Rim blues – the end of the story

A week after receiving the rim, I finally found some time over the weekend to get down to it – it was final exams week at work and those days are always hectic.

I had to remove the brake discs from the damaged rim and install the onto the new one, which I expected would not be an easy task, since the five bolts holding each disk were glued to prevent them from coming loose. Then, there were the bearings. The rim I had bought had them fitted, but I did not know whether they would be in better or worse condition than the ones in the old rim.

So, the plan was to paint the rim over the weekend (it was silver, remember), as it required a coat of primer and 24 hours later at least one coat of matt black paint, and then on Monday take both rims and the tire to the shop and have the brake discs transferred, the bearings checked and swapped if necessary and the tire fitted.

Once I got to my parent’s place, however, my father, a retired mechanic, engineer and all-round DIY genius, checked the bearings and found that the ones in the new rim were in much better condition, so they did not need swapping, and he also said he felt confident that we could remove the bolts in the disks ourselves. Seeing a chance to get all the work done in one day, I started to have doubts about paining the rim and delaying things a further couple of days. On top of that, several people had told me that I should keep the rim in silver, as the V-Strom had had a long life and it was a fighter, so having mismatched rims would only add to its charm. The front left indicator is still held together with duct tape since the wind toppled the bike in a fjord in 2013, so I thought they had a point.

We set about removing the bolts, which required a long enough lever and a determined hand. Then I removed the ABS sensor disc, and when we were going to fit it on the new rim, we got an unpleasant surprise.

Even though the rim was for the 2007 to 2010 model, had the exact same codes as the one on my bike, had the disc brakes mounting points in the right place to make room for the ABS sensor disc, and the disc fitted snugly in the space provide for it… there were no mounting holes for the bolts that held it in place!

I could not believe it… Suzuki modified the rim then ABS became available in 2007, but apparently only drilled those holes on models equipped with it, which I personally think is an extra complication in the production line. Why not make all rims the same?

We were not going to let that drawback stop us now, so out came the tool collection that my father had built over decades and we tackled the problem.

We drilled three holes and, with a specialised tool, cut the thread for the bolts in them. The ABS sensor disc was perfectly secured in position and then we mounted the brake discs.

I managed to find a tire shop that was open on a Saturday afternoon and got the tire fitted at the moment for 20€, and the whole wheel finally went back onto the motorbike! All in all, it has taken almost a month, but my pockets are much happier than if I had had to pay for a new rim!

Il cerchio

Having admitted defeat on trying to have the rim repaired here in Barcelona, I considered my options:

  1. Strap it to the back of the AT, ride all the way to Astrakhan and have it fixed there.

As tempting as that sounded, I did not have the time nor the money for it (yet, but I want to go back there in the future).

  1. Buy a new rim.

List price for a new front rim is over 500€, which must be about half as much as my 160,000-kilometre bike is now, so that was also out of the question.

  1. Find a second-hand rim.

Now, that was a more realistic option. I first went to see Fabio at Hamamatsu Motor and told him my story. He agreed that a used rim was the best alternative, and quickly found one online, but it was sold through a professional breaker and it was a bit too expensive.

The cheapest option might be to source one from a private seller through motorbike forums and online ads, so we agreed that I would try that and if I could not find anything, he would order the one we had seen.

The problem is that anything at the front of a motorbike (rim, forks, headlights, etc.) is what breaks first in most accidents, so finding a good rim would be complicated, especially if I wanted it fast. To make matters worse, despite looking practically identical, the wheels for the ABS and non-ABS model are not interchangeable, and the V-Strom 1000 wheel is not compatible either. I spent a week visiting different sites and managed to locate up to four different rims, but they were all from non-ABS bikes. I located one that looked promising in southern Spain – it was in good condition and it was cheap, but for some reason the guy selling it kept me waiting for four days before confirming that it was for a non-ABS model. Argh!

I called Fabio to order the one we had seen, but it had already been sold. These things go fast! I went back online and finally managed to find the right one: ABS, 2007 model. The problem was that it was silver, not black. And in Italy. And more expensive than the other ones I had found… But at this point I could not afford to go on trying to find a good deal, and it was still way cheaper than a new one, so I ordered it.

A week later, it was delivered. I took it home, opened the package and checked that it was the right one.

