We celebrated our Tuvan wilderness survival by sleeping in till after 9 in Kyzyls finest hotel. We had breakfast at 10, and were on the road by 11:30. An hour north of Kyzyl we pulled in to get some food and drink at the town of Turan. It was raining by now and it was a good excuse to get out of the rain for a while. We were soon surrounded by local Tuvan men, all middle aged, all wanting to touch the bike. Normally I dont mind a bit of that, but these guys were all drunk and I made it clear they can look at it, fotograph it, but were not to touch it or lean on it / play with it while I was in the shop.
When I emerged from the shop 5 minutes later, with one drunk local begging me to buy him a beer, another local 40 odd year old was sitting on the bike. Tony yelled at him to get off but I was already charging. It was one of the guys I clearly told not to touch the bike. I shoved him off the bike violently and the crowd of drunk men fell backwards, and didnt come within 15 yards of us again. Sometimes you just have to put the foot down or people will abuse the fact that you are a foreigner.
It saddened me to think of what has become of Tuvan people. I knew before I got there that the over-riding general impression of the very few people I either knew who had been to Tuva or comments I had read regarding Tuvan people, was one of alcoholism. In the time I was there, apart from the yurt dwellers, I would say over 50% of the males I met in Tuva were drunk when I met them. The crowd of guys who had been hanging around the bikes that morning in Turan were all 35-50, all drunk and clueless at lunchtime. Every single guy in the crowd, every male I saw in Turan, was drunk and clearly alcoholic.
I wondered what the great General Subeedei would think of the state of the average Tuvan male today.
All the businesses were run by women. Perhaps they were the only ones sober enough to be able to handle money. I pitied the females of Tuva, and realised why the girl in the store yesterday was so keen to chat. It was just because I was sober.
We sped out of Turan, the back wheel spitting gravel on the pitiful drunkards of the town. Before long we crossed a pass and were in Krasnoyarsk Krai – part of Russia proper (as I like to call it). Incredibly, as soon as we crossed the ‘border’, the whole picture changed. The countryside looked like stereotypical Siberia. It was suddenly all pine and birch forest … the Taiga … while in Tuva it had been largely grasslands. And while there were no Russians in the villages on the Tuvan side of the border, suddenly the villages were full of Russians.
It was an amazing coincidence because I had been thinking of Ermak (Yermak) since we hit the dense pine and birch Taiga. Ermak the Cossack was the conquistador in chief of Siberia. As I rode thru this dense forest on the nice asphalt highway, I considered how difficult it would be to walk thru it, and yet Ermak and co went by foot, horse and boat all the way from Europe to the Pacific.
Russia was a small state hemmed in by the Kazan Tatars back in 1550, with no access at all beyond the Volga, just 200 kilometres or so east of Moscow, but the defeat of the Tatars in the 1550s opened the door east for the Russians, and they wasted no time. By 1600 the Cossacks had reached the Pacific, started settlements all the way and claimed the lot for Russia (well for the Tsar anyway) and this huge chunk of land, Siberia, has remained Russian to this day. To have explored and secured so much land in just 50 years is worthy of serious respect. To explore Siberia by foot you have to be walking thru hundreds of miles of swamps, deal with the worlds most savage mosquitoes and cross the worlds largest forest. And thats just summer. They also had to survive winter with just whatever they could find. Ermak was one tough son of a gun. Respect.
Being so close to a town, I just removed my back wheel, jumped on Tony’s bike and headed in to Ermakovskoe. Tony had gone ahead to scout for a Shino-montazh while I removed the wheel and so I knew exactly where it was. It was also a chance to sort out my spare tube. The tube that had just died was Tony’s 17 inch spare. The young tyre repair lad, Pasha, at the Shinomontazh took the tyre off and found it was a valve that had de-vulcanised from the tube. Pasha repaired Tony’s valve and sorted out my spare, before fitting my spare expertly to the rim. By the time we were back on the road it was 8pm. The sun was up till 11pm these days, being almost the longest day of the year.
We both stopped for some phone calls back to better halves at home base in sunny London, then rode into Minusinsk. It was near here that Lenin was exiled for political crimes back in the days of the Tsar, and apparently there is quite the museum here. Locals told me this after spotting my Sibirsky extreme logos on the bike. Tony and I just wanted a hotel. It was near impossible to find any and when we did find one, it was full. So we thought ‘fu@k it’ and rode on. We figured we would find one on the highway.
