The new sarcophagus moves into place at Chernobyl

The new sarcophagus, or New Safe Confinement, to use its official name, has finally been completed and moved into place.

24 years after Ukraine called for the need of a new structure to replace the hastily built original sarcophagus, designed only as a temporary containment solution, and 9 years after construction finally began, yesterday the colossal structure sled into its final location.

The 36,000+ tonnes structure was build 180 metres away from reactor 4 to keep workers at a safe distance from radiation, and it started slowly moving into position a couple of weeks ago.

This is not the end of the project, though. Two walls have to be built to cover the ends of the structure, and then work will start inside to demolish the unstable structures of the old sarcophagus.

Related posts:

Chernobyl – The sarcophagus 30 years later

My visit to Chernobyl and Prypyat

Back in Black

Almost 20,000km in 8 months. That has been the result of commuting daily, going away at weekends and one long summer trip since I took delivery of my AT at the end of March.

It hasn’t taken me long to work out that, at this rate, I will have put 100,000km on it in four years, and I can’t afford to change bikes so fast (I still don’t have a YouTube channel popular enough for BMW to give me free bikes…), so I have decided to use the AT at weekends and for adventure trips and put the V-Strom back in daily commuting service.

The bike had been stored for the 8 months I had had the AT, and this time I didn’t even bother unplugging the battery because I wanted to take it out every now and then at weekends to keep it running, but didn’t really have the time. In spite of this, the engine started first time and the bike went straight back into daily use a couple of weeks ago.

This weekend I finally had some time, so I gave it a major service to keep it running smoothly. I changed the oil and filter and the spark plugs, and poured some Metal Lube into the tank. Maybe it’s just psychological, but I would swear the bike is already running smoother. I also lubricated the clutch cable with this contraption I had bought for 4€ and some WD40.

I didn’t know how effective it would be, but I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised – the clutch is now much easier to operate, which makes a welcome difference in everyday traffic.

Here’s a video (not mine) showing how it works.

Having clocked over 150,000km, I am now just curious to see how many more this bike can take with daily use and regular servicing.

How to get the bikes to Morocco

One of the first things we looked at once we had the dates and a rough outline of the route we were going to do was to consider which options we had to get to Morocco. There are more than 1,000 km of motorway to get to the ferry that crosses the Gibraltar strait, too much to ride on one day.

The first alternative we considered was the ferry from Barcelona to Tangier – it would save us a long ride, petrol, tolls, tires… but unfortunately the ferry does not operate every day, and there was no ferry available for our departure day, the 26th of December.

The second alternative was to put the bikes on a trailer and drive to Algeciras. We would be able to take turns at the wheel, reducing fatigue and pay fuel and tolls only for one vehicle. It sounded like a good plan, if it were not for a couple of details – one, we did not have a trailer; two, none of our cars had a trailer hitch. Then Gerard remembered that his family have a trailer in his hometown – not a trailer for motorbikes, but a big one nevertheless, big enough to take three trail bikes. Not the kind to be easily discouraged, we rode halfway across the country to see the trailer and test whether the bikes would fit on it. If they did, then we could consider fitting a trailer hitch on my car and splitting the cost among the five of us.

The trailer was big indeed, but definitely not designed for motorbikes. It was quite high and did not have a ramp, so we had to improvise. Gerard provided an old desk that looked sturdy enough to support the weight of my bike (the biggest one) and I got it up the improvised ramp using the throttle and clutch while walking next to it, with the rest of the guys holding its back.

Once we got it on the trailer, it became clear that there was no way three bikes were going to fit in there.

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That would have been the end of the trailer story, but a friend of mine offered to us his, which is specific for bikes. With our hopes up again, I went to get a quote for fitting a trailer hitch to my car and, to my dismay, it was a lot more than we had anticipated. Not only that, but there would be the extra cost of homologation, including a trailer in the insurance policy, the paperwork and having an extra license plate made. On top of that, the trailer is designed to fit three bikes, but of a smaller kind – endure bikes, race bikes… we had no guarantee that it would be able to take three big trails. That, and the time it would take to find secure parking for the car and the trailer near the port for two weeks plus the potential cost finally put us off the idea.

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We also considered having the bikes sent as I did when I visited the south a couple of years ago, but the shipping costs for a two-way transport service, plus plane tickets were too high compared with fuel and tolls.

Finally, I was told that there is another ferry line connecting Almeria to Melilla and Nador, which would save us about 300km, bringing the ride down to about 800. We reckoned that if we set off early we could be in Almeria by early afternoon, giving us time to have a good rest and enjoy some tapas before taking the ferry before sunrise the following day.

Planning is half the fun!

Two weeks of holidays for Christmas mean that another big trip is coming up. This time I am going to head south for the first time – Morocco!

