ensemble, Ulaanbaatar - evil spirit cleansing
Mongolian National Song and Dance Academic Ensemble, Ulaanbaatar - evil spirit cleansing
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Mongolian National Song and Dance Academic Ensemble, Ulaanbaatar - evil spirit cleansing
Mongolian National Song and Dance Academic Ensemble, Ulaanbaatar - adult contortionist
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Mongolian National Song and Dance Academic Ensemble, Ulaanbaatar - adult contortionist
Mongolian National Song and Dance Academic Ensemble, Ulaanbaatar - adult contortionist
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Mongolian National Song and Dance Academic Ensemble, Ulaanbaatar - adult contortionist
Mongolian National Song and Dance Academic Ensemble, Ulaanbaatar - adult contortionist
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Mongolian National Song and Dance Academic Ensemble, Ulaanbaatar - adult contortionist
Mongolian National Song and Dance Academic Ensemble, Ulaanbaatar - traditional dance
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Mongolian National Song and Dance Academic Ensemble, Ulaanbaatar - traditional dance
Mongolian National Song and Dance Academic Ensemble, Ulaanbaatar - traditional dance
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Mongolian National Song and Dance Academic Ensemble, Ulaanbaatar - traditional dance
DJ Seddon in the Altai Mountains
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DJ Seddon in the Altai Mountains
Bust statue, Tolbo
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Bust statue, Tolbo
Tolbo, Bayan Olgi province
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Tolbo, Bayan Olgi province
Argentinian solo traveller Federico tries out the Royal Enfield Bullet
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Argentinian solo traveller Federico tries out the Royal Enfield Bullet
Charlie Nott, Altai Mountains
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Charlie Nott, Altai Mountains
Tour leader Emily Hewitt, Altai Mountains
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Tour leader Emily Hewitt, Altai Mountains
Richard Thwaites, Altai Mountains
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Richard Thwaites, Altai Mountains
Solo traveller Luc from France takes a spin on the Royal Enfield Bullet
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Solo traveller Luc from France takes a spin on the Royal Enfield Bullet
Solo travellers Luc and Federico join the group for the last few days. Federico has brought a Honda CBX250 from Argentina, Luc has ridden a GS1100 BMW from France.
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Solo travellers Luc and Federico join the group for the last few days. Federico has brought a Honda CBX250 from Argentina, Luc has ridden a GS1100 BMW from France.
Tour leader Emily Hewitt, Altai mountains
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Tour leader Emily Hewitt, Altai mountains
The group rests on one of the better roads we see
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The group rests on one of the better roads we see
Hard packed dirt is a five-star road by the time we make it to the Altai Mountains
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Hard packed dirt is a five-star road by the time we make it to the Altai Mountains
Mountain panorama, between Hotgorhag and Tolbo
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Mountain panorama, between Hotgorhag and Tolbo
Mountain panorama, between Hotgorhag and Tolbo
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Mountain panorama, between Hotgorhag and Tolbo
Lonely valley - we camped in here somewhere. Near Hotgorhag
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Lonely valley - we camped in here somewhere. Near Hotgorhag
Lonely valley - we camped in here somewhere. Near Hotgorhag
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Lonely valley - we camped in here somewhere. Near Hotgorhag
Doug Durrington, Hotgorhag
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Doug Durrington, Hotgorhag
Lunch stop, between Hotgorhag and Tolbo
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Lunch stop, between Hotgorhag and Tolbo
Emily Hewitt and Chris Auld, desert between Khovd and Hotgorhag, with the Altai mountains in the distance
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Emily Hewitt and Chris Auld, desert between Khovd and Hotgorhag, with the Altai mountains in the distance
Rory Gibson and Chris Auld, desert between Khovd and Hotgorhag, with the Altai mountains in the distance
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Rory Gibson and Chris Auld, desert between Khovd and Hotgorhag, with the Altai mountains in the distance
Picturesque mountain plains between Ulaagchiin Khar Lake and Telmen
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Picturesque mountain plains between Ulaagchiin Khar Lake and Telmen
Picturesque mountain plains between Ulaagchiin Khar Lake and Telmen
