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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

News photo
Trip of a lifetime: Three friends tour Almaty, while on an 83-day transcontinental journey that took them from Antwerp to Tokyo. PHOTOS COURTESY OF JOHN COLE

Biker trio's Belgium-Japan jaunt over; hurdles cleared


Staff writer

The idea of a transcontinental motorcycle trip came up when Carl Tricke, a 41-year-old Belgian, was drinking beer with his biker friend and fellow countryman Johan Cole, 43, in Singapore in April last year.

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Peter Verbisen (left), Johan Cole (center) and Carl Tricke pose on a street in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on April 30 during their 83-day motorcycle tour from Antwerp to Tokyo.

They first planned to ride from Singapore, where they were living at that time, to Belgium, but changed the route because they realized paperwork such as visas, vehicle permits, letters of invitation and insurance would have been really difficult, especially for countries like Laos, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

"I wanted to take a bike trip. It didn't matter where. But we bought new Yamaha bikes, so we decided to travel where they are made," said Tricke, a loyal customer of Yamaha Motor Co. Tricke's Japanese wife, Keiko, helped arrange the Japan portion of the trip.

Tricke and Cole, both longtime Yamaha riders, bought themselves new Yamaha motorcycles to make the trip. Cole's friend, Peter Verbisen, also a 43-year-old Belgian, signed up for the trip after he went out and bought a new bike.

The three men spent 83 days and €24,000 (¥2.6 million) traveling between the Belgian city of Antwerp and Tokyo from April 9 to July 1. They rode a total of 23,925 km, used up 4,478 liters of gas, were fined twice and warned 11 times by police, twice got flat tires and experienced extremes of weather: 1 degree in Aktobe, Kazakhstan, and 40.5 degrees in Kyoto.

After arriving in Japan on a ferry from Busan, South Korea, to Sakaiminato in Tottori Prefecture, the three were joined by their wives in Oita, which is Keiko's hometown, before their final stretch to Tokyo.

While preparing for the tour, they learned of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, as well as the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident. Tricke said the disasters gave additional significance to their planned trip.

News photo
The three men are joined by their wives for a group photo in front of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial on June 26.

"After the quake, we felt obligated (to take the trip.) Before and during the trip, we met a lot of people who said it is unsafe to go to Japan. So I felt it was necessary to go there and show them it is safe," Tricke said.

Cole and Verbisen are self-employed and took a three-month vacation, but Tricke had to quit his job.

"I never had any hesitation to quit my job," Tricke said..

The three men rode through Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, South Korea and Japan. They took a ferry between Russia and South Korea and between South Korea and Japan.

They did not apply for North Korean visas because they thought it would be very difficult and thus "a waste of time" to apply, Tricke said.

They skipped China because it was too expensive. China would not have let them travel with their own vehicles unless they had hired a guide, Tricke said. They estimated the costs of riding in China with guides and other paperwork would have reached about €15,000, he said.

Of the 11 countries in which they rode, Japan was the only country that charged them for importing their own vehicles. Also, entry formalities into Japan took a total of eight hours, longer than entering any of the other 10 countries.

They had to pay €250 each in Belgium for paperwork to receive a Carnet de Passage (permit) issued by Japan for the three to bring their motorcycles here.

Also, Japanese officials made them pay a refundable deposit of €8,000 each. The money is a payment to make sure the three men do not sell their motorcycles in Japan, Tricke said, refundable after Japanese customs officials confirm the motorcycles have been exported at a later date, he said.

In addition, they had to pay Japanese customs ¥30,000 each for bringing their motorcycles into Japan.

They also had to go to the Japan Automobile Federation and paid ¥1,000 for translations of their Belgian driver's licenses even though they had obtained international driving permits, Tricke said.

On top of all that, they had to pay $72 each for insurance in case they had any traffic accidents.

"Most (bikers) skip Japan because it is troublesome and expensive even though it's a beautiful country," Tricke said. "It's also a small country, so many people go to America" from the Eurasian continent.

The second-longest amount of time wasted at a border crossing was between Ukraine and Russia.

That took six hours, followed by 3½ hours at the Russian-Mongolian border. In contrast, they sailed across borders within the European Union.

Going through that much trouble to come to Japan, it was "very disappointing" that they could not stop at Yamaha Motor Co.'s headquarters in Iwata, Shizuoka Prefecture, because Yamaha canceled the appointment, Tricke said.

His wife made the appointment for the three bikers and their wives to visit Yamaha's headquarters and tour the factory on July 2. However, just days before, Yamaha notified them of the cancellation without giving a reason, Keiko said.

Nonetheless, they all said the journey had been a great experience.

They met a lot of friendly people along the way, especially in Russia. "Russian bikers like other bikers and they offered free food and accommodation," Tricke said.

"If you have a plan, however crazy it may sound, don't wait," Cole said, recommending that other people do similar things.

"You only live once," Tricke added.



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