A fully loaded KTM with australian license plates will turn heads anywhere in Europe. More, if you are lucky enough to ride one, near the Redbull Romaniacs paddock, probably the riders will invite you in. Phil Simpson is the second aussie that accepted to answer our questions about his trip on two wheels through 29 countries, including Romania.
From how he strated riding motorcycles, what motorcycle he choose and why, for this trip, what strange and funny encounters he had on his way, what issues, what places left him breathless and many more, you can find in the interview hereunder.
1.First of all , tell us a little bit about you. When did you start riding motorcycles and how did you get stuck with this passion :)?
I’m a Novocastrian…That’s what they call people who come from Newcastle… I was born in Newcastle which is approximately 100 kms north of Sydney. I’m 54 years young and have been riding motorcycles for about 45 years… Mostly motocross bikes in my early years as there are countless places to ride in Newcastle and the Hunter valley… Chad Reed, Toby Price and Casey Stoner come from this area …
I just loved racing dirt bikes, either on an Enduro circuit or in the bush with my mates… We all loved it. Up until I left for Europe I was still riding with my mates, though As we got older we ventured more and more into long distance adventure trips…
2.We know that motorcycling and traveling go hand in hand, and probably many of the riders dream to ride on the roads you did, so choosing Europe for the trip might come natural. But still, what were your reasons to choose Europe. Did you have a plan before ? I saw that you did two trips here, one in 2016 and another one ,”smaller” this time, just 7000+km 😊, in 2017.
Well, I love history… Architecture and history… as well as the worlds greatest roads…Europe seemed to have that ingredients.
Australia is a young country. Our documented history is minuscule compared to Europe, so can you imagine visiting places you have only read about, touching buildings centuries old… riding mountain passes well over 3000 metres… possible to cross several countries borders in the one day… meeting riders from many countries all in the one day.. Its so hard to comprehend.. I have ridden 750 kms of dirt in the outback in one day in Australia and have not crossed a state border or seen anyone…
I did have a plan… I first plotted my must see points of interest, which took many months of research. It was exciting and daunting at the same time. I didn’t want to miss a major point. As you can imagine it all adds up when you are travelling through 29 countries…
I had my route planned but was open to change – used a Garmin Montana Gps with pre loaded European maps and an app called Pocket earth which I used on my iPhone running off downloaded maps offline.
Next was more epic research to link up the greatest roads to get to these points of interest, along with a doable timetable to achieve this… It all had to come together in a set time…How do I know what is a realistic time?.. We are talking 5 months here… I worked on 300 – 400 kms per day with 1 rest day and 1 low km day every week. My plan was to do extra kms when the weather was on my side and I was feeling good to make up for rainy days… Also if I had a major drama or was running out of time I could cut out my route from Bulgaria to Turkey and head to Serbia and pick up my route again..
Yes I did another one in 2017, only a short 7000 kms.. I loved my 2016 trip so much I felt I had unfinished business. Also my partner, who helped behind the scenes so much on my last trip was with me for on this as well. I wanted Sandra to experience as much as she could for the 3 weeks she was with me before she had to fly back home…
3.I saw in your pictures that on the first trip you rode a KTM 1190 Adventure and a Triumph Tiger XCX on the second. Two bikes that people say are way better than the GS . Which one would be your favorite or better said, what would be the things you like about each one of these two bikes ?
I owned a 2009 GS for 4 years and put over 100000 kms on it before I sold it..It was a great bike… I was looking for a new bike in 2013 and wasn’t overly blown away with the new water cooled GS… I rode the KTM 1190r and didn’t want to give it back..To me that answered my Question right there…In my opinion It is a far better off road bike than the GS, but what really surprised me was how good it was on road.. It’s an angry bike with an attitude, hauls a big payload, very comfortable, very well built, and that white power suspension is first rate…
My intention is to spend a few more years riding through Europe and hopefully Russia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia, so I decided to buy another bike to leave in England. certainly cheaper than shipping my bike from Australia every year..