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Picturesque mountain plains between Ulaagchiin Khar Lake and Telmen
Friendly locals, Myangad
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Friendly locals, Myangad
Friendly locals, Myangad
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Friendly locals, Myangad
Royal Enfield Bullets in the desert between Bayanbuli and Myangad
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Royal Enfield Bullets in the desert between Bayanbuli and Myangad
Some say the motorcycle is starting to replace the horse in Mongolian culture. A meeting of the past and the future, Myangad
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Some say the motorcycle is starting to replace the horse in Mongolian culture. A meeting of the past and the future, Myangad
Crossing lake Hyargas nuur by hand-pulled ferry
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Crossing lake Hyargas nuur by hand-pulled ferry
Crossing lake Hyargas nuur by hand-pulled ferry
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Crossing lake Hyargas nuur by hand-pulled ferry
Lake Hyargas nuur sits in the middle of some of the harshest rocky desert we encounter
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Lake Hyargas nuur sits in the middle of some of the harshest rocky desert we encounter
On the banks of lake Hyargas nuur is a small Russian holiday camp famous for its unique rock formations
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On the banks of lake Hyargas nuur is a small Russian holiday camp famous for its unique rock formations
On the banks of lake Hyargas nuur is a small Russian holiday camp famous for its unique rock formations and chalky white stone beaches
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On the banks of lake Hyargas nuur is a small Russian holiday camp famous for its unique rock formations and chalky white stone beaches
Hunting marmot is illegal in Mongolia - but that doesn't stop the locals. They gut it and stuff a few herbs and onions up its backside, then roast it by blowtorch to remove the hair
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Hunting marmot is illegal in Mongolia - but that doesn't stop the locals. They gut it and stuff a few herbs and onions up its backside, then roast it by blowtorch to remove the hair
After making camp, it was common for local herders to come and join us for a mug of vodka and a feed. This spot was also remarkable for the fact that it had a few trees sitting around. Near Tsaaganuur
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After making camp, it was common for local herders to come and join us for a mug of vodka and a feed. This spot was also remarkable for the fact that it had a few trees sitting around. Near Tsaaganuur
Herd animals are absolutely everywhere, from camels and yaks to cows, horses, ibex and in this case, goats. This small river provided us with an icy bathing opportunity once the goats were gone. Near Tsaaganuur
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Herd animals are absolutely everywhere, from camels and yaks to cows, horses, ibex and in this case, goats. This small river provided us with an icy bathing opportunity once the goats were gone. Near Tsaaganuur
Local herder on horseback, beside the Chinese trans-mongolian highway that's currently under construction. Between Tsaaganuur and Ayag nuur
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Local herder on horseback, beside the Chinese trans-mongolian highway that's currently under construction. Between Tsaaganuur and Ayag nuur
Rory Gibson strikes a pose with his Bullet 500, a traditional Ger in the background. Between Tsaaganuur and Ayag nuur
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Rory Gibson strikes a pose with his Bullet 500, a traditional Ger in the background. Between Tsaaganuur and Ayag nuur
The average traditional ger now has a horse and a motorcycle or two next to it. Between Tsaaganuur and Ayag nuur
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The average traditional ger now has a horse and a motorcycle or two next to it. Between Tsaaganuur and Ayag nuur
Strangely, our first tyre blowout happened within minutes of hitting the trans-Mongolian highway that's currently under construction. It was closely followed by our second. Between Tsaaganuur and Ayag nuur
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Strangely, our first tyre blowout happened within minutes of hitting the trans-Mongolian highway that's currently under construction. It was closely followed by our second. Between Tsaaganuur and Ayag nuur
Tour leader Emily Hewitt pioneers the art of motorcycle yoga. Between Tsaaganuur and Ayag nuur
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Tour leader Emily Hewitt pioneers the art of motorcycle yoga. Between Tsaaganuur and Ayag nuur
One of the most spectacular campsites on the trip sat in a saddle overlooking this magnificent valley. The town in the distance is some 20 or 30km away, and if you look closely you can see gers and herds of animals dotted throughout the plain. Near Tudevtey