It was about 10pm when we crossed into Abakan and the Khakass Republic. Khakassia on the brief look at it we saw seemed very russified and developed, compared to Tuva for example. We even passed a “carvery” and pub called The Fox’s Tail in Abakan. By midnight we were out in the middle of nowhere and no hotel to be seen. We stopped for dinner at a roadside diner type place and while eating I asked the truck drivers. ‘None for almost 200km’ was the reply. Damn. We hit the road, but after an hour I was feeling very drowsy and pulled into another roadside cafe (plenty of petrol stations and cafes, just no hotels). I asked there if there were any hotels nearby and voila, there was one in a village just off the main road 5km away. In the dark, at 1:30am we fould the hotel and got lectured to by the lady running it. But she did give us a room!
I bought my 500th Euro worth of fuel today, and passed 20,000 km all up for the trip. Apart from my flat tyre, it was a mechanically problem free day.
- – -
Having got to bed after 2 am, it was hardly surprising that we didnt wake up until after 10. Breakfast was at midday and we didnt really get moving till after 1pm. We were in no rush. Krasnoyarsk, the biggest city we will see for months, was only 260 km away.
Over breakfast we had texted the contacts we had in Krasnoyarsk. Tony had the number of a guy called Dima, who was a friend of bikers he had met in Barnaul a week or so back, and I had the number of Lena, the mother of another banking contact in Moscow. Lena had received an emergency shipment of spares from Adventure-Spec, required after some unfortunate incidents in Kazakhstan … namely the new chain breaking and the wrong front brake disc arriving.
We made good time and Dima texted back to say he will meet us on the outskirts of the city at 5:30pm. We had time to spare, so we stopped off for some lunch and tea, and sat out some of the drizzle we had been riding thru most of the day.
We arrived a little bit early to our rendezvous point with Dima, and set about re-creating a fotograph of the big dam at Krasnoyarsk that I had taken 15 years ago, now with Tony in place of James Mudie. Due to bridge security (there was none 15 years ago), we were a little rushed and I didnt get to replicate it exactly … but close enough.
We told Dima, a lawyer and off-road rider, what we needed to get done in Krasnoyarsk in terms of repairs and he led us thru the bustling city towards his off-road club mechanic. On the way, he took us past the massive BMW centre, complete with BMW Motorrad dealer and service station. Tony needed a new visor for his BMW helmet, and incredibly he got one there. We decided to pop back in tomorrow morning for an electronic diagnostic check. We would still get all the mechanical repairs done at Dima’s off-road specialist guy, but both our BMW bikes have a diagnostic plug that can tell of any electrical faults or engine management problems, and it would be handy just to have a run thru the diagnostic computer before we really end up in the middle of no-where. If there were any problems with those components, we could get the BMW Motorrad guys to fix them.
We met Lena, who gave me my box of emergency spares, and had teed up a rental apartment for us. It was a nice big modern place right on the very central street of town, Prospekt Mira, and most importantly, it had a washing machine.
As soon as we had said goodbye to Dima and Lena, we stripped off and the washing machine began running continuously for several hours. Everything had to be washed. The bathtub became a boot and luggage scrubbing station while the machine ran.
Dinner time was 11pm and we headed out to walk Krasnoyarsk’s prosperous clean streets. It was like being back in the real world again after the challenges of Tuva. We found a steak house (for me) that had beer on tap (for Tony) and indulged ourselves. The corner of the steak house had a small stage and pole, but it must have been just for decoration … there was no dancing that night.
- – -
7:30am and Lena was already on the case, picking us up to take us to the secure car park where the bikes were stored. I had the location of the BMW guys in my GPS so we made our own way there. By 8:30 we were at the BMW dealer, earlier than expected – it opened at 9, so we popped down the road to wash the bikes. BMW could have done it, but Tony was charged 300 rubles for it in Moscow BMW and we could wash them ourselves with a high pressure hose for 100 each.
The BMW showroom and service centre was immaculate. I was stunned. The tiled floor of the workshop was of course spotlessly clean. The toilets luxurious. The coffee was perfect. The ‘technician’ plugged my bike in to the diagnostic computer first and it seemed I had a few minor bad contacts. Some wiring dismantling followed, a few squirts of contact spray, and the bike was electrically spot on. No issues with the Engine Management System. Tony was next, and same deal … a few contacts needed cleaning and then all was perfect.
