The 80cc Juggernaut
Cape to Cape by some kind of little motorbike
by William M. Stenzel
May 15 - 21, 1997 / Vol. 6, Ed. 19
Adam Paul should be working on his book, or washing his 80cc Honda
step-through, but instead, he's been working on a forged "letter of
invitation" to Russia. Not that he didn't get a real one in the
first place, it's just hard to keep everything together while riding
around the world.
The current political situation across the Bering Strait doesn't
help, either. "When the Soviet Union started to break up," said
Paul, "Aeroflot, the state airline, just ceased to exist. People
just grabbed the airplanes left at their airport, painted them up,
and started new little airlines." Now, in order to add Magadan onto
his Russian visa, he needs to have his 'letter of invitation,' which
he lost somewhere along the way from Chile. Before Paul leaves
Anchorage this week, he has to send a few articles back home to
England, finish forging the "letter of invitation," pack his bike in
a crate so it doesn't get destroyed in transit, and figure out if
it's even possible to ride such a tiny vehicle across the Siberian
tundra. And it's all in the name of getting a free trip around the
Paul's current journey began in March 1996, when he set out from
Cape Horn, Chile, trying to become the first person to ride from
Cape to Cape; Cape Horn, South America to the Cape of Good Hope,
Africa. He might be the first to complete the trip and he's almost
certainly trying with what will be the smallest vehicle to complete
the trip. So, what is a step-through exactly? "It's not a scooter,
because technically a scooter has a floorboard running along the
bottom. And there's no pedals, so it's not a moped like you have
here in America. Actually, they don't even sell these things in your
country, but I think that the proper name is 'step-though.'"
Once Paul finishes, he will be forever enshrined in the Guinness
Book of World Records for the smallest engined bike to go around the
world. "I think that I'm also doing the first Cape to Cape motorized
trek as well, but I'd be surprised if no one else had ever done it
before," said Paul.
Paul's first long distance motorcycle trip was from England,
across the Sahara, and finally to Ougadougou and Togo in 1990. He
came up for the idea of riding from Cape to Cape after completing
his 1994 journey across Europe to India in the fall of '94. Leaving
his home of Chester, England, he rode his Suzuki GS 500 through
Europe to Istanbul, and finally India. "The most spectacular part of
that trip was the fortress of Jazilmir. It's built on the only hill
on this huge flat plain. After Boy George left Culture Club, he went
traveling to India, and I think that he made a video or something at
Jazilmir." Shipping his bike from Mumbai, formerly Bombay, he met up
with his friend Nilou, who accompanied him across Australia to wind
up the trip.
As the rides got longer and longer, the ride around the world,
originally a prep school daydream, became more of a practical
possibility. "After finishing the India trip, I thought I could ride
from Cape to Cape. I went to the big English motorcycle show expecting
to find a sponsor to shower me with equipment and money," Paul said,
laughing. "Of course, it didn't quite work out like that." Although the
motorcycle manufacturers were universally disinterested, Piaggio, the
company that builds Vespa scooters, almost immediately started building
a special scooter for the trip. Company leadership changes at Piaggio,
however, left Paul in the lurch. After more than six months of planning,
it was back to square one.
Even though the scooter company had left him, the idea stuck.
According to Paul, "The whole motorcycle scene has this image of the
greasy, long-haired rocker type. Who's interested in having a biker ride
around the world? But a scooter, now that's a whole different issue. In
England, people's grandmothers ride back and forth to the grocery store
on scooters. It had a broader public interest."
Despite the appeal, Paul was forced, at first, to
finance the voyage himself. Even English charity organizations like
Save the Children turned him down. "The last message I got was, 'We
don't want to sponsor you because we don't want our name on your
body when they find it.' It was ridiculous; the people who run these
charity organizations drive around in fancy company cars. A few of
them would let me give a check in order to wear their name."
Luckily for Paul, traveling by step-through is a relatively
inexpensive proposition. He chose the Honda for reliability and
parts availability; the bike cost around $2,100. "They haven't
changed the design much since the '50's, so it must be pretty good.
And you can get the parts anywhere around the world."
Only after traveling to Argentina to start the trip did his
voyage catch the eye of Honda's publicity department. Now, Honda
foots the bill in return for as much publicity as Paul can drum up.
And there's the matter of the promotional tour. "I have to do three
big cycle shows after I get to Capetown. Honda is giving me a
Blackbird, which is their top of the line superbike. They want to do
some kind of ad thing showing the bottom of their line alongside the
top of their line." The Blackbird, with a 1300 cc engine, has over
16 times the displacement of Paul's step-through and would have
little to no chance on the dirt and gravel roads his 80cc commuter
After spending more than two years haggling with visas and
sponsors, the actual trip has been relatively uneventful. Despite
carrying 35 kilograms of luggage, there have been no major problems
with the bike so far (good advertisement for Honda). Paul has never
gotten under 100 mpg on his trip, and his top speed, attained while
riding down a hill in Peru, was 52 mph.
More out of the ordinary, however, was one little incident in
Colombia. "I was riding downhill on a three-lane highway with a
truck on one side and a car on the other when a little old lady came
tottering out onto the road. Since neither of the other two vehicles
would back off, I ended up hitting her and doing this big slide on
the pavement. Of course, her head immediately starts bleeding, I fly
off the bike, and about 50 angry Colombians start shouting at me.
The police came in a few minutes and we all went off to the
"I ended up paying $20 to the doctor, $10 for medicine, $20 for
her compensation, and an extra $15 to the police because ... well,
because everyone was getting money our of the thing. The next day at
the hotel, I was changing the oil on my bike when a policeman and
company were heading right towards me. I thought, 'Uh, oh, this is
for me.' It turns out that the policeman was the old woman's son,
and he wanted more money. Finally, it wound up with all of the
gringos from the hotel on one side and the Colombian police on the
other. The British Embassy wasn't answering the phone, and that's
like the only country in the world who you can always count on for
Later, after being robbed in Peru, Paul found he was becoming a
legend on his own ride. At a roadside restaurant, "I listened to
some guy talk about this crazy Brit who got robbed while riding a
scooter up from Argentina. I was listening to some guy tell a story
about me!" While on the Alcan, Paul found that a short interview
with a reporter in Dawson Creek led to a front page spread.
Paul sees the publicity as a necessary evil - something that has
to be done to pay for the trip. "I have absolutely no desire to be
famous," he said. Riding a scooter - sorry, a step-through - is
according to Paul, "a lot more fun" than working a regular job. "I
owned a couple of record shops for a while, but it's a little too
late to become the next David Geffen, isn't it?"
According to the Guiness World Record rules, Paul has to ride
from the point farthest west on North America and then must start
riding again at the earliest point possible in Asia to get credit
for the trip. He's already ridden down to Homer to complete the
first requirement. Later this month, he'll fly to Magadan to start
the next leg. That is, of course, if he gets his new letter of
invitation done in time.
Adam Paul, barring any major disasters, will arrive in Cape Town,
South Africa in the winter of 1998. He hopes to get the book out for
the Christmas market. "The publicity from the trip will obviously
help sell anything I write about it," he said. "Who's going to read
about me if they've never heard of me?"