The codes were the same:

And also the mounting points for the brake discs, which are the main difference between ABS and non-ABS models. The later mount in the hub, while the former have mounting points around the hub to make room for the ABS sensor disc:

Great! The only setback was that despite the fact that the picture in the ad showed the wheel without a tire, it had arrived with an old one fitted, I assume to protect the edge during transport. It was properly fitted and inflated, which meant that I had to go through the hassle of breaking the bead and removing it again… And this time I did not have an extra pair of hands to help me. Oh, and it was the hottest week in the year so far. Yay! Well, once more, good practice for the future. Here you can see how to break the bead with the side stand if you are alone:

The rim and a gun

Day 25 – Friday 19th of July – Astrakhan (0km)

Parental advisory – This post might content strong language and references to sex and drugs.

This morning at about ten I got great news – Arkan called and said that the rim was already fixed and that he would come over in ten minutes to pick me up and take me to the workshop. Valentin, my host, had been acting as an interpreter all this time, as Arkan did not speak any English at all, but today he had work to do and could not come with us, so he told me to call him if I needed anything. While I was waiting for him, Dasha wrote to me on Facebook and told me that she and her friends were going to go for a swim on the river later in the day, and invited me along. We arranged to meet at half past seven near in the same bus stop as last time. It seemed that after a few really boring days I had some things to do again.

I went down to the street and five minutes later Arkan turned up in his black car. We drove to the rough part of town again and he parked in front of a place that looked more like a junk yard than a place that could repair and balance an alloy rim. I was a bit skeptical about the whole thing and how the result would turn out to be, but I had not been able to ask many questions about it due to the language barrier and not wanting to bother my host for translation too much, as I felt I was already abusing his hospitality, having been at his place for a whole week. By now I had learnt that the best thing to do in Russia is just to go with the flow, trust people and let them do their thing, and sure enough, despite the looks of the place, the rim was repaired and it looked very professional.

We took it to a tire workshop that did not look much better to have the tire fitted again. The rim problem was finally solved, but I was a bit worried that the tire might be damaged, as I had ridden for long stretches with no air in it and on really bad roads to get back to Astrakhan. Sourcing a new tire might prove to be difficult and I was not looking forward to spending more time stuck here. Fortunately, once the tire was fitted and inflated, the guy in the workshop checked it with water and soap and it did not seem to leak anywhere. He fitted it for free, which was really nice.

We took the wheel back to the car park where my bike had been for a week. Having the bike in a car park with 24-hour surveillance might sound as a bit of a luxury for a traveler on a tight budget like me, but it only cost 20 rubles a day, which is less than what you would pay for a bottle of water. Arkan helped me fit the wheel back on the bike and when he saw that the air valve cap was missing, he took one off his own car and gave it to me. He also noticed that my chain protector was not fitted, and I explained that I had lost one of the screws due to the vibrations in Kazakhstan. While I was cleaning and greasing the chain he got Valentin on the the phone, who told me that Arkan had told him to tell me that he would take me to a shop where I could get spare screws to fix it.

We got back in the car and he took me not to a shop, but to his own place, where he found a couple of screws that fit and showed me his bike, a Yamaha Fazer 1000. He explained to me that he had had a Honda Fireblade, but had crashed it into the back of a car. I noticed that he had no numberplate on the bike and he told me that it was so that the police could not fine him. Well, rather than explain that, he just made a gesture with his right hand, as if twisting the throttle wide open and said “fuck police”.

With the screw in my pocket, we got back into his car, and he got back on the phone. I thought he was taking me back to my host’s, but then he handed me the phone again. It was Valentin, who told me that Arkan wanted to take me with him and his kids for a swim. I said I was OK with it, as long as I was back in time to meet Dasha and her friends later.

We were driving to the outskirts when we hit a long queue of stopped cars. Without thinking twice, he drove down the street the wrong way and cut to the front of the queue. It turned out it was a level crossing, they are everywhere in Russia and sometimes it takes very long for trains to pass, thus the long queues. We had been waiting for a while, but no trains turned up. Arkan, probably bored of the wait, decided to show me something. He lifted the armrest and took out… a gun. With the two kids in the back seat, who did not seem to be at all surprised. I guess it was not the first time they had seen it. He removed the gun magazine, which was charged with real bullets, removed the bullet from the chamber and gave it to me. It was the first time I had ever held a gun, and I thought that for a first time, it was quite cool that it was an outlaw Russian biker’s gun. I just hoped he did not kill anybody with it before I leave the country, as it now has my prints on it.

We finally made it through the crossing and stopped at a small shop to pick up some friends of his – a skinny guy with big tattoos that looked as badass as Arkan, his girlfriend Natasha, in very skimpy clothes and another guy with a stutter and half rotten teeth that made me think of those “Meth? Not even once” memes.

