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London to civilisation. From planning to execution
And so it begins.
(Planning, not the trip...)
So... the plan is to ride from London to Thailand. 7000 miles through the Middle East passing through two war zones (3 if the Americans get their visa before I get mine) and several countries that use mud as tarmac. Sounds easy, right?
Well first I need a huge pile of expensive paperwork, a bike capable of taking a beating, various bits of kit, a ton of cash and some kind of map. Paperwork is my least favourite part of life, throwing money at bikes is probably next although riding them is fun. I’ve recently just got back from Europe where I tested the bike I chose by riding it round for a month, covering 6000 miles 2 up. She did well but there needs to be changes. I figured I’d start this blog thing now to detail my progress with visas and bike modifications which might be interesting for anyone else who’s decided to torture themselves in a similar way.
I’ll go into details of what I’ve done, what I learned from the last trip and what I’m doing to fix the problems that showed up. I’ll talk rubbish at times too so you’ve been fairly warned. Please feel free to ask questions or offer suggestions, bribes, , etc.
When I was at school I wanted to be a long distance lorry driver. I really liked the idea of travelling around, seeing a bit of the world, having time to think and making some decent money. However when I was at career counselling it was determined that I was of the wrong mental aptitude for such a lowly pursuit and I should follow a different path. I did and now have a series of qualifications that allow me to work in various positions I hate for companies that are generally morally reprehensible for a third of the money I would have earned as a lorry driver. In short, I’ve had enough of the rat race. It’s designed to create stress and I decided I don’t really like stress as much as I like riding motorcycles. So I figured it was either drive myself slowly mad doing things I absolutely hate or buy a bike and get the hell out of the system for a while.
I’m a lifelong biker. I bought a scooter for £50 when i was 16. It came in three cardboard boxes and I put them together into a bike. To be honest, I wasn’t a fan and after that I went on to cars. By the time I was 20 I was back to bikes and have had just about every kind since then, singles, twins, triples, fours, 2-strokes, 4-strokes, big ones, fast ones, heavy ones and crap ones. Mostly crap ones... As I’ve matured I’ve leant from sportbikes into adventure bikes. It was either do that or lose my licence so a few years ago I got into the off-road thing with a bit of green-laning and gone on to abuse a whole different class of 2 wheeled machine in a whole different way. Since then I’ve had a few and finally decided I want to use it to travel which is something I’ve always wanted to do anyway.
Thailand sounds cool to me. It’s probably the best standard of living for the money you’re going to get on this planet right now so I fancied heading there. I met a girl who happened to be from Thailand and after she went back I went out there a few times. She’s back in London now and heading back soon. I figured I will ride out to Thailand over roughly 3 months and meet her there when she gets back. When I get there I’ll start a small business doing something fun with bikes, maybe import-export, making adventure parts or even tour guide. I don’t know...
The trip is going to take me through some interesting places. The first two weeks my brother is coming with me. We’ll just spend it messing about on fire-roads and being a minor irritation to the local police around Spain/Portugal and France via the Pyrenees. After that I’m heading overland to Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and India. Getting from India to Thailand I’ve not figured out. I’ll sort something out when I get there.
When is however long it takes for my Visas and Carnet to get sorted out... Watch this space.
The bike I used is the 2007 BMW G650 X-country. Facing a tough ride across Europe 2-up and then a gruelling solo ride through the middle east I selected this bike carefully with a strict set of requirements but primarily because I like the colour.
I'm no huge fan of BMW. I've had three and this is the only one that was any good. I've had 5 Aprilia Pegasos and four of them were excellent, the last one was the newer 660 and made me seriously consider brutal acts of random violence towards Italian people. I've had lots of others too. I love Triumphs but they're not reliable. I really loved the Tiger until I owned one. Japanese bikes are great workhorses but lack character, they're built to a philosophy of whatever-will-sell and are built without innovation or imagination. That's actually a benefit on an ADV tourer but I still fancied something a bit different... because I'm stupid? I seriously considered many bikes...
