April 15, 2009 Young, Australian adventurers, Roger Chao and Megan Kerr are planning a 12-month bike ride through Russia and Asia, beginning in April, 2009. But this is no ordinary, sit-right-back, sightseeing tour. The pair plans to pedal from Astana, Kazakhstan, across the Eurasian steppes, sitting side by side on a recumbent four-wheeled bicycle they've fondly named “Quikey” – because it has four wheels rather than two.
As they are traveling alone, they will have to carry all their equipment, including bicycle repair gear, medical supplies, clothing, water and food with them. This means that, at times, they will be expected to haul up to 968 lbs (450 kgs), including their own body weight. The 7,450-mile (12,000-km) journey takes the pair through Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, Western China (Xinjiang) and Southern Russia (Tuva).
The quike or Quikey was designed after the couple carefully considered what was needed to deal with the rugged and hostile terrains they would encounter. This included correct wheel size, gear and braking options, seating, suspension and load capacity. The pair worked with Paul Sims, from Greenspeed, who provided some designs in January 2008, after an initial discussion in November, 2007. By early 2008, with some tweaking to clearance and stability, the quike was ready for testing. The quike was then put through its paces under both on and off-road conditions, as well as in sand and snow.
“Due to the nature of the quike, this took quite a while to get used to," says Chao. "Normally, when entering a corner on a two-wheeled bike, you just lean the bike into the corner, or when riding sideways across a slope you just lean into the slope. (But) on a four-wheeled bike, you can’t really do this, you just need to really coordinate your extreme body weight, shifting and leaning (much like on a tacking yacht), so as to stop the vehicle flipping.
"It sounds harder and more unstable, but once you get used to it, you can actually tackle a lot of terrain a two-wheeled bike cannot. Thus what sounds very hard, difficult or unsafe at the beginning is actually a lot easier, versatile and safer than a two-wheeled bike, once your skills develop.”
The quike could actually change the way off-road explorers view their next trip. It has strong downhill hubs and a variety of tires suited to all sorts of terrains. The side walls are suited for four-wheel forces and the strong grip at the rear is essential for supporting the weight. The design ensures that at least three of the four wheels are grounded at any time, providing greater safety, and the recumbent seat helps to provide a more comfy ride. The left-hand drive is also designed for driving on most Asian and European roads.
The Quike has mid-drive internal Rohloff speedhub gears, which can be changed while the quike is stationary, with a 1300% range due to the 2.5-1 reduction gear of the Schlumpf mountain drive. The Ackermann geometry ensures the inside wheel is always on a sharper turning circle, which assists in balancing and the Magura four-wheel motorbike hydraulic brakes have big rotors, which are vital for bringing heavy loads to a stop.
Unfortunately, due to budgetary constraints, the plan to have a protective cover, called a fairing, for the quike had to be scrapped. The fairing was half-completed but a number of major sponsors withdrew funding due to the global financial crisis.
Chao and Kerr have not planned an exact route or itinerary because they want the freedom and time to stop and explore when they feel like it. In particular, they relish the opportunity to spend some time living with local rural communities along the way so they can learn about different cultures, traditions and lifestyles.
They are also eager to travel with nomadic tribes, whose survival is under threat, and document, with the help of translators and sign-language, stories, traditions, language and beliefs, which they worry may well disappear one day soon. The pair will use camera and video footage, digital recordings and local artifacts to broadcast what they learn and discover back to their website.
Planning and preparation
It has taken Chao the best part of two years to prepare for the trip. "There’s no such thing as enough time," he tells me. "There is always more you want to be able to do, plan and cater for.”
Chao is used to challenges. He was awarded the Australian Geographic Society’s Young Adventurer of the Year in 2006 for leading a world-first, five-week, unsupported mid-winter mountain traverse and, in 2007, was the youngest person to cross the Greenland ice cap from east to west.
Kerr is also ready for the rigors of the trip, although she is hurrying to complete her doctoral thesis in Neurobiology before she leaves.
Asked whether he has done any specific training for the expedition, Chao replies, “We've done a fair bit of training on the quike to see how it handles under different conditions, from touring around Mount Stirling in mid-winter for a few nights, as well as doing some downhill runs there, touring in the Mallee desert sand dunes for a week in mid-summer, carrying 150 liters of water on top of our gear, to doing the downhill mountain bike trails in the You Yangs. The techniques vary immensely according to the conditions, so it takes a lot of learning, coordination and getting used to.”
The pair is prepared that they may lose satellite coverage in some areas. “All our navigation equipment has the redundancy to not be reliant on satellite coverage," he says. "As it is we have satellite coverage from three different companies as further backup if need be.”
So why travel from scorching desert heat to villages on the frozen tundra of Siberia? Why risk hypothermia or heat exhaustion? According to Chao and Kerr, this is a real opportunity for them to grow individually and together. By facing some of the hardest and toughest environments, they know they will need to work as a close-knit team to overcome the many challenges they will endure.
At times, Chao and Kerr will be alone and must depend wholly on people they do not know. These will be people most likely without the luxury of modern-day resources. No mobile phones, wireless computer access or even batteries.
And that's just how they like it.
For more details see the Steppe by Steppe website.