Gerd’s Sidecar Diaries

Travelling around Europe’s Battlefields on a Krad, a motorcycle and sidecar from the World War 2 era.

Travelling to the battlefields of Europe.

Motorcycle sidecars are a niche area of interest and there are not many on the roads. A French army officer won a prize for his design of a sidecar for a bicycle in 1893.  A cartoon of a motorcycle with a sidecar appeared in the January 7th, 1903, British Motor Cycling issue. Three weeks later, a provisional patent was granted to Graham Brothers, Enfield, Middlesex for a motorcycle sidecar. Jaguar cars began life as sidecar manufacturers in 1922. The British Army employed the use of motorbikes and sidecars to transport their Vickers machine guns in World War One. It took a squad of about seven men to carry the gun, tripod, ammunition boxes, and water to cool the barrels, so fixing the gun to a side car that could carry the driver and machine gunner, as well as the ammunition and water made a lot of sense. The bike that comes to mind where warfare is concerned though is the German “Krad” or BMW R75 and its opposite number from Zündapp, the KS750. There was an agreement between the German army and the two bike and sidecar manufacturers, to standardise the  bikes and make a new Zündapp-BMW motorbike and sidecar, but the progress of the war prevented that from happening.

This standardisation between BMW and Zündapp has meant that 70% of the parts on the bikes are interchangeable. This greatly improves the supply of spare parts for these bikes, many of which are still running today and are very sought after by enthusiasts.  An R75 can be still used on or off-road for everyday transport and they are very adaptable and reliable vehicles. One such enthusiast recently contacted Motorcycle Rambler and has forwarded a couple of photographs of his machine. Gerd is originally from Germany but now lives in Japan. His is an unusual story and he is a motorcycle enthusiast, and a side car enthusiast, as well as a military and history buff. He was very badly injured in a motorcycle accident in Germany when he was 20 years old. A woman carrying shopping bags ran into his path while he was riding his motorbike. While trying to avoid her he hit a parked van and suffered multiple serious injuries that left him in hospital for many weeks, with a much longer recovery time, having suffered broken bones requiring metal plates to be fitted.

Gerd did his bike test when he was fifteen, graduating to a KTM 500GS at 18 years of age and studied mechanical engineering.1 He had a love of engines from when he was a young child and still loves how reliable and dependable a well maintained machine can be. His other love is for the military life and he was a member of the German Army for four years,  and became a tank commander. He wanted to become a paratrooper at that time but injuries from his accident prevented that. He has since realised his dream to become a paratrooper. He runs his own business in Japan but he returns to Germany every year to do reserve training in an active paratroop platoon. He always wanted to own a motorbike and sidecar from the war era and there were a lot of mishaps along the way to achieving ownership. The original bike was actually a BMW R71 which the Soviets copied with their M-72 and in turn the Chinese copied that bike with the CJ750. Gerd was living in Japan and he thought he could get his dream bike through a Chinese company, that promised to make him an authentic world war 2 era bike, with a Chinese frame and a German BMW engine. All they did was messed him around a lot and spent a considerable amount of his money. In the end he had nothing to show for it and was many thousands of euros poorer. He eventually gave up on it and started looking again for the bike of his dreams. This time he found the bike he wanted in Germany. He was almost broke from the misadventure with the Chinese company so he borrowed the money from family and bought the new bike without even having seen it. It worked out brilliantly for him as the guy he bought it from was also an enthusiast, who helped him rebuild it into a reliable bike for the massive journeys he had planned.

Gerd is delighted with his new bike and he has undertaken some big expeditions across five countries and 6400 kilometres (4000 miles). The bike is fitted with an BMW R100RT engine and has some new parts for reliability but as you can see from the pictures, or if you go onto his site you can see video clips and even a drone clip of the bike from the air, krad7it looks so authentic it is scary. I had never thought I would be interested in a bike with a sidecar but his machine looks great and I wouldn’t mind a try. Gerd’s trips are planned around visits to the sites of battles where many Germans lost their lives. He visits the historic battlefields and memorials to the fallen at those sites. He believes it is important to acknowledge the young men who gave their lives fighting for their country. We are very accustomed to Hollywood movies, such as Saving Private Ryan, that sets out the story of a mission to save the sole survivor out of four brothers, the Ryan brothers, to return him alive to his family. Hollywood doesn’t often acknowledge that millions of young German soldiers left home, never to return to their Mothers and Fathers. These were also little more than boys who courageously and heroically died fighting for their country. Europe is littered with battlefields and graveyards where these boys lost their lives.

