The first couple of weeks of the trip have not seen me fanging North at any great velocity, much to the incredulity of many. ‘But what are you doing?’ they say. The answer is, mostly, ‘working on the bike’.
‘Working on the bike? Did it break down? Already?’ they say. No, it hasn’t broken down. But getting a bike that’s a few years old in a fit state to ride halfway around the world, and maintaining it at that level in the face of wear and tear, is a job that’s never really done.
Now, some people seem to have this idea that this trip is going to be just like The Long Way Round: that I would ride out of town in a ticker-tape parade on my shiny new professionally adventurised motorbike and head on down the highway with the wind in my hair and a support crew on my tail.
Sadly, I’m not as pretty or talented as Ewan, so this is not The Long Way Round.
Similarly, Beastie did not just roll out of a packing crate amid the smell of new plastic and rubber. When I pulled up outside Motorcycles R Us in Brisbane the other day, a bloke standing out front gaped a little and said, ‘How OLD is that motorbike?’
Poor Beastie. She was just a little bit dusty after playing in the Glasshouse Mountains.
She’s only a 2012, I said.
He looked surprised. ‘Well, it looks like you’ve gotten your money’s worth!’
I should hope not, eh! We still have to get to Paris.
So Beastie had 32,800km on the clock when we left Sydney last month and she’s well past 37,000 now. The kilometres don’t bother me unduly; she had 22,000km when I bought her last year and I put a few more on her just for fun. She’s sound, but there’s going to be wear and tear, and there’s going to be that fine, sticky red Queensland dust all up in my bearings and connectors. I need to be attentive and look after her – and that’s completely fine by me.
What does piss me off, though, is that every time I undo something on Beastie, I find some dodgy-ass repair or an overtightened bolt or a damaged part that’s been covered up. This sort of thing pisses me off because it’s so unnecessary. Especially the overtightened bolts thing.
What is it with this all-pervasive mania for overtightening bolts? I mean, guys, I know you’re all big and strong and macho and shit, but you still don’t need to do up that 5mm bolt in my clutch cover to 100nm. You just don’t.
I’ll be the first to agree that breaker bars are useful tools, but mostly for physically expressing how I feel about people who overtighten the fasteners on my motorcycle.
This is especially true on occasions when I go to take out such a bolt, and either a) it cannot be removed with reasonable force or b), the aluminium thread comes out on my fingers like pretty silver fairy dust.
It’s going to take a while to discover and rectify all the dodgy shit that has happened to the bike, and to familiarise myself with its various weaknesses and vagaries. I look forward to the day when I have only myself to blame.
In the meantime, however, I get intermittent surprises like the one that kept me in Brisbane last week: a stripped thread around the upper oil filter bolt in my clutch cover. I did an oil change a couple of weeks back, and noticed that it was the only bolt that wasn’t tight to start with. When I went to do it up again after the oil change, the bolt couldn’t be persuaded to tighten at all. However, the oil filter cover was still sealing properly. I surmised that the bolt must have been like that since at least the last oil change. So I did it up as much as possible and left it like that while I mulled over what to do.
There were suggestions of thread tape, and helicoils; was it something that needed to be fixed immediately and definitively, or was it one of those slightly dodgy situations that would hold for the next 10,000km? I waited for a sign, and it came about 300km later with a seeping of oil which rapidly turned to a glistening slick which slid down the side of my clutch cover like an icrecream melting in summer.
The bolt thread had really, finally, given up the ghost.
Much drama ensued, but we got back to town with a temporary fix and the other day I got my hands on a Timesert kit (wonderfully, inexplicably shipped with Fruit Tingles).
[Left: Which bolt is not like the others? Right: The solution, with Fruit Tingles.]
The magnificent Sam Richards of Queensland Motorcycle Doctors swung by to do the installation and now Beastie’s all sweet again.
So repairs aside, there were bunch of things that I’ve wanted to do to the bike in preparation for the trip, and I didn’t get to do them all before I left town. I had a job – one of those things you have to spend most of your time doing, in order to acquire money to pay for things you’d rather spend most of your time doing. I also didn’t know how to do this work on the bike myself, and learning how to do things takes time.
When I left Sydney there were still a bunch of electricals to wire up: headlight cut out switch, voltmeter, USB charger, foglights. (A previous episode of electrical wiring and tuition ended when I finally learnt enough to realise that what was being recommended to me was wildly more complicated and expensive than what I needed, and would be unnecessarily difficult to fix or replace in out of the way places. Latching relays, seriously?)
These things led me to an excellent day in the workshop of Jack and his chocolate Labrador, Abbey. It was a beautiful sunny day in Gunnedah and people dropped by the workshop throughout the day as Jack and I worked; me pulling the bike apart to get to the wiring, Jack doing the electrical work and explaining to me how to do it, how to test it, and how to fix it. Jack would introduce me to each visitor and then add, gleefully, ‘Ask her where she’s going!’
Other things that were hanging over my head included overcoming the seized linkage bearing that was stopping me from installing my lowering link; shortening the side stand; cleaning my air filter; doing an oil change; replacing my increasingly destroyed indicator mounts; cleaning my safari tank fuel pre-filter; dealing with the pannier rail bolt that had been stripped out of its mounting in the plastic fuel tank; and getting to the bottom of modifications to the fuel filter and fuel pump set-up so that I could maintain the filters and other components appropriately.
None of these things were show stoppers, but I knew I would feel a whole lot better once they were addressed; so when I got to Brisbane and the excellent Shane volunteered his excellent mate Sam to help me out with the more difficult stuff, I wasn’t going to pass up the offer.
Sam, for the record, is an absolute legend. When not being the patron saint of shiftless motorcycle travellers, Sam is the proprietor of Queensland Motorcycle Doctors and spends his days resuscitating motorcycles all over the Gold Coast. He helped me sort my intractable linkage bearing situation so that we could install the Kouba lowering link that I’ve been carrying around for a year. He even put me in touch with the wonderful Gary Robinson, who cut down my sidestand for me. These two gentlemen will have saved Beastie and I from many an embarrassing faceplant on the road ahead.
Of course, the other important factor in my leisurely lingering in Brisbane over the last couple of weeks is that I have been very, very comfortable. After a couple of years of motohomelessness around the world, RTW Shane is back in Brisbane earning money for his next set of misadventures, and I have been availing myself of his hospitality and company with some delight.
Shane’s one of the very first wonderful things that came to me through this trip, way back last August when everyone else was telling me that I couldn’t do it. But as the impermanence of travel gives, it takes away too.
Back on the road today.