It takes a certain type of motorcyclist — and even non-motorcyclist — to sign up for the Monkey Run Mongolia. It’s remote. The bikes are hilariously underpowered. And the roads? Good luck. But that’s everything to love (and for some, inevitably hate) about it. And why The Adventurists’ founder Tom Morgan can’t get enough of Mongolia and the unpredictability it promises, having launched a car rally, horse race, and now the Monkey Run here.
As the pioneer run of the rally, it’s also the first time several of the riders are even sitting on a motorcycle for an extended period. A 49-cc, almost 3 horsepower (2.8, to be exact), 140-pound, 4-stroke, 4-speed, air-cooled, disc (front) and drum (rear) brake on eight-inch wheels motorcycle. But, a motorcycle, nonetheless.
Mongolia is the perfect place for riders like this. Relaxed motorcycle license laws mean official motorcycle licenses aren’t necessary and with road infrastructure that’s comically underdeveloped, riders are on dirt, and away from other motorists, for most of the adventure.
Not to mention, once you leave Mongolia’s capital city, data and cell service is — as they say — complete and utter rubbish. Not that it would help the riders anyways, riders are banned from using any navigational tools other than a provided paper map and what3words. Not to worry, there’s only 887,000 km² of steppe to get lost in.
And, since the Adventurists always have some sort of twist to keep the adventure from being anything but boring, 20 Poles of Inconvenience check marks were thrown into the mix for riders to reach by whatever means they could manage.
Riders were strictly forbidden from contacting the Monkey Run HQ for help, unless the situation was extreme enough to call for it. Basically, unless someone was dying, it was up to them to figure it out.
Riders from the US, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Sweden, and more joined as teams, assigning themselves names as absurd as the bikes they’d be sitting on for the next 10 days. Mongolian Beef, Life Over the Edge, Steppe Sniffer, Blacksheep, You Son of a Bitch, Silver Khan, and The League of Extraordinary Alcoholics, to name a few, competed against one another as they battled in what must have been the slowest race in history across the steppe. With a 55 km/h max speed, which turned out to be more like 40 km/h, and no outside mechanical assistance available along the way, mayhem undoubtedly ensued. And it ensued quickly.
With a finish line 900 kilometers away at Lake Khovsgol as their main navigation goal, how they got there was up to them. And the farther and crazier the route to do so, the better.
One team ventured 2,000 kilometers over the course of 10 days while others went as far in the opposite direction as possible, making it all the way south, eventually hitting the Gobi Desert. Others ventured west through Tsetserleg and the Arkhangai region before heading north. All of this done on eight liter fuel tanks. Luckily, riders were able to get about 250 to 300 kilometers per tank and gas in Mongolia is fairly cheap and easy to come by.
These journeys didn’t come without their fair share of problems, however. Breakdowns, roadside ‘Mongolified’ fixes, herder motorbike tows, shifts in Mongolia’s notoriously unpredictable weather causing riders to wear trash bags on their feet and layering everything they packed just to stay warm, as well as abrupt shifts in terrain and elevation, going nose to nose with vicious herder dogs, and everything else in between, were just the beginning of the challenges. Riders were strictly forbidden from contacting the Monkey Run HQ for help, unless the situation was extreme enough to call for it. Basically, unless someone was dying, it was up to them to figure it out.
“After a day of countless wrong turns, I found myself on reserve in the steppe and, failing to find any of the petrol stations stated on the map, I bumbled my way down a hill on empty to a family yurt who generously drained their bike tank to fill mine. I later realized my money was missing so headed towards UB to get money and refuel. I got halfway and my engine wouldn’t start. As per some expert advice, I checked: fuel, air and then the spark plug — smothered in soot. Despite changing it still wouldn’t start. I sat. I ate Maoams and waited for the engine to cool. Nothing. My last thought was to clean the spark plug socket. I never felt such relief by the shitty sound of this monkey,” rider @shanazahmad_ wrote on Instagram.
With a 1,595£ ($1,945 USD) price tag for riders, the adventure is as self-supported as it gets. Bikes and paper maps are provided, but that’s basically it. Once they left start camp it was up to them to rely on the tents, gear, cooking equipment, and food they packed for the adventure, all under a strict 10 kilograms (22 pounds) weight limit to prevent them from bringing too many useful things.
Of course, they could have also stayed with herders along the way, if they could find some to take them in. And some did. Others slept in animal shelters and abandoned buildings and some wild camped.
On day 10 riders had to cross the finish line in Lake Khovsgol, where the stories were as tall as the beers they poured, congratulating one another for surviving Mongolia and everything it threw at them.
Two Monkey Run Mongolia events are scheduled for 2023, one in July and another in September. Monkey Run America will also debut in spring 2023, giving you a chance to work your way up to Monkey Run Mongolia.