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One of the most spectacular campsites on the trip sat in a saddle overlooking this magnificent valley. The town in the distance is some 20 or 30km away, and if you look closely you can see gers and herds of animals dotted throughout the plain. Near Tudevtey
The venerable Bullet 500 in the endless Mongolian steppe. I gave this thing merry hell for two weeks. I managed to smash off the sidestand spring and clog the air filter up with gunk, and bent the brake lever up against the exhaust, but our mechanic Gufram sorted it out with a rock and a steel tube. Between Tsaaganuur and Ayag nuur
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The venerable Bullet 500 in the endless Mongolian steppe. I gave this thing merry hell for two weeks. I managed to smash off the sidestand spring and clog the air filter up with gunk, and bent the brake lever up against the exhaust, but our mechanic Gufram sorted it out with a rock and a steel tube. Between Tsaaganuur and Ayag nuur
Typical Mongolian road after a night of rain. Here there are only two choices, but frequently you can choose from up to 10 paths. Choose wisely, you never know how deep those puddles are.
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Typical Mongolian road after a night of rain. Here there are only two choices, but frequently you can choose from up to 10 paths. Choose wisely, you never know how deep those puddles are.
Emily Hewitt and Loz Blain, near Tudevtey
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Emily Hewitt and Loz Blain, near Tudevtey
Relaxing in the middle of the steppe, a few yaks in the background. Between Telmen and Nomrog
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Relaxing in the middle of the steppe, a few yaks in the background. Between Telmen and Nomrog
Chris Auld and DJ Seddon enjoy a break between Telmen and Nomrog
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Chris Auld and DJ Seddon enjoy a break between Telmen and Nomrog
Herds of horses run through the plains, rarely accompanied by a herder. Somewhere near Nomrog
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Herds of horses run through the plains, rarely accompanied by a herder. Somewhere near Nomrog
The group takes a break between Telmen and Nomrog
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The group takes a break between Telmen and Nomrog
A local herder appears out of nowhere to share a cuppa. One the steppe somewhere around Nomrog
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A local herder appears out of nowhere to share a cuppa. One the steppe somewhere around Nomrog
Howard Hall, John Murphy and DJ Seddon take a break in the picturesque steppe somewhere around Nomrog
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Howard Hall, John Murphy and DJ Seddon take a break in the picturesque steppe somewhere around Nomrog
The small town of Nomrog from the air
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The small town of Nomrog from the air
Richard Thwaites, Charlie Nott and Tim Brougham have a few G&Ts at our spectacular saddle camp near Tudevtey
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Richard Thwaites, Charlie Nott and Tim Brougham have a few G&Ts at our spectacular saddle camp near Tudevtey
The group stops to enjoy the view, open plains near Yaruu
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The group stops to enjoy the view, open plains near Yaruu
Young performer on the banks of the river outside Uliastai
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Young performer on the banks of the river outside Uliastai
Young performer on the banks of the river outside Uliastai
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Young performer on the banks of the river outside Uliastai
The road out of Uliastai, pictured here, and the road into Ulgii at the end of the trip provide us with a rare look at some bitumen
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The road out of Uliastai, pictured here, and the road into Ulgii at the end of the trip provide us with a rare look at some bitumen
DJ Seddon with local guide Jenya, on the banks of the river outside Uliastai
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DJ Seddon with local guide Jenya, on the banks of the river outside Uliastai
Rory Gibson tries some fishing, near Uliastai
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Rory Gibson tries some fishing, near Uliastai
Local guide Jenya shows Rory Gibson the best fishing spots, near Uliastai
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Local guide Jenya shows Rory Gibson the best fishing spots, near Uliastai
Richard Thwaites attaches some good luck charms to his bike, while DJ Seddon looks on. Near Uliastai
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Richard Thwaites attaches some good luck charms to his bike, while DJ Seddon looks on. Near Uliastai
The venerable Royal Enfield Bullet 500 - took all the abuse I could give it, and came back for more,