Dima arrived to take us to Zhenya, the off-road club mechanic, who was barely a kilometre from the BMW centre. Zhenya’s workshop was a hive of activity, with a dozen off road bikes in for various work.
Dima and I gave Zhenya the list of projects for my bike … fit new front disc, fit new chain, replace three bolts (two luggage rack ones – luggage systems are the bane of our travels so far … but I got my new ortlieb bags from Tony and need to fit them now) and finally I wanted to check some more of the ‘work’ done by Boris in Almaty. Last week when we were rained out in Aktash, I checked my air-filter … Boris said he had cleaned it. He hadnt. It was filthy, much more than the ride from Almaty to Aktash should have done. It was Tajik dirt in there I suspect. I washed it myself there in Aktash.
So Boris probably didnt do things he was supposed to do as well as all the things he had done badly. That means I needed to have his work replacing my headset bearings checked as well. He was also supposed to check / replace spark plugs … but as I am skeptical of that too, I asked Zhenya to re-do it. As it was a proper off road workshop, it was a good chance to get my forks serviced. That hadnt been done since Valera in Yalta.
Next up was Tony’s chunkier list of projects for Zhenya and his team. Tony needed some welding and new mounting system for his luggage rack, a handcrafted front mudguard extender, fork gaitors, oil and filter change, new mirrors, clutch checked, and front rim beaten back into shape.
Zhenya just nodded his head. It was clear that like Valera, this wasnt just a job, he was an enthusiast. He understood it all and discussed solutions with his team, and then said ‘OK, call you when its done.’
Dima took us to a massive new shopping mall on the way home, as clean, stylish and modern as anything anywhere in the world. As we ate lunch in the food court there, the contrast between Krasnoyarsk, and its immaculate, modern shopping malls and BMW motorrad service centres, and the primitive simple life we had seen in the Tuvan yurts just 3 days ago, caused both of us to wonder at the incredible variety in Russia, in peoples, in cultures, in almost everything. Its an amazingly diverse place, and you do have to remind yourself its one country.
This was a day to check progress on the bike, do a lot of internet catch up, buy some bike supplies like chain lube, luggage straps, assorted nuts, bolts, washers, organise minor clothing repairs and in the evening we got to take our fantastic host, Dima, out for beers at an English pub with its own brewery.
The bikes are coming along well and the repairs are more thorough that we even hoped. A fantastic pair of metal parts has been crafted by the metalworker at Zhenya’s bike workshop for Tony’s luggage system.
I have made an odd decision to use two soft luggage systems on the back of my bike … the new Ortlieb motorcycle bags are too small to use on their own. Zhenya can fix my old luggage system so I will have a near empty back bag and double side bags. Cool or what?
- – -
A lazy day in Krasnoyarsk waiting for our bikes to be finished off. Tony and I spent it mostly at the pub … the James Shark Pub, an english pub just round the corner from our apartment on main st – Prospekt Mira. Dima came round after his work at 5pm and we trotted off to collect by riding pants (they needed a repair done, a boot (which had a seam re-stitched) and to check out the bikes, which after 2 days in Zhenya’s workshop were now finished.
On the way we stopped off at the workshop of another extraordinary motorcycle enthusiast in Krasnoyarsk, a guy called Misha Shestakov, who is a world war 2 motorcycle restorer. Among his 22 bikes were a collection of amazingly restored German (BMW and Zundapp), American (Harley) and British BSA bikes form the war. Evey detail, down to the manufacturers stamp on the head of the bolts had been restored or replicated. A couple of the BMWs were ex Afrika Korps, a couple were European theatre. It was a stunning collection.
Back to Zhenya’s garage – not surprisingly, the bikes were sorted to an impressive standard. A look at every item of work showed the commitment to do the job properly first time that you need in bike prepping for this kind of project. Time will be the ultimate judge of the quality of the work done, but it looks to me like I just found my second master mechanic of the trip, and he was another KTM rider. I half think its because KTM guys tend to be enthusiasts, and half think its because if you have a KTM, you better be a good mechanic cause you will need one a hell of a lot.!!
In any case, Zhenya in Krasnoyarsk joins Valera in Yalta in being awarded the Sibirsky Extreme Order of Lenin for services to motorcycle maintenance. His reward was a rare (and getting rarer) Sibirsky Extreme Lenin sticker.
