75 years old and not even remotely quiet.

An old BMW R 12 rides from France to Mongolia. And back again.

What an ambitious undertaking: 23,000 kilometres from France to Mongolia and back again. On a 75-year-old BMW R 12 with a sidecar. He rode through some of the most remote and inhospitable regions of the world. Often in temperatures below freezing. But after many months on the road, Eric Dumas is back again. Recuperated and ready to go again. We met with him for this interview.

How many countries and which countries did you pass through?
Italy, Slovenia, Serbia, Romania, Moldavia, Ukraine, Russia, Mongolia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic and Germany. A total of 13 countries, and we crossed Russia twice.

Of all the countries you passed through, which was your favourite and why?
Mongolia. But maybe just because it's always been my dream to travel there. Mongolia is the perfect place if you're looking for a real change of scenery. Its culture is extraordinary, and so are its wide-open, deserted spaces. You could almost imagine that human kind doesn't exist. There are very few roads and some of them are almost unpassable. There are also no road signs or GPS signals. We had to find our way by compass and using the position of the sun as guide. That's what I call adventure.

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Where did you get the skills to look after this fantastic R 12?
The perks of riding the same bike for so many years are that you start knowing absolutely everything about it. I disassembled, overhauled and reassembled everything on the R 12 before every single trip. So I know exactly how it all fits together. But I did have some experience with engines before this. I was a mechanic for the French air force for 15 years.

Why is this R 12 a special bike for you?
I bought this bike in 1977. I was 20 at the time. I've bought and sold many motorcycles since then. But for some reason I always kept this one. In 1987 I started discovering many beautiful places on the R 12. Without it I would have never experienced those places in the same way. And I never would have met so many extraordinary people. This old BMW is a real conversation-starter.

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What maintenance did you have to do on the R 12 to keep it running?
When you ride a bike this old, you need to be constantly on your guard. Obviously you should ride it more at a more leisurely pace. You also have to check the valves, steering, wheels and the oil. That takes about 30 to 60 minutes every day.
How did the bike cope with all the extra weight and the bad condition of the roads? As we all know, this kind of motorcycle has almost no suspension. There's a little bit at the front, but that's it. Every shock is absorbed by the steering column and the wheels. I often thought the bike was about to fall apart at any moment. But it never has. It's just a great bike.
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A lot of the roads look treacherous. Did you have any crashes?
Riding in Eastern Europe, Mongolia and Russia was really tough. But aside from breaking one of the wheels on a big pot hole, the bike held up really well. As it usually does.

How did it feel to reach Lake Baikal and then ride on the ice? It was like a dream. After all those months and years of planning, it was a very emotional moment. I was almost in tears. Landing those wheels on that immense expanse of ice was totally unreal. At the same time it was exactly how I had imagined it in my dreams.

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Where will you go on your next adventure and who might you take with you?
We have already planned a trip with my younger son to visit Scotland on my R 12 in 2015. I would also love to make a trip to Canada, where my oldest son Rodolphe currently lives, and then go all the way to Alaska. And why not during the winter?
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State of the art many years ago: The BMW R 12.

State of the art many years ago: The BMW R 12.

The R 12 that Eric rode on this trip was revolutionary in its day. It was introduced in 1935 and was the first motorcycle with BMW's hydraulic telescopic fork. An absolute innovation in motorcycle design. It made for a much more comfortable ride and better handling than conventional springs. Over 36,000 of these motorcycles were made. Some came equipped with a sidecar for the German army. The R 12 was BMW's top-selling pre-war model.

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