I have no excuse for not having visited Morocco yet. Living in Barcelona, Morocco offers a taste of African adventure only a day’s ride away from me, making the desert one of the big must-see destinations for European bikers alongside the Nordkapp, Stelvio Pass, Transfagarasan Road, etc. Well, actually, I do have an excuse – I only have holidays in August, Easter and Christmas, and can not take any days off besides that. Easter would be the perfect time to visit Morocco, but I only have a week, which is too short to ride there, see enough and then ride back. I have a lot more time in the summer, but the temperatures are too high, which leaves the winter holidays. It will be cold and we won’t be able to see most of the Atlas mountains, but there is a lot more to discover.

dsc_0777I won’t be riding alone this time, though – we are going to be five people in three motorbikes.

We’ll keep you posted!

Route – On: From Sant Llorenç natural park to Serra de Llaers (117km)

The route

As part of the preparations for the Christmas trip, this is a morning ride with Nat to test the winter gear on a route with many corners and great views this time of year.

The route starts in Castellar del Vallès, where we take the B-124 through Sant Llorenç i la Serra de l’Obac natural park. These roads combine lots of corners, great tarmac and excellent views which, together with their proximity to Barcelona and several other important towns, makes them a popular destination among riders and cyclists on weekends. Better take this part easy to prevent accidents.

The next bit, from Calders to Moià on the N-141c, is a flowing open road from where you might get the first glimpse of the Pyrenees if the day is clear and ride faster, but be careful, it is a favourite spot for the police to catch speeding bikers.

In Moià we leave the main road to take another remote back road, this time without traffic or cyclists, on the C-59 until the C-25 or Eix Transversal, which we only take for a few kilometres until the C-62 to Sant Bartomeu del Grau, where the route takes small roads again until Sant Agustí de Lluçanés. All this part of the route can be done on dirt tracks, which run more or less on the parallel area to the road, with even better landscape, as we did on this other route.

From Sant Agustí the road goes down to the C-17 in Sant Quirze de Besora. The cold test has been a success, and to celebrate it we ride up to the Hostal Serra de Llaers were we treat ourselves to some excellent butifarra and the local speciality, duck.

If you do not want to ride back the narrow road to Sant Quirze, the road (or sealed track) goes on past the restaurant until the outskirts of Ripoll. It is also possible to take a dirt track to the left a few kilometres after the Hostal that goes directly down to the C-17 (see the route mentioned earlier).

Map

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Where to eat

The Hostal Serra de Llaers is a farmhouse lost in the middle of the mountains, reached by 9km of narrow sealed track from Santa María de Besora. Another 9km go down to the N-260a road near Ripoll. The grilled meat is excellent, and duck is the house speciality, with great home made desserts to round off a great meal.

Yamaha T7 Ténéré Concept

Yamaha unveiled this long-awaited bike – albeit still in concept form only – yesterday at EICMA and it pretty much stole the show, at least for us adventure riders.

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When the Iwata firm first introduced its 900cc three-cylinder engine in the best-selling MT-09 we were all hoping that among the bikes that would eventually spawn off that cpowerplant there would be a mid-size adventure bike to fill the gap between the XT660 Ténéré and the XT1200Z Super Ténéré, something that would be powerful enough for long distance riding with luggage and maybe a passenger, but light enough to venture offroad beyond easy dirt tracks.

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With all adventure bikes having grown bigger and fatter, there were only two 800cc bikes covering that gap in the market – BMW’s GS and Triumph’s Tiger. A year later, when Honda took the wraps off their True Adventure prototype, with a 1000cc engine, it became glaringly obvious that Yamaha had to do something with their 900cc triple to get a foot on that market.

Well, it seems that it was not so obvious to them, as what we got was the Tracer 900, a bike that was more a replacement for the ancient TDM900 than a trail with any offroad pretensions. I was disappointed and got a second-hand Super Ténéré.

It seems though, that Yamaha has finally to take up the fight, and having made truck loads of money from their MT-09 and Tracer they have finally come up with a proper adventure bike.

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The T7 concept does not use the 900cc engine, which in the end might turn out to be a good thing, as it would make the bike heavy and its power delivery would not be suitable for technical riding (that is precisely what I did not like about the Triumph Tiger). Instead, they have gone for the smaller 700cc engine from the MT-07, another best-seller.

Like Honda did, they seem to have been doing their homework and studied all the relevant adventure riding internet forums wish lists. The T7 prototype has 21 and 18-inch wire wheels, KYB suspension and is estimated to weight about 180kg and have 74bhp.

Those two last figures need to be officially confirmed, but if the end result is near, this might turn out to be a serious offroad rival for Honda’s AT.

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Like the True Adventure concept, the T7 looks pretty much a finished bike, so by the time it reaches production in 2018 not much should change. My guess is that it will get a less radical seat, the front fairing will incorporate a regular headlight and the Dakar-style instrument panel will be replace by a regular one, most likely the one already seen in the Tracer and facelifted Super Ténéré.

The market is getting interesting… Your move now, BMW.

Pictures: Yamaha

Route – Off: Castellterçol a Orís (76km)

This route is based on a track from the website Moterus, created by Miguel 650, with an extra segment added at the beginning between Castellterçol and Collsuspina by a mate who is a walking atlas when it comes to offroad routes. Gràcies Ricard!

