Fuel Motorcycles and Mandrill Garage introduce: NO MAN’S LAND, a scrambler adventure along the Silk Road.
This article covers when “No Man’s Land” officially started off in Qinghai Province. From the Hala Lake uninhabited area under the Qilian Mountains to the underground Yadan in the Qaidam Basin; from the lack of oxygen on the plateau to the mosquitoes flying in the Gobi Desert; from the endless washboard road to the continuous sand dunes. The things we experienced and witnessed, the sound of the motorcycle in the wilderness, and things that were left behind. The Fuel riders were on the move, beginning another journey of discovery.
Dear friends, if you read this text, we welcome you to witness with us another demeanor and attitude of Chinese retro bikes. At this moment, you can follow the text in the gentle melody to feel the story behind the high-definition real shots, even if you have never been to the scene, it will take you out of the city and experience something different.
In the distant sky, the magnificence of nature is hidden in the depths of the desert, and we humbly knock on its door in the Qaidam Basin. Hala Lake is unique, and its beauty exceptional. In this extremely dusty area, it is the host and we are the visitors.
Regarding this journey, there are many ways to interpret its meaning, but its charm and demeanor do not need to be exaggerated. The deer pasturing on the grassland; a cool breeze in the desert; a handful of fine sand in no man’s land. Because when you are in a no-man’s land, all your longings and dreams are put on hold for the time being. Everyone is a living individual. The empty space brought by motorcycles and the quiet beauty of snow-capped mountains make people just want to let go of everything, both time and space.
From the gathering in Tianjun County to the final end, the journey lasted 7 days; staying in three main camps, experiencing three different sceneries. Fortunately, the rain was not very heavy and the wind was not very strong. Everything was just like it was supposed to be, as were we.
At 8 o'clock in the morning of July 10th, we packed the equipment and all the basic daily necessities needed for the crossing. We replaced the docile RV "Big White" with the hardcore and domineering Ford Raptor. It became a solid armor for us to enter into no-man’s land, driving it to drag the Latte and our belongings to complete this journey together. In fact, if you don't know the specific road conditions in the no-man's land, choosing a tough car can solve a lot of troubles. We don't expect our Ford to be invincible, we just hope it will take us through. Later, there will be other rookie models unveiled, and you will not be disappointed.
The handover ceremony of the Great White and the Raptor
We arrived in Tianjun County at 1:30 pm and met up with Mandrill. We had a bowl of beef noodles in Junxian County, changed into Fuel Motorcycle gear, went to a nearby gas station, filled up each motorcycle with gas, and started our journey.
Tianjun County is a nice, small county town. Affiliated with the Haixi Mongolian-Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Qinghai Province, it is located in the northwestern part of Qinghai Lake, east of the Qaidam Basin, east of Qilian County and Gangcha County of Haibei Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, and west of Delingha City. One of the famous mountains is a rendition of "Tianjun Mountain.” In fact, this only gives you a small idea; you still need to personally feel the real life experience of the local area. There are always some places that are not well-known and have no uniqueness to them, but it can give you the feeling that no place can offer, and Tianjun County is just like this.
We don't want to go into further details about this place, but the meaning of travel is to bring a feeling of richness and warmth. When Gina mentioned this, it confirmed that this place is special. It's so special that she was reluctant to leave. Tianjun County is like an old man who you have never met before. You are a hurried passerby. He prepares a bowl of hot rice for the guests from afar. The local customs are all there to discover. Before continuing the journey, the old man has one wish: he hopes that someday you can return and discover more.
Going deep into the desert, there are many moments worthy of being recorded during the ride. Every wonderful memory, every vivid picture is alive. Here you can understand what kind of environment can make people unwind for a pure ride. This natural beauty makes you close to nature and close to your feelings. Through the lens, every being is precious here.
In terms of vehicles, a total of 6 off-road vehicles took off, and two Tank 300 were the main support vehicles. When we were on the road, we were still worried about whether the Tank 300 could smoothly bring us through the constantly changing road conditions. What is the off-road performance of the nationally manufactured Risheng? But the facts show that the ability of the Tank 300 is surprising in this environment. Both its off-road performance and sound give people a sense of solidity and reliability.
The expressive Tank 300
"We let different people who yearn for cross-country embark on the journey. Break into various terrains together to create extraordinary stories. For its brand tonality, it is set to be a combination of hard-core cross-country and smart luxury." The copywriting is very explosive and has a brand line.
In No Man's Land, before entering the No. 3 camp, we encountered a section of sand dunes and shell craters with soft silt and steep slopes. In the rough real situation, the Tank 300 was as stable as an old dog, with steady wheels, easy for the driver to conquer all the unexpected road conditions.
