A little way south of Susurluk we pulled over next to a stranded DRZ rider to see if we could help out. Ali had just bought the bike in Istanbul and was on a maiden weekend cruise before heading home to Ankara. He was of the opinion that the battery wasn’t charging (a notorious problem with DRZs) and luckily our jumper cables were close at hand. A bike mechanic showed up to help too which was just as well, since jump starting the bike wasn’t working. A bit of futile jiggling and head scratching, and the mechanic announced that the cam chain was broken, pistons seized, and that the engine would basically need to be rebuilt! That seemed a touch extreme to me, but he was adamant, and would say nothing more about it.
Ali’s plan was to have someone pick up his bike and take it to the nearby town of Balikesir. From there he’d find a freight company that would crate it up and drive it to Ankara, where he could deal with a mechanic he knew and trusted. Not exactly how you envision your first weekend with a new bike, but shit happens. The area’s only auto-recovery man showed up in due course, looked over the stranded bike, and promptly added a couple of zeros to his fee! After a heated debate in Turkish, Ali came back fuming. ‘He thinks we’re three helpless chickens and he’s a big rooster; well I’m not interested in being fucked!’ O.K. how about you tell this guy to get lost, and we’ll just tow you to town? Our bikes aren’t in the best condition, but I’m sure we can manage 40km.
With my petrol light back on and Maria’s battery now drained by the extra work it was doing, we didn’t make for the most impressive convoy but, after jump starting both BMWs from the DRZ and attaching the tow rope, we slowly started making our way west. We were heading for a retail park where the recovery-swindler had insisted we meet him to hand over a call out fee, but it was getting dark by the time we got there and he’d obviously decided to cut his losses and head home, so that was one expense spared.
Our new problem was that Maria’s bike kept stalling, and with me towing Ali down the road ahead, she had no way of starting up again. After several failed attempts to get back en route to Balikesir, we reluctantly decided that the best option would be to make camp in the nearby hills and try again tomorrow. As we sat around discussing the logistics of getting three dysfunctional bikes up a dusty unpaved incline and out of sight without attracting attention, we were approached by the retail park security team, who’d been listening in.
They were sympathetic to our plight, but told us that if we were spotted camping in the hills we’d almost certainly be arrested. It’s not that it’s illegal exactly, but the local Jendarmes are a bit starved for excitement. We were more than welcome to camp in the car park though; we’d have all night security patrols to watch over the bikes and access to the toilet facilities and WiFi. Not exactly an idyllic spot, but all three of us were exhausted, so it would do.
The quality of our dinner matched the quality of our campsite too; Macdonalds from right outside our door. After that we sat sipping whiskey, discussing bikes and Turkish politics and generally putting the world to rights under the eerie glow of a huge neon billboard. Even the most unaccomodating spot can be pleasant enough in the right company.
Our next day started early as trucks roared past our tent en route to Izmir, and we discussed our plan of attack over a coffee. Ali’s dad had tracked down a freight company about 50km away from us who for a very reasonable price could get his bike to Ankara. So he was sorted for the time being. Next step was to check Seven’s battery, alternator and wiring with the multimeter. No problems there, so presumably we’d just emptied the battery, not damaged it. We turned her bike on and left it idling in the shade for a few hours. Problem number two checked off the list.
Pippa’s battery, alternator and connectors all seemed fine too so we still had no idea what was wrong there. Our prolonged stay in the car park and our array of tools had inevitably attracted attention, so we passed a few hours chatting with and drinking coffees brought for us by passing bikers and well-wishers. Encouraged by our tinkering and our mechanically minded chat the night before, Ali decided he’d like to have a look over his bike too, on the off-chance we’d find a problem. The carb, filters and battery were all ok and encouragingly the cam chain didn’t seem to be broken either but after that our limited supply of tools and knowledge was pretty much exhausted, so the only thing for it was to bump start my bike, attach the tow rope, and finally leave the retail park behind.
Compared to a fully laden F650GS, the little DRZ was feather light and towing proved none too stressful. My drained battery meant that I had to leave the bike idling whenever we stopped though and combined with the soaring temperatures and an uphill climb, the engine eventually overheated and had to be rested for a bit, while the radiator fins got a cold water shower.
Before too long we’d found our way to the freighting office and climbed off the bikes to cool off in the shade. As usual it wasn’t long before we were bombarded with questions and cold drinks from nearby factory workers and since Ali was off negotiating delivery of his bike I had to resort to my old mime routine.
It occurred to me that there would probably be a mechanic’s somewhere nearby where we could charge the batteries, giving me a few self-starts and taking the pressure off Maria’s bike. We were bundled into an ancient pickup belonging to a worker at a nearby tyre-refurbishing plant and driven to an autoshop where we dropped off the batteries and did our best to convey the appropriate voltage and ampere limit through interpretive dance.
With everyone’s problems finally on the road to being solved we slumped down in a workers cafe to relax. Ali ordered us a feast of traditional Turkish dishes (I think to compensate for last night’s Macdonalds) and we tucked in. Soup, rice, chickpeas and shredded beef were accompanied by various members of staff who sat at our table to interrogate us. The cafe owner eventually came out to sit with us; he’s a sportsbike enthusiast, and the usual camera phone pictures of wife-and-children that we get shown were substituted for shots of a nicely polished R1. Through mouthfuls of food we explained how we’d come to meet Ali and find ourselves in an industrial estate in Balikesir (a story that seemed to go some way towards diminishing the English reputation in Turkey for self-centeredness). After pictures we prepared to leave, and for our three meals we were charged the princely sum of 10TL! The equivalent of about three pounds for three huge dinners; a gift from the cafe owner I think.
Our chauffeur driven pickup arrived and we were delivered back at the freighting dock – just in time to see Ali’s bike dangling precariously over a truck. Despite the hours he’d spent moaning about his disappointing purchase, he was out of the car like a shot and helping to get his new baby safely secured.
Within an hour the truck was leaving us in a cloud of dust, on its way to Ankara. Our friend from the tyre factory had used the diversion to sneak off for a shower and a change of clothes, and returned looking very proud of himself, to invite us into the factory for tea. As we passed through the inner workings of the plant our guide became more and more animated, and Ali struggled to translate as he described each part of the process in the factory, taking us from one to another of the huge esoteric machines and miming their functions, while steam and heat forced the air out of our lungs. It struck me that it was in some ways so like a museum or monument tour; as we were led single file around the room, straining to listen to the explanations being rattled out, and yet it was unique to us – a little slice of working life that a stranger wanted to share. I didn’t even know you could refurbish tyres.
The only thing left to do was pick up our batteries. Again we were charged next to nothing, even by Turkish standards and I was informed by the mechanic that the reason my battery wasn’t holding charge was that all the distilled water had evaporated! That made me feel a bit of a twat, but my bike being once again problem free more than made up for it and with both bikes now running fine we said warm goodbyes to Ali, promised we’d meet up with three functioning bikes in Ankara.
And indulged in a campsite that was miles from civilisation.