Niall Conway, Learning and Development Specialist on Motorbike Touring

I’ve always been interested in motorbikes since I was a child. However, I only started to ride motorbikes in 2014 – ever since I rarely go a day without it. That coupled with my sense of adventure and the independence of 2-wheels and wanting to explore led me towards motorbike touring.

My name is Niall Conway and I’m a Learning and Development Specialist based in Dublin, Ireland. I’m working with MATRIXX Software, a vendor in the Digital Commerce domain. Our team is responsible for competence assurance and competence development of our staff, partners, and customers globally.

Telecoms runs in the family – my Dad started in the industry in the 70s with Ericsson. I followed suit in 2011 and spent 8 great years with them, gaining such wonderful exposure to many cultures and customs in countries I thought I’d never experience, from Azerbaijan to Swaziland and many exotic places in between. The life of a Telecoms Engineer is that of an accidental tourist and is an aspect of the job that I worship.

Outside of the office, you’ll most likely find me on a motorbike. I attend many road races in Ireland throughout the year, such as the International North West 200. I’m also a member of the Iron Butt Association (laugh it up), a group dedicated to safe long-distance motorcycling. Currently, I have 3 bikes: my daily commuter is a Yamaha MT-09 Tracer; for touring or adventures, it’ll be my trusty Honda Transalp 650; and for the occasional trip to Mondello Park for a track day, it’s my Honda CBR600RR.

My very first motorbike ride was on Thursday 20 February 2014 aboard my Honda CBR600F. I rode to my office in Clonskeagh during rush hour. Never in my life was I so nervous – it was lashing rain, the roads were busy, and I still wasn’t fully sure about my capabilities yet. About an hour later, I finally made it to the office in one piece (having aged about a decade) and never looked back.

In 2017, a friend and I rode around the world to raise funds for a local centre of an Irish charity organisation, the Irish Wheelchair Association. We invested the guts of a year to plan and coordinate the logistics – servicing, preparation and freight of bikes, flight of passengers, travel insurance, local motorbike insurance, vaccinations, visas, etc. (https://bit.ly/2UM1hvb: this was our route with all the dates included.) Our aim was to do a lap of the globe, in one attempt, and in under 100 days.

The tour began on Monday, 14 August 2017, and it saw us travel across the Atlantic to Montreal, Canada. From here, we traversed the Canadian landscape, passing by the Great Lakes, the Rocky Mountains, and checking-in to Vancouver. We then went south to Australia, landing in Brisbane and riding via Sydney, Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit (the best circuit on the planet), Adelaide, and across the Nullarbor Plain to Perth.

The next leg of the journey consisted of India, having waited for a couple of weeks for our bikes to arrive from Perth and living in a local hostel and sharing a room with a few geckos. We began in Chennai and headed toward the India-Pakistan border at Wagah. Along the way, we experienced many memorable moments, such as seriously overloaded trucks and roads with potholes as big as a double-decker bus. But perhaps the most impressive was visits to the Taj Mahal and the Golden Temple at Amritsar.

India Golden Temple

Once we were across the border to Pakistan, we stopped at Lahore, where I have a few friends who hosted us before our next steps. Fun fact: as a tourist travelling through Pakistan, you are obliged to have a military escort. Every morning when travelling, we were greeted by an armed escort who chaperoned us between checkpoints along our journey – at these checkpoints, we had a 5-minute handover exercise, including checking of passports and paperwork. When we reached the city of Quetta (near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border high in the mountains), we had to visit the local authorities to register for a Non-Objection Certificate to obtain permission from the local tribes to cross their lands while heading west to Iran.

Pakistan Countryside – Niall and Armed Escort

Disaster struck about 50km to Taftan, the Pakistan-Iran border town. Frank, my fellow rider, suffered an accident which ended his journey prematurely with a fractured wrist. Luckily, we had our military escort to help us load the bike on to flatbed of their Toyota Hilux and move to the medical centre in Taftan, where Frank was able to receive very basic treatment. When the reality of the situation set in, we had a chat and decided that Frank would not be able to ride any further, so now the goal was to get him to Tehran and onto a plane back to Dublin. We went through all the gear in our panniers and stripped down to the essentials, so we could then cater for a long and arduous journey of a 1,600 km through the Iranian mountains and desert. We ended up having a luxury stay at the Raamtin Residence Hotel in Tehran, where an old friend of mine was happy to put us up for a night.