We meet at 8:30 in a bar called Can Joan on the C-59 just outside Caldes. We were supposed to meet in the Bar Olimpo, a regular meeting point for cyclists and bikers alike, but we found it closed on vacation. After a generously-sized sandwich and coffee, we hit the road.

The route that I have programmed in the GPS starts in the outskirts of Moià, heading for Tona, but Ricard suggests approaching the starting point through a track he knows to warm up. Outside Castellterçol there is a small industrial estate called El Vapor, where the track starts between to warehouses. After a short stop to disconnect the ABS and the TCS, the first two members of today’s group shoot off leaving a cloud of dust in their wake. Clearly, they were craving a bit of offroad action… I have no experience in enduro and I do not usually ride dirt tracks on purpose, rather end up in them, but since I got the new motorbike I have been exploring more and more its possibilities, which are far greater than my offroad skills, to tell the truth. The group I am with today, in contrast, have extensive experience on the brown stuff, so I am in for a crash course (literally).

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The track connects Castellterçol and Collsuspina through fields and is quite flat and easy, in fact it is accessible by car without trouble. Once there, we head west on tarmac for about 5 kilometres until we reach the beginning of the track I have uploaded on my GPS, right outside Moià. The first part of the route is an uphill track through the forest which, after a few tight corners, opens up to faster sections, always with good surface and good visibility, allowing fast progress. A few kilometres further, though, we have to slow down a bit as we see signs of what seems to be a MTB race or event and, sure enough, a bit later we start coming across bicycles heading the opposite way. We ride this bit slowly, and after a short stop to admire the views, leave behind the MTB course and have the track to ourselves until we reach the BV-4316 road just over some tunnels in the C-25.

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After crossing the road, another short track segment brings us to the C-62 main road. At first it seems that we have to ride tarmac for a while, but then we discover a service track that runs parallel to the road, crossing it here and there, allowing us to stay on the brown stuff until the B-433, where the route takes us inevitably on tarmac until Sant Bartomeu del Grau.

From here we start the most remote part of the route, a narrower and winding track through the forest, where we have a great time. In a tight downhill corner, next to an old electricity company hut and a fire extinction pond, the forest opens into a viewpoint perched over the Riera de Sorreig, with beautiful views.

The track keeps going down from here until a small reservoir and then goes up again, the forest thinning to reveal some farms here and there. While riding past one of them, on another tight downhill corner, my front wheel loses grip and I land on my right side. I must have been doing 30 or 40 km/h and, fortunately, have not hurt myself, but it has been without any warning at all. We lift the bike and check for damage; the upper crash bars have moved and made contact with the fairing, but a good pull between three of us bend them back in position, and there is nothing broken – indicator, mirror, brake lever… everything checks out. A closer look reveals that the brunt of the impact went to the lower crash bars, then the upper ones, the hand guards and the passenger footpeg. Crash bars are a good thing to have.

The track goes on, nice and level, until reaching Sant Boi del Lluçanès, where we ride tarmac for a very short while in the BV-4608 before turning left into the forest again. A few hundred meters in, another track starts to the right, going up to the Sant Salvador de Bellver monastery.

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The detour is worth taking, the views from the monastery are stunning, in a clear day like today one can see very far.

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We spend a while enjoying the views, chatting and joking, until we realise that right behind us the monks are in the church, sitting in a circle and meditating, so we decided to move on and not spoil their karma.

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After riding back down to the main track we pursue the route, which describes a long curve around the hill where the monastery was until we pass below it on the north face and the track starts losing altitude in one of the best sections of the morning. The confidence I had lost in the front tire is slowly coming back, and I increase the pace and enjoy this last bit before Orís, where the route ends.

Map

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From here, the C-17 leads back home to Barcelona, but Ricard suggests a nice place to have lunch and make the route a bit longer, this time on tarmac. We ride up the C-17 to Sant Quirze de Besora, where we take a smaller road to Santa Maria de Besora and then an even smaller one, little more than a sealed track, until the Hostal La Serra de Llaers, a farmhouse turned restaurant in the middle of nowhere where we celebrate the end of the route with a huge salad and grilled sausages. The sealed track goes on past the restaurant, but to save ourselves the ride all the way up to the N-260a we take another track, the last bit offroad, that connects to the C-17 just south of Ripoll.

Map

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What to see

This is an offroad route (aside from the short connecting tarmac sections), so the most interesting thing is the riding itself and the views. That said, it is worth taking a detour to visit the monastery and church of Sant Salvador de Bellver, whose origins date back to the year 1100. Abandoned during the 20th Century until it fell into disrepair, it has now been occupied by a community that have restored and enlarged the site. From atop the hill you can see great views including the Plana de Vic, Montseny and Montserrat mountains and even the Pyrenees.

Where to eat

At the beginning of the route, the road bar Olimpo is a classic meeting point for cyclists and bikers alike to have a good breakfast before setting off. At the end of the route by lunchtime, and if you are willing to ride a bit longer (30km), the food in Hostal de la Serra de Llaers is excellent.