Tony and I really have grown to like the James Shark … good food (we had a spanking lamb shank and steak tonight), good in house beer (they have their own micro brewery), complimentary wi-fi internet and good service. It too gets the official Sibirsky Extreme stamp of approval (big red stamp obviously). For anyone passing thru, Krasnoyarsk is our recommended stop. Take a couple of days off, get the bike serviced by a master, and enjoy the James Shark.
- – -
The sun was shining for the first time in days when we woke up in our main street apartment, and we packed up the bags optimistically. After 3 days off the bikes, we were both missing them and were looking forward to putting some miles in. Its about 1100 km to Irkutsk, and I reckon its 3 days to get there.
Dima came round and picked us and our luggage up at 10am and we headed off to Zhenya’s workshop, where the bikes were. My headset bearings and spark plugs had been checked and were ok. My forks services, My new front disc and chain were on the bike … I was ready to go. I got the guys to install a fuel filter into the line the connects the two fuel tanks. It wont catch everything, but I reckon over 80% of the fuel I use passes thru that line so it will catch most of the crap, and it will give me an idea about how much other fuel crap has gone thru the engine. I loaded up my double barrelled side bag luggage system for the first time, and it worked. That means my small side bags are now the only luggage I need to remmove from the bike at the end of each day. Thats light and easy.
Tony had been admiring his new luggage mounts. The guys had not only made two new solid mounting points for the front of his luggage system, but had reinforced the entire rack. The Metal Mule racks use the strength of tubular steel and then render that strength meaningless by flattening it at every mounting point, so that the mounting points are weak flat squashed ex-tube. Whats the point making something strong if its full of weak points? A couple of the mounting points not only have the steel flattened, but then make it even weaker by bending the flattened bits. Not surprisingly, those bent flattened bits had cracks all thru them and in one case sheared off completely. I am certainly no metal wizard, but I learnt enough after a few days with Erik Bok to know the basics. Flattening tube to make a convenient mounting point was something I never saw Erik do. Tube is tube .. its round precisely because that shape makes it strong. Take away the shape and you take away the integrity of the frame. The tube should be welded directly onto strong separate mounting plates, not squashed to create a two ply thin steel mounting plate.
Back in Zhenya’s workshop, those squashed and bent tubular mounting sections were reinforced with several mm of flat steel, bent to shape and should now be as strong as the tubular sections. All the metal work was touched up in black paint to match the original and refitted. I looked at the work and thought even the Dutch metal master himself would approve.
Tony also had a new front mudguard extender crafted from thick rubber and riveted to his beak. It was in the right spot, but it looked small. Would it do that job? We had to trust Zhenya and his boys on that one. Tony’s bike also had an oil change, new mirrors attached and a few other minor bits n pieces.
We packed up the bikes, said goodbye to the team who had done such a solid job fixing what needed fixing and set off for Irkutsk, with Dima leading the way our of town. It was good to be rolling again. The bikes felt happy and refreshed, and we certainly were happy and refreshed from our 3 day stay in Krasnoyarsk. On the outskirts of town we said farewell to Dima, who had looked after us so well in Kras. He will be taking his Yamaha to lake Baikal and across the border to Hovsgul in Mongolia in July. Lucky chap … as a Russian he can cross Russian borders we westerners can only drool at. (most obscure border crossings are locals only crossings).
After an hour on the road the sunshine ended and it clouded over. After another hour it begain to rain. Yet again. I have been with Tony 10 days now and every single day it has rained. An hour or so in the rain and I stopped at a roadside cafe. I wanted to get warm again. By now it was cold. I needed to plug in the Exo heated vest and gloves. Tony also needed to go for his heated vest. The temperature had dropped to 6 degrees. Throw in the rain as well and it was full on winter riding. Average temperature round here this time of year is 20 – 25 … what it was doing at 6 degrees is anyones guess.
Fortunately we just called up the support trucks who were waiting 2 miles back (just out of shot), one of which has been hauling a trailer complete with fireside bar, staffed with the swedish bikini cocktail team of bar girls. Tony and I had a little argument about this, as I felt the trailer with the heated jacuzzi and sauna would be more appropriate at the current time, but in the interests of friendship I folded and we crawled into the fireside bar trailer.
