Encounter: Lawrence Bransby

Lawrence Bransby is as mild-mannered a gent as you could hope to meet and yet it’s only when you really enquire that you discover how widely he has travelled, always taking the least-used of tracks and aboard the simplest machinery.

He has been an Overland contributor since 2013, has authored seven motorcycle travel books and nine novels, but where did it all start for this guy who grew up in South Africa but now lives in the North-West of England?

“Without a doubt it was my father who started it all” says Lawrence, “sowing the seeds of adventure in my and my brother’s lives that took root and have not gone away. When I was 12 and we were living in South Africa, my father suggested that we (my brother, father and I) walk from Durban on Natal’s east coast, 375 miles north to Lourecno Marques (now Maputo) in Mozambique. We completed this in 14 days, sleeping under the stars alongside the road. Two years later, when I was 14, we rode by bicycle from Durban to Beira, a 1,200-mile adventure which we completed also in 14 days, riding those old, black Phillips bikes with no gears.”

He says that today seeing any map is of concern because “I immediately start looking for small roads and tracks to explore and the wanderlust becomes oppressive. My greatest pleasure has been sharing my love of motorcycle adventure travel with my son who has, over the years, been an ideal travelling companion and a firm shoulder to lean upon in times of trouble.”

In fact, some of his early motorcycle travels were undertaken with his son Gareth. Aged just 13 and having finished primary school they set off up the Sani Pass and rode across Lesotho, Gareth riding his own clapped-out XR200. Using remote dirt tracks meant that licences for 13-year-olds in Lesotho was not a problem…

When his son reached the ripe old age of 17, the family emigrated to the UK but perhaps not surprisingly Lawrence and Gareth decided to ride two old XT500s there, rather than fly. Things hadn’t improved on the legality front though as “I had to forge an International Drivers’ Licence for him so he could do the trip, these being issued only after the age of 18.”

Having settled in Europe Lawrence then did two solo trips into Russia and one to Albania before his third trip into Russia, this time with Gareth, riding to Archangel on Russia’s north coast. Following the Trans-Africa, this became the first of five big trips they have done together, others being across Central Asia and North Africa. In between those he’s ridden solo around Vietnam, collected his previously dumped DR350 from Kyrgyzstan and ridden it 20,000km across Russia to Magadan, including two crossings of the Road of Bones, and then back to the UK. Last year he completed a 23,000km trip across the USA, Canada and Alaska on a V-strom 650 which included both the Dalton and Dempster Highways north of the Arctic Circle.

Thankfully for us, his travel writing has been an important part of those journeys. Books include: A Pass Too Far (Travels in Central Asia); There are no Fat People in Morocco; The Wakhan Corridor; By Motorcycle through Vietnam (Reflections on A Gracious People) ; Trans-Africa by Motorcycle – A Father’s Diary; Venture into Russia – Three Motorcycle Journeys; Two Fingers on the Jugular – A Motorcycle Journey Across Russia, and another is on the way.

Of all his travelling he says “First, people are generally good and will go out of their way to help a traveller in need. Bad people are very hard to find so long as you tread humbly across the soil of others, and second, you don’t need an expensive, powerful bike to travel the world; pretty much any bike will do it. It’s not about the bike, it’s all about the rider.”

As we go to press he is about to head off with a mate to ride down into Mauritania and follow the track that runs alongside the Mauritanian Railway 450km into the desert. After that? Who knows, but let’s hope the books and articles keep coming!