Wednesday, September 14, 2011


In the US, I quickly developed a reputation as the guy who fell off a bicycle and had to go to a hospital. Now, I'm known as the guy who keeps fixing his motorcycle. And sometimes the camera.

I guess that's an upgrade, right?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


"Umm, dude, we all would like to take you out for lunch..."

It's a weekend, so lunch is actually an amalgamation of breakfast, lunch and dinner. Generally speaking. I'm surprised... and being treated to "lunch" by flat-mates on your birthday is a nice surprise.

We pile into the car, and head off. Our crazy humor kicks off. One wants wine. Specifically white wine. Sweet, white wine. Fresh, sweet, white wine. Cold, fresh, sweet, white wine. We stop before someone punches us.

Someone orders steak. It comes with leaves and twigs. I order rabbit. It too comes with leaves and twigs. These guys hunted the animals down as they were lunching (the animals, not the guys). The rabbit was probably holding on to the tree really tight. They couldn't separate him from his food. I'm told to drink more wine. I protest saying the rabbit in my stomach will feel suffocated. I'm told that he can't complain, cos he has no face or mouth to protest with.

The waitress asks if we would like anything else. I'm almost forced to ask for a phone number for the dessert. Almost...

"Let's go have a drink at Wayne's... It's on us."  Damn, these guys wanna get me drunk. "Nah, I'm too full to drink." Eventually I get a drink. The bar has posters. Movies, bands. There's The Beatles right next to our table.

Something clicks in someone's head and they begin singing "We all live with the orange mandarin... orange mandarin"...

Heading back on the highway... most of us almost dozing off. We reach home. Park the car. The trash is full, I get it out. There's our lizard, Toby, on the can. I start putting the cover on my motorcycle. One calls out, "Hey look here, this is just amazing." I suspect Toby is up to something, but he (she?) was in the other direction. I amble up, see a balloon on a tree, a step ahead and 20 people shout out, "Surrrprriiiseee! Happpy --hoooot wooooot --- birthday to you...Joyeux anniversaire.... ... "

I see someone filming. 20 people staring at me, smiling, singing, I'm self conscious. I don't recognize a few. Oh, must be couchsurfers... I'm given more wine. The glass gets refilled quickly too. Hugs, bisous fly around. Flatmates magically arrange pizzas for the guests. The look on my face is -- whendidyouguysarrangeallthiswithoutmeknowningit?

Someone puts on "Aaj kal tere mere". I'm the only Indian in the group. Huh!

Some time later, we head to the beach. I've been handed a strange mixture of whiskey + red bull. I'm already reeling. A friend plays the guitar. He plays "Aicha"... halfway to the end, he switches it with my name and some impromptu lyrics. Then he starts playing "Tujhe dekha". Plays this song from Chahat (a movie I'd forgotten about.. and probably never seen). To repeat, I'm the only Indian... rather, Asian there.

Head back to the house. There's a cake. People sing Happy Birthday in English, French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and then German.  They ask me for the Hindi version. I say there isn't. The ask me how to say it in Hindi. They learn the phrase in a few seconds and sing it to tune.

People make sure I get more wine. They see to it I will wake up with a headache at least.

I couldn't have asked for anything better. Thanks guys. :)
Psst: I'm getting a Kindle with what you all gave me. :)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Motorcycle tales - redux

In this recounting of the further adventures concerning the motorcycle saga, we will learn how physical strength, high school chemistry, basic physics, pure mechanical engineering and a willingness to part with your money can all come together to fix the bike.

Last we checked up on the motorcycle, it had gotten new spark plugs, new battery, new air-filter, an oil change, new oil filter and a big ego.

Coming off months of storage, the bike starts off well, but there is just something wrong with the way it runs. A few days on, I start hearing explosions. No, not in my dreams. And not just me. Everyone hears them (just in case you think I am hallucinating). The motorcycle fires off a huge fire-smoke thingy after every few minutes. 3 cars crash because the drivers were dozing, my motorcycle woke them up startled and made them over-react. (Not really). I've stalked enough online motorcycle forums to realize this: unburnt hot fuel leaves engine, comes to exhaust where this hot fuel gets oxygen and explodes. In other words, carburettor is being a lazy ass.

A few days later, I notice that fuel leaks out of the carburettor, into the air-filter and then out of the air-filter drain hose onto the ground. Again, in other words, carburettor is acting like 3 year old being force fed green veggies who then refuses to swallow. Previous attempts with carburettor have proved that I cannot dismantle it, let alone clean and inspect it.