Cannonball crater section in No Man's Land
After preparing enough supplies, the team resolutely embarked on the journey. There were 6 vehicles in the motorcycle team. A BMW Latte Climbing, a Ducati Sled, a Triumph XC1200, a Triumph Street Scrambler, an old BMW R75 and a Kawasaki W650.
On July 10, we headed to Camp 1. It started raining, and the rain turned from a drizzle to moderate rain. The sound of rain hitting the helmet was clear and real. The misty mountains seem to be very close, when they in reality were far away. Due to the altitude, the dark clouds on a rainy day came down low. There is an unspeakable magnificence present. The black motorcycle body suddenly appears behind edges and corners, and creates unique visual charm in the dense fog. It reminded us of scenes in a movie. Here, the lines of the mountains and the details of the grassy beach will hypnotize you, make you forget where you are for a while, or even what generation you belong to. Possibly even a time when there are no people. This is an encounter between yourself and the world.
The fresh green in the rain, like a scene from a movie
Kawasaki W650 had an episode on this road.
After riding for a while, it turned on the accelerator but felt its power dropping sharply until it finally stopped. Kawasaki W650 after "resting "
After stopping for inspection, we found that because this Kawasaki W650 uses an external air filter, the filter was completely wet due to the rain, resulting in poor engine refueling, dullness and insufficient fuel supply. With this in mind, the big brother Triumph XC1200 towed it for a while with a tow rope until it could be repaired further. The problem of the power loss in the Kawasaki also gave all of us riders a revelation. When riding in rainy weather, make sure that the air filter is dry and in good condition. Check and maintain it frequently!
During the journey from Tianjun to Hala Lake at Camp 1, there was no phone signal and any communication was basically impossible. There are many protected wild animals in the meadows and hills passing by. Tibetan antelopes and small wild deer can be seen everywhere. This is a paradise for wild animals and it is their habitat. We are here as mere visitors. We can admire them from a distance. We don’t want to disturb. We only wish that there will always be lush areas like these.
After several hours of riding, we arrived at Camp No. 1. On a prairie between Hala Lake and Tianjun, we chose to set up camp here. In order to be in good physical condition for the next leg of the trip, the tent was set up, the whole team stopped and rested, and we planned the ride for the next day.
No Man's Land: another space
On the night of staying in Camp 1, the rider Jiabin rode Lattes, Triumphs, and Sleds into the wilderness, completing this set of starry sky images. Only a car is visible and of one of the motorcycles you can see only the outline. Each scene depicts a different mood.
The altitude of Camp One is already very high, and you can feel the body reacting slightly. Regardless if it is night or day, it is a wonderful experience. During the day, the Fuel ride progressed in an orderly and calm manner; and at night, we drank beer and had a barbecue, looking at a lit tent like a dazzling, warm little orange lamp in the wilderness. The physical and emotional experience brought about by this sense of contrast is rare and enrichening.
On the second day, the entire convoy was suspended for rest. On the third day, we proceeded towards Lake Hara. The pure white clouds and the endless wilderness came together on the horizon. The sky was clean and free of contamination, and even a little moving. Lattes, Triumphs, and Desert Sleds crossed the river, and the splashes in the water were crystal clear. Inadvertently, water beads splashed on the lens, but the image was not blurred. On the contrary, the refracted image was even more three-dimensional and clear.
When crossing the river, the Kawasaki W650 completed the last journey of his career and quit the team with honors. After passing through water three times, the Kawasaki was unable to restart the engine due to the damp air filter. So it was finally pulled onto the support car and towed back to Tianjun. Our teammate Xiaoba reluctantly bid farewell to his old buddy.
Xiao Ba reluctantly says goodbye to the w650
Despite this episode, the overall progress of the trip continued in an orderly manner. On the way to Lake Hala, everyone in the team felt great and ready to continue the journey.
On July 14th, we arrived at Hala Lake, in Camp 2. The scenery in front of us was different from that of Tibet's Yamdrok Yumso. It is 4100 meters above sea level, and Hala Lake is also the second largest saltwater lake in Qinghai. The sight of the sky above the water is breathtaking.
The Shadow of Hala Lake
Elements such as snow-capped mountains, lakes, and the countryside stretch far in the landscape. Even a person who isn’t much of a talker, will share his true feelings here. Hala Lake at Camp Two. In fact, riding here is not the main purpose. Admire the snow-capped mountains and the clear lake, twist the throttle to ride for a while, enjoy the scenery, and just enjoy the moment. It will bring forward a feeling when it comes to motorcycling, and you will understand from your heart what kind of state the true meaning of riding really is.