2013-07-19 16.00.16

We went to a beach between a railroad bridge and a dry dock with a rotting ship in it, which might not sound great, but it was much quieter, nicer and cleaner than the beach in the city center. While we were there we talked about the trip and bikes, and compared prices between bikes in Spain, Russia and Georgia, as it turned out that Arkan was not Russian, but from Georgia. Then, best as he could using gestures and drawing in the sand, he explained that he travelled to Germany quite often, apparently on some kind drug-related business, I gathered. The conversation then turned a bit, let’s say uncomfortable. Using gestures and a few English words, they told that Natasha gave great blowjobs – they all seemed to have had a go at that – and then said “tonight, drugs, -Russian word for sex- Natasha” I laughed and played along for a while, but when we were leaving I told them that I was already meeting other people that night, which was true.

2013-07-19 16.00.42

We dropped Arkan’s friends back in the shop and on the way back to the center he told me that he was a boxer and also practiced several other martial arts, and pointed at his nose, which had obviously been broken several times. Pointing at his kids and his wedding ring, he indicated that it was a good way to let out steam. He also told me that he used to be into illegal street racing in the past, he had owned an Impreza and an M5, but had given it up when he got married.

Back at Valentin’s I thanked him for everything, he had been a really nice guy and had gone out of his way to help me.

I packed my things to get ready for departure the following morning and then took one of the Russian microbuses with crazy drivers to the center to meet Dasha, I did not feel like walking almost 7km again. We bought some beer and she took me to a smaller beach on the other side of the island where we had been last time. It was already late, and the sun was setting, it was a beautiful sight, a huge red ball of fire behind the factories on the other side of the river while I was swimming in the cool water.

After the sun had set, we got back on the bridge and I discovered that the buses stop running at 9 pm, which meant a long walk back home… But then the guys said that there was no way I was leaving so early, we got a taxi and headed for the place where one of them lived, a really old wooden building dating from before the Russian Revolution. It had veranda overlooking the inner court, and we just sat there in the cool night air having a drink and playing the guitar. It made me think what an amazing experience this trip had been so far, there I was sitting with people I had just met, all of them really nice, offering me their drinks, telling me about the Russian songs they were singing.

DCIM112GOPRO

I left at midnight, as I wanted to get up early the following day for the ride back to Volgograd. It was not especially long and the roads were quite good, but I still did not know how the rim repair would hold, so I wanted to have plenty of time just in case. Dasha walked me home, we exchanged contacts and she wished me good luck with the rest of the trip.

Slow news day

Day 24 – Thursday 18th of July – Astrakhan (0km)

We called Arakan today, who gave us the number to the workshop so that we could ask them directly and they said that the rim would be ready on Friday “on the second half of the day”. That meant that I would not be able to leave for Volgograd until Saturday. Apart from that, nothing else happened today… I was about to not write an entry, but since I have got used to writing every day, I decided to do so, even if it was a short one.

First news from the wheel

Day 23 – Wednesday 17th of July – Astrakhan (0km)

Today we called Arkan, he said that the wheel is already in the repair shop and it will be ready tomorrow afternoon or Friday morning. As it was quite badly bent not just because of the road in Kazakhstan, but because the mechanic in the oil plant tried to bang it back into shape with a hammer, the result might not be perfect. Let’s see if at least it holds the air well enough to allow me to continue travelling.

2013-07-17 10.51.25

On the positive side, I discovered why my 12V plug was not working. It is rated at a maximum of 20A, but the guy who installed it had fitted a 10A fuse, which had blown, as the compressor uses 15A.

I got news from Martin, from Uzbekistan. Hit a rock on his GS Adventure and bent the front rim as well. A trucker stopped and helped him bang it back into shape. He said it is holding the air, let’s hope he has better luck than me!

full-10

Good and bad news

Day 21 – Monday 15th of July – Astrakhan (0km)

First of all, the bad news – Today my parents found out that it is not possible to send parcels into Russia, only documents. Fed Ex does send parcels, but with severe weight and value restrictions, and at astronomical prices. So it seemed that it was not possible to get a replacement rim sent from Spain. Plan B it was then.

