Dr. Frazier Shipping Motorcycles Adventures

November 12, 2008
Dr. Gregory Frazier
Dr. Gregory Frazier
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Having made multiple runs across the globe, round-the-world adventurer Dr. Frazier imparts some of his motorcycle traveling wisdom in his monthly Dr. Frazier Rides column.

Water. Motorcycles and the wet stuff do not mix well. Some motorcycles do OK in one to two feet of deep stuff, but most will drown trying to get around the world which is 75% water, and all more than two feet deep.

Shipping a motorcycle isn t always as perilous as this crossing in Vietnam  but there are many mandates and laws that vary by country  so do your homework before you travel.
Shipping a motorcycle isn’t always as perilous as this crossing in Vietnam, but there are many mandates and laws that vary by country, so do your homework before you travel.

If the motorcycle rider wants to pursue two wheel adventures anywhere other than North America, on their own motorcycle, they are going to have to enter the deep, murky world of shipping motorcycles.

For some adventurers it can be a simple matter of signing some papers and handing over a lump of money to a specialized motorcycle shipping company, usually a slam dunk for the owner. The motorcycle is picked up at their house or place of business, then they find it waiting for them when they land at the foreign airport, often times needing little more than gas added, battery installed or hooked up, and Customs documents signed and stamped.

For the do-it-yourself motorcycle shipper, the same motorcycle to the same airport in the same foreign country can be an expensive nightmare, sometimes resulting in no riding at all.

One of the first considerations is whether to transport the motorcycle across the water by flying or floating it. Flying costs considerably more money, is usually faster, but has some interesting paperwork and handling requirements far different than the floating option. On the other hand, boat companies are used to dealing with containers of millions of grains of wheat or barrels of oil, but have little experience with your little box sitting on the loading dock ready to somehow be loaded on their ship.

Alone  re-assembling a crated motorcycle takes some improvising  like how to get the wheels on  where to get gasoline  a battery and often insurance before Customs will let the motorcycle out of their warehouse area.
Alone, re-assembling a crated motorcycle takes some improvising, like how to get the wheels on, where to get gasoline, a battery and often insurance before Customs will let the motorcycle out of their warehouse area.

If the adventure rider looks at the pure definition of the word adventure, they find the word risk in it. With shipping motorcycles, the risk can be greater than any motorcycling on their targeted continent. For example, what happens when the owner finds their motorcycle was flown to another country other than the one they designated on the shipping manifest and paid the freight forwarder to handle?

This happened to a friend of mine from California when he shipped his motorcycle from California to Chile. After paying in advance all freight and handling charges, he flew himself to Chile only to find no BMW R100GSPD waiting for him. Instead, after numerous telephone calls, e-mails, and faxes, the errant BMW was located in Brazil. Then freight forwarder from California and shipping receiver in Chile determined a mistake had been made, no surprise to the traveler who saw his vacation ride time being whittled away while they tried to find a way to get the motorcycle from Brazil to Chile. As the clock ticked and blame was passed around, the adventurer was stranded in an expensive town in Chile trying to interpret what he was being told by various representatives.

The solution finally offered by the shipper and the freight forwarder in California was to fly the motorcycle back to California as there were no flights from Brazil to Chile that would take the boxed boxer or, if there was, neither of them was willing to pay for the new air cargo company to step in and transport the motorcycle, and that cost to the traveler was prohibitive. However, the timing of flights back to California from Brazil, then down to Chile, with new paperwork and clearances, was going to have the motorcycle arrive just about the time the traveler had to start working on the reverse process to get it back to California, eating up his vacation. He opted to tell the freight forwarder to get the motorcycle back to California and rented a car to see some of his dream ride.

Another global rider became my personal “Hero of shipping motorcycles into the Philippines” when he managed to beat the shipping nightmare at great expense and time to ride his BMW F650 out of Manila. To protect the innocent I’ll just name him “L’il Buckaroo Dave” while relating his adventure.

Upon arriving at the destination the motorcycle may have to be re-assembled under difficult conditions  and usually is dry of gasoline and battery removed  left behind  or disconnected.
Upon arriving at the destination the motorcycle may have to be re-assembled under difficult conditions, and usually is dry of gasoline and battery removed (left behind) or disconnected.

