Motorcycle Breakdowns and African Bush Fix Ingenuity

No joke…. I once again blew a tire in the bush, about forty-two km from Sikasso, Mali, West Africa

Fortunately we made it to a very small bush camp just as it went flat.

I did not have any spare tubes. I make it a habit to run in the bush with spare tubes. However, my new Chinese Sanya SY150GY,  it turns out,  is difficult to get parts for, as they are too new, and a little more expensive than other models.

However, the ride in the bush is so much better. The new type balancer engine runs so much smoother the other Sanya engines, all of which are good. I wish I had this motorcycle six years ago, as it would have saved me much physical pain.  I knew this bike had larger tires than all others around here, so when I bought it I inquired about the availability of parts, tires and tubes in my local market. Of course a sales guy is going to say, “Sure, parts everywhere.”

Unfortunately, I bought the line. After my first flat, I went looking for tubes and could not get tubes anywhere in Sikasso. I went to see the guy who sold me the bike and he tried Bamako, Mopti, and he even had a guy in Ivory Coast checking. That was three weeks ago. A guy in Bobo said he could get me tires, but not tubes. I need tubes worse. So I am stuck with no backup tubes, and very shitty cheap tubes in the tires, that come with the motorcycle from the factory in China.  So I have continued to run on the crappy tubes in the bike since I bought it, no spares. My sales guy has been no help.

Sure enough after my first morning inspection in one camp (Where I got my rooster – see the story)  we rolled into our next camp with the flat tire.

These guys repaired my tube with an old Malian bush trick. They used a sticky tree sap as glue and cut a patch of rubber from an old bicycle tube, sealing the hole in my tube. They pressed it on by hand, and then tapped it with a stick from time to time to seal the rubber patch down onto my tube.

I considered turning around and heading back out of the bush. However, I still had one more stop to do further out. So we took the risk and went out a further ten kilometers to the last project village in that direction.

,We headed back home on the tree sap- bicycle tube- patch, and it held for all 52 km back to civilization, with two riders. Wow!

Notice the tree branch by the guy’s knee, in the foreground. The sap was from this tree branch.

See the tree branch by his knee in the foreground?  The guys said that this sap was a trick used for 40 or 50 years to repair tires and tubes in the bush. Many no longer use it, or know about it, and the tree is becoming rare, difficult to find.

When I got back to town, I peeled off the thin bicycle tube patch, and I was surprised at how effective the rubber stuck with the tree sap. But it is not a long term fix. I had a new hot patch pressed on the hole. 

I need a 19 inch rim 275-300 tube. The tire guy found me an 18 inch 300. It had to go in the front wheel, as my tube is too cheap to trust anymore. I understand that this may not be ideal nor smart, but I had no choice.

I called a friend in Bamkao and explained my tube problems, and he is on the case. He knows everyone in Bamako.

The bush guys told me that the spokes punctured the tube. So I pulled out an old trick of bush riders in North America. They line their bush rims with Black electrical or duct tape, instead of the rubber band strap. They say the tape stays in, whereas the rubber band will fall out if you have to drive on low pressure.  The tape protects the tubes from the spoke heads better, they say.

The tire guy, and a half dozen other men gathered to watch me take a roll of black electrical tape and tape the inside center of the front rim where the spokes were attached.

My tire guy said he had never seen this before and asked me about it. I explained the thinking of off-road riders to him. I had the tire guy dismount the back tire and tube also. I did the same tape job on that rim, though I have yet to experience a flat on the back tire. Taking no more chances- I can’t get any tube for the back end yet.

While I was doing this, a young man came along. Seeing my bike, he stopped to chat.

He said he has the same bike and wanted to know where I bought it. He said it is the best bush bike he has ever driven. I agreed with him. I love the bike. I love how the motor is so smooth, I love the ride in the bush. But I told him my parts problem and how I was tempted to trade the bike back in to get one that had parts in the local market. That is so important here.

Turns out there is a guy in Bamako who does well getting parts for this bike. He gave me the number of this man,and I called my friend I had on the tube case, to see if he knew the place. Turns out that is where he was headed anyway. Crossing my fingers.  I asked him to get me a set of tires and two sets of tubes for front and back, as well as a chain and sprockets, if they have them. I will get what I need, among the first things to wear out, so I have the parts here. I was thankful  for the guy who stopped to chat.

As we continued our motorcycle chat,  he said he already blew a piston in the motor. He bought his bike in 2015, one of the first to be sold of this model, and the piston is busted? That was discouraging news to hear.

My friend asked him how he drove it during the break in period.

Here they don’t know about the proper break-in process. Even worse, they feel you need to road a new motorcycle, which means you take it for a long fast run to break it in.

Sure enough, the young man bought the bike in Bamako and then drove it near wide open for over ten hours from Bamako, through Segou, San, and then on to Koutiala.  that would be about 7000 RPM when he should have been driving 4000 RPM or less. My friend explained the break in process to everyone who was gathered around us,  to wide open mouths of total ignorance.

“I could never drive that slow for the first 1000 km”The young man simply stated,

To which Salifou replied, 

“And that is why your piston is burned out. You cooked the rings and cylinder the first day you owned it” 

Anyway, we grabbed a quick road side rice and sauce dinner, loaded the bikes with drip irrigation kits and a barrel, then sped back out of town into the bush, with my undersized tube in place. We will see how it holds up.

I noticed the front end was shaking. I told my friend about it, thinking I did a bad rim tape job that might be unbalancing the rim. I commented  that I may need to redo that tape job. He said the tire is probably over inflated. Sure  enough, it was as hard as a rock. I let out some air at the first camp stop, and when we got back onto the paved road it was much better. At the next camp, I let out even more air, and the shake was almost gone. What a relief.

I so wanted to hate this camp where my tire was fixed. There is a long story behind that. I reluctantly began work in drought season drip irrigated gardening with five families. They were a surprise village, like another I have written about, doing flawless work since day one.  I rarely see this happen so quickly here. After a month of flawless work, the women asked about the other five women in their camp.

Yes, I had said I would see how the first women perform, as a way of keeping my work small there, with no intentions of growing the work there. This was because of the sour taste the men gave me in the village, not the ladies. I was going to do a token work, as I could not get out of the work without losing the integrity of my word. I did only half of my original plan, though they are not aware of this. 

However, there isn’t a reason in the world I should deny adding more women to this food security work.  They did exceptional work. So I added another five drip irrigated gardens with another five families,  even though I told our agency we could handle no more. We were at 102 drip gardens then, over double our normal capacity. 

However, we now hit 112 gardens and families because of these awesome women. Close to 1500 people with a greater food security.

Though I had been soured against the men in this camp, they were the ones who saved my ass today. Their tree sap bush patch got me home. I could have been in for a long long walk in the hot African sun just south of the Sahara Deseret. That would not have been fun, nor petty.

So I had to swallow some of my own sour feelings, and genuinely thank them for saving my ass.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Crystal McD says:

    “He” knows how to humble us. Thanks for all of your stories.


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