How horsepower impacts sheeppower

 

Last night, it was about 4am when I finally fell asleep.

Could be down to the very good doppio ristretto I had at Fix at 3pm. Or to my overland Vientiane-to-London trip planning in the evening.

 

I started by leafing through our oversized atlas. Looking for the best way through Asia and Central Asia. Spotting the amazing things to see along the road.

Then I realised two things: that Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran are in the way; and that, since I want to avoid China (I’ve already given it three years of my life, and my upcoming book might not go down well), I may have to go pretty high up in the Himalayas.

 

I wouldn’t mind avoiding either.

Which is a problem, because there’s no way out of Laos other than through either China, Afghanistan or Pakistan (without mentioning Myanmar) and the highest mountain chain in the world.

The only solution, as far as I can fathom, is to ship the bike on a train to somewhere and fly there. I’ll have to work out where to find info on railway freight. And which place is best to start from.

 

Oulan-Baator is a possibility. Or one of the Central Asian capitals, like Dushanbe.

 

To get a better idea of distance, I then googlemaped my prospective itinerary. It goes a bit like this: Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, France and the UK. A lot of border crossings, and a hell of a lot of miles.

Piece of cake, really.

 

Was it the excitement that kept me awake? Or was it the fear?

Anyway, that is still a way away. What will very soon be a reality though, is trips in South-East Asia. Alex is desperate to go to the Singapore zoo since she heard its director on TV. So that’s one. About 3500 miles in total, a trip encompassing Laos, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.

And when you’re in Singapore, let’s face it, you’re just a short ferry ride away from Indonesia.

 

 

 

Then there’s Vietnam: she wants to visit Da Nang.

Then Laos: the north, the centre, the south.

South which leads to Cambodia, and south of Cambodia still the Mekong delta back in Vietnam.

There’s also the Pattaya racetrack, which for some reason I fancy giving a go at. My first track day could be in Thailand. How weird.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How I came to the sad conclusion of the XT660Z

Laos…

Yes, Laos: one of the poorest countries in the world, and by far the least well-off in South-East Asia, on a par with Myanmar.

Truly amazing place. My wife and I had spent 10 heavenly days there while living in China: the food, the natural environment, the people, the architecture, the tranquillity – everything about Laos is awesome.

Until you start thinking of taking your R1200R with you, that is. A bit of research quickly turned up a never-ending list of flaws to the luminous idea:

– the roads are terrible, and when not so they get flooded or muddy or swept away by the monsoon, or are very dusty in the dry season. The best road in Laos links the capital, Vientiane, to Luang Prabang in the north (which is, btw, the way God meant Paradise to look like). It is approx. 390 km long, or 240 miles. It takes, at best, 11 hours.

– ruts, cracks, potholes, roadkills and other bumps are as common as CCTVs x roadsigns in London.

– the nearest BMW dealership in 400 miles – or 10 hours – away in Bangkok.

So, reluctantly, I came to realise that keeping the R1200R wasn’t a wise move. I DID try all sorts of arguments to convince myself otherwise: could fit longer-travel suspensions… Raise the mudguard… Until a moment of sanity hit me and I rushed to a dealer to part-exchange it.

The question was: for what? Well, the prerequisites for the new bike were – when looked at it objectively – pretty clear. I needed a trail bike.

I’d always loved the looks of the 990 Adventure, although I never tried it. By the nearest KTM dealership was blah blah blah. Denis, NO! Hands off.

Okay, thought I, so I need a trail bike that doesn’t require riding it 11 hours to Bangkok when it is broken down and needs fixing.

For a while, I toyed with the idea of buying a Triumph Scrambler, which I have also always loved. But it didn’t meet the ‘no Bangkok pit stop’ box. Shit. Shit shit shit.

Reluctantly, painfully, the answer finally dawned on me: I had to go for a Japanese trail bike, and the simpler the better. That meant one thing, and one thing only: the Yamaha XT660Z, aka the Ten(ere).

Sometimes, life enjoys to smear one’s face in dog poo. A few months after taking ownership of my BMW, I testrode the Ten, from Yamaha Clapham. I HATED it. It was the most awful fuel-powered experience I had ever had. For awfulness, it even beat the 1.0 litre plastic joke of a car I hired in Brasilia that did 0-62mph – I am not kidding – in 22 seconds. T-w-e-n-t-y t-w-o seconds. Well, that car gave me more joy than the Ten, even after one of the tyres burst and we got stuck in the middle of nowhere in the blazing sun.

Riding the Ten made me want to swim to Guantanamo Bay. Really. Yet, now I was faced with the ironic conclusion that, of all my options, it was the least worst.

After all, the Ten’s engine uses a single cylinder, it is mechanically simple, but more importantly still it is famed for its reliability. Bullet-proof, they say.

Until today, I still haven’t tried to find out how far the closest Yamaha dealer is to Vientiane. As Bartleby put it very aptly for me, ‘I would prefer not to‘. I don’t want to discover the inconvenient truth that the Ten or the 990 Adventure are, in the end, in the same boat dealer-wise. Oh no.

Because you see, the biggest cc one can legally sell or buy in Laos is 250. So my Ten can’t be serviced in Vientiane by a trained mechanic. Not in that big an engine, even if it is only an extension of a 250cc single cylinder one.

It’s all right though, because the Ten is uber-reliable. Bullet-proof, innit.

Anybody in their right mind would have concluded that the best option, really, is to buy a local 250cc, and be done with all those stupid quandaries. Yeah, but who wants to tackle long distances on a loaded 250cc? I mean, come on. Okay, the critically minded could point out that I have never tried and I should shut up. But I can’t hear you.

Oh of course it’s possible. But I’m not talking long distances in Laos, where speed is never great and better not be, but other countries around S-E Asia. Sure, it’s possible to bring a fully-loaded 250cc on a Thai motorway, but how enjoyable is it? And say you want to ride back from Laos to France or the UK one day, would you rather do it on a 660cc or 250cc?

So the die was cast: my R1200R would make way for a used Ten. 2010 model, 3000 miles on the clock, topbox. Laos was 3 months away: plenty enough time to customise it for Asia, and plenty enough time to sort any teething problems, if there were any.

The two days before the swap were truly awful. I was so sad I was close to tears. The last time I had felt like that, I was 8 and I’d just lost the cowboy costume I’d got the previous Christmas. As I said: awful.

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