Originally published in Trail Dust:
by Andrew Mentzer
Perhaps the most time consuming, soul crushing and expensive logistic of any RTW motorcycle tour is bike shipping. I can only speak from my own experience—I’m betting there are a few folks out there who have had good experiences—but I have yet to meet anyone who enjoys shipping motorcycles overseas.
For the first phases of my around the world ride, I had to ship my custom built 1988 Kawasaki KLR650 from Boise, Idaho to Sydney, Australia. My father had completed a similar trip in 1977, and upon my return I learned that a lot has changed in the last 35 years when it comes to international freight practices. He told me about the days when you would simply ride up to the port, ask around, and generally within an hour you had found the arrangement you were looking for. This could range from loading the bike in a sleeper cabin and riding along on the boat, to simply leaving the bike at the port and it would be waiting for you on the other end 2 weeks later. The endless import/export red tape and relentless penciling for all sorts of barely legitimate administrative fees didn’t exist in 1977, making the whole process much easier.
Carnet du passages en douane (customs bond)
I had to get a carnet du passages en douane (customs bond) in order to import and export the bike to and from various countries. The carnet usually takes about 2 weeks to secure, and costs a few hundred dollars plus a deposit based on the value of the bike. I ended up getting an “equipment” ATA carnet through my business, which took 2 days and cost about $1,200 in total. When you arrive at a border crossing, you simply have the carnet stamped into one country and out of the other and you can avoid having to pay any duties up front.
Getting the bike to the port at Long Beach was no problem. Using Ebay’s UShip website, I located an independent trucker in Boise who was heading to Los Angeles. 36 hours later the bike was in the hands of Schumacher Cargo. Schumacher had verbally guaranteed me that the bike would be on its way to Sydney by the end of the next week, and would arrive within 30 days of disembarkation. They ended up sending the bike on a transshipment through SE Asia, and it arrived in Brisbane (not Sydney) nearly two months later.
Lesson #1: You get what you pay for. Schumacher is easily the cheapest (my cost was $640) freight forwarder from the west coast, but they make you pay with their lackluster customer service and appalling disregard for time frames.
Collecting the bike in Brisbane, Australia for the start of the trip
After a few days in Sydney, I took a train north to collect the KLR from the port in Brisbane. By then, it had sat in a musty shipping container for the better part of 3 months, which resulted in numerous carburetor and fuel problems.
Following a whirlwind ride across Australia, I ended this leg of my around the world ride in Darwin, Australia—gateway to SE Asia. I left the bike with one of the shop managers at Cyclone Honda for safe keeping, and made arrangements to have the bike shipped from Australia to Singapore upon my return a few months later. Toll Marine Logistics (AKA Perkins) were very helpful and fair in how they handled this shipment across the Java Sea. The bike left and arrived on time, and their staff was very helpful. About $900 later and I was on my way in SE Asia.
There were a few administrative battles in Singapore and Thailand with the carnet, but nothing held me up for more than 4 hours. Crossing into Malaysia was a breeze. When I crossed the border from Alor Setar, Malaysia into Sadao, Thailand, the customs officials appeared to have no clue what to do with the carnet. I attempted to explain that they needed to take an importation sheet from the counterfoil and stamp the “import” box on my carnet, but the futility of trying to navigate the language barrier proved too much. I simply left them with the import sheet and had the official stamp and sign the carnet. They gave me a letter stating in Thai (the lettering looks like spaghetti thrown against the wall) that I would be responsible for 360,000 baht (about $11,000 USD) in customs fees if I were to leave the bike in Thailand. In other words, the bike would have to be exported at the end of this leg of the trip.
Following a mystifying ride across peninsular SE Asia, I found myself at the end of the road. I couldn’t get into Burma or China, so I left the bike with some friends in Bangkok and began working on a plan to have the bike shipped back to the USA before the expiration of the carnet (they are only good for 12 months), which would trigger the enormous customs charge noted earlier.
So here we are today. I first attempted to have the bike exported from Thailand on January 17th. It took nearly a month just to find a freight forwarder who could get it back to the USA, not to mention nearly $2,000 worth of customs, crating and shipping fees. After nearly 120 infuriating emails trying to decipher the freight forwarder’s broken English, and two months of back and forth, the bike ended up being shipped west—through the Middle East and across the Atlantic—instead of east like I had requested. It is now in New York and the shipping company is attempting to charge me more money before they release it for final shipment via truck back to Seattle.
Lesson #2: Getting a bike shipped from Thailand to the USA is a doozy. Hopefully the bike will arrive in Seattle in the next 2-3 weeks…
Next up is a ride back across the USA before heading off to Europe for a barn burner transcontinental ride across Europe, the Stans, and Russia. Keep an eye out for future posts on my father’s ride from 1977-8.
Trail Dust is a publication of happy-trail.com