I couldn’t justify spending a lot of money on another KTM I would only be riding for a few months per year so I looked at the tiger 800 xcx.. I test rode one here in Australia with my partner as pillion and we really liked it..very much so..that triple motor is magnificent, the gearbox is soooo smooth, the white power suspension, dare I say it ….yes it is dialed in better than the 2013 1190… What sealed the deal is it’s just a great do it all tourer.. you can go into a corner 2 gears to tall and the torque will pull you out easy… The KTM is not happy being in the wrong gear.. Oh and It actually gets up and goes surprisingly well. Did I mention cruise control, never had it but now I love it…It’s a keeper…
4.Since I asked you about your motorcycles, did you made any special preparation for these
I had a set back with the KTM… A silly little problem turned into a major job..just weeks before it was due to be shipped to England..2 small brackets that hold the front mask to the head stock broke away through off road vibration.. Well As it’s part of the frame a new frame was supplied under warranty by KTM ..So everything was removed and replaced on a new frame. I was convinced something would be not quite right.. as this is a pretty significant task… to see my bike in pieces in the workshop was a real downer… I picked it up all finished and Immediately set off on a 2 week test run, I put it through a tough time that’s for sure, If anything wasn’t right I wanted it to show before It was shipped… perfect it was perfect… The workshop boys really did a brilliant job.
I bought my panniers and top box for my drone from Nomada in Poland, lowered the gearing a fraction, set up my mapping /gps and sourced a few spare parts to pack. My mind was easier when I searched KTM dealers in Europe… There are hundreds
I was lucky with the tiger 800.It had nearly everything on it when I bought it.. I bought it from the other side of the world and had it delivered to a friends place in England… I had some parts sent over waiting for me such as gps mounts , new exhaust, screen, filters and fitted them before we left on our trip…
I seemed to have a lot more confidence this time as my last trip was almost trouble free…
5.First stage was sending the bike to England. Was that a big hustle financially and bureaucracy speaking ?
All the little things that never seemed to end just to get the bike over to England… insurance and green card, Australian government export and re import paperwork, actual photos of bike including VIN number with documents, shipping documents, wrapping and labelling luggage to be shipped with bike. Time off work to drive 150 kms to the shipping terminal.
I had some guidance from the shipper who made things easier for me..I guess like anything , the first time can be a bit daunting.
Financially was as expected and it was well worth shipping for the 5 months I was touring..I worked out that you would have to be travelling for at least 2 months to break even with renting… So I was a long way in front…
My preparation was thoroughly researching everything right down to the right helmet, internet and phone connectivity, recording my adventure – blog, photos, videos and a Spottracker. Keeping the momentum to write almost daily records was at times overwhelming and tiresome but has given me a lasting memory of the experience I will treasure for the rest of my life.
6.So, you got your motorcycle and head out to ride through Great Britain. What was it like in the first days, what were your expectations?
After I loaded my luggage, suited up and pressed the starter I had a moment of disbelief really… my 18 months of planning have passed and Its here and now.. just me and my KTM for months on end……
I made one rule a promise to myself to follow really …. Stay healthy, look after the bike, keys, passport, cards everything else can be replaced easily…. with that I turned on the GPS to my GB route patted the bike on the side of the tank and said ‘let’s do it’…
My goal for the trip from the set out was to keep moving…that’s it… No silly risks
Luckily the weather was on my side, which was a good start. I settled in nicely as GB drive on the left like in Australia so it was easier… although the little things like mile per hour instead of kilometres per hour and traffic signals that sequence differently were a little strange… So with 200 miles or so per day for the first few days sorted I started a routine that I would tweak but generally adhere to for my entire trip.
