Veteran Aussie motorcycle adventurers Shirley Hardy-Rix and Brian Rix packed their big Beemer in 2015 for a trip from Greece the long way to Vladivostok and have now released an inspiring book of their travels.
Their six-month ride on their 2008 BMW R 1200 GSA took them across Eastern Europe, up to Scandinavia and along the Silk Road to Siberia and on to Vladivostok on Russia’s east coast.
From freezing cold in Scandinavia to the searing heat of 47°C in the deserts of Central Asia, Shirley, 61, and Brian, 60, pushed the boundaries, tackling icy roads and gravel tracks. They rode through water crossings and deep sand drifts to reach some of the most beautiful cities on the Silk Road.
But the best day of their trip – and indeed, their lives – was riding through freezing temperatures to reach Nordkapp, the northern-most point of Europe.
“The ride to Nordkapp was very difficult – incredibly strong winds blowing us across the road,” Shirley says.
“We’d been told the winds regularly blow caravans and motorhomes over! We were riding with a guy who has raced motorbikes and he said it was the hardest ride he’d done.
“Ended up being the best day because it is such an achievement – to get to the top of the world. We’ve done it in North America and that day we achieved the same in Europe.”
It’s not their first epic motorcycle tour.
In 2003, Brian and Shirley took a grown-ups “gap year”, leaving work behind for 12 months, shipping their motorcycle to England and riding home through Europe, the Middle East and Asia. This ride took them along the picturesque Dalmatian Coast and through Iran, Pakistan, India and Nepal.
Since that time they’ve ridden more than 170,000km through 68 countries over six continents.
In 2011, Brian retired after 36 years as a police officer with Victoria Police and they hit the road again. This time they shipped their bike to Chile and headed to the bottom of South America, turning around and heading to Prudhoe Bay, the northern most tip of North America.
That wasn’t enough. Rather than sending the bike home they flew it to Europe and then South Africa.
In 2015 they decided to ride across Russia.
“The reason we chose this route was pretty simple – it was an area we’d never ridden before, an area we’d always wanted to explore,” Shirley says.
After Scandinavia, the road took them to Russia and the ‘Stans’ – Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan – leading them along sections of the old Silk Road and into Vladivostok.
Their favourite moment from the trip was the day they were saved by the Mogocha Iron Angels Motorcycle Club in Siberia, Russia.
“We rode into the town late in the day. It was raining. We had very little fuel and no room for the night,” says Shirley.
“We knew there was a hotel in town and were riding around looking for it when a little Lada (old Eastern European car) pulled alongside. The window wound down, a fug of smoke appeared and the man inside told us to follow him to the clubhouse.
“He was Alexie, the President of the Mogocha Iron Angels. He was with Sasha, a rider from Vladivostok.
“They took us to their clubhouse, took us out to dinner, gave us a bed for the night. We drank vodka with them, toasting Russia, Australia, life on the road and any number of things. Their clubhouse was very basic with no running water or toilet but it was a haven for us!”
Their 2008 BMW R 1200 GSA has just clicked over 230,000km with more to come.
“On this trip there were no mechanical troubles but we did have a couple of ‘offs’ on the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan,” Shirley says.
“One was a face plant into sand – soft landing. The other was on a steep, rocky road and was a bit more painful but didn’t stop the trip just caused a rethink on the next couple of days.
“The road through the Pamir was very difficult – trucks that would normally be on the main road were down on the road that borders Afghanistan because of landslides. They churned up the surface … and our bike is big and heavy, particularly two-up.”
Brian began riding as a boy with the Murray River bank near Mildura as his backyard. Since then, he’s always had motorcycles.
Shirley grew up in Manly, NSW. Most of her friends had bikes and she was a happy pillion.
Shirley met Brian when working as a crime reporter on Melbourne television and radio. She is now a freelance journalist, magazine editor and publicist.
Now in their 60s, will there be more epic trips on their big Beemer? You betcha!
“We’d love to ride North Africa, but security issues make that difficult. It’s more likely to be Spain, Portugal and Morocco,” Shirley says.