With my innertube completely shredded I had no choice but to try the miniscule spare. So I first fitted it into the tyre inflated it and what do you know, I managed to get enough air into the tyre to pop the bead… maybe this will work after all. Except when I shut off the air compressor I could hear the air gushing out of the tyre. I located the leak in the tyre only to notice a big hole in the tread, why didn’t I check the tyre first? I stripped the tube out again and found the hole but it was on the seam, no where near where the hole in the tyre was. Furthermore, there was nothing sharp in the tyre. I repaired the tube and decided it was time to say goodbye to the Bridgestone Battlewing tyre and put on the Heidenau K60 that I had been carrying since leaving the UK.
Once it was all reinstalled I reinflated the tube to try and pop the bead again and it was nearly there when the compressor shut off. This is normal, I have it plugged into the DIN Canbus socket which is designed to shutdown when there is too much draw on the power, which occurs when inflating the tyre to higher pressures. The solution is simply to restart the bike, which resets the canbus. Except when I switched off the bike to restart the engine I heard a massive air leak. The tube was just too small and could not be sufficiently inflated to fill the tyre to the required pressure. I pack up the bike and get ready to flag down a lorry, preferably a car transporter, to take me to the nearest town to buy some new tubes.
Just as I finished packing the bike a car pulls up and out gets a guy wearing a blue Suzuki GSXR T-Shirt, who introduces himself and his girlfriend as Sergei and Kate. I explain to them, as best I can, what has happened and that I either need to be take into town to buy an innertube, (with or without the bike, but preferably with) or someone to go into town and get me one. Sergei gets on the phone to the bike magazine (I later realise magazine is Russian for shop NOT the magazine you read) but Sergei seems to be hatching a plan so I just go with the flow. Sergei then tells me he’ll drive into Novosibirsk, which is at least 100 miles away to get me a new tube, I offer him some money but refuses, and I give him the shredded tube so he knows what size to get, and off they drive.
Before the leave they give me something to eat and drink and I settle down in the shade with my Ipod for at least a 3 hour wait, but he soon soon returns with a bottle of water and a Mars bar and tells me he’s going into the village instead and tells me he’ll be back in 30minutes. I wait and wait and wait… about an hour passes and nothing, but then a car finally pulls up and I think someone else has stopped to help but it’s Sergei brandishing an inner tube. I immediately notice that it’s not the right sort, it doesn’t have a threaded stem and it doesn’t look like it’s off a motorbike. No problem, beggars can’t be choosers. It may still work, even if it only gets me to the nearest town where I can replace it with a proper motorbike tube.
I remove the wheel and begin to install the tube when I realise the valve stem will not fit the hole in the rim. I reach for my multitool and indicate that we may be able to shave off some of the plastic around the valve stem in order to get it to fit. Sergi begins to whittle it down and we try again, but we still can’t get it through the hole. Not even with liberal amounts of WD40 can we get it through. I decide that we should put it through as much as we can then try adding the nut from the other tube to pull it through, the stem is threaded half way down. It works, and we get the stem in about half way, but will it hold when we inflate it?
With the nut on the stem I cannot get the tip of the compressor on far enough to get an adequate connection to allow me to inflate the tyre. However, I can’t remove the nut as the valve stem will not stay in place without it. I reach for the two CO2 cartidges I have and Sergei looks as if to say “WTF are they”. I use both canisters and the bead pops into place and I can now remove the nut from the valve stem and use the air compressor to inflate the tyre. I decide on a conservative 22psi, as I fear any more will damage the valve stem. Success, the tyre is adequately inflated and is holding its pressure. I reinstall the wheel, breathe a sigh of relief and thank Sergei for his help. I offer to take him and Kate out to dinner in Omsk, they agree and off we go.
We get into Omsk and come out the other end, where are we going I wonder. We finally arrive in a residential area outside a block of high rise flats. Sergei informs me that this is his home and introduces me to his mum who seems to have been waiting for us. Sergei asks if I want to take a shower and I gratefully accept: I’ve been camping for the last few days and have lost count of times I have removed, repaired and reinstalled the rear wheel, so I am filthy. We take the bike around the block and put it in a secure car park and walk back to his home. As we go up to the third floor I am thinking about how my ‘situation’ might just turn out to be a great moment in my adventure.
