"Get up and ride off."

Elspeth Beard – an architect with a thirst for adventure.

Elspeth Beard, who today is a renowned and prize-winning architect, explored the world on two wheels for three years at the beginning of the eighties. It was a journey that would take her over 55,000 kilometres. In this exclusive interview, she talks about her love for BMW boxer motorcycles, particularly the R 60/6, which accompanied her on her journey around the world.

Two wheels or four legs in India.
Elspeth in Kathmandu.

What did the world of adventures look like in the eighties?

The world somehow seemed much bigger back then. Because it wasn't as easy to find out something about the countries you were hoping to travel to. It felt as if you were moving towards the edge of the world. I only had a vague map of most countries, and in some countries there weren't even maps yet.

Did your peers understand what you were doing back then?

Most people around me couldn't understand it. All my friends thought I was mad and most thought that I would be back within three months. My mother tried everything to stop me going on the journey. She just couldn't understand it. Her last ploy was to threaten to disinherit me if I went.

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Why didn't you choose the BMW GS back then?
The GS had just come out back then. When I bought the R 60/6, all I knew was that it was a BMW and that it was reliable. And that was all I needed back then. I was sure that it would carry me around the world. Today, I own a 1998 R 80 GS Basic, which I bought in 2001. And I have already had an R 1100 GS. The simplicity of these engines was what fascinated me, as well as the fact that you could repair them yourself. The boxer engine is open in front of you; it is not terribly complicated and above all it is reliable. I have complete faith in the engine. It does exactly what it should do.
In Australia, you fitted stable side cases. Why?
My saddle bag coupler and my rucksack accompanied me through America all the way to Australia. But I knew that I would also go to third-world countries, where the risk of being robbed was much greater. So it was clear to me that I would have to have something lockable. In Sydney, I bought a rivet gun and panels and bars made of aluminium and joined together the side cases myself. They might not have looked nice, but they fulfilled their purpose and were easy to repair. I had a few accidents, but was able to straighten them out again.
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The road to Kathmandu.
The BMW R 60.

Did you have to perform maintenance work regularly on the R 60/6?

I was a really good mechanic. I changed the oil every 3,000 kilometres wherever I was, and took extraordinary care of the R 60/6. Because I knew it had to bring me home again. I spent more time looking after my motorcycle than I did looking after myself. When looking for accommodation, it was more important to me that I could park my motorcycle securely away from the road than finding a comfortable bed or a room with a shower.

And it's still running after 30 years?

Yes, I was out and about with it last year again. It stood laid up for 18 years. I wheeled it out of the garage, did a complete oil change, fitted a new battery, cleaned the carburettor, turned the key and on the third attempt it started. You can't expect this from many motorcycles.

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34 years later with the R 60 in front of the water tower which she converted herself.

Over 30 years after your return, you wrote a book about your journey.

One and a half years ago, an agent from Hollywood contacted me. He wanted to buy the rights to my story in order to make a film out of it. So I thought this was a good time to write a book. As I am not an author, I turned to Robert Uhlig, who also wrote the book "Long Way Round" with Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman. It was a fantastic book and will hopefully be released soon.

What did you learn about yourself on this journey?

On my journey, I learnt that there is no problem which cannot be solved, and that it is sometimes necessary to pursue other approaches to solve some problems. When I arrive at a border and the border guard doesn't let me past, I simply pitch up my tent and wait until his shift ends. Then I can cross the border when he isn't there anymore.

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Would you say that the journey changed you?
Absolutely. The journey completely changed my life and made me into the person I am today. When I set off back then, I was naive and unworldly. When I returned, I was older and more mature. I have learnt a great deal about myself and the world.
What advice would you give to other adventurers?
Get up and go. And don't plan too much. If you plan too much, you always find ten reasons why not to go on an adventure like this. When you are on the go and realise what a fantastic experience a journey like this is, how many extraordinary people you meet and what wonderful places you see, all the fears and worries you had about this journey simply dissipate in the air.
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No matter where she stopped in India, she was always surrounded by a crowd of people.

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