On the way from Hara Lake to Delingha, three motorcycles were riding together. In the past four days, the state of the motorcycles had been stable. But after the three motorcycles went through some bumps and bounces, some small parts were lost.
You haven't seen an old BMW R75 like this for a long time, right? Thanks to this retro motorcycle, this trip brought it to the outdoors to reconnect with a memory of the primitive and wild nature of the motorcycle.
After four days of long-distance travel moving from Camp No. 2 to the city of Delingha, all the dust was washed away. On July 15, the fifth day of the journey, we continued to Golmud, Camp 3.
On the way to Golmud
This is the Golmud Basin. Going deep into the wilderness we encounter the Yadan landform. The GPS wasn’t working at all, and we were on our own. On the way from HaLa Lake to Delingha, the surrounding environment also changed from green hills to yellow desert; no man’s land, and the vegetation also drastically reduced.
There is a very interesting natural landscape on this section of the road. The seemingly ephemeral road may change at any time, which is also a test for our riders. From non-paved roads to cracked roads, both types of surfaces have challenges. First of all, the general road condition of the ground can be clearly determined on the non-paved road, and it can be reasonably and effectively pre-judged in advance, in order to carry out stable control of the vehicle.
But the cracked road is an exception. There are two types of cracked roads. One where the surface and soil under the cracked road are both dry, where there is basically no problem driving the motorcycle. The other is the fake cracked road surface. This kind of road surface seems to be dry, but in fact, the surface is full of silt, and the texture of this kind of mud is slippery and delicate. As a Fuel rider, riding a retro motorcycle through the Desert, we would ride wildly and ruthlessly, taking in the demeanor and heat brought by the motorcycle, as well as the roar from the engine. While enjoying the wind and the freedom, Mr. Rabbit rode into this "fake cracked soil". The super-smooth soil and the weight of the motorcycle and the rider made him fall to the ground. Fortunately, nothing happened, but there is an extra layer of dirt on the Rabbit's Fuel jersey, which adds to the Fuel feel!
The motorcycle was restarted after reversing. As the engine oil returned to the cylinder head when it fell to the ground, the engine oil burned and produced thick smoke. However, after riding for a while, the smoke dissipated. When this happens, there is no need to panic, it is a complication caused by normal reversing. The best way is to turn off the engine immediately after the reverse phenomenon occurs, and stopping the motorcycle, and the standby oil will return to the cylinder again. After it is burned, the residual oil will produce much less smoke. Wait until you return to the rest point, check the amount of engine oil, and consider whether to add the corresponding amount.
The rider felt like he was riding a steam motorcycle, going through the wilderness, it looked quite spectacular!
Mr. Rabbit driving a "steam R NineT"
When riding to a steep slope with sand, we thought that the rnt's strength was sufficient to go through the sand. We never thought that we’d lost the battle after trying twice. On the third time, we changed to a different way of rushing. The straight flush type is changed to the oblique flush type. Taking the slope of Shapo as the starting point, twisting the throttle, starting to fly, and finally succeeded in reaching the top. On the other side of the sand dunes, the land is flat and open. Here is our Camp No. 3!
We weren’t sure of the reason why the rnt rushed straight up the slope. We only learned after this journey that in the face of this soft and gravel road condition, if the vehicle's ABS and ATC are in the open state, it will react on the tires and sand. At the moment of idling, the ATC system automatically cuts off the power of the engine to prevent the wheels from slipping, which will cause a sense of climbing weakness. Therefore, when climbing some soft slopes, first turn off the ATC control system and ABS system to give the motorcycle a power limit state.
This is an open and low-lying area formed by two sand dune platforms. The camp was set up here because the climate is dry and the terrain is low, which can reduce the impact of the wind. Here, during the wet season, rainwater will gather to form a lake, and in the dry season, a large low-lying basin is formed. We call it an "airport". In fact, this place occupies a unique natural landform against a beautiful background.
Here at the Big Airport, the charming scenery of the first two camps were foreboding of what was to come. This so-called No. 3 camp is the closest to the riding environment we want.
Eventually, we reach the underground Yadan, a mythical place. If you ride a motorcycle to visit the underground Yadan, it feels like you are an outdoor explorer, going deep into its interior to experience this masterpiece of art gifted by nature. The roads here are wide and narrow. The unique landforms have created its unique natural landscape. The high-curved rock mass and undulating ravines are impactful. Passing through this place on a motorcycle, it feels like you have arrived in the captivating Xinjiang, and you can enjoy the beauty of the scenery to the fullest.
