Editor ‘arris caught up with Rene at the 2009 Edmonton & Vancouver Motorcycle Shows where he posed 10 Questions
from the CMG readership & staff about his epic journey.
CMG first met Rene Cormier at the 2006 Calgary Motorcycle Show where he had just returned back to Canada mid-way through a round the world motorcycle adventure. He’d just completed his leg around the Americas, only to run short on cash forcing his return to earn more funds before heading off the South Africa.
It was in Calgary that we agreed to start posting updates of his impending second leg adventures, which resulted in a series of sixteen articles that can now be found on the CMG ‘Renedian’ homepage.
Rene finally completed his second leg of the trip late in 2008 and Editor ‘arris caught up with him again at the 2009 Edmonton & Vancouver Motorcycle Shows where he posed 10 Questions from the CMG readership & staff about his epic journey …
Name: Rene Cormier
Hometown: Edmonton, Alberta (for now)
Wife and kids: None
Years Riding: 10 (as of Jan 2009)
Current bike: 2003 BMW GS650GS Dakar (with ABS)
One day Rene Cormier was in a crowded bus in Africa and as he peered out of the dusty window he saw a group of adventure motorcyclist blast past. That, he thought to himself, was how you really want to travel around the world.
A few years later he decided to do just that himself, buying a new BMW 650 GS and selling all his worldly possessions to set off on what would be a four and a half years, 154,000 km trek around the globe.
1) If you were to suggest one thing for someone considering a similar trip, what would it be? (Chris in T.O.)
Judging from the people that come to chat to me at the shows it’s simply, Go! There are a lot of people who make excuses for not going – don’t have the right bike, not enough time, not enough money, etc.
The other biggie is to pack less than you expect you’ll need. That wisdom has been around forever and no one seems to observe it! I came across lots of travelers who would either send a box of stuff home or donate it to someone local after only a few weeks on the road.
Things that I don’t think are too important are things like mechanical abilities or lots of cash, although they do both help.
2) What mods did you do to your bike before leaving and why? (CMG Staff)
The most obvious adaptation – at the time – was to add some Touratech fuel tanks, which brought up the bike’s capacity from 14.5 litres to 36.5 litres. However at over two and a half thousand dollars (which included a touring seat) it’s a rather expensive change.
Being on the road and watching my funds deplete each day it was hard not to see the tanks as a pile of cash that I couldn’t access. That’s the equivalent of four months’ travel budget and if I did it over again I’d err towards saving the money for traveling on.
There are less expensive ways of covering fuel issues – buying jerry cans for the dodgy parts and giving them away afterwards for example. Even two-litre pop bottles can work.
As a rough rule I found that about 25 litres is sufficient to get you to most any place on earth. Typically if you’re on paved or well-used gravel roads, that’ll give you about the same range of any car which means that sooner or later you’ll come across a fuel stop before you run out of gas.
The key is to always take advantage of each fuel stop and don’t assume that you’ll find the next one anytime soon! Those are the stops that never appear.
The moral of the story is that I found it wasn’t too important to worry about the bike or the mods you do to it, rather focus on the trip itself and actually getting out on the motorcycle.
Other mods include tank bags, 41 litre Touratech aluminium cases – which I was very happy with; an Ortlieb extra large dry bag – which was extremely useful; a pair of Touratech springs in the front; an Ohlins shock at the rear; taller windscreen; 35 mm bar risers (more comfy position); Garmin 5 GPS; wider peg kit and a Staintune exhaust to get rid of the catalytic converter as I thought that poor fuel would damage the cat and the bike. Although I later learned that if the cat was damaged it wouldn’t in turn damage the motor.
3) Were there any maintenance or repair issues that were improvised and surprised you with their effectiveness and longevity? (Chris in T.O.)
One of the rear subframe bolts holding up the back of the bike sheered. This required a drill-out of the nut and replacement with a bigger one but it held ever since. The sidestand welding attachment that I did in Mexico held up really well too.
‘Arris – What other repairs had to be done?