Yamaha XT660. (Poor engine management, Not very durable, heavy, expensive to run)
Yamaha Tenere (see above but add poor build quality that even salesmen laugh about. Shame... I really really like these.)
Suzuki V-strom (heavy, too biased for touring, not as cheap to run as I'd like)
Pegaso Cube (not very reliable, expensive to run)
BMW F650 Dakar (getting old. Potential problems in early ones. Slightly heavy, otherwise almost perfect bike.)
Honda Transalp (bit more power but a lot less fuel economy. Weirdly over-dressed with odd plastic.)
MZ Bhagira. (supermoto but easy to modify. Small tank, hard to find upgrade parts.)
Triumph Scrambler. (Too expensive and likely to be wrecked by harsh conditions. Shame... this one was near top of my list.)
I discounted many others after owning them and finding them not to my taste for whatever reason.
The G650 range of BMW motorcycle have the dubious benefit of being built by Aprilia which although usually being the kiss of death to anything with 2 wheels has managed to sort-of work against all the odds. Basically the bike was powered by the old Rotax 650 single from the G650 range (previously F650) updated to rev a little faster and reinforced with tougher internals and a better engine management system. The chassis is a lightweight but tough alloy cradle which has been carefully designed to look just plain weird and the whole bike ends up being a competition-inspired lightweight enduro single with a pathetically small tank and over-soft rear subframe. If you can tolerate these shortcomings then these bikes make a great basis as an all-round tourer combining the simple old-fashioned reliability of a single with a truly excellent modern set of electronics that can self-adjust to pretty much anything. There are three versions, the X-Challenge with a 21” front wheel, adjustable air-shock at the rear and a classic enduro look. The X-moto is a super motard version with a 17” wheel but otherwise very much the same thing as before and the X-country which has a completely different styling and a 19” wheel. I liked the way the Country was a good compromise with decent road manners and still useful off-road and also has a seat that wouldn’t slowly force my anus up into my neck after 20 minutes of riding.
The bikes have all-but vanished now since 450s have taken over as rally machines but if that hadn’t happened then these bikes would still be in full production now and selling terribly. When they were available they were way over-priced and people didn’t “get them”. (I know the Country is still in production but it’s a different bike now with a better rear subframe and a lower suspension.) Now they’re a cheap bike that gives you a lot for your money and for my taste... this is a true GS. When the GS first came out it was less powerful than these little singles and far heavier. This bike is a true all-rounder in the original spirit and the new R1200GS leans far too heavily to luxury touring for my taste. Where I’m going I want light and simple.
Like all bikes, this one is a compromise and the weaknesses are the small tank and soft rear subframe. There is at least one known instance of a rear frame snapping but I wasn’t overly concerned about it as you have to expect to find one or two horror stories. I only worry when I see a pattern forming like I did with the R1200gs and F800gs, both of which I have tried. Having said that I thought it best to take the precaution of not over-loading it. Touratech make a steel rear frame complete with a set of alloy boxes for the low, low price of only £1200. I decided not to ride up to Touratech and vomit money all over their floor so I took the obvious alternative of lightweight rear luggage. The fuel tank holds a princely 9.5 litres and holds 3 of those in reserve. Touratech makes an auxiliary tank which sits up front in the traditional fuel holding position but this runs to over £500. There is an aluminium one made by a third party company which is even more but that fits to the already soft tail and is still prohibitively costly. Both hold the fuel high up and upset the handling to some degree. Also the Touratech unit only fits the X-challenge and won’t fit on my bike and the X-tank won’t fit with my luggage racks so an alternative had to be found, ideally a cheap one.
