Friday, March 28, 2014

Madness in a motorcycle shop

Changing tyres has become one of those things I can just about do with my eyes closed by now. Having 3 bikes on the road that have covered a grand total of 160.000 km with them means I have changed quite a few on these three bikes alone. Since the average motorcycle shop in the western world doesn't know how to change tyres with tubes anymore, and thus stuff it up while charging a fortune for it, I've done them myself. In Mexico it all went a bit different, as usual in this bizarre country.

The tyres turned out to be at a motorcycle shop in Ticul, a place suggested by Sayto, the importer in Mexico of Avon tyres in Guadalajara. The motorcycle market in Mexico is very different to the one in the USA, Europe and Australia. Here motorcycles are used for hauling absolutely everything and everyone seems to have one. According to Tony, co-owner of Motorama shops in the Yucatan, the average household in Ticul has 3 motorcycles. No big unwieldy monsters here but 100% practical 125-200cc motorcycles and scooters, for which they have virtually everything in stock. 

The bikeshop is small and packed to the rafters with parts. Inside it's chaos. I was going to write organised chaos, but there wasn't anything organised about it. The real madness is outside though, in front of the bikeshop. It's a continuous coming and going of all kinds of motorcycles and scooters. Whole families arrive on their little motorcycles, 3-wheelers or whatever else they have. Smaller repairs are being done on the street, an extremely busy street with a continuous stream of motorcycles and the occasional car. The bikeshop is in a converted house. For major work the bikes are pushed through the front door, through the shop and out into what used to be the back garden but is now the workshop. 

Having seen what the motorcycles have to do here, you can't be anything but impressed with the venerable 125. They carry whole families of 5 persons, carry huge bundles of firewood, pull large heavy steel trailers, get hooked up to tricycles to carry people and cargo and even get hooked up to huge goods sidecar type floats. There is apparently not much they can't do. As motorcycles are family transport here and money is tight, the motorcycle market is distinctly different. Motorcycles are cheap, by western standards, maintenance is minimal and concentrates only on parts you absolutely need to keep it going. Bikeshops are thus very different too, geared for the market in Mexico. 

I actually quite like it. Where we live bikes have become an expensive accessory. Ridiculous amounts are spend on buying and pimping them up. Here it's down to basic and everything makes so much more sense. A tyre will cost you around US$38, a brand new motorcycle US$1000… try that at your local bike shop!
It was a bit of a squeeze to get the Yamaha through the front door and into the workshop in the old back garden, but as it's partly covered by a roof it made tyre changing somewhat easier than out on the busy street in full sunlight. In Anchorage we changed tyres at 35°C, now it was 37°C… We propped the Yamaha up on bricks and bits of timber and started to work. Breaking the bead and getting the tyre removed was, again, problematic. Even with the tyre clamped in a vice, the bead just wouldn't break. In the end there was no option but to find someone with a heavy duty bead breaker. 

As there are so many small motorbikes in Mexico, the tyre places are also geared to fit and replace motorcycle tyres. Yet they had problems getting the tyre off the rim too… even with a big hydraulic bead breaker! Getting the new one to pop and seat properly also took no less than 5 attempts. Mike made a mental note to look for different rims as having a flat tyre with rims like this will cause some serious troubles… It took the tyreshop all in all an hour to replace the two tyres, the fee was 100 pesos (US$ 7.70). Back at the shop we fitted the wheels, removed the timber and wood from underneath the bash plate and squeezed the bike out the front door again.

During all this, the mechanic at the shop worked on the motorbikes they have in Mexico. He didn't have to squeeze the bikes through the workshop, he simply rode them through it :-) Working on a bike means he leans them against the wall or a post and getting a wheel out can be done by lifting the bike up by hand. Spares are cheap, tyres are cheap and having seen what they transport on them in Mexico, loading one up with camping gear will not be an issue. The simple lightweight motorcycle makes so much more sense.

Our thoughts are a bit mixed about big singles like Mike's Yamaha XT660R. It's a great bike to ride, it's suspension is superb and it's good on fuel too… but it's hard on tyres and chains & sprockets. Having 3 motorcycles that do the same trip, at the same speed, and under the same conditions means we can compare like for like. The heavier and more powerful Bonneville gets an easy 5.000 km more out of a rear tyre, gets more than double distance out of the front tyres and chain & sprockets last twice as long too. Despite being better on fuel, the Yamaha has turned to be more expensive to run than the Bonneville.

Tony took some photographs of us in front of the shop and then suggested we get a late lunch somewhere. He suggested something simple like Burger King or McDonalds… 'Just follow me he said'… When he turned onto the parking area I thought 'Burger King… yeah right!' He had taken us to a local high quality restaurant instead, Tutul-Xiu, where they serve traditional dishes and suggested we'd order 4 different meals with extra empty plates so we could sample all 4. The most traditional dish of the Yucatan is Poc-Chuc, which is very good (as usual in Mexico…). We also had Pamichos (hard tacos with a topping) and Papatzules (kind of egg rolls). Mike was disappointed there was no ice-cream for dessert, but Nances and Ciruelas (sort of 'soaked' plums) as suggested by Tony made more than up for it!

We talked about motorcycles, about the trip and where we would go next. As there wasn't a campground in reasonable distance towards Chichen Itza, we thought about going back to the spot we were last night. I wasn't real keen and Tony asked if we would like to see Merida… If so we could stay at his place and he would show us Merida the next day…! We thus went to Merida.

As it was getting late, Murphy strikes again. First at the petrol station where paying took 15 minutes due to electronic gremlins. Then the GPS went haywire and send us all over the place… All that resulted in driving in twilight into Merida and arriving much later than we thought.

We have seen a lot of police in Mexico and are used to seeing an almost alarming amount of 'blue' on the road. In Merida it's at least double compared to the rest in Mexico though… and for some reason they all have their flashing lights on… everywhere and all the time. Tony took us into Merida's beautiful town centre that night.