KCCD 2006

Oslo to Singapore 2006

Text & photos by Tormod Amlien & The Ice Bear. Translation by Kim Scholer.

Part 1 - Part 2

Part 1

The beginning
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 there.

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 Catastrophes
"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 me again.

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 trip.

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 from me.

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 try.

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 outrageous price.

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 culprit.

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 States.

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 time.

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 cars.

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 outside Minsk.

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, though.

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 summer.

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 stroker.

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 the ignition.

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 entire luggage.

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 Europe.

Part 2


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