Day 133: Test ride ushers wave of panic

The beautiful Honda CB500X cleans up nicely. Photo: Greg

THERE'S a What's App message from Greg on my phone when I get back to my room, where I have WiFi.

“Hay [sic] mate where are... Call now!”

I'm fresh back after having polished off a less -han interesting Laos-style Khao Soi from Grass Flower Lao Coffee Shop. Grass Flower is a little place with poorly photographed food items on a single menu posted on dusty blue doors. The white haired man who runs the tiny restaurant at the front of the family house greets me in French.

All I can think of saying is: Je m'appelle Isaac, which is not an adequate answer to his question. However, he stopped with the French once I manage to mumble something about being American.

I call Greg back.

“Mate, I thought you died. I was worried about you. Everything okay? The whole evening has changed. I'm packing to go,” he says.

“Okay, okay, I'm coming over,” I say, yanking on a pair of boards shorts before head across the street to his guesthouse.

“Test ride mate. Test ride. I was worried sick. I thought maybe I killed you. That the brakes jammed and threw you under a truck or something,” Greg says, sweat beading on his bald head.

“Sorry, sorry. I stopped for noodles.”

Greg's pacing the room as he's talking, collecting stuff to transfer a picture he took of my motorcycle over to my computer so I can sell poor Rocinante. He's stoned. Massively stoned.

“I'm fucked man,” he says, searching for the backpack he handed to me to carry. “I was about to ask Ms Won to call the police to see if you were in an accident.”

“Sorry man, sorry. I really appreciate that you were worrying.”

Greg had shared a joint that had some bubble, hash, rolled into it with a dodgy American guy who'd asked us if we knew where a “Happy Bar” was in the area.

Though Greg's been thrown for a nasty loop right here at the end of the evening, it was a massively productive day for both of us.

This morning, I wake from a dead-man's sleep at 11. Yet another Tak Bat has slipped by in Luang Prabong without the drone getting air time during the monks' procession. It's odd, because had I been heavily drinking last night, I would have woken up several hours earlier. As it is, there's plenty of work to be done: I want to be on the road to the Plain of Jars tomorrow.

Greg, still trying to relocate is photographer mojo, has offered to shoot a few sexy pics of Rocinante for me so I can start the process of selling her. However, after about four months of being on the road my dirty girl needs a serious washing.

The manager at the car wash, on the edge of town, agrees to wash her for 40,000 Kip, a price I don't bother negotiate, as I want them to do a good job.

The young men at the wash center spray Rocinante down with a pressurize hose and then cover her in a white, frothy foam. The guy with the wash rag is giving her a cursory scrub here and there. The pair of cleaners walk over to a big white truck after they are done with the bike.

However, Rocinante is still incredibly dirty. Their are huge chunks of mud still clinging to parts of the frame, the cast-aluminum wheels aren't even close to sparkling. If I'd wanted a half-assed cleaning job, I'd have done it myself.

Once they were done, I got in there to try and give Rocinante a good cleaning. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli

I pull a sponge out of the bucket of soapy water the cleaners left by the bike and wave one of the guys back over, pointing out all the places that pieces of Laos and Thailand are still cling to the bike. Together, we start scrubbing the bike down, until he gets bored and wanders off.

Left alone with the bike, I crouch down and gently return to washing it. If only I had a toothbrush; Greg made it clear that Rocinante needed to be more than spotless, even pointing out that with a little cola and a piece of aluminum it's possible to buff out the scratches from the chrome parts of the bike.

By the time I'm done and have had the pressure sprayer hit the bike a couple more times to kick some more dirt off the hard-to-reach areas, streaks and spots are showing up on her black tank. I find a dry rag and start carefully going over the rest of the bike, wiping it down.

Out of the corner of my eye, I notice another part of the cleaning team wiping down the white truck and cleaning its interior. Looks like I jumped the gun. I put the rag back and go sit down in a chair, patiently waiting for them to finish with the bike now that I'm done.

She sparks like thick, black obsidian in the sun as we pull out and head to the bank to make a deposit for the Temporary Import Permit (TIP) extension.

The bank is house in a large, no-frills colonial building. Inside, I'm directed to a set of desks in another room on the left-hand side of the building. I hand the woman cash. She repeats the price of the TIP back to my in Laos – the same as Thai in this case – and then turns to her co-worker for assistance.

“It's 50,000 Kip,” I'm informed, again.

I nod in agreement.

I look at the bill I handed her. It's a 5,000 Kip bill, not a 50,000 Kip bill.

“Sorry, sorry.” I open up my wallet and dig through it – I'm short.

I promise to return with cash.

After settling the bill about an hour later, I return to the Customs Office to find Niku busy with other work. However, another woman takes my receipt, adds it to my file and returns with the updated TIP, as well as my passport.

Niku catches me on my way back to the bike. We exchange emails, so that I can follow up about possibly working for her in Laos. It won't be until days later that I find out that I wrote her email down wrong.

Back at the guesthouse, Greg is ready to do the photo shoot for Rocinante. We are quickly able to find a set of beautiful turquoise colonial doors to prop her up against for contrast.

“You sure you want to do the brakes today?” He asks.

“Yeah, I really want to get on the road tomorrow, as have to be back here on the 15th for the festival.”