On Saturday, me and Lex had been looking for bikers in the center, as they are always good help, and had found a contact. A guy named Arkan, a real badass by the looks of it, the kind of big Russian guy that never smiled. We got his number and this morning I got Valentin, my host, to call him. He said he would come and have a look, and at lunchtime he turned up in his big black car. He drove us over to the car park where the bike was, barked at the guard to let him drive in and examined the wheel. He said that it could be fixed, and that he would come back the following days with the tools to remove it from the bike. I said I had the tools and could get it out in five minutes, so I did it. Later Valentin told me that they were a bit impressed, as they had thought I was some kind of amateur who had no idea what to do. He put the wheel into the boot and we went off to a really dodgy part of town to find a tire workshop to remove the tire from the rim. After a couple of stops we got it done and then we went to an even rougher part of town in search of a shop were they could repair it, as the one he knew was apparently not able to do it until Wednesday. We eventually found one, but he was not happy about the price they asked nor about the fact that they did not have the equipment to have the wheel balanced once the job was done. I said that I did not mind waiting a bit longer as long as it was done properly, so he took the wheel with him and said that in a couple of days he would have it fixed. So there is the good news. I hope.

Trouble in the desert

Day 18 – Friday  12th of July – Dossor to somewhere in the desert to Astrakhan (655km)

We woke up at sunrise, shortly after 5 in the morning, and by the time we had got the dust off all our stuff and packed the tents, it was already hot. As we were getting ready to leave, we asked the guy at the petrol station about the state of the roads, and he pointed at my route and said “problem, problem”. It seems that the road was in very bad condition, and people went around for 1,500km to avoid the 600km to Aktobe. I had talked to some bikers on the HUBB who had ridden it, and I thought I would take two days and try to make it.

I felt quite sad saying goodbye to Martin, it had been three great days riding together, and I would have liked to continue having company. Maybe I should have taken the same route as him through the Stans, I would have had the chance to do the Pamir Highway and the landscape would definitely have been more varied than in Kazakhstan. In any case, it was too late now, I had no visas, so Kazakh desert it was.

IMG_7184

The road was still good for about 10km north of Dossor, and then it went back to the kind of very potholed asphalt I had found after the border. The bike was shaking so much that I could not see anything on the GPS, so I reached to hold with my left hand for a second to be able to check the distance, when to my horror the whole assembly, GPS and mount came loose and fell. I stopped to see what had happened and after removing the windscreen I discovered the problem. The windscreen is held in place by four screws, and I had replaced the two at the top for longer ones because that was where the GPS mount attached. It seemed that the vibration had made the weight of the whole assembly act as a lever and the screws had loosened and fallen. I put everything back in place, held it with some electrical wire and hoped it would hold.

IMG_7185

I rode on and after a while the road became the nightmare I had been warned about. It is relatively easy to ride on dirt or gravel roads, but the problem here is that there had been an asphalted road at some point and now it was gone, leaving just some patches here and there, then disappearing, then reappearing, and it was very hard to try and avoid hitting the rough edges. I made very slow progress, and at one point took one of the paths that trucks had made on the side of the road to avoid it. It was soft sand and in ten minutes, the bike slid at the front and I fell.

I was OK, so I removed the tank bag and tried to lift it without removing the rest of luggage. It turned out it is easier on the sand than on asphalt, and I was able to do it on my own. Good thing, because there was nobody else around. I went on, on and off the main road, and about 100km from Dossor I thought I was making decent progress and I would make it to my destination for the day in decent time despite the bad road, when suddenly the bike started handling funny and I had to stop, thinking that I had got a flat tire.

I checked, and I was right, the back tire was flat, so I got the compressor out, plugged it and inflated it. Once it was done I started turning it, checking for damage, but I could not see anything despite turning the tire several times. I was starting to wonder how it had gone flat when I saw it – the rim was dented.

IMG_7186

I had changed the springs on the bike in preparation for the trip, trying to make it a bit more usable off road, but this was still mostly an asphalt and dirt road bike, not a true hardcore endure machine, and the suspension lacked travel compared to a KTM or a BMW and it had bottomed out several times on the harder sections, the rim must have got damaged on one of those occasions. The tire seemed to hold the air, so I weighted my options. I could try and go on to Aktobe, but that was a two day trip on the same kind of roads or worse, and the rim clearly needed repairing or replacing, and that might be hard in Kazakhstan. It seemed that the best option was to head back to Russia, where I had a place to stay and access the internet to arrange for a replacement to be found. I thought about it under the sun for a good while, as that would mean that I could not go back and try this route again, since my Kazak visa only allowed one entry.

