Georgia is a destination I had on my bucket ride list for few years but had thought to leave for later. However after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and with Russia already occupying parts of Georgia I decided perhaps I better go see it sooner rather than later.
I reduced my Transylvania Ride slightly to make room to visit Georgia inside what is a multi ride trip away from Australia.
From Krakow I flew overnight to get a direct flight to Tbilisi. Rather than sit around until 1-2pm waiting for hotel check in I decided to ride the same morning I arrive. Not something I would normally do. In fact last time I did this on my ride in Malaysia things did not go well. But like the Steve McQueen said in the Magnificent 7 movie – ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time‘.
I flew LOT Polish airlines which I thought were a full service carrier but even their premium seating is no better than Jetstar sardine seating. Then the moron behind me was singing out loud like it’s karaoke. Eventually I got a little sleep when old mate behind me nodded off.
I made the rental booking via a third party agent called BikesBooking. I did this because they offered delivery of bike to airport option which suited me nicely on this occasion.
After paying a deposit the bike shop, Georgia Moto Rent, said in lieu of delivering bike to airport as I originally booked they would open 7.30am for me and arrange a transfer to shop. It was already getting close to my departure and other bike shops had few bikes left so I said ok.
As it got close I try to confirm the transfer and no that offer seems to have been forgotten. At this stage it is too late to make other arrangements. So after breakfast and coffee at the airport I took a taxi to the shop. Nobody there. Call the owner and he says I don’t have a booking, I insist and so 30 minutes later he arrives. No record of my booking. I show him his messages via BikesBooking. Ah now he remembers…
The bike I booked seems not what I am being supplied. I made a promise to myself not to book any more bikes with tube tyres except where there is plenty of vulcanizer shops like Philippines. I know bike shops and vulcanizers don’t exist in Georgia so I booked a bike with alloy wheels but old mate insists this is the bike I booked.
I discover the headlight is blown which I ask to be fixed. I am truly regretting now booking with this shop but it is too late to do anything about it. Eventually I am away from shop – it is nearly 9.30am.
Leaving Tbilisi I discover Georgian drivers are super aggressive – and I have just come from Romania where people drive like lunatics but this is on another level. Despite being on outskirts of Tbilisi the traffic jams are lengthy. It’s a gloomy morning with idiots running me off the road. Sigh. Why can’t I just travel like normal people did pop into my head.
Eventually out of the city I found myself climbing into the mountains and my mood picked up. The road condition was a mixed bag. Lots of roadworks but the big wheels and 50/50 tyres made light work of that.
As I climbed the temperature fell to 8 degrees in low clouds. I had to stop and put my pant thermal liner in at a rural bus shelter then zip my jacket to pants to try keep the cold out. The Merlin gear despite not being really made for winter did alright as did my Rough and Road gore-tex gloves which despite being mid season are quite versatile. I notice they are well worn but hope they last bit more as hard to get that quality now I am not living in Japan.
I came to a particularly muddy long section of road works and it was a very close thing to the bike going down. The surface was like ice but I kept a constant smooth throttle at walking pace while not letting the bike get too crossed up. All that sliding moto-x bikes around when I was younger occasionally pays off.
Eventually the roads dried and the surface improved and it turned into a really nice curvy hotmix route. Phew! I usually check roads thoroughly when planning my trips and was relieved that this was in fact a good motorcycle road albeit with a ton of ripped up road work.
I joined the main route north and the sun came out at a large lake which was very scenic. Then I came upon a nice coffee shop which really hit the spot after few hours of cold conditions. Things were looking up!
The road north was very busy with mini busses and trucks. 100’s of trucks! This is the main route into Russia, actually I will stay near the border tonight.
The road climbs higher and higher. It is a road work mess in places with only one lane open and the Georgian drivers who I am convinced are idiots will not stop at give way signs before one lane instead they end up in a Mexican standoff facing each off in middle of one lane with nobody able to move. It’s dumb and dumber similar to what I witnessed in Nepal.
However the scenery just gets better and better.
This is looking back at the valley I have been climbing out of and a monument that I was too tired today to walk out to but can visit on return.
This is looking ahead to where I am riding next mountains that reach the clouds.