Half way through the trip when I returned to Canada to earn more money I decided to preventatively replace the clutch plates and timing chain as I thought these might wear out in the next 75,000 km. When I got them out they still looked like new so they could have probably lasted the whole trip.
On the road, most of the parts failures were just from wearing out – chain and sprockets, tires and such. I had to replace the radiator in Dubai (a $400 part), which had a mystery drip at the hose junction that I just couldn’t seal.
I also had to replace the water pump seal in Mongolia but because it is a known issue (thanks to my Internet research on the bike before I left) I had brought the spare part with me and was back on the road in two hours.
The only other issue was with the rear shock. Oddly enough I didn’t have any issues with the original one, which worked well for the 75,000 km of the Americas but wasn’t serviceable.
When I was back in Canada after South America I bought an Ohlins but it had the wrong spring on it (too soft) and on a really rocky section in Kenya it broke at the lower mount.. I got a new mount CNC’d in South Africa and it’s still on the bike to this day. I also replaced the spring while I was at it.
4) What was your daily budget? (CMG Staff)
Twenty-five dollars a day, which includes gas, food and camping. This is very possible to do some days in some countries but not in others. For example if you’re riding all day long then $25 is easily spent only on gas. But you keep that in mind and the next couple of days you spend camping in the bush rather than staying in a hotel to get below the $25 daily amount again.
For the first part of the trip (North, Central and South America) my average worked out to be $26/day, which was spookily close to my budget.
Africa and the Middle East worked out to be about the same, but the Stans and east of that got expensive due to the cost of visas (up to $100 each), letters of invitation and permits to get into each country. However, if you factor out those expenses then I was still averaging $25/day.
Another question I’m asked is “Is it better to do a trip like this on my kind of budget or something like the Ewan and Charlie budget?”
I found that by doing it on the cheap I was much more reliant on the local population when I needed help. Misfortune such as flat tires or even Amy breaking her leg meant that I had to reach out to the local community and without exception all these events turned into great memories and I’ll cherish them forever.
Now if I had a lot of money, a back-up truck, the ability to stay in the local Hilton while someone fixed my bike, then that would be a much less authentic trip than I had traveling on the cheap -– which I personally think is a more legitimate way to do it.
5) What’s a typical day of food on the road? (CMG Staff)
For breakfast I’d usual have a couple of eggs which you could boil and then use the water to make a coffee. Stopping at a market for lunch tended to be a cheap, under-a-dollar option for a good-sized meal. For dinner I’d usually make up soups or stews that could be done on a fire or the stove. I only had one pot though, so that limited creativity.
For drinking water I wasn’t overly fussy but if it looked a bit dodgy I’d use some sterilization drops or just boil the water. If my eating habits were poor I’d also take a multi-vitamin to ensure I got what I needed.
6) Were there any points during your travel when you felt unsafe (as in fear of crime or from wildlife)? Chris in T.O.
Crime wasn’t really an issue. I’d listen to other travelers on what they had to say about countries that I was going to and avoid any suspect areas. The traveling ‘spidey’ sense develops quite quickly and as a result there was never a time when I found myself in an overly dubious situation or where I felt a threat to my personal safety.
‘Arris – And animals? What about countries in Africa where there are lions and the like?
Yeah, lions you can hear at night, but you can’t see them. It’s very infrequent that a lion would enter a tent so I played the odds game.
The one that gave me the biggest scare was some animal sniffing around my tent all night. I yelled and screamed and stayed up all night, only to find hoof prints of a buck (deer) the next morning.
Hippos were common in some areas at night when they come onto shore to graze, but they are good at avoiding tents.
7) Which of the countries you rode through presented the greatest bureaucratic challenges? (Harold Martens)
Iran, who don’t want you there as a tourist, and all the former Eastern Bloc countries, who are not hooked up to the tourist wagon yet, and make it very difficult to get in as a tourist, and difficult to bring in a private vehicle. And there’s a much bigger language barrier, as most other countries have a smattering of English, but these places did not.