Preparations for touring need to make the bike ready for any eventuality so apart from adding luggage and fuel I needed to make myself easier to see as well as make the bike handle. The higher revving engine needs to compromise a larger generator from previous bikes so you have to be careful about electronic accessories, ie don’t use any. With that in mind I chose to fit HID spotlights which run at a lower wattage than standard lights and are far brighter. I also upgraded the main headlight with a slightly illegal main bulb with a better light output than standard. Even so, the output from the headlight is just this side of totally pathetic and BMW have been very cheeky fitting something so poor. Otherwise I fitted an accessory socket from a boat which is totally waterproof and replaces the slightly baffling DIN bike socket. They fit approximately nothing but a car sized socket fits everything. I also fitted a Garmin sat-nav which was purchased for financial expediency as bike GPS systems cost a fortune and don’t work. Mine also doesn’t work.
Hagon progressive front springs (more bouncy)
Wilbers rear shock (less bouncy)
HID spotlights (Cheap Halfords shell with cheap Ebay HID units forced in with a hammer)
Off-road only high-powered headlight bulb (Don’t tell the government)
LED sidelight (Low current drain, every little helps)
Radiator guard (Home made from parts obtained from B&Q)
Accessory socket (Marine standard and proper-sized)
Puig Screen (Aprillia Pegaso screen modified to fit)
Dirtbagz rear bags (lightweight, waterproof, come with nice frames which protect the rear end. I actually really rate these, I’ve been very impressed.)
GPR Exhaust (No Cat, helps her breath a little better and saves weight. Sounds better too.)
Airbox modifications. (Plastic shield carefully removed and then carelessly discarded into next doors garden)
K&N air filter
Auxiliary fuel tank. (Extra 5 litres)
Gel-seat (Fitted to stop the torture of the standard unit but only really dials it down a bit)
Tool-tube fitted. (It holds tools in a tube.)
Stebel Magnum air-horn (Loud and annoying so I use it a lot)
LED indicators (Never burn out and look better)
Garmin sat-nav. (Better than Tom-Tom but not by much)
Auxiliary fuel bottles (Two extra litres of spare fuel... just in case)
Gold DID X-ring chain and Steel sprockets (Virtually indestructible and pretty too if you like chains)
Stainless steel bolts (Everywhere. Tougher than standard and only three sizes used means I have to carry less tools)
Headlight hanger (Custom made and demonstrates a triumph of ignorance over being smart enough to know better. The new unit is 3mm alloy, far tougher than standard and is big enough to hold the twin HID ballasts. Also strong enough to support the screen.)
Sump guard (High quality German item and a big improvement to the plastic baking tray that comes as standard)
Alloy side panel (I had some leftover alloy)
Oxford temperature guage. (Slightly less accurate than smelling your own armpits to determine the temperature)
Touratech rear luggage rack (had to be slightly modified to fit the seat)
Headlight guard (acrylic disc. Home-made. Rubbish)
High-level mudguard (Does nothing but look good.)
Aprillia Pegaso Mirrors. (They fit the standard thread and are much tougher than the BMW ones. Also they were laying around in my garage after making the huge mistake of buying a 660 Pegaso. Older Pegasos are far better)
Iridium spark plugs (slight improvement over standard)
New number plate hanger (the standard one just sucks)
Others (Probably expensive)
I found a cheap auxiliary fuel tank made by Acerbis. It’s a square block designed to be mounted to the front forks of enduro bikes giving an additional 3 or 5 litres. It comes with a siphon hose which should (should) feed the main tank. I built a mounting plate which holds onto the front of the engine guard but transfers the weight to the front frame support which is the only thing strong enough to take it comfortably. Finding a hose was harder than you might think but once found I ran 4 feet of rubber tube to the rear of the bike and plugged it into the breather and against all the odds the main tank sucked the little one dry just as it was meant to. This means I have a secondary tank holding an additional 100 miles of range which is tough enough to be run over by a truck, holds all the weight down to the bottom and most importantly saved me £430 over the price of anything else on the market.
Luggage-wise I used Dirtbagz. They are simple, high quality throwover bags which come with a steel support frame that screws to the rear. They are a big weight and cost saving over alloy or plastic and the steel rear frames are very nice to have. Someone kicked my bike over in London and the rear frames saved any damage being done to the bike so I’m very happy to know they’re there and highly recommend them. The only downside is they’re small so you have to be prepared to travel light... not really an issue when you choose a 150kg motorcycle as a tourer.
