History of Overlanding – 1950s

Peggy Thomas

Peggy Thomas

From 1950 – 52 Peggy Iris Thomas rode her 125cc BSA Bantam through Canada, the US and Mexico. She’d already taken the same machine around Scandinavia with a friend riding pillion, but for her America’s trip, she had a very special passenger; Matelot, her Airedale Terrier, who sat proudly on a box behind her. For the Canadian winter he donned a jacket hat and scarf and to fend of the desert sand storms further south, Matelot donned goggles.

Peggy didn’t ride RTW but she did encapsulate the very ethos of overlanding. She trusted strangers, had very, very little money but worked where she could, and everyday she challenged herself to see, and to discover, because she was interested. The good news is that she wrote a fantastic account of her trip which is now back in print, under the dual title of ‘A ride in the Sun’ and ‘Gasoline Gypsy’, by Rixon Groove Publishing, ISBN 9780956 1168 40, a review of which is here.

Sadly, Peggy died in a car accident on Angelsey in 1982, while returning to her native Surrey from her newly adopted Donegal.

John Lennox Cook & Tim Hamilton-Fletcher

John Lennox Cook

In 1951, teacher John Lennox Cook and his friend Tim Hamilton-Fletcher (a farmer), rode two Norton Dominator’s RTW from London, covering 19,150 miles overland in 93 days riding, and a further 15,000 in 31 days of boat travel.

Lennox Cook wrote up their experiences as ‘The World Before Us’, published 1956 by Quality Book Club, 255 pages.

Eitel & Rolf Lange

From 1952-54, German Eitel Lange and his son Rolf Lange rode a 28hp Zündapp KS 601 and Steib sidecar combination, known as “Taksy” (Bernd Tesch reports this name as one derived from “take it easy”), which can be found at the German Motorcycle Museum at Neckarsulm.

Their RTW trip took them through Europe (Germany – Austria – Italy – Greece – Turkey) ,  Asia (Iran – Pakistan – India – Ceylon – by ship to Singapore – by ship to Hong Kong – by ship to Japan – on mc in Japan) ,  America (by ship to Hawaii – by ship to North America (USA), finally returning by ship to Europe.

Highlights of their journey included an interview with the movie star Errol Flynn and Shah Mohammed Reza of Iran.  Lange Sr. was used to rubbing shoulders with wealth, celebrity and power, having been official photographer to Reich Marshal Herman Goering during the Second World War.

Eitel Lange’s book ‘Weltfahrt: Mit Motorrad und Kamera’ (trans. “Around the world with motorcycle and camera”) was published in 1954 by Naughty, telling the story of their trip. Then, in 1957  an English translation was published by Floyd Clymer Publications, 232 pages. A German website carries some interesting material, including a version of the story, as well as a technical investigation report of the Zündapp KS 601 machine that was used for the world journey. There is also a report of the Motor-Rundschau – NKZ -. 14/1954 with additional explanatory pictures, including Herr Lange, here.

In 1956/57, Eitel Lange and his wife Ilse made a 1-year RTW journey in a Goggomobil T 300 microcar.

Joan & Keith McDonald

Joan and KeithMcDonald

Newly-wed New Zealanders Joan and Keith McDonald set off in 1952 and took 3 years to ride RTW through 40 countries on two Jawa CZ 125s.

Their route: New Zealand by ship to Australia and Tasmania, then to Ceylon, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Persia (Iran), Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, by ship to Spain, Gibraltar, France, Italy, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Gt. Britain and Portugal.  Then to Argentina and overland to Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, the USA and Canada.

Further details can be found here. Again Bernd Tesch is an invaluable source of info.

Deither H Ebeler

German Diether H Ebeler rode RTW from 1952 – 1956 with an unnamed companion, said to be a Countess, on a Hoffmann-Vespa-Scooter with trailer. Ebeler’s ‘Randnotizen Eines Weltenbummlers’ (which translates as ‘Marginal Notes Of A Globetrotter’) describes their journey through 42 countries on 4 continents: Europe, North Africa, around the Arabian Gulf, Pakistan and India to North America.

