Oslo to Singapore
Text & photos by Tormod Amlien &
The Ice Bear. Translation by
Part 1 -
It probably all started in early October 2005. "Any moron
can drive a new bike from Norway to Singapore. If it is
supposed to be a challenge at all, the bike must have a
rigid frame, sidecar and it be at least 70 years old". This
I proclaimed with certain contempt for motorcycle bums on
new bikes. The foundation for The Catastrophe had been laid.
I was sick and tired of my boring life and found it a good
idea to take a holiday in Singapore. After all I had some
unsolved business there from the days I was a student there,
and I missed some of the waterholes I used to frequent
The choice of bikes was simple. I had grown up, or rather
survived my childhood, in a Nimbus sidecar, and the first
time I had driven it myself was at the age of twelve. The
only problem was that I did not have one myself, and to ask
my dad to borrow his was not worth spending five seconds on.
Late October – The Team of Irresponsibility, Chaos and
"I'm heading for Singapore this coming spring. Either you're
with me or you are against me. I'm not sure if you ever get
home again. The only thing I can guarantee is that you
either write yourself into the history books or into a
mortician’s report". My friend Håvard Brein a.k.a. The
Polar Bear could not resist my tough American rhetoric and
said “Oh, well, er, guess I’m in then”.
We were a team now, a team of irresponsibility, chaos and
catastrophes, and with lots of experience: There wasn't a
pub in southern Norway worth getting kicked out of that we
had not got kicked out of. There was hardly a road in the
nearby we hadn't ran out of gas. There wasn't a speed limit
between Oslo and Trondheim we hadn't broken.
"We got plenty to do before we depart in April" I kept
repeating, confidently. The ability to mention what we had
to do was in inverse ratio to the ability to actually do the
things. The to-do list included getting a website up and
running, make a travel plan, find information and get visas.
And, in addition to all that, a little, tiny essential
detail; get hold of two pre-war Nimbus motorcycles and
rebuild them ground-up for the trip.
Early November – An extremely rare Nimbus model
Lars Person of Sweden set us in touch with another Swede
that had a bike for sale. The bike was the inheritance from
his passed away father-in-law. It had almost been rebuilt
before he had passed away. However, the bike had broken the
old mans mental health and sent him 7 feet under,
fortunately without the bike.
One dark night, in a heavy blizzard, we jumped into a car to
catch our prey. We arrived his place in Sweden next morning
and sealed the deal. Now the first milestone on the road to
Singapore had been reached.
An effective way of cleaning motorparts. This
was done a few years ago and my parents are now talking to
February 2006 – A very rare Nimbus model
By now The Polar Bear had found another bike in Denmark. The
ad read: “1937 Nimbus Cardboard Box model”. We were thrilled
out of our minds. We had heard about Nimbus Standard, Nimbus
Luxus, Nimbus Sport, but never, ever about the Nimbus
Cardbox Box model. This model had to be rare, so we decided
to go and have a look at it.
When we got there it turned out that at best it could be
described as a pile of parts, and the name Box model was
because fit into small boxes, in its sorry, disassembled
state. Still the price was right. The main problem with a
Nimbus Cardboard Box model is that parts tend to evaporate
through the top hole in the boxes. This resulted in lot of
trips to Copenhagen to collect parts during all spring.
Early March - The near-death experience
Again it was Friday night, and time for another part-hunting
trip to Copenhagen. As we entered Sweden snowfall increased.
The road was slippery and deep in snow. Seeing a car in the
ditch beside the road, just before a hilltop, we stopped to
help, and this was close to become the end of the entire
Then a truck came over the hilltop and stopped beside us.
Offering to help, the German truck driver had just gotten
out of his cab, when yet another truck came over the
hilltop. The latter braked hard, the entire trailer skidded
out, the German rushed into his truck and took off, and the
rest of us ran for our dear lives. I fell, and when looking
up I saw a very large front wheel pass by a half metre away
Shaken, but still alive, we managed to push the stuck car up
again. When I got back at the steering wheel again I noticed
my hand didn't work anymore. Eventually we got to
Copenhagen, spent all day collecting parts, and then went to
the hospital. Where they said my hand was broken. We decided
it was a minor, if probably necessary, sacrifice for us
having a good trip, so all in all we were still happy.