Many motorcycle adventurers know getting their own motorcycles in and out of the Philippines can be a nightmare of exorbitant handling fees, paperwork, Customs costs, and unknown bonds. Undaunted, L’il Buckaroo pulled, and paid for strings to pull, over an eight-week period to finally break his BMW F650 loose from the clutches of the Manila Customs officials and ride for his remaining free time through some of the colorful and interesting islands. That was eight weeks in a Manila hotel, running back and forth between Custom offices, the US Embassy, insurance offices, Internet cafes, and helpful BMW club meetings to confine most of his adventuring to Manila, not a city known as a destination riding point for adventure riders.

When L’il Buckaroo finally departed the Philippines he was still owed $3500 USD he had posted as a bond through an insurance company that promised to send it to him. Six months later he was still e-mailing the agency asking about the whereabouts of his bond, even promising to fly back to Manila to collect it. On the upside, he did manage to get his motorcycle out of Manila by ship to Los Angeles for $700 and three weeks waiting time. His adventures in the Philippines, as well as the rest of his ride around the world, can be followed at www.davesgreatescape.net.

Apparently undaunted by his Philippine adventure, he caught his breath back in the USA over a two-month period, replenished funds, refurbished his BMW F650 and began a second ride around the world.

His second ’round the world ride started with another shipping adventure, this one in Chicago. He rode his motorcycle to Chicago, where he crated it in a BMW dealer-supplied used crate and waited while a freight forwarder he was using spent two to three weeks trying to find him an air cargo flight out of Chicago to Frankfurt. He changed freight forwarders, crawled the Internet for reliable resources, and then nearly agreed to an option of uncrating the motorcycle, riding it back across the USA in October to Vancouver, Canada where a motorcycle shipper found him an air cargo company that promised to fly the motorcycle to Frankfurt, Germany, his proposed destination for travel, beer and wurst.

Crate ready to close-up.  Nails and screws make Customs inspections along the way difficult for officials to open the crate.  This crate snapped together  making inspections easy as well as re-assembly.
Crate ready to close-up. Nails and screws make Customs inspections along the way difficult for officials to open the crate. This crate snapped together, making inspections and re-assembly easy.

A suggestion that he change directions and shipping agents for his world tour and fly west to Thailand, where it was warm, instead of east to Germany, where it was cold, found him traveling outside his original box. Tipping his decision scale might have been the assurance there was German beer and wurst in Bangkok too. A week later his crated motorcycle left Chicago bound for Los Angeles where it was loaded on a boat and arrived in Bangkok three weeks later, a port known for the ease of moving foreign motorcycles through Customs and onto some of the better riding roads in Southeast Asia. Suspicion is he will skip the Philippines on his planned adventure through Southeast Asia. But then again, he has figured out how to do it, being one of the few motorcycle travelers managing the frustrating adventure of spending money, time and patience to experience some unique and interesting riding, a heroic accomplishment in its own right.

Even Old Buckaroos experience adventures in shipping motorcycles across water. This one was pretty well fleeced by a shipping company in Vladivostok, Russia while trying to get my Kawasaki KLR 650 from there to Los Angeles on a fourth ride around the world. The motorcycle had to be crated and in a wooden box small enough to fit through a narrow loading door in the side of an air cargo airplane. Only cash was accepted by the shipper for the flight to Los Angeles, requiring a considerable outlay of US Dollars converted to the billing amount at a deep discount. After a day of organizing and paying for a wooden crate the right dimensions, with considerable help from a couple of local

This crate had to be custom made to fit the airplane loading door  quite small  so the motorcycle had to be made as small possibly to fit in the box  removing the wheels and compressing the forks and rear shock.
This crate had to be custom made to fit the airplane loading door, quite small, so the motorcycle had to be made as small possibly to fit in the box, removing the wheels and compressing the forks and rear shock.

motorcyclists, the crate was delivered to the air cargo area where another day was spent disassembling the motorcycle and making it small enough to fit inside the crate, then paying for paperwork to be created and signed off on and stamped by officials. At the end of the day a front end loader lifted the crate off the parking lot and moved it into the Customs warehouse for a promised flight out the next day. A signed and stamped Bill of Lading was handed to me by the air cargo official in exchange for a wad of cash.
Two days later I flew out of Russia and into Los Angeles, expecting to find my motorcycle at the designated warehouse for the air cargo company noted on the Bill of Lading. Helmet in hand, with a gallon of gas for the empty gas tank in the other; my taxi dropped me at the air cargo office. It was then the Old Buckaroo discovered he was deep into an adventure of finding a lost motorcycle.

