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.