The Polar Bear and I worked really hard that spring to
finish up the work, but clearly we would not be able to
leave in April as planned. In the four months I wore the
cast on my arm, the cast had to be replaced as many times,
due to the dissolvents I worked with. Then my employer went
bankrupt and I lost three months of pay. We had been pissing
against the wind all spring.
June 16th - Hit the Road, Jack
I cut off the cast, and the last bike got approved by the
vehicle authorities of Norway. My arm was thin as a straw,
but we were ready to go now. Sunday 18th we left with two
bikes that were almost finished, but not yet test ridden,
and with empty wallets. At least friends were waiting for us
in Copenhagen. Further ahead of us were 15,000 kilometres to
be ridden on our 70 year old motorcycles.
It was a special feeling to say goodbye to the near and
dear, when I was well aware that I may not ever see them
again. But it gives you a kick. You know you will get a lot
of both good and bad experiences, but that's the only thing
you know as well.
My brother fired his revolver to officially start the trip,
while my grandmother held her hands over her ears. After
three kilometres I started to worry about arriving in
Singapore. After another few kilometres I started panicking
for what I’d get to do when I got back to Norway. I felt
sick. We were definitely on the road now - panic and feeling
sick were good signs.
Honouring a proud Nimbus tradition, The Polar
Bear lost the bottom part of the carburettor, on the way
towards Copenhagen. The float was caught by the clutch
cable. The float needle was found 10 minutes later. It took
4 hours before the bottom part was found.
It would be an exaggeration to call the trip to Copenhagen a
success. The 750 kilometres took more than two days, and we
didn’t sleep for the 25 last hours. We did nothing but
repairing and driving. When we reached the Nimbus dealer ‘JC
Nimbus’ in Copenhagen, we went to sleep on the sidewalk
outside the workshop.
Eventually J.C. showed up, chased away his paying customers
and called the wife to say their holiday would be postponed
a couple of days. We then tore the bikes apart, and worked
on them until everything was finished up.
Both bikes got a final, thorough going-over
at the J.C. Nimbus workshop.
On our own, from Denmark to Turkey
When leaving Copenhagen we actually had two bikes that
worked. We were now left on our own and everything went
well, at least for the first 10 kilometres. Then, on the
bridge between Copenhagen and Malmo (Sweden), the engine
seized for the first time of many. We blew on the cylinder
until it worked again, but now kept the speed at 50-60 kph.
The trip through Sweden went quite well except from one flat
tyre on the Polar Bears bike. Despite the carcass in his
tyre being visible already when we left Norway, we had
decided that it was going to last until Stockholm. It
didn't, so reluctantly we replaced it with a new one.
At midnight this midsummer night we rolled into Stockholm.
The town was jam-packed with almost sober Swedes, but we
found our man and got our self installed in his flat. Next
evening we were going to Helsinki by ferry, get some proper
sleep and relax. Or so we thought.
The ferry was a showcase for the Finnish drinking culture.
Everybody drank hard, and it wasn't too hard to convince us
to come along. The result was that when we woke up the next
morning the boat had been at the quay for over an hour, and
we were the only passengers left on board. Somehow we
managed to find the way out of the port area, but we stopped
to sleep in a park right after getting out. Late in the
afternoon we considered ourselves able to drive again.
Carpenters and virgins
Valimaa is the last outpost in Finland before one enters
Russia. The Polar Bear was going to meet The Russian Bear
now. We told the locals about our plans and the only
feedback we got were warnings. The Finns said goodbye to us,
looking like we were already as good as dead.
At the border there were a few hours of dealing with
bureaucracy, but it wasn't too bad. Rolling into Russia, on
the other hand, we met a totally different world filled with
poverty, drunkenness and decadence. The roads consisted of
small stripes of tarmac, just enough to keep all the
potholes tied together. There were several checkpoints, and
trucks roared past us on left side with a few centimetres to
spare, and the new rich Russians in expensive new cars went
past on the right, driving on the shoulder of the road.
After a night in Vyborg we arrived in Saint Petersburg at
about noon. With our usual casual planning we found
ourselves in the middle of the city without a map. It was 30
centigrades and traffic was chaotic. We had no hotel or just
a clue about where to stay, when this outlaw biker turned
up. It was Oleg the Terrible. Despite his terribleness he
found a map and ticked off three different hotels we could
After five hours we found the first one and got thrown right
out. Another two hours later we found the next one and got
thrown out again. We were just like Joseph and Maria, except
from that neither of us was a carpenter, much less a virgin.
