The day I navigated the globe on a tiny Suzuki
IMI member and motorcycle enthusiast, Timothy Angus, took on the world, and survived, on a Suzuki V-Strom 650
On the day of our wedding anniversary, my wife Sue and I flew to New York. It’s a great spot to celebrate a special occasion – but we had something different in mind.
It was in the Big Apple that we were due to meet our Suzuki V-Strom 650, which had been shipped stateside, ready for a once-in-a-lifetime journey. Over 14 months and 37,000 miles, the back of that V-Strom was going to become our home, as we left our jobs behind and ventured out to see the world while we could still get our legs over a bike.
When I’d told friends what we were planning, everyone had assumed that we’d be riding something much bigger. However, the budget was steering me in a different direction. Having owned a V-Strom 1000 for three trouble-free years, I’d decided to trade it in for the lighter 650 model. Crucially, the 650 was comfortable and reasonably economical, with a range of 260 miles per tankful. All I had to do was swap the plastic panniers for aluminium ones, add crash bars and a bash plate, and it was ready for an enormous adventure.
From the Big Apple onwards
We set off north from New York, crossing into Canada for a family wedding. Afterwards, we weaved our way back through the USA, racking up 7,600 miles as we ticked off Lincoln City and Crooked River Ranch in Oregon, the ghost town of Bodie, the vineyards of the Napa Valley a sweltering 51ºC Death Valley in California, Carson City and Las Vegas in Nevada. Rounding out the American leg of our grand tour, we even rode the hallowed asphalt of Route 66.
Trading in the vast open plains of North America for the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, we took a detour to Japan for two weeks, travelling around the country by bullet train while the bike was shipped to New Zealand. Bikes never really left our minds though, and we visited the Suzuki museum in Hamamatsu, where I was reacquainted with an old friend – the Suzuki M30, a two-stroke cub like my first bike, which I had bought years earlier for the princely sum of £3.
After the two-week detour, we were reunited with the V-Strom in New Zealand. We soon discovered the natural beauty of the North and South Islands, but we also took in a motorcycle show and paid tribute to Burt Munro’s 1938 land speed record-setting motorcycle in Invercargill. New Zealand is a biker’s paradise, and the views seemed to get better every day, with amazing mountains, volcanic areas and gloriously twisty roads.
Having added 5,323 miles to our total in New Zealand, we hopped over the water to Australia. From Melbourne, we visited Broken Hill and Silverton, where Mad Max was filmed, stopping on the way to spend New Year on Phillip Island. Then it was onwards to Canberra, Sydney, Brisbane and Cairns before crossing the desert areas of the Northern Territories.
Sometimes we were riding for hours with little to see in the way of civilisation or fuel stops. The days were long, hot and hard. We had wanted to leave from Darwin and island-hop around the Philippines, but we decided instead to keep riding around Australia. Perth was our final stop, by which time we’d cracked 9,623 miles in Australia.
Asian adventures and a hiccup
Malaysia was next on the list. It immediately endeared itself to us with great food, fuel costing 45p a litre and 1,565 miles of open roads. We pushed on into Thailand and the island of Ko Samui, where an old friend had retired. After 20 years’ worth of catching up, we rode over to Chang Mai and then into Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Northern India was marred by some of the worst tarmac of the whole trip. The damp, mountainous roads consisted of little more than stones and mud. At one point, it took us six hours to do just 60 miles, following three SUVs with lights and hazards on as we tried to pick a route around the Himalayas without falling off the edge. Crossing into Nepal, we flew to see Everest up close, before dropping back into India to visit the Taj Mahal.
Of course, it wasn’t always plain sailing. At one stage, we were hit by a car that was trying to avoid a pothole, but thankfully all it did was put a dent in the pannier. Miraculously, I kept the bike upright. That wasn’t the only hiccup though.
After facing problems due to a poor courier service from India to Kazakhstan, the bike arrived late for the home stretch of the journey. The delay meant our 30-day visa was fast expiring, so we had to cut short this part of the trip. Unfortunately, these things tend to come in threes, and the worst part was yet to come.
A delay at the border while everyone went to lunch meant we were running late for our stop in Beyneu on the edge of the Caspian Sea. We never made it. Trying to join a new road, we missed the six-inch step between our road and the new one. The bike was catapulted into the air, sending us flying. I broke my collarbone and ribs, and we were rescued by the road builders, who were living in portacabins by the side of the road. People ask how we managed to get home, and I wonder now myself.
But even such a horrendous ending couldn’t dim the overall experience. It’s something I’m incredibly glad we did. We visited some amazing places, saw sights that are on most people’s bucket lists and met some wonderful people. Best of all, I got to spend all that time with my wonderful wife.
It took us nearly six months – with a little help from the Foreign Office and a friendly agent in Kazakhstan – to get the bike home. Now we’re ready to finish the adventure in 2022!