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ADV NewsFrom ADV Noobs To RTW World Record: Odd Life Of The Sidecar Guys

From ADV Noobs To RTW World Record: Odd Life Of The Sidecar Guys

Not everyone adventures in the fast lane.

Published on 05.23.2023

Adventure bikes and travel are often portrayed as the domain of the bold. Magazine adverts show 1200cc giants with long-travel suspension bashing past boulders in African deserts. Travel writers talk about battles with border guards and bandits toting AK-47s. Surely such deeds are only for the brave and the bold, right? 

Wrong. Matt Bishop and Reece Gilks, aka The Sidecar Guys, went on a round-the-world ride that proved otherwise, not on a monstrous ADV bike, but a sidecar-equipped Honda SH300i scooter — an expedition that set a Guinness World Record. Now that they’re back home in the UK, they’re sharing that spirit of everyman adventure with others.

Around the world on a scooter with sidecar

A Big Journey With No Experience

The Sidecar Guys’ RTW trip ran from late 2017 through early 2019, but the project actually began before that, when Matt and Reece spent two years planning their expedition. It was a significant endeavor, heading from London to Cape Town via Africa’s eastern coast, then up the Americas from Santiago to Vancouver, with a Colombia-Mexico shipment cutting down some of that mileage. From there, they shot across to Vladivostok, where they rode the Trans Siberian Highway home to the UK.

Around the world by scooter and sidecar

That’s a big ride, and they really had to start from scratch. Neither of them had ever ridden a motorcycle before, so they had to get their licenses sorted out before they left, and then learn how to manage the sidecar hack.


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Then they had to figure out how to pay for everything. To their surprise, they did manage to save quite a bit of money with their choice of sidecar, which was built for them by Richard and Charlie Prescott, veterans of the vintage Brit bike scene.

Around the world by scooter and sidecar
With two grown men and three 40-liter bags of gear, along with the sidecar itself, cruising at 45 mph was a supersonic speed.

“We didn’t know Richard and Charlie at all before planning the trip, but after six months or so of trying to source a sidecar with no luck, we stumbled across each other through a chance encounter in a bank,” Matt says. “Discussions led to plans and the next thing we knew Charlie and Richard had built us an amazing shiny sidecar for our scooter, completely from scratch. Once it was built we asked them how much we owed them for it, expecting quite the bill as it had taken weeks of work. Richard replied ‘Ahh I don’t want your money boy, I’m just pleased to see a couple of lads your age not sitting in watching the telly!’.We couldn’t believe it and owe the Prescott brothers the world!” 

Around the world by scooter and sidecar

Shipping turned out to be the major expense of the trip. Flight Centre, a travel agent they worked for in the UK, sponsored some of their major costs, but Reece says they “spent every penny either of us had ever earnt and still found ourselves wild camping and sleeping on people’s sofas most of the way.”

Around the world by scooter and sidecar

They didn’t let that stop them, because they were on a trip with a mission! The Sidecar Guys weren’t just gadding about developing countries so they could gawk at the locals. Their 34,000-kilometer trip was intended to raise awareness and funds for charities fighting modern-day slavery, an issue they think everyone should care about, since it transcends national borders.

And the big question: Who’s the better sidecar pilot? Matt says neither of them was particularly skilled at the job, “but we were both the world’s foremost scooter-and-sidecarists.” Fair point! 

Around the world by scooter and sidecar

An Odd Bike Choice

Instead of a big, capable adventure bike, why did Reece and Matt take a scooter—a Honda SH300i with only 27 horsepower, 20 pound-feet of torque and 16-inch wheels. And then, why did they bolt on a sidecar?

Around the world by scooter and sidecar

“The whole point of the scooter and sidecar was that it was useless,” Matt says. “There had been so much negative press in the UK about people from different countries that we decided we wanted to find out for ourselves what people outside our beloved British isles were really like. Our theory was that there would be no way we would make it around the world on this completely inappropriate mode of transport on our own. We would only make it with the help of everyday strangers.”

Around the world by scooter and sidecar
Breakdowns were frequently on the menu.

Due to their seemingly inappropriate machine, they expected a lot of breakdowns, and a lack of power. That’s exactly what they got. With two grown men and three 40-liter bags of gear, along with the sidecar itself, Matt says they cruised at 45 mph most of the time.

“The biggest issue was altitude – turns out bikes need oxygen too and we basically had to either push it or run alongside it through the Andes,” he says. But those scenarios didn’t ruin the trip—they made memories that will last the Sidecar Guys forever.

Around the world by scooter and sidecar

“Highlights and hardest challenges always come hand in hand,” Matt says. “Crossing the Andes on an unpaved road was the hardest challenge at that point, being taken in by a Bolivian family was the biggest highlight. That was until we took on the Trans Siberian. We crossed 10 time zones on one road. Temperatures dropped as low as -40C and we were in the complete wilderness of deepest Siberia.

Around the world by scooter and sidecar
In Russia they endured temps of -40C. “We would often be 50-100 miles from a rest stop and would see nobody until a lorry overtook us at 50 mph out of nowhere, chucking snow and ice on our laps and narrowly missing our sidecar,” says Matt.

We would often be 50-100 miles from a rest stop and we would see nobody until a lorry overtook us at 50 mph out of nowhere, chucking snow and ice on our laps and narrowly missing our sidecar which was on the wrong side of the road. It was exceptionally dangerous and stupid and I will never do anything like it again. It was horribly cold and completely terrifying. In the sidecar you would just sit there, let the ice freeze over your visor and wonder if that next lorry that came by hit you.

