After his third daughter, Jessica, graduated from college, Hubert Kriegel realized something. He could stay in the daily grind, and 10 years from now he would still be poor. Or he could do what he always wanted to do: travel on a sidecar, and in 10 years he would be poor. What a decision!
Soon Hubert will be starting his tenth year of travels. So far his plan is holding up, with one hitch—a mysterious health problem that has outwitted doctors in the U.S. and France. But Hubert now has enough money coming in from the Social Security Administrations in both countries to finance the bare bones of his travel plans. So he’s sure he will keep traveling, he’s been doing it too long to stop now.
Hubert is an old hand at motorcycle touring. He started back in 1971, when Hubert, his brother William and friend Richard decided they’d travel through Europe and the Middle East. This was before the era of two-wheeled world travelers had really begun, but they were prescient: first they decided to seek a sponsor. They wrote and published a pamphlet detailing their dream trip and mailed it to every motorcycle manufacturer and distributor in France. Their efforts netted them a Ducati 450 RT Scrambler, Moto Guzzi V7 and a sidecar rig, which went to Hubert. With full sponsorship from Elf, Motul, Pirelli, Cibie, Moto Guzzi, Ducati and much of the French motorcycle industry, the trio spent four months riding around the Red Sea, visiting nomads, remote villages and royalty—all three clad in white leathers!
Hubert hasn’t stopped much since then—he’s been married three times, has three daughters, lived in Europe, California and New York, ran a dance hall, owned a color separations service and sold real estate in Manhattan. But the road called.
After selling everything else, Hubert headed north from New York one February on a BMW R 100 GS with Ural sidecar. Why a sidecar? On ice and snow in the winter, you are guaranteed to fall off a solo. However, Hubert had to give up going to a few places that he wanted to visit due to lack of traction with single wheel drive. Check out Hubert’s website,
thetimelessride.com to see where he’s been—and where he’s going.
In 2008, he changed to a Ural with a driven sidecar wheel (and no differential). “Before I started, I tested a Ural with two-wheel drive, but it had a differential,” said Hubert. “If you get stuck, one wheel just spins. Now, I ride the model without a differential, and with the Ural’s two-wheel drive you can get amazing places, places you would never get with an overloaded dual-sport bike.” The list of modifications to the Ural is long—and includes a left-hand throttle, so he can shoot pictures anytime with his right.
A lot of those shots are scenes of tropical paradise. But his favorite place, so far, is Mongolia in the winter. He has tips on how to beat the cold, how to dress absolutely right without spending a fortune and how to travel light.
“People take too much. It is a problem of mine too, since I have a lot of real estate in the sidecar. The best travelers are those on a 125cc motorcycle, because they carry the least. They are also usually the fastest, for the same reason.
“Where do I want to go now? Almost never, the touristy places. I could be across the street from a famous cathedral, I won’t bother going in. Rather, I like to be in the little villages in the mountains, to meet the people, to see the real country. I make no plans before arrival. I take the Lonely Planet guidebook, but I do not look at it, or if I do, it is to find the history of the place. So, I may miss a few special things this way, but I think I find much more.”
Hubert’s 10 years on the road have now been interrupted by sickness; he suffers from fibrosis, a disease caused by radiation treatment for the neck cancer he beat two decades ago. Swallowing and even breathing are difficult sometimes. So his travel options are more limited, but he’s not about to give up. At this writing, Hubert’s sidecar outfit is in Namibia, but he’s already planning a trip farther north.
“Mongolia is, I think, my favorite place in the world. The hospitality there is wonderful and the lifestyle of the people on the steppe hasn’t changed since Genghis Khan. I went there in November through March, watched the temperatures go down to 40 below. The people on the steppe are happy. They have a herd of animals that mostly stay close enough to the yurt to watch with binoculars. They may stray, they may have to be caught and sometimes doctored, but unless there is too much snow or ice, they survive, and the people have time to stay in the yurt and socialize.
“The worst place in the world is the capital of Mongolia, Ulan Bator. Many former nomads have moved their yurts to the city. But they have no flocks, no cow dung to burn to get heat, they have to buy coal, they have to buy everything and they are miserable.”
Hubert isn’t big on cities. Or bureaucracy. “Bribery—don’t give in to it. The crooked officials know that there’s one thing important for travelers—time. I’ve got time, so if I need to, I’ll just sit down and read my newspaper. I can wait.”
As we get ready to say good-bye, he pulls out a roll of aluminum tape, stainless-steel wire and a knife from the sidecar. He’s noticed a split plastic cap on a gas can. Within a minute, a temporary repair is made. Who knows how long it will last? Who cares?
(This article The Timeless Ride was published in the July 2013 issue of Rider magazine.)
A Sad Update: On January 24, 2018, Hubert Kriegel passed away unexpectedly at the age of 71. Here is a message from his family: