Marc is on the move again

Day 17 – 16th August – Osh (0km)

‘I’m leaving Naryn’ read the message on my phone when I woke up. The day before, Marc had hitched a ride up to Tash Rabat, put the wheel on the bike, taken it down to Naryn and now was heading for Osh.

I went up to Muztoo to see how Romuald, the French guy, was doing. He had finished plugging all the wire harness back, installed the exhaust system and was getting ready to start putting plastics back on. I suggested that, before doing that and while we still had access to everything, we should try and start it.

He put in the key, turned it and pressed the ignition button. We held our breath. The engine spluttered and roared to life. It worked! We checked the dashboard, exp,eting the über complicated electronics of the bike to complain that we had plugged something wrong, but everything seemed fine.

He was very relieved to see that it worked, and we arranged to meet that night for dinner with the rest of the adventure bikers.

I got another text from Marc by midday informing that he had already reached Kazarman and enquiring whether it was a good idea to push on to Osh on the same day. I advised him against it, as it was a long way to go and being tired on these roads is a serious mistake. Katja also wrote, she had not been feeling well, and a visit to the hospital revealed that she had a kidney and bladder infection, which meant that she was also stuck here for a few more days.

I spent the rest of the day catching up with my writing, and at night we had a big dinner and too much beer to celebrate the BMW was alive. Romuald said that he was not risking it any further, he was going to start heading back home via Azerbadjan, where his European insurance cover started, so I wished him the best of luck and told him to come visit Barcelona any time he wanted.

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Crash course as BMW technician

Day 16 – 15th August – Osh (0km)

This was my third day in Osh and I was starting to get bored. There was no way I was going to spend the whole day resting, so I got on the bike and went to Muztoo’s workshop.

Two days earlier I had met a French guy there who was taking apart his GS. Apparently, there was a seal somewhere deep at the heart of the bike that had gone and it was leaking oil. You would have thought that maybe it was possible to just keep adding oil, but it would spill onto the dry clutchplate, rendering it useless, so he had to take the bike apart to access that seal and replace it. And I mean literaly take the bike apart. When I was there on Monday he was already halfway through disassembling it, and today (Thursday) he had already received the part he needed, a guy who was flying in from Moscow had taken it with him as a favour, and had fitted it. He now had to put the bike back together, which at this point was split in two halves.

I had nothing better to do, so I helped him. It was not easy, as he was quite stressed out when he took it apart and there were bolts, nuts, clips, parts of the wiring harness and other bits and pieces lying everywhere around the workshop, all unlabelled, and we’re talking about a top-of-the-range BMW 1200 GS Adventure with electronic Touratech suspension front and back.

When we were going to bolt the whole back of the bike – subframe, swingarm, etc. – to the front part, we realised that the shaft had dislodged in the final drive, so we had to remove everything and disassemble that part to fix it.

When we opened it I could not believe what I saw. It was completely full of water and thick mud!

He had told me that he had got stuck in a river crossing going into Tajikistan, about 30 kilometres south of the border. He was wading through with a guy from New Zealand he had just met, and it was already late in the afternoon/evening, so the water level was much higher than in the morning. He went in and the pebbles that the river was washing stuck to his wheels. The other guy helped him get off and hold the bike from one side, but it was too stuck to get it to the other shore, and the river kept washing more rocks against one side of the bike and washing them away from under his feet on the other, so soon he was holding the bike with the water up to his waist. The New Zealand guy told him to let the bike go and save himself, but he refused to do it and told him to ride back to the border crossing and get help. He was there for hours, at 4100 metres, deep in freezing water, holding the bike, until help arrived.

We took the whole swingarm assembly apart and washed it thoroughly. As we were putting it back together, I took a look at the rubber seals and realised they really did nothing more than act as dust seals. I hoped the bearings in the final drive would be better sealed, but I understood that no matter how much marketing bullshit BMW rams down people’s throats, these bikes are NOT made for adventure riding. Literally everyone we met in the workshop going long distance were on Africa Twins, DR650s, Ténérés, XT600s, Transalps and other similar easy-to-fix bikes.

By seven o’clock in the evening the bike was in one piece again, but there was a lot to do before he could find out whether it would run or not. I promised to go back the following day to see what happened.

While I was there I also took the chance to straighten my handlebars and check that all the bolts I needed to undo to change my wheels were not too tight, a leasson I learned the hard way from Marc’s bike.

The hard way to Osh II

Day 13 – 12th August – Kazarman to Osh (268km)

The sun and the heat woke me up before the alarm clock rang – the sun here is already up before 6am – and the first thing I noticed was that I had slept soundly all night desite my back. I turned tentatively in bed, expecting the pain to be much worse now that the painkillers and adrenaline would have worn off and my body had had time to cool dow but, surprinsingly, the pain was about the same as the night before. I found out that, while I could not lift my arm any more than about 10 degrees from its resting postion while standing, if I grabbed it with my hand and moved with my other arm I could do a full rotation without pain, which gave me some hope that it might not be a fracture, otherwise I would be in a lot more pain.

I manage to strap my bag on the bike and put on all the gear without having to ask Katja for help, even though I had a serious distraction making things difficult for me.

We left and headed for what we expected to be a hard second half of the journey to Osh. Well, at least this time we were leaving early. We knew we had about another 160 kilometres of dirt road and a mountain pass before finding tarmac on the main road from Bishkek to Osh.

I was quite comfortable riding on the bike, and most of the time my back did not hurt. The climb up the mountain pass had a few tight turns with sand that I had to take with caution, and from time to time there would be huge trucks coming down the road and kicking so much dust in the narrow road that we just stopped near the edge and let them through, but in general I was able to enjoy the views.

About 40 kilometres before the main road we got to yet another small town and found tarmac. I was not getting my hopes up, as I had learned the hard way that the main stret is tarmac in every village, but it disappears the moment the village ends. However, this time we got lucky, and after ‘only’ 120 kilometres of dirt tracks we were finally on tarmac all the way to Osh.

We got there in good time, at about 4 in the afternoon, with almost 40 degrees of heat and the mad anarchic traffic of any big city in this part of the world. You’d think that I would have gone straight for the hospital, but that was not what I did. Insted, I went to Muztoo, a workshop that caters for the needs of all the adventure riders that pass through Osh on their way to Tajikistan, China, Mongolia, India, far East Asia or travelling around the world.

The workshop was bustling with activity, lots of people toiling on their bikes to do maintenance or repairs, but soon as I explained what I needed to do with Marc’s wheel, the mechanic found me a new Mitas E-07 tire and fitted it. With that first challenge completed, I said goodbye to Katja, who was just reunited with her boyfriend, and rode off to the CBT office in Osh to see if there was any tourist transport leaving for Naryn that could take the wheel to Marc. My original intention had been to go back with the wheel myself, but after seeing the state of the road and then having the crash, there was no way I could do that.

The girl in the CBT office really went out of her way to help me, and even though there was no tourist transport doing that route in the next three days, he put me in touch with a taxi driver who said he’d give the wheel to another driver who would leave the following morning, drive all day to Bishkek and then the following day drive south to Naryn and deliver the wheel, all for 2000 som (about 26 euros). I gave him the money and the wheel, hoping that he would make good on his promise, and finally headed for my hostel.

I rode across the city centre following the directions on my GPS, but when I got to where the hostel was supposed to be, there was only a derelict factory. No worries, these usually happens in soviet countries, there are several levels of buildings off the street, so I probably just had to drive around the block and would find the hostel behind. Only there was no block to drive around, the street was neverending. I made a U-turn and tried in the other direction, but it was the same story. I went back to the factory and realised that in the gates that led into it there was a tiny sign that read ‘hostel’ with a painted arrow pointing through the gates. I rode in and indeed there was the hostel, at the end of a creepy alley at the back of the factory, past a construction site.

Exhausted again, I checked in and crashed in the bed of a tiny single room in the third floor, right under a roof that had been baking under the sun all day.