To find the last hotel took only one hour, and unexpectedly
we were allowed to stay there, of course paying an
Contacts at the bike rally
A few days later we headed westwards again towards Estonia,
with only one visa card less and a lighter bank account. We
drove through the Russian countryside heading for Ivangorod,
home of Ivan the Terrible, and crossed the border at Narva
on the Estonian side.
Upon entering the little country, we learned that Estonia's
biggest bike party took place there that weekend. The people
at the rally, however, looked at us funny, and nobody seemed
to care about two Norwegians who suddenly came from Russia
on two old Danish motorcycles.
Travelling in style is not done only by
riding a Nimbus.
We got drunk as per normal, and the next morning we started
to do some wrenching. A daredevil of a Russian had courage
enough to ask what we were up to, and when telling about our
Singapore plans, we suddenly became the big heroes. People
came running to look at us and offered us maps and provided
us with contacts all the way down to Ukraine.
One of the innumerable drunks, here with a
borrowed 'Egypt Motor Corps' fez.
The sound of flesh hitting flesh
Heading towards Riga, we were going to meet up with some
guys we had gotten in touch with through the people at the
Narva rally. Right after entering Latvia, the generator
light on my bike suddenly lit up. We disconnected the
generator wires and rode to the town centre of Valga, where
we started to fix it at the well lit parking lot outside a
shop. Turned out we had to disassemble the generator and to
get that one off, the gas tank and the camshaft housing had
to come off first.
More and more spectators appeared, and after an hour we were
surrounded by drunk Russian-Latvians that continuously
offered their advice on how to fix our little problem - in
slobbering Russian, of course. Further down in their vodka
bottles they got more and more aggressive and started to
fight between themselves. I can't tell if they were arguing
about what the fault with the generator problem really was,
or whatever, but the Polar Bear got kind of nervous by the
sound of flesh hitting flesh. The drunks eventually went
home, and early next morning the bike was good as new.
The road further on down to Riga was like driving through a
rose garden, save for the fact that my engine kept seizing.
This happened quite frequently, but a solution was found by
way of taking a hammer and adjusting the carburettor needle
jet with raw violence, and then adjust it back a little.
Voila', problem gone.
The girls, the girls
At our arrival in Riga we were greeted by the local bikers
we had been hooked up with. The bikes were parked in
"Shrek"s workshop, were we could work on them. While doing
so, several people dropped by to look at us and at the
bikes. We seemed to have become heroes in all of the Baltic
states now. Inside my engine everything looked ok, so
seemingly it was the too thin mixture that had been the
Team KCCD checks out an old Sukhoi fighter.
Like many other places in the former East European
countries, old retired fighter aircrafts are parked here and
there in the landscape.
The Polar Bear and 'The Infernal Machine',
riding on nice, EC-sponsored roads down through the Baltic
Of course the Nimbuses caused quite a stir
wherever they appeared. Here a newly wed couple pose on
Tormod's 'The Bittersweet Chariot'.
Next stop was Vilnius in Lithuania, where we stayed for a
week, waiting for parts from JC Nimbus. We could not have
found a better place to wait, thanks to some very nice biker
girls; Laima, Rybka and Krokodilka. The beer was cool and
good, weather was good and the company splendid. Actually it
was too bad the parts arrived so damn fast.
It was too bad we had to go.
The food was good, we had seen a lot and gotten ourselves
some fine friends. But Singapore was waiting, so we had to
move on. Laima escorted us to the Belarusian border and we
said goodbye to both her and the EC for God knew how long a
Laima, Rybka, Krokodilka & Tormod
(representing the intelligentsia of Vilnius), while waiting
for spare parts from J.C. Nimbus.
Helena in Minsk
We were kind of worried about Belarus, the remaining
Communist state of the old Soviet Union, but our worries
proved to be 100 % groundless. Already after leaving
Lithuanian side of the border people became friendlier, and
the atmosphere was so much more pleasant than in Russia. The
border guards smiled at us and waived us past the line of
We were greeted as kings. Ok, we did have to sign a form
saying we carried with us no obscene publications,
electronic devices for media use or propaganda against
president Lukashenko, but the luggage wasn’t searched. They
just asked "You haven't got anything like this, I suppose?"
