Egypt, Part 6: Bike Maintenance in Cairo

17 – 20 May 2011

Since my windshield got broken by the customs agents in Alexandria, I headed to Mohammed Anwar’s bike shop (GPS: N30 01.289, E31 13.825) in Cairo for a solution. His reputation is well-established in the Africa overland community as he’s helped many a bike traveler with small to large issues. I spent four days at the shop, going back and forth and waiting most of the time for things to move along. No reason to hurry. In that time, I got to know some of the mechanics there and met some of his regular clients, along with experiencing warm Egyptian hospitality.


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Anwar measuring up how big I’d like my new windshield. I showed him photos of what it looked like before and he understood what I was after. This would be the third windshield for sanDRina (the first one got broken in an accident in Bolivia). The advantage of designing my own first windshield is that I know how to design subsequent ones as and when they break on such a trip.


He was a busy man with many clients showing up throughout the day. Here he’s off to a Lexan specialist to mould my new shield. That’s his elder brother in the background along with a younger nephew, working as an apprentice.


Since there was lots of time to wait around, I did some usual maintenance to the bike, such as cleaning the chain, but his nephew stepped in and helped out. Anwar’s shop is considered the best place for high-end sport bikes in Cairo, along with being reasonably priced. That red beauty next to sanDRina is a Honda CBR600RR, with a Goldwing in front along with many cruisers and other sport bikes around. I was yearning for a ride on a fast bike. I love sanDRina, but she’s just not designed to go faaast.


I also got around to installing some parts that I’ve been carrying with me for a while, but haven’t had the time or space to get them on the bike. This is the delivery head for the chainoiler from Loobman. If you remember, I made my own chainoiler back in São Luis, Brazil, but that failed after a few thousand kilometers. I then wrote to Loobman and asked them if they’d like to send me one and Dennis, the founder, was more than happy to help. The oil is delivered down the tube and is then split and follows the plastic leads of zip-ties to coat either side of the rear sprocket, which with centrifugal force will lubricate the o-rings on the chain.


Securing the support for the delivery tube and Loobman head on the swingarm.


The chain oil reservoir secured on the frame next to the airbox and in a location that I could reach down and give it a squeeze while I’m riding. The Loobman is a manual chainoiler and the principle is very simple: give a squeeze every couple hundred kilometers (or more frequent during rain riding) and chain life should be extended.


Anwar found me a nice chain cover to prevent the spray being flung to other surfaces.


Finally getting around to bleeding the brakes, the first time on this trip. I had intended to bleed the brakes before heading on the Lagunas Route in Southwest Bolivia, but couldn’t find a long enough open-box 8mm wrench to get enough torque on the bleed nipple on the calipers. They were secured tight with grime after all those miles. The brake fluid surprisingly didn’t look all that bad, considering the heavy use over the past 61,200 kms (38,000 mi).


Anwar was storing a lot of interesting bikes in his shop including this gem, a Royal Enfield Bullet, manufactured in my home city of Chennai, India. In the back is a Honda Africa Twin, which has been ridden through Africa by one of Egypt’s own overland riders.


Maybe there’s a Bullet in my future…


Anwar fixing a long time annoyance on the bike where the rear brake pedal always hit the clutch cover upon being released and it was slowly making a dent in the magnesium casing. He used a wrench to torque the pedal away from the engine cover.


I tried using zip-ties and rubber hose along the way to prevent the pedal from damaging the engine cover but they didn’t get the job done. A little muscle to bend the lever was all it took.


A svelte gas tank and Anwar’s resident cat. He had a lot of bikes and other junk in his shop and that provided enough space for this cat to raise her family in. There was a dog too, but he occupied the other half of the garage.


I was still staying with Fabrice in Maadi and one evening, after giving a joy ride to Yasmin, we ended up at Cairo’s version of Starbucks, called Cilantro, a modern coffee shop.


Yasmin, who was also staying with Fabrice through CouchSurfing, and I after an evening ride through Cairo. She said she liked bike rides and I told her we could go for a spin but I didn’t have a spare helmet, which wasn’t a problem for her. She’s an Indian-Canadian from South Africa who just spent a few months volunteering at a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan, learning Arabic.


Having a tasty espresso with tones of whipped cream at Cilantro in Maadi.


