Friday, 27 April 2012

Must try this disappearing thing again.....

My arm is now fixed - many thanks David for your hard work this week; it is much appreciated and I shall send you a postcard. And also to Hilary for being such a good egg, and David's friend Gillian for top tips on travel sleep with a manky arm.

But the best news of all ( for me at least) is that while I've been away, my bike has` been miraculously sorted out by the various people currently squatting in my house. 12v charger wired in, bike run, useless Chinese oil with accumulated swarf drained and replaced with fresh non swarfy oil, seat and rack put back on, headlamp grill sorted. Just got to locktite nuts, extend the backrack, put the legshields back on, find the spare passport I have misplaced (its the 'clean' one of course, and so quite important but it will be somewhere.....I hope), then turn up on Thursday and ride to China. Good old biker mates - top people!

Also had a phone call from bro in law in Ulan Bataar to say the tyres I sent out two months ago have arrived safe and sound. Somewhat bizarre to be standing in my room at the Police Rehab place in lovely rural Oxfordshire, and be talking to a bloke 10000 miles away in a ger in the coldest capital city in the world about my bike. Mad. Almost as mad as me buying a train ticket from Ulan Bataar to Beijing over the phone on Wednesday - cost £195.00 but then I got a call back to say the exchange rates had been revised so it was actually only £168.00 Result.

Catch up pics - including one of the newly mended arm - to follow on Sunday.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

A bit of limb-o........

So close but still not quite there. I'm away at the moment getting my arm fixed -  might be a rotator cuff injury but hopefully not and it can be fixed with intensive physio at the Police Rehabilitation Centre at Goring (near Reading). They are superb and have fixed me before, so I'm very confident that I'll be sorted. It had hurt so much on the ride across Africa though that I was almost on the point of not being able to carry on, but as the point of no return had long since vanished into the Sahara, I just kept riding and got Sue and Nadine to help me manipulate it and manage it that way. But things look good and ,we're still on for next Thursday and ride time!

So poor old Nadine has been doing the last minute jobs, and we now have plates, visas, essential spares and tyres,a medical kit and even a packing list! Haven't ridden the scoots yet but we will on Sunday. Gordon is planning to ride with us as far as Germany before heading back to work, then we're on our own. Us and the Chinese scoots and 10 000 miles -scarily exciting.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Bikes are working!!!!

Yaay! My bike started first time - much to Nadine's annoyance as hers was still playing hard to get. But thanks to good old Peter Darke ( of Darke Cycles, Sunderland - top man, good pal, and fellow C90 to Gambia rider) we traced the problem to a faulty kill switch. So we were almost there ourselves but couldn't nail it - until Peter said ' maybe it's a reverse switch', which is exactly what it turned out to be.

We had removed it and joined the wires to complete the circuit - but actually, the wires needed to be separate as joining them broke it. Simple, infuriatingly frustrating, but now we know!

New point and shoot camera arrived yesterday. No extending lens on this one to be jammed by dust and grit, and easy to keep in a top pocket. Yet it is a move to the dark side - Nikon from Canon, but as long as it works like it's supposed to (Mr Canon please note) then that is OK.

And even better is that it can be configured for lefties - so much easier for me riding one handed and taking pics.

Airflow jacket is also here. Cooler for hot weather but still OK for general riding - with a few layers and a windproof light jacket over the top.

Just about to sort a backing plate for the number plate and grilles to cover the headlamp. Got the tin, got the mesh, so here goes.

Thursday, 19 April 2012


Still waiting for the bloody rego papers so can't ride - come on DVLA; you're quick enough with points when a speeding ticket or somthing is involved. Mind you, we can't figure out the non firing problem on the bikes, so we're stuck anyway. But it will be something simple and just needs detecting and fixing. It is all soooo frustrating though, particularly as its only 14 days till we leave.

But on the up side, being marooned means we're on top of most of the prep. We've got stuff to make grill guards for the headlamps, modify the number plate attachment so we don't lose them and get fined at borders, an assortment of jubilee clips to fix snapped exhausts and footpeg rubbers, and tubing to extend the rear racks. Nadine is sorting a basic but effective medical kit, I've found the maps that I lost and got the camera kit pared down to essentials. Tents are also sorted - including pegs and poles, as is a small but essential tool kit. Farkleing should only take a day, which is just as well as that is probably all we'll have at this rate.

Visas are all well underway and passports are at various places - two at the Mongolian Embassy, two spares on way to Stantours for the Stans paperwork. They won't be back intime before we leave, so they'll be Fedexed down to the Istanbul Bike Club who will look after them for us. Crossings sorted from the UK to France and the route down to Turkey is planned - France, Belgium, Lux, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Turkey. Bit of wiggling about so we can see people and places, and its not set in stone.