Sergeis’ family apartment is truly beautiful, very clean, modern and incredibly stylish. While I am in the shower my clothes are whisked off to get washed. Feeling clean and refreshed, I come out of the bathroom to find dinner waiting for me; a lovely ravioli type dish with salad, fresh bread, a platter of fruit and cakes and washed down with copious amounts of tea… “awesome, but I thought I was taking you out to dinner”, I ask Sergei as I tuck in. The plan has changed, I am going to be sleeping here tonight and Sergei and Kate are to take me to the Omsk Bikers Bar after dinner. Excellent! A short taxi ride later and we’re at Bobs Biker Bar and it’s truly awesome! There are bikes on the wall outside, you go through the main door and there are bikes inside the foyer. As you get into the bar itself you are hit by the incredible atmosphere. Ir’s softly lit and slightly smokey with the aroma of shisha. The flags and banners of numerous Motorbike club flags are draped around the room, registration plates adorn the stage and photo’s of bikers and travellers are onprouddisplay all over the walls. This place is amazing, everywhere you look there is bike paraphernalia, sculptures and even a classic BMW on the dance floor. We order beers and some Russian nibbles, and unlike the UK you can smoke in these bars. I am introduced to the bar owner, who owned the very cool Goldwing in the foyer and I tell him of my adventure. Good times!
We drink more beer, make more toasts, and I met more and more cool bikers, two of which ride custom made BMW choppers. The band arrives and it’s not long before we are treated to some great music, both western and Russian. The female vocalist is absolutely stunning too. I pay the bill, remarkably cheap considering, and we head back home. We chat for a bit be before heading off to bed, I close my eyes thinking about how lucky I am to have been rescued by such good people and how things have changed in just 24hrs. The adventure really does begin when things go wrong.
The following day I got up to briefly meet Sergei’s dad, who served me a great breakfast of omelette, cheese, sausage, fruit and more tea… but he was quickly out the door and off to work. It wasn’t long before everyone else was up and we were all chatting away, thanks to Google translator. Sergei had some errands of his own to run, which gave me the chance to catch up with some emails and a blog post or two while he was out. When he returned he said he’d take me to visit a couple of bike shops and the auto-market to get some oil and some inner tubes. I got some oil and Sergei arranged for me to use his friends garage to do my oil change, which we later did. I also managed to get a rear tube but was unable to source a front. Nevermind I thought, the current tube is good and my spare will probably be okay as the front wheel is much narrower. When we returned home I was even given some medicine for my cough that I’d had for the previous few days and couldn’t shift, as well as some ointment for my insect bitten legs.
Sergei then took me to get the bike cleaned, the first since I’d left the UK, and it was in dire need of it too. Whilst I had everything off the bike (except the panniers) it was a good opportunity to let Sergei take it for a spin around the block. I gave him a few instructions specific to the BMW bike and told him in no uncertain terms ‘no wheelies’ and ‘no fires’, he’d previously blown up the engine of his gixxer. I was then whisked off to another biker who fitted tyres, great I thought, he can replace my temporary rear tube with the one I recently purchased and change my front tyre too. As he had all the gear it’s bound to be quicker than me doing it by hand, cleaner and probably not very expensive.
As nice as Uri was, part of me later wished I had done it myself. It went tits up from the start but he convinced me that he knew what he was doing. After getting the front wheel off Uri popped the bead on his tyre machine and proceeded to remove the temporary tube when the stem snapped. Okay, maybe that wasn’t his fault, maybe it would have happened to anyone, but it had done at least a hundred miles now without a problem. No problem it was going to be my spare anyway, so I gave him the one I’d just bought, when he noticed the rim tape had snapped. That’s odd, it was fine when I had the wheel off earlier. But he set to repairing it with glue and the heat from a fag he was smoking. Okay, this guy knows what he’s doing, I thought to myself. He replaced the fixed rim tape, installed the tube, balanced the wheel, tightened some spokes and voila. He struggled to reinstall the wheel on the bike, there is a knack to lining everything up, but I left him to it, as long as he wasn’t damaging anything I was happy to let him figure it out for himself.
Sergei then noticed an oil leak, maybe it was from the sump plug or oil filter not being on tight enough. I didn’t carry a torque wrench as they were too big and bulky and the Russian seemed not to use them so I tightened down to what I thought it should be (40 & 14n/m respectively). But both areas were clean. Uri dropped the bash plate and had a look, confirming that it wasn’t coming from the filter or sump plug. He then tightened up the bottom screws on the engine case, so the leak probably came from here. Once reinstalled I asked him to change the front tyre and he told me it was his pleasure. The tread was getting thin and was only 1mm off the markers so being in Russia and having already had a puncture, and having changed the rear tyre I decided it was time to change the front too. I wish I had done this one myself!
