By Motorcycle from Switzerland via Siberia to Japan

"Hell's Ride! By motorcycle to Japan in 52 days" read the headline in the largest Swiss daily newspaper "BLICK". But Mark and Anita Rytz countered: "Hell it wasn't, but quite close to purgatory".

The Culmination of 25 Years of Motorcycling

The two of them were riding a BMW-GS80 Paris-Dakar for 8 weeks. Their trip took them almost 13'000 kms eastwards from Switzerland through Germany, the Szech Republic, Poland, the Ucraine, Russia, Kasachstan and Siberia to Wladiwostok, where they boarded the boat to Japan.

A Dream

Since he was 18, Mark was dreaming of riding by motorcycle from Switzerland via Siberia to Japan. What had been impossible for years because of the "cold war" became more realistic in 1990. After a test ride to Moscow in 1990, Mark's old dream resurfaced. The intention to experience something extraordinary transformed an idea into reality. But it sometimes turned the dream into a nightmare.

Preparations were multiple. For four years there was Russian to be learned, a special circle of acquaintances was built up, a suitable motorcycle and efficient video equipment was bought. Any amount of literature was consumed and no TV documentary on the unknown giant country was left unwatched. With the help of Russian friends, a basic cap with spare parts, tires and a lot of other equipment was established in Krasnojarsk. BMW (Switzerland) AG provided technical and moral support. BMW (Japan) Corp. was also readily available for help, if necessary. A total of almost 60'000 Swiss Francs were invested in this exceptional venture by the travellers.

For our "globetrotters on two wheels" from Switzerland this was not the first trip by motorcycle. Large parts of Northern Africa, the Orient, travels all over Europe, the USA and Canada were their earlier destinations. Quite a number of trips were made on BMW motorcycles, either by Mark alone or in the company of his wife.

Without Breadowns and Accidents

There were days when the "Trio" was under way up to 15 hours for a distance of only 400 kms. Loose gravel the size of fists, bumpy prairie tracks, slippery and wet roads and innumerable holes of all sizes were a constant challenge for humans, material and the guardian angels. Even so, there were no accidents or illnesses during the whole trip. "Apart from two headache pills, the emergency kit remained untouched".

Even the 800 BMW cross-country machine withstood the hardships. Two sets of tires, two rear lamps and a shock absorber were the only things which had to be replaced.

The only frustration was that entry into China (in spite of valid visas) was denied by the Russian border troops. The travellers had no choice but to retrace 510 arduous kms to Tschita and load the motorcycle onto the Transsiberian railroad. It took 50 hours to circumvent Manchuria by rail. There are absolutely no connecting ways in this area during the ice-free period. After this strenuous trip, the return flight via London to Zürich was like a hitch. They left their "best friend" back in Tokyo in exchange for Yen and with a heavy heart back. The motorcycle is now exhibited in the presentation hall of the BMW (Japan) Corp. and will grace the BMW stall during the next Tokyo Motor Show.

Was the effort was worth its while? Here is an excerpt from Mark's diary describing the "King's Stage" between Omsk and Novosibirsk.

From the Trip Diary

"It is a strange feeling indeed to be behind the Ural. Endless distances, green fields, rustling birches. Pure mother nature and contaminated areas go hand in hand. Many road sections are without asphalt. Rain and heavy thunderstorms, extreme heat up to 40°, all kinds of insects and the amazed looks of the people accompany us.

It is 6 July 1994. After a few relaxing hours on a river boat on the Irtys near Omsk, the "King's Stage" is imminent. Two days or 850 kms ago we were warned about the difficulties of this section of the trip. Now we need detailed information about the road conditions to Novosibirsk. We can't remember how many people we asked. One thing is clear - there are no alike answers. So we have no choice but to play poker.

We have been riding for six hours already - the speedometer shows a mere 250 kms. Tiredness sets in and then there is a stop at a junction. Which direction is the correct one? Gut feeling says left, there are traces to the right and common sense commands to stop and wait. We're at our wits' end. Endless prairie and not a single soul in sight. Before we try our luck in one direction or the other, we wait for divine inspiration. After pondering for a while we can make out a dusty cloud in the distance. Hoof beats become louder and soon a rider and his horse stop at our side. It is a Kasach! Surprised looks on both sides. Each is impressed by the other. A few cordial words, a couple of presents exchanged, a firm handshake, a clear nod in the direction of East conclude this brief friendship. We part our ways - the Kasach gallops away on his horse and we put our 50 horsepower into motion.

A gas station at last! One always has to haggle first how much gas one can get and, of course, only against pre-payment. As usual, Anita goes to the cash register. Two women behind a small window glare venomously at Antia and one hisses: "Njet Benzin!" Our supply will not last to the next gas station. Diplomacy and tact are needed. The result of the first round of debate are 5 liters of the precious juice. After the second round, a further 10 liters are promised. Now comes the final verbal marathon. Anita, with infinite patience and charm, tries to thaw the frozen hearts of the two dragons. The ladies seems to appreciate her efforts - Suddenly we have permission for a full tank of gas as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

We have now been on the road for twelve hours already, ride in our own shadows and have put almost half of the 740 km section behind us. To reach Novosibirsk still today is impossible. The town of Kuibysev is our answer.

It doesn't take us long to find the hotel in this 50'000 soul town. A cold shower soon puts life back into us. Food is much more of a problem, but with luck we get our daily ration of cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes and even a piece of "protein" which we would call beef. Our appetite satisfied and completely exhausted we lay our weary bones on the bed and close our eyes.

The next day is similar. Fortunately, it's been hot and dry for weeks. Rain and wet roads would immobilize us. We are firmly decided to charter a helicopter at the next opportunity. But hopes of finding an airport in this godforsaken territory become smaller and smaller by the minute. There is not even an army base. We fight ahead, meter by meter, Anita often on foot. Late afternoon, our spirits soar. We turn into an asphalt road. We made it!! - or did we? At a speed of 100 kilometers, a crow flies into the motorcycle. It hits the driving mirror. Blood spatters the helmet and feathers fly, but in spite of diminished sight we manage to keep our course and bring the motorcycle to a standstill. A short time later we realize this was not a lucky bird but a bad omen. Barely on the road again, there is another bang - this time under the front wheel. One second's inattentiveness and we hit a bottle at the same speed. With great effort and a lot of luck we manage to bring the motorcycle to a stop without falling. Tire repair is called for at more than 40°. What fun!

We can see Novosibirsk in the distance. We have reached the goal of the "King's Stage", but not the end of this exciting day by a long shot. Our daily check-up shows a dramatic picture. The back tire is full of large cuts, the profile blocks come loose and the carcass lies open. But that's another adventurous story ...."


"It was an extremely interesting experience. Looking back, the positive aspects outweighed the negative ones. Even so, we would not have gone back again at any cost" says our adventurer. Answering our question as to the next project for a trip, Mark Rytz says not very convincingly: This was my last trip by motorcycle". And then with a faraway look in his eyes he adds: "The only thing that might tempt me would be a motorcycle trip from Anchorage in Alaska to Ushuaia on Fireland."