BAMtastic: Baikal-Amur Mainline

The Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM) runs north and parallel to the Siberian railway and the road running alongside it just referred to as the BAM road is one of the hardest adventure motorcycling roads in the world and it’s estimated that only fewer than 50 motorcyclists have completed it. Although the BMA is in Siberian in the east part of Russia the road is split into the west and east half the wet running go Tynda and the east from there to the coast. We travelled along the western part of the BAM and it took us 9 days of riding, from Irkutsk to Tynda approximately 2300km.

As far as adventure motorcycling routes the road of bones is more famous due primarily to Ewan McGregor riding it in the long way round. The BAM however was the road they did not ride deciding instead to take the railway (hmmm maybe they made the right decision …. NAH wimps)

So after being in Russia for a couple of days we hit the BAM road, described as the adventure motorcyclist’s ultimate test of man and machine. “Hmmm bit disappointing this BAM road” we all commented after the first 100ks since most of this is on very good dirt roads or the odd bit of tarmac. The scenery and butterflies were amazing, the weather was good (SHOCK we actually got to see the sun) and we were having a ball. BUT obviously we spoke to soon because things were about to change. The BAM is simply one of the worst dirt roads in the world. There is nothing more that can be said it is just bad very very bad. It is not that it is technically difficult off road riding just relentless miles and miles of cut up dirt, sand, potholes, ruts, rocks, puddles (well I can only call them puddles but they are the biggest puddles known to man, deep, rocky, muddy and sometimes tens of metres long)

The real difficulties on the BAM are the river and bridge crossings. Since we chose to come during one of the worst wettest summers experienced in this region the roads are at their worst and some rivers just impassable. This meant we needed to use the railway bridges to cross them. Many of the road bridges were in a rather bad state of repair, but passable and the second largest one in the Kaunda just nonexistent having burned down a few months earlier. This would not have been a problem if a bridge guard had not been posted to ensure no vehicles used the railway bridge. This man was not going to budge and there was no way to cross the bridge. This meant a 50km return trip to the town on Kaunda where we had to board a train, I will explain this saga later.

Getting back to the bad BAM story, one of the best things about the trip is the group that I am riding with. This is team work at its best not only while getting over broken bridges and through rivers but camping and keeping the spirits up. Every time a rider got stuck two or three other riders would be off their bikes and rushing to help before one could say mayday, often wading into knee deep freezing water. I would have to comment that most of the time that was Gareth and Craig, but no one in the team spent the BAM watching from the sidelines everyone chipped in and did their bit. I know companies send their employees on team building days and now I just want to laugh every time I think of one of those ridiculous events. Until you are lying upside down in a pile of dirt half way up a steep incline underneath a bike you have no idea what team work really means. It took three of the guys to get my bike up the bank after I fell and the 4 to get push and pull Phil’s bike (a lot heavier than my baby) up the incline while I road it. If corporate companies sent their employees to the BAM they would soon weed out the slackers 🙂

I AM LOVING THIS. DAMN this is off road tastic (basically because using the word road is stretching the truth a bit) every day I have just really really enjoyed the riding. Other than the knarly river and bridge crossing the road is not that difficult the challenge is primarily in the conditions. The relentless rain and the wild camping in one of the most mozzie infected areas in the world. These little buggers drink mozzie spray for breakfast. The BAM is long and you get really tired and worn down and it just takes a LOT of stamina to do this road but if you like this kind of things its great and I highly recommend taking on the BAM, it’s a worthwhile adversary and I am so glad I took up the challenge.

Even though I am sick to death of rain and being wet and camping in a wet tent and pulling on wet boots and clothes in the morning I would not change this trip for the world.

No words could really accurately explain what we have been though. Just how much I enjoyed the riding and the challenge and yet just how difficult the BAM is. This is by far the hardest, most challenging, most exiting, most fun thing I have ever done and I do believe the only way to do it is to have the right mental attitude because you need to dig DEEEEEP you will learn more about yourself doing the BAM than just about any other motorcycle adventure I can think of.