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Cycling around the world

About Jim and how a man gets attached to his bicycle

When I got the plan for cycling around the world, I needed a bicycle, my old Rih was not sufficient. That's where the tale starts. A tale that went as far as you can get it, with a bicycle who ... uhmm... seems to have it's own life, his own consciousness. Call me crazy, call me insane, but listen to Jims' part of the story (and it's a long one!):

Jim at Moonhill Yangshuo China
Jim at Moonhill near Yangshuo China 2001

Once upon a time there was a beautiful shiny bicycle in the shop of Ton Kroonenberg in Amsterdam. The bicycle was a Koga Miyata Worldtraveler, a real masterpiece of the factory and the best quality bike Koga had made, or at least that was their claim.

Obviously the bicycle was very proud of his position. People came in the shop staring in full admiration. The bicycle was indeed magnificent.

Sooner or later someone would show up, be impressed by him and buy him. Then, he would be taken to the buyers house. There the buyer would show him to his friends and family.

The bicycle, let's call him Jim, had heard the stories from his friends who had already been sold. They came every once in a while back for service, You should hear the chats these expensive bikes had at night when everybody was gone.

Jim in July 2011 after re-coating, he looks like new
Jim in July 2011 after re-coating, he looks like new
at 11 years old and 110.000km done, he's ready for his 2nd youth

The bicycle factory was Japanese Korean called Koga Miyata. They had many different bicycles and their top product was the Worldtraveler. Jim was already for some time now in the shop in Amsterdam. Apparently this time of the year there weren't many customers.

So Jim was waiting. He understood from the talks he picked up in the store that Christmas and New Year had past and that people were counting their money for the summer holidays. In short, it was low season. And it was winter and people do not want to ride bicycles in the winter.

Jim, fresh from the bicycle shop, in late 1999
Jim, fresh from the bicycle shop, in late 1999
at my moms house in Woudenberg Netherlands

So Jim was biding his time. Like I told you, sometimes an older bicycle came back for maintenance and then he heard stories of how their masters threatened them. As far as he had to believe some owners even put bicycle in the living rooms to protect them from bad weather, rain and storm.

bicycle journey to Malacca
Jim in Malacca, Malaysia 2010

It seems a good life, bought by a buyer who would take care of him, do proper maintenance and once a year do some work around a camping in France. Of course he would only do work when it was good weather. This kind of bicycle was not really made for the hard work as the name suggested but more for showing off, being admired.

Jim is sold!

One day a man visited the shop. Jim heard him talking to the shop owner who's name was Michael. The man had one demand: he needed a bicycle with which he could cycle around the world. He needed a good solid bicycle because, he said: "when I am cycling I do not want to stop every 100 or 200 km because something is broken".

Michael told the man this Koga Miyata World Traveler was the best, but also the most expensive in it's kind. The man told Michael he had budget for it, so he bought the bicycle.

This was when Jim first met his new owner. Jim was very proud. Finally he was sold. Now the real life would start.

He would, like his friends who were already sold, be admired by people, friends and family of his buyer. The owner would take good care of him.

There was one thing our bicycle had not expected. The buyer had the plan to cycle from Holland to China. This was not good, Jim thought. "I am the Rolls Royce" of bicycles, I need to be pampered, making kilometers had never reached his mind. While he was in the shop, he heard rumors of bicycles going to far away countries.

Rarely they came back and if they came back they didn't look beautiful and shiny anymore. In fact, they were hard to recognize. They hardly spoke. All the bikes in the shop were a bit afraid of the "foreigners" as they were called. They were seen as outlaws and weirdo's.

A series of problems with Jim, broke the front rack
The front rack of Jim, it broke at 5 different places, 2000

From the first day he was sold, Jim had to do work! The buyer was cycling around to check if the material was all ok. Jim felt the cold of the Dutch weather. It was unpleasant.

This was not what he had expected. He wasn't taken in the living room of the buyer too. Instead he stood in a cold nasty garage box. No one came around to admire him too. It didn't look like a good start.

While in his first week going round he understood his buyer was busy organizing things for a tour! Ooopss... Jim realized he had to take some action. But what to do?

It shouldn't be damaging but serious enough to make the owner change his mind. So Jim let the front brake break. The brake didn't actually broke but Jim thought he had given a clear signal not to go on the road. The buyer went back, did the repairs and continued his training. Jim became frightened. The deadline of leaving came close. So he let go some other small problems in the hope the buyer would think twice.

