Life on bikes

Tooling up for the big adventure

Intrepid traveller Dutchie is on his way back to his native Australia atop a Triumph Tiger. Before he set off he didn’t put much thought into the tools he’d need and the roadside repairs he’d be undertaking. Many miles down the road, he’s now a fair bit more knowledgeable and has a packing list to share.

When I read about the overland adventures of other riders, I’d always wonder if they knew how to fix everything beside the road, before they roared off into the rising sun. To me, they looked like heroes, out in the middle of a hot desert, bike on its side, cutting new clutch plates out of an ice cream container.

I didn’t know much about anything mechanical before I left… basically because I was afraid of taking things apart and messing it up. That question always lingered in the back of my mind – what if I cock it up? How will I fix it then? The comfort of having a trustworthy, reasonably priced mechanic at home made it easy to not have to learn the basics.

18 months on from then, I’ve learnt how to fix and maintain a bunch of things yet still probably less than I should for someone crossing half the world on a bike. I’ve taken many a chance riding trails alone through forests in Georgia, deserts in Iran and countless valleys in Pakistan, without a venerable knowledge of many things mechanical.

Luckily enough, it hasn’t been difficult to learn the ‘fixing’ along the way. After landing in Morocco in February 2016 and riding east since then, after meeting quite a few riders from around the world, I’ve picked up a few tricks and simple tips.

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Tools

When I left London for Australia in June 2016, I left with nothing more than the basic bike tool kit, a Leatherman, two tyre irons, and a ring spanner for the rear wheel. This dire situation all changed pretty quickly, however. By the time I had gotten to Greece, and again in Iran, and then again in Pakistan, I had a healthier looking tool kit.

Basically, the updates on my kit came from seeing what other riders had in their toolkits. I don’t even think Soon Ki whom I met in central Turkey had a tool kit in his GS and he was on his way to South Africa from South Korea!!! This gave me a reminder to check on my toolbox for what else I may need.

Rowan, an Australian compatriot gave me the idea of getting a long screwdriver for things like pushing apart brake pads to fit the brake disc easily when re-mounting the wheels.

Sven a wine loving Dutchman, whom I met in Greece, got me thinking about the important spares – because I had done no preparation. Things like a spare clutch cable, electrical tape and so on (in my defence, I had only four weeks to prepare, and out of those, two weeks were spent in central Poland and Bavaria sampling their local beverages).

However, a majority of my knowledge simply came off forums, youtube and watching various mechanics work on my bike. Gone now are the days when I go for a beer while a mechanic tinkers away on the old girl. Whenever there’s a tinker, I’m there, watching, asking, sounding like an idiot, but leaving with a little more knowledge on how to do something.

Now, many miles into my adventure home to Oz, here’s the full listing of what I’m carrying

– Spare front tube
– Spare rear tube
– Tube patches
– Electric air compressor
– Tyre pressure gauge
– Litre of oil
– Litre of coolant
– Small tub of grease
– WD40
– Chain lube
– Tyre filler foam for absolute emergencies
– First aid kit
– Medicine kit
– Miniature Motion Pro strip down kit
– Motion Pro tyre lever pair
– Motion Pro ratchet attachment (fits Motion Pro tyre lever)
– 5 x various socket sizes
– Basic tool kit (ratchet, spinner and screwdriver with 12 tips and 16 sockets)
– Standard Bike tool kit
– Duct tape
– Electrical tape
– Long nose vice grips
– Cable ties (various sizes)
– Liquid Steel
– Spare clutch cable
– Rok straps
– Spare tie down straps
– Leatherman
– 2 spare tyre levers (for those really stiff-walled Heidenaus)
– 17mm hex lever
– Brake pads (front and rear)
– Plastic bags
– Workshop manual
– Small bag of fuses

Quick fixes on the road

I remember that day I sheared the front end off my tiger. It was bloody hot, I was tired and all I wanted to do was sit in the shade and suck down my last cigarette in peace. Funnily enough, my first reaction wasn’t the holy trinity of swear words, but “how am I gonna fix this?”

The nose plate, which basically keeps the whole front end together, had sheared in two after I’d binned the old girl in a deep pile of gravel. After testing the electricals, which were all still connected and working, it was time to do a roadside patch. All this entailed was lots of cable ties and duct tape which basically bandaged the lot scrappily together – tacho, nose plate, screen, lights and all.

It was ugly, kind of like an “art” sculpture you’d see in a museum. It shook a lot and was almost a separate entity unto itself… But it worked and that’s all that mattered – after all I wasn’t modelling in a Milan fashion show.