Yasmin was a friendly and open girl and she soon chatted up a group of Cairenes on the next table and we got into a lively discussion about the effects of the revolution. Being from the higher strata of society, they complained how their freedom of movement was curtailed during the tense period and now, with the lack of a police presence, petty theft along with car-jackings were occurring more frequently. Of course they welcomed the change in leadership, but the transition was not a smooth process. Most of them had lived abroad for the past few years and were now back in Cairo, presumably to take advantage of the emerging economy, such as I’m planning to do when I make it back to India.


Back at the shop and installing some sponsored parts that were sent to me from Ricor Shocks. This is called the Vibranator and it reduces the vibrations through an oscillating weight in the handle bars.


The entrance to Anwar’s shop on Al-Gabassa Street. Note the water cooler on the street – free chilled water for anyone.


A fetching LML Speedy scooter with a BMW emblem. It was made in India during the 1980s under a partnership with Piaggio and their Vespa brand. Piaggio arrived with their Vespas much earlier in India under a collaboration with Bajaj, who produced similar looking scooters under the Chetak brand, which was hugely popular. My dad still has one of these and it holds a special place in my riding history as I covered my first few mechanical two-wheel miles on it, along with my first crash. The strange thing is that it has a twist gear shift along with the clutch on the left handle bar.


The simple powertrain of such a scooter with its horizontally-mounted engine and transmission in close proximity to the rear driven wheel. The short drive chain is encased and could be considered a part of the engine package. This layout allows for maximum space at the rider’s feet for cargo, along with extra passengers.


One day at Anwar’s shop, I met Omar here who was having his wife’s scooter fixed. We got chatting and he soon invited me for dinner. We didn’t get far from Anwar’s shop when the Chinese scooter died. The spark plug was loose and Anwar’s brother came out for a field job. With sanDRina’s windshield still a work-in-progress, I was riding around with a street-fighter look.


Along the busy streets of Cairo, small-scale merchants were busy selling all sort of products, such as roasted corn here. A girl out on an errand to pick up some fresh bread and leafy greens stops to pick up some corn for the walk home.


Omar works in the financial sector and was doing well during Egypt’s recent high-growth spurt. There was more tension these days as the local stock market was still recovering after being shut for 8 weeks during the revolution. We went out of Cairo towards the satellite city of 6th of October (so named to commemorate Egypt’s success against Israel in the 4th Arab-Israeli War in 1973 where Egypt won back the Sinai peninsula) and stopped along the way for dinner. He first took me to a Starbucks cafe for Western food but after expressing an interest in trying local Egyptian food, we ended up at Dandy Mega Mall where there was a well-known Egyptian restaurant. These kind of mega malls have sprung up anywhere on the planet associated with rapid growth, all trying to achieve the living standards of the West.


A full table of tasty Egyptian food at Abou el-Sid restaurant with Omar.


Stuffed grape leaves with a yogurt and mint dip.


Spicy oriental beef sausages.


Besara, which is mashed fuul (fava beans) that have been slow-cooked and let to set in clay pots along with herbs. It has a similar consistency to hummus.


It got late and since we were far from Maadi, I decided to spend the night at Omar’s house and really liked the open layout of his guest bathroom, especially all the light coming in from the huge French windows.


On the way back into the city the next morning, we had breakfast at this street stand of good-ol’ fuul with fresh bread.


Along with the Vibranator, Ricor Shocks sent me their front suspension enhancing part called the Intiminator and Anwar is installing them here. In the process, he replaced the fork oil, which has been in there since the last major servicing in São Paulo, about 25,700 kms (16,000 mi) ago.


Installing the Intiminator below the fork springs. It’s an interesting piece of technology that is supposed to enhance front-end feel while riding over bumps and rough roads. It works in such a way that the valves in the Intiminator regulate the flow of the fork oil so that it keeps the chassis stable if it detects the front wheel traveling into a bump and conversely, it allows the chassis to move without upsetting the unsprung part of the front wheel. It also greatly reduces brake dive, which is an issue on the long forks of dual-sport bikes.


The springs going in above the Intiminator. We had a check on the spring life, measuring their unsprung length, and they still looked good. The Intiminators replaced the Race Tech Emulators that came with the bike, which always seemed to deform after hitting a few bumps and I was glad to get rid of them.


