Words: Mike Ryan and Bob Dibble
Photos: Bob Dibble
For most people, a cancer diagnosis changes their world. For Bob Dibble, it didn’t so much change his world, but it did inspire him to see more of it – in an unusual way.
Rather than a luxury cruise or guided tour through the world’s beauty spots, Bob instead chose to ride the world. On a humble Honda CT 110 ‘postie bike’, Bob travelled through countries, climates and conditions that’d stretch the capabilities of the most modern adventure bike, let alone something designed for nothing more than a suburban street.
What made Bob’s round-the-world journey all the more remarkable was that he had that little postie bike fitted with a home-made sidecar and did the entire journey solo. Here’s how it all unfolded
Third Time Round
A spirit of adventure – and a hefty portion of determination – is in Bob Dibble’s blood.
In 1997, the Queenslander took an HR Holden sedan across North America, Canada, the UK and Europe. In 2011, aged 65, he fitted a Yamaha Diversion with a sidecar and, with his wife Yan, rode through 50 countries across the US, Europe, Russia and South East Asia, covering more than 65,000 kilometres on a journey that lasted 18 months.
Now, for most people, one motorcycling adventure like that would be enough, especially when it unofficially made Bob the oldest person to travel around the world on a sidecar outfit. But, taking the ‘grey nomad’ thing to an all new level, Bob decided on the eve of his 70th birthday that he wanted to ride the world again, this time on a postie bike!
“When we were in South East Asia, we saw these little scooter sidecars running about all over the place and I got thinking, ‘Why couldn’t I take one of those around the world?’ That’s where it started,” Bob explained.
Being an Australian, a postie bike was the obvious choice for Bob when looking for something smaller to do this sort of trip. So, in August, 2016, Bob called in to Joe Hanssen at One Ten Motorcycles in Caboolture to buy a CT 110 and get some advice on how to best prepare it for a global ride.
“I casually said to Joe, ‘Do you reckon we could build a bike to take a sidecar around the world?’ Joe’s reaction was instant – he got so excited. ‘Yeah, we’ll be in that!’ he said. I didn’t have to sell him on the idea at all!” Bob laughed.
Two days later, Bob had his bike, but adding the sidecar took a little longer.
With good mate ‘Teabags’ Collum, Bob spent six months designing, cutting and welding a sidecar, then more cutting, more welding - and a bit of arguing! - to make the idea work.
As this was to be a solo trip, the sidecar was never made to carry a passenger, only luggage, spare parts and tools. That meant it could be compact – not much more than a platform, really. But why a folding sidecar?
“Shipping is expensive,” Bob explained. “So, with the folding idea, I took the cubic area from 4 ½ cubic metres down to 2 cubic metres - packed. It was a BIG saving there.”
Speaking of big, Bob’s 6’3”, so he dwarfs the CT110, which presented several challenges along the way, but had some advantages, too. As an outfit of this size was lighter, Bob reasoned, it’d generally be easier to handle on the road. It’d also be easier to pull out of mud and sand if he got stuck when travelling off road.
“The challenges are totally different when you ride a small bike,” Bob explained. “You look at a 1200 GS and, whatever you throw at it, it’s all a piece of cake. But try doing that on a small rig and the equation all changes.”
Get on With It
With his CT110 sporting a motor fully rebuilt with all the best bits by One Ten Motorcycles and his folding sidecar concept well underway, Bob’s round-the-world plans hit a speed bump when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
The plan had been to start the journey in Canada in May, 2017, and despite radical surgery in January of that year, Bob was going to stick to the plan.
“I was pretty determined,” Bob laughed. “People would say to me ‘It’s not easy’ or my wife would say ‘It’s going to be a very hard ride’. But I said ‘Look, if it’s not a challenge, I don’t want to do it’.
“I’ve got a little slogan I use nowadays: ‘Bugger Cancer – Ride Free’. I think this can apply to everyone – if you get hit with these things, well, bugger it. Get on with it!”
Because of the operation, Bob wasn’t able to do any proper trial runs before the outfit was shipped to Vancouver, so all the “testing” would be done on the road – once the round-the-world journey was underway.
Lows and Highs
From that Canadian start point, Bob deliberately chose some of the more challenging routes: crossing the Rocky Mountains, through the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the High Desert in the US, as well as riding iconic locations like the Mojave Desert and Death Valley.
After riding across Death Valley east to west, a journey of about 40km, Bob thought that was a bit too easy, so decided to ride the 120km length of the valley as well.
“I asked one of the park rangers ‘What’s the road like going north to south?’ He looked at my bike and laughed, ‘Man, you can’t take that thing!’ As soon as he said that, I knew I was going!”
With temperatures of 44 degrees, Bob understatedly described conditions as being ‘a tad warm’ as he descended the 1,500 metres to the valley floor.
Plans to ride 20kms between rest and water stops soon became 15km, then 10km: “By the time I got to the bottom of the valley, I was stuffed, but the bike. . . . I just couldn’t believe what that thing does. It never grumbled at all going down, and it was a long climb back up out of the valley, but that little thing just kept going.
“I’m totally blown away by that bike – I don’t think anybody has ever built a better machine.”
Now, you’d think that riding in the USA, with mile after mile of super highway would be easy, but on a little CT110 outfit, that was far from the case.
“I kept to the secondary roads, but if the odd truck came past, I swore I went back two feet,” Bob laughed. “In some ways, those were the hardest days. The motor’s doing the work, but in a headwind, you seem to be doing the work, too. It was just a hard slog.”
What made it harder was the road surfaces in the US that chewed through tyres at an alarming rate.