We explained we had laptops, video camera and photographing
equipment. They just said “No, you don’t”, and told us to
not write it onto the customs declaration. Everything went
smoothly, and a few kilometres later we met Andrei. He had
driven 150 kilometres from Minsk to meet up with us and
ensure we had a safe ride down to his place, a car workshop
In Minsk we also met up with a friend of the Polar Bear,
Helena. His name notwithstanding, The Polar Bear was like
bloodhound – or a truffle pig - when it came to finding
girls. But this time he impressed me because she actually
looked nice. Helena had booked a room to us at an old Soviet
era hotel, which was crammed with lap dancers, gamblers and
the local mafia. We were told to not talk to strangers, as
the mafia was a bit too interested in foreigners.
Helena, our sweet, serious tour guide in
Minsk, before we seriously tested her patience.
The next couple of days she showed us around Minsk. At some
point we really went for the local brew, as we felt a little
depressed and thirsty. The brandy turned out to be some of
the best brandy we had ever had, so we kept going for it.
Helena then told us that all shops were obligated to sell
posters and postcards with Lukashenka's picture, so we
bolted for the nearest shop and bought all the Lukashenka
collectibles we could find. The clerk asked Helena if I and
the Polar Bear were drunk. Not very proud she replied "Yes,
I'm afraid so".
A typical dictatorship state
The third day I was sick and tired of being a tourist, so I
made up an excuse to bugger off to Andreis’ workshop. Two
days of marble statues and culture was more than enough for
me. I did some maintenance on the bikes, and a little later
the Polar Bear had also escaped. Now our experience with the
real Belarus started. That night Andrei drove us around, and
when passing a building Andrei said; "That's were the
political opposition is located". When asked if it was the
parliament the answer was; "No, it's the prison".
Next night we had a BBQ with Andrei and some friends and
bikers. Their English was very limited, but we ate, drank,
laughed and talked all night. It was one of the best nights
on the entire trip. Even the language barriers was no issue,
the atmosphere there said it all.
Belarus was the typical dictatorship state; clean, beautiful
and safe. And people were not too bad off, at least as long
as they kept their mouths shut and accepted the suppression.
Of the old Soviet States this was the one where we saw least
alcohol abuse, poverty and corruption. We left Andrei with a
burning desire to see him again.
Reaching Ukraine, starving
When leaving Minsk we figured we’d have plenty of time
to get to the Ukrainian border before our visas expired.
Eventually the clocked ticked towards 10 pm and we had
driven for hours on small roads in the wood, without seeing
any traffic. We got nervous, as the visas would expire at
midnight, had we taken a wrong way there was no way we could
make it in time now.
If we were not out at midnight our bikes would turn into
pumpkins, and our driving gear turn into Bermuda shorts and
Hawaii shirts. Or, more precisely, we would get into deep
shit with the authorities. Another half hour later we saw a
light in the forest, a lot of vehicles queued up and border
guards. We had been on the right road, after all.
At exactly five minutes to midnight we got the last stamp in
our papers and moved to the Ukrainian side. There we weren’t
allowed to bypass the queue, but at least the queue moved
awfully slow. We hadn't eaten for hours and were starving
just like poor children in Africa. Not until 4 am in the
morning were we cleared to ride into Ukraine.
The place we entered was just northwest of Chernobyl, deep
in the Ukrainian forests. The first village, which was about
only ten houses, was 40 kilometres south of the border. Next
place was further 60 kilometres way. After messing about
there for a while we found, with the help of a drunk
Ukrainian, a cheap hotel. He also offered us to park the
bikes in his garden, as the hotel had no safe parking.
We got to bed about 7 am, and slept a very few hours before
moving on. We purchased some cheese, sausages and fresh
bread and headed for Chernobyl. The roads went deeper and
deeper into the forest, until we suddenly came to a
checkpoint. We had finally reached the "Dead Zone" around
Chernobyl. After some discussion and $ 10 worth of bribery
they finally let us in. We drove around in ghost towns,
which were left in a rush in 1986. Electrical wires hang
down from the poles, trees grew into the buildings. The
silence was deafening.