Ding Peterboro and Val Teddington

Ding Peterboro and Val Teddington 1955

Who can help expand on this one? Kevin Smith from Pacific Pallisades in California sent us this image of Ding Peterboro and Val Teddington passing through California with their old Norton while going RTW in 1954-55. Their route was from UK overland to Sri Lanka, then Indonesia, Australia, NZ, Fiji and then California where they appeared in a local Pacific Pallisades paper. But then where? Can anyone help with their route?


Dr. August Jentsch

August Jentsch

From 1953 – 56, Dr. August Jentsch, an Austrian rider, and his companion Tungsten Hannig rode a World War Two BMW R750 sidecar outfit from Munich down through the west of Africa (possibly the first such trip by motorcycle) and onward through South, Central and North America totalling around 75,000 miles (120,000 km).

Jentsch self-published ‘Sterne über sieben Höllen’ in 1957 (trans. ‘Star Over Seven Hells – with three hands and an old motorcycle around the world’), which was reprinted in 2001; 256 pages with 7 photos and 4 maps, paperback format 14.5 x 21 cm.  Originally, this was part of a trilogy of books completed by ‘Im Lande des Silberdollars’ 1958 (‘In The Land Of The Silver Dollars’) and ‘Nach Tausend Tagen’ (‘After A Thousand Days’) in 1959.

 Eduard Edlitzberger & Norbert Wittasek

During 1953 – 54, Austrians Eduard Edlitzberger and Norbert Wittasek rode to Persia overland on a Horrex-Felber sidecar outfit. Having then decided to carry on RTW, they took in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Ceylon, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, the US and Canada before returning to Europe after 29,500 miles (47,500 km) in 19 months.

Ernest Bell & Valerie Wells

Ernest and Valerie

Ernest and Valerie rode two-up RTW on a Norton Dominator from 1953-55.

Ernest Bell, formerly of the Household Cavalry, answered an advert for adventurers to join two Australian riders heading home, overland from Britain. From Australia, Ernest and Val then rode back home to the UK via the USA. The ‘Domi’ clocked-up 26,000 miles on the trip in addition to the 20,000 it had already done when they left Britain. Other than punctures and a change of spark plugs, it apparently needed very little maintenance.

‘The Hard Way Round’ is based on the diaries of Ernest Bell. The diaries were never intended to be published and reflect ingrained attitudes from the dying days of the British Empire. They were compiled for print after his death by Ian Whitehead, produced as an A4 pamphlet, 46 pages, illustrated with photos and map, available from www.vmccshop.net

Issa & Abdullah Omidvar

Omidvar brothers

Two young Iranian brothers, Issa and Abdullah Omidvar, used two Matchless 500s specially imported from the UK, for a decade long expedition 1954 -64 seeking out some of the most remote people in the world. Theirs was a journey of exploration in the truest sense; starting from Iran heading east through Afghanistan to India they then travelled extensively in SE Asia , before Australia, Japan, USA (Alaska), the Arctic, Canada, USA (‘lower 48’), Central America, South America, Europe, Africa and back to Iran.

They spent four months in the frozen north and even stayed in an igloo, immersing themselves in the life. There is a film of their adventure and Lois Pryce even calls it her discovery of the year, though for the content, not for the quality! You can see clips of it here, including the brothers riding through Canadian snow.

Omidvar map

A book of their exploits was also produced, in Persian, though an English translation was planned for 2011. Issa Omidvar now curates the Ethnography Museum in Tehran, which contains a huge number of the material they collected on their journey.

Issa set off again 3 years later in a Citroen 2CV to explore Africa in more depth, while Abdullah headed south, to explore the Antarctic. He finally settled in Chile, where he now runs some cinemas and a tourism and travel magazine.