So at this point I’ve just got back from a short tour of Europe. Mostly the bike behaved herself but there was some damage and some failures so I’ll be working on correcting these and making her even more perfect and even more odd-looking.
I owned a BMW F800gs and it was ok. I liked it a lot. Sadly it was stolen and I replaced it quickly with the G650X. As it turned out this was a good result. The G650X has been brilliant, the F800gs was trouble from the outset as a lot of them can be. Nothing major, just little annoyances. I was approached on a rally by a guy who owned one. He said he thought it was too flimsy for serious abuse. I now agree with him.
So my choice was more or less made for me by crossing off other options and by having something better and more practical in the garage...
Cheers. I'm actually a writer and if this is interesting enough I might pad it out into another book that nobody will buy.
Sadly my progress is slightly stalled as my dad has been taken into hospital for an emergency heart bypass with a 98% blockage. Today I will start with my Pakistan visa application... Filling in forms... this is going to be a truly fascinating blog. I may take pictures.
Thanks for the votes of confidence. Ok... Well today my old man is having a triple bypass thanks to a lifelong relationship with cream-cakes and bacon so I've got time to wrap my head around the visa issues. The three countries I need them for are all very different. India seems easiest. There's a neat little website called Visagenie who helps you do all the paperwork for the princely sum of £25. I can probably do it all myself but for that price a second, experienced pair of eyes are well worth having. It only takes 5 working days and it's valid for 6 months. Quite a contrast to Pakistan. 6 pages or crap probing every aspect of my life and military service, ie, none. They want just over £100 to process the paperwork for a 30 day visa and it's not guaranteed by any means, in fact it's fairly unlikely. I've tipped the scales in my favour by arranging to obtain a letter of invitation from a tour operator and a copy of their license. With that it should go through a bit quicker and a lot easier.
The Iran visa download PDF file is hand written, skewed to an angle and has the appearance of a minor formality. It's apparently very straightforward so I'm not too worried about that one. I've been to Dubai which is apparently on the same kind of ticket and it was very informal and friendly although almost everything was plated with gold or gold-coloured plastic, even the coffee.
It's Pakistan that bothers me. I've done some back-up planning and it seems difficult to circumvent the country. I was hoping a ferry service existed to go around but it's a lot more complicated than that (of course....) I have to ship the bike and myself separately which is not a huge deal but is still a potential problem waiting to happen.
Of course this means even more of my eggs are back in the original basket which is even more worrying.
I have to take pictures too and send postal orders because Pakistan don't want no stinking personal cheques which seems odd as it would actually be a nice additional level of security to demonstrate a working bank account but they must have their reasons.
Typically, Pakistan is the country that interests me least. It's just a formality between two countries I do want to visit where I have to be escorted by an army convoy. In practice it will probably be a fascinating part of the trip but right now with a pile of boring paperwork in front of me it's little more than a nuisance.
Bike wise... I've bought some of the bits to make the changes. Brake pads, spark plugs, etc are on their way. I'm sticking with Iridium plugs, they burn a little better and every little helps. They probably don't need doing but they're a rotten job on this bike so while she's got her top off to have the injectors cleaned I might as well do them.
Headlight is bought and paid for. In the end I dropped my expensive and moderately impractical desire for fixed HID spotlights in lew of a headlight. The spots I wanted were expensive and 6000k. They were also unavailable unless I wanted to send £200 to china via western union. (I did not.) So in the end I went with a far more practical solution... (you're going to laugh). I went with Buell Lightning lights. Now I know what you're thinking but they're a tough, vibration resistant housing with a stone guard built on. They're twin H7 lamps and I'm converting both to HID in the 4300k range which is far more visible to the human eye. I'll run two sets of spotlights, I'll keep the ones I have and convert them (again) to LED and use those as marker or driving lights and will get a second set with traditional bulbs. They will drain too much current but will be used just for emergency when I absolutely need all the mixed lighting I can get. I learnt my lesson, I want lights. I want to be seen. I want no doubt in the Polish lorry-drivers mind that something is approaching him as he considers overtaking a car on a blind bend. This is likely to be compounded in India which is widely considered the most dangerous place to drive on earth (presumably apart from anywhere outside of America with a supply of oil.)