I climb further to a highlands where I find myself in a treeless valley at about 2000m high. Very dramatic views anywhere I look.
Really high now. That is Mt Kazbek and the border with Russia.
Looking to the other side, below is the town of Stepantsminda where I am staying tonight.
Amazing view from my hotel as I walk into town for dinner tonight and you can see the church where I took the previous two photos.
Managed to find an Indian restaurant here in the far north of Georgia close to Russian border. The guys came from northern India and have carved out a living here. I wonder how they cope with what must be a very cold winter.
Regular readers might recall I mentioned you can buy two litre beers in Romania for $4.00AUD but here they take it up a notch with 3 litre bottles of which the cheapest is $3.70AUD. 3L is 8 regular stubbies/cans. Beer is cheaper than water here.
Last rays of sunlight on the peak behind my hotel tonight. Feels like I am a long way from home but in a good way.
Breakfast with a view. After this they just kept bringing out more and more food. I have never been a big eater but post my cancer surgery I can literally only eat small amounts per sitting so I felt little embarrassed by the wonderful Georgian hospitality :).
Had my thermal liners in leaving the hotel it was a brisk 3 degrees.
I mentioned there was a lot of trucks. This is the queue waiting to go through border checks to Russia. (click to enlarge) It was at least 5 km long seriously.
Back to the highest part of the pass where it is a barren land that touches the clouds. Southbound is not too bad a run this morning. I presume on the Russian side of border is similar queue of trucks waiting for morning border shift and I am in front of them.
I stop for a rest after the descent and the first of the Russian trucks roll past. Above shows the IQ of Georgian drivers. You cannot see what is coming in other lane due to dust cloud but since the trucks have slowed at roadwork they all floor it and pass into the cloud hopeful nothing is coming. No surprise the road sides are littered with car wrecks.
The 17th century Ananuri castle is located on this route. Existing since medieval times I bet it has seen some battles.
And then for something completely different I nearly died. A split second from being hit at highspeed by one of the oncoming cars that pull out and drive straight at me when passing others as if I do not exist.
This isn’t not being seen but rather I am learning that motorbikes (which are rare here) are treated same as bicycles and expected to be on the very outer edge of tarmac at all times and to move off the tarmac for cars.
When there is no other traffic Georgians drive straddling the centre line so they are already half in my lane oncoming but I have had a couple swerve over and force me off the road for no reason other that to say get the fuck off our car only road.
Then the cars from behind tailgate ultra close and move up beside me lane splitting the oncoiming cars then move sideways to force me to brake and let them take my spot or be knocked off the road. This happens over and over. Added to this is all roads are an open range with cows wandering around in middle of roads like India with drivers not slowing at all just swerving wildly all over road.
I took an extended roadside break at a coffee hut weighing up a few things. First of all wow that was a close call. Need to do much better if I want to stay alive on these roads. The only way I can think to be safe here is sit behind trucks to stop oncoming cars driving at me and then since the trucks are much slower cars behind will pass me and the truck in one go and they have to pull into the other lane clear of me when passing to avoid hitting the truck.
Second thought I had was WTF am I doing here? The best riding for me is relaxed not risky. I like the slow ride now, stopping to smell the roses, taking lots of photos and feeling at ease with myself. Definitely going to rethink the rides on my bucket list. Maybe some I might do with a tour or I might even entirely reshape the list to better match what I am wanting my rides to be at this point in my life.
Regular readers know I use Febreeze on tour to keep my rider gear fresh until I can clean it back home. This trip I brought the Dettol brand clothes refreshener with me as it is not too heavy. So far I find this better than Febreeze and it goes a long way too, I think it will easy last the entire trip which is 4 tours (but as of writing I am going to cancel the 4th ride in Taiwan due to typhoon washing away the southern cross island highway).
My other tip is buy these hook pegs from Aliexpress. I find them essential on tour and my spare bungee cord here is a handy clothes line. I find the Uniqlo summer shirts (non cotton) are excellent for moto touring as they dry very quickly. Forget cotton t-shirts.
I am staying in a lovely hotel in Gori tonight. This is the birthplace of Stalin and it has a museum about him. I admit to not knowing his history well so went to learn a little more.
