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Entries about repair

The Joy of Overlanding… and Breaking Down

Sweating over a bike for hours on end in a sizzling hot workshop isn’t exactly what people think of as the good of travel-life. Neither do I.

sunny -38 °C
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Refueling

Refueling

I’d decided to push my glorified scooter to its limit. There weren’t any gas stations for a 185 km anyway before rolling into Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city. So despite having plenty of spare fuel, I wanted to figure out how far I could go on one tank of gas. Multiple sites online insisted that running out of fuel once in a while wouldn’t really hurt the engine.
To my surprise, I actually made it to the outskirts of Bulawayo, where the gas stations, of course, did not have any fuel because of the shortage. Instead, I ran out about 600 metres before another station a little closer to the backpackers I had planned to stay. They didn’t have any fuel either. Having now thoroughly run dry (I later figured that my four-litre tank does 183 km when full – which is pretty decent mileage), I took out my spare fuel and poured a couple of litres in the tank. That should get me going again. It didn’t.

As it should look

As it should look

Instead, my bike started to choke, splutter and spew heaps of smelly, white smoke. Not only from the exhaust, but from the engine too. Not good. Not good at all. About the only thing I know about engines is that white smoke is better than black. Normally. So I pressed on given that I was only a couple of kilometres from the guesthouse, where I planned to spend the next three or four days. Plenty of time to find a mechanic. Somehow my little scooter managed to get me all the way there. How? I don’t know. I decided to let it cool down for a few hours before trying to do anything else. Maybe it was merely some reaction to being driven dry. Better give it a rest…
Two hours later, there were no smoke, no splutter and no choking. Unfortunately, there was no other sound other than the electric ignition going chuk-chuk-chuk, without the engine actually starting. The kick-start didn’t work either. Nothing I could fix myself. Luckily, Adam, the helpful owner of the place, knew what allegedly was the best-equipped motorbike workshop between Jo’burg and Nairobi. The bike was swiftly put in the back of Adam’s pickup, so was I, and off we went.

Getting a ride

Getting a ride

We arrived at Bikes & Boats just fifteen minutes before they closed. Worse, this was Thursday afternoon, and the Zimbabwean government had decided to make Friday a public holiday in protest of sanctions imposed by the EU and USA. Shortly told, the EU and USA have imposed sanctions on a few of the previous regime’s leaders for being murders and thieves. We’re talking Mugabe’s henchmen here. Now, the current government blames these sanctions for the country’s dismal economic situation. Having worked for the EU just a few months ago, I know for a fact, that the EU sanctions are against only four persons after Mugabe himself recently died. Regardless, the government is forcing thousands of citizens to take to the streets in protest of sanctions against a few of government’s friends. While at the same time cracking down hard on opposition protests.
As it might be obvious, I have no patience for African politicians (any politicians, really) who are busy stealing the wealth and lives of their own citizens. However, with most local (as well as the EU and USA) knowing well that this holiday is a load of BS, it was difficult not to laugh about it. The workshop being closed down over the weekend; I couldn’t get my bike fixed until Monday. At least this protest holiday screwed over one EU employee…

Stripped bike

Stripped bike

Having suffered a bike-less weekend, Monday morning, I finally went back to the workshop. Me and two mechanics spent all morning taking the bike apart. Finding plenty of dirt where there wasn’t supposed to be dirt, plenty of airlocks where there wasn’t supposed to be airlocks, and a lot of other needed adjustments. Thinking we had solved the problem, we fixed a few other routine things that were due. “Chuk-chuk-chuk.” Still nothing. My initial thought was a very lough F-word, followed by a lot of different words that this blog’s moderators don’t allow me to write.

Bikes mostly

Bikes mostly

That until one of the guys working on the bike accidentally stuck his hand in a puddle under the bike. “Smells, like diesel,” he said, which is strange because it’s not a diesel bike. It turned out that the spare fuel that I had bought on the black market because of the fuel shortage wasn’t petrol. Whether maliciously or by accident, I had been given two litres of diesel. Which I had then, unknowingly, poured into an empty fuel tank — no surprise the engine didn’t like driving on that stuff. We emptied the tank, re-did all the cleaning excises from that morning and refuelled the bike with petrol. ”Chuk-chuk-vroom!” It started first try.