Then the plan is to cross from Trabzon to Sochi ( or whatever port the Russians are now using while Sochi is closed for Winter Olympics prep), ride up to Astrakahn into Kazakhstan, head for the Aral Sea, Tashkent, Samarkand, Dushanbe, Osh, Bishkek, Almaty, Semey, Irkutsk, Ulan Ude, to UB. That will be a bit of a ride and nobody said it would be easy, but hey, we've just ridden across Africa on even smaller bikes, so we know we can do it.

See, easy! But any bike problems and we'll get one of these
Or a camel.

After that, Mongolia. We're planning to ride the whole country, huge as it is, but have lots of contacts, so don't envisage too much difficulty. We'll drop in from the top (Ulan Ude direction), down to UB, taking in interesting bits of the northeast as we do, ride down to The Gobi and then continue westwards and upwards before heading back to UB, where we will get the train down to China. We'll post the bikes back to London to UB ( in bits - I have a plan, assuming they're worth saving, if not, we'll donate them to my bro in law to break for parts and sell for his trouble. Already know how to get round the customs problem should that happen - that's a benefit of having local family)

So then Beijing. Reckon on a week/ 10 days there focused in the city centre, having a general look around and also looking for the places that my great aunt photographed back in the 1920s. Her pics are in SOAS in London and they allowed me to copy them so that will be interesting to do. I'll do that on a better camera though, which my brother will take to UB for me so I won't have to drag it across the world on a small motorbike.

So, come on rego papers, we need you.......

Monday, 16 April 2012

Monday stuff......

In a bit of limbo at the moment as we're still waiting for the rego papers so we can get plates and ride, BUT that doesn't mean we've been lazy. Nope. Rode to Coventry on Saturday to see some of Nadine's friends but went on bigger bikes as the scoots are still confined to the dining room. Quick and comfortable but again, oh sooo boring.

We've also now got most of the kit we need although its in piles around the house and certainly not packed and ready to go. Getting a bit panicky now as I won't be here next week as I'll be away getting my shoulder fixed, so I really need to get sorted before I go on Sunday. Maybe the answer is to take nothing and thus cut out the packing bit. Cripes, its come around fast, and we haven't even got a route as yet. So we'll just get the ferry from Dover to Calais then make the rest up as we go along until we get to Mongolia. Easy, and it will be OK. No really, it will......

Friday, 13 April 2012


Guess what? Bikes are now registered and insured! Yaay! Valerie at Riders was spot on with her forms and instructions, and even the DVLA in Wimbledon remarked how efficient the pack was she had given me. So many thanks that woman - excellent work! Just waiting for the rego docs now and then we'll be on the road.

Failed on the frogspawn front though - old pond lady up the road is away for the weekend, so the niece will have to wait.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Big day today

 Type papers arrived from China yesterday so number one job today is to register them with the DVLA in Wimbledon. I have strict and comprehensive instructions from Valerie at Riders and she knows what is what so hopefully, it should be straightforward.  Fingers crossed.

Tony also reckons our non starting problem might be linked to us having removed the side stand cut out afterall. Probably need to bridge the loom, so we'll give that a go too. This is exactly why we bought the bikes unmade - to learn as we go, and while we still have access to people with relevant info. Good call that one, but we now won't be able to ride them to Coventry as planned this w/e as we still need to insure them. But no matter; we'll just have to ride them lots next week. Not worried about the running in bit as much as finding specific problems that need to be sorted before we leave.

Next most pressing task today is to find frogspawn for my 6 year old niece. According to her, it is very important, and although I'm not quite sure why, I am apparently the only one who can possibly get it for her. Must be because I have nothing else to do in my leisure filled days...........but on the plus side, she was able, unaided, to find both Mongolia and China on her world map yesterday ( or the ' picture of everything' as she calls it) and tells me she will draw us a map to help us get there. Goodo.

We have scoots!

Yep, almost done and looking very scoot like and ready to ride now. Yaay!!

Nadine's friend Tony acted as our gofer and extra pair of hands yesterday, which was great as we zipped through the last few fiddley and heavy bits. Then we fired Nadine's up; it turned over OK but wouldn't spark, and we suspect the very dodgy looking plug cap and lead. We'd planned on replacing both anyway but we're still awaiting the caps, so until we can do that job, we're a bit snookered.

We're also waiting for the type approval certs from China. They are apparently on way, the factory having forgotten to send them. They should arrive today, so then it will be a trip to the local rego office in Wimbledon, get our plates, insure the bikes, and then road test the wee beasties.

