Dr. Frazier Round the World Motorcycle

April 17, 2009
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.

Stickers. They are like Boy Scout merit badges for ‘round the world motorcycle travelers. Whenever I see a well stickered overland or ‘round the world outfitted motorcycle, I stop and study it, noting the changes the owner made to meet the perils of traveling more than a few days away from home and the comfort of their local spare parts supply depots. I also study the stickers, usually a reflection
The view from the front showed how the pilot and passenger pushed through the wind and rain on their way around the world.
The view from the front shows how the pilot and passenger pushed through the wind and rain with no protection on their way around the world.

of where the motorcycle and pilot had traveled.

The motorcycle I recently found myself studying had no farkel or bling, but numerous stickers indicating a long journey. Some of the stickers were from hotels and shipping companies in places I have not been, and could not imagine being, like Iran or Ceylon. However there were two stickers I did recognize, one from the American Motorcyclist Association and the other from somewhere on America’s Mother Road, Route 66.

The drab green motorcycle was outfitted for serious, heavy-duty travel. It was a sidecar outfit and had two five-gallon containers for extra gasoline affixed to the front. This made it obvious to me that the pilot and passenger had traveled to places where the standard gas tank was not large enough to get them to their next pit stop. After five trips of my own around the globe, I could remember only once or twice ever needing more than an extra five gallons of gas. Their large supply of petrol implied they had seen some long dry expanses I had missed.

A hand painted map of the route around the world on the sidecar fender told of their adventure route the father and son team had taken.
A hand-painted map of the route around the world on the sidecar fender told of the adventurous circuit the father and son team had taken.

Like many ‘round the world travelers, this pair had hand-painted an outline of their route on the side of their motorcycle. This helped explain to people they met during their adventure where they had been, often far easier by pointing to the self-made map than trying to do the description in a foreign language.

The travelers on the motorcycle I was looking at had made an incredible journey. Their start had been in Nurnberg, Germany, from where they drove south to Munich, then across the border to Salzburg, Austria. From there they went further south using the Tauren-Tunnel through the Alps and on to Venice, Italy. They traveled inland by road to Bologna, Rome, and then to Naples. A boat from Brindisi got them to Athens, then a stopover on Korfu, one of the most picturesque of the Greek islands. From there it was more boat riding across the water of the Mediterranean Sea to Turkey and overland to Istanbul.

I had covered much the same route in the late 1980s and knew of the paperwork and communication hassles of getting myself and a motorcycle in and out of some of these countries. My journey came to a halt at Iran because the border was closed. The two intrepid travelers of the motorcycle I was studying had managed to move further eastward to Tehran, and onward to Karachi in Pakistan. Next they tagged New Delhi, India.

This was a map of the route taken by a father and son team with their sidecar outfit  a long road trip filled with adventure.
This was a map of the route taken by a father and son team with their sidecar outfit, a long road trip filled with adventure.

As I looked at their route across the middle section of Asia my eyes rolled upward, thinking of the frustrations they must have gone through at these borders, well known as some of the more frustrating to get paperwork passed in, and a deterrent to many overland motorcyclists trying to make the same crossing.

The map showed they soldiered onward to Sri Lanka from where they used another boat to get them to Singapore, then on to Hong Kong, Hawaii and eventually San Francisco. Once on the ground again they tagged Los Angeles, crossed Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and then vectored off Route 66 to see New Orleans. Their North American crossing ended in New York. Another boat was used to carry them and their sidecar outfit across the Atlantic to finally return to their starting point of Nurnberg, Germany.

Today a quick trip along their route could be done in less than a month by some ‘round the world speedster like Nick Sanders from Great Britain, the fastest man around the globe on a motorcycle. He is the holder of a legitimate Guinness record for doing a ‘round the world tour in less than 17 days. Others, such as me, could not do it because some countries, like Iran, are not issuing visas to Americans for transit across their country.

There are also what many motorcyclists would consider major stumbling blocks, like the expense of flying motorcycles across water versus trying to book passage for themselves and their motorcycle on sea-going freighters. Today these boats seldom carry solo motorcycles as cargo with their passengers and are known to be paperwork and bureaucratic nightmares.

Their luggage was stickered representing some odd and out of the way places.
Their luggage was stickered representing some odd and out of the way places.

As I stood in front of the motorcycle, looking at the various stickers, luggage carrying system, and lack of simple things I consider a must for this kind of journey, like a windscreen or soft seat, I also noticed the lack of electronic gizmos. There were no auxiliary lights for night driving. Missing was a mounting system for a GPS, and there was no tank bag with a clear cover to make map reading possible while driving. There were no handlebar hand protectors for when it rained or to protect the levers in a small get-off. The suspension system appeared to be stock as well, something most motorcycle adventure travelers immediately change before starting a ‘round the world trip.

Today, when an adventure ride around the world on a motorcycle is merely a matter of time and money, I realized this pair had undertaken an incredible journey. First, it was a father and son combination, something my father or I would have halted in the planning phase.

Second, they had taken an ancient motorcycle, one without tubeless tires, and having neither fuel injection nor computer to work the ABS or time the spark. Their motorcycle choice was a 1953 Zundapp KS 601 model with a horizontally opposed twin-cylinder, 597cc air-cooled motor. The claimed horsepower to haul the motorcycle, sidecar and two persons with luggage and spare parts was 28, with a top speed of 130 km/h or just over 80 mph, that likely being down a 45-degree hill with a tail wind.

Part of their pannier system showed they had tagged some places on the Mother Road  Route 66  across the USA.
Part of their pannier system showed they had tagged some places on the Mother Road, Route 66, across the USA.

Of course, that kind of speed was fast back when they made their world tour in 1953 and 1954. What a story they must have had to tell, the Lange team of father and son. Today with the Internet, YouTube, and satellite telephones we could read about their trip on a daily basis or when their DVD came out or it was shown on ESPN or a cable television channel. Instead, all we can do today is look at their motorcycle and sidecar, the map painted on the skirt of the sidecar fender, and the stickers.

If you have a vivid and adventurous imagination, and want to speculate on what a hardcore ‘round the world tour would have been like for a couple of Germans in 1953-1954, you too can look at their stickered motorcycle and try to read from it their story. The Zundapp is on display at the Deutsches Zweirad-Museum + NSU-Museum in Neckersulm, Germany. Spend a few minutes pondering what must have been a real wild adventure ride.

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