An unresolved issue that I finally got around to was cleaning the contacts on my Centech AP2 fuse box. This is a small fuse box under the seat that collects all my electrical accessories and runs them through individual fuses and most importantly, runs them through a switched relay that turns off the accessories when the bike is turned off. Corrosion formed across the positive and negative (ground) leads way back in Guatemala and not having the time then to root-cause the issue, I simply by-passed the fuse box in Peru and ran all my accessories on individual in-line fuses to the battery. That worked well except that I had to remember to turn off my accessories when I turned off the bike, which was a pain, especially for my Vision-X auxiliary LED lights that I always ran. So, I was happy to clean this up and get it working properly again. I can be attentive on some issues and at the same time let others slide if there’s no immediate concern.


Anwar’s nephew rebuilding the engine cylinder on a scooter’s drivetrain. Nice how the centerstand is used to make for a stable working platform. These kind of mechanics should be lauded for having to work in sub-optimal conditions. The shop was also a mess with tools scattered but all the mechanics knew where everything was, so who cares.


I was kept entertained by watching this cat’s movements around the shop. It felt like a natural history show with an urban twist; imaging her to be a lioness on the African savannah, stalking some prey (that came as leftovers).


It was Friday and time for the weekly lunch at Anwar’s shop. Lots of flat bread with a tub of fuul, roasted aubergines and other veggies. Good eats.


A fun bunch of guys that I enjoyed spending these days with. Anwar was telling me to put down the camera and get some food before it disappeared.


My new windshield finally arrived and Anwar did an excellent job with the design and fabrication. He doesn’t speak very good English, but that wasn’t a problem as mechanics anywhere in the world can communicate in our own language revolving around our machines.


A black kitten perched on a small pedestal as he explored the world he was born into.


A small clearing in the back of the shop for the five daily prayers of Muslims pointing towards Mecca and the Ka’aba in Saudi Arabia. I thought about joining in to give thanks to the mechanical geniuses behind that sublime Suzuki GSX-R sport bike.


I installed this new adjustable kickstand that was sent to me from ManRacks who were looking for ways to promote their new product. But, it’s footprint is too small, especially for the weight of my bike and it easily dug into soft asphalt. It needed a wider plate welded on.


I rode with Anwar around the corner to a welder and the job was done in a few minutes. While keeping an eye on the welding job, I noticed the golden arches in the background.


It turned out to be an old Roman aqueduct cutting across the city. Modern Cairo with lots of grand structures from its storied past.


Across from the welder, these gentlemen from an autoshop were having a tea and shisha break and invited me to join them.


Hot coals heating up the flavored tobacco molasses in the brilliant design that is a water pipe.


Wider foot welded on the kickstand and freshly spray-painted. This should prevent it from sinking into soft surfaces, such as hot asphalt, loose sand and wet mud.


Being done at Anwar’s shop and packing up my tools, which were being occupied by some urban lion cubs.


I thanked Anwar for the excellent work and that too for focusing on my issues with such short notice. All that amazing work over the past four days cost just LE 250 ($45). We never talked about price until everything was done as I knew he would treat me well. I would’ve been glad to pay even double that amount but I’ve noticed how travelers seem to get an exception from mechanics, as they understand the part that they’re playing in helping this journey continue.

sanDRina was once again feeling fresh and I noticed the effect of the new Intiminators in the front forks right away, while buzzing along the Nile. The front end felt more planted and brake dive was considerably reduced. I was looking forward to seeing how it would handle the countless miles of corrugated roads ahead. I was glad to get the Loobman Chainoiler mounted and hoped that it would extend the life of my chain and sprockets, an expensive consumable on such long distance trips. The new windshield would soon serve its purpose of reducing buffeting from the fierce winds of the desert and let’s see how the adjustable sidestand performs.

I’m always happy to service sanDRina and feel like we bond during such sessions as I get into the internals of my bike and keep up with her mechanical wear along with adding some goodies. As mentioned previously, I’m a preacher of preventative maintenance for sustained happiness with your machine. At this point, the 1998 chassis has already seen 103,400 kms and I’m looking forward to crossing 100,000 miles.

Next: Egypt, Part 7: Dune Bashing in the Sahara

Previous: Egypt, Part 5: Islamic Cairo at Night