The entrance and internal structure of the underground Yadan are intricate and only motorcycles and pedestrians can enter. The loess barrier is tall and straight, and the gray-brown gravel in the stream is simple and elegant. It reminds us of a scenery from a myth. Like the ancient tea-horse road in the Gobi Desert, with camel bells following the Persian caravan towards the end of the world, a piece of history can be reproduced here.
Stepping out of Yadan, standing on another hill looking back at that beautiful landscape, again and again. Here, everyone will have their own most authentic experience. Everyone can participate in this outdoor art. There is so much beauty here.
Earlier we mentioned that the old BMW R75, due to its advanced age, could not withstand the abuse of the road conditions here, because of the special circumstances. Here, the "big airport" is open and flat. When the R75 and the rnt were put together, looking at the two pieces of art, we appreciated both; the old one and the new.
The story of the BMW R75 has evolved into an eternal legend. Not because of its age, but the style reflected in this old motorcycle. The description of it should be literary and veteran. He is like an old gentleman, still stable and exquisite. When learning to understand motorcycles and loving them more and more, it represents a kind of nostalgia. Compared with the all-roundedness and vitality of the rnt, the mechanicals of the old car R75 is old and conservative, and this is what makes it a gentleman and a classic. Seeing the two motorcycles put together, there is a sense of seeing two generations; grandfather and grandson.
Riding this R75 wildly on the Gobi Desert, followed by the RNT, a Desert Sled, and the three cars: it all came together in an image in the same century. The experience of the BMW R75 is very intuitive in terms of torque and handling, but the fact that it is "old" cannot be changed after all. After riding for a certain distance, the air-cooled engine of the R75 overheated and the power dropped sharply. We stopped for a drink, took riding photos, as if following the elder of R75. It was a unique experience. During resting time, we rode triumphantly on the sand dunes every day to enjoy the wonderful feeling of tires sliding. Letting the wheels spin among the gravel, and the sand dancing along the tracks of the wheels.
Flying sand and tyres sliding, have basically been customized diversions for forest road off-road vehicles and rally ADV for a long time. Because of the high frame and lightweight body, doing this is infinitely fun. Regardless, we took our bikes out to play on this sand dune. Although retro motorcycles may be incompatible with stunts such as flying slopes, in the majestic and open environment here, the R NineT, the Triumphs, and the Sleds are perfect in the desert.
Debug Ducati Sled
In the afternoon, the sky opened up and it began raining, and a dark cloud covered the sky above us, and the sun was peeking through the edge of the dark cloud. Here, only a poem can describe the scene at that time: "The dark clouds are pressing against the city and the city is about to be destroyed, and the rays of light will open to the sun." We know that there will be beautiful sceneries after the cumulonimbus passes.
This ride felt like outdoor art. It offers the most beautiful starry sky and the wildest retro riding to riders who love it. In the outside world, who has ever paid attention to this ride? It's just that everyone present is an artist expressing ideas, giving the heart a place to belong, making it an intense retro journey.
Rider Lao Ma was very motivated and wanted to do his favorite trick: setting the Triumph to cruise at a fixed speed, straight on the deserted beach, and quickly stepping on top of the Triumph. His pose is similar to the one of "Yu Jian Fei Xian" in the famous martial arts drama.
When he stood up, although the body of Triumph is not very high, he saw the scenery from another perspective and felt a feeling that he had never had in the past. Some people call it the artist's way of expressing what he loves. Lao Ma always wears a three-quarter half-helmet, he has always loved retro motorcycles, he always has his own attitude with riding, and always interprets the love of life in a way that others cannot understand, and his love of retro classics is eternal. In retrospect, this attitude is respectable. So far, this is the end of No Man’s Land. Next up is China's great rivers and mountains presented in beautiful sceneries of the four seasons.
When writing a summary of this, it must be about a mental experience. This trip does not need to exaggerate its meaning; nor over-praising its loneliness. No Man's Land is a trip for people who love retro motorcycles, advocating an attitude towards life, with their own brand tonality, and who personally experience their true inner thoughts. On this journey, a group from all walks of life, because of their common love for motorbikes, are all like-minded.
Regardless if we are somewhere familiar or unfamiliar, a hundred miles of no man’s land, every being is worthy of being respected; every state of nature is worthy of being respected. Seeing clouds and more clouds, seeing the wind and the rain, the Fuel Retro Knight takes in the scenery and embarks on his way home.
This adventure was amazing!
Photographer: Mr. Jia Bin
Credits: @mandrillchina & Buzheng Industry CO