Wim Dussel & Manfred Uschold


Dutch journalist, Wim Dussel rode a Maico 250cc 2-stroke scooter and sidecar outfit with an 8.5 litre fuel-tank, RTW along with Manfred Uschold, the photographer and cameraman.

Dussel wrote a book describing their 1955-56 journey, ‘De Wereld Is Nog Altijd Rond’ (trans.’The world is still around: by scooter across Europe, Asia and North America’). It was published in 1957 by C. de Boer jr, Amsterdam, 336 pages. There is an interesting collection of photos available on Flickr and you can watch a YouTube trailer for a 28 minute documentary about the pair here.

Later, Dussel repeated his feat using a DAF car.

Gunther Markert

Markert in Pakistan

From 1954-55 German Günther Markert rode RTW on a Kreidler R50, 50cc/2 hp scooter travelling 31,000 miles (50,000 km) across four continents and 33 countries. Markert set an altitude world record (4,600 meters) for Kreidler at Popocatepetl, the second highest mountain in Mexico.

His global route began in Germany and proceeded to Italy – Egypt – Sudan – Israel – Jordan – Iraq – Iran – Afghanistan – India – Südostasien – Hong Kong – Japan – USA – Mexico – USA – Morocco – Europe (ending in Berlin). His Kreidler now rests in the Neckarsulm Museum, but for more information on his trip, click the image to the left of Günther sitting on his bike in Pakistan.

Markert wrote ‘Die Welt war meine Strasse’ (trans. ‘The World was my Street’) published initially in a run of 5,000 but later at least another two editions in different formats, eg; Bertelsmann Book Club, 1958.

Siska and Zdenek Polanka

Two Poles, Siska and Zdenek Polanka rode RTW on a Jawa-CZ 350 in 1955. On their return Zdenek rode for the highly successful Czech team in the International Six-Day Trial, winning the event in 1956.

Harry Roskolenko

Poet on a scooter

American Harry Roskolenko; poet, critic, author and journalist – often classified as a ‘Leftist’ writer – was largely self-taught and one of nine siblings born to Ukrainian refugees living in New York’s Jewish ghetto.  In the middle of his career, he rode 37,000 miles (59,500 km) RTW on a Vespa scooter (although he swapped the three-wheeled version he started with for a solo scooter when he got to Iran).

Beginning in Paris he rode through Italy, Austria, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Ceylon, before boarding a ship to Australia and then on across the USA back to his native New York.

Roskolenko’s ‘Poet on a scooter’ was published in 1958 by Dial Press, 304 pages.  You can read the book online here.

Olabis iAjala

Olabis iAjala

Olabis iAjala is widely thought to have been the first Nigerian, perhaps the first African, to ride RTW.

After studying in the USA (deported after his angry ex-girlfriend reported his visa had expired) he found his way via Canada to England where, in 1957-1962 he bought a Lambretta Li and set-off on a six-year journey through 87 countries.  Ajala’s accounts of his travels and his activities as a freelance journalist brought him fame at home, and he became known as ‘Travel Ajala’ and had a famous song written about him.

His remarkable story includes many meetings with the world leaders of the time.  Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev apparently ensured him a visa to ride from Berlin to Moscow. He rode across the Middle East and Egypt where he interviewed President Nasser before heading in to Israel to meet Prime Minister Golda Meir. Then onward to Iran and its Shah, India and Pandit Nehru.  His travels through much of Asia involved meetings with Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia and Chiang Kai-Chek in Taiwan.

His book ‘An African Abroad’ (1963, Jarrolds, London, 255 pages, illustrated) describes these encounters.  He also wrote of the racism he met among Hindu’s and of Australia, where he found democracy and equal treatment for all, except Aborigines.

Adnan Husni Tello

Syrian rider Adnan Husni Tello rode two RTW journeys, between 1957 – 64. Bringing greetings from the youth of Syria to the heads of state he visited around 100 countries on four continents and met 40 kings, presidents and politicians.

