From Australia to India: The Suzuki GSX-R600 Adventure Bike
Ashim proves that any bike can be an adventure bike and that you can travel on whatever you like. In his case, that meant riding 15,000 miles from Australia to India on his Suzuki GSXR-600 track bike! Here’s his mad story…
- Bike: 2007 Suzuki GSX-R600
- Years owned: 2009 (first bike)
- Miles covered: 38,000 miles
- Top speed: 138mph
- Time on the road: 6 months
- Route: Australia, Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, China, Pakistan and India
- Miles covered: 15,500 miles
How it all began…
It all started on a backpacking trip in Thailand. Back then I had no idea what overlanding even was, but I rented a small Honda Shadow 250 and as soon as I strapped my rucksack to the backseat, travel changed for me. I fell in love with it and came back a year later to rent a bike for an even longer ride.
One morning, an Australian registered bike was sat parked next to my rental at the hostel I was staying at and it blew my mind. I scoured the internet trying to figure out how it was possible and for the next decade my mind was on one thing only – seeing the world by motorcycle.
Falling in love with the GSX-R600
Back home in Australia, I needed to continue this new found love for motorcycle travel. I had a Suzuki GSX-R that I used for commuting and as my track bike, so I strapped a tail bag to it and left for a six-day ride in the Australian Alpine region. More trips quickly followed through the Outback and along the coast (all between track days on the same bike!).
I was hooked on riding the Gixxer. When on holiday Los Angeles, I rented another one and spent eight weeks exploring the South West on it. Then I bought an ’03 GSX-R600 in the Netherlands and rode it to Turkey and back – my first-time crossing international borders on a bike.
The GSXR was my first bike and it was the logical decision to use the bike I had to travel around Australia. I wanted to travel and I had a bike. From there, it was sheer stubbornness. I was told I had to buy a more appropriate bike, but no matter how much my body ached, I pursued my dream of riding my Suzuki GSX-R600 everywhere I wanted to.
That was it, I loved riding the GSXR, loved travelling on it and it was now time to go for the big trip and ride from Australia to my birthplace in India….
Preparing the GSX-R600 for travel
Nowadays, there are a few people travelling on sportsbikes, but when I first started there were only one or two people to draw reference from. The problem with choosing the GSXR is its weight-saving alloy frame instead of a sturdier steel one (it is a race bike after all!). This posed a unique challenge as alloy snaps much easier under a combination of weight and stress.
Some believe that just putting 50/50 tyres on a bike and riding it on dirt qualifies it as an adventure bike, but my thoughts were on longevity. I needed it to perform off-road, but also last the duration of my travels.
I don’t have an engineering background, but went ahead and fabricated an additional bracing for the front fairing and subframe at home anyway. I also changed the handlebars from cast aluminum to billet, but kept the sportsbike style angle.
A tool tube was added to the side for easy access since I had my soft bags on the rear. No hard luggage or racks were added. I carried soft bags for both luggage and fuel. I did a lot of research for tyres that would perform both on and off-road for long distances. Not an easy feat either for these sizes.
And that was it, there are no other mods to the GSXR other than homemade bracing and dual tyres. I gave the bike a full service (or as much as I could with my limited knowledge) and stocked up on spares.
I used the first bag I ever bought when I started travelling around Australia: a Kriega US-30 tail bag. I then just stacked a second Kriega on top of it and called it a day. When people see pictures, there are always experts that claim the luggage is too high or too heavy, but I’ve never had an issue with it.
I also had 2 x 5L Desert Fox fuel bags strapped to the side of the bike. A very old and torn tank bag sits atop my tank and I carry my laptop in the same backpack I otherwise use for work.
The Big Trip: Australia to India on a Suzuki GSX-R600
I dreamed of riding to my place of birth. There’s a small village in India where my grandparents lived and I have such fond memories of spending my summer holidays there. Riding there would also allow me to combine my other dream of travelling through Siberia, the vast plains of Mongolia and the Valleys of the Pamir ranges.
I was finally set to go in 2017 with my GSXR prepared, all the paperwork ready and two weeks before leaving a family emergency meant I had to cancel. Two years later, and after a long slog sorting paperwork out again, I was finally able to set off…
Sydney to South Korea
I shipped my bike via air freight from Sydney to Seoul, South Korea and then accompanied it on a ferry to Vladivostok where rubber hit tarmac for the first time. From here on it would be all overland to India. I thought back to that Australian bike at the hostel in Thailand where it all started. Seeing my Australian plated GSXR – my first ever motorcycle – on foreign soil put a huge smile on my face. I clicked into gear and began my journey through the vast Siberian taiga…
Having learnt some basic Russian to prepare for the trip (along with learning how to read Cyrillic), I was able to have simple yet amazing interactions with others on the road. Russian hospitality was amazing with my name being passed from one bike post to the next (bike post being a clubhouse that no one seems to actually own but all bikers are welcome with a roof over their head and a place to fix issues). The greetings at these posts were always accompanied with bottles of vodka and beer with ‘no thanks’ never being taken for an answer.