Gerd says that he has no political motivation, just a desire to visit and acknowledge these dead comrades. To the victor go the spoils but he believes that their sacrifices should also be marked. He travels to these sites on his “Krad”. Krad is a term that comes from the word Kraftrad, a German word used by the military to describe a motorbike,krad4 not to be confused with Kettenkrad which referred to a military motorbike with a standard front wheel but with tracks to the rear. In 2017 he plans to visit Monte Cassino, a famous hilltop monastery which was left in ruins after Allied bombing before the Battle of Monte Cassino in 1944. In 2018 he will visit the site of the Battle of Crete in 1941. In 2019 he will visit Stalingrad, where what many believe was the biggest battle of all time took place, between August of 1942 and February 1943. In 2020 he hopes to begin a world tour on the Krad. The planning is in the very earliest stages and already he has hit a snag on the route he has been considering. He had hoped to travel up through Britain and Scotland and on to Iceland but he doesn’t think there is a ferry to bring him and his bike to Iceland. He would appreciate any suggestions that you might have.

Gerd’s Facebook is at http://www.facebook.com/gerd.kramer948 and Instragram: http://www.instragram.com/montecassino44/ . The photographs are all Gerd’s and the featured photo is of Gerd on the bike before it was fully restored.

Jupiter’s Travels in Camera

In September 2013, Ted Simon published a book of photographs from his famous round the world motorcycle journey.

The photographic record of Ted Simon’s journey

Ted Simon is famous for a motorcycle journey that lasted four years, from 1973 to 1977. His book is believed by many to have changed their lives. Ewan McGregor attributes at least part of the inspiration for his and Charley Boorman’s journey as described in their book, Long Way Round to Jupiter’s Travels. The pair actually met Ted Simon on their journey in Mongolia. The book was published in 1979 and it chronicles Simon’s journey of over 100,000 kilometres (62,000 miles), through 45 countries on a British bike, a 500cc Triumph. The journey was sponsored by The Sunday Times and the Triumph was one of the last bikes to get out the door of the factory before workers at the Meriden Triumph Factory went on strike. A strike that lasted almost two years, until a workers cooperative started manufacturing motorbikes there again.

When Ted Simon, a chemical engineer who became a journalist after his studies, had completed his four year motorcycle journey and gone to his publisher, nobody even enquired of him if he had any photographs of his travels. dsc05260Thousands of readers wrote to him after reading his book and he says almost nobody asked why there were no photographs included in the book. Now, just a few decades later when we are bombarded with millions of digital images on every media platform, that seems almost incredible to believe. In the past, readers of books and even regular publications were fascinated by what they read, and their “mind’s eye” developed images in their brain to correspond to the story before them. In today’s world we can’t even focus on a subject for more than a few moments. We are so accustomed to instant gratification and many multiples of images on our social media and all the other platforms that we encounter every day.

Ted Simon’s published works include Jupiter’s Travels in 1979; The Gypsy in me in 1997; Riding High in 1998; Dreaming of Jupiter in 2007. In 1973, a friend had recommended bringing a couple of camera bodies and a few lenses on his epic journey and dsc05241he had brought them along reluctantly. It must have been a right old pain having to lug all this equipment and try to take care of the exposed rolls of film. Nowadays you can scroll through your days’ images and delete anything not worthy of being kept, instead of holding on to roll after roll and hoping that, eventually, when they have been developed, you will have at least a few good ones.  In 2013 Ted Simon published a photographic record of his journey around the world from ’73 to ’77. His book “Jupiter’s Travels in Camera” is comprised of three hundred of the pictures that he took on his journey. This is a big book physically as well as a great read. The pictures are stunning and it is amazing that they are of such quality and still so interesting forty years later. I recommend that you get your hands on a copy and I think you won’t be disappointed reading the newly composed words and browsing through the pictures.

The featured image is a photo I took of the front cover of the book and the one of the child wearing the helmet is from the back cover. The other image is to indicate a typical layout of a double page. Original images are not mine, obviously. 

Long Way Round

Long Way Round; The International Best Seller by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman. 20004.

Long over-due read. Why have I never read this before?