So there it is. Today I wait for parts and do Visas. Tomorrow I start ripping the gadgets off the bike. I want to review what worked and what didn't. I want to get right in and look for signs of stress, fatigue or damage. That was the point of the trip to Europe, at least partly.
I'll start a gallery as I work on mods if anyone is interested. Rewiring the headlights is pretty straightforward but I'll be fitting an interrupter to cut the main headlight out for daytime use, just to help the battery charge. I'm aiming to wire the sidelight into an LED marker strip which is just as visible and a far lower drain.
Short update. My old man went through surgery fine but visiting is slowing up everything. I'm focusing first on the Pakistan visa first and then work on the Iranian one. The list of requirements is exhaustive, they need a confirmation of my flight and a letter from my employer. Sadly I'm not flying and I jacked my job in because it sucked. So I guess I'm going to be gluing wings onto my bike and becoming "self-employed" in the immediate future.
My partner is a professional paperwork monkey so I'm going to get her to go through my application with me over the weekend. You don't get your money back if the application fails and it takes a month so realistically, I only get one proper shot at this. Also I'm hearing Iran is refusing applications now. A few guys on various forums from Canada are having trouble. I guess this is an "American" issue as the word seems to be the UK is no problem... for now. I guess we shall see.
Work on the bike has stalled a bit as I have to go into the hospital later this afternoon. My headlight turned up. It's a nice bit of kit, solidly made and rubber-sealed for freshness so HID conversion should be hassle free. Wiring looks to be straightforward enough too so just a cut and cross job. Mounting is more tricky but I'm confident I can make a decent job of that.
So to qualify for a Pakistan visa you need your passport and a copy. Clearly just having the documents is not sufficient to enter a country where everyone in it seems determined to leave, the ability to spend 20p in the copy shop demonstrates a real maturity and sense of purpose that the ruling body feel is necessary from today’s modern tourist.
You also require a bank statement, with an additional copy for what is, I assume the same reason as above. They also want a letter from my employer, proof of flights, proof of residency, a letter from my sponser, ie a company that has written to invite me to visit the country, a pair of passport photographs and a filled in application form which pushes the boundries of personal privacy and asks questions to which I usually reserve the answers until the third of forth date.
On top of this they require the princely sum of £104. This cannot be paid by personal cheque or cash or by any method other than a postal order. The reason for this is vague and uncertain but it appears that it’s a measure put in place purely to frustrate the weary traveller.
So after jumping through all these hoops you would think that getting a short-term tourist visa would be fairly straight forward but you would be wrong. They frequently deny visa applications for no reason whatsoever on varied pretexts so my chances of getting this are good but not great.
Once that is in the pipeline I have to turn my attention to Iran which is far more straightforward. Sadly the feedback I’m getting is that Iran are getting nervous and a lot of Americans and Canadians are getting refusals. I guess this makes sense with America focusing their warlike attentions on that region and the constant threats of sanctions and military action if they don’t roll over and give them whatever they want, ie oil, money and unconditional love. Where this leaves me is anybody’s guess. I’m English, according to my passport so I will apply with crossed fingers and unreasonable optimism. If either refuses then my trip is cancelled. No ifs, no buts. I can’t get to Thailand any other way. As it is I have to ship my bike from India to Thailand as Burma is a closed nation who don’t allow guests in or if they do make it in then they don’t allow them to leave. Typically Burma is a massively dysfunctional country recording the worst growth in the region and other economic disasters to go nicely with it’s political turmoil which is as threatening to the inhabitants as to outsiders who want to try their luck.
