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September 9, 2012 | Holidays in Shilka

Leaving Chita, the first few kilometers of the road are easily the worst we’ve seen so far. The 2,155 km sign to Khabarovsk seems like a bad joke in these circumstances – either our bikes or our trailers or our solar panel structures are almost guaranteed to fail over such a distance on roads this bad. However, our gloomy expectations are soon confounded: Only ten kilometers or so later, the road meets the outer of the two highways bypassing Chita, and suddenly changes from “alarmingly bad” to “brand new”. And in this condition it was to remain, for roughly the next 1,700 km!

It’s hard to overstate how much this simplifies our trip. Instead of being the hardest part, these 1,700 km are the easiest! The road is silk smooth, and there are maybe four or five others cars per hour: We feel as though we are riding on a long, oversized bicycle highway. It’s pretty Zen: Very few cars to disturb the silence, practically no towns or villages (the road seems to purposefully go around them), and calm and steady good weather. On top of this, though cafés are much sparser, there’s one about every one hundred or two hundred kilometers, and we manage to reach one at the end of each and every day. Filling up our batteries overnight, we regularly go well over 200 km a day, building up a comfortable buffer time in our schedule. ... [ Read more ]

September 2, 2012 | Taking stock

Behind Ulan-Ude, the road becomes more rugged than before, but the most remarkable feature is not its quality, but its emptiness. Traffic becomes ever sparser; maybe one car every two or three minutes. For cycling, this is great – no need anymore to worry about other parties on the road: Clearly everyone driving here will notice us as the only moving object in sight. Admittedly, we share the road with a few cows, but they are so slow they hardly count as “moving objects”.

The landscape is a largely treeless plateau of between 800 and 1,000 meters above sea level. This does imply cold winds, but nothing we cannot cope with by donning an additional t-shirt or sweater. Thankfully, the weather stays mostly dry, and we are treated to several spectacular star-filled night skies. Be it sheer luck or good planning, we have no trouble finding good sleeping spots for the nights, and – contrary to our expectations – regularly start the days with full batteries, having charged them overnight. ... [ Read more ]

August 29, 2012 | Baikal and Buryatia

From Irkutsk onwards, the scenery becomes a lot more interesting. Endless wooden plains give way to mountain ranges, streams and lakes, not least of all, Lake Baikal itself. Its famously deep waters greeted us the evening we finally left Irkutsk, after we had spent a huge amount of energy to conquer the passes in between. The reward was spectacular: Looking down upon the lake from high above, it resembles a calm ocean much more than a freshwater body.

Sadly, as we mentioned in the last post, it was way too cold for a swim: Summer apparently ended early this year, and in Siberia, this means frost at night. Surprisingly, the temperature did not seem to bother the mosquitoes – once again, they were out in force when we set up our tent. Their activity level does seem to depend heavily on the time of day, however – we found that whenever we make camp well before or after sunset, they are not nearly as much of a nuisance. ... [ Read more ]

August 27, 2012 | Half-time

Not far behind Krasnoyarsk, we solved the limitation we had mentioned two posts ago – the charge controller would not charge with full capacity until the batteries were already quite depleted. We adjusted its exit voltage upwards – now it basically thinks the batteries are already quite empty when they are, in fact, still nearly full. The drawback is that it will now happily overcharge them if we don’t prevent it from doing so. To stop this, we simply installed a switch-off button between batteries and charge controller.

This improvement was much needed: Towards Irkutsk, the road gets much, much hillier, and its condition much worse. Several long stretches were just gravel road or were under construction with a temporary gravel road in place. We can only go ten to fifteen km/h on gravel, and it taxes both us and the bikes greatly. We wouldn’t have reached our daily mileage without the change. ... [ Read more ]

August 16, 2012 | On the run

We are outlaws now, or at least Felix is. Yesterday morning, in Krasnoyarsk, he lost his passport with his entry visa. In Russia, where they want to see your passport even for a simple hotel stay, that’s not a good thing to happen.

He noticed that it was missing about a hundred km from Krasnoyarsk. It must’ve fallen out of his side pocket somewhere along the way. Of course, with reasonably strong winds, big gusts produced by all the trucks, high grass along the roadside, and 100 km of road, there was no chance to go back and search for it. We’d have to somehow organise a replacement, preferably as soon as possible – and meanwhile, he would ride as an illegal alien.

We had reached Krasnoyarsk in reasonably good shape, and pretty fast, too. The road from Novosibirsk to Krasnoyarsk had clearly been the best we’ve seen so far: With very little traffic, and in excellent condition. Since we were a little behind schedule when we left Novosibirsk, we tried to gain some time by covering big distances – and without big problems to report, this succeeded quite nicely! All told, we gained a full day on the way to Krasnoyarsk. ... [ Read more ]

August 8, 2012 | Power play

We have seen some rough weather in the past few days. Lots of clouds, lots of wind, some long rainfalls, and it got noticeably colder. Hopefully winter won’t set in very early this year!

