There is a very fine line between bravery, and stupidity and sometimes these lines get blurred to such an extent that you are left confused and wondering whether or not you are actually sane. This is what happened to me when a Michael, a TorqueSteer reader told me he was planning a road trip from Johannesburg to Durban, and back.
Normally I would have said good luck, take loads of pictures, and ask the traveler to tell me all about the road trip when you get back. But this was slightly different. This trip would be done on a 8 year old 250cc a Chinese branded bike. You know those bikes, the ones that can barely reach 120. The ones bought by school kids with cigarette money. Ok, so that description was a bit mean, but you get the general idea.
Now it must be noted that I did own a BigBoy DRT 250 for about a year. I sold it, in spares, and not because of the name, but because I came of twice in one month. I can honestly say that from my little biking experience, the falling part is not so bad. It is when you stop falling when stuff starts to get seriously painful. This is also all I know when it comes to serious biking.
there were a few times you could feel she is hot, but it still did not seem like she will be letting go any time soon
The bike in question is a Bashan 250RR named Grace. Delivering somewhere in the region of 12Kw and 14Nm torque through a 5 speed wet clutch system. The bike has a rated top speed of 110km/h and an average cruising speed of between 70-85km/h. The Maximum rider weight is 150kg. This would mean Michael, rider reader, took a 700km trip with a machine that would be operating at its limits. This would in essence be a test of endurance, and I am unsure of whose endurance will be tested, his or the bikes.
I asked Michael to make notes as he went along his journey, and take lots of pictures while at it. Sadly though, there were not many photo opportunities as he was “cruising” down. Safety, understandably, was a priority for Michael, and as such pulling over to take several selfies was out of the question.
Here is our little conversation when he got back.
Me: Why take a little 250cc on such a trip, why not fly or use the bus or train services?
Mike: I wanted to experience what it would be like and decided why not? Let’s have an adventure. It opened my eyes, I saw things differently while on the road. If you ride a bike it’s just you, the road, and nature.
Me: How many times did you hear you will not make it purely because it is a Chinese brand?
Mike: There were actually quite a few people who told me I would not make it, many told me I was crazy, and a lot of them were not shy when expressing their opinion.
Me: How long did you plan for this trip?
Mike: The planning for the trip was almost a month. I did a few trial runs and internet research.
Me: Any problems along the way not relating to Grace?
Mike: Yes there were a few issues. Getting frustrated with traffic, and getting tired. The people in the Urban areas who has no idea where they want to go made me do a lot of excessive braking. My back and feet were wasted.
Me: What was the general attitude towards you when on the road?
Mike: I got several looks from small car drivers, including the dirty looks when they zip past me. I also met a guy with genuine interest, asking all sorts of questions and told me how he would never do something like this. I actually found the truckers to be helpful and patient, falling back to allow me to be between them, and using the truck in front to my advantage while it breaks the wind for me.
Me: Tell us about Grace.
Mike: I have owned her now for almost 8 years and at one stage I did just over 200kms per day. There is 30,000km on the odometer now. There is a full service history, with most of the services done by myself. However I do occasionally use Silverspokes in Kempton Park. The owner was also very encouraging when I told him about the trip. As far as the bike, she just wanted to go, there were a few times you could feel she is hot, but it still did not seem like she will be letting go any time soon.
Me: I have to ask this. Why a Bashan, and not something like a Honda or Suzuki for example?
Mike: It was the cheapest option available at the time I went looking for a bike. I wanted something small, and it was quite a good looking bike as well.
Me: Riding a bike is one thing. Taking a 700km road trip with a low cost 250cc is something completely different. What advise will you give to someone who wants to attempt a road trip like you did on a small CC bike?
Mike: Make sure your bike is 100%. Check everything from tyre pressure to each and every bolt as they tend to loosen with the vibrations. Make sure you take a couple of essential tools with you, and a couple of spare parts such as a spare chain, sparkplugs, and nuts and bolts. Have it services before you go. For riding I would recommend going as early as possible to avoid the heat, as some of these smaller CC’s are air cooled. Make regular stop and take about an hour, dress with the correct safety clothing, and be aware that your chain will rust. As for the rest, take your time and enjoy the ride!
Me: What was the biggest challenge you had to face on this trip?
Mike: Heat, weight, and baggage. I do not have a top box, so it did make life a little more difficult. I am also quite tall, so getting my back to work with the rest of my body was quite a challenge. It required stamina, even if the bike went well.
Me: You obviously had the biked checked before you set off, but with hindsight, what would have focused on, and what is in your opinion the most important thing that needs to be checked or done before you go?
Mike: Check your bearings and chain. My chain snapped a day before I was supposed to set off to travel, and even with all the checks done by a professional, a few bolts managed to be unchecked. I lost my exhaust manifold nut with the vibrations on my way there.
Me: I understand you are not one of the fittest men in the world, how did you manage to keep going mile after mile?
Mike: This will probably sound strange, but by going from town to town, and stop to stop, remembering that I will eventually get to my final destination, and by being positive that I will make it. I told myself I will win this challenge, and I made a point of it to enjoy the ride.
Me: Ultimately Grace did end up with some damage during the trip. Tell us about it.
Mike: Sadly yes. That is why you have to check the bolts. The 250 Bashan motor vibrates a lot. I have lost the rear bolt and nut on the exhaust somewhere between Pietermaritzburg and Pinetown. It made the performance drop quite a bit. I had to floor it just to keep up with traffic.
A day before coming back to Johannesburg, I went through and discovered I lost another bolt on the rear brake calliper, and the left wheel bearing casing sheared off and wrapped itself over the wheel shaft. I had to do a backyard repair by bending it straight again. I’ve put it back in its place, and it held up all the way back. I have a slight suspicion the mechanic who replaced my rear tire (also done days before leaving) did not put back the grommets that keep the seals and wheel bearings in place, so I did another temporary repair job by using a hose clamp on just to keep everything from breaking.
Me: What was your most memorable moment?
Mike: It has to be when I hit Van Reenens Pass. It was in the morning with no clouds. There was nothing to be seen but the mountains and the curves of the road. It was outstanding. I think it was impressive that I could do that pass in 5th gear.
Me: What was your worst moment?
Mike: It has to be when I hit Durban. The traffic was aweful, and everybody leaning on their hooters because of my exhaust being loose. I also got a little lost.
So there you have it folks, I know I have gained a huge amount of respect for these little machines, what about you?