Kevin and Karen Browne’s ‘Round the World Journey
Steven M. Green
June 4, 2014
Filed under Features, Motorcycle Features: Bikes, Blokes, Culture and Beyond, Motorcycle Rides, Roads and Self-Guided Travel
At first glance, you don’t believe your eyes; then you’re convinced it’s a leftover movie prop from Mad Max. The reality is, it’s a brilliant piece of backyard engineering that is taking a couple from England on an around-the-world odyssey, and which brought them near Rider magazine’s SoCal offices.
I first met Kevin and Karen Browne in Alaska, where we shared a campground. The delightful Brits made my own bucket-list trip seem like a drop in the…er, bucket. We rode the area together for a couple of days and shared stories and breathtaking scenery. Riding alongside them, I kept marveling about the unique features of their machine. I was not alone. Whenever we stopped, it would only take moments before folks walked over, asked for a photo, and then asked the same questions: “What is it? Where are you coming from? Where are you going?” and “Have you had any problems?” When we parted, I extended an invitation to them to visit me as their journey meandered south toward Los Angeles.
Several months later, I received an email inquiring if the offer for a place to stay and for a shipping point for refurbishments was still open. I gladly accepted the pleasant Brits’ request. Soon, boxes of “bits and bobs” appeared, along with a fresh set of tires.
Upon their arrival, after a hot shower and hearty meal, we began to discuss the machine as Kevin took over my garage and began his maintenance. The machine started life as a 1979 Moto Guzzi Spada. Although Kevin admits that a BMW GS would have been his first choice, the Guzzi was selected for its old-school simplicity and Kevin’s familiarity with the marque, as he had been riding and repairing them for more than 20 years.
The canopy is the first thing most people notice (as well as being Karen’s favorite feature). It was built to provide a bit of protection from the elements and a place for solar panels, which help power the on-board refrigerator. Other extensive modifications include a new leading-link design front fork; custom panniers and racks; a sprung seat; running boards; remote oil filter kit; removable outrigger wheels; gas tanks; water tanks; winch; dual linked braking system; hidden locking compartments, and the list goes on. Each of the changes were made for a purpose and show intense creativity. Even the mounting of the auxiliary driving lights shows the innovative ability of Kevin. They are mounted using a cable controller to allow swiveling the light in its cradle, thus creating a high- and low-beam effect. Wherever possible, things were built to serve double duty.
For instance, part of the canopy can be removed to create a jack for use in the field.
The Guzzi mechanicals were modified with the addition of twin plug heads from a later model and an external high-capacity alternator. Understanding that the rear hub would be taxed far beyond its design limits due to the bike’s 1,200-pound weight, Kevin machined the hub to accept stronger tapered rolling bearings.
To date, the couple has been on the road for nearly four years. The trip has been west to east, essentially traveling through Europe, to Turkey and then over the Trans Siberian Highway. From there, they were transported to Japan for a three-month stay. Leaving Japan for Australia, the couple arrived to suffer a bit of disaster. An unnoticed cut on a tire sidewall caused a blowout, which resulted in a serious crash. Kevin quickly recovered from being unconscious, but Karen had suffered a broken pelvis. Luckily, they had proper insurance to cover the three months of hospitalization she required. After months more of rehab, the couple resumed its journey and headed to Alaska.
Back at my garage, Kevin was replacing a bent rear wheel with a used one found on the Internet. He then wrestled new stiff-sidewall Heideneau K60 Scout tires onto the rims, which were his tires of choice for the gravel roads expected on their next continent: South America.
Everyone either asks or wonders, “How can they afford this?” The couple shared a common dream. They met shortly after Karen, a capable motorcycle rider and gearhead in her own right, had just finished restoring a Mini. Once married, they decided to live frugally for the next 10 years and save as much as possible to self-finance the trip. They decided to take one motorcycle rather than two, as it would save money by only having to transport and maintain one machine; besides, Karen was equally at home on the pillion as she was at the handlebars.
As for their most frightening political incident, it occurred in Kazakhstan where they thought they would wind up in jail. The country has a policy that you can enter for five days without much trouble; a longer stay requires lots of official approvals. Extending an unapproved stay more than five days can be a major hassle, as they found out when an overtaxed driveshaft failed and left them stranded waiting for parts. Ultimately, a $200 bribe to a uniformed policeman kept them out of the slammer, allowing them to proceed with their repaired machine.
After 23 countries, four continents, 75,000 miles and a week stay in Los Angeles, including a mandatory trip on the legendary Mulholland Drive, Karen and Kevin headed off to see Las Vegas. Next would be the Grand Canyon and parts of Southern Utah before meandering down to Baja, Mexico. Their ultimate goal is Ushuaia, at the southern tip of South America; or, according to Karen, “As far south as we can go before the money runs out.”
Given their ingenuity and tenacity over the past four years, I’m betting their last blog entry (at guzzioverland.co.uk) will be a congratulatory toast upon arriving at the southern tip of the Americas.
(This article Goose with a Roof: Kevin and Karen Browne’s ‘Round the World Journey was published in the June 2014 issue of Rider magazine.)