My expectations were met and surpassed really.. The English were very welcoming, and locating my points of interest on my gps was working very well…I was standing on stone walls approx 130 AD … Riding through lush sun drenched country lanes not knowing what lay around the next corner…. Another castle?, or maybe on old English pub?..Fantastic
The currency was a little confusing to start with though I soon worked it out… So I spent around 3 weeks touring GB and not a drop of rain, apparently a rare occurrence …
7.Then a little bit of France, Belgium, Germany and then, up north, to the Arctic Circle . Was that a milestone set upfront ? How come you didn’t go to Nordkapp?(since it’s such a mainstream adventure touring destination 😊 )
Crossing the English Channel to Cherbourg was the second stage of my journey as I was on the mainland and now riding for the first time on the right side of the road. I had met some English riders on the ferry who offered to lead me to Sainte-Mere-Eglise so I could get accustomed to riding on the right side which worked out well.
I spent a few days sightseeing and a lot of war history in France from Omaha beach to Caen, Amiens and Bastogne as well as the Somme and western front where Australians fought in WW1. I stayed with a lovely French family near Amiens that I actually stayed with again at the end of my journey. The reception waiting for me is something I will never forget… An Australian flag was hanging on the house with posters of my trip… it was very touching…
I headed across the Rhine and north to Denmark where I had stalling issues with my KTM. I needed to get the problem sorted before Norway so I called into Jensen’s KTM in Horsens who were brilliant. The diagnosis was a faulty fuel pump and none in stock, so they pulled a complete fuel pump out of a showroom bike and gave it to me… also new rear tyre, rear brakes and a service… I was extremely grateful to the generosity and quick service they showed me… So I made my ferry to Norway the next morning as scheduled.
I rode some spectacular roads through Norway , The trollstigen, Atlantic Road, Lysebotyn and many more and worked my way to Mo I rana where I crossed the Article circle where my northern most goal had been reached.. I could have pushed on to Nordkapp though I seriously would have put my trip to Gallipoli in Turkey under threat so I crossed the border into Sweden and headed towards Stockholm for my ferry to Estonia…
8.After that, several thousands of kilometers and stunning pictures followed through Sweden, the Baltic countries, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Turkey, Austria, Italy and many other countries. Did you had any incidents or issues along the way? Was there a moment when you felt at danger or were there any tense moments ?
Generally everything was going well for me and the Eastern countries were spectacular..Probably the surprise package of the trip really.
I didn’t visit major cities much , I kept mainly to the smaller towns and villages where life was less hectic and I could experience real life so to speak… I crossed into Poland through the forest after leaving Veiseijai in Lithuania and startled the border patrol who thoroughly checked my papers. I don’t think they were expecting a loaded KTM with Australian plates to be coming their way…the Turkish border was an interesting time where miscommunication was the order of the day and saw me circle 3 times back through the entry point where my paperwork repeatedly wasn’t satisfactory… 35 degree heat and wearing my motorcycle gear … After an hour and a cup of tea with the senior official I was on my way…
As I said previously, I stayed away from cities and only stayed in accommodation where my motorcycle could be parked securely. This was my No1 priority throughout my trip..
I always took preventative measures with bike security- used a superb Aerostitch cover for anonymity and protection, had a Gorilla alarm, an alarmed disc lock and a heavy chain – preventing theft which would almost certainly have resulted in a premature end to my adventure.
There were a few incidents with wayward drivers here and there but luckily I was always one step ahead…I think over 40 years of riding instils almost cat like reflexes on a motorcycle.
9.Covering so much mileage, during these two european trips, we would love to hear your opinion on what were the best roads that your rode on, in terms of stunning views, curves, fun factor,etc. What would be your top 5 ?
Without doubt the best continuous journey for curves fun and scenery was the ride from Axat in Spain through Mont Louise- Puigcerda- Sort- Viehla-Arreau-Sabinanigo to the Col d’ Abisque and Col d ‘ Tourmalet in the Pyrenees… very little traffic and hours upon hours of riding heaven..
Next I would say in Montenegro from Rozaje – Zagorjie- Kolasin-Savnik-Kotor. once again little traffic and mountainous views with mAgnificent roads.