Uri set to removing the front wheel, finally getting it off he takes it to his machine, breaks the bead and sets to taking off the old tyre. The rims in pretty bad shape with some of the potholes in Russia so he bends the rim back into shape where it’s out of alignment. As he’s fitting the new tyre I could see him struggling. He finally gets the new tyre on and inflates it only to find it hissing away. It’s punctured, WTF? It was fine before, but in his struggle, and in my opinion he was to aggressive with the machine, Uri punctured the tube. He set to removing the tube to find 3 punctures. I leave him to it and go outside to chat with the myriad of bikers that are still arriving to say hello. I go back in periodically to check on his progress but there doesn’t seem to be any. I can see he is having problems and keep my distance. I eventually offer him the spare tube, which he refuses, apparently he’s determined to make this tube work and tells me I’ll need the spare for Mongolia. This is true but I have to buy some more spares anyway. I leave him to it and chat with some of the other bikers that are arriving.
The time is getting on and he eventually comes out to grab Sergei, I follow, WTF is wrong now? He points to the stem on the tube being a bit corroded, but its no different to what it was three tyre changes ago, the problem is not the valve stem but that you cannot seem to reinstall the tube without puncturing the tube. I offer the spare tube again and this time he takes it but I secretly think to myself, please don’t let him fuck this tube up, it’s the only one I have and was unable to get a replacement in Omsk. Some more time passes, too much time for someone who as all the proper machines, but he finally emerges with the front wheel, tyre in place and fully inflated. He replaces the wheel, we chat for a bit, take some pictures, I pay up and we leave. It’s too late for shashlik now so Sergei takes us to his mates bike club hang out where we get some sausage blini. I get chatting to the only lady biker in the club, the cutest little blonde Russian with a flavour of bad ass about her. She tells me she likes the BMW F650 single so I bring her over to see my bike and persuade her to mount my own steed, it suits her, I regret not getting a picture. It’s getting late and Kate is feeling tired so I agree to head home, wishing I could have spent more time chatting to the beautiful bad ass blonde bandit riding chick, but my priority is with my hosts. We get back to Sergei’s and we all chat for a bit before heading off to bed.
The next morning I am treated to yet another fabulous breakfast and some stimulating conversation. Before I know it we are eating lunch. But it’s time to start thinking about making a move. I say goodbye to Sergei’s parents when I become overwhelmed with the emotion of yet another goodbye. We head downstairs where I repack the bike and head off with Sergei and Kate. We stop about about 5 miles out of town to say our own goodbyes before I go on my way. Again I become overwhelmed with emotion. I love to meet new people but I hate to say goodbye, so we instead say that we’ll see each other later. Little did I know that it would be sooner than either of us could have imagined.
I continue alone, again, planning to only do about 100miles before I set up camp for the night, but I only get 1omiles down the road when the front tyre starts to vibrate and before I know it my arse puckers up and I’m struggling to keep the bike upright and travelling in a straight direction. I manage to stop but drop the bike trying to get it on the stand. A lorry stops and helps me pick the bike up and I explain that I have a puncture but that I dropped it once stopped. I ask if I can load the bikeinto his lorry to take me back to Omsk but he has a full load so we wave down another lorry who is also fully loaded, but this lorry gets on the radio and 2minutes later a car transporter stops and we load up the bike. In the meantime I have tried to phone Sergei but with no answer, did it connect? I get the lorry driver to phone Sergei too but no reply. I plan is formulating in my mind; get backto Omsk and get the BMW place to deliver the innertubes. Sergei phones the lorry driver back and arranges to meet us 5 miles back at the service station where they can repair the puncture.
When we arrive at the service station I remove the wheel and innertube where I notice the rim tape in this wheel is also in pieces??? I wipe down the rim and use some electrical tape around the wheel while the guys patch the tube, and he does a top notch job too. Sergei and the guys reinstall the tube and inflate the tyre but it’s still leaking air. I remove the tube again, the guys repatch it and this time I add some gaffer tape around the rim. This time when I inflate the tyre all is good, no leaks. We leave it for 5mins to see if it stays up and it does. After reinstalling the wheel it’s time to say goodbye again. I set off, exceptionally cautiously, sticking to 50mph and stopping to check the tyre at every vibration that might hint at another puncture, but all is fine. I decide that if it goes again I am just going to camp and flag down a transporter in the morning and have them take me into Novosibirsk or Krasnoyarsk for the repair. My destination is Krasnoyarsk, over 800 miles away, the closest BMW dealer where I will be able to get some proper tubes. But travelling at a steady and cautious 50mph it will take me the best part of 3 days. Will I make it without encountering further punctures?