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The venerable Royal Enfield Bullet 500 - took all the abuse I could give it, and came back for more,
DJ Seddon with his Bullet 500 at our first camp, outside Uliastai
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DJ Seddon with his Bullet 500 at our first camp, outside Uliastai
The first of many ridiculously spectacular campsites, outside Uliastai
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The first of many ridiculously spectacular campsites, outside Uliastai
Dogs appear to have found something dead, Gorkhi Terelj National Park
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Dogs appear to have found something dead, Gorkhi Terelj National Park
Ulaanbaatar locals love to get out of town on weekends, so there's a wealth of holiday gers within an hour or two of the capital city. Ayanchin Camp and Lodge, Gorkhi Terelj National Park
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Ulaanbaatar locals love to get out of town on weekends, so there's a wealth of holiday gers within an hour or two of the capital city. Ayanchin Camp and Lodge, Gorkhi Terelj National Park
This 40-metre stainless steel statue of Chinggis Khaan was built nearly 1000 years after his death. Not a lot of folks can say that.
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This 40-metre stainless steel statue of Chinggis Khaan was built nearly 1000 years after his death. Not a lot of folks can say that.
Doug Durrington, John Murphy, Loz Blain, Sain-Ugur Zagirjav, DJ Seddon, Richard Thwaites and Howard Hall at the Chinggis Khaan memorial statue complex outside Ulaanbaatar
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Doug Durrington, John Murphy, Loz Blain, Sain-Ugur Zagirjav, DJ Seddon, Richard Thwaites and Howard Hall at the Chinggis Khaan memorial statue complex outside Ulaanbaatar
Howard Hall with a trained hunting eagle, outside Ulaanbaatar
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Howard Hall with a trained hunting eagle, outside Ulaanbaatar
Loz Blain compares wingspans with a trained hunting eagle, outside Ulaanbaatar. Loz is found wanting.
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Loz Blain compares wingspans with a trained hunting eagle, outside Ulaanbaatar. Loz is found wanting.
Sain Nomuun Monastery, outside Ulaanbaatar
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Sain Nomuun Monastery, outside Ulaanbaatar
Chinggis Khaan looms large over the capital Ulaanbaatar, but disappears almost entirely when you head out into the countryside.
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Chinggis Khaan looms large over the capital Ulaanbaatar, but disappears almost entirely when you head out into the countryside.
Changing of the guard: a rare treat in Chinggis Khaan Square, Ulaanbaatar
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Changing of the guard: a rare treat in Chinggis Khaan Square, Ulaanbaatar
The Great Khaan's 40-metre tall statue looks out towards his birthplace
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The Great Khaan's 40-metre tall statue looks out towards his birthplace
Sain Nomuun Monastery, outside Ulaanbaatar
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Sain Nomuun Monastery, outside Ulaanbaatar
Colourful guards in Chinggis Khaan square, Ulaanbaatar
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Colourful guards in Chinggis Khaan square, Ulaanbaatar
Colourful guards in Chinggis Khaan square, Ulaanbaatar
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Colourful guards in Chinggis Khaan square, Ulaanbaatar
Chinggis Khaan Square, Ulaanbaatar
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Chinggis Khaan Square, Ulaanbaatar
Poorly annotated map of our trip with Extreme Bike Tours. Mind you, put me back on the ground with this map and a motorcycle, and I'd be surprised if I could find my way.
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Poorly annotated map of our trip with Extreme Bike Tours. Mind you, put me back on the ground with this map and a motorcycle, and I'd be surprised if I could find my way.
Loz Blain with his Royal Enfield Bullet 500, in the middle of the Altai Mountains as a guest of Extreme Bike Tours
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Loz Blain with his Royal Enfield Bullet 500, in the middle of the Altai Mountains as a guest of Extreme Bike Tours
Lake Tolbo, Western Mongolia
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Lake Tolbo, Western Mongolia
Riders Rory Gibson, DJ Seddon and Chris "Bandy" Auld overlook Lake Tolbo, Western Mongolia
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Riders Rory Gibson, DJ Seddon and Chris "Bandy" Auld overlook Lake Tolbo, Western Mongolia
Chinggis Khaan memorial statue, outside Ulaanbaatar: an imposing reminder of a man that once dominated the Eurasian continent
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Chinggis Khaan memorial statue, outside Ulaanbaatar: an imposing reminder of a man that once dominated the Eurasian continent

