September 20, 2004 GMT
Riding a Ninja through Samara in a suit

On Thursday afternoon, the chores having been done, I paddled in the Volga and sunbathed on the beach all afternoon - well, I'm on holiday, aren't I?

So on Friday morning I set off for Ufa. ABout 40 miles down the road I had that awful wibbly-wobbly feeling from the back tyre and managed to stop. Flat as a very flat thing indeed. Managaed to cross the road to a wide gravelly area where I could spread out a bit. Removed luggage, propped rear of bike on pannier, removed wheel, removed tyre, removed tube. 3-inch rip, so not even the stuff-beginning-with-U-that-we're-not-allowed-to-mention could deal with it.

I retrieved my new, out-of-the-box Micheline Airstop spare from under the carrier and proceeded to fit it. The final 8 inches of the tyre wouldn't go on and I'm not heavy enough to make any difference by jumping on it. So I flagged down a truck and idicated to t he 2 chaps that I needed some jumping. They understood immediately, and from then on I could do nothing. Seated tyre, attempted to pump up. No dice. Distinct sound of escaping air. Oh no, not pinched? No. Tyre off, tube off, three holes. I scream. They smile. Out with the puncture repair kit, apply patches. Pump up. Seems OK. Refit. Wheel in. "Go to Samara" they say as they drive away. Norarf.

So I rode slowly back down the road, hoping to get to civilization before a) dark and b) the tyre went flat again. A Ukrainian Hells Angel overtook me on a Yamaha 1100 V-twin cruiser and pulled me in. I think his name's Orange, but can't be sure. I explained the problem (pretty easy with sign language, that one). He produced bike mags and we went through to try to find a bike shop in Samara. The Honda advert claimed one, but it turned out to be a car dealership when we rang. We rode together slowly, and he stopped at a couple of truck tyre places to see if anyone had any ideas. Nada.

Eventually he had to go (Saratov, visa running out) so I continued. As I entered Samara there was a big Yamaha sign at the side of the road. I stopped and wrote down the address and phone no. A chap loitering at the side of the road came over to see what I was doing, then pointed down a ramp to the right. The Yamaha dealer - or, actually, a Renault dealer who does bikes on the side. I rode down and didn't need to explain - the hiss of air from the rear was explanation enough.

They had me ride the bike round to the workshop. I was given coffee and somewhere to wash (I was absolutely filthy), a chap went off in a car to get 2 tubes, the back wheel came out, the damaged tube was mended properly (so now I have 2 spares) and I just stood back and chatted to the boss (I assume - suit, tie, sending people running around) who had a few words of English.

By this time it was 4:30, and it had been a very hot day. Boss gave me bill: 160 roubles for the tubes and 140 for fuel to get them. No labour. That's a total of 6 quid.

I needed a hotel (NOT the Volga - I needed a hot shower). Boss pulled a Ninja out of the showroom and led me through Samara, wearing just his suit - no hat or gloves. We did filtering and all sorts, but he knew what he was doing.

So I ended up at the Marriott Renaissance - a bit expensive but just the ticket. Boss didn't have time to stay for a drink, so I gave him a big kiss and away he went. The security guards' eyes were popping out of their heads.

I'm now in Yekaterinburg, in an internet cafe literally next door to the house where the Tsar and his family were murdered in 1918. Tomorrow I have to go and do battle with the ticket office at the station to get me and the bike on to the train. I may be here some time. It's a nice town, though, with plenty of interesting stuff to look at.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at September 20, 2004 04:08 PM GMT

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