Back on the road

Back on the road

It probably had still needed the cleaning, but the chances are that had I been handed the right fuel, I would have had no problems running the engine dry. Nevertheless, I drove out of Bikes & Boats on my bike, which has probably never been riding more smoothly, but 150 dollars poorer — almost haft of my estimated fuel cost for this entire trip. But so are the risks when forced to deal with the black market. At least now, I can distinguish the smell between petrol and diesel…

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Posted by askgudmundsen 12:42 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged travel overland zimbabwe motorbike broken southern_africa fuel repair break_down mechanic Comments (0)

A Mountain Climbing Scooter

I made it to Malawi and climbed a mountain with the glorified scooter—though not wholly without casualties.

sunny 26 °C
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Typical Malawian road

Typical Malawian road

“You want to ride that thing up the mountain?” The local motor-taxi guys clearly weren’t impressed with my scooter. “I’ll promise, I’ll come back down, if it can’t make it,” I replied. Then I took off, up a mountain.
Initially, this blog should have been about the border crossing between Tanzania and Malawi. It’s my 22nd land crossing in Africa, but the first time I’m driving my own vehicle across, and I expected all kind of hectic shenanigans that would have been fun to write about. But my negative expectations were put completely to shame. Apart for the usual bunch of guys insisting that I needed their sim card/insurance/forex services, everything went smooth, and I had crossed into Malawi in a little over an hour. Country no. 103: check. Boring.

Mountain climbing scooter

Mountain climbing scooter

Luckily, it’s easily for dumb people to find adventures. My first stop in Malawi was a town built around an old Scottish missionary station; Livingstonia. There are two ways to get to the town, which is placed on an escarpment 1,150 metres about Lake Malawi. The long way around on a gravel road that is currently being paved, or the direct route up, 15 km on what is essentially a washed out riverbed, with no less than 20 switchbacks, no railing and a long fall of I went over the side. Of course, the route described as “4x4 only, and not in rainy season” is obviously my choice with a small commuter scooter. What could go possibly wrong?
The first thing I did after leaving the motor-taxi drivers in disbelief was almost falling over in the soft sand that lined the lower part of the track. “Hopefully nobody saw that”, I lied to myself. But to be honest, this was a first for me, and I had no idea if this might be entirely out of my league.

View from the top

View from the top

Regardless, the bike did well. Surprisingly well for a commuter bike that isn’t supposed to leave the big city. Up we went. Slowly and shakenly. Honestly, I was amazed of how many times I saw a big stone lying in the way and thought ‘I better not hit that’ just to steer my bike straight over said rock with a bump — making it even harder to control the bike. Something relatively important when there is a 300-metre drop-off about 60 cm to my left.
But the bike trotted on. With my arms getting sorer and sorer from (trying to) control the bike’s path across the rocks. To my delight, we managed the small scooter and me. In glorious tandem, we rode up the side of a mountain. 1,150 height-metres in just forty minutes. I was absolutely jubilant when I rolled the bike into eco-camp on the top.

Broken shock absorber

Broken shock absorber

Obviously it wasn’t going to be that easy. As I duly checked my bike after the long fight uphill for any unfamiliarities, I noticed that one of the rear shock absorbers had been knocked loose. No surprise after that ride, really. This could mean one of two things. Either, I had snapped a bolt – no biggie. Or I had broken the brand new suspension that I had instilled pretty much as the last thing before I left Dar es Salaam. There was no way to tell. The damage had been done behind the chassis, and I didn’t have the tools (a simple screwdriver) to remove it and check. I hadn’t been able to fix the problem anyway – regardless of what it was.

Hiking views

Hiking views

Instead, I left the bike for a day and went hiking. Once done with that, I had 150 km to the nearest town with a dedicated motorbike mechanic – 40 of those on a dirt road (avoiding the way I came up) – where I just had to rely on the one shock absorber I had left. It turned out that I had snapped clean the bolt-eye connecting the shocker to the chasse. Luckily, the shock absorber mechanism itself wasn’t damaged, and with the help of a talented welder, the scooter will live to see another day on the road.

Posted by askgudmundsen 00:39 Archived in Malawi Tagged mountains hiking travel overland tanzania hike motorbike southern_africa repair problems livingstonia mechanics Comments (0)

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