Western Mongolia: one of the most sparsely populated areas on the planet. Unrelenting in its beauty and its harshness, it warps your sense of distance and scale, and redefines your concept of isolation and remoteness. And yet, it's teeming with life, from the thousands of wild and herd animals we cross paths with each day, to the omnipresent nomadic herders whose stark white yurts dot the landscape. Loz Blain spends two unforgettable weeks on the Mongolian steppe with a battered Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle, as a guest of Extreme Bike Tours.

Planning a motorcycle tour through Western Mongolia looks to me like a tough job. Yes, there's some tarmac roads, but most of the best bits are a long way from bitumen, buried deep in a series of sandy tracks, grassy plains, mountain ridges, rivers and rocky trails. One night's rain can cause rivers to surge, cutting off half your routes – a few dry days and the sandy desert trails become so soft they're almost unrideable.

It's very handy to have a local guide on hand who can roll with the punches, get tips from the locals and switch things up at the last minute. And a van to carry my gear. And a ride-along mechanic who can keep my bike in good order after two weeks of heavy abuse. And a chef. And a charming lead rider who can teach me acro-balance yoga moves in my undies at rest stops.

Tour leader Emily Hewitt pioneers the art of motorcycle yoga. Between Tsaaganuur and Ayag nuur
Tour leader Emily Hewitt pioneers the art of motorcycle yoga. Between Tsaaganuur and Ayag nuur

I'm in Mongolia as a guest of Extreme Bike Tours, a company which has built a considerable reputation on a range of motorcycle tours around the scenic bits of India, Tibet and Nepal. Mongolia is new territory for team Extreme, and it brings with it a new set of challenges.

Where India is chock-full of people, Mongolia is the most sparsely populated country on Earth. Just 3 million people live here, yet it's half the size of India. Half those people live in the modest capital city of Ulaanbaatar. So the countryside really redefines remoteness and isolation. If something goes wrong out here, you'd better be resourceful.

Then there's the weather. In late autumn, daytime temperatures can be a balmy 25° C (77° F) and upward – shorts and t-shirt time. But within minutes of the sun sinking behind a mountain range, the mercury plummets and the unprepared begin to freeze, especially if they only brought a 30-dollar sleeping bag with them. But what sort of idiot would do that? Ahem.

DJ Seddon in the Altai Mountains
DJ Seddon in the Altai Mountains

Then there's the storms. Our second night's campsite on the expansive shores of the Ulaagchiin Khar lake incurs the wrath of a ferocious thunderstorm. Everyone rushes to the mess tent and grabs a corner, holding the main tent down as the cooking tent is whipped away by furious winds. By the time morning comes, it's as if the storm never happened ... but we never find that cooking tent.

And of course, where there's few people, there's little infrastructure. We're on the bikes for nearly two weeks, and we see a total of maybe 100 kilometers (62 mi) of bitumen road. The rest is a combination of single and double trails, gravel, sand, mud and rocks. As roads fall into ruin with ruts, rocks and potholes, extra tracks fan out around them until sometimes there's 10 or 15 roads to choose from, all headed in the same direction, each a mystery until you're on top of it. We cross between three and five rivers a day. It's hard work. Of all the extreme bike tours Extreme Bike Tours runs, this is far and away the most extreme bike tour.

Lonely valley - we camped in here somewhere. Near Hotgorhag
Lonely valley - we camped in here somewhere. Near Hotgorhag

But what rewards you get for your risks! The Mongolian steppe is vast and empty and untamed, a fenceless expanse that warps your senses of distance and perspective and makes your heart sing for joy. And for an area so remote, it's absolutely teeming with life. Camels, yaks, sheep, cattle, goats, ibex and horses roam the plains grazing in spectacular numbers. Squirrels and marmots scurry underfoot, the latter leaving some nasty mounds and holes in the Earth that are best handled at full throttle. Hawks and eagles circle overhead, and the ground is thickly littered with the bones of the dead.

