He is ‘born sexy’. A James Dean! A George Clooney! And years and years of age, and ships and ships of hardship, will never take that away.

We are in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Harry has the replacement engine for his bike, Josephine. And our man is Viktor. He comes highly recommended by two sources, and will help Harry fit the new engine. He knows the Ural; the Russian copy of the pre WW2 BMW airhead boxer motor.

He stands across the road, next to his stuffed old 4X4 Lada, hand on the hip, arch in the eyebrow, twinkle in the eye, and grunts. Viktor is a man of few words … and we are afraid, very afraid. His few words are ALL Russian. The next TWO days Harry and Viktor fit the new engine with only TWO words between them; “Da” (yes) and “Nyet” (no).

We start carefully. Harry has the BMW manual, his laptop with Google Translate and a bundle of tools. Viktor has a yard-full of bits and pieces and a lifetime of Ural experience. I flit around; try to anticipate next tools and extract laughs as and when needed.

It works like magic!

Two days later; Harry’s Josephine sings again! My Isadora carries an ingenious clip to secure the broken fuel-cap. Both bikes get welds on cracks to frameworks. We get a bitter-sweet insight into a life in Bishkek. And, between Viktor, Harry & I, there hangs like lead, a peculiar WORDLESS closeness.

ALL OF THIS we gain from nods, shrugs, winks, laughs, pats-on-the-backs, moans,  groans, grumbles, numbers we scratch in the sand, black and white photos, and yes, a load of conjecture and imagination.

Viktor is 53. His parents are Russian Siberians. They come to Bishkek when he is 3. VIKTOR loves URALS. He is a champion of URALS; he is the runner-up in the Soviet Off-road Championships of 1979 (a guy from Turkestan wins by a foot).

Today, he employs himself in his yard.

It is a 250 square meter plot in a residential suburb. There is plenty of water; it comes from a huge above-the-ground, mid-block pipe and a little channel that runs in the street. There is electricity; it falls from a messy nest of wires on an electricity pole. There is no sewerage system; each plot has an outhouse with a pit. Viktor uses every inch of his plot. There is a carport with bits of ladas and urals. There is a lean-to where his almost-complete urals stand. There is a shed that holds 50 rabbits and 20 chickens and a pig. What is left is garden; mielies, pumpkin, cabbage, aubergines, beans, apricots and strawberries. A puppy guards the animal shed. A dog guards the gate; and barks each time a neighbour drops fruit skins in a drum for the pig. A cat sleeps, under foot, where Harry and Viktor work.

Viktor’s younger son also works, quietly, alongside the men, on his red bicycle. In the end he skids spectacularly on a bicycle that thumps like a motorbike! Viktor doesn’t eat during the day. He waits to slaughter a watermelon when his wife and elder son return from work. Viktor teases his wife and daughter relentlessly! He hands over the money he earns for this job directly to his wife.

We depart, and disappear, with our tongues still tied. The encounter leaves Harry & I ‘quiet and still’. There is not much to say … except …

‘Da’! Viktor is not only ‘born sexy’. He is a damn durable guy too!

Keep strutting Viktor! You look good.

Here is Harry’s side:

Every now and then you meet someone who you could  form a strong friendship with. And Viktor is one of these rare folk. Linda has been able to capture our meeting a lot better than I would be able to. I only have a few things to add regarding the resourcefulness of Viktor.

Our relationship starts with us bouncing around in his Lada en route to fetching the motor at customs in Bishkek. A man of few words he gesticulates  that the shocks and brakes of his car are faulty, something that was immediately apparent. I smile, close my eyes often and grip the loose door handle.

We arrive at customs and he promptly disappears. Only afterwards it dawns on me that he wants no part of the old style USSR bureaucracy. He has after all had a lifetime of exposure to it.

A  burly, take no prisoners customs lady barks at me. I am not sure if this is her normal manner or one induced by the bottle of vodka on her desk. Either way she holds all the cards and I morph into submissive mode, hands in front of me and try to slip in the odd smile, where appropriate.

What is appropriate in situations like this?

I could just imagine an arm wrestling contest with her…she would not even break into a sweat.

Her barks continue, unrelenting. And I fixate on her gold teeth while breaking into a cold sweat. Neither of us can understand each other and she is becoming increasingly irritated. Then, out of the blues, she waves a finger towards a desk draped colleague and the motor is released. No endless paper work, no rubber stamps and no suggestion from her for a bribe.

I must have got her on a good day. Thank you!

Viktor appears and loads the whole crate quickly by himself. He knows to move while the going is good. I am still stuck in customs thank you mode.

We bounce back to his house.

We had very few tools to do this job with and in typical BMW fashion the manual calls for a host of “special” BMW tools which without one cannot do this job.

We had none of these.