I entered Mongolia from the north and headed for Ulaanbaatar. I had read there were only paved roads a couple of hundred miles outside the capital, however, my introduction to Mongolia’s landscape was much more sudden with the roads from the border being under construction. The country was a crash course in off-road riding given I had no previous experience and it was even more challenging on a sportsbike.
I celebrated my 32nd birthday by opening my tent to watch the sun rise over the endless nothingness. Wild camping out on the steppe, sleeping in yurts and watching yaks graze… what more could you want?
In good company
While in Mongolia, I met a Japanese traveller, Yosuke, who was riding from Japan to Africa on a little Honda Monkey bike. I had prepared a lot of research on roads, especially through Mongolia given I had to try and pick achievable (yet adventurous) routes and the country was notorious for its lack of roads and abundance of water crossings.
As he had no such information, I shared it with him and let him know that while I was not interested in taking the Southern Route (some regard it as easy as it is just gravel corrugations but completely devoid of any scenery), I would be happy to team up on the Central Route as it had one particularly tough section. Although we left on the same day, his pace was quicker than mine so he was a day ahead of me. However, he decided to wait for me at the start of the tough section and we tackled it together. It was extremely tough and we only managed 60kms before calling it a day and setting up camp.
From that day on, we rode together for almost three months through the Russian Altai, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. Our bikes were at the opposite ends of the spectrum but just as wildly inappropriate as each other.
Other riders would stare in disbelief at our choice in bikes as they slowly crawled their way through the Wakhan. Although we paired up for that first day in Mongolia to support each other, we stayed together out of a close bond we developed. We had other riders join us for a day or two here and there, however, the two of us remained inseparable till our paths no longer went the same way.
Although slowly and with great difficulty, we crossed Mongolia. To the best of my knowledge my Suzuki GSX-R600 is the first sportbike to ever do so – although I have heard reports of a Slovakian R1 being spotted, stuck, on the southern route a few years ago.
Back to Russia
After Mongolia, the route dipped into the beautiful Altai region of Russia. I was happy to have crossed Mongolia, however, I was even happier to be greeted by Russian food, as Mongolian food left a lot to be desired.
I’d put a lot of research into my tyre selection (50/50 tyres for a GSXR aren’t exactly a common purchase) and scheduled a tyre change in Barnaul, Russia. The tyres were shipped over from Moscow, but I only changed the rear and carried the front with me. Turns out a GSXR isn’t great at carrying full on overlanding luggage plus a spare tyre, so I was left with smashed fairings not long after making my way into Kazakhstan.
I had heard many reports about the direct route from northern Kazakhstan to Almaty being so bad that proper adventure bikes had broken frames and shocks along it. So I took the long way round and by the time I arrived in Almaty, I had a well-earned rest and fixed the broken plastics while spending time with local bike clubs – this time it was sportsbike clubs whose members seemed to only ride on one wheel.
The challenges of the Pamir and Wakhan routes were well known. I had read about them online and heard many warnings from other travellers I passed on the road, so I was quite scared of what lay ahead.
As I got closer, I tried to decide whether or not to go through the Wakhan or just take the main M41 highway across to Khorog. It wasn’t right until the turn off for the Wakhan that I finally bit the bullet and decided I’d do it.
It was far tougher than the toughest section in Mongolia, but I don’t regret a single second of it. Seeing remnants of caravanserai, staying with Pamiri families and seeing Afghan kids playing a stone’s throw away across the Panj River will stay with me forever.
Once in Khorog, I didn’t continue West like most do towards Uzbekistan because I had to double back for my China crossing. This time I took the M41 which I completed in a (long) day. I was glad to get back to Osh, Kyrgyzstan and rest up for what would be my next adventure – this time, not to do with terrain, but the mad traffic of Pakistan and India.
The crossing through China was an adventure in its own right. The sheer amount of planning and preparation beforehand to organize a group crossing through the Xinjiang region to share costs of the mandated government guide was insane.
It’s a strange region to pass through, seeing the hardships endured by those that lived there, but at the same time was a beautiful reminder of how the Silk Road city of Kashgar may have once been.
Crossing the highest border crossing in the world at Khunjerab from China into Pakistan brought me onto the beautiful Karakorum Highway amongst the mountains of Northern Pakistan. It’s worth noting that the third highest border crossing was between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, although I still don’t know what the second highest is!
I made my way down towards Islamabad and headed towards Peshawar at the Afghan border when I broke down. With the help of the Pakistani Army and some great new friends in Islamabad, I was back on the road within a day.
From there, it was through to my final destination – my home country of India. It was an emotional crossing to ride across the Pakistan-India border, especially knowing that I am one of possibly only a few people of Indian origin to have ridden through Pakistan and into India.
By this point I was quite exhausted, but still explored India from the mountains of Himachal Pradesh out to the forts and castles of Rajasthan. But unfortunately, my repairs from Pakistan were short-lived and I broke down a mere two hours away from my final destination (my birthplace). While earlier I had new ideas of riding to the southern tip of India, I would now just be happy to reach my grandparents’ house.
