07 July 2007

Major repairs on a short tour

During this short 3 day trip I started thinking I should change from a derailleur system on the mountain bike to an internal geared hub. I have often wondered what is the "weak" part on the bike that could stop a trip. On my trips through thick brush and grass rear derailleurs are sitting out there exposed, asking to get bent and broken. On this ride Wes's derailleur almost forced him to ride without gears. It did cause us to spend 5 precious hours on repairs.

My bike buddy Wes is back from the USA for a couple of months. He has to run his company while the other partner takes some time off. Thus Wes is busy catching up, meaning he works Saturdays too. A few weeks ago we leave mid day Saturday after work and plan to come back mid day on Monday so Wes can work the afternoon.
Wes and I choose to look for elephants in the Sinya area pictured above. Sinya is an area south of Amboseli Nat park in Kenya, but we are on the Tanzanian side. During the rainy season (April to May) wildlife migrate out of the park and into the plains between Mnt Kilimanjaro and the smaller mountains to the west. They stay until water and/or grass become an scarce. Above you can see Kilimanjaro in the clouds and some thompson gazelles if you enlarge the photo above.

I believe and prefer in "ride to the ride", but Wes is pressed for time so we get a ride in a pickup past Longido Mountain and stop to ask directions at a shop along the road.

Asking directions from maasai, non bikers, pastorialists, or anyone for that matter can be hit and miss. I can only explain it that Maasai tend to give directions in a different way than I do or understand. We are told that right over there is a track that will take us through the foothills of Longido and out and onto the plains, and they stress that there will be "alot of deep grass" before the plains. Yeah right I think.
As we set off we make sure I have my panniers doubled tied so I dont lose a pannier with the whiskey onethis trip. They are right the track leads in the right direction and we are escorted a kilometer or so by a masai on a single speed.
This nice track winds through the trees and hills on the north side of Longido Mtn. The road branches several times and eventually our choice becomes a path that lead us out of the hills. The masai were right. The grass got deep.
The thick grass was over the knees as you can see above. The grass nicely hid the holes and whoever was riding in front would fall into a hole every 5 minutes. The leader would then yell, "hole there" and try to not fall over. Below is what my derailleur looked like after riding through the grass for awhile. cleans the chain pretty well too.

About this time Wes's derailleur decided to do a 180. It got caught in the spokes, and was twisted around pointing upwards.
We looked at each other, like, "wow how did that happen?" "Is that fixable?" "Are we going to have to use one gear from now on?" We completely forgot about taking a picture and started working on straightening stuff out. We were 20km along. We spent a good hour getting it working again. The hangar was bent back some and the stop was broken off.

There are a couple of hours left of daylight. We keep going through the deep grass without a trail, heading for a hill out in the middle of the plains.

Just about camping time Wes's derailleur goes upside down again. This time it is more serious with 2 more broken spokes, but worse is the derailleur arms are bent sideways and one arm is broken. The stop is bent and broken and other shit. Again we are too preoccupied in thought and don't take a picture. It is definitely time to make camp. Below is Wes pondering what to do after breakfast in our first camp.

Later we deduce that Wes had weakened the spokes the previous week getting the chain caught between the cogs and spokes. He freed the chain but did not notice that the spokes had huge nicks in them. Then on this trip the repeated smashing into holes in the deep grass broke a spoke and caught the derailleur, both times.
We sit around the camp fire that night and in the cold morning looking at the derailleur and discussing whether we can repair the derailleur or to fix to two gears. The derailleur arms are bent sideways and one is broken at a hole where the top pulley sits. It looks hopeless. I start seeing the advantage of internal geared rear hubs.

After a good breakfast we break the chain, remove the cogs, remove the derailleur. replace some spokes, and true the wheel. It is now we notice the damage done to the spokes earlier in the week. We decide if we can get a longer bolt for the derailleur pulley, bend the arms straight, zip tie the two arms for more support we might be able to ride. We find that the bolt for my rear reflector is the right size. (Kind of strange as I have not had a reflector on the bike for years, and only recently I put on a reflector for night commuting.)