The replacement motor also arrives without its rotor/flywheel and stator. We need to remove these from the old motor. This however calls for  a BMW crank locking tool, heat to loosen the flywheel etc.

Again we have none of these. Let alone a torque wrench.

Victor disappears and returns with a rusted spanner. It is too short however to loosen the flywheel which is very tight at 180 Nm (according to the manual). No problem. He scratches around and comes up with a pipe 2m long. He clubs the pipe onto the spanner with a concrete block.

Great. Now all we need is a big enough allen key to try and lock the flywheel. The BMW manual says this is not possible. You need their special tool . We ground our solution from a piece of old steel and mount it into the flywheel shaft. Viktor grunts and pushes  in one direction and I in the other. It worked. The flywheel loosens with a loud cracking noise.

The flywheel is moved to new motor. It now needs to be tightened to 180Nm. With no torque wrench what is 180Nm at the end of a 2m pipe? It turns out to be as tight as you can make it without stripping it.

To remove the motor requires a BMW motor support tool. Or at least a car jack. We had neither. Yet with much puffing, bloodied knuckles and a piece of tree stump we dropped the old unit  and fitted the new motor.

The list goes on …

Thank you Vicktor and, of course, Linda too.

Many folk following our trip have sent emails asking what was actually wrong with the motor. I only wish I knew but here is my take on it.

If you have time to spare (and the inclination) then read on!

The problem:  excessive crankcase pressure resulting in oil being forced into the air box. Not a good place for oil to be as not only does it starve the engine of oil but also clogs the air filter and causes an unholy mess

Possible causes:

  • Too much oil in the bike.  Checked and not the cause. Oil viscosity also correct .
  • Collapsed rings (oil or compression rings). I do not think this is it as the bike is running normally i.e. no power loss, no oil consumption, no exhaust smoke and it starts normally, even at 4600m altitude. It is difficult to do a compression test due to the automatic decompressor as well as it being a twin spark motor.
  • Checked for blocked breather lines on the crankcase breather and oil tank breather and these are not blocked. Neither is the air filter.
  • I also removed the crankcase breather pipe from the crankcase and ran the motor at over 4000rpm. A small amount of oil did come from the crankcase onto my finger which can only mean the oil is being pumped from the crankcase breather hose back into the airbox due to excessive crankcase pressure. There is no other way for the oil to get into the airbox.
  • Checked  the  oil and scavenger pump gears / rotors and these were within the recommended tolerances.
  • I suspect the failure of the Counterbalance shaft seal. If this is the case then oil is behind pushed passed the alternator into the crank and the scavenger pump cannot remove enough oil as a result. One would have to split the crank to get to this seal which only costs USD 2!

Whatever the actual cause of the problem; there is no mechanical expertise or replacement spares available in this part of the world.

After travelling more than 3000 km with the bike in this state through some of the remotest regions we consider ourselves fortunate to have got this far.

But it does not help to push our luck any further.

A big thank you to Jurgen (and all the other folk we may have missed) at SW-Motech for sourcing and sending a replacement motor. Josephine now has a new lease on life!


We find Viktor in Bishkek. He is the King of the Ural!



He crosses the line second (centre of photo) in the Soviet Off-road Championships in 1979.



Here Viktor is again … just behind the winner from Turkestan.



It turns out that Harry & Viktor don’t need Google Translate to fit the new engine.



Harry & Viktor also don’t need the neighbour next door .. who holds an English Dictionary.



Harry & Viktor do just GREAT with two words between them ‘Da’ (yes) and ‘Nyet’ (no). See the cat and also the log on the right that later becomes the motor support.



Ah! The new 2nd hand engine, organised by friends (SW-Motech) in Germany with 11,000km on the clock. It replaces the old engine with 72,000km.



No torque wrench, no heat source to help remove the flywheel, no jack to support the motor….



… but lots of ‘make a plan’ ingenuity derived over the years. Old motor already out!



Viktor also gets round to my broken fuel cap problem.



This is THE motorcycle shop in Bishkek run by husband & wife, Dima & Olga. It’s a single container in a business center of containers. We find everything we need here! Even new fork seals and a Chinese moped screen.



This is a view of Viktor’s small plot from under a carport where we work.



Here is a bit of workshop on the left with rabbit pens on the right and at the back.



Also in the animal shed is an assortment of chickens (inside and out).



This pig lives off left-over fruit and vegetable skins collected by all the neighbours.



This little puppy is kept in the animal shed … we imagine for its ‘alarm bell of a’ bark.



The rest of the plot is filled to the brim with vegetable plants and fruit trees.



Viktor’s son tinkers away on his bicycle …



… and the next day it sounds like a motorbike!



Viktor’s daughter with a rabbit.



Two days of Work. And each day’s work ends with watermelon. Well done Viktor!



And well done Harry!!!



And what a relief! There will HOPEFULLY be no more emptying the catheter every 40 km.