Not much is in English so I was using phone translate and Wikipedia as well. Interesting but depressing and not sure he should have a museum after killing millions.
Weird town Gori I could not find any restaurants downtown. Oh well I am never stuck since local Spar has instant noodles and fresh fruits.
The next morning I am riding a route that is almost invisible on Google maps until you zoom right in. It looked very curvy but I was slightly concerned if it was a viable route. Turned out it is an awesome motorcycling road with nearly new tarmac all the way.
Above is the beginning of a superb mountain road that ascends 2000m in about 25km of curves.
I thought there might have been an active volcano off in the distance to my right but just the way the clouds were positioned.
The northern descent was phenomenal. I tried to capture the scale of the mountains but it eluded me. To the right is snow capped peaks hiding behind the clouds and beyond lies the border ranges with Russia. The road seems all new here and the surveying is excellent.
I rarely have time to backtrack on tour but I did today and rode back up the northern side to enjoy all the wonderful curves and views again.
I am in one of Georgia’s wine regions now. They age their wine in clay pots here.
I am staying at one of the wineries tonight.
I am the only person staying here. But it’s no problem and I enjoy some of their wine and local dishes. The weather is amazing like perfect summer!
Riding west then south I am first in a deep valley.
Nice reflection on this lake reminded me of the photos I used take in Japan on the overcast days, but weather for me continues perfect.
Back into mountains and I pass an old fort now in ruins. There has been a number of these but often not much left to photograph.
The riding this morning on low traffic roads without idiotic drivers has been very enjoyable.
Epic views. Very clear air too which surprised me. I turn south here. You can ride up into those mountains but it is remote so without support I felt it was not wise.
Fabulous riding south on a terrific curvy road though a long valley. Hard to photo so I stopped at this communist era sign instead.
Alas here is where things came undone for this tour. Getting back on the bike the clutch cable snapped. I am still a fair way from nearest town but the road is like as this photo so I roll the bike, knock it into gear and ride using rev matching to shift and find I can get by with it sitting in third for most of the way.
Arriving in the next town I just let the bike stall near a shady spot. There are no bike shops, I check but even the nearby city has no bike shops, motorcycles are not common here so I call the rental shop. After a few calls and photos of the snapped cable eventually the guy says he will come but not until tomorrow morning. Ok there is a hotel nearby so I push the bike there and get a room.
Next day morning comes and goes. Eventually he arrives 1.30pm. But I enjoy the peaceful time off the Georgian roads.
The guy says he will kindly not charge me for the repairs ha-ha, SE Asia logic – “the bike would not have broken if you had not rented it”. No offer to extend my rental by the days I lost or sorry about the inconvenience and money lost on other hotel I had booked. Oh well, I’m a glass half full person – least I was not on that remote mountain road or stuck with a flat tyre due to tubes. The weather has been superb for my time riding the mountains and wine region.
I could have paid for couple more days and continued my planned route, I had the spare days but I decided to end the tour return the bike. Not that I was bothered to pay more but frankly because I was sick of dicing with death constantly on Georgian roads.
Interesting expressway service centre. The petrol station building was same design (but more difficult to photo).
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. If I was to come here again I would join a tour. You should do this. That way you are in a group of bikes not a solo rider that cars can easily bully. Also you have a support truck that can act as blocker affording the group some protection. And lastly you have support for the more remote areas if riding with tubes like most of these ADV bikes persist with as there is no vulcanizer shops or bike shops anywhere here.
I must get into my thick head no more renting cheap bikes. Just pay the money and get new reliable machinery. My cheap charlie nature is hardwired but it’s a false economy. I already made a personal rule no more rentals with tubes except places like Philippines with vulcanizer shops every village and then I went and broke that here. If you catch me breaking these rules in future feel free to call me an idiot.
Back in Tbilisi I take a share ride service called Bolt and experience Georgian driving from the other side. Still frightening. People gush about Tbilisi so I scheduled a few days here but it’s too touristy for me. Lot’s of tourist trap crap restaurants and shops selling tacky shit. Lots of touts fleecing gullible tourists in various ways and a few pickpockets snatching tourists phones.
I did find a good coffee shop however where I hung out and put together most of this ride report. I’m in Abu Dhabi now on my way to my next ride destination, Pakistan.