We’ve still managed to adhere to schedule, but it has been challenging. Without enough sun, the solar panels do not generate enough electricity, and without engine power, it’s very hard to climb even small heights, since we carry so much extra weight. And heights there are aplenty: The terrain has changed noticeably since Novosibirsk, from very flat plains to rolling hills.

The only way we manage to keep up our speed is by rigorous energy management. For this, there are lots of factors to consider, some of whom we only discovered while already on the road. For example, the MTSE charge regulator only charges the batteries quickly when they are below a certain output voltage, which corresponds to 50% or so of their capacity. Above that, excess energy from Panasonic’s solar panel is simply lost, as the charger, in order to lengthen battery life, decides they may only slowly be charged. Thus, to get the solar panel to do useful work at all, we first have to drive for an hour or so – or climb hills early on. ... [ Read more ]

August 3, 2012 | Business in Novosibirsk

We had two business appointments today, the first in the morning for polymotive at Liotech, and the second for PETplanet at Etalon in the afternoon. Liotech operates the world’s largest battery production plant just outside Novosibirsk since December 2011, and Etalon is a PET preform-manufacturer located south of the city. Coming from our direction, Liotech is first en route, so we started there.

It was a very hot day, and we reached Liotech after a short ride from our resting place. We stopped before the entrance gate and changed into business suits, which we had brought all the way just for those two appointments – and for the fun of riding the bikes in suits! The security guards were pretty surprised, but had been informed beforehand that two strange-looking vehicles would pass through today and let us pass. ... [ Read more ]

August 2, 2012 | We didn't start the fire

…it was always burning, but the wind’s been turning (with apologies to Billy Joel).

We left Omsk on what would’ve been a beautiful, blue-sky summer day. Instead, there was thick smog surrounding the city: A thousand kilometers away, near Tomsk, the woods were burning, and Omsk was greatly affected despite the huge distance. Unfortunate for us: Our energy supply would be much less plentiful. ... [ Read more ]

July 28, 2012 | Amazing days in Omsk

We were happily driving along, when suddenly a strange noise emanated from Felix’s trailer. We promptly braked and pulled over to the emergency lane. One look was enough: The overtaxed side bar of the frame had broken just before and behind the attachment point of the tongue. The front of the trailer had hit the road and ground Felix’s trailer and bike to an abrupt halt.

Really, this was to be expected sooner or later. The Nomad trailers are made for a maximum load of 40 kg, and we taxed them with more than 80 – around 85 on mine, and just over 90 on Felix’s. And with that, we went over hundreds of kilometers of potholed streets with an average speed of around 30 km/h. The whole trailer jumps into the air at each pothole, 10 to 20 cm high, and then comes crashing down.

It’s a testament to their sturdy built that the Burleys will stand up to that kind of punishment even if you load them with twice the rated maximum load – and if you go even higher, like we did, at some point it of course has to brake. ... [ Read more ]

July 26, 2012 | Our own fault

We had finished writing the last blog entry just before the rain ended – and unbeknownst to us, disaster had struck in the meantime. We would find out soon enough…

As soon as the rain stopped, we left our tent and started to gather our belongings. Then, while inspecting the bikes, we found something suspicious: Felix’s MTSE charge regulator‘s LED was blinking instead of giving a steady light. A blinking LED indicates an undercurrent, and no batteries were being charged.

Felix got out the voltmeter and started checking the connections. All cabling seemed good, and the Panasonic batteries and panel worked fine. And yet, the regulator did not charge the battery with the energy it got from the panel! Maybe the problem was with the regulator itself? We looked closer, and soon found the root cause: The heavy rain had found its way inside, and the regulator board was sitting in a puddle of water. Uh oh… ... [ Read more ]

July 22, 2012 | ...and a sunny day

Yesterday our organization efforts from the rainy day before were put to the test, and passed with flying colors: We managed 240 km, albeit under practically perfect conditions.

We got up at six, and started driving at around eight. It was still somewhat chilly from the night, and at first it looked light it might rain again: But the clouds passed, and soon we were driving under a clear blue sky. With practically straight roads, it was simple to adjust our panels so they could work with maximum efficiency, and work they did: They generated more than 2,000 Wh today, each!

Our Heidelberg tests and calculations had shown we could expect an average of 1,400 Wh a day, so clearly this was a very good day. We used about 10 Wh per km, around 2,400 in total, so our initially fully charged batteries were still at about 70% when we stopped. This usage is at the low end of our expectations: 10 to 15 Wh were planned. ... [ Read more ]

July 20, 2012 | A rainy day, well used

This morning, we wake up to a constant drizzle of rain on our tent. Since we are both still very tired from the lack of sleep over the past couple of nights, we decide to make the best of the weather and to continue sleeping for a while. When the rain stops, we are much better rested than we’ve been for days, but it’s already half past ten.