And wherever we stop, no matter how sparse and empty the setting, it's rarely more than ten minutes before some lonely cowboy spots us from his mountain perch and drops in on horseback or motorcycle to share lunch (or a vodka or two) and say hello. It's one of the unsettling yet strangely comforting truths about the steppe – you're never really alone, and somebody's usually watching you.

The average traditional ger now has a horse and a motorcycle or two next to it. Between Tsaaganuur and Ayag nuur
The average traditional ger now has a horse and a motorcycle or two next to it. Between Tsaaganuur and Ayag nuur

The traditional nomadic lifestyle is very much still followed in this place. Families live in those famous traditional yurts, or gers as they're called here. Each ger takes only a few hours to set up or pack down into a small truck, and herders move about four times a year to chase fresh grazing pasture and escape the worst of the weather. They're simple homes, made from felt, leather, wool, rope and some small wooden beams. Heaven knows where the wood comes from, we hardly see a tree in weeks, but the few nights we spend in gers prove them to be very warm and comfy.

This is not an historic trip, which is a pity, because I've spent 15 or so hours on the flights to get here boning up on the extraordinary conquests of Chinggis Khaan and his sons by binge-listening to Dan Carlin's brilliant Wrath of the Khans podcast series.

The Great Khaan's 40-metre tall statue looks out towards his birthplace
The Great Khaan's 40-metre tall statue looks out towards his birthplace

The great Khaan is everywhere in Ulaanbaatar. You land at the Chinggis Khaan International Airport, then cab it up Chinggis Avenue past the Chinggis Khaan Square to the Chinggis Khaan hotel, where you can grab a Chinggis beer and a pack of Khaan chips. There's a magnificent 40-meter (131-ft) tall stainless steel statue of the man about an hour's drive out of town, and he stares majestically at you from every banknote.

This man killed about 40 million people, laying waste to so much land in his conquests through Asia, Arabia and Europe that scientists believe he's an accidental eco-warrior, responsible for removing about 700 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (about the equivalent of a year's worth of global petrol consumption at today's rates) just by returning so much land to nature. It's like visiting Germany and seeing a Hitler statue on every corner ... I guess multiple holocausts can be forgiven if you create trans-continental postal services and don't lose wars.

But once we land at Uliastai to get on the bikes, there's nothing to remind you that this was once the greatest, largest, and most feared empire on the planet. It's simple, tough living, hard work and wide open spaces as far as the eye can see. This is the land the great Khaan would send his soldiers back to when they'd been living abroad for too long, enjoying the spoils of victory. This is where he sent them so they wouldn't get soft.

Emily Hewitt and Chris Auld, desert between Khovd and Hotgorhag, with the Altai mountains in the distance
Emily Hewitt and Chris Auld, desert between Khovd and Hotgorhag, with the Altai mountains in the distance

And even though the EBT team provide us with every practical luxury, there's no time for us to get soft either. Our Royal Enfield Bullet 500 motorcycles get an absolute pounding. Where the average trip in Tibet or India might see a total of three crashes through the whole group, in Mongolia it's pretty much three crashes minimum for everyone, including our ride leader and our team mechanic.

I wipe out spectacularly for my first crash in a deceptively deep mud puddle, and follow that up with a tumble in some soft sand a few days later. My gung-ho throttle-positive river crossing style serves me well for about 20 crossings, but nearly ends in tears on the 21st as I execute a jaunty 180-degree spin in the mud on the opposite bank.