The first leg of the tour

On June the first the pair left. They cycled out of Holland to warmer areas. The owner had already done about 2000 km training on Jim and it all seems ok. But Jim had other things in mind.

Troubles in Turkey
Troubles in Turkey, 2001

On the way to Italy Jim saw his chance. They had been climbing in the Alps. The back rim now broke. It was a serious problem, one that had to be solved only by getting a new rim. The owner felt bad, after all he was still in Europe, China was still far.

But he found a good bike shop, bought a new rim instead of his Mavic X217 he got a much stronger rim. The pair went to the coastline, camped near Genoa on the beach. The owner loved it. Jim felt so so, knowing he had lost his first move.

They went further south. Jim saw his chance. If the owner didn't want to listen, some more serious actions were needed. In two weeks time, Jim unleashed all his devilish thoughts. First it was the back rack and then the front rack that broke off.

A few days later the stem broke too. The owner became quite desperate. They had not been on dirt roads, nor he was heavily overloaded with about 35 kg Jim could feel the owners desperation. But Jim felt no remorse, after all, he was a Koga Miyata Worldtraveler, a bicycle to be admired, not be ruined!

In Florence some of the troubles were solved by material send by the bike shop in Holland were they couldn't understand why this kind of material broke so easily down.

On the way to the ferry to Greece, a pedal broke off. At Corfu they repaired the pedals and the gears and continued to Turkey. The owner had apparently a very hard head because he didn't want to give up. So Jim was biding his time. They arrived in Istanbul where they took some rest. About 3000 km they had done. That was a lot more then Jim ever imagined. He became afraid he too would end up as a "real" world traveler, the ones he looked down on to so much.

Jim in March 2010, just before another journey to Indonesia
Jim in March 2010, just before another journey to Indonesia.
I've taken the front rack off as I do not use it at the moment.

After a week in Istanbul they started the next leg of the journey: the road to Iran. Jim let things go for a day or too but just before Ankara he hit again. The break cables broke. Plus, troubles with the front wheel. It never stops, the owner felt. The owner became more desperate. Since they couldn't find a shop in Ankara they went back to Istanbul and repaired Jim.

Jim on board of the boat to Satun Thailand
Jim on board of the boat from Langkawi Malaysia to Satun Thailand 2005

By now the owner had spoiled so much time with repairs, something he thought to avoid by buying this Worldtraveler, that he couldn't make it on time to the Iranian border. Jim expected he would now go back home. The owner scolded Jim for being such a nasty bike but they took the bus to the Iranian border.

But they had time to cycle from Erzurum to Mount Ararat, the mighty and legendary mountain at the Turkish Iranian border. On the way to Mount Ararat Jim hit again.

Jim had one more trick to perform which he did at the slopes of Mount Ararat, far from civilization. Now the gear system broke off and there was no way to repair, a new one was needed and that could only be done in Istanbul.

That was it. The owner now was at the point of giving up his journey. This bicycle was not made for a journey like he wanted.

More troubles in Turkey
More troubles in Turkey, 2000

They took the bus back to Istanbul. With help from his friends and the bike shop in Holland they were able to repair the damage and the owner, indeed a hard headed man, decided he would continue. If it would go wrong in Iran, bad luck he thought.

They took the bus back to the border, crossed into Iran. Now Jim became really afraid. He had not heard much of this country but he was sure good bike shops wouldn't be easy to find.

He was also impressed but the stubbornness of his owner. And there was something else too. Jim started to enjoy seeing all those "weird" places, camping in the forests and sleeping under the stars.

He wasn't so sure anymore if traveling was such a bad thing. After all, many people down the road stared at him in amazement anyway. People loved to touch him. They found him beautiful. "You bought an excellent bike", many said and when the owner summed up the troubles he had.

In the first weeks Jim had learned people in different areas spoke different languages. He had picked up some English so he could follow what his owner told people. More and more Jim started to feel more and more embarrassed. Expensive bike with that many problems, that couldn't be a good bike, one said.

Jim on board of the boat to Satun Thailand
Jim in Laos, 2006, tire problems at the exact wrong moment.

Jim decided to turn 180 degrees. From now on he would serve his master well. And indeed, the weeks in Iran and later more weeks in Pakistan went without troubles. Jim did his best to make the owner happy. However, in Pakistan the back rack broke off again. Jim now felt bad.