The right pannier was a mess. I already sheared it off in Georgia. Tiny cracks ran up the sides and the lid was bent at a 45-degree angle leaving an angular gap of 3 inches open to the water elements.

The best I could do was cut a few spare plastic bags at the invisible ‘seams’ and then tape them together. This created kind of a large waterproof wrap sheet for my personals until I got somewhere where I could re-assess, and come up with a better long-term solution. Not pretty, but kept all my gear dry.

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Tricks

I’d never had to fit rear wheels (I come from a crotch rocket background with a mechanic on call) solo on a bike before, but Rowan also taught me a small trick to ease the fitting. It was simple.

Throw a rock about the same size as my palm and just as flat, underneath the axle holes and then roll the wheel over the top of it. This freed up a hand and got the centre of the rim close enough to the axle holes to slip in the axle. Changing tyres and fitting rims became a piece of piss after that.

Another simple trick I picked up on the road was cleaning a leaky fork seal. I’m a budget rider, and I don’t have the cash to be paying mechanics to fix things for me unless it’s something dire. A leaky fork seal seemed to be a relatively easy fix – and it was.

After watching a youtube clip with some bloke and a plastic hook, I just cut my own out of a thin sheet of plastic I was hoarding. Cutting a notch into it with my knife, I fed it into the leaking seal, scraped around for the gunk and then sealed it shut again. No problems after that!

Don’t be fooled into thinking only riders know how to fix things though – ‘Jiggering’ was something I picked up off an ice climber in Lahore. My mate Matty had a zip that wouldn’t shut, and about 2 mins later with nothing but an open flame, the bloke had fixed the problematic zip perfectly.

‘Jiggering’ was a term he used for fixing things while climbing mountains. Ever since then, I’ve been ‘jiggering’ GoPro clips to boot straps. It’s a lot to do with the mindset you have before you go to fix something! It doesn’t have to look good – it just has to work!

Iran motorcycle trip
The beauty of Iran is worth the odd burnt-out clutch plate

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Sourcing

When it has come to the replacement side of things, I’ve been decent at finding the right people to source ‘impossible to find’ parts in places like Iran and Pakistan.

Entering Tehran in September during peak hour was a lot of fun. My riding gear was wet from sweat. The cooling fan kept switching on constantly. 6 lanes of traffic wedged itself between 4 lanes, which made filtering a nightmare. Stop start, stop start… 2 hours later, my clutch gave in and burnt out – halfway up a steep hill!

It needed a set of new Tiger clutch plates – and the ones I installed were the ones which happened to be for a Suzuki something or other. Not to spec, not OEM, but hell, they worked and so far have taken me on another 30,000km!

The trick here in Tehran, was finding the right person to get the part from – and thankfully the internet and its forums now exist. The internet makes over landing on a bike a whole world easier than what it was when legends Ted Simons or Elspeth Beard were hot to trot.

Sourcing parts I’ve made many online and offline friends. People like Nora from the Netherlands or Jo and Sofie from Belgium, who had the right contacts when I was in a tight spot. With everything that is now available, you can get help from virtually anywhere – because chances are, someone has been there before you!

Now

Now I’m used to not having all the OEM spares and have weird ways of getting things done. I use jacks to push my crash bars out every time they bend in. I replace all my own brake pads, tubes and tyres (except if there is a tyre wallah nearby, $1 will save me a half hour of sweating).

Simple things like greasing the moving bits and cleaning the small tight bits… I never did any of that before, but once you head on a longer journey, it kind of becomes natural. You know that competent mechanics who will lay eyes on your beast will be few and far between, so a bit of preventative maintenance always helps.

The truth of the matter is, if you’re anything like me, sometimes you won’t know how to fix everything… and one needs to “expect the unexpected”. That’s why people say to pick a direction and just go – because no matter how prepared you are, there’ll still be some things you aren’t prepared for that you will work out with the help of friends on the way!

Get yourself sorted:

Get the travelling bug by reading about Dutchie’s epic trip back to Oz, at athehandlebars.com

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The Author

Dutchie

Dutchie

Dutchie is a truly global nomad. He's currently heading home from Britain to his native Oz via Turkey, Iran, Pakistan - places that are home to some of the kindest people on the planet when it comes to looking after a biker on the road.

His first experience of bikes was tooling around on the back of his dad's BMW R80 (in teal, rusty as hell and noisy as f#ck).

An ace photographer (that'll make him blush) and blogger, he's been riding since he was 19 and has spent a decade on bikes, from lithe Kawasaki Z750's, through crotch-rocket Daytona 675's and on to today's continent-busting Triumph Tiger 800 XC.

You can read up on his latest progress at http://atthehandlebars.com