The only other feasible route is overland across Russia, through Mongolia and into China. Well China is closed to tourists. It’s possible but unlikely I would be able to get in and if I could it would be prohibitively expensive to cross the border. Russia is a huge country and the winter is coming in fast and it’s the kind of winter that my perfectly preserved corpse would be dug out of the ice next summer, not the kind which is a bit of an annoyance like the ones we have in England.
My choices are narrowing towards shipping the bike. I see no point in shipping it to India as I have to ferry it again at the other side and getting it shipped from Turkey is problematic. That means I’d have to ship the bike from here all the way to Bangkok. That’s hardly what I had in mind although it would probably save me a lot of money! All this boils down to having no choice. I either get this visa or I ship the bike directly to Thailand. I can’t stay in England, I have no job, nowhere to live and own nothing that doesn’t pack up nicely into my not-quite-waterproof luggage bags.
So today I get the documents together. I have to visit my bank and get a copy of my bank statement, the one I have is only my current account, I need one that shows my savings account as well to prove I have enough money to support myself when I arrive and get the required photographs from anywhere that has a photo-booth. After that I can contact the embassy and get my application to them. It’s a scary thing, putting your plans in the hands of someone else, especially someone who you don’t trust for whatever reason.
Once that is in I have some work to do on the bike. I’m planning a service some time very soon, new oil, plugs and replace the headstock bearings. She’s also cutting out at tickover. She did that before but it got worse while we were out in Europe. It’s getting dangerous now and I have to do something about it with a sense of urgency. Last night on my way back through London in the rain she just wouldn’t stay running. I was fighting my way through heavy traffic, the kind of traffic where drivers are fed up with sitting in it and will do anything to force their metal cage into a space three meters ahead of them to feel like they’ve made some kind of progress. To a biker that’s a the worst kind and typically, several deliberately blocked me out of a sense of spite that I might get a few meters further than they would. On top of that I don’t need a bike that cuts out just as I pull onto a roundabout into a gap between several badly driven buses.
My guess is it’s got something to do with the exhaust, it seems to be related to temperature in as much as she seems fine if you let her come up to normal running temperature before you pull away and there’s a bit of residue around the pipe between the headers and the exhaust can so i think there’s a gas leak which is confusing the sensor. I’ll also put some injector cleaner through today and hope this sorts out the problems.
I want to start work on my headlights too. I have some new ones to fit as the standard kit is slightly worse than useless and it would be inadequate fitted to a scooter or even a skate-board. I’ve gone with a good set of lights from a different bike but that means that I have to build a custom hanger to fit them. I’m fine with that, i enjoy being able to make changes to the bike and it’s quite rewarding seeing people gathering around the bike, pointing and shaking their heads in amusement or disgust.
Because I'm running out of time I've decided to buy another bike. Just for fun I bought an early Funduro, F650. I'm a bit of a fan of these although never had one before and a huge fan of the early Pegaso which share a lot of the same components although I have to admit the BMW has the better engine.
I bought it for a lot of reasons but my main is that I have a backup plan... If the visas don't get authorised then my backup plan is to ship my main bike and go off on the Funduro as far as it will take me. It should get me all the way to the other end of Turkey and I might even blag me to the other end of Iran on a good day. After that, I just ditch it or sell it and fly the rest of the way so at least I get to travel some. If the visa does go through ok then I can just sell it on. It needs a cleanup but I'm happy to work on it.
So... tomorrow morning I will turn up at the Pakistan Visa office with a handful of documents they won't even care about and will roll the dice and take my chances.
I will write a sarcastic account on my return, until then... wish me luck, boys!