Visas are also in the pipeline, final bits of essential kit have arrived - including some flat 5L fuel cans. We'll take two each, which will give us a 13L capacity, which should give us a range of  300 miles/500km plus. Won't be a problem in Europe and we'll probably use one as a water carrier, but it will be useful in the more remote bits.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

We're getting there.....

Thanks to a wet and dismal Easter, we are further ahead building the bikes than we expected to be. Nadine's is almost done and actually looks sort of bike like, whilst Belle's should be like that by later today. Nadine can't do any more at the moment though as we've decided to replace the HT lead and spark plugs on both bikes, and are just waiting for them to arrive.

Rerouting the wiring loom was a good call ( thanks Tony) as was removing the side stand cut out switch. That is highly likely to break and prevent the engine from starting, so disconnecting it before we go makes sense, rather than at the side of the road in the dark - as usually happens. The old C90s never had them anyway, so its not a problem.

We've also removed the uber crap paper thin Chinese rim tape from both wheels and gaffer taped the rims instead. Hopefully that will retard any spoke damage, and we've resited the main switch relay and  waterproofed it with a latex glove, instead of the rubbish watercover that came with the bike. Resiting means that the assembly actually now fits inside the cover instead of having to be crammed into  a space that just doesn't work. Should reduce wire chafing and allow us to replace fuses more easily too.
Then we'll do the locktight thing, protect the front and rear main lights ( haven't decided how yet - maybe perspex, maybe wire mesh) and fix the rear number plate assembly so that the plate doesn't fall off. Will probably also get tin plates if we can as they don't snap like the plastic ones.

Visas are underway too. Decided to use Stan Tours to save the paperwork headache and did the Russian visa via Real Russia. The Mongolian one is no problem though as my sis in law will get them when she gets hers ( she is Mongolian and rather indignant because now she has a British passport, she too needs a visa; the Mongol Govt doesn't allow dual nationality, or as they told her 'Mongol or not' and 'not' is far easier when it comes to roaming the world).

So that is us up to date. Photos to follow as soon as I find under which pile of tools and spares my camera is.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

The Gobi Gals start today...........

........well prepping anyway, or the little prepping that we're going to do.

Picked up two new scoots yesterday - Chinese copies with 110 engines in gold - yep Gobi coloured so we'll fit in. Bought them from Tony at Riders of Yeovil ( who also supplied the four Chinese scoots that were recently ridden down to The Gambia. We were so impressed with them - their durability, economy and handling  - yep really - that we binned the idea of bigger bikes and decided to take these instead.

We also noticed how little bikes drew us into the communities we were travelling through. Locals were really impressed that our bikes were just like theirs and it became a conversation starter and point of contact, as well as a source of amusement for people who clearly didn't believe that we were riding little bikes all the way from the UK to The Gambia. But we were and we did.

So that's how we got to where we're at. We're planning to leave in the first week of May - probably midweek and by ferry from Dover ( just so when people ask where we're off to we can say ' China, via the Gobi Desert', which they never do on the Channel Tunnel because they all sit in their cars). So its all out for visas ( Belle already has her Russian one, Nadine has bugger all) but we don't have to do any of the jab thing as we did all that for Africa.

So Scoot building resumes this morning. We're building Nadine's first while Belle's remains in the crate, and started on that last night. And how is this for dedication? 0800 on Easter Sunday morning. Changing tyres and gaffer taping wheel rims ( no euphemism implied) before even getting out of bed.

Need to do a few mods which will be easier to do as we build rather than have to dismantle. Eg, the wiring loom needs rerouting under the tank, the main switch relay needs reorientating and bodging so it sits better, lower engine bolt needs to be replaced with Honda originals which are stronger, wheel rims need taping to reduce spoke head damage, and we will fit protective screens on the main front and back lights to stop lenses smashing. Then everything will be locktighted.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

We took eight original Honda C90s and four Chinese copies. We also had a spare Lifan 110 engine taken out of another Chinese scooter, and a few other bits. - wheels, chains, sprockets, plugs, tyres and tubes. We took the same type of bikes for several reasons.

1. The hospital has a number of previously donated c90s so it made sense; broken ones could be used for spares, new spares could be used to renovate the old bikes if required.
2.It meant we were all on the same size bikes so fuel consumption and speed was generally the same, and everybody had more or less the same ride.
3.Only one set of tools was needed - no need for loads of different spanners etc and we could all get on with what needed to be done in a production line set up. Somebody sorted the fuel while somebody else did tyres, chains, oil etc

Belle's engine blew up. That was an original c90 which had been fully serviced prior to leaving. Not really something that could have been foreseen as it was a nut inside the engine casing that had worked loose and so would not have been picked up without a full strip down. Iain replaced it with the spare Lifan 110 engine which fitted with only some minor mods - the footrest had to be bent, extended and welded, and the leg guard cut to accommodate the bigger crankcase and it worked fine from then on. No more problems at all and the general concensus was that ironically, it was the fast smooth roads of Spain that had caused the problem as the bikes sat happily at 45/50mph at a constant resonance which hummed the nuts loose.