I thought that of all places, in India, amongst a more familiar environment, I would be quickly sorted out, but was instead screwed around by a mechanic. Thankfully, fellow riders reached out and helped fixed my bike just in time to make it to my grandparents’ house – with only two days to spare before I had to prepare the bike and ship it back to Sydney.
The plan was, together with my wife who had flown out to join me in India, to travel to South America, purchase a car and drive to Alaska… sadly Covid quickly put a stop to that.
There was no point where I genuinely thought the GSXR was a good bike for this trip. However, every time I sat at the edge of a trail, sipping water and looking back at my GSXR parked in the sand, I couldn’t help but fall in love with it. My beautiful bike in places where no other had been. It was a sense of personal satisfaction.
There were brief moments, such as hanging out with a sportsbike club in Almaty and the good roads in China/Northern Pakistan where I was able to open up some of its potential, but this was maybe 2%, with the other 98 being self-induced misery.
I was also unsure how a high compression sportsbike would perform on various types of mystery fuel brought out from people’s homes in Mongolia and the Pamirs but it worked! I had to clean out handfuls of sediment from my fuel tank on more than one occasion and change fuel filters with a job requiring the whole tank to be pulled off, but it made it through.
It is a bike that did and always does make me happy just looking at it and now that its back home, whether it be on an occasional ride out on a weekend or in my garage, it instantly makes me think back to all the places we’ve been together.
I did ride off-road, not necessarily out of choice but out of necessity. I can’t plow through sand while standing on the pegs but I get through it. I have ridden miles upon miles of sand, mud, dirt and rock…not forgetting the worst – corrugations. There were points where I did acknowledge my poor choice, such as not being able to visit the Tash Rabat caravanserai due to the overly complex trails. And sometimes I had to walk a couple of hundred metres to a lake’s edge instead of riding as I didn’t want to take a chance and end up having to dig and drag my bike back out.
This model of Suzuki GSX-R600 is renowned for electrical failures. It failed on me after my trip through the Outback many years ago. I upgraded its components to hopefully prevent future failures. But had another electrical failure in Pakistan leaving me with a completely dead bike (stator, reg/rec problems).
I had multiple breakdowns where I thought it would be the end of my trip. I had moments on the bike, at speed, where I thought this was it: I was about to send the bike down into the dirt in a shower of plastic fairings. I had moments in unbearable heat and traffic with cars nudging against my bare legs (Pakistan) where I could barely keep the bike upright. But, through all of these moments, I did my best to keep a positive mindset and repeat a mantra to myself: “It will all work out.”
I only genuinely felt apprehensive at one point on the trip. In Northern Pakistan, I was intending to stop in a town I’d seen on a map only to find it no more than a truck stop. I continued on to turn off towards a city called Chilas where I was first stopped by police to ask why I, a foreigner, was going there. They made me promise to come report back to them the following morning (the first red flag).
As I entered the town, it had an eerie feeling and I got myself into the first guesthouse I could find. Everyone was dressed much more conservatively than I had seen… and they were all men, there were no women to be seen. That night, I had lucked out on a room with aircon and TV. I never turn on the TV, but this day I did just to ease my mind. Pakistani news channels were plastered with anti-Indian propaganda due to escalating tensions in Kashmir. And here I was, a person of Indian origin in the midst of a small, conservative town in the remote mountains of Pakistan.
Only days after leaving Chilas I found out that it was one of the last places the Taliban had been driven out of and the community still aligned with hard-line conservatives. The region is notorious for being the place where a few foreigners had been killed in recent years.
Can’t be done
Many people told me this trip couldn’t be done and still question how or why I did it. Some think maybe I was just on the road, others compare me to people that may have just ridden across Europe or the Trans-Siberian Highway. I’m a fairly reserved person and will let people think what they want just like others doubted the ability of my bike and I to make it as far as we did. I know we did and will cherish the memories for the rest of my life.
Do it for you
It’s a terrible idea, but if you have a genuine love for your bike and that is the one you want to take, then do it. However, don’t do it simply because you want it to go viral on Instagram. There are plenty of people out there who can throw 50/50 tyres on a sportsbike and ride their local trails or even slap some mud on an adventure bike for likes. Take the bike you love, where you love and do it for you.
I actually got married two months before leaving for this trip and with our Americas trip cancelled due to Covid, it’s only fair my next trip is two-up. I have started researching the possibility of a two-up Hayabusa trip for an extended two-year journey, but I think sense should prevail for now, so I’m also considering a V-Strom (to try and stay true to Suzuki at least). Hopefully in the next five years I’ll be back on the road doing what I love…
About the author
I’m a (now) 34-year-old from Sydney, Australia that has been riding since I got my license and travelling since not long after that. I mainly used to just ride on the street/track while my travel adventures were backpacking as most in their early 20s do. At some point, fate intervened and the two interests converged. I slowly started exploring Australia on my Suzuki GSX-R600 (previously my street and track bike) and from there went bigger and wider having ridden the Indian Himalayas, around the south-west of America (on a GSXR), from Netherlands to Turkey (and back on a GSXR) and finally, my most recent trip, from Australia to India.
Follow Ashim’s adventures here:
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