So my visit to the Pakistan visa office was interesting and educational but not entirely productive. Firstly I managed to find the building near Victoria station in London in spite of my misbehaving satnav. There is some real money on this street, embassies everywhere, insanely expensive cars, coffee for £5 per cup and constant police patrols. Then... there is the Pakistan visa office. Crowds of people were flocking everywhere and there was a really disjointed and disorganised feel. The building was packed but signs lead to the garden where there is a big tent. You take a ticket from a smaller tent so you can queue in the appropriate place. The appropriate place is inside the big tent on seats covered in bird crap while 4 officials lazily look over papers and hoards of people flock around semi-aimlessly. Finally after several games of tetris on my phone it was my turn. Despite the queueing system it’s still a battle to get to the counter but I forced my way up through people with no ability to appreciate or anticipate the movements of fellow humans and act accordingly. I presented my documents, the official looked them over and stapled a ticket to my passport. He told me “inside, downstairs” and declined to expand further. So inside was another huge queue to a “bank” so i assumed I was there to pay my application fee and joined the back. Apparently that was not my queue, I was sent forward to a Visa counter where there were only a few other people. The guy behind the counter looked over my papers which begs the question what the last officer was actually doing. I had read reviews of the office and braced myself for what lies ahead with a grim certainty.
It seems I was unfortunate enough to get an idiot... one of many working there, it seems. He agreed everything was perfectly ok but thought it might be fun to be more difficult. So even though I had a letter of invitation stating a touring company were arranging everything from my arrival he demanded a full itinery for my stay including entry points, exit point, where I’m staying, how long, etc. He even said I wouldn't have to stick to it Also they wanted a good reason for why I wanted to do it. Apparently tourism is not sufficient. I told them I was doing this for a charity which is not really a lie so they also want proof of this. On top of that he asked for my carnet to arrange entry. I got a bit annoyed by now and explained I wasn’t arranging the carnet until i had visa approval and had no reason to show it to him in any case and that his country didn't even legally require it. He tried to seem like he was just doing his job but he clearly had no idea what he was doing. He flustered and said it would be ok without the carnet.
So i have contacted my tour operator and asked them for the documents and a friend of mine runs a cancer research charity so I can get this too. The thing is I have all the documents I needed to qualify and then they just wanted a whole lot more. I imagine they’re doing it to be difficult. So once my documents are in I can just go in and complete my application. Of course this is easier said than done...
The state of the world is appallingly unfair. This official is free to live and work in my country and yet he is making it difficult for me to visit his. My partner is a foreign national and while I can walk straight into her country and choose to live and work there, she cannot visit mine without a huge and expensive pile of red tape.
So now I’m waiting for documents and then i have to sort out my application. My trip is in the hands of an incompetent official who likes being difficult. I’ve been advised to go to Birmingham instead to make my application. If anyone else is thinking of doing this I suggest you seriously consider that advice. The London office, at least was a total joke.
So while I wait today I’m going to do some more work on the bike. I’ve taken off the fuel system and it’s held up fine. Better than i had hoped, actually. I’m going to work on the headlights. I’ve already converted the unit to accept the HID bulbs so today I’m going to begin making the brackets. I'm going to go with a more minimalist look than the heavy bracket I have now. I want just enough to get by.
Just taking a quick break to get some coffee. My new headlight is a vast improvement but mounting it is a complete bitch. The lugs mean a whole new setup which will be totally different from what's been on before. That's fine except the design is very odd. Mounting lugs on the top make fitting it a challenge so the whole day has seen me do nothing more than draw lines on sheet alloy. At least now I have a plan, the backing plate will mount two external arms to take the upper load and a seperate plate will take the adjustment at the bottom. The bottom will be bolted on horizontally so it will be solid in both directions. The light will sit higher so the screen mount can be shorter, that should cut down vibration considerably. The weird design will be covered by some kind of protection panels, something like touratech fit to their spotlights while will add some protection to the bare wires and clean up the cosmetics. The HID balasts will fit snug to the backing plate so it should be a relatively tidy fit.
It looks like my brother won't be joining me on the first leg of my journey after all. Like too many people he has gone about this all wrong. He decided he had to have a V-strom 650 for some reason but bought a spotless example and now has no money left to do anything with it such as using it...
It's not the first time he's done this. We were planning to do this years ago but he refused to do anything unless he had a BMW R1200gs Adventure. He bought one and the same thing happened, he backed out because he had no more money. This time I'll just go without him, it really is his loss unfortunately. I've spent too much of my life trying to help other people or wait for them while they let me down. Now he can come if we wants to or stay and slide into suburban hell one day at a time as the rat-race devours his soul. His choice...