“I was only getting about 1,500kms per tyre all the way across North America. The worst was 700kms. I was changing tyres backwards and forwards and across to the sidecar. I also tried to transfer the luggage load and spares to the front and to the side. . . constantly rejigging it, trying to get it better.
“But, in Toronto, I put some Duro tyres on and got over 10,00kms out of them, even though I was going across Kazakhstan and places like that where the roads were unbelievably bad. On the front tyre, I got 41,000kms out of it. I came away as Duro’s greatest fan!”
A bucket list stop for Bob in the US was the famous Pikes Peak hillclimb in Colorado. At 4,302m high, reaching the summit is a challenge that was only truly bested when Volkswagen ran an all-electric racer up there in 2018; the battery-powered vehicle negating the thinner air that strangles naturally-aspirated machines.
“That was a long, slow trip,” Bob recalled. “I met this guy with his little sidecar – which was about twice the size of mine - and he came up the mountain with me. We started out in high temperatures – about 35 degrees at the bottom. And until you break the treeline, the temperature doesn’t really drop, so we’d climb about 300 metres, pull over and let the bike cool down. We just had to take our time.”
It should be noted here, too, that Bob was running his outfit fully loaded, which means ‘overloaded’ in this instance. Carrying about 95kg OVER the bike’s recommended carrying capacity, a lot was being asked of the single-cylinder motor in the CT 110, which became more apparent the higher Bob travelled.
“Once we broke the treeline, at about 3,350 metres, the temperature dropped and the bike didn’t overheat, but the problem we then faced was the gradient. At one point, going off-line on a tight hairpin, I lost my revs.
“At that height, I wasn’t really in a mood to be defeated, so I was actually ‘paddling’ the machine with one foot and did that for a kilometre or so. But then, the other guy came up behind me, and gave me a nudge from the rear with his sidecar. It was just enough to get my revs back. From there on, it was actually fairly easy.”
Easy for the bike, at least. With oxygen levels dropping by about 40 per cent between 3,000 and 4,000 metres, Bob said he had a couple of minor dizzy spells at the summit, but it didn’t stop him or the bike.
It’s efforts like this, riding up Pikes Peak, that led Bob to dub his CT110 outfit ‘The Mighty Runt’ because, no matter what was thrown at it, the little bike prevailed.
In the middle of North Dakota, in country he described as being from Dances with Wolves, Bob encountered one of the very few mechanical snags to afflict the CT 110 on this journey.
“The two bolts holding the carby dropped out - a million miles from anywhere out on the plains.”
With the bolts log gone and no replacements in his kit, Bob improvised with tie wire and cable ties, which got him to the next town, but only just: “I had about half litre to spare.” But the patch job was good enough to see the bike through to Toronto – more than 2,000kms later.
Learning from this experience, Bob sourced extra bolts for the rest of the trip which proved invaluable, as the bolts dropped out in Bulgaria and again here in Australia on the final leg.
As good as factory spares and other “official” replacement parts were, it was the cable ties, tie wire and duct tape that would prove their worth many times over before the journey was over.
“Until I got back to Australia, I had no problems with the motor, it was just brilliant - it was more bits falling off,” Bob explained. “The tail light would fall off, the headlight would stop working, the indicators stopped working – it was only these ancillary bits and pieces that gave the problems. And really, that was caused by me using a bike designed to ride around the street as an off-road adventure bike.”
Left or Right?
While gradients, temperatures and missing bolts didn’t halt the bike’s progress, what threatened to stop the trip at one point in the US was good old bureaucracy.
As you’ve no doubt noticed by now, Bob’s ingenious folding sidecar is on the left – the correct side for Australia, the UK and a handful of other countries, but the wrong side for most everywhere else in the world.
“At one point on the US border, an official didn’t want to let me in because the bike wasn’t ‘legal’,” Bob recalled. “At the risk of being a smartarse, I had to explain the law to him.”
As an Australian-registered bike, it must comply with Australian standards, Bob explained. Pointing out that Canadian-registered cars use indicator lenses that are in violation of US registration laws, but legal for Canada where they’re registered, technically they shouldn’t be allowed in the US. Bob noted these cars travel back and forth between the two countries in abundance every day without any issue.
“He eventually accepted the argument,” Bob chuckled.
Exhausting as it was, this sort of bureaucratic incompetence and intransigence would rear its head again later on in the trip. For most people, it’d be maddening, but Bob’s cancer scare gave him perspective on this, as well as a greater appreciation of the sheer joy of riding.
“On the bike, in all weathers, putting in some long hours, sure I got tired, but I was surprised at the stamina I had,” Bob said. “All the way through the trip, I thought to myself, ‘Gee, I’m not doing too bad’.”
The North American section of Bob’s journey was completed in Toronto, where another mate serviced the CT110 ready for the next section – through the UK, Europe, Turkey and countries like Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the war-ravaged territory of Karabakh, which made a real impression on Bob.
After this, and another furlough back home for more treatment, Bob picked up the journey in South East Asia, travelling through Thailand, Malaysia and almost Laos (more on that in Part 2) en route to Australia and the conclusion of a journey that, in total, covered almost 44,000kms
NEXT ISSUE – Part Two: Karabakh, Asia, Australia. . . . and more on The Mighty Runt
Next issue, we’ll continue Bob’s journey, taking The Mighty Runt through desolate areas and war-torn regions of the former Soviet Union, along with the challenges of South East Asia and equally-demanding roads back here in Australia that threatened to break the bike.
We’ll also take a closer look at The Mighty Runt. Joe Hanssen from One Ten Motorcycles will describe how he and his team prepared the bike and Bob will detail how the little CT 110 performed in all weathers, temperatures and altitudes on this truly epic journey