The following morning, Frank and I parted ways – he took his cab to the airport and made it safely back to Ireland to get the proper treatment for his injury. I got lost in Tehran trying to find my way out, but I eventually managed to head toward the Turkey-Iran border at Gurbulak. About 100 miles from the border, you begin to see a mountain creeping up over the horizon: Mount Ararat, the mountain where Noah’s Ark is said to have landed. This was a significant landmark along the journey, as I have many connections with Turkey – my housemate was born in the nearby town of Igdir, and his aunt and uncle were on hand to welcome me for an evening of feasting on the delightful Turkish cuisine. At this point, I could pretty much feel the snow coming from the East, so I had to make progress quickly.

Pakistan Checkpoint

I spent the next few days trying to get ahead of myself, and lo and behold, a speeding ticket … oops. I had reached Istanbul within a week and managed to get a couple of days of downtime in the wonderful city – it was enough to charge the mind and body for the last part of the journey.

Istanbul was left behind and next was a border crossing back into the EU (and a real sense of achievement at having made it back to this ‘safety net’). It was bloody cold – I had almost every layer of clothes on by this point and still had to stop every hour to get the feeling back into my fingers! Next was Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Slovakia, and a quick stop with some more friends. After that was Austria, Germany, and a final overnight stay in Reims, France. I then took the Friday night ferry from Cherbourg to Rosslare and was on my way home. That Friday night was a good one – I’d met a few other bikers coming back to Ireland and we were able to have a few pints and exchange stories (the usual banter and camaraderie amongst fellow bikers).

Landfall was shortly after midday on Saturday, 18 November 2017. I was greeted with a warm welcome from my friends, family, the Dublin Motorcycling Touring Club, and those who were following the journey. In the end, we had completed a lap of the planet, 25,000 kilometres on road, in 99 days, and raised enough money to help the Irish Wheelchair Association achieve their dream.

Canada – Rocky Mountains & Emerald Lake

What I love the most about Motorbike Touring is that with each day on the road, you have a new setting and you meet new people. It could be in a new country, a new language, and a new way of living – embracing the locals usually results in a few great stories and memories to share.

Touring alone or with others both have their merits. I love finishing up on a Friday afternoon, packing the camping gear into the bike and wandering off for an adventure – it pushes you out of your comfort zone and you can be heavily rewarded with some amazing spots in the countryside. We go on a few group tours a year, which takes us all over the country and even abroad. It’s hard to beat the banter and satisfaction of a group tour!

British Columbia, Canada – Fellow Traveller

My most memorable experience with motorbike touring happened in 2017 while I was riding toward the Turkish border by myself. I stopped off at a filling station for fuel and snacks. A local truck driver approached me; he saw the bike was from out of town, and we combined his pigeon English with my few words of Farsi to exchange greetings and talk about the bike. He invited me to join him for lunch at the roadside – impossible to refuse. At the side of the truck, there was a gas canister and some pots for cooking: 2 potatoes, 3 eggs, and a diced onion. There was even a side table with delph and cutlery. After about an hour, with lunch eaten, we finished up and said thanks to each other and parted ways. This memory really stuck with me, as it showed the sincere hospitality of the people from this area of the world.

My next ambition is to compete in the Mongol Rally, touted as the greatest motoring adventure on the planet. The rally only has 3 rules:

1. You must use a farcically small car

2. You’re unsupported

3. You must raise at least £1000 for charity – 2020 could be the year!

Iran – Sharing a Bike

My advice to anyone interested in Motorbike Touring is to do what you can to make it happen and don’t think twice about going. Plan for the weather, be aware of the seasons in various regions, agree on overnight stops in advance, bring physical paper maps and GPS, follow your nose and try the less used path, and avoid motorway usage. The rule of thumb that was passed along to me is this: whatever equipment you plan to take with you, lay it all out in front of you and reduce it to a quarter. The less you can take with you, the better – it saves you having to think about it along the way. There’s no need to over-plan it either; have your destination in your mind, but let the journey take you there.

There is always more than tech. Motorbike Touring has definitely helped as an ice breaker when talking to customers or partners from an area you’ve explored (you can reel off a few fun things you did or observed). It’s also great to hear about all the different lifestyles and experiences of fellow tech workers. You’ll be surprised at what some people are passionate about and what they have achieved.

Pakistan – Near Iran Border
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