Common Tread

Abandoning normal: Five friends leave it all behind to traverse the globe on Urals

Jan 05, 2017

For five friends, a two-year, worldwide motorcycle adventure is coming to an end here on America’s eastern coast.

With little to no experience riding motorcycles, Anne, Johannes, Elisabeth, Kaupo and Efy set out to traverse the globe. The adventure began in Germany in July of 2014 and is slowly coming to an end. The machines: old URAL 650 sidecar rigs.

There is a whole page on their website ( dedicated to explaining their decision for choosing these Russian steeds from a bygone era. However, in order to understand their selections, one must first understand the attitudes and rationale of the folks behind this undertaking.
Spending two years escaping the norms of everyday living and experiencing countless new cultures and traditions. Photo by

As young artists working in their respective studios, they felt it was time for a change. They had grown comfortable in their daily lives and routines and they wanted a change. Together, the group decided to set out on an adventure to explore new cultures and find new influences in an effort to change their processes, both at work and in play.

Personally, I think it’s easy to look at their mission statement as overly idealistic. Sure, I would love to leave my desk and deadlines behind, put an “out of office” reply on my company email and hit the road. But unfortunately, I have responsibilities that I can’t, or won’t, walk away from. That’s my reality. And it’s one that I am guessing most of the folks reading Common Tread would probably agree with to one extent or another. However, what if that wasn’t the case?
Roadside stops. Photo by

I think a lot of the time we put self-imposed restrictions on ourselves that reflect the norms of society or the views of our raising. And for the most part, I am OK with that. I like my life. But what if that weren’t the case? What if we could just say, “Hell, I am going to take a two-year trip to escape society's norms and do something different.”

It’s one of the reasons I wrote about Bowman’s Odyssey when discussing the best articles of 2016 from other outlets. Zach Bowman took his family along for the ride, balancing the demands of family life with the eccentricities of taking a different approach to life. The Leavinghomefunction group posted a comment on their Facebook page back in December citing David Woodburn as an inspiration. David took his wife Emy and daughter Mattea on a 10-year trip around the world in a sidecar rig. Point is, there are ways to find a balance amidst the chaos.

I think it’s part of the reason we all ride motorcycles at the end of the day. For a few weeks a year (if we’re lucky), we get to escape our regular lives and become motorcycle adventurers. It doesn’t matter if your adventure is rolling across the Great Plains on a Road King, traveling through South America on a prepaid tour, or heading out with your friends on a hodgepodge of beat-up bikes for a trip on spring break. Adventure is what we make.

For this group of friends, they wanted their adventure to focus more about the experiences of the road, the people they met and interacted with, and the cultures they could learn from. It was less about getting around the world in a set amount of time and more about what they could bring back with them. Hence the Ural.
Even in the remote villages of Mongolia you can find someone to MacGyver repairs on a Ural. Photo by

Their choice of motorcycles nearly ensured they would have interactions with the people and cultures along their route. They readily admit not only their lack of motorcycling experience, but also the lack of mechanical experience. In the blogs on their site they talked about the breakdowns and problems they faced with the bike, but in the former Soviet countries they traveled through, there was always someone in town with a spare part or a ingenious solution to a specific problem. Plus, the bikes themselves are conversation starters. It’s hard to see a ragtag group of Russian sidecar rigs roll through town and not be curious. Unlike a large group of aggressive machines rolling into town that could be seen as threatening, these bikes disarmed people. From an outsider's perspective it became less about who these strangers were and what they were doing and more about how they could help.
My favorite part of their trip was reading about the conversion of the Urals to amphibious vehicles with the addition of pontoons and propellers. Photo by

It bears mention that some of the costs of the trip were crowdfunded by donations mostly from individuals, in addition to a few select sponsors. Often relying on the kindness of strangers as they made their way from Germany westward across the globe in four stages. Reading through their website and blog my favorite section was Stage Three, when they converted their road going Urals to amphibious vehicles using large pontoons. Necessity, the mother of all invention.
The amphibious Urals in action. Photo by

What’s impressive about their story isn’t the fact that most folks couldn’t do the same. Most of us could. What’s impressive is that they chose to actually do it when most of us choose to continue with the responsibilities we have designed for ourselves, and there is nothing wrong with that.

When I was teaching at a center city high school in Los Angeles, I had the freedom to take six-week long summer motorcycle adventures across the country. It was great for where I was at in life at the time. Fast forward seven years and I wouldn’t trade the responsibilities and deadlines that come with getting to create motorcycle videos and articles for RevZilla for the freedoms that come with my previous career choice. Like many others out there, I have chosen the responsibilities that outline my daily existence. (Plus, could you imagine how lonely Lemmy would get if I took off for two years without him? Poor guy wouldn’t know what to do with himself.)
It's just a puddle. Photo by

But luckily for all of us here, we still get to ride motorcycles and have our small adventures every year. And if my heart ever begins to ache for the road, or the daily office grind begins to wear me down, I can sit back at my desk and escape into sites like

For those of you who live in or around the Philadelphia area, Moto Guild will host a welcoming party for the road-worn travelers as they pass thru town telling their tales at 7 p.m. tomorrow (Jan. 6, 2017) at their shop at 98 Dekalb Pike, Bridgeport, Pennsylvania.