When I woke up from my daydreaming it was time to put on the cold wet jacket and notch up a few more miles. the two hour tea break had helped – a bit. Between Krasnoyarsk and Irkutsk we are on the main road. No interesting diversions. Much of the interest for me of this section is remembering how the road was 15 years ago vs now. We soldiered on and passed the big Army base at Kansk where James and I had been led into the basement 15 years ago. (see www.TokyotoLondon.com for what happened in the basement)
Soon after Kansk, we crossed into Irkutsk Region, where the time changed again. We are now 8 hours ahead of London. I believe its also Beijing time, thats how far east we have come. The road around the Kansk – Taishet area is being worked on and there were plenty of dirty muddy sections. Unlike 15 years ago, these dirty muddy sections go on for a few hundred yards rather than a few hundred kilometres.
At Taishet, where the BAM road emerges onto the main Trans-Siberian highway, we stopped to refuel the bikes and found a cafe to try and warm ouselves up as well. I checked weather in other cities ahead. 6 degrees in Irkutsk. 25 and sunny in Yakutsk way up north. Amazing. I noted a few days ago that Magadan and Yakutsk were both 30 and sunny. I hope the warm sunny weather up North will hold until we get there. It will mean roads are drier and easier. The only thing that will stop progress will be rain and mud. To a large degree the success of the northern objectives depends on how lucky we are with the weather. Down south here we have had 2 weeks of constant rain. The dirt side tracks off the main highway are just mudbaths. Thats fine here and I hope we use up our quota of crappy weather here. Its easier to deal with when the roads are mainly asphalt and cafe’s exist every few dozen kilometres.
Again we put on the wet gear. We had been told both by Dima and by the guy we sat next to in the cafe, that there were good modern motels by the roadside at Alzamai, 60 km down the road from here, and so at 11pm (still a little light outside) we soldiered on thru the freezing drizzle.
At midnight we saw the bright lights of a pair of new motels, one of each side of the highway. As we approached we also saw over 100 trucks parked in the various parking lots. This was quite a popular stop. I feared for room availability. I approached the first motel and asked gingerly if they have any rooms left. The woman shook her head. We crossed the highway and tried the other one. Also no…but the lady said shold be some freeing up in about an hour. The rooms are paid for by the hour here. About 35 EUR cents an hour, per person. Patiently we waited in the cafe, in our cold wet clothes, for the lady of the motel to summon us. That hour seemed a hell of a long time when shivering and cold and wet, but sure enough at 1am, we were summoned and told ’10 minutes’… and 10 mins later were were led to our room and raced each other to see who could strip out of the cold wet clothes the fastest.
One positive note from today, the rubber beak extender added to Tony’s Dakar works … 100%
- – -
Didnt wake before midday. Still cold and wet outside. This was the 11th day in a row of rain. The only rain free day since meeting Tony 12 days ago was the ride from Mugur Aksy to Kyzyl. Weather forecast for tomorrow for warmer drier conditions. Decided to stay put in motel for another day. Incredibly while its wet and rainy and 5 degrees in Irkutsk today, its +25 and sunny AGAIN in Yakutsk today.
Did minor maintenance on the bike. If there is something I forgot to get done in Krasnoyarsk it was to get Zhenya to look at the wheel spacers on the X-C, as they form part of the dirt / water / mud sealing system for the wheel bearings. They are made of aluminium alloy and the dirt grinds away easily the surface – exposing the bearings to greater risk of failure. Simple to make some steel or stainless steel units on a lathe … or just some sleeves for the alloy units.
Then we took an afternoon nap.
When we awoke there were 4 more motorcycles outside our window; 2 Poles, a Lithuanian and Greek … all on road tyres, heading for Mongolia – 3 big 1200 GSs and an Africa Twin (even bigger). They too had pulled over for the day to avoid the rain, mud and cold. I guess you get that when you are on the main road across Siberia – other bikers. Havent seen any other foreigners since the Germans at Sary Tash.
One of the Polish guys said they werent very experienced off road and feared their bikes were too heavy for Mongolia, as they had struggled in the muddy sections on the main Trans-Siberian highway. He asked me my opinion since I had ridden across Mongolia before … I said I think they should be fine. It was half the truth. I think the 1200 is no problem in Mongolia … These guys might be inexperienced, but they wont be after Mongolia. Its meant to be a learning experience after all.
A comment from Tony today reminded me that there is more than just the bike in need of maintenance. Hair is getting a bit long. It hasnt been cut since the disasterous mullet attempt on my head in Feodosiya Crimea, that I barely salvaged at the last minute. Since then its just been a case of trying to grow it out. Apparently now its beginning to look a little “Jonathon Ross”. Oh dear. Another mission for Irkutsk.