“Okay, we'll get you sorted out then.”

Greg spreads out a saffron piece of cloth that looks like it's been nicked from a monk and lays the tools he anticipates us needing out. He's brought more than enough tools for this trip, as he's mentioned countless times; he takes pleasure in his preparedness.

“Where's that manual? Let's see if we can do this without removing the back tire.”

We can. No problem.

Greg produces a plastic bottle with the top cut off and sets it down next to us. He drops the screw he's pulled from the calliper into it. They make the hallow sound of metal on cheap plastic.

Now that the brake pads have been switched, do I really need to take it on a test drive? Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli

“It's what separates the men from the boys,” Greg says.

Spectacles on, Greg's struggling to get access to one of the screws.

“You've got to be careful. If you destroy one of these, then you're really fucked,” he points out. As a man whose going through the pain of having a friend bring a couple thousand dollars worth of spare electrical parts into Laos from Australia to fix his bike, I'll take his word on the fact that we don't want to get stuck here with a few broken, nearly irreplaceable screws.

Instead of forcing the screws and possibly stripping them or snapping them, Greg starts to take off the exhaust pipe so he can get a better angle. With both hands he wiggles the pipe, pulling it free. A few chunks of hardened mud fall onto the sidewalk despite the bike having been washed today.

“See, easy now. You have to be patient and go slow when working on the bike,” Greg says, dropping yet another screw into the bottle. “Wow, look at these.”

Greg pulls free the brake pads, which look about as bad as when I had looked at them before putting another 500km on the bike. The pads are heavily worn, with the two little circles straight through the pad visible on one of them. A soft material, probably an adhesive of sort, sits in the same circles of the other one.

“These are completely shot. I can't believe you didn't ruin your disc,” Greg says, running a finger over the disc to feel for damage. “Feel that little ridge there? If you'd ruined them, you'd be able to really feel it.”

“Yeah, I pretty much stopped using my back brakes after we left Vang Vieng. I knew they were getting thin.”

To keep things from getting too messy, Greg pulls out a piece of clear tubing and a one-way valve for bleeding the brakes. We probably don't need to go through with the whole process of bleeding the brakes, but given that we've finished changing the pads and that I've got Motol DOT 5.1 brake fluid with me, which is being sold at the local markets here at an outrageous markup, we decided to go ahead and put some new fluid in.

The tube pops off, spraying brake fluid everywhere a few times, before Greg realizes that he had put it on backward – hopefully he doesn't have a similar issue with condoms.

“You mind if I take some for my bike?” Greg asks, having decided against buying any brake fluid in Laos.

“Of course man, take whatever you need. Take the rest of the bottle once we're done; I'm not going to need it after this.”

Greg walks back to his bike to pour some fluid into an empty water bottle.

With new brake pads set in place, it's time to fix the chain tension – I'm in no mood to drop my chain in the middle of the night again.

“How do we tighten the chain?” I ask.

“Read the manual, and you tell me,” Greg says, as he wanders over to his KTM 640 Adventurer to dig out a screw that he'll be able to use to fix the visor on my helmet. Have I mentioned that his man's a legend?

“Look how deep I'm digging into my bags to find this for you,” Greg points out, sitting down on a cement ledge along the sidewalk. His single speaker set-up is blasting early electronic house music as his hands are going through packs of the durable packages tea bags are usually stored in, the kind that have waxy paper on the outside and aluminum interiors. Each one is heavily wrapped in tape and contains a selection of screws, bolts, nuts and washers.

I flip open the shop manual for tightening the chain and find out that it's not necessary to lift the back wheel to do so. I simply have to loosen the locking nut on each side and then turn the tightening nut an even amount of times on both sides of the wheel before locking it all back up.

While I'm tightening the chain, Greg manages to fix the visor on my helmet, which has been slathered with red duct tape since about the time I visited the Hall of Opium in Thailand.

“Here you go mate,” Greg says, handing me the helmet.

“Thank you so much. How's this tension look?”

“I don't know, what does the manual say?”

After confirming how many millimeters of slack are supposed to be present in the chain, and shaking off Lukas's opinion that it should be a little tighter, it's time for a test ride.

“Go ahead and put on your boots and give it a real ride around the block and then head out,” Greg says.

“What's that?” he asks when I return from putting on my boots, camera around my neck. It's nearly the golden hour. If I'm going to go for a drive, I might as well take some pictures. “It's a test drive mate. Don't bring the camera.”

The back brakes feels a little soft, but fine as I plod around the block breaking it in slowly and gently, as instructed.

After the first time around, I give Greg and the American looking for drugs a wave, before heading out for a real drive.

It wasn't until I returned from the test ride, having stopped for dinner, that I realized I'd turned Greg's hash buzz bad, putting him in nearly into a state of panic.

“Test drive mate, test drive. I thought I killed you,” Greg said again.

“I thought I'd already done the test drive when I went around the block. Anyways man, I really am sorry.”

Though I know owed Greg a lot of beer, he and Lukas were going to go out to a little party on the main drag, and I declined to join. I needed to finally get some work done and pack. There are a lot of miles I want to cover in the next ten days.

#Laos #Motorcycle #DailyUpdate #Featured #featured

The Proposition

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