The Vladivostok air cargo company never explained that their flights were only to Seoul, Korea, where they paid a second airline to fly the boxed motorcycle to Los Angeles, on a “space available” basis. The second air cargo company claimed their flights were full, or so said the Russians. After a week of wrangling with the Seoul air cargo company, spending money on phone calls and faxes (the Russian handlers did not have e-mail and the telephone number printed on the Bill of Lading was a pizza restaurant) and moving to steadier cheaper sleeping accommodations, answers were finally gotten from Russia: deposit more money via International wire transfer to a nameless numbered account and my box would be moved ahead of the space available status and onto a flight, but no promised delivery date.

The Old Buckaroo had met the new Russian businessmen, and their way of making a profit. Get the product from the Buckaroo, hold it hostage in a foreign country, and then make their profit outside the trail of taxable paperwork, or so he guessed, and caved. Dollars were wired and the Old Buckaroo gave-up on expecting any motorcycle in the immediate future. He bought a ticket on a bus and spent 24 hours riding the hound back home. Ten days later a phone call to the air cargo company in Los Angeles confirmed the motorcycle had arrived. A return trip to Los Angeles, with more dollars flung at taxi drivers, fast food places and hostel managers, got the box delivered to the loading dock after a visit to the US Customs office where a computer verified the VIN numbers and ownership papers against my passport.

The tales of shipping motorcycles accompany most long rides necessitating crossing deep water and borders. Following are some tips, but caution is suggested, as shipping motorcycles is a fluid world:

*Prepare for the risk of not connecting with your motorcycle on promised dates and times by mentally telling yourself shipping is part of the adventure, incorporating risk.

*Research and know the import/export rules, prices and wrinkles of shipping motorcycles to your proposed destinations. The best resource for this is the huge section on shipping in the www.horizonsunlimited.com website.

The crate was required to be unsealed when turned over to the Customs warehouse so officials could inspect what was declared to be inside  and possibly remove some items left loose  like helmet  boots and clothing. They nailed the top on after their inspection.
The crate was required to be unsealed when turned over to the Customs warehouse so officials could inspect what was declared to be inside, and possibly remove some items left loose, like helmet, boots and clothing. They nailed the top on after their inspection.

*Shipping crates are not always required. One option used is strapping the motorcycle down to a metal or wooden pallet then shrink wrapping it.

*Do not store valuables in your shipping box like helmets, boots, GPS, and riding clothing. It is not unknown for these items to disappear from your enclosed box, sometimes through holes cut in the wooden sides or while the box is opened for inspection by Customs officials. The money saved by shipping them in your box will not be saved when you have to try and replace them in a country where none are available and the import tax for replacements can exceed 80%.

*Surprise should be expected, like when the drug inspectors in Caracas, Venezuela let the air out of my tires before the motorcycle was loaded onto the air cargo flight. They were looking for drugs, but left me looking for air when I collected the motorcycle in Miami.

*Some countries require specific types of wood for shipping crates. One of the leaders in outbound shipping, by ground and boat, knowing how to get the job done, is JC Motors, www.motorcycleshippers.com. Clint Lawrence, the company President, says they have a “white glove” outbound operation and will ship motorcycles anywhere in the world, except where there is a war or no port.” They sell a snap-together crate that meets all country import requirements in the world.

If you want to read more about the Old Buckaroo’s Russian experience at getting fleeced, you can go to tinyurl.com/5kydtp.

Shipping motorcycles across water can offer numerous opportunities to experience a local culture normally passed through much quicker in many cases, a chance to meet people, make friends. If I get a chance again to pass through the air cargo area of the airport in Vladivostok, Russia, there is a friendly air cargo employee there I plan to look up, to find out how a pizza restaurant in town is tied into a numbered banking account somewhere in the world banking system, likely an accounting adventure.