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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 in 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.

Turns out things had no intention of running smoothly… or even just a little bumpy. No, the running-of-things-dial was firmly set to rough. Instead of 5-7 days – as their website still showed even now – delivery would take 12 weeks, and instead of in storage – which, naturally, the website also still claimed – no module was in stock. Seems their supply chain management needs some work – as does their internet store, as does the customer relations department…

Now we were in a bind. The second solar panel is a rather essential element of the overall plan – going by electric bikes through Siberia, in under two months. Without it, one of the ebike engines would have no energy, and without support power from the engine, we’d never be able to reach even close to the needed daily distance – about 200 km on average. So we would need a replacement, and soon.

While solar panels are quite popular in Germany, there are surprisingly few places that actually sell them. And all of them seem to have listed delivery times of five days or more, and most only sell five or more panels. Makes sense with regards to the transport costs, and anyone wanting to install a meaningful power supply on their roof would want at least five panels anyway. But we did not want to install five panels on our roofs: We wanted to mount one panel on each of our trailers!

Some quick calls to solar panel vendors were… disappointing, to say the least.

  • There’s not enough time for delivery
  • One panel is not enough to make delivery worthwhile
  • This panel is not currently available
  • The panel is no longer sold
  • Please leave a message after the tone
  • Beep-beep-beep

Finally, growing increasingly desperate, we reached Eduard: His website clearly stated he’d ship only five or more panels, but we thought there’s no harm in trying. And lo! and behold – here was a genuinely helpful and friendly guy who immediately agreed to ship a single panel if he had one, then went to storage to check, called right back after checking, reported he didn’t have the panel, offered to ship a similar one with only minimal tiny differences, and offered to arrange for express delivery directly from his supplier. End result – the panel would be here the next morning! Eduard did all this despite us calling past his regular office hours – well, let’s just say we’d do business with him again…

On Wednesday morning, to our great relief, the panel did indeed arrive. One less component to worry about, one more component to integrate into our overall stack: Two bikes (trikes, to be precise) with two electric engines and two controllers, pulling two trailers with two battery packs supplied by two solar panels via two current controllers. Slated for a ride along the trans-siberian railway from Yekaterinburg – on the edge of Europe and Asia – over more than 8,000 km to Vladivostok – on the Pacific coast, across Japan. Starting in Heidelberg on June 26 by caravan, changing to bikes in Yekaterinburg on July 19 and arriving in Vladivostok on September 14.

Which is… in 12 weeks.