Wednesday, December 2, 2015

India - A workshop day in Chandigarh

First time they had seen a Bonneville with 130,000 km on the clock... and all it needed was a new airfilter, pre-load spacers for the shocks, one small oil seal and as I arrived with a flat tyre, we did that too...
It was only going to be a ride from Shimla to Chandigarh, visit a Triumph dealer to get brake pads for the Yamaha (this is going to make sense don't worry...) and then move to a cheap and simple guesthouse we found on the net. As always, it went rather differently. We did visit the Triumph dealer and we did go to the guesthouse. But unlike normal, whatever that is, we managed to get a lot more done than we had planned (!) which is rather unusual...

Getting up early was a good start. The good people from Aditya Homestay came up trumps once more and served breakfast especially for us at 6.30 am. They really come highly recommended and are our preferred stay in Shimla. You can find them here: N31.04856° E77.13657°. Being early meant less traffic, which on the narrow mountain roads was very welcome. We actually had a rather quiet ride... by Indian standards anyway. We saw a truck almost tipping over the cliff when it tried to avoid killing a car driver and his children when they turned onto the road just in front of the truck without even looking. We had about a dozen close calls to being killed in a head-on when idiots came around the corner on the wrong side of the road, or came around the corner side-by-side taking up the whole road. We also saw a bus driver trying to overtake again and again and again where it was totally impossible, but in the end managed to do it by being side by side with a truck through a complete s-bend... Oh and I kicked a few doors in of cars that tried to push me off the road when they couldn't finish their overtaking manoeuvre and decided the bike was the easy vehicle to push aside. Nobody pushes me off the road, I don't even move over one inch as it could mean I bring someone else in danger, and I don't have any tolerance for bad drivers. It actually works too. They don't want their pride and joy dented and thus keep their distance form then on while the car behind me sees it happening and won't even try to get close to me anymore :-) If every motorbike rider in India adopts this strategy then it will be a lot safer on the roads for all of us! Better still, get bike boots with a steel bumper built-in at the front!

The last section to Chandigarh is a two lane highway, which is easy to ride. A couple of vehicles coming against the traffic on a highway and the usual Indian chaos of course but once you're used to it, quite easy to do. First stop was an ATM. We know the HDFC bank works with foreign cards, so when we found one, we went in... only to be stopped by the security guard! We were not allowed to park in the parking area of the bank as we were on motorbikes...? Right... Next stop was the Triumph dealership, which is part of Krishna Automobiles. They have only started with Triumph motorcycles about a year ago and are a real friendly and helpful bunch. All we needed was brake pads for the Yamaha. The ride from Manali up to the Rohtang pass, in the freak weather we had, which had the bikes going through deep mud/gravel water had destroyed Mike's brake pads. Virtually the whole lining ended up in the ventilation holes of the disc and had worn away to about 1 mm. Yamaha XT660s are hard to find in India but they have the same pads as a Triumph 675 or a BMW 650GS.

The bush between the Hagon
adjuster and spring gives me
more pre-load
Normally Triumph parts are not my first choice. Not because they aren't any good but because of the prices being asked for them. In India they are about the same as what we paid for aftermarket parts in Europe though. As all was going so smoothly and Triumph Chandigarh is, so easy to work with I decided to take my shock absorbers apart too..! Why? Because I wanted more pre-load on the springs. The Hagon shocks work really well. The progressive damping is a huge bonus as it doesn't require any adjustment and yet give the same, if not better, results than the more expensive Ikons. There is one thing to consider though. As the damping becomes progressively stiffer the further the damper is pushed inwards, it also means that if your shock is riding low... the damping is stiff all the time. This is not a fault of Hagon, but my own. I have 23 kg springs fitted and should have used a heavier one.

Having said that, experiences in the past have learned me that a lighter spring on higher preload can sometimes work better than a heavier spring. It allows the shock to react quicker somehow. What I therefore wanted was a 10mm spacer between the spring and adjuster. The spacer needed a recess at the bottom and a lip at the top to keep the spring from rubbing against the damper. They couldn't make that at the bike shop as they don't have a lathe, so we went to the motor bazaar, which was quite an experience! Imagine a huge wreckers yard, full of little one-man shops, specialising in all sorts of things. It's a giant mess, car parts are strewn around everywhere, spray painters are spraying a car out in the open right next to another shop, etc.

So why is there a picture of a BMW in here? Well, it's Vince's GSA
who had booked it in for a service at... Triumph! Why at Triumph? 

