For Pavel Kunc, adventure motorcycling is a lifestyle rather than a once-in-a-lifetime trip of the there and back sort. In 2017, Pavel and his partner, Šárka, set out on a journey from the UK to Indonesia: Pavel riding his bike and Šárka behind the wheel of a 2003 Suzuki Vitara. “Šárka didn’t want to ride the bike and I didn’t want to do it two-up, so we decided to buy the Vitara (our first car ever), and without any modifications, she drove it to India. She is a superwoman to survive all that and especially driving around India in the car!”, Pavel shares.
Since that legendary trip, Pavel hasn’t really returned home in the traditional sense: because his work allows for plenty of flexibility, Pavel remains a nomad traveling the world aboard his Yamaha Tenere 700. Last year, however, Pavel kicked his adventures into new gear and entered his first rally race, the Dinaric Rally held annually in Knin, Croatia.
Where did it all began, what prompted Pavel to start rally racing, and how is he pulling it all off? We chatted to the intrepid adventurer to find out.
– Pavel, what prompted you to go on that first London to Indonesia overland trip?
Šárka and I moved to the UK in 2007 for a change of scenery and to continue my career in programming, and she wanted to change her field. Originally, we thought it would be for a year and we’d move on… We eventually did, but it took us 10 years.
The end of the UK era was a typical story: a burnout from work and a feeling that the daily grind to make money to just spend it the next day does not make much sense.
We always travelled, a lot but when I started riding in 2013, I just could not put the idea of RTW on the bike out of my head. Our trip was not meant to be RTW, we wanted to reach Indonesia in five months instead. We almost did, later on – but it took us fourteen months instead of five.
– What was your route since leaving London?
We traveled across Europe to Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, and Armenia. At that point, we still rushed a bit as the five-month plan was still on the table. But in Iran and Pakistan, we slowed down and enjoyed it so much that we began to pick up delays constantly to the point where we used all our visa time and ended up crossing to India in December. Not the best time to ride the Himalayas, let me tell you that!
In India, we checked crossing costs via Myanmar and Thailand, and at the time, both required guides and the crossing costs for car and motorcycle were insane. So we decided to stay in India for five months, riding around and waiting for snow in the Himalayas to melt.
In the end, we split, and the car went back to Europe in a container while Šárka flew to Indonesia where she spent another six months doing her Divemaster training. I shipped the bike from Nepal to Kazakhstan and did a four-month solo camping ride back via the Stans, turned off into Turkmenistan, back to Iran and then Azerbaijan, Balkans (where I fell in love with Albania), and onto home – the Czech Republic.
– You are still on the road to this day, however?
My work allows me to be location–independent, so yes, the general idea is to ramble around the world for some time to come. I had to take a break to move from the UK to the Czech and take care of some family affairs as COVID hit us quite hard. Then, got “COVID stuck” for 5 months in Morocco with @improbablyadventuring on what was supposed to be a 1 -month Tenere 700 test trip.
I’m also working on the Trees for Lurë project I started in Albania, where I recently relocated to. The project tries to help with the reforestation of the Lurë National Park through which – by the way – the Trans Euro Trail goes.
– What has riding RTW taught you as a rider and as a human?
As a human: People watch too much TV, are afraid of the unknown, judge too quickly, and travel way too little.
As a rider: People discuss horsepower, traction control, and tires way too much despite the fact it makes little to no difference on a RTW or any other long-distance trip.
– How come you decided to try rally racing? Was Dinaric your first rally race?
Yes, Dinaric Rally was my first proper race.
I fell in love with dirt riding during my travels. The combination of freedom and challenge when riding and traveling solo on dirt is a very addictive cocktail for me.
My motivation for the rally was a very practical one, it was about skill. As a solo traveller venturing on some gnarly tracks alone, I wanted to improve my off-roading skills so that I’m less likely to crash while being able to explore rougher terrain than before. I can now do that much safer with better skills than before.
– Is it an easy transition, to go from ADV to rally?
Yes – if you don’t want to win the race but just test your limits and improve your skills. In this case one does not need any extra equipment to do the rally, and this is what I loved about Dinaric so much. I could take my stock (at that time, just protection added) T7, pack it as I’d pack for RTW, ride 1500km to Dinaric, race on the same tires I came with and go back home. That is awesome!
– What’s the best thing about rally racing?
For me, it was a reality check in terms of my skill (riding and navigation), what the bike is capable of, and what my body can do in terms of endurance.
However, you also have an incredible amount of fun, especially when you come to a rally saying “I’m just here to ride it, not race it”, and in a few hours, you’re 100% trying to race.
I also have to mention that the team behind the Dinaric Rally as well as the people I met there were just a wonderful bunch to hang out with.
– What was the toughest part when racing?
I can’t complain about the physical difficulty and the fact that you may have a hard time getting off the bike at the end of the day. That is totally expected, that’s what the challenge is, and it’s what makes it beautiful because you push yourself to finish it.
So if I should complain about something, it would be the extra gear and cost if one wants to step up to roadbook navigation when racing. Especially when I mainly travel, and rally racing is really just a hobby. Carrying a roadbook kit all the time on the bike is not an option for me.
– You finished the Dinaric Rally on your Tenere. How difficult was it?
I found the Tenere 700 so comfortable at the rally! It was immediately clear that the limit is not the machine but me. The bike just chewed through the terrain with such ease that it was almost scary because my skill was clearly not matching the capabilities of the bike.
The difficult part with the Tenere is manhandling the weight, especially picking up the bike or struggling at slow speed. But this is because I’m short and I can reach the ground only with my toes, so for me it’s either I ride or I’m on ground – there is no paddling with feet for me.
– What would you say to adventure riders who are itching to try a rally race but feel intimidated or unsure of their skills?
I understand the intimidating feeling, I was there as well. The people who are doing the rally must be riding like gods, right? Wrong!
What is important is to pick a rally which you are comfortable with, choose the correct class, and set reasonable personal goals. For me, it was Dinaric which used GPS instead of Roadbook and my goal was to finish it.
My whole reason for doing the rally was to improve my skills, and in the three days of the rally, I learned as much as I’d learn in a year of normal riding.
– What are your future ADV, travel, and rally plans?
The Dinaric Rally 2021 kicks off in a few days, and I’m really curious how much I’ve improved during COVID training as well as how much difference an investment into Rally Raid suspension and MSC steering damper will do this year.
After Dinaric, I’ll stay in Albania till winter, planting the trees with @treesforlure. In early 2022, I want to re-start the unfinished RTW, this time at a sloth-like pace.
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