Almost 16 months ago, Matt Bishop and Reece Gilkes set off on the adventure of a lifetime to raise money and awareness about modern day slavery. They decided to circumnavigate the globe in none other than a scooter and a sidecar; not the most reliable of transportation, especially when you’re riding through difficult terrain and testing weather conditions, but they’ve finally returned just a few weeks ago. Matt tells us his story…
Back to the start
“On the 21st October 2017, I found myself driving off from the Ace Cafe on a scooter with a sidecar. Beside me was my childhood pal, Reece, and our destination was the spot we were leaving from. We were planning to be the first people to ever drive around the world on a scooter with a sidecar. With us on the start line was 65 other people. They were there to ride with us in convoy to Paris.
All of the vehicles were stickered up with the Modern Slavery Helpline number and had their nails painted florescent yellow to raise awareness of Unseen UK’s Let’s Nail It campaign. That day was a brilliant start to achieving our goal of raising awareness of modern slavery and human trafficking by circumnavigating the globe on a scooter with a sidecar.
From UK to Paris to…
A few days later, our convoy returned home and we set off south. With no experience of riding a scooter and sidecar whatsoever we were set for a baptism by fire. We had never ridden a motorcycle before planning the trip. We had no idea how a scooter worked, let a lone how to repair one. We were completely clueless but we ventured south anyway.
Cut to a couple of months later and it’s New Year’s Eve. We were broken down on the side of the road in the middle of the Sahara desert. There was something mangled hanging out of the wheel. The sun had started setting and we had no idea what it was or how to fix it. We were starring down the barrel of whipping the tent out and watching the new year come in under the stars, when a local guy pulled over to help us out.
Within a couple of hours, the police were with us. They sorted us out with a recovery truck and we ended up making it through to Hurghada. We were completely tired out but managed to stay up to watch the fireworks before crashing out in a dodgy hotel room. We spent the next day, New Year’s Day, learning what a bearing was.
We drove until something broke…
This experience set the tone for the entirety of 2018. We would drive until something broke and then learn what it did later. It led to some stressful times but some amazing experiences too. We scooted the entire length of Africa from Alexandria, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa. We broke down numerous times and were always rescued by a random member of the public.
Everyone we came across just wanted to make the trip a success. Even when we had no problems at all we were welcomed in to people’s homes, offered meals, invited to weddings and generally included in the everyday life of the people who we met.
This wasn’t just the case in Africa though and continued throughout the entirety of the trip.
Within 6 months, we had travelled to Chile
By March 2018 we had made it to Santiago, Chile. From here we drove north to Cartagena, Colombia – tackling the Atacama Desert and the Andes on route. The scooter, a Honda SH300i, performed brilliantly throughout the trip but it drew the line in the Andes.
We ended up taking it off-road at 5000 metres above sea level in order to get in to Bolivia. That was just too much for it and we spent a couple of days walking along side the outfit or physically pushing it up hill.
Eventually we made it through and we were rewarded with most incredible scenery. We travelled past the salt flats in Bolivia, in to the lush jungle landscapes of Ecuador, Peru and Colombia until we arrived at the tropical paradise, coastal town of Cartagena.
The Sidecar got shipped to Mexico
Next, we shipped the sidecar around the Darien Gap and all the way to Mexico where we headed north from the Yucatan, through the States to Vancouver, Canada. By the time we had got to Vancouver we had been riding for almost a year. With a lot of hot desert riding, pushing through the Andes and endless self-inflicted breakdowns, it had been the hardest thing we had ever done. Little did we know that what lay ahead of us would dwarf the challenge we had just survived.
After a month at sea the sidecar met us in Vladivostok, far east Russia. We had hoped to go to Singapore from Vancouver but visa restrictions in Iran, the costs of China and the snow in the Himalayas meant there would be no road home. Our only option to achieve our goal of driving back to Ace Cafe London was to take the trans-Siberian highway. Followers and parents pleaded with us not to take on the Russian winter but after a year on the road there was no way were giving up on riding home and we didn’t have the time or money to wait for spring.
We hit a low of -37°C in Russia
After the faff of importing the bike we set off west in early November. The first few days were a doddle, a cold -5°C or so, but clear roads and easy scooting. Then the snow started falling and the temperature fell with it. Over the next 6 weeks we hit a low of -37°C and we rarely rode at warmer than -15°C. The roads were mainly ice and we were on summer tyres. Trucks were flying past us as we slowly trundled down the highway, trying our best not to slip in to them. At those temperatures, nothing works, and everything hurts. All of your batteries freeze up so no navigation or cameras but no visors either. Despite having a pin lock system, they just freeze over and you have to lift them up and let your face freeze too. It was hell but as was the case with the rest of the world, the people saved us. We were welcomed in to people’s homes, fed hot meals, handed coffee by passing truckers and given an endless supply of vodka in the evenings.
10,000km later, and we’re home!
Somehow, we survived the 10,000km journey from Vladivostok and we arrived in to Ace Cafe on the 19th of January this year as the first people to ever circumnavigate the globe on a scooter with a sidecar.
We reached thousands of people with the message that there are still 40 million people living in slavery today and they are in every country on earth and so far we have raised over £6,000 for charities that fight slavery around the world.
You can learn more about the issue and donate to the cause on our website at www.asseenfromthesidecar.org/donate.
Check out some more pictures from Matt and Reece’s epic adventure below…