Einar Söderén was a Swedish army lieutenant who in 1925 decided to go adventuring. Riding his 12 horsepower 550cc Husqvarna V-twin, Söderén headed off south from Europe with northern Africa in sight. In mid-March, he encountered frozen and snow-covered roads on his 14,000-kilometre trip – but temperatures would soon increase…
In 1921, Söderén had acquired his first motorcycle. It was a Husqvarna model 160 V-twin, which he used for recreation. Then he did longer trips, covering many Swedish towns on his travels. “It wet my appetite for more,” he said afterwards.
Einar Söderén started to look into the horizon and bought his new 1925 Husqvarna model 170, which was prepared for an extensive journey. The 12 hp side-valve engine, coupled with a 3-speed gearbox, had automatic oiling together with a Schebler carburettor. The machine featured a Bosch light and Söderén equipped it further with sturdy leather cases and an extra canister for carrying reserve fuel. One was filled with spare parts while the other contained a suit, extra shoes, four socks, six shirts, two pairs of underpants, two caps, a camera and a toiletry bag. “As I did my trip alone, I also carried a Browning pistol,” the adventurous Swede laughed.
Having travelled the first 600 kilometres on home turf, Einar crossed over to Denmark where he also switched into right-hand side riding. In Germany, Söderén met with hard-surfaced roads, which contained stones. Having passed Cologne, Söderén hit the Ardennes in Belgium when he went the wrong way and entered Luxemburg. “It was actually the only time that I went the wrong way during my trip,” he proudly said. The ride over steep mountains meant going over foggy passages, hard to accomplish. The rear lights glowed like red devil’s eyes in the dark. “Sometimes, I walked alongside my motorbike with the big wheels tugging the wet snow,” he said.
Most roads in France were battered after the war. Söderén was doing 50 km/h on his way towards Paris. Arriving, he made a stop with his Husqvarna and interested Parisians swarmed the machine wondering what make this beast was. Despite genuine publicity, the brand was not marketed here – yet. High season had just begun in Biarritz and Söderén’s machine still fascinated the French.
Going over the Pyrenees, the lieutenant arrived in Spain where roads again were hard on his Husqvarna. “But my bike never tired although I had to change front fork springs here.” In Madrid, Söderén stayed four days for his initial rest. “I went to see bull-fighting, but wasn’t impressed when they slaughtered the beasts,” he told. In Sevilla, Söderén met with summer and soon he came to Gibraltar before the ferry-crossing to Africa. Here, he filled up his canister, which gave prolonged mileage to the 11 litres in the original tank. “I had to use the extra fuel a couple of times,” Söderén admitted.
An English vessel took the rider & bike to Casablanca in Morocco. “It was an expensive journey,” our globetrotter stated. “Arriving, I made an overhaul, exchanging the piston rings and cleaning the engine from carbon emissions. After many miles, a new chain was also due, so I replaced the old one. I also gave the engine an extra dose of oil every 50 kilometres to make it run smoother. The exhausts left a blue smokescreen after the added oil. My personal gear was upgraded, and I switched from leathers to Kaki clothes and a tropical hat covering my head from the sun.”
Söderén rode 300 km south to the old capital of Marrakech, situated in the often-snow-clad Atlas Mountains. Here, he met with Islamic traditions and a 42-day religious Ramadan feast. “Interesting, but not getting any accommodation, I backtracked all the way to Casablanca before going to sleep again,” he said. Traversing North Africa, Söderén ran out of oil and had to buy an extra small Mobil Oil canister for his onward adventures. “The petrol stations were scarce, and you had to be careful to not run out of fuel,” he told. The trip through Algeria was pleasant with good roads, plenty of delicious food and splendid hotels. Traces from the old war between the French and the locals could be seen everywhere, but both Alger and Tunis were now modern cities. It would turn out different in Egypt…
From the start, Söderén intended to take the fastest track to Cairo, but would have been delayed as there were no acceptable connections at sea. Instead, he boarded a vessel north to Civitavecchia outside Rome. Before carrying away on the Italian strada, Söderén hit the capital streets with lots of effective sightseeing on his comfortable Husqvarna.
“It was nice to experience the famous sights in this vast city,” he said. “Continuing, I saw wonderful sceneries with beautiful towns situated on hills, looking like bird-nests. These ‘fortresses’ were surrounded by castles and walls to improve the impression. There was an incident on my tour to Naples. Some barking dogs came out on the road and I tried to dismiss them. However, one of them bit me and I had to use my Browning, shooting this evil creature. Displeased farmers turned up as they heard the shot, but they soon realized that I had a gun and was injured by their dog, so they returned home. On top of it all, I learnt that Mussolini punished armed people without a weapons license. Being caught, it would have meant six months in jail, so I took the fastest road to Naples, surviving without further incidents.”
Miles before Naples, smoke from the volcano of Vesuvius could be seen in the distance. Of course, Söderén climbed the heights of this volcano and also went to visit the island of Capri with the famous “Grotta Azzurra” (Capri’s Blue Cave). Pompeii was on his agenda too, before going to sea again – this time traveling to Alexandria in Egypt.
It was now June, two-and-a-half months into this bike adventure. Arriving in the Egyptian heat was overwhelming, but people avoided the worst by resting between midday and 4 o’clock. There were troubles at the customs clearance into this bureaucratic country. Despite the fact that the machine had a ‘carnet’ – an international customs clearance declaration – the authorities made a fuss about everything. It resulted in a 3-hour arrest as Söderén’s gun was discovered, which didn’t make customs officials any happier. After tense discussions and helping words from the local Husqvarna agent mister Anlyan, Söderén finally hit the road again. He spent a few days in Alexandria and then man and machine set sights on Cairo – one of the big African goals.
Dirt roads gave little grip and were impossible to conquer in wet conditions. There was mud, mud and more mud during this rainy season, but then it dried out after only two days, Söderén arrived in the vast capital. He looked at historical monuments in this whirlwind city. “Early one morning, I intended to go south along the Nile River, but was instead taken to hospital after being poisoned by ill food in the previous night. I arrived in a German camp and the doctor probably saved my life before I returned riding again. But the effects from my illness put the journey into perspective and I had to take it easy from then on. The Nile was abandoned so I went to visit the Suez Canal instead.”
In the Sinai desert, the 28-inch wheels got stuck in deep sand. Four Arabs eventually turned up and helped him out of trouble. When they saw that Söderén had money, the situation turned grave. The Arabs threatened with their clubs but disappeared seeing that Söderén was armed! In order to return, he was forced to take the train instead of risking being caught again. “It was the only time I cheated during my travels,” he said.
Jerusalem was the last stopover for Söderén before turning north. “I was weak after the poisoning and steered towards Europe. On my way to Port Said, I ran into a steep ditch, which was discovered too late to miss it. But my sturdy Husqvarna was up to the strain and I continued homebound,” he said. In Port Said, Söderén boarded a ship with destination to Genova. Arriving, he was close to an accident as some Italian drivers came towards him on the wrong side of the street. “People used the entire road where the surface was best, without looking left or right. I had to brake hard and one of the gearbox cogs broke. Fortunately, I could go to Switzerland, where the Husqvarna agent sent for spare parts. After a few days, I was able to repair my vehicle.” Staying a week in Paris meant a new machine service and a few parts from Sweden. After that, Söderén took the sea road from Rotterdam to Malmö. The final 600 km in the beginning of August did not pose any troubles. Completing four and a half months and 14,000 kilometres, Einar Söderén was back in Stockholm – with lots of memories and a motorcycle fit for new adventures!