I had always intended to read this book. I had seen the series on TV and loved it. So why had I never read it? I can’t answer that, but a colleague recently gave me a well thumbed copy of the book and I wasn’t able to put it down. Not just because it is about motorcycling… well that too, but because it is a great read. Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman tell a story of a shared love of motorbikes that leads them to undertake an epic 20,000 miles, east from London, through Europe, Asia and North America. The book is a beautiful insight into a great friendship between the men and their families that started when they met in Ireland,  in Casey’s Pub in County Clare, when they both worked there. Both had moved their families there when they were members of the cast of a movie called Serpent’s Kiss. Originally a big bike trip had been McGregor’s idea and gradually it evolved from a trip to Spain into something much larger and infinitely more ambitious. The plan was hatched in a little workshop in London, surrounded by motorcycles and with maps laid out in front of them, to bike all the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific and then to cross to Alaska, travel down through Canada and on to New York. While many experts told them it was an impossible dream they refused to give up on it. Eventually the team they put together made it happen by sheer determination and dogged tenacity, knocking on the door of every potential sponsor, TV channel, production company and motorcycle manufacturer. The journey was filmed by a combination of the two friends carrying the necessary equipment to record their exploits, as well as by the support crew, which included a motorcycle rider who was also a cameraman, Claudio Von Planta. The support crew, which travelled in four wheel drive vehicles, included David Alexanian and Russ Malkin, the directors,  as well as another cameraman,  Jimmy Simak. Also Sergey, a former special forces soldier and a chain smoking Russian Doctor, called Vasiliy,  they brought along because some of the trip was so far from any medical assistance.

Boorman had first become smitten by the motorcycle bug when he met Sean Connery’s son, Jason. Connery had stayed in their family farm in Wicklow when his Father, John Boorman, a famous director, cast him in a movie he was making in Ireland, called Zardoz. Jason had a little 50cc monkey bike which he allowed Boorman to try out. Boorman promptly fell off but he loved it so much he eventually managed to persuade his parents to allow him buy a 100cc Yamaha trials bike. A neighbour had built a motorcross track on his farm where Boorman spent hours and hours learning the art of motorcycling. He had a lot of scrapes on his bikes, being stopped on the road by local sergeant with no lights, licence or any documentation to when he defied his parents and bought a bigger bike and promptly crashed into a fence with barbed wire right in front of where his dad was playing tennis.

In contrast, McGregor was denied permission to buy a bike, even when he was desperate to do so, having lost his first love to a boy who had a motorcycle. He passed his test after he had moved away from home and rushed to a bike shop to buy what turned out to be a dog of an old Moto Guzzi. But he determinedly  stuck with it, restoring it to it’s former glory. When he became a famous actor he was usually not allowed to ride his bike when on location. Production companies’ insurance agents were determined that no movie shoot would have to come to a halt because some idiot actor had just had a spill off a bike. McGregor dug his heels in when he was being sought for a role in Moulin Rouge, a movie being made in Australia. He and Nicole Kidman had the lead roles. He insisted on being allowed ride his motorcycle and packed up the bike and rode out into the outback wilderness, lit a fire and camped for the night.

The amount of equipment they carried on the bikes nearly scuppered the trip from the outset. A combination of the excessive weight and anxiety caused by the worries of the impending trip, caused Boorman, the more experienced of the two bikers, to drop the big 1150GS twice on the morning they set off. He had been adamant that KTM was the better choice of bike for the trip but KTM were convinced that there was a substantial risk of the trip being a failure. BMW, on the other hand came good for them and were pragmatic. Delighted to be part of it and happy for them to get as far as they could in the adventure. They didn’t worry about failure as long as they gave it a good go. The adventures of the trip included being stuck for hours upon hours at the Slovak and Ukrainian borders, having a gun pointed at them in Kazakhstan and finding themselves on the banks of a huge, fast flowing river in Siberia, where the bridge had been washed away. The motley crew suffered breakdowns, illness, insect bites, thefts and catastrophic frame breaks, all in the course of the adventure. Along the route they met some extraordinary people who helped them out or just gave them encouragement. Bikers rode along with them on some parts of the journey and at the end they were accompanied by a large group of bikers when they entered New York, surprisingly on schedule, after all their experiences.

The book is made up of sections written by both men from their perspectives on the journey. The two were determined to make the journey itself the most important dynamic, not the production of the documentary. The struggles, fears, doubts and points of view of each rider is set out in detail. The reader recognises the characteristics of each and lives through the personal conflicts that they deal with on the trip and also the coming  to terms with, and overcoming their individual conflicts, along the way. A lot of things are tested on the journey: motorbikes, equipment, patience, character, friendships and much more.  Mafia, corrupt officials, border bureaucracy, automatic weapons, terrible roads and other problems were encountered. In Ukraine they visited a UN orphanage and some other worthwhile children’s projects along the way. A natural suspicion of the motives of people they met on the trip had to be re-evaluated too.  The journey was cathartic for the two friends. While adventure motorcycling has always existed, it has certainly become more of a “thing” since this journey of adventure was aired. The term adventure motorcycling was apparently coined in the 1990s, but now adventure motorcycling and the bikes, clothing, equipment and accessories that go with it are the industry standard. Our two friends, I’ll wager, had a part in making that happen. I highly recommend you get a copy of the book and the book of the second journey, Long Way Down. Do so soon, because the series is likely to become a trilogy in the relatively near future.