It takes us the better part of the morning. The arms are a bit hard to straighten. The longer bolt barely holds the broken arm, so we add some zip ties, something new for us. The cable sheath is destroyed at the end a bit so we have to shorten the sheath. The hangar takes much work to get straight. The stopper needs bending .The derailleur below looks pretty normal now and we get the shifting right and Wes rides around a bit to see if it will work. I have my doubts the bolt and zip ties will hold the arms together but it does.

We are good to go before noon. In another hour we are out of the deep grass as you see below. It can be soil type but more likely we are now within 10 km of water, and marks the areas masai can graze their cattle.
We notice a pile of dirt out in the distance and check it out. A lot of work to make this small dam. It is long dry.
The speed picks up and we head off for some old Meerschaum mines. The Tanzanian government mined Meerschaum in the 1970's and then stopped in the 1980's. They used it to make pipes. All the white stuff is meerschaum and salts. We ride along and around "islands" of yellow fever forests.

Somehow I didn't take a picture of the piles of meerschaum or the holes left from the mines. The holes made coming this way attractive to elephants. We were able to swim in a deep one, it felt like swimming in soapy water. Later I read about meerschaum that it can be used as a replacement for soap. After a swim we split up to search around for better drinking water and found another hole that had good water and topped up our bags and bottles. Masai had scratched out a small hole off to the side of the pond and it filtered the water through the sand, so the water had very little suspension in it.

We turned towards home and wandered around looking in all the forest patches for elephants but we only saw zebra, wildebeest, gazelles , giraffes.

We stopped early, about 530pm. It gets dark at 7 and we usually stop around 630pm. I was feeling unmotivated for cranking hard. Today it was fairly warm in the afternoon, and somehow I started feeling lethargic. We found a nice forest and camped on the edge. While the sun went down we did 1/2 hour of yoga out on the sand and then roasted some more fillet on the fire. I slept on the ground next to the fire.

In the morning we picked up the road to the village of Sinya in the seven sister hills. In hindsight I should of taken a picture. It is a desolate sandy town without a blade of grass to be seen. This is typical of what happens around permanent water as herds of sheep, cows, and goats hang around waiting for their turn for water or their owner to take them out to pasture. We dumped out the pond water and added a bit from the bore hole just in case. We lucked out on the water, as a safari camp driver was filling his water bowser using a generator he had along. He actually remembered me from several years ago when we passed through here.

Now we would be on a definite road all the way to the highway.

I noted today that my pannier had actually jumped off the hooks and was held on by the straps. I really need a better suspension system for panniers.

The first part was mostly hard packed but there were pockets of sand. Here the road looks so well traveled but other places it becomes a simple track of thick sand.

At Ngareyeni village there is a river and for several km there was extensive sand. We had to walk long sections. We are told of a small path that had no sand and would take us directly up to Engikaret village on the main highway. After asking several people we met a old man who gave us stellar directions and the sand petered out and we were on a good trail skirting some hills. Fantastic trail.
On this small trail we find a cool den dug into a termite mound.

Before the highway we ran into another kilometer of soft sand in a dry river delta. We were at the highway and Wes's driver showed up.

This last section was really a great path and needs to be remembered. From Engikaret you head off and keep some low hills to your left. It might be hard to pick it up but definitely worth it.


  1. Hi Erik,
    Wow, what at trip. Ingenious repairs. I really liked the precise directions to finding the path at the end of the blog. I think you need a GPS. :-) Byrna

  2. First of all, I am really enjoying reading your blog. I'm an avid biker (both road/triathlon and commuter/town and now tandem with kids) and also spent a month in Arusha 10 years ago and fell in love with the beauty of the place. So I am really loving all the photos and descriptions of your rides and adventures.

    Secondly, I just got my first internal hub (on a Bike Friday tandem, new to us this year) and am really loving it. It shifts so nicely and no derailleur to cause problems. I think it would have huge advantages in more rugged cycling adventures!

  3. Hey Robin.
    Huh! Someone found this site.

    Cool about the tandem. I am thinking of a tandem so i can ride with 9 yr old daughter. Have all sorts of questions about riding tandems............ will visit yr blog