We did that for around six weeks but around two weeks into the trip, Russian Facebook found out about our adventure. The next thing we knew we had biker groups out on the side of the road with signs saying ‘Matt and Reece pull in here’. People were waiting for us in almost every town and village. They would fix our scooter, feed us, fill us with vodka, warm us up in their banya and send us on our way. We’ve never experienced hospitality like it and I think there’s no way we would have made it through that last month on the road without the help of the Russian people.”

Around the world by scooter and sidecar
Matt and Reece met a lot of friendly locals along the way, particularly in times of need.

There were no crashes on the trip, but lots of breakdowns. They were annoyed when parts would fail them, but again, this is how the Sidecar Guys say they met a lot of friendly locals. In particular, Matt says one burnt-out clutch in Ethiopia stands in his memory as it meant they were able to enjoy the country’s largest religious festival while they waited on the repair.

Reece also talks about all the kind people they met along the way, particularly in times of need. He and Matt had very little mechanical skill themselves, so in a sense, they were putting themselves at the mercy of helpful locals as they traveled.

As it turned out, there are a lot of nice people in the world—you can see them if you tune into The Sidecar Guys’ YouTube channel, showing their adventures along the way, and the individuals they met.

Around the world by scooter and sidecar
Around the world by scooter and sidecar
People were always baffled by the duo’s strange mode of transportation, making it a good ice breaker no matter where they were in the world.

 “Most people we met along the way were always left slightly baffled by the scooter and sidecar. It looks ridiculous so people would generally find it either hilarious or had a load of questions about it,” says Reece. “It was always a good conversation starter and ice breaker no matter where we were in the world.”

Coming Home – A World Record

In early 2019, Reece and Matt’s trip ended. They’d visited five continents and 35 countries, covering 34,000 miles over 455 days, setting a Guinness record for the longest-ever trip by scooter-sidecar combo.

Around the world by scooter and sidecar

They were happy to be back to the comfort of home in the UK after their grueling slog across Russia. Matt started writing a book about the trip (available now!), Reece started editing a film of their adventure. They were getting back to life as normal—and then COVID-19 hit a year later. Just as the world began to shut down, Matt and Reece found their interest in adventure rekindled.

“When the first lockdown happened I was made redundant and Matt was furloughed and we just thought that if no one can leave their homes to go on an adventure, then why not have an adventure at home?” Reece says. That was the founding of the Armchair Adventure Festival (AAF), a streamed-into-your-living-room version of an adventure/overland festival. The first event ran in April 2020, and Reece and Matt didn’t know what they were getting into when they started. They threw the first event together in a few weeks, inviting some friends to do online presentations, and didn’t think much of it.

Around the world by scooter and sidecar

“At first we thought it would be just us and a few adventurous friends on a Zoom link but it very quickly blew up into this huge online festival with over 20,000 people tuning in to hear all different stories of adventure,” Reece says. “There were people camping in their gardens and living rooms whilst watching, driving their motorbikes around their gardens.”

Maybe that success shouldn’t have been such a surprise; the presentation and talk panel lineup at the first AAF included prominent Brit adventurers like Sam Manicom, Ted Simon, Austin Vince, Simon and Lisa Thomas, Nathan Milward, Elspeth Beard, Paddy Tyson and Tiffany Coates. In the middle of lockdown, the event really struck a chord with a captive audience. So what next?

In 2021, in-person meetings were back on again, and the Sidecar Guys put together the first in-person AAF, moving people from their armchairs into a campground setting for a celebration of all aspects of adventure travel, not just motorcycling—partly because their own adventures on an offbeat two-wheeler left them open to ideas outside the usual RTW-on-a-GS stereotype.

“We like to say it really is a ‘celebration of adventure travel,’ meaning it doesn’t matter if you are an overland traveler, kayaker, adventure cyclist, hiker or anything else, it’s an event for you.” Reece says.

Now, the Sidecar Guys are working on plans for the 2023 AAF (running July 27-30 in the UK—more details here). It will be their third in-person festival.

Future Plans

Around the world by scooter and sidecar
Matt and Reece recently rode a Ural sidecar from Seattle to Los Angeles via Backcountry Discovery Routes.

But the Sidecar Guys have other things going on besides the AAF. They’re now dealers for Ural in the UK, managing two separate dealerships and offering one-day and two-day Sidecar Experience programs. These basically run an adventure and a demo ride into one package, so you can decide whether or not a Ural is for you.

And they continue to travel. Matt and Reece recently did a 10-day trip from Seattle to Los Angeles via Backcountry Discovery Routes—riding in a Ural sidecar, of course. They’ve also just wrapped up a 10-day closer-to-home Ural expedition in the UK. These rides are much different from their original RTW trip says Matt—they’re just fun sightseeing.

Around the world by scooter and sidecar

Is there another RTW trip coming? Not anytime soon, by the sound of it, but Matt says he would like to explore Africa on a Ural. Along with shorter jaunts on the Kazakhstanian sidecar rigs, he and Reece are hoping to keep growing the AAF. And judging from their past, they will—they’ve already taken their event, and their scooter, farther than almost anyone could have imagined at the beginning.

And their parting words, if you want to do something as silly and challenging as a RTW scooter/sidecar trip?

“Turn off your PC and leave,” Matt says. “The bike you have and the tent you have is the one you need. Don’t waste time planning; just hit the road. Do anything you can to give yourself more time on the trip and don’t set big targets. Just see where it takes you.”

Photos by The Sidecar Guys

Author: ADV Pulse Staff
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Ron Doogalo
Ron Doogalo
May 24, 2023 10:50 am

What a great way to travel!

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