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.
At Liotech, we were greeted very cordially by Evgeniya Kalinichenko, whom we had been in contact with, and who also translated during the interview with Igor Chapaev, the factory director. Apparently, everyone on the premises knew we would come, and we were greeted with nods and handshakes all around. The good people at Liotech had at least as many questions for us as we had for them!
After a tour of the facilities, we gladly accepted an invitation to lunch with Evgeniya, and after a good Russian meal, bid farewell to her and her friendly colleagues. We changed back to our driving gear outside the gate, and continued to our second appointment, at Etalon. Petr Durnov, technical director, was to meet us there at 4 pm – but 45 minutes before and only ten kilometers from the plant, disaster struck again: Felix’s axle suspension broke after a railway crossing!
We stopped on the emergency lane between road and railway, and took a long look at his bike. It was immediately clear he could not continue riding it, and that any repair would take many, many hours with our on-board material and would still not be good for very long. What to do? We decided to call Petr, who might be able to send someone to pick Felix up. Petr suggested I should come to the plant to explain to him Felix’s exact location, and we readily agreed to this. For the first time since coming to Russia, we would be at separate places, at least for a short while.
I raced to Etalon, where I arrived just after 4 pm, pretty dirty and wet from a short but sharp rainfall. Petr and a driver were awaiting me, and I showed them Felix’s location on the map. Petr invited me in, showed me where shower and bathroom were, and fivteen minutes later, I emerged cleaned and in business suit. Just at that time, the driver was calling – he had reached the place I told them, but Felix was nowhere to be found. Luckily, Felix mobile phone is the one sending our position to the location page, so I could look up easily where he was and direct the driver there.
It turns out that Felix had been taken by a friendly lorry driver to a nearby workshop, where his problem had already been repaired – and not only that, the broken axle suspension had been fixed and strengthened enough for it to hopefully withstand any future assault! Pretty amazing, given the very short time frame and the – to the local mechanics – totally unknown bike.
After Felix had showered as well, we interviewed Petr and then toured the facility with him. He’s a former nuclear physicist who’s been the technical director for about 12 years now, and who is a really resourceful, helpful and friendly guy. This would be to our great advantage, as it soon became clear that our technical problems were far from over.
We expected my bike to break at the same point Felix’s had broken sooner or later, so we needed to strengthen it as well. Felix’s repair had not been completed: The gear suspension had broken off as well, and was only provisionally attached now. And when trying to ascertain the root cause of the failure, we found two less-than-prefectly built parts on Felix’s bike: The central frame axle and the rear wheel axle had both way too much wiggle room.
These last two were big problems: They cause huge forces on the wheel axel suspension that will ultimately destroy it again, whatever its strength. And none of them could be fixed without serious metalworks… which was exactly what Petr had on offer! As we showed him each problem in turn, the answer would invariably be “No problem, we’ll build this part anew!” – and that’s just what they did. So we got new and strengthened axle suspensions, frame axles, and finally a completely remade rear wheel axle! We’re pretty sure that, given another day, Petr’s crew could’ve built us a completely new bike from scratch…
On top of that, Petr is a really amazing host. We were treated to a very nice dinner, and he insisted on us staying in a hotel overnight. We got all the rest and time we could wish for – I for blogging, answering emails, and work, and Felix for working on the bikes and for improving lots and lots of little things. In hindsight, the damage could not have happened at a more convenient place and time!
Still, of course it’s troubling us that so many different repairs are needed. After all, the challenging parts of the tour are all still ahead! We hope we won’t miss some important detail that might come back to haunt us later on. Plus, it all does cost time: All told, we spent two full days on the facility, doing repairs and overhauls with Petr and his team. While we are currently not too far behind schedule, it would surely be great to be able to cover the next stretch, to Krasnoyarsk, without major problems – we’ve seen between Omsk and Novosibirsk that we can be really fast if nothing interferes!
Right now, rain is pouring down, as it has been doing all night. We’ll get onto our bikes and leave as soon as it stops raining. We’ll remember Petr and his team as some of the finest hosts we’ve ever met, and we cannot adequately thank them enough for all they’ve done. Really just what we needed at the right place and time!