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March 17, 2012 in All, Asia, Harry Lyon-Smith, Sustainability

Unexpected Consequences

This trip on 'Batty' was made with the aim of making a significant journey on a motorcycle that contributed as little to carbon dioxide and other pollution as possible. It involved, after some research, using a diesel engine in a 1971-framed Royal Enfield. The engine was a Chinese clone of a Yanmar model and the plan was to use as much vegetable oil as possible; a carbon neutral fuel. Even when using diesel the fuel economy ranges between 90 and 150 miles per gallon (imperial), making it one of the most efficient vehicles out there.

It's been an interesting evolution from a personal quest, that satisfied my own wish not to be too greedy with the world's resources, to one that seems to capture the imagination of those that I've encountered.

Unfortunately, in some ways, the engine had to be replaced in Nepal after about 15,000 miles as I had failed, in short, to replace the engine oil enough. So that was a bit of a home goal. The next engine was trouble from the word go. Initially I used diesel to run her in, but for the 2,500 miles that I rode using that engine the piston rings got chocked with gunge and stopped four times.

This simple statement of cause and effect hides nearly two and a half months of worry, frustration and bewilderment... that I have started calling Bikemares. My mechanical knowledge at the outset was pretty light, but now I can strip the engine down in a couple of hours and replace the piston and rings. Ok, so I am still prone to strip the odd nut, and use the mechanic's horror-of-horrors: adjustable spanners (I have two sizes, large and small, which with a Swiss army knife are my busiest tools), but I am a very reluctant mechanic. There is satisfaction at having the bike run again, but I would so much prefer not being an oily-nailed static traveller all the time.

I have met way over 35 new folk because of all these troubles. There are more, but I can identify that number with ease, and by name in most cases. They have ranged from the mechanics who have both helped and hindered me, hoteliers, fellow riders, fellow travellers, friends of friends, and two very kind sisters who acted as my translators in the middle of rural Thailand and who went on to feed me and give me open house on their computer while I struggled to resurrect the trip.

Everyone of these people showed me not only expertise, friendliness and good company, but they also became very enthusiastic in this crazy idea for travelling around the world on veg oil. With that I am sure extra efforts were made, and help rendered, that may not have been so apparent had it not been for this ingredient in the journey. It is not that some really understood, or believed such a fuel could power me around the world, but their engagement in helping and involving themselves in what must be, to most, a pretty eccentric journey.

Above all else it fueled me to keep going. I got pretty down at times, but every minute invested by all my new friends not only encouraged me, it also created an obligation (never intended by them) that strengthened my resolve.

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