After this episode, we checked external nuts regularly and some had come loose and were tightened as required. But this didn't happen when we got onto rough roads or unmade tracks where surfaces were very tough and varied. The old c90s were generally very hardy and we had no further problems with them, save for punctures, float bowls working loose and one broken spoke.

But the amazing star were the Chinese copies. We had all expected them to be trouble, given the Chinese reputation for poor build quality, poor metal and cheap parts. But they lasted very well and got a real bashing everyday in very rough conditions. Three of the four riders are all big blokes, yet the frame withstood the whole month very well, retaining their lightness and manoeuverability. There were some minor problems - the footpeg rubber was made of cheese, the rear light and plate assembly broke off on two bikes, the clutches needed slightly different adjustment to the Honda C90s, and the paper thin rim tape that needed replacing with gaffer tape after punctures. The headset nuts also loosened off on all four but once detected, we just inspected and tightened as necessary.

In fact, they were so impressive that Nads and Belle have now binned their plans to ride bigger bikes to Mongolia this summer ( BMW F650 and an Yam XT 250) in favour of the smaller Chinese bikes which proved so versatile in Africa, particularly given their assortment of existing injuries. Small and light was much easier to deal day after day on 270+ mile rides in very testing conditions and heat.

Ordered them yesterday ( single seat versions with racks) and have about 3 weeks to run them in. We learnt alot on this trip so should be able to get straight in with known tweaks. Another plus is that they are similar to the smaller Chinese bikes that are common rides in Africa and central Asia - meaning easier to get spares, easier to fix or bodge and fits in better with local riders so spares etc shouldn't be an issue. And if tghey break, they are cheap enough to bin or sell and replace.

We were all limited to one bag on the truck so had minimal stuff as the rest had to go on the bike in panniers. The problem was the range of temperatures. -4 celcius in Spain, +41 in Mauritania. But layers was the key, and two pairs of gloves - winter and lightweight, with a pair of Marigold washing up gloves over the top ( or the latex workshop things) to keep the wind out. Two merino wool layers ( only needed one once it got heat as it dried in minutes in the heat or could be worn wet - not good in cooler temps though) one pair of socks and a pair of Seal Skinz over the top in the cold. Take light waterproofs - keeps the wind out top and bottom and warmth in if needed. You don't need expensive branded stuff, just something cheap that does the job as it will get trashed by sand and constant riding, and you'll bin it when its no longer useful. Learnt that one the hard way several years ago.

Gaffer tape and cable ties are a must. Mended everything from exhaust burnt riding pants to ripped jackets and loose indicators.

Looking after yourself
Rehydration tablets. Nuun is great. We were all drining water constantly in the desert but still getting dehyedrated due to salt and mineral loss. Nuun sorted that as did mandatory water intake at every stop BEFORE you get thirsty. Other rehydration are available and just as good of course....

Also plan regular short stops. All scoots could go for about 2 hours before refuelling. Use that time to refuel the bike and yourself. Pee ( not in the tank though as you won't get much further if you do) drink 500ml water ( pref from source containing rehydration tab) AND EAT SOMETHING - a biscuit, some bread, energy bar, dried fruit or whatever, even if you're not hungry. We're not talking full meal stops but just enough to retain your body's status quo. If you don't, you're likely to suffer concentration lapses and that's when things go wrong. We were lucky and learned to recognise the signs in others and force stops if necessary. Do not be peer pressured into going beyond your comfort zone just because somebody else feels ok.

Factor in needs as they arise. Be flexible because people endure the heat, conditions, feel ill or whatever differently from day to day. Recognise that things change and accommodate them accordingly. It's a big mistake to stick to a plan just because it was the plan before you left; just because you're a noob or haven't ridden particular conditions before, your opinion and needs are still important. You can still do what you need to do and cover the miles by looking after each other. If one person cracks, then you're likely to spend time the next day dealing with the consequences, so plan to avoid that and keep everybody safe.

If there are issues that need to be resolved or discussed, don't do it just before you ride. It is dangerous to everybody, as all riders should know. Do it when you've stopped for the day and everybody has the opportunity to work things through. A wound up, distracted rider is not good for anybody and it is dangerous.

Wild Camping
Away from the road and settlement, preferably hidden, bike reflectors pointing away from potential light sources. Keep your head torch , loo roll and a lighter handy - bury what you deposit and burn the paper - but don't bury it under a stone incase the flames catch and you have to stamp on it.

And don't pee into water sources or near well. It might be the villages main drinking water.