It was one of those rather embarrassing moments when the penny finally dropped and I realised who I’d been talking to for the last quarter of an hour. In my defense, she was dressed in a low-cut dirndl with a bright pink apron, he was wearing lederhosen – and we were in Arizona.
Bettina Höbenreich and Helmet Koch, known to their friends as Bea and Helle, are charming 30-somethings from the small town of Burghausen in the Upper Bavaria region of Germany. In June 2011 they began what would become a five-year odyssey around the world on a pair of classically-aged Honda Transalps.
Bea studied environmental engineering at university and tends to be in charge of the couple’s finances when they’re on the road. She’s also the writer in the partnership. As well as maintaining the TimeToRide.de blog and social media channels in both German and English, she’s contributed articles to many well-known motorcycle magazines. In contrast, Helle is a qualified mechatronics and mechanical engineer and a lifelong tinkerer. He takes care of the bikes and has developed an enviable talent for fine art photography and video production. Together, they make a superlative team.
They applied to The Ted Simon Foundation for consideration as Jupiter’s Travellers in November 2015 while riding north through Colombia. “…we wanted to explore the world beyond the European borders, beyond prejudices and beyond our usual comfort zone,” Bea had explained. I was pleased to announce the success of their application in April 2016, only a few weeks before meeting them at Overland Expo near Flagstaff. Hence my blushes at not immediately recognising them when they wandered over for a chat at the Overland Junction booth.
By the time of that conversation, Bea and Helle were nearing the end of their 155,000 km journey across five continents and were beginning to think of the future. Their route had taken them from the familiarity of Europe to the unknowns of Kazakhstan, Russia, Mongolia, South East Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and the Americas. They financed the whole trip themselves by working hard, saving harder, selling everything they owned at home, and topping up their funds as they went with work in Australia. While their bikes were being shipped to Chile from New Zealand they also did a brief stint in office jobs in Germany.
Throughout it all, their travel ethos was clear: To see the world from a different view.
“Traveling on old motorcycles, sleeping in a small tent, and cooking on a one-flame fuel cooker is not always, but traveling in such a basic way allows us to get in touch with the local people and experience the countries we visited in a very intense way,” Helle told me.
“For us, traveling with our motorcycles means always being in the middle of everything. There is no car window we can close, no door we can shut. Being invited into a nomad family´s yurt in Mongolia, the simple home of a Siberian farmer, the bamboo hut of an Indonesian family, and riding through Paraguay with local motorcyclists to learn more about their history and traditions are just some of the fantastic encounters we experienced.”
Bea and Helle are now back home and enjoying the opportunity to tell the TimeToRide story at motorcycle events around Europe. Helle continues to produce films and Bea may be writing a book. I certainly hope so.
Words by Iain Harper.