Some travelling pears of wisdom: Russia
- The Russians claim that vodka produced in the mountainous region of Altai, Siberia is so pure that it will never give you a hangover. It’s had me in bed for two days at a time crying for my mother on multiple occasions.
- The cleanest your three t-shirts will ever look on a round the world motorcycle trip is under the UV light of a dance-floor. Upon arrival in a new city in which you believe you may stand half a chance of chatting up the local girls, immediately aim for the nearest evening hot-spot before anyone has a chance to see various carcasses of mosquitoes and other flying insects killed at high-speed during your most recent tough miles. It’s crucial to remember you’re a very dirty biker and have nothing on the Hugo Boss shirts and leather loafers of your Russian competitors.
- The biggest tune here in Siberia is a cheesy house mix of Tom Jones’ Sex Bomb. Seriously. It’s what you will be working with so keep your chin high, think of England and go and get yourself in the mixer.
- Russian roads inevitably endure some extreme winters but if some of those pot holes were created by anything other than a meteorite shower I will eat my hat. Never feel like you are getting to grips with the terrain. Always be ready for the next 50 meters to present holes the size of a Suzuki DRz plus it’s rider.
- The Trans-Siberian Highway is longer and straighter than you can ever comprehend before riding it. Don’t expect any thanks from your 400cc dirt bike but gently remind yourself and the bike that if all goes to plan, it’s a matter of days before you will be donning the dirt tyres and entering the wild.
Well… things didn’t quite go to plan. Here is a brief overview of the latest situation:
We arrived in Novosibersk after 6 relentless days on the Trans-Siberian Highway. I think Jon’s previous update captured the first nights stay well and the other 5 evenings followed in similar suit involving copious amounts of vodka and bluury mornings. One night was even spent pitching up next to what we, at time, believed to be a disused sand quarry in an attempt to get out of sight of the road. Little did we know that the diggers would be in at first light the following morning. Jon still had his best effort at a Siberian beard at the time so I can only presume when they saw him that morning they thought he was a previously undiscovered Siberian wild beast.
Back in Slovakia rightly or wrongly, in fact, definitely wrongly, in an attempt to de-bulk we attached numerous spares and tools directly to the bikes so we wouldn’t need to carry them in and out of hostels every morning. The 12v pump was waterproofed in a sealed bag and strapped to the underside of my rear mud guard. It felt solid and we were confident it wouldn’t go anywhere. Our guess is that the repeated stress from the multiple pot holes was too much for the straps holding it in position and it broke loose and lodged itself between my rear wheel and the swing arm. It brought me to a sudden halt from high-speed. We couldn’t’ believe it didn’t throw me off. It just melted and disintegrated within seconds.
We always knew that the Trans-sibe would be a gruelling leg of the journey but I didn’t quite realise I would only be changing gear to get the bike going in the morning and then to slow it down again in the evening. With of course, the occasional break in between. It was a tough, monotonous stint that I am pleased is over.
Some funny things get discussed over the intercom on the long boring riding days like those on the Trans-Siberian Highway. When we are not discussing the girls, who we failed miserably to chat up in the previous city, we always dedicate a couple of hours each day to try to teach each other something new. I often wonder what the drivers of passing vehicles think when they see us trying to illustrate things by drawing diagrams in the air with our left hands. I’ll now happily receive any questions you may have on Formula 1 suspension and handling fine tuning.
3339 very straight kilometers later, we finally made it to Novisibersk where the biker ‘brotherhood’ that so many people had previously told us about was quickly evident. We pulled over in an attempt to locate the hostel we were aiming for and moments later a car slammed on, pulled up next to us and a big scary looking guy lifting his t-shirt to expose some biker tattoos. “Me… Biker too!!” The language barrier unfortunately prevented us from extracting any information other than the name of a motorcycle store where we could purchase some consumables for the bikes. There is only so far that a ‘Point it’ picture book can assist despite the willingness of the local people to help.
We’d not washed for days. We desperately needed to get in to a hostel to take a shower but by this stage my bike was not feeling good at all. Handling the bike at low speeds was proving difficult as it refused to sit comfortably in a straight line. Navigating the heavy traffic of a new city centre with a horribly complex one way system in 35 degree heat is tough enough at the best of times, without the added pressure of being thrown between lanes by the bike. We pulled up outside the hostel we were aiming for and started checking out the issue. We both knew straight away it was a steering head bearing problem. The minimal tool kit we were carrying was never going to suffice in removing the bearing races from the frame and the lower bearing from the forks. I suddenly felt a very long way from home.
As we sat there contemplating how on earth we were going to communicate our problem with any local mechanics. or ask if we could use their equipment, an English speaking local, named Anatoly, approached us to enquire what the problem was. We later discovered that Anatoly was an ex-Russian speedway champion and had vast experience racing throughout Russia and parts of Europe. He was all too familiar with the difficulties of acquiring parts and tools in foreign environments and after explaining the mission we are undertaking, he seemed genuinely pleased when he realised he could help and be a part of this trip. He invited us to his holiday home the following morning, located 30km from the city centre in a place called Berdsk.
What followed next is worthy of a blog entry in itself, but in brief, with his assistance over the course of the next 10 days we got the bike back up and running, enjoyed Siberian saunas and even had an interesting session with regional Siberian news channels. There is a chance we’re about to be Siberian superstars. Keep an eye out for ‘The Anotoly Experience’ blog I’ll have up in the next few days.
In amongst those 10 days spent with Anatoly, we managed to spend some decent time in and around Novosibersk itself. Albeit out of our control, it was really nice to have no option but to sit and enjoy a Russian city for such a duration. We managed to get to countless parties and to meet some good local people. When we did stumble across an English speaker the default question was typically ”Seriously guys… what the f*** are you doing here?” When they translated our route to their friends we couldn’t escape the attention.
Street racing is completely legal here in Novosibersk. Well, by that I mean the police do not bat an eye lid. There is a main drag strip which sits right in the heart of the city, where after sunset its not uncommon to see turbo charged motors racing off the lights and bikers (on all styles of bikes) pulling huge wheelies. Fuel is less than 50p per litre. Why wouldn’t you spend all evening red lining a turbo charged monster? The moonlit backdrop of a menacing Stalin statue really makes for an awesome street racing environment. It’s a superb evenings entertainment, and as with hitting up the clubs, an equally excellent opportunity to speak to the locals.
The Trans-Sibe stint was sufficient to suitably square off the road tyres but today we picked up the knobblies from Staas, a contact well known amongst the adventure biker world. A change is in sight. If all goes to plan, we will ride as far as we can through Mongolia on the road tyres in an attempt to have fresh knobbles when we venture back up to Lake Baikal, Russia, to begin the infamous BAM road. After some of the stories local bikers have told us over the last few days, to say I’m nervous would be a huge understatement. It was great to experience Russian life like that, but for now I’m excited about getting back on the bike and getting some more of those Tough Miles under-way. Next stop is Mongolia.