I quite liked the Nufenen pass in Switzerland , less mainstream. Demanding for a rider as you have to be focused.Its narrow, twisting great views and big drop offs to the side..A great ride to join the Stelvio and Umbrail
The Transalpina in Romania was an unexpected delight and so glad I did it..People talk about the Transfagarasan, but less about the Transalpina…I don’t know why.
Innsbruck, Austria to Bolzano ,Italy was amazing via the Timmelsjoch pass- Jaufen pass- Penser joch pass. On a clear day it was beautiful…
Norway as a whole was amazing and can’t be forgotten also.
10.And also what were the places that you enjoyed most on the way and you would recommend others to visit? (not motorcycle related necessary)
Tallin in Estonia was lovely.The old city is amazing.I stayed an extra 2 days here…The city has a great feel to it.
Kotor in Montenegro was another gorgeous city. When you descend down off the magnificent route I described earlier on Mt Lovcen to the Bay on the Adriatic it’s breathtaking … A good place to take a break..
Mostar in Serbia is a must see as well.. An absolutely beautiful city .The old bridge, Kravice falls, and Blagnac Tekke.. Medievel villages , lovely people and it’s very very cheap… Recommend thoroughly for a break when on a big bike trip and need a break for 2 days… could easily spend more time here.
I covered a lot of war history on this tour and visited places such as The western front in France and Belgium. Pozieres is a good place to base to see this area. Hitlers Wolfs lair in Northern Poland as well as Aushwitz near Babice in Southern Poland for all the wrong reasons.. I would in no way say I enjoyed them , more that I needed to visit them…
Verona In Italy is another gorgeous city, full of history. The amphitheater in the main square is amazing.
The Swiss mountain resort of Samnaun is an out of the way retreat that I spent a few days relaxing and the ride in is quite a spectacular little trip. The Vinadi Samnaun Road full of tunnels leads you to the village.. In the off season there are good value apartments to be had..nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains it is very pretty..
being invited into the Red Bull Romaniacs compound in Sibiu was a treat for me. Talking to the riders and sponsors who were equally interested in my journey and KTM set up . it’s funny I was amazed at there riding and they were amazed at my journey… I kept the can of Red Bull they gave me as a rare and meaningful souvenir!
11.Since we are a website that promotes motorcycling tourism in Romania, how did you like Romania ? What was your experience with our country, in terms of interaction with people, nature, landscapes, roads?
I didn’t know a great deal about Romania along with several other eastern countries or what to expect really.. A pleasant surprise is how I would describe Romania. it’s not over developed or over populated like many western countries . The scenery is spectacular, the people are welcoming and approachable and the road conditions ranged from potholed and rough to brilliant.. I like the variation and changing conditions as it keeps you focused and after all I was riding an adventure bike that soaked up all road conditions… I met several Romanian people and one in particular a lovely elderly lady on the roadside selling her cheeses apparently.. I stayed with her for quite a while and although we had a big language barrier we somehow communicated our points to each other…or at least I think we did… We had a great laugh together and it really was so much fun… I shall treasure it forever… I have a small video of the fiasco which apparently you have seen .. It was very funny… I talked to several people of all ages in the streets… and the smiles they gave in return were priceless… people still riding in horse drawn carts without a care in the world… had me thinking who really is the lucky person here… I gravitate towards this type of lifestyle and a big part of me is envious of the Romanian culture… it may be selfish of me but I hope it doesn’t change.
I met some of the Red Bull Romaniacs in Sibiu and climbed the 1480 steps to the top of Poenari castle , in full bike gear… wow it was spectacular..
The Transalpina was a sight to savour and Transfagarasan , although very touristy, still a must do Ride.
12.And speaking about Romania, since I was saying earlier that you rode on some of the most iconic roads and mountain passes in Europe, you also rode on some of Romania’s finest, like the Transfagarasan and Transalpina . What do you think about this roads compared to others? What would be your favorite from the two, Transfagarasan or the Transalpina ?
Personally I think the Transalpina is as good as anything I had ridden and more..good enough that I launched my drone and had it follow me along some of this magnificent route..I launched my drone on a few occasions where I thought it was something really special and wanted to record the experience.
