The World’s Longest Scooter and Sidecar Journey
The Sidecar Guys are the first people mad enough to circumnavigate the globe on a scooter and sidecar. A homemade rig, no clue how to fix it, 34,000 miles, 455 days, countless breakdowns, a World Record later and they made it home – just. Here’s their insane story…
Into the unknown
We wanted to find out what the world was made of. Was it this great place full of good people we thought it was? Or was it the scary place full of bad people we saw in the news? There was only one way to find out: bite off a challenge that would be completely impossible to achieve without the help of strangers… to take a mad contraption around the world and see what happens.
We planned for over two years but were starting from scratch. We had never ridden a motorcycle before, knew nothing about mechanics (we only found out what a wheel bearing was when ours fell out in the Sahara on New Year’s Eve) and had no experience of overland travel. Two years of planning later and we still hadn’t even bought a sleeping bag, but we did have a license to ride a motorbike and a barn-built scooter and sidecar to set off with…
The ultimate adventure bike (sidecar)
We wanted to go on a truly ridiculous vehicle. One that looked silly and not at all threatening or flashy, but more importantly, one that was destined to fail. We also knew that nobody had ever ridden a scooter with a sidecar around the world and being the first people to ever do something sounded fun!
We got a brand-new Honda SH300i scooter and the sidecar was built buy a couple of volunteers, Charlie and Richard Prescott. We didn’t know them before planning the trip but they heard our plans and were happy to help. It was built entirely from scratch in their barn and they wouldn’t even let us pay for parts. I tried to ask Richard how much money I owed him and he said, “I don’t want your money boy. I’m just pleased to see a couple of lads from your generation not sat at home watching the telly!”
The scooter and sidecar outfit was finished, we crammed four 50 litre roll bags into the rig, filled every inch with stuff we didn’t need and told everyone it was finally going ahead. “Yeah right that’ll never happen” was the standard response. Nobody thought we’d leave the UK. To be fair, we weren’t sure either…
The Big Trip
On October 21st 2017 we left our homes in the UK behind for a baptism by fire. We had no idea how our scooter worked, let alone how to repair it. We were completely clueless but went for it anyway.
A couple of months later, it was New Year’s Eve and we were broken down in the middle of the Sahara Desert. There was something mangled hanging out of our sidecar wheel. The sun was setting and we had no idea how to fix it. We were about to get the tent out when a local guy pulled over to help. Two hours later and the police had arrived to help hoist the rig into a recovery truck and put us on our way to the closest town. We were knackered but stayed up to watch the fireworks before crashing out in a dodgy hotel room. We spent the next day (New Year’s Day) learning what a wheel bearing was.
Learn as you go
We learned as we travelled. The first major lesson was in Ethiopia. Our clutch burned out in the middle of the country’s biggest religious festival. The streets were flooded with people dancing and celebrating. The level of energy was unreal (think Notting Hill Carnival levels of energy but in Ethiopia). We were queuing to drive through the chaos when the scooter just stopped and smoke plumed out of the crankcase. Chaos ensued and we were surrounded by hundreds of overly excited people trying to find out what was blocking the road.
We started pushing the bike when I suggested to Reece that we should try turning it off and on again – you know, like a PC. Big mistake. It jammed up the back wheel so we couldn’t even push it. We were stranded in the crowd and had blocked the road. It wasn’t long until the police arrived – again.
They jumped out of their truck holding AK-47 rifles and massive sticks. The crowd wasn’t afraid and as the policeman beat back one side of the crowd with his massive stick, the other side would rush back in forming a massive game of the Hokey-Cokey. In the end it became apparent that the only way out of there would be to lift the rig onto the back of the police truck. But the only way we would could do that was with the help of the crowd, so we asked the policeman to kindly stop hitting them back and instead encourage them to grab a part of the rig and lift!
Amazingly it worked and after a petrifying ride on the back of a pickup through the rolling hills of Ethiopia, we arrived in to Gondar where we spent 3 weeks learning what a clutch was and waiting for parts. We repaired it ourselves and carried on south.
Kindness of strangers
These early experiences set the tone for the entirety of 2018. We would drive until something broke and then learn what it did later. It led to some stressful times but some amazing experiences too. We scooted the entire length of Africa from Alexandria, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa. We broke down all the time and were always rescued by strangers. Everyone we came across just wanted to make the trip a success. Even when we had no problems at all we were welcomed into people’s homes, offered meals, invited to weddings and generally included in the everyday life of the people we met. This wasn’t just the case in Africa, it continued throughout the entirety of the trip.