1 month, 2 trips to the mechanic, and 250 € later, a grim news awaits: about a litre of water in fuel tank caused loads of  rust. Rust, that found its way to the carbs. Rust that blocked air, messed up fuel and caused explosions. Rust that, according to the mechanic, "cannot be removed. Even it can, there's no point because it'll come back". Yeaaaa, Mr. smart-alec, what's the point of repairing anything - it's all gonna get messed up again. You should just retire. Apparently, "the only option is to get a new tank". How much is the new tank? "Ah, forget about it. Worth more than the bike in it's current condition."

Yep, I know it looks gross.

Like any respectable nerd, I head back to the internet. Turns out if you like using acid (Hydrochloric) and anti-rust paint, you can get rid of the rust. Drain tank - fuel, water and all. Throw in Hcl, shake tank, drain, rinse with hot water, dry, paint with anti-rust paint, dry, tada! Except, France refuses to stock that particular anit-rust pain. A trip is made to local hardware shop, where I'm told that I should "get paint for motorcycle from the motorcycle shop".

More internet later, another technique is discovered - electrolysis. Fill tank with electrolyte (washing soda+water), make tank the cathode, provide a steel anode, connect power supply. Wait few hours. Astute readers will remember that there is an old battery lying around. I buy the rest of the stuff. Drain the tank. Except, there are hidden pockets with more fuel inside. Even the Italian pickpockets wouldn't be able to get their hands on them, they are that hidden. The best way to drain turns out to be: pick up tank, shake it like a Martini that 007 would want so that fuel pops out of those pockets and out the tank. Except tanks are not light.
I now have stronger arms...
To be sure, the electrolysis is repeated multiple times. The results of the exercise are visible when I play volleyball - faster serves and better smashes.

Drain electrolyte (shake it, daddy!), dry tank (hair dryer, air-mattress pump, fire of 10 burning suns), fix it back on the motorcycle. I now can fix the tank unaided in 5 minutes (or less). You know what they say about practice...

Deep breath, fill back the petrol. Motorcycle starts (of course, it would. There's nothing wrong with it except that rust, which has been removed).

1 week later, hear a couple of unnatural noises. Shrug it off. A few days later, while starting the bike, hear a loud noise. Like someone threw a spanner in a metal bucket and hit that metal bucket with a hammer. Motorcycle just about starts. Few hours later, when I need to start the bike, I need to push start it (Push bike, drop second gear, release clutch, vrroooooom). Charge battery overnight. Next day, bike doesn't start.

Put on your Sherlock Holmes cap. You hear something spinning, something clicking, but engine is not turning. Hmmm, battery was good but drains immediately. I.E trying to start bike is causing circuit to close with ultra low resistance and battery drains. Or, starter has issues. Open the left side of the engine, where the alternator resides.

Shock and horror await --->

Those black things are magnets. They aren't supposed to be crushed.
Order new rotor off the internet. Get the bolt off. To get this old rotor off, one needs a sliding hammer. What's that? Even the French don't know. Dammit. Read about various other hacks of getting the rotor off. I don't even find the tools for the other hacks. During one particular attempt, a piece of another bolt gets stuck inside.

Finally give up. Realize that removing this will take about 1 hour or so if done by a mechanic. Get an appointment with a mechanic (a different one). It's 20 days away. On the day, get your trusty flatmate to help you push the bike (with a dry weight of 170 kg). The mechanic asks you to come back in the evening. In the evening when you go back, he says when he checked it, he didn't have the right tools at hand. The tools are in his other place. One more day. He asks if he should also clean up all those crushed residue. I tell him he should.

The next evening I go back. Another problem. That piece of the bolt that got stuck... remember it? It's really stuck. Mechanic angry. Says he's spent 3 and a half hours until now working on the bike. At 47€ per hour, it's already 165€. Thank heavens for those American credit cards. He asks me to come back the next evening.

Next evening, I'm told that everything is good now, except that the alternator is shot. The crushed magnets flying around probably damaged it. I tell him that there is no need to change it right now, it's not critical anyway. He says I should come back the next day then. The guy is driving me crazy now. I go back the next day around 2 pm, and he says he still hasn't finished it. He hadn't had time to do it. Frustrated, I push back the bike home - parts hanging around and all.

A few hours later, it is all fixed. The bike starts. Woo hoo!

The next day, a Sunday, the bike refuses to start again. I dismantle stuff, find nothing, put it back together. Push-starting works. Phew! Except the clutch setting is all wrong and it needs loads of pushing. I figure this out in the evening. Monday morning, fix the clutch and push start it. At work, spend about 30 minutes thinking it through.

Aha! The money-stealing, lazy-ass mechanic did not tighten the rotor correctly. Leave work, buy a torque wrench, get home, open bike, tighten rotor. Put back everything. Bike starts like nothing had ever happened to it.