8) What would you consider the pinnacle of your odyssey – when you thought if there’s only one thing I remember from this trip, this is it? (Bob Gladding)
The part of the trip from Tajikistan (which has only been open to foreigners for the last 20 years, making it pretty unique) through to Mongolia was a very special time, mostly because the riding was spectacular, the weather was good and the people so different from everywhere else that I got a real sense of adventure travel.
By the time I got to Mongolia it also dawned on me that I was getting close to finishing the trip and that I’d made a good choice of bike, I’d traveled at a good pace, hadn’t been really sick or injured and everything had worked out well. So in the middle of Mongolia there were just some endless days of smiling and a sense of having accomplished what I’d set out to do and had a successful trip.
9) If you had the opportunity to revisit one of the countries that you traveled to, which would it be and why? (Harold Martens)
I think revisiting countries to try and relive good memories is a fool’s game as I don’t think you’ll ever recapture the experience. If I interpret this question as to what was your favourite country – which is a question that I get asked a lot – then I’d have to define what ‘favourite’ refers to.
My favourite food was found in Mexico, favourite riding was Tajikistan or even Bolivia, the country with the best music was Argentina … which I guess is also the country that encompasses all of these things the best. But also what really helped was the fact that I could speak Spanish by the time I got there, and this is something I highly recommend they learn for anyone wanting to travel in Central and South America.
When I was in Mexico my Spanish was very limited to basic questions but by the time I got to Argentina the conversation switches to “where did your grandparents come from?” and “what do your kids learn at school?” or “how many weeks holiday do you get … paid or unpaid?”
Those are the types of conversations that help form a real authentic view of the country that I’m in and really add to the experience of the place.
10) How do you know if you can trust someone that you meet on the road? (CMG Staff)
Any time money entered the equation or any time someone started the conversation with the words “My friend” usually meant that I needed to be more cautious with what was about to go down.
As for potentially corrupt officials, it’s always good to spend a bit of time on the Internet before you go to a country so that you know what is actually needed when you get to the border country. That way you know if the border officials are trying to pull a fast one or not.
I would also always allow a full day per border crossing. If an official was trying to stall and suggest “something could be done” to make the process faster I could play dumb and wait them out. If that didn’t work and they wanted money then you can always ask for a receipt, which helps to keep it legit.
I rarely had to bribe and I don’t like it as it sets a dangerous precedent for all travelers. I tended to find that it was worst coming to a border crossing behind Americans in big BMWs who are on a time limit and blaze their way though with $50 bills in their passports. After this, the customs guys start to see you as a walking ATM machine.
The best is follow a German. They don’t pay for anything …
CLOSING THOUGHTS – By Editor ‘arris
In all I spent a good few days with Rene while I did my whistle-stop tour of the western motorcycle shows – helping at his booth, driving from Edmonton to Vancouver across the Rockies and splitting a hotel room in Abbotsford.
After several years of intermittent Skype communications and many hours editing and laying out his submissions, it was great to finally hang out for a while and get to know him better.
At the shows his booth was constantly inundated with people wanting to see where he’d gone, take a closer look at the 650GS and inevitably ask the same questions over three days again and again.
While I was constantly off to get drinks, snacks or chat with industry types (and thereby get frequent time-outs), Rene was always happy to chat and try to convince any would-be explorer to take the first step and commit to what will be a trip of a lifetime.
He’s an effective ambassador for the world of motorcycle adventure touring, but also humble, patient, passionate and funny to boot. It’s a pleasure to know the guy.
I can’t end this piece without one more question – number 10b if you like – and that is, what’s the next thing in line for Rene Cormier?
Ah, I’m heading back to South Africa in a few weeks. One of the best souvenirs I picked up along the way was a girl in South Africa. I’ll be with her in South Africa for a couple of months and then we’ll both be coming back to Canada for the summer.
There is a book on the way as well and a few rides that I want to do in Canada, though those ideas are still in the fermenting and bubbling stage so we’ll see how they play out.
Hopefully we’ll be hearing about some of these in adventures in CMG shortly …