Saturday, July 12, 2003  

How to fix a motorcycle tire

We arose on the second day out of Magadan refreshed and ready to make up some time. Since we had gotten such a late start getting the bikes out of customs and put back together, we had only gone a couple hundred miles the day before. The road ahead was gravel and dirt with some potholes and I remember thinking that this wasn't going to be so bad. Sure the road's a little bouncy and could use some maintenance, but it wasn't nearly as bad as everyone said. I guess I was a little naive at the time.

We were making good progress and hoping to grab lunch and reach Susuman by evening. Shortly after bouncing over a bridge, the rear end started to feel a little loose. I'd experienced this before, when hitting a patch of sand or loose gravel, or even a gust of wind. Typically I'd just need to slow down a bit and ride it out. That didn't help, the rear end just kept fishtailing even as I slowed all the way down to a stop. I got off the bike with some trepidation, hoping not to see the inevitable.

Henning, who had been following behind me (on dusty roads we tend to spread out a bit since our dust cloud can be quite long) pulled up to see what was the matter. After a few minutes, we accepted the fact that we were going to have to pull the wheel off and fix the tire. So off went all the baggage. I don't have a center stand so I used one of my Happy-Trails panniers to support the bike while we worked. Removing the rear wheel turned out to simpler than I had feared. Essentially you just need to loosen the axle adjustment screws, tap the axle out and slide the chain off the sprocket. Shaun arrived at about that time wondering where we had been since he hadn't seen us behind him in some time.

We had read many posts on describing the difficulty with breaking the bead. Many people had built elaborate bead breaking machines and there has been much discussion regarding the various products out there. We had none. But, as I suspected, it really isn't that difficult. A little leverage with the tire irons and of course some help from Max and it will release.

Locating the puncture site was unfortunately a little too easy. The road is littered with bits of broken trucks and tires. When it was muddy, these pieces get pushed into the road bed. The road dries up and bakes to a brick like consistency and now you've got a nice little spear waiting to catch an unlucky traveler. Near as I can figure, I must have bounced sideways on to one of these traps with enough force for it to skewer the tire and tube and then bounced off of it.

We quickly patched the tube, ever mindful of the passing trucks and cars. We slipped the tube back in, pumped it up thanks to Steve's portable compressor and reinstalled it. All in under two hours. Pretty good we thought, for our first time.

Well about a kilometer later I heard a disturbing pfffft and felt the now familiar swerving rear end. This time I wasn't too far from a pull off. The boys came back and we walked the bike the 100 meters or so to the rest area. (which is also a very effective way to break the bead). Another unfortunate traveler was fixing the tire on his large Kamaz truck and the roadside was littered with abandoned truck tires and tubes. At first we thought that the patch hadn't held, but soon discovered the real problem. The gash in the tire was so large that it would pinch the tube as it flexed.

I'm not sure who came up with the solution, but I cut a section from a truck innertube and super glued it to the inside wall of the tire. Repatched the tube and we set off down the road again. By now we were becoming somewhat experts at it, and were able to do this in a little over an hour. It was a very hot and long day, we were out of food and water by this point, but we were told that there was a store just 45 kilometers down the road.

We set off down the road certain that we could make it. Well, hopeful anyway. I can't recall when I was last that dehydrated. Certainly not since my time in the army. I knew I had to baby the tire, but with every passing kilometer my confidence in our repair job increased. I must say, even just writing this story makes me thirsty.

As luck would have it, the tire failed after some 40 kilometers. I couldn't believe the luck. I was minutes away from some cool, cool water. Little did I know how lucky I was. It turned out that a trucker was waiting just across the road for a mechanic (remont) to patch their tire and upon seeing our predicament they explained that they'd get them to help me as well. Henning and Shaun set off for water and juice and I started the task of unloading the bike. By this point I was able to put the bike on the pannier and take off the rear wheel by myself.

The mechanics showed up and signaled for me to grab the wheel and hop in the truck with them. I was so thirsty that all I wanted was to wait for Shaun and Henning to return, but they were adamant. The trucker indicated that he would watch over my stuff and explain where I went. I learned later that he was as good as his word.

My experience in Russia to date had been that no one had heard of Vermont, but when I told the mechanic where I was from, he immediately smiled and mentioned Solzhenytsin. It hadn't occurred to me before to mention his name in describing where I was from, so I started to use that. However, no one else that I've encountered so far has heard of him or gotten the connection.

They drove me a little ways out of town and up to the maintenance shop for a local mining operation. My escorts walked me to a house, and after a brief discussion left me with the man there. We then walked over to the tire repair shop and had a difficult discussion regarding whether anything could be done. I finally got across that the tire had an inner tube and they agreed that they could put a plug in the tire and patch the tube. My new host quickly escorted me inside to a bathroom so I could wash the dust off my face.

I was sorely tempted by the tap water, but he told me that it wasn't pure. When I emerged from the restroom, I was brought into the office of the director and given some pastries and a cup of coffee. As many of you know, I can't stand coffee. I quickly spooned some of it out and diluted it with hot water from the kettle. I have to admit, as thirsty as I was, it tasted pretty good. I continued to drink a little and add more water until I was largely just drinking hot sugar water. True to Russian hospitality they offered me a moose antler as a present which I declined due to space limitations, so instead they gave me a 30th anniversary pin. We discussed our trip over some cucumbers from the greenhouse as I met all of the people in the company. After about 30 minutes, the tire was plugged with a big truck tire plug and the tube repatched. My offer of money was refused, and I was driven back in a Russian jeep along with an armload of cucumbers to rejoin my companions.

Unfortunately, when the put the tube back in they, accidentally pinched so it had a slow leak. We rode up a side road towards what we thought was the local campsite (though possibly everyone had been telling us not to go there). This caused us to spend the night in what, up that time was the most mosquito infested place we had seen. Discuss this post

photos . . .

posted by matt; | 9:31 PM








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