IMG_7188

In the end, I decided to turn back. I started making my way back slowly and carefully, and after ten minutes riding I felt that the tire was flat again. I had not panicked yet, since I had been able to inflate the tire and I thought I could make it back to Russia without much trouble, but when I got the compressor out, plugged it in, flicked the switched and realized to my horror that the thing would not start, I felt panic starting to build up. I was in the middle of nowhere, a hundred kilometers away from the closest city, and I had no way to inflate that tire again. Things were starting to get bad.

IMG_7187

I thought that I needed to arrange some kind of transport to get the bike to a repair shop, so I stopped a passing van to try and get some help. They were workers from an oil rig, and one of them spoke a little English. He told me that there was no recovery truck anywhere nearby, so there was nothing they could do. He then draw a rudimentary map on my notebook indicating that there was an oil rig or refinery or something like that five or six kilometers down the road and that I should try to make it there and ask for help. I got on the bike and slowly rode in first gear, trying to avoid the roughest parts of the road, but it was impossible not to hit some bad patches from time to time, event riding in first gear. Sweaty and miserable, I made it to the gates of the plant almost an hour later. I called the security guy at the door and tried to explain my problem. We spent at least half an hour with me trying to explain that I needed to get back to Astrakhan and him trying to make me understand that there was no transport to be arranged. The only thing travelling on those roads were oil tankers coming and going from the wells, and it was not possible to put the bike on one of them. Then he asked me if I had dollars, and seemed to indicate that he could fix the wheel. He made some phone calls and then gestured me to take the wheel off the bike, so I took out the tools and got down to it in the scorching heat at the entrance of the plant.

IMG_7190

Another guy came, apparently a mechanic who worked there, and took the wheel into the plant. He came half an hour later, with the tire inflated but some chunks of lip missing where he had tried to bang it back into shape. I checked it and it seemed to hold the air, so I put it back on the bike, paid them and got back on the road as soon as possible.

IMG_7189

I thought that the botch job would not hold for long, and I was already regretting having paid them when I saw a bike approaching o the road. We stopped and it turned out to be a guy called Wesley, from the UK, who was following the same route as me before I broke the rim. He complained about the state of the road (and he was riding a better bike than mine for that kind of stuff) we discovered that we both knew Stephen Stallebrass  and we exchanged details. He wished me luck and we parted ways.

IMG_7191

The botch job got me all the way back to Dossor, where I got some petrol and checked the pressure. I asked several people again, but I got the same answer, no recovery truck, no way to take the bike back into Russia. Seeing that the tire was holding, I decided to try and make it there myself, especially because it was getting darker and the wind was blowing very strong, there was a sandstorm forming. I zigzagged my way out of the petrol station through the queue of huge tankers that were waiting to fill up with diesel in the last town before heading into the desert and into the storm, and started making my way back. The tire held the air well all the way to Atyrau, where I stopped to check the air pressure. It was still OK, so I pushed to the border, hoping to make it to Astrakhan before nighttime.

I had avoided the sand storm in Dossor, but the sky was getting dark and there seemed to be heavy rain to my right. It was still very hot, and I did not want to waste time stopping and taking out the waterproof layer for the suit, so I decided to take the risk. About half an hour later the rain started, big drops that soaked me up quickly. Fortunately, it did not last very long, and before getting close to the border I was starting to dry up. I was starting to feel confident that I was going to make it, but then I got to the bad section before the border and hit a couple of potholes; sure enough, the tire went flat again instantly. I limped to a small group of huts by the side of the road, but they did not have a pump. Back on the road, I stopped a couple of Ukrainian tractor heads who connected a hose to the truck’s air system and pumped my tire. I made it to about 10km from the border before it went flat again, and things were getting bad. The sun had set, I was exhausted and the tire did not seem to hold for more than 10km at a time. I limped the last 10 km to the border with a flat tire, and while waiting for the passport and bike papers to be checked, talked to another truck driver who pumped my tire. I was only about 30km from my host’s apartment in Astrakhan, but the tire let go again when I arrived at the pontoon bridge on the river. Crossing it with the bike in perfect conditions was scary, doing it again with a flat tire was absolutely terrifiying. The bike slid all over the place, and more than once I was very close to losing it. Sweaty and shaking, I made it to the other side. I had only 20km to go, and I tried to stop a car to try and plug my compressor into their 12V socket, maybe it was only the socket on my bike that was not working and the compressor itself was ok, but nobody stopped. After a while I saw a petrol station and a girl who had stopped there for petrol let me try in her car. It worked, and that last charge was enough to get me to the apartment, where Lex and and Valentin were waiting for me. It was almost midnight, and never in my life had I been so happy to see somebody. They gave me some dinner, I had a quick shower and just crashed into bed.