Most of my ride companions are older gents, some in their 70s. Almost all have traveled with EBT before (an endorsement if ever I heard one) but all agree that Mongolia is the most grueling trip they've done. There's casualties; Howie staves in six ribs and punctures his lung; Dougie cracks another three ribs and his lung gets a bit gurgly too; Murphy bruises his sternum, the poor petal. And here, when things really turn to shit, is where team Extreme really shines. Insurance policies are activated. Telephone connections are found in the wilderness. Extra team members jump on the orphaned motorcycles and injured riders are moved by van to the nearest practical medical facility. In Howie's case, a medevac flight is chartered to get him back to Australia in one piece.

Solo travellers Luc and Federico join the group for the last few days. Federico has brought a Honda CBX250 from Argentina, Luc has ridden a GS1100 BMW from France.
Solo travellers Luc and Federico join the group for the last few days. Federico has brought a Honda CBX250 from Argentina, Luc has ridden a GS1100 BMW from France.

We get a chance to see the other side of adventure touring too, when we run into a couple of solo travelers doing it the hard way, with no support whatsoever. Without the benefit of local language or knowledge, they've only got maps to guide them, so they're sticking to the main routes and missing many of the most spectacular parts of the country. Their bikes are laden down with tents, spare tires, tools and luggage. One of them didn't quite make it across a river yesterday, and his bike sat in the rushing stream for a couple of hours while he hiked to find a ger with some locals he could pay to help him out. The other has no gloves, and lost his last pair of socks some weeks ago, so he's going without even as temperatures nudge toward freezing.

These guys immediately latch on with our group for the remainder of the trip, appreciating the cooked meals, warm camaraderie and well chosen routes our guide Jenya is picking out for us. And it's clear – while the solo riders are living the life, and we're just visiting it, we're the lucky ones here.

Picturesque mountain plains between Ulaagchiin Khar Lake and Telmen
Picturesque mountain plains between Ulaagchiin Khar Lake and Telmen

An Extreme Bike Tours trip is not a cheap way to see a country. All told, you won't get much change from ten thousand Australian dollars (US$7,000) once flights, alcohol and other extracurriculars are added in. But those of us that love motorcycles know there's no better way to immerse yourself in a new world than on two wheels, and I can't fathom how I'd ever have had the opportunity to see these amazing sights if I hadn't come on this trip. I feel like the luckiest guy alive, getting to see these sights before the Chinese finish their trans-Mongolian freeway project and make the whole country a ton more accessible.

Mongolian National Song and Dance Academic Ensemble, Ulaanbaatar - an absolutely brilliant show. Traditional dance number.
Mongolian National Song and Dance Academic Ensemble, Ulaanbaatar - an absolutely brilliant show. Traditional dance number.

Ever since Ewan and Charlie put Mongolia on the motorcycle map with their Long Way Round series, I feel like it's popped up on a lot of bucket lists. I have to say it's everything it's cracked up to be, a unique and extraordinary experience and one of those rare "frontier" places that still feels relatively unspoiled. If you've got the know-how and the guts, by all means haul your own bike over there and have a stab at it – here's the rough route we followed, not that I think I'd be able to find those trails again:

Poorly annotated map of our trip with Extreme Bike Tours. Mind you, put me back on the ground with this map and a motorcycle, and I'd be surprised if I could find my way.
Poorly annotated map of our trip with Extreme Bike Tours. Mind you, put me back on the ground with this map and a motorcycle, and I'd be surprised if I could find my way.

But if you want everything taken care of, from bikes to flights to tents and hotels and the occasional hot shower, to food and routes, to the right bribes for the right corrupt officials and, most importantly, emergency care in the event you need it … if you want all that and you've got the cash, Extreme Bike Tours offers an easier way that's still a real challenge.

Here's a short video I made of the trip :

Extreme Bike Tours

Enjoy our enormous photo gallery, and for more information contact Extreme Bike Tours.

3 comments
Fretting Freddy the Ferret pressing the Fret
A good alternative for traversing these lands are quad-bikes. It's a stable platform that can be easily driven by the inexperienced. That, or on horseback.
Josh Coray
Loz, I am just living vicariously through your articles at this point. Keep it up, love to see your adventures. Thank you, I know it is such an effort... Ha!
UtahCafeRacer
Absolutely loved this article and video!