Sorry to hear they didn't give you visa. Shit happens.
You could end better if you followed my advise, I've obtained my visa just a day before you, in the same place with same clerks.
Try again, but tell them you are flying, not driving. And have good itinerary.
Ok... no internet access for a few days so here is my catching up...
I was pretty demoralised yesterday. Lack of contact from the people that arranged my letter of invitation combined with real life nonsense was a bit of a kick in the teeth and I was starting to get pretty fed up with things. I suffer from depression, among other interesting and colourful personality traits and it kicked in a bit. Nothing serious, it comes and goes. Today my itinerary arrived by the miracle of email and I have a faked but convincing letter from the lovely people at Cancer research thanking me for my offer of collecting money on their behalf so I’m feeling ready for round-2.
Tomorrow morning I’m going back in and getting the paperwork moving forwards. I hope to make some real progress but if not I have a backup plan which involves a ferry from Iran to the UAE and a second three-day ferry to India. Failing that, my final option is to ship my bike to Thailand and then ride a clunker as far as it will go without official documents. That is actually a cool plan and one day I’d love to get a few guys together and do just that. Buy a bike on a budget of around £500, prep it for another, maybe £300 and ride as far as you can without CDP, visas and other assorted hassles. I reckon that would be a great blog too and informative. Hopefully I won’t have to resort to that this time as I would love to do that one properly.
So my documents are ready, technically, in hand and I’m full of piss and vinegar ready for a battle of wills with the stroppy visa officers of Pakistan and my final ace in the hope is telling them it’s not worth the bother, I’ll just do a tour of India instead. Apparently that motivates them a lot to cooperate so I’ll save that one till last.
I did a bit more work on the bike today. It sort of went ok, sort of didn’t. I spent yesterday with my bike in bits in the garage and me sat there staring at it. I came to a conclusion of what was the best way to fit this totally wrong light to the bike and measured out the primary parts. Very simply it’s a backing plate with two brackets and a further plate on the bottom. All I managed yesterday was to mark them out. I broke out my old man’s Jigsaw and it wouldn’t have any part of the cutting process so I left it and got some new blades ready for this morning. They were no better and it turned out the Jigsaw was nearly 40 years old so I gave up with it and went out and bought a new one. After that, progress was swift. I cut all the parts, drilled the holes and started cleaning them up. The internal slots have to be very smooth as the wiring loom runs through them and tends to cut if there’s a nick or groove anywhere. There are only a couple of parts that will actually show so I’m spending more time on those. This time I’m painting everything black. I’ll undercoat the ally with Plasticote etch primer and then Simoniz Toughblack paint on top. They’re relatively cheap rattle-cans and very good. The primer really eats into the metal and gives a very solid key and the toughblack paint is everything it says it is. It’s not as good as anodising but it’s a decent solid finish and ideal on parts where minimal contact is being made. It will be good enough.
So on top of all the other problems I’m dealing with my flatmate is moving in with his girlfriend this weekend. I’m spending a week with my other half while he unpacks and hopefully after that I’ll move in temporarily to his spare room until I head out. My old man seems much better but can’t get the idea through his head how sick he was and still is. He actually told me that now there’s a vein in there instead of an artery he is now immune to cholesterol and no longer needs to be careful. I wonder what the point of it was if he’s just going to slip back into the same habits. A neighbour of theirs had the same op around 10 years ago and it changed his life. He went from being a bit of a dick to being a thoroughly good guy I’m happy to stop and chat with. I had hoped that a near-death experience like this, being told that the blockage was so severe that if two red blood-cells had tried to pass through at the same time he would have had a fatal heart attack on the spot would be a shock and sort him out. So far he seems the same and the person he was nearly died at 67 from a bad lifestyle. He can’t be that person any more.
So tomorrow I go in... wish me luck.
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