Encounter: Hubert Kriegel

Hubert (which he insists should be pronounced ‘U-Bear’) Kriegel is a distinctive character, easily recognisable with his trade-mark round red spectacles, and clearly shaped by a no-less colourful life.
Overland Magazine caught-up with the 69 year-old Frenchman in Leh, India a few months after he reached his goal of ten years on the road aboard his (BMW for the first four years, and then) Ural sidecar outfit. The rig and the road are now his home, indeed Hubert describes himself as a citizen of the world having travelled widely on two-wheels and three, since 1970.

After running a Paris nightclub and selling real-estate, Hubert moved to the USA in 1983 where he did more of the same but was also a sidecar-messenger for three years and owned a graphic arts business for twelve.

It was through this that the red glasses first appeared. They were designed for him after a New York dinner party conversation, when a young designer heeded his plea for something he would put on his nose when he woke up in the morning and keep there until it was time to sleep. Hubert describes the red glasses as “witty”, with “character”, “guts” and says they are functional and fun. On strength of that brief meeting with him, they sound like an outward reflection of his personality.

Some years later, over another dinner, a close friend observed that the New York life-style meant people spent all they had. By the time they had reached their crème brûlée, Hubert had determined that he had two choices: keep working for the next 10 years and be poor after that, or sell everything and go travelling with the sidecar for 10 years. And be poor after that!

And so, in February 2005 Hubert left New York heading for Canada and the Arctic Circle on the first leg of his ‘Ten Years on the Road’ project. It was on that first leg, that a fellow traveller said something that has resonated with Hubert ever since… “Because we don’t have a job, people think that we don’t work. Well… to succeed at what we do, it takes a lot of work!”

Hubert has a creative and entrepreneurial streak that keeps him busy wherever he lands, but a look at his website www.thetimelessride.com shows how much work he puts in to his travels (rarely the easy route) and the necessary effort of vehicle preparation and maintenance. Over the last decade he’s ridden the length and breadth of the Americas, Europe, Asia and India. It was here, just after Hubert finished a three-month tour of the western Himalayas, that our paths crossed in Leh, the largest town in northern India’s Ladakh region.

As we chatted over coffee in a first-floor bar, overlooking the street where Hubert’s Ural drew regular attention from passers-by, it became clear that there is both breadth and depth to his character.
Here is a man who is at ease with himself and the world with an open attitude to enquiry, someone who exudes the sort of matter-of-factness often found in people who have spent years travelling. Yet Hubert regards himself as a shy person, and this is where those red glasses come in again; “…they protect me. People look at my glasses, not at me!” he says.

Somehow, that fits very well with his personal motto: Don’t forget to take a risk today!

Words: Nich Brown

This article first appeared in Issue 13 of Overland Magazine.