Adnan Husni Tello

His first journey was a 34,000 mile (55,000 km) motorcycle tour of Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, then by plane to the USSR and on through Poland, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, West and East Germanys, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Italy.  He then shipped to Spain for Portugal, then from Spain to Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon and back home to Syria.

The second tour, on a different bike  found him in Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece, Yugoslavia, Italy, Switzerland, Germany,  Belgium, France, England then shipping to Canada for the USA, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Venezuela. Here he left his motorcycle to fly out to the Far East, before returning to continue on to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay before shipping out from Brazil to the UK and from there to Senegal, across Africa and home again.

Tello wrote ten books, including ‘East meets West on a motorcycle. No. 1’ about his first tour (published in Arabic in 1959) and ‘Around the world by motorcycle 153,000 km in 7 years. Between 64 capitals of the world’ (published in Arabic in 1982).

Cesare Battaglini

Cesare Battaglini 1

Battaglini’s RTW trip on a Lambretta 150 D began in the company of German Felicitas Hauch and Rita van de Werde (Dutch) riding an identical scooter, although only Battaglini completed the 99,500 mile (160,000 km) trip. It took him from 1956-59.

From his native Italy he made his way to Indochina and on to Indonesia (where Hauch dropped out after contracting yellow fever), then China, Australia, the island of New Caledonia, New Zealand, Polynesia, North America, Central America (van de Werde returned home from here), South America, Africa returning to Italy.

Battaglini wrote a book about an earlier trip in 1954: ‘Ceylon. India. Oriente Misterioso ed Africa esplorati col mio scooter’. (translates as ‘Ceylon. India. Mysterious East and Africa explored with my scooter’) It was published in Italian in 1956.

Lepoldo Tartarini and Giorgio Monetti

Italian riders Tartarini and Monetti rode RTW on a pair of Ducati 175s from 1957-58. Both riders had raced for Ducati but Tartarini was injured while leading the 1955 MotoGiro d’Italia and was unable to race again.  The trip was originally conceived as a publicity tour to Turkey promoting Ducati motorcycles; it was then extended to Cape Town from where it became a true RTW journey across five continents.

Ducati RTW

Route: Bologna (home of the Ducati factory) Italy, Turkey, Israel, Iraq, Pakistan, India, Burma, Siam (Thailand), Malaysia, Singapore, Java, Australia, New Zealand, Curacao in the Dutch Antilles, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Senegal, Morocco, Spain, Italy. A book was produced from the venture: ‘Un Certo Giro Del Mondo’ (translates as ‘A Special Trip Around The World’) which was published by Minerva.

A trailer for a recent documentary ‘1 Map For 2’ can be seen at http://1mapx2.com/en/the-film/

From 1959 LepoldoTartarini manufactured his own bikes as ‘Italjet’.

Walter Küpper

German rider Walter Küpper was inspired by a book about RTW riders (trans. ‘I ride my bike around the world’). It led him to ride RTW from 1959-62, by moped. He started-off on a 1.2 hp, three-speed Miele (having tested it the year before by riding to Turkey for a holiday). Küpper worked his way by means of odd-jobs and PR opportunities, meeting many notables along the way through Europe, Turkey, Persia, India, Malaya and Australia.  By the time he reached Japan his story had raised so much interest that the press were waiting at the quay-side and the Bridgestone Motorcycle company donated a new moped for him to complete his journey across the USA and home to Europe. Ironically, there was no interest at all in the US.

Tausend Tage Abenteuer

Five hours of Super-8 cine film recorded highlights from his 45,000 mile (72,000 km), 902 day experience, but it appears nothing has been made available to view. There is a book: Tausend Tage Abenteuer (‘One Thousand Days’ Adventure’) published by F.Schneider, 1966, 200 pages, hardcover.

The German motorcycle magazine ‘Motorrad’ carried an article about the trip in its 15th September 2000 edition, and it is available here.