Today has been a very, very long day. I’ve been looking forward to today ever since I heard that the infamous Russian motorbike club, the Night Wolves, would be coming to Svidnik to lay flowers and wreaths at the Soviet WW2 Memorial – and that local bikers could ride with them into town.
The best laid plans of mice and men, and all that. 3 weeks ago, I rode my bike, Feisty- a Mk1 Aprilia Pegaso 650 – for the first time since before Winter. She started up first try and I took her out for a quick spin on bush roads. All was well and good. 3 days ago, when I’d already dressed in my leathers and packed my box, she refused to start. And somehow she’d developed a flat rear tyre. She’s out in a garage in the middle of nowhere and the nearest service is a long way away. I spent several days trying to find an 18mm spark plug wrench (they don’t seem to exist in Slovakia) and eventually, this afternoon, contacted an old friend who lives literally at the end of the road, some half an hour drive away, through heavily forested bear country. The road literally stops at the end of his village – from there onwards there’s nothing but bush. His father had cut and welded a 21mm in the past in order to fit my plug so i needed to borrow it.
After picking up my friend, we returned to Feisty – and all the while the clock was ticking down to actually meet up with the bikers an hour and a half’s drive away. I changed the fuel line, pumped up the rear tyre using an ancient and giant wooden hand pump I’d also borrowed, we cleaned the spark plug as it was black, and got Feisty started. Thick black clouds erupted from her exhaust, which is never a good sign. I dropped my friend off back in his village and then continued on to Svidnik, where I quickly picked up my younger son, Alex, and we headed off towards the city of Presov to, hopefully, catch up with the oncoming motorcycle convoy before they reached Svidnik and the memorial. Half the town were already at the memorial waiting as I rode past them.
Feeling good to actually be on my bike again, and with my son riding pillion, we raced off out of town. Zen and the Art of, and all that…
A couple of kilometres down the road and the bike started wobbling, gently at first but growing ever more noticeable as I continued. I had no idea what was wrong and I feared my front wheel was coming off. The wobbling got worse and worse so I slowed down to a crawl as I reached a roundabout at the edge of town. Fearing for our safety, I pulled off the main road into an industrial zone and parked up next to a car propped up on logs (its wheels had been stolen). My front tyre was utterly flat and I was riding on the rims.
I was not in a happy place – especially after all the effort just to get my bike going. I had no idea what to do. Ironically, there were two tyre service shops within a hundred feet of where I’d stopped but as it was so late – about half past seven in the evening, both were locked up and had guard dogs patrolling. I phoned my wife as I was supposed to meet her and my daughter at the memorial and she was not best pleased. She is truly sick of only ever getting phone calls from me telling her that one or the other of my vehicles (the Discovery or the Aprilia) has broken down again. I’m not joking. It’s a daily thing.
There’s a massive trucking haulage company right at the end of town, on the other side of the roundabout from where I was, so I told my son to walk over while I very slowly rode. It was a scary ride as it’s a dual carriageway, but I pulled up at the guard’s hut and asked if they had an air compressor I could use. He said they were closed and no. I kept asking in various ways and, luckily, a truck pulled in, so the guard went to ask the driver. The driver did have a hose and proceeded to fill up my front tyre from his engine. All was well with the world.
For about 3 seconds.
There was a loud hissing and then the tyre went flat again. It obviously had a serious puncture. I really was in trouble.
And then this woman walked over and asked what the problem was. I had no idea who she was and she was surprised that I was English. She offered that I leave the bike locked inside their company for the night and the mechanics would deal with it in the morning. My original plan – arranged with the truck driver, was to get the bike started, fill the tyre and then ride home as fast as humanly possible before the air ran out. It wasn’t a great plan, and it was probably suicidal, but it was all I could come up with.
And then a man walked over and everyone discussed the issue. He offered for me to leave the bike there and a mechanic would deal with it in the morning. That was two people offering the same thing. I really thought I’d be told to eff off as this company is mega rich and has the most ultra modern building in the area – and I looked like a dirty, sweaty biker. Not knowing what else to do, I took them up on their offer. And then the man, who turned out to be the owner of the company, Boper, gave my son and I a lift in his Mercedes E-Class to the Memorial. My son was more than happy. The man called one of his mechanics via his dashboard and arranged that I go pick it up, hopefully repaired, in the morning.
By the time we arrived at the memorial, it was already dark (which meant my new camera was useless), and most of the town were there – including the mayor. The Night Wolves had somehow gotten delayed at the Dukla Memorial near the border of Poland (which they were banned from entering) and were running late. Eventually they arrived, along with their local Slovak outriders, and there were far fewer of them than I expected. There was also a noticeable lack of Slovak patched bikers, apart from the Choppers. By this time, I was too exhausted, both physically and mentally, to care about what was going on, so we stayed for a short while and then walked home. I knew quite a few of the people riding along with them – my brother-in-law, his brother, my wife’s cousin, and some others. Shame I couldn’t have joined them but I’d had enough motorcycle adventure of my own to do me for one day.
And, BTW, the Canon DX412HS is crap in low light.
UPDATE – I’ve now got Feisty back. I’m really grateful to the owner of Boper and his mechanics. My bike had two punctures in the front tyre – and they only charged me a fiver. Things could have turned out much worse, especially if I’d been in te middle of nowhere or Boper had refused and I’d had to leave the bike in the industrial estate. I had a nice brisk 4 kilometre walk to go get her this morning, but now she’s back with Vlochka, my Discovery:
This is a video shot by my brother in law, who rode with the Night Wolves. It’s taken earlier on in the evening when they visited the Battle of Dukla Memorial (where 28,000 Czechoslovaks and Russians died, and 88,000 were injured – the Germans lost 70,000 men):