 This was not his fault, it was the quality of the rack, he knew. Over the last weeks he had felt the rack weak at one point. It was just a matter of time before it would break. The owner found a place where the rack was welded. At least they could continue.

Because of some unforeseen business in Holland the owner had to cycle back. He also got seriously ill in Iran. So the pair took a bus back to Istanbul from the Iranian Turkish border.

Jim recognized the place from some months earlier though now there was snow and ice on the road. But Jim was stronger now. He has some scars too. He didn't enjoy the bus rides but understood it was necessary for the owner.

The second journey

When back in Holland, Jim was complete repaired. Worn out materials were replaced and Jim looked like almost new. Many bikes in the shop asked him how life as a Worldtraveler was. Jim answered in a way they didn't expect. The answer was about traveling, while the other bikes expected a story about ohs and ahs of friends and family of the owner who would have the bicycle in his salon.

The scars on his surface made him unwanted by the newer Koga Miyata Worldtravelers who looked down on him now as a year earlier he had looked down on those real travelers.

Cycling in China, Jim and his owner were not always the best fo friends
Jim and his owner were not always the best of friends, here in Guizhou China, November 2002

But Jim knew more was to come. The owner and Jim flew to Bangkok. From here the owner wanted to cycle to Hong Kong and see what would happen then. But the back rim was changed by the factory for a weaker one. Soon spokes began to break.

The owner scolded Jim. When they were crossing the Lao Chinese border the back rack broke at different places. Since the rack was aluminum, it was hard to repair. So the owner went to a weld shop and asked the men to build him a complete new one.

This new rack didn't look really beautiful. At first Jim was a bit reluctant to make friend with this iron rack. It was after all "handmade". Besides, communication was hard as then rack spoke only Chinese. But soon it became clear the rack was a reliable partner in the story and Jim picked up some Chinese.

In Kunming they repaired and changed the back rim. Now they had a much stronger rim, a Mavic D which was build for downhill cycling. Indeed a better choice. From the moment the Mavic D rim was used, there were never more any problems with the rims.

cycling in France and Italy
Jim at the French - Italian border 2000

After some maintenance they went further on the road. Apart of the further normal maintenance there were no more serious problems to mention. Jim had finally accepted his fate and tried his best.

The owner had become attached to Jim too. He did his best to give Jim a good treatment. Many times, Jim stayed with the owner in hotel rooms. Jim got showers too if he was a dirty.

The owner used to joke. He said he needed two beds in the room, one for him and one for Jim.

But most of all, Jim had learned to enjoy traveling. Jim and his master were seldom seen alone. When the owner went on a journey, Jim went with him. Jim lived for a while in England, then again he was back in Asia. The owner and Jim are a well-known sight in Sitiawan Malaysia where they nowadays live.

Jim went once back to the bike shop in Holland were he was threatened like a foreigner, a weirdo but Jim didn't care much. He had seen things they couldn't imagine, spoke to other bikes who did the same and had become proud of what he was: a Koga Miyata Worldtraveler.

In 2010, Jim celebrated his 10th anniversary with his boss Peter, or should I say, his best friend Peter? Years have passed, and Jim and Peter still cycle. Jim gets older, he feels it in his frame, it's no longer as stiff as it used to be (while his boss Peter had the opposite, he had become a bit stiff in the years).

There were occasionally talks about retirement, but Jim didn't want to hear. All he wanted to hear now was when his boss planned another bike ride. And as we speak, June 2010, the next ride of Jim and Peter will be Hong Kong - Bangkok. Once back from that journey, Jim will have passed the 100.000 km mark, an event he certainly had not foreseen in the bike shop in Holland in the late 1990's. Despite the troubles they had faced together, they also had had a lot of fun, seen more then Jim had ever imagined. Life had been very good to him.

In July 2011 Jim got a full maintenance he had never had before. The whole frame was coated again, Jim was ready for a second youth.

Mid 2013 it becomes clear the once hypermodern bike is now old fashioned. Even getting the bike repaired becomes difficult. Here in Penang, where Jim nowadays lives, getting a V-brake set is difficult. We have to move to Bangkok and hope we can get it repaired. In the last years Jim has been well maintained but it becomes clear it won't take long before even Jim will have to retire but we are trying to give him a few more years.

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