From Estonia with Love - Part One

The threadbare riding gear is faded, the colour bleached-out by the sun. The passports are full, newer stamps overlay the old.  The bike is scarred and worn from multiple crashes and countless tip-overs.
But like Ilford 120 through a Pentax, Margus and Kariina defiantly roll on, taking some of the finest overland travel photography you will see.

(Click any image to view larger, higher quality photos - All photos copyright Margus Sootla)

How long have you two actually been on this epic? Have you lost count of the days? Do words like “Tuesday” or “Weekend” have any meaning at this point?

We set out on the 1st of October 2008, so it is something like two and a half years by now - after a while you really stop counting the days and the months! The initial plan was to do the circle in 1000 days but now it seems we'll be going over a little.

Days of the week are pretty irrelevant, as are the numbers on the clock - we wake up when the sun rises and go to sleep soon after it sets, which is quite an organic way to go about our daily life. 

It is a bit daunting to try to imagine our "life after the trip" when we will have to adjust to schedules and deadlines again. I mean, we do have to be organised while travelling as well, like when we need to go and apply for a visa for example. Then it means planning your trip to the embassy and showing up as early as possible to get over with it in an efficient manner. But otherwise… I guess we would qualify as bohemians by now.

You and Kariina are riding a 98 BMW R1100GS, and it’s been through a LOT on this trip. How many kilometers on the odometer now?

More than 225 000 km on the odometer. But this expedition is currently at 144 000 km and counting.

You’ve done a lot of modifications of the big bike; fuel filters, specially welded frame reinforcements, lighting, exhaust, footpegs, all kinds of stuff. Let’s not mention the suspension right now... Have all these modifications paid-off?

All have paid off more or less to full, except the rear suspension. We should have had the Hyperpro from the start. Live and learn, make that “travel and learn”!

Well, OK. Let’s get down to the Achilles Heel of your bike: Your poor beast has blown shocks in Brazil, again in Argentina, again in Pakistan You’ve repaired and broken an Öhlins a Wilbers, and you’re on to some purple things now?

So have you gained any suspension wisdom from all this excitement?

Too much wisdom in fact. I guess in the end of the day it's the conditions we ride that most bikes aren't designed for - two up fully loaded and doing stupidly hard and technical trails. 
Most suspension manufacturers pursue the "racing" road - making lightweight and high performance shocks with fancy looks. The real downfall with racing shocks is they don't hold up to the high load and long haul of hardcore overland travel.

I think it'd be complete business success if any of the manufacturers made special "heavy duty" model shocks for globe travellers.

If they could have the trade-off of less damping and rebound performance, maybe heavier compared to the current "racing" shocks but that could last when constantly abused with high load, bad roads and very long distances. I'd be willing to pay 2-3X the cost if such a thing existed.
I'd say Hyperpro is almost makes those kind of shocks these days. Compared to our last Wilbers and Öhlins they are built considerably more robust, with thicker rods and stronger overall look. I guess being smaller and less known company they are trying to find their niche on the suspension market.

Besides the usual brake pads, tires etc. What has worn out? Has the BMW been easy to maintain?

The only big things that have worn out is two bevel box bearings and one of the gearbox bearings. That was a major hassle to replace - took me two days to split the gearbox, and ironically for a German bike the broken bearing was marked "Made in Japan" when I finally got it out. There goes the theory of Japanese things being very reliable… What's worse, it's now replaced with "Made in Taiwan" version although from the same manufacturer and having the same part number - I guess we really live in the globalized world. 

Final drive falure in Laos

The shaft drive bevel box bearing tends to last 80 - 120 000 km on oilhead boxer GSes, and it's replaceable even on the side of the road if you know what you are doing. I much prefer shaft drive over chain drive even if it requires a bearing replacement every 100 000 km or so. In the end of the day, all the bearings on the bike are consumable parts, so you may never know when any of them goes, be it the wheel-, gearbox-, steering etc bearings.

Overall I'd say it's been utterly easy to maintain and run, thanks to low revving engine, dry clutch and separate gearbox design - I've been spared the hassle of finding high quality products from big cities and I’ve run any automotive oil available from roadside shops for the 140 000+ km we've done so far. I'd never do that with any modern high-revving, wet-clutch, same-oil gearboxed bike.

(The standard metal tank was able to be patched several times, where a plastic tank would have been rendered useless)

Do you find carrying two sets of spare tires worth the trouble?

We started off with 2 pairs going to London. Heidenau K60 was not available in South America, so we though we should carry them to Buenos Aires and have them shipped around the continent. It was worth the trouble.

Generally we do not carry spare tyres with us, it is just when we have reason to believe that there will be no good tyres available in the place we go. For example, we are planning to get a spare set in the northern part of Namibia and to carry them for a while through Angola, and then get them changed. The central part of Africa is not a good place to start looking for a new set, but we need something that would last us till Europe.

OK, that makes sense, carry them when you know you’ll be stuck without a fresh set. So what have been your favourite tires?
Heidenau K60 tubeless by far. It's a 50/50 on/offroad tyre that lasts and it's hard to puncture.

(Margus ain't makin' this stuff up!)

6 Response to "From Estonia with Love - Part One"

  1. Eric Starling Says:

    This interview is fantastic, thanks for doing it, Marcus and Katrina are really the gold standard for all adventuring couples, and their photography is peerless.

  2. MR Says:

    spot on questions. reliability, tyres, shocks...
    thanks for that.

  3. Anthony - Motojournalism Says:

    Thanks guys there's so much good stuff from those two, The next part will be all about the photography, and there's even more after that...

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Great job! I believe the blue shock is the Wilburg wich was replace with the Olhins which was replaced with the Hyperpro hence the unhappy face on the blus strut.
    Fab418(posting as annonymous cause of s***y ie6)

  5. Anthony - Motojournalism Says:

    Yep, and the next photo shows that the Olhins wasn't happy for too long!

  6. Desain Dapur Dan Ruang Makan Says:

    This interview is fantastic, thanks for doing it, Marcus and Katrina are really the gold standard for all adventuring couples, and their photography is peerless.

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