By March 2018 we had made it to Santiago, Chile. From there we rode north to Cartagena, Colombia and tackled the Atacama Desert and Andes en-route. The scooter performed brilliantly throughout the trip but it drew the line at the Andes. We ended up taking it off-road at 5,000 metres above sea level in order to get into Bolivia. That was where we learnt that scooters need oxygen too and we spent a couple of days walking alongside the outfit and physically pushing it up hill. The altitude sickness was horrible but we were helped by locals and rewarded with the most incredible scenery. Once we were through the off-road section, we travelled past the salt flats in Bolivia and into the lush jungle landscapes of Ecuador, Peru and Colombia until we arrived at the tropical coastal town of Cartagena.
Next, we shipped the sidecar around the Darien Gap and all the way to Mexico where we headed north from the Yucatan, through the States and onto Vancouver, Canada. We had been riding for almost a year by the time we arrived in Vancouver. With a lot of hot desert riding, pushing through the Andes and endless self-inflicted breakdowns, it had been the hardest thing we had ever done. Little did we know that what lay ahead of us would dwarf the challenge we had just survived.
After a month at sea, the sidecar met us in Vladivostok, in the far east of Russia. We had hoped to go to Singapore from Vancouver but visa restrictions in Iran, the costs of China and the snow in the Himalayas meant there would be no road home. The only option to achieve our goal of riding back to the Ace Cafe, London was to take the Trans-Siberian Highway. Followers and parents pleaded with us not to take on the Russian winter, but after a year on the road there was no way we were giving up on riding home and we didn’t have the time or money to wait for spring.
After the faff of importing the bike, we set off west in early November. The first few days were a doddle at a cold -5°C or so, but clear roads and easy scooting. Then the snow started falling and the temperature fell with it. Over the next 6 weeks we hit a low of -40°C and we rarely rode in anything warmer than -15°C. The roads were mainly ice or thick snow and we were on summer tyres. Trucks were flying past us as we slowly trundled down the highway, trying our best not to slip into them.
Our sidecar cruised at 45-50mph when it was healthy, but in Russia we were lucky to get up to 30mph. The handling got progressively worse as we travelled and broke more parts. It was perfect when we left the Prescotts barn back in England over a year ago, but by the time we were riding across Russia it felt like we’d been in the gym for an hour every time we drove it, which wasn’t a bad thing because it kept us warm! The fuel consumption also got worse. We would get through a tank in an hour and a half, then fill up from the massive 20 litre jerrycan we carried, swap seats and crack on.
But at those temperatures everything started to fail, nothing worked properly and our bodies hurt. All of the batteries froze up so we didn’t have any navigation or cameras… and no visors either. Despite having a pin lock system, they just froze over and we had to lift them up and let our faces freeze too. It was terrible and truly dangerous, but as was the case with the rest of the world, the people saved us. We were welcomed into people’s homes, fed hot meals, handed coffee by passing truckers and given an endless supply of vodka in the evenings. One man in Siberia handed me another glass of vodka and hit the nail on the head when he said, “We think you are starting to realise, it’s not the Russian weather you need to be careful of, it’s the Russian hospitality.” He was right, the hangovers were a hazard!
Home for Christmas-ish
Somehow we survived the cold (and the headaches) and made it the five and a half thousand miles from Vladivostok to Moscow just in time for Christmas. From there it should have been plain sailing back to the UK but nothing’s easy by scooter and sidecar and after 33,000 miles of insanely tough riding, our engine gave up on us in Poland. Fortunately, the Poznan sidecar club (yeah, that’s a thing) were on hand and they found us a new engine on Polish Gumtree. We swapped in the new one, strapped the old engine to the back of the sidecar and went on to stumble over the finish line at the Ace Café on January 19th 2019 and become the first people to ever circumnavigate the globe on a scooter with a sidecar.
The trip raised over £7,000 for charities fighting modern slavery and we received the Guinness World Record for the longest journey by scooter and sidecar too – it was the adventure of a lifetime.
About the authors
Matt and Reece are also known as The Sidecar Guys. They’re the Guinness World Record holders for the longest journey by scooter and sidecar and the first people to circumnavigate the planet on a scooter with a sidecar.
In January 2019 they completed their trip after riding 34,000 miles through 35 countries and across five continents. The duo used the trip to raise awareness and funds for the fight against modern slavery. Since returning home, they’ve been busy producing a film and writing a book on their adventures. And they also run the Armchair Adventure Festival – the world’s first ever virtual adventure festival, which raised over £8,000 for the NHS Charities Together Fund. Here’s some more info on their adventures, book and projects:
Check out their new book “Our Ridiculous World (trip)” released after their virtual book launch party on August 31st:
And follow their adventures and latest projects here:
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