We discuss how to proceed and, after a good look at the sky, suspect a thunderstorm is coming up. Since there are a huge number of things still to do after yesterday’s first day, we leave the tent up to be prepared and start working. One of the ebikes has no red LED strip on the back of its solar panel yet, the USB connection for one of our mobile phones is not done yet, and we’d like to have a quick way to check the energy coming in directly. In addition, the straps holding the panel are in good position, but not ideally placed for quick adjustments, and the screws of the ebikes need fastening after the first day of driving on Russian roads. Finally, we packed lots of things where we were not sure whether we would need them, and some of those are unnecessary. Generally, our stuff needs much better organisation to speed up our morning and evening times. ... [ Read more ]

July 19, 2012 | SiStour has started!

We had planned to post an entry about the stretch from Moscow to Yekaterinburg, but events have developped quickly, and something much more important has happened today:

SiStour has officially started!

And more or less on schedule, too, which had been in grave doubt due to the many problems with the Editourmobil. The time constraints caused by those not only prevented another blog post (and photos in the last one), they also threw in doubt the timely start of SiStour itself – but after two (further) nights with very little sleep, we’ve started driving today! ... [ Read more ]

July 17, 2012 | Cars can have problems, too

The past week has been a very busy time – just not with SiStour preparations. Instead, we’ve been preoccupied with bringing the Editourmobil to Yekaterinburg in the first place. Lots of minor difficulties have propped up and have taken time to resolve, and we’re just barely still on schedule.

While still near Moscow, during the better part of the last week, we had to get up very early to meet with interview partners for Kay’s Go to Brau project. The interviews happen on production sites, both because these provide much better photo opportunities and because the PET machines themselves often prompt further questioning. Production sites, as one would expect, are located in production zones, and in turn, these are usually located on the outskirts of town. In the case of a megalopolis like Moscow, this often implies a drive of several hours just to get from the morning appointment to the evening one. ... [ Read more ]

July 9, 2012 | Heating metal

Heat. Heat has been the one constant feature these past few days. Through big successes and major setbacks, on Red Square and in satellite towns, inside the Editourmobil and on parking lots, in meeting rooms and in car workshops, at noon and at midnight – the heat never stops. Right now, two hours past midnight, inside the caravan, after what promised to be thunder and lightning but never quite materialized, it’s still well above 35°C.

Of course, this is vastly better than minus 35°C – which is sometimes reached in winter. Neither caravans nor bikes would be much fun in those conditions! The only conceivable upside in winter is that the potholes on the streets would be full of tightly compressed snow – the driving would be a lot smoother… ... [ Read more ]

July 4, 2012 | Summer in Moscow

Yesterday evening, we arrived in Moscow after a long day’s drive from St. Petersburg in the Editourmobil. The trikes and trailers are in storage, dissasembled, in the vehicle’s garage, and the solar panels are securely mounted on its roof. We’ve stayed overnight on a parking space close to a Coca-Cola facility on the outskirts of Moscow. Our colleague, Kay Krüger, intends to visit them tomorrow for the Go to Brau tour, our sister project.

Today is a bright and hot Moscow summer day, and we’ve decided to use the occasion to find out how well our solar panels hold up in the Moscow sun after having travelled well above 2,500 km on top of the Editourmobil. The panels have no connection to the electricity grid on board yet, so to do any tests, they have to be lowered from the rooftop first. Soon, several Russian truck drivers watch in amazement as I climb through a rooftop window on top of the Editourmobil… After unfastening the belts that hold the upper panel in place, I lower it over the edge of the roof to the vehicle’s side, where Felix is waiting to receive it and rest it securely on the ground. Since this is the third or fourth time we’ve done the operation, it goes off without a hitch. ... [ Read more ]

July 1, 2012 | A plan is born

Heidelberg business media, Christmas party, end of January, 2012.

“You know, it really is a pity that we have to turn around in Yekaterinburg. It would be awesome just to continue going East!”
“True that, but the Editourmobil needs to be back in Nuremberg in early November – the schedule doesn’t permit any further extension East.”
“Who says we need to take the Editourmobil? We could get off and continue, say, by bike!”
“Hmm, in theory, yes, sure we could. But, where would you go? There’s no obvious destination nearby.”
“Eh, just keep going until we hit the coast. As far East as possible!”
“Yeah, right. Do you have any idea how far that is?”
“No. Let’s check!”

The answer, it turns out, is “about 8,000 km”. And thanks to the wonders of the internet, this information was readily available to us on the night of hbmedia’s rather belated little Christmas party. Which, under normal circumstances, probably would have let to the idea being dismissed as unworkable: 8,000 km is just too far. For normal persons, which we decidedly are, it means about half a year of travelling by bike – maybe four months if you really push it. Neither of us had anywhere near that much free time. ... [ Read more ]

June 28, 2012 | 12 weeks

“12 weeks!”
“Come again?”
“Delivery time is 12 weeks.”
“Umm… okay then. Never mind. Goodbye!”

With six days to go until tour start, one of our solar panels would not quite arrive on time. The other one had been sitting in the garage of our friendly local ebike builder since March, and several weeks ago, we’d ordered a second, identical one. According to the solar panel vendor’s website, delivery time was 5-7 days, and the module was in storage. On ordering, we had noted that timely fulfillment of the order was essential, and had chosen the quickest payment method to make extra sure things would run smoothly… or so we thought. ... [ Read more ]