See text! Next to it is my T100,guess they had an 
unusual day at Triumph Chandigarh :-)
Somewhere in there is a man with a shock absorber shop. Again a big mess, oil everywhere and parts everywhere. The problem here was explaining what I needed. The guys from Triumph said 'if you as a foreigner go in there, they will charge you 5 times what's normal. Let us do it' Ok but that meant I had to explain to the workshop manager what I wanted, he translated what he thought I meant into Hindi, the mechanic sort of understood, but not completely... and had to explain to the shock specialist what was needed... who then told a guy with a lathe to make up the spacers as he thought they should be... Yep, you guessed it... I received not what I had in mind! So I had to go in anyway and found what I described above. 

When I arrived the shock specialist was in a seriously heated argument with another customer... who wasn't happy and neither was he. He looked at me, was already pissed because of the other problem and now I had to tell him that what he made was wrong... This wouldn't go down well... To soften him up I said it was for 95% ok, which it wasn't but I had to solve this problem somehow. What I had asked for was a 10mm spacer with a recess and a lip. What I received was a 20mm spacer, no lip and no recess... However, Morren Motorcycles had kindly send me extra nylon retainers... which I could use instead of the bottom lip. One problem solved, two to go. If I would put the preload on two instead of three, I could even use the 20mm instead of 10mm, problem two solved. Now all I needed to get done is the recess. Which was the easy part to explain too. He took the shock apart with tools designed for car shocks and a huge washer on top. With the shock under full pressure, the washer flew out, missed the other already angry customer by centimeters on the head while the young guy operating the arm fell from the concrete block he was standing on and hit his head on one of the beams holding the roof up. Unfazed, they did the same thing again... The recess was machined into the spacers and I could make it work. Back at the bikeshop I assembled the shocks, using ratchet straps (which is the best and safest way to do it if you don't have special tools for it) and fitted them.

While this was going on, Vince arrived with his 1200GSA. He had originally booked it in for a service at BMW Delhi but they refused to service it...! The reason given was that Vince had thoughtfully bought his consumables at a BMW dealer in Europe, thinking they might be hard to get in India. He was right, the BMW dealer in Delhi didn't have the parts needed for a service in stock and ordering them in would take 4 weeks... That's bad enough already, but refusing to fit his own original BMW parts is just plain nasty. The first engine part that needed replacing on my Triumph was being organised too. The seal behind the gearshifter had just started weeping, if it had to leak then this was the best time to do it (on our way to a Triumph shop!) Mike was very happy though, finally the Bonneville had started leaking oil... and it even needed work! At the end of the day I paid $3.82 to have it fixed in labour charges... while the part itself is missing on the invoice! (as I found out later while typing this post) which frustrated Mike even more. Riding away from the Triumph shop, the difference in handling was massive. Should have had these spacers made up before Kyrgyzstan... Still India has plenty to offer in bad roads too and we're even talking about the Gibb River Road now... We'll see it when we get there.

At the end of the day, happy with all the work we could get done, we arrived at the New Chandigarh Holiday Home we had booked (N30.77760° E76.80397°) which turned out to be a very nice place! The free Openstreetmap we use isn't detailed enough to show the last two streets to it, which is why we've geotagged that as a photo. All the GPS data for India can be found here. All we look for in a hotel is secure bike parking and cheap, as we have to make our money last. This usually means it's not all that nice. Showers which don't work or are cold and give dirty water, bed linen of dubious cleanliness and noisy dirty rooms are often the norm in the cheaper places we go to. We're not complaining, it's simply the financial choice we make. Not so in the New Chandigarh Holiday Home though! It's operated by a husband and wife team who really did their very best to make us feel welcome. The bikes were parked behind big secure gates, which in India is a must as people just can't keep their hands from them, and they gave us a downstairs room as they figured we would have lots of luggage to carry in! They had only just openend the hotel 3 months ago, which meant everything works(!) and is in good condition. Although looking at the people who own and operate it, I'd say they will look after it. Being tired we didn't want to go out and had a meal at the hotel, which was not only very reasonably priced (or extremely cheap by western standards) but also very good too. It's one of those places where you'd like to stay another day. The only criticism I read from another visitor was that it's too far away from the centre, which to be honest is rubbish as Chandigarh is not that big. Plus it's only a couple of hundred metres walk to a main street which has all the shops and excitement you could possibly need :-)