Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Off the road in Kyrgyzstan

In this second post about riding in Kyrgyzstan we'll show the more remote parts. We took our bikes off the road and plunged into the many gravel roads that Kyrgyzstan has to offer. We rode roads that can't be described any other way than gnarly tracks but took us to the best landscapes and rides Kyrgyzstan has to offer. We had memorable experiences here. In this post we'll let the pictures do the talking about what you can expect here landscape-wise, a sort of photo album so to speak. Make sure to have a look at the embedded video too, to see what it is like to ride off-road in Kyrgyzstan.

We'll therefore confine ourselves text wise to the things you have to consider before you go and pack your bags for Kyrgyzstan. It's good to know that the state of these roads can change quickly. Rain can destroy a perfectly good gravel road in a matter of days. Especially in mountainous areas where flash flooding can occur quickly. At the same time maintenance done to the roads is minimal, if any. Expect to find roads who's surface have partially or totally disappeared. We've been on roads which were probably made by the Russians and haven't been worked on since they left. The Chinese are now working on the main road from Bishkek to China but it will take some time before they have finished that and I can't see them doing any work on side roads.

We've tried different ways of riding and suspension setups here but conditions vary wildly, even in a matter of metres. What did help a lot is lowering the tyre pressures a bit. This can lead to tube rubbing but rather that than destroying the rest of the bike, plus we have of course spare tubes with us. Weight is an absolute killer here, and yes we carry too much weight! Especially the Bonneville is used as the mule and bottomed out too many times. The worst roads we found to ride on aren't the tracks but the connecting roads which have been chopped up by locals and trucks.

This kind of stopped us... look at the width of the road on the other side to get an idea of the drop off... the river is only partly visible in the photo...
Be also aware that asphalt roads can be even worse than gravel, as again maintenance is seriously lacking. Even in smooth sections there can suddenly be gaping big holes. Proper frosts in winter means lots of heaves and potholes. To add insult to injury, quite a few towns have ramps or sleeping policemen installed in the most ridiculous places, as if the roads themselves don't slow you down enough. Stick to the posted speeds as the police love their radar guns (and your money).

Not every town on the map has a shop or fuel. Some are just a collection of mud houses, others once had a fuel station which has been long gone since. We've seen Kyrgyz people filling up hundreds of litres of petrol in old cans stowed in the back of old Ladas... A range of 400 km is a necessity here. As you can see in the photos we also took a 5 litre fuel can with us (it was empty most of the trip as in most places fuel stops are within 260 km, but do work out where the fuel stops are!) We've made finding the fuel stops easy by uploading the one we found to our skydrive, they are in Garmin Basecamp format, using openstreetmap maps, can be uploaded to any Garmin GPS and can be found here. We are not real advocates about carrying a plastic fuel can but had no choice. The aluminium fuel cans fitted to the panniers are too complicated for the mandatory fuel attendants to fill up (i.e. they overflow them all the time no matter how many times we explained to leave an air gap). We should have paid more attention to this before we started this leg of the trip. With the benefit of hindsight, which is always easy of course, I should have had auxiliary tanks made from aluminium or perhaps a 1.75 gallon Rotapax each over the pillion seat. One thing to consider is that the road can be blocked for whatever reason, i.e. you need enough fuel to be able to ride back to the last fuel stop!

Talking about fuel. For some unexplainable reason to me we found both our bikes running better and more fuel efficient on 92 octane fuel over 95. We've had plenty of 25/26 km/ltr runs (60 mpg). If you really want to be adventurous... Kyrgyzstan also has 80 octane fuel!

Having said all that, you might think we didn't like it here. You'd be wrong, we do like Kyrgyzstan very much. As you can see in the photos the country is amazing when you go off road. If you want remoteness, rugged landscapes and few people then it has a lot to offer. Stay away from the main roads as much as possible and confine yourself to the gravel roads which are in white on the openstreetmap. If you do that then it truly is paradise, not just for adventure riders though! As you can see in the video, the Bonneville has done it all too... Plenty has been written about the Kyrgyzstan beauty by others but at the same time we feel we should write about some of the practical things or potential problems you will find too. Like I wrote above, you can see in the photos on this and the previous page that Kyrgyzstan is beautiful. We sure hope to be able to come back one day! In fact we have serious plans to do so... despite what happened after I wrote this... which involved the Kyrgyzstan police and... panelbeating... more on which in the next post!