BY EGLE GERULAITYTE
Lea Rieck (Germany) is tough through and through: she set out on a round the world journey solo, riding her Triumph Tiger 800 XCA; she claims she preferred toy cars instead of Barbies when she was little, and she’s not afraid to really open the throttle on curvy roads as well as tackle the remote dirt tracks of the Pamirs.At the same time, Lea’s incredibly feminine: she says she didn’t trade her dresses and lipstick for the bike – she’s taking them around the world instead.
Lea has already ridden from Munich to Thailand covering Europe, Central Asia, and the Himalayas. We caught up with her and Cleo (that’s how she named her Tiger) in Tasmania, where she’s resting from her Asian adventures and planning the next leg of her trip.
– Lea, the Tiger is a big, heavy bike – a lot of women usually choose something lighter and smaller. How come you picked Cleo?
– I think many people have a certain respect for bigger bikes, especially if they’re not very tall. Luckily, I am quite well grown at 5.8 ft, so I never had a problem to reach the ground even on the standard seats of most motorcycles. Before I got Cleo, I rode a BMW G650GS Sertao and a BMW 1200 GS. Both are very reasonable bikes, but not the right choice for me to go around the world. The first one had such a strong vibration that my hands and my whole body got numb after a few hours of riding; the 1200 GS is a good but heavy bike.
A year before I went on this trip I was test riding a lot of different bikes and brands because I wanted something else – and I fell in love with Triumph’s three-cylinder motorcycles immediately. The engine runs so smoothly, and Cleo has just the right balance of power and agility that you need on a journey like mine. I can do a few hundred miles a day if needed and still be comfortable, and the bike is very capable of going on gravel roads and dealing with all the bad roads of this world as well.
– Do you work on your bike, or leave it to the mechanics?
– I have to admit that I am not skilled enough (and not very interested, either) to work on my bike. I can do the major things and know how to deal with most situations. Some things I just can’t do alone because of lack of physical strength – for example, it’s really hard to get my rear tire off the rim. But there are so many small workshops in pretty much all places of the world – and people become magicians when it comes to finding solutions for your problems even if they have never seen a bigger motorcycle before.
– What are the three the most important items in your panniers?
– Number one is definitely spare tubes. Even in the most remote places, there will be someone who can change a sliced tube – but not necessarily someone who can repair a really big hole in your tire.
The second one isn’t in my panniers most of the time: my navigation system and my phone. With offline maps on the phone and preloaded maps on the navigation system traveling got much easier!
The third one is my camera equipment. I feel that pictures conserve my memory of all those places I have seen and adventures I have been through.
– What was your toughest ride yet?
– One particular day on the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan was really challenging for me and my motorcycle. Normally, the mountain pass I was going over would have been a scenic, easy ride on a dirt road, but it had been raining heavily before so it was sticky clay – like mud for about 30 miles. I fell four times; luckily, I was rescued by a group of dirt bike riders who came by. At some point, one of them swapped bikes with me because I got so tired. But he struggled on that muddy road with my heavy, loaded bike as well, and dropped it another four or five times… I guess we were all happy that we made it in the end and that the sun was shining the next days!
– A lot of solo riders complain about suffering from chronic loneliness. Do you ever experience it?
– I don’t suffer from loneliness so much as I like to spend time with myself. But I really miss my family and loved ones from time to time. Luckily, modern communication makes it quite easy to get in touch with each other at least every few days. So the distance doesn’t feel that bad because they get a glimpse of what you are doing and what you’re going through.
– What was the biggest challenge on your journey so far?
– I once crashed on a very lonely sand track at around 40mph, hit my head, destroyed my windshield, and bent a handlebar. Luckily, there was a car passing by half an hour later and someone helped me pick the bike up. I think I had a concussion because I felt very sick afterward and could only lie in bed and stare at the ceiling for nearly two days.
The incident didn’t make me doubt my decision to do this trip, but still, it was hard to get up again and repair the injuries of the bike. After fixing Cleo, though, I suddenly felt better myself.
– A lot of world travelers say that you never come back the same. Has riding around the world changed you?
– I didn’t set out on this journey with the expectation to change or find myself. Of course, you see so many things, so many different ways to live your life, different cultures and traditions. For me this is a big learning experience; this trip definitely widens my horizon. I realized that it made me more flexible and empathic – it made me more soft than hard… But in the end, I am still the same person. I still worry about the same things and I still like the same stuff.
– You look and sound like a very confident, strong woman who can do just about anything! How do you overcome fear and doubt on your journey?
– The only doubts I ever have on this journey is when riding really remote places where nobody would come by in days. My bike is quite heavy, especially when it’s fully loaded. I would seriously struggle to pick it up all by myself and knowing this makes me more cautious when driving – which mostly is not a very good thing when riding off road. And, what happens if you hit a bigger animal on one of those roads and get seriously injured? Nobody would find you for days. For me, it’s hard to get rid of this thought. Sometimes it’s enough to step out of your comfort zone and just go, sometimes I don’t have a good gut feeling about doing that. Sometimes, I wait and try to find someone wanting to do the same stretch of the road, or talk to the locals who mostly can connect you with people or places on the way, or at least know what the conditions of the road are. This whole journey is a big enough challenge and adventure for me, and in my opinion, it’s just not reasonable to put yourself in an unnecessary additional danger. Better safe than sorry.
– We talked about the most challenging and toughest rides…what about the most memorable ones? You know, those ‘THIS IS IT’ moments, where you’re so excited and think, wow, this is why I do this, this is why I ride around the world!
– I am very lucky that I was able to experience so many of those moments during this trip. Even though Pamir Highway was a challenge it was also one of the most memorable rides. Karakorum Highway in Pakistan left me breathless with its height and beauty and here in Australia I just traveled through Tasmania’s remote west and enjoyed every minute in this rough landscape with it’s burnt trees and wide, curvy gravel roads.
– What’s the story behind the red dress?
– I am writing a column for a women’s magazine called Glamour Germany about nearly every country I have been to so far. Before I took off, I suggested I’d always take a picture with the red dress for every article I write so that readers would recognize it immediately. Eventually, the red dress turned out to be a great eye-catcher on pictures so it became one of my favorite pieces to take photos with. I guess it’s a win – win situation for everybody as I love to wear dresses after being in my motorcycle gear all day!
– What would you say to women who want to go on an adventure, but are afraid to take that first step?
– I don’t think that a trip like this is for everybody – but if you really dream about doing it and know what you are getting yourself into you should definitely give it a go and make the dream come true. I want to especially encourage other female riders to not be scared of traveling alone and show that it isdefinitely possible to go on a journey like this.
I think a perfect first step is to go on shorter trips by yourself to see if you really enjoy it. Right after I got my motorcycle license, I rode from Germany to Turkey and back – what an adventure this was for me! This experience made me realize that I enjoy traveling solo on a motorcycle, and I love it so much more than traveling by any other means. I think it’s important to find your own adventure and your own way of traveling. And that does not necessarily mean that you have to go on a world trip with your bike.
When you are out there, the best advice is to always listen to your gut feeling and just start traveling if it’s a desire of yours. Most people are very helpful and will be even more protective when they realize that you are a woman traveling all by yourself!
FOLLOW LEA’S ADVENTURES: GOT2GO.DE
PHOTOS: LEA RIECK
VISUAL EDITOR: PAUL STEWART