Because of persistent problems with the
bikes' electrics, we decided to make the Nimbus glow in the
dark, by riding them through the still radioactive
surroundings of the Chernobyl power plant. Didn't work,
We had our lunch in a ghost town and enjoyed the atmosphere
of disaster, death and tragedy just twenty years earlier. On
the way out of the dead zone came a police car, likely
alerted by the guy who let us in. When they saw our film
equipment things got very serious, but some another $ 10
worth of bribery solved the problem. They escorted us out
again, and at the exit the bikes were checked with Geiger
counters before we could leave.
An unplanned stop in Kherson
Ukraine was big, so it took us a long time to reach Crimea.
The roads went from Autobahn quality to cattle tracks, and
we had to be on full alert, as stealing manhole covers on
the highway was quite popular. We drove along kilometres
long fields, where up to six harvesters worked in parallel.
Typically Ukraine: Sunflowers, a Nimbus and a
lot of annoying Kamaz trucks. Like Napoleon and Hitler
learned the hard way, invasions are best done during the
Our escort out of Kiev. Thanks to our
internet contacts on 'Motozone', people all the way down
through the former Soviet Union knew we were on our way.
In Kherson we made an unplanned stop for a few days. We
reached the town quite late in the night , and had stopped
to discuss whether to find a place to stop or just move on.
As we stood there some kids came over and said they knew
about a workshop in the nearby, where there was an old
Pannonia motorcycle. They then went and brought the guys
from the workshop, who in turn invited us over for a beer.
They were most pleasant people and offered us to park the
bikes there and find us a cheap hotel. We were sceptical,
but it was late, so we accepted. There were no regrets about
this. The guys didn't have much there, but what they had
they were happy to share; they threw out their paying
customers and insist on repairing the one of our sidecars
that had started to dissolve. And they gave us food and
brandy, and in the nights they showed us the town.
Andrey of Kherson, and his Hungarian Pannonia
We tried to pay for all this, but the only thing they would
accept was money for the petrol used while driving us
around. It was almost embarrassing when thinking about how
we treat people from Eastern Europe back in The West. When
we left them both we and the bikes were in much better shape
than when we arrived.
Diversion across the Black Sea
From Kherson we went by Simferopol down to Yalta. In Yalta
we were going to meet Customizers MCC. After a night of
hazardous driving we reached our destination at 2 am. The
trip had become extra long due to poltergeist-petrol we had
gotten on the bikes; they completely lost the power and
suffered from serious detonation, no matter how we adjusted
It got to be some memorable days by the Black Sea. First
things weren’t too pleasant; they thought we were rich and
seemed to just try to exploit them financially. Eventually
they realized that we were just a couple of broke morons,
after which then things were hunky-dory.
Like in other former East European countries
things looked somewhat worn down, but people were very nice
to deal with.
Customizers MC prepares for yet another trip
taking us out to see the landscape. Notice the dreadlocks on
the guy in the sidecar.
Anna & Natasja, two of the very nice people
driving us around down on Crimea.
Our original plan was to drive through Georgia, but the
Russians had closed the border due to the state of war
there. We were now forced to find a boat from Crimea to
Istanbul. While waiting for the boat we stayed with our
new-found friends, going on mountain trips on their Urals,
drinking and eating Ukrainian food. When the boat finally
arrived it was really sad to say goodbye to these people.
Some of them even wept, and had we known what our stay in
Turkey would have been like, we would have wept too.
'The Bittersweet Chariot' gets aboard the
ship to Istanbul the old fashioned way.
Medicine, cocaine or heroin
The trip across The Black Sea went fairly well when at last
we got on board. That hadn’t been so easy, though: The
Ukrainian custom officer was a terrible dude, who took a
peculiar interest in some pills I had for keeping my blood
pressure down. He asked if it was cocaine, and since I
thought he was a complete idiot, I snapped back that it was
not cocaine, but heroin. That really got us started, and the
argument became loud. He suddenly demanded to check our
There we stood on the quay with our bikes and the custom
officer. The captain on the ship blew his whistle and waved
with his crane, because he wanted to leave. The idiots in
the customs delayed the boat for an hour, but luckily the
captain had such a desire for our money, that he just kept
blowing the ship horn while waiting for the argument to end.
The bikes were hoisted on board, and we found our cabin and
opened a bottle of red wine. We were finally done with