I rode the Transalpina from North to South and Transfagarasan from south to north..The southern side of the Transfagarasan was bathed in sunshine though when I went through the tunnel at the top it was like entering a different world …Mist and cloud came and went several times exposing the tremendous view of what lay ahead… I regard the Transfagarasan as for photos and the Transalpina for letting loose on your bike.
The remoteness in some areas of Romania is very appealing and pushing your bike with a constant rhythm through the mountains with no traffic is as good as it gets…
13.And during your visit in Romania, you were lucky to bump into some of the toughest riders, during the Redbull Romaniacs Hard Enduro competition. I saw some of the guys showed you around the park fermee. What was the atmosphere inside the stands?
I rode up to the compound entrance and was looking in at the tents and organised chaos when a guy came over to have a look at my fully loaded Ktm and then he noticed the kangaroo sticker and Australian flag emblem on my panniers… one became two then became three and before I know it, quite a few people had surrounded the bike.. All asking about my journey… One guy’s words in particular amazed me – “respect man”. I was humbled as I was in the presence of motorcycle legends…
I was invited in and offered food as well as my can of red bull which I brought home (somewhat dented) and it still takes pride of place on my shelf.
I was shown around, answered and asked many questions, was given advice on what to see in the area as well as watching exhausted riders come in from their days test.. A great atmosphere of comradeship that’s for sure… once again the hospitality was a really pleasant surprise….it really was a thrill for me..
14.I believe a very important part of this traveling experience is meeting different type of people. I guess you met other travelers on the way. Do you remember any funny story or interesting encounter that you had on the way?
I think my meeting with the romanian lady selling the cheeses takes the prize …Although another funny incident happened to me just out of Poznan, Poland on the 92… For some distance prior this guy was tooting his horn at me , following me and pointing… I thought there was something wrong with my bike or a luggage strap had come loose… he eventually caught up beside me and gestured to pull over..I did and he parked behind me, jumped out of the car and said’ are you really from Australia?’……..Well I was speechless… he was asking so many questions, wanted photos and then proceeded to give me his groceries out of his car…I couldn’t take this guy’s food, besides I was loaded as it was … he insisted, so I graciously accepted some flavoured milk and cookies… ha ha ha … he left all happy and I was still dazed about the whole episode… see photo below
15.Since one of the most common reasons or better said the best excuse for many not to leave on this kind of journey is the budget. Did you ,by any chance, made an estimation of the amount of you money you spent ?
Well, I did allow for a very generous budget of $350 Australian dollars per day .. which is roughly 220 euro…I spent nowhere near this amount …it worked out Around $180 Australian dollars per day 115 euro…
this worked by staying in villages along the way rather than tourist areas… using ‘booking .com ‘ mostly and searching accommodation within 20 kms of my desired location… sometimes I saved 20 euro by riding 15 minutes off route.. and had better accommodation, cheaper and breakfast..A good breakfast kept me going through the day just snacking till my evening meal… this budget didn’t include motorcycle maintenance of course.. Overall I spent about $28,000 Australian on travel, food and fuel and bike maintenance plus $3500 on bike shipping… it could be done cheaper if you camped… I did not camp…
16.If somebody is thinking about doing this kind of trip and is currently doubtful, what would you advice them ?
The best advise I can give is if you want something bad enough you can do it…. anyone can do it… Excuses are easy …Do it one step at a time , otherwise it can be overwhelming…take your time and plan your trip If you have a set time to be away. Do not be afraid to do the trip alone. The upside is you do not have to compromise and you will discover character you thought you never had.Most people in the world are good people and help isn’t far away….. live with no regrets
I saw so many riders wasting parts of the day looking at maps deciding which route to take…anything you can do pre trip will pay dividends 10 fold on route… obviously routes can change for many reasons, but in my opinion it is a good idea to have a master route…with your POI
For more stunning videos and pictures from Phil’s trips check out hiw wordpress blog and youtube channel: