Despite his nickname, Urs “Grizzly” Pedraita is a friendly, soft-spoken 52-year-old from Switzerland who could easily be your family doctor or accountant. But deep down Grizzly is tougher and more bearlike than most of us. In addition to holding the record for the fastest circumnavigation of the planet by motorcycle on the shortest route—16 days—in 2016 Grizzly smashed the record of 120 days, 2 hours, for riding around the world on all six navigable continents on their longest axes. Smashed? At first blush the five hours Grizzly shaved off the latter record doesn’t seem like much, but the previous one does not include time stops and transfers. Grizzly left Daytona Beach, Florida, on March 12, 2016 and returned on July 10 for a total time of 119 days, 21 hours, including border crossing delays, sleeping on the bike, transfers by sea and air, etc. Riding time on his specially prepared Victory Cross Country was just 72 days, 13 hours, covering 48,259 miles in every imaginable condition—you can find a map online at grizzlyraceteam.ch.
I was able to grab a few minutes with Grizzly and his personal assistant and translator Sandy Rothfuchs in California recently. He has been riding since the age of 14, and began dreaming about a ’round the world adventure when he was 20. He settled on a Victory for his first big challenge—a 9,000-mile, 37-day ride across Russia in winter, in temperatures as low as -43 degrees F. The biggest threat wasn’t the cold, however—it was the wolves that stalked him when he stopped to rest.
Roli’s Motostyling in Zurich prepared the Victory for 2016’s long, long way ’round challenge by raising the exhaust to keep it out of water and deep mud (“floating roads,” Grizzly calls them), beefing up the wiring harness and adding lights, tow hooks, electronics including navigation and 3 GPS transponders, a larger 8.7-gallon fuel tank and of course, a custom seat. Other mods are right out of “Mad Max,” including a lever-operated trap that releases nails onto the road behind the bike and a raw-fuel injector that turns the exhaust into a flamethrower (they’re for security, Grizzly says, to scare away pursuers, both the four-wheeled and four-legged variety).
Grizzly’s epic ride began in Daytona Beach, Florida, with a parade lap of Daytona Speedway, headed south through Central and South America, then over to and across Australia. From there he transferred to Africa and rode north to Europe, through Russia, and then down through Thailand and Singapore. The final leg began with a flight to Alaska, then wound south through Canada and crossed the U.S. before Grizzly returned to Daytona.
Rider: How did you prepare for the ride?
Grizzly: I started one year before, first with my body condition, then six months before with sleep management. But the most important thing to manage on this trip was mental; the bike and preparation were important, but your head is the most important. When you’re tired, riding all day and night with 2-3 hours of sleep, you still have to say “OK, let’s go” every day of 72 days. That is the mental challenge, forcing yourself to keep going and resisting the urge to sleep.
R: Why did you choose the Victory Cross Country?
G: Four or five years ago I went with my friend to Germany and test rode it, and after three or four corners I thought, wow, this bike is great. The balance of frame and engine, perfect, the feeling you have in the corners, I thought, wow, this bike is good. And most people think that when you take on a project like this you would take a (BMW) GS or a KTM or enduro bike, but no one would take a cruiser. That is my kick—no one else would take a cruiser, no way.
R: How did arrange for tires and service and things like that? How many sets of tires did you use?
G: This was a tactical problem, since there aren’t that many Polaris and Victory dealers elsewhere in the world. But you can drive the bike 10,000 miles between services without a problem, especially when you don’t have too many corners. I changed four front tires, and seven back tires. Sometimes I changed to Heidenau K60 tires for riding across the desert, for example, but I used Metzeler Marathon 888s for the asphalt, and this added additional tire changes.
R: How did you arrange for the tires? Did you have them shipped ahead?
G: Different service stations helped me. In South America BMW helped me, also Chile Adventure, and in Australia, South Africa and Europe, Victory helped me. Also KTM in Africa, and a Honda service station in Russia. I also had a lot of help from my Grizzly Race Team, friends all over the world and on Facebook and Twitter—I could connect with everyone I needed to. I had more than 5 million people follow me on this trip on the live tracker. Crowds of people were waiting at arrival points in Asia, in Australia, Africa. And all bikers helped, always.
R: What was your favorite moment from the ride?
G: I had many but the first was when I crossed the border from Zambia to Kenya, the border guard warned me not to drive alone at night, it is very dangerous because of the animals. So I was riding when the sun began to set and I had no hotel, no nothing, so I kept going. At one point I saw a big, dark shadow and stopped, and there was a big African elephant. So I spoke with him in Swiss. This moment was very special for me.
R: What was your scariest moment? I heard that your laptop was stolen.
G: At night at the border crossing with Ethiopia, it was raining, I was very tired and there were no roads. I had to ride slowly in deep mud and was surrounded by people touching me—this was very unpleasant and scary. I sometimes had problems with the people in Sudan and Egypt at night, too. But my laptop was stolen in Australia! Perth!
R: How was the route verified? How can you prove that you rode all of those miles?
G: I had 3 GPS transponders, and you could follow me on the tracking site. Also the border papers, stamps for the countries…and all of the people who were waiting for me at different places, since you could watch where I was going on grizzlyraceteam.ch. Bikers waited in every city—Mombasa, America, Canada, Alaska—some waited as long as a day for me to come. The biggest crowd was at home in Switzerland and also in St. Petersburg, Russia, more than 100.
R: Is there anything about the ride and the world in general that stands out for you?
G: For me, the globe, the world, the earth, is so small. Now when I think of starting in Zurich and driving to Bangkok in 4-5 days, this is nothing. And the people of the world are OK, they are very friendly. All countries have good and bad people, but I have so many new friends around the world, this is fantastic.
R: What’s next for you?
G: Guinness Project 2018 is to ride to the highest point in the Himalayas on two wheels. There’s an American, a Russian and me. The actual mountain is still secret. The current record is 6,472 meters. Our project may be on the China side.
R: On a Victory Cross Country?!
G: Maybe! It’s a secret.