Round-the-world motorcycle journeys, although still an incredible feat of determination and endurance, have become almost common in the past decade or so. From the legendary Long Way Round series to everyday riders embarking on a quest to circumnavigate the world on their motorcycles, a round-the-world motorcycle trip is now nowhere as extreme or astonishing as it once was. However, Luke Berlet, 42, and Jim Otto, 30, out of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, are preparing to wow the adventure motorcycling world with an ambitious plan: to ride around the world across the North and the South Poles.
The duo is working on snow bike conversion kits for two KTM 1090 Adventure R motorcycles which they plan to use for the Poles and is hoping to hit the road as early as this year, COVID-19 situation permitting. Starting in the US, Berlet and Otto hope to ride to Argentina, Ushuaia, and ship the bikes to Antarctica from where they expect to convert the KTMs into snow bikes to be able to ride the South Pole. Then, the journey will continue to New Zealand, Australia, Japan, and Russia hitting the North Pole via Siberia, and finally, a ride across Greenland and into Canada to return to the US in 2025.
What will this ambitious expedition entail and will the mammoth task of riding across the Poles become a reality this year? We caught up with Luke Berlet to find out.
Combining Two Passions
Berlet, who owns a roofing company in Steamboat Springs and is a father of three, says he started riding motorcycles in his thirties and only got into adventure motorcycling some seven years ago. However, adventure riding instantly became an obsession, and in 2017, Berlet started thinking of circumnavigating the world. âBeing from Colorado, snow biking has always appealed to me. What I love most about snow biking is the diversity it offers, so Jim and I began thinking of combining the two passions: adventure riding and snow biking,â Berlet explains.
For him, the idea to ride around the world hitting the South and the North Poles is all about the challenge and the adventure. Historically, this feat was achieved by the Transglobe Expedition when a team of British explorers followed the Greenwich Meridian from the UK in September 1979 traveling south until they arrived at the South Pole in 1980, then turning North until they reached the North Pole in 1982. âIt has not been done on a motorcycle, however. Lots of people do world rides, but crossing both poles on a bike is just ridiculous â and thatâs why we want to do it. We want to inspire people to go beyond their limits,â Berlet says. According to him, the North Pole is a physical challenge, whereas reaching the South Pole is tougher because of environmental concerns, but the duo is determined to make it â even if the entire journey takes five years.
KTM 1090 Adventure R Snow Bike Conversion
Having gone on multiple adventure rides in Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize, and raced the Baja 500, Berlet says the KTM 1090 Adventure R was a natural choice because of its versatility. Once the expedition idea (dubbed âUnder Overâ) was born, Otto and Berlet began experimenting with converting the KTM 1090 into a snow bike using heavily modified Timbersled conversion kits. However, Timbersled kits are aimed at smaller dirt bikes, so to convert a KTM 1090, Beret and Otto had to get creative and reinforce the driveline, the bearings, and the jackshaft. âThe Timbersled frame itself may not be enough, either, so we are still working on a fully custom conversion kit,â Berlet explains.
According to him, converting the KTMs into snow bikes takes around three hours and it can be done on the side of the road. The plan is to ride on wheels and convert the bikes into snow bikes when absolutely necessary. âIf and when needed, we will convert back and forth,â explained Luke.
In addition to bike conversion, the duo says they may need to get a support vehicle not only to carry the conversion kits but as pulling a sled with luggage and spares is proving difficult, especially when going uphill. âLast year, I did over a thousand miles in the snow to test out the bike, and this year, weâve been able to get out on the Continental Divide to do some more trial runs. There were major avalanche concerns, so we couldn’t cover as much ground as we wanted, but we now have a clearer picture of what further mods we need to make. For example, starting the bike in subzero temperatures after it has sat idle for a while is a challenge that weâll need to figure out,â Berlet explains.
The duo says some other challenges include the difficulty of picking the loaded bikes up in the snow, especially in fine powder. In addition, they may need to carry lots of additional spares: the secondary drive sprockets and chains wear down fast, even with proper lubrication, and there is metal fatigue to consider as the bikes will have to endure extreme temperature changes. Another issue is carrying all the necessary camping gear to be able to survive in the cold. âCold, to be honest, is our biggest concern for the entire trip â there is a lot that can go wrong in subzero temperatures,â Berlet says. Extreme weather and wildlife are their biggest concerns when riding across the poles.
Motorcycle mods aside, trip preparation and budget will require some serious effort. Berlet estimates that the entire five-year journey will cost around a million USD, and although the adventurers are actively seeking out sponsors, the trip is going to be mostly self-funded. Berlet and Otto plan to mostly stay at budget hotels and camp little, but often cook their own food. âDuring our previous travels, we have learned that nothing beats a $10 hotel. Meeting the local community is also best at a hostel or a cheap hotel,â Berlet says.
Among the challenges are logistics and permits to ride the South Pole: due to the fragile environment, itâs extremely difficult to get the necessary permissions to transport the bike and ride in Antarctica. âWeâre currently discussing our options with Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions in Utah. Hopefully, they will be able to help get us on to the South Pole,â Berlet shares. In addition to the necessary paperwork and permits, refueling is also an issue: having a fuel range of 300 miles, Berlet and Otto may need to organize fuel drops in the poles to be able to complete the ride.
The duo is now working on the logistics for shipping the bike from continent to continent and considering partnering up with a film crew to be able to document the expedition along the way. âWeâd love to produce something like a TV show along the way, but a commitment like that will most likely require a film crew to travel with us. Other than budget and logistics, we are also trying to figure out how to manage work and family: I am currently making some changes in the way I run my business to be able to travel, and my family is fully on board supporting the expedition. However, itâs likely that we will be taking breaks and flying home during the five years it will take to complete the journey,â Berlet admits.
Planning to cover 37,000 miles around the world, Berlet and Otto are currently focused on finishing the motorcycle mods and getting ready for the first leg of the journey to Antarctica. Follow them on Facebook to see if âUnder Overâ succeeds!
Photos courtesy of Luke Berlet.
Author: Egle Gerulaityte
Riding around the world extra slowly and not taking it too seriously, Egle is always on the lookout for interesting stories. Editor of the Women ADV Riders magazine, she focuses on ordinary people doing extraordinary things and hopes to bring travel inspiration to all two-wheeled maniacs out there.
This content was originally published here.