From Gangneung, South Korea to Ulaanbaatar and Beyond -The start of my 45 day Mongolian expedition all began when I contacted AN DAE GI after receiving positive confirmation that I would be riding a LYNSKEY titanum frame for 2012. It was big news, since I am not a professional competitor and world-famous companies do not give out their craft - Machinists built each frame from titanium tubing by hand in Tennessee, USA and comes with a lifetime warranty, you know it's going to be really, really good.
Converting a mountain bike frame into a Touring Bicycle, is it going to be reliable for a journey?
Since the luggage carrier was my domain, it became an enormous responsibility to do it right. Alas, I failed miserably, however, this is where my story turns for something miraculous and the helping hands began reaching out in South Korea and again, once I set down and started riding in Mongolia.
Gangneung Bike Mart, South Korea. Here local bike shop owner and operator AN DAE GI, who has really been supportive and generous getting involved with my efforts through Adventure Cycling on mountain bikes. I trust this mechanic because he really cares about his customers; does all his own maintenance on every customer's bicycle in his workshop; and accepts all walk-ins - regardless of where they purchased their cycles, his service is second to none since I arrived here three years ago. AN DAE GI has an art to his bicycle service, he has taken mangled wheels from completely rusted out bicycles that have been vandalized, searched in his maze for spare parts, rebuilt the wheel and replaced only what was necessary - charging little for his passionate time and professional work - simply, he knows bikes. He loves to ride and locals love his shop - I am definitely one of them. (:
"The bike was built, the luggage carrier attached through my engineering eyes (I need some schooling here, trial and failure - perfect lesson for me), and equipment was chosen, off to Mongolia."
After sorting out my choices of equipment and cycle clothing, next was making a big decision about the mountain bike frame I would use for the mountain journey across Mongolia. After contacting Lynskey Performance, USA and connecting with Dongjin Imports, South Korea - we made a Pro deal on their titanium frame that would change the fate of this journey significantly. Titanium is an incredible metal, both lightweight and durable, it stands as one of the premier metals in bicycle manufacturing today. Lynskey is a famous company, makers of LITESPEED which today is a subsidiary Quintaroo owned by the American Bicycle Group.
Building a perfect touring mountain bike is easy, a frame should have a longer chain stays and seat stays will obviously compliment the symmetry for the perfect rear carrier setup. We did that in 2011, AN DAE GI used my 18" (inch frame, large aluminum OEM Giant frame) and would try to do it again for 2012 using a 19" inch Lynskey titanium frame. However, there was one significant difference between the two frames, "eyelets" and this would lead to some problems fitting the carrier rack, also known as luggage carrier. So, how did we modify the rack for attachment?
I would learn through the first day of my journey out of Ulaanbaatar that mounting configuration, add heavy load of equipment and the possibility of "flex" between a rigid rack attached to a rigid, hardtail frame can cause damage when stress flex exceeds a limit. In this case, I used aluminum adapter hardware with rubber inserts which under stress, rough off road conditions and plenty of rain - actually turned away from the frame causing permanent damage to a luggage carrier.
Back to the bike shop, this time in Ulaanbaatar - ATTILA BICYCLES. I navigated from UB through Nairamdal and back to UB again. In this precarious start through the mountain tracks I was introduced to off road conditions throughout Mongolia. The topography and network of dirt tracks are steep, starting out from UB at over 1300 meters above sea level, it rises considerably higher still to pass the mountain ranges surrounding to the north. I rode through Birch tree forests, sighted flocks of wild deer, and spoke to locals as I was reaching a terminal point in the roads, where private land developers had overtaken the tracks and built a new housing community.* I turned out of the mountains and back towards Ulaanbaatar, while the journey was shortened by missing a turn on the highway, the rain and cloud cover thickened above me, it was about to open up the Pacific from above and soak me to the bones. Cold rains, higher altitudes than I am used to, and a seeping pocket on the Arteryx Gore jacket led to more troubles in wait. I swerved pot holes again, once I reached the industrial outstretch to the northwest of Ulaanbaatar.
The roadway disappeared into clay colored trenches, cars and trucks drove past showering brown waters over my head, while I pedaled towards the highway junction. There were cars and drivers immobilized by the roads. The flooded concrete road had so many hidden holes in the surface, unlucky drivers fell into them, losing their CV axles and dismembering their wheels from their automobiles. This was a masochistic situation for motorists trying their luck at missing the unseen hazards, and I would become the roads next victim. Slam! I popped my front wheel in and out of an enormous hole in the road, but the rear went in and didn't come back out. A silent bending of aluminum and twisting had already occurred, I clunked my heels against the rear pannier bags, they were now touching my shoes, pushed forward by the enormous weight of the load I carried. Now, in serious trouble and it was, for the moment, the end of a memorable bike ride in Mongolia.
I knew the journey wouldn't continue, it was an underwhelming experience. I didn't get too distressed, but I thought back about all the trouble it took preparing to leave, sourcing components, arranging a sponsor, working on graphic designs, sharing before the journey in social media, and now here I was at the beginning all worked up, sweating profusely, soaked in flooded street mud and muck and my rear luggage carrier was sinking too deep now, it seemed time to call it quits and head, didn't it?
I thought of the summer back in South Korea, with the kids, with my wife, at the beach, it would be easier on me and the family to be reunited. My spirit for high adventure was dulled by the thump of my shoes against the Ortieb panniers, "thump, thump, thump..." as I tried to pedal along, no use. I walked. Eventually, I came to the intersection where I should have turned West, that was sight to remember without taking a photo so I continued East into the city, now congested and clogged with cars, trucks and buses like a huge centrifuge spinning wildly out of control in a lab, except this was urban Mongolia!
I roamed Ulaanbaatar city while turning pages in my Lonely Planet, and found a music store right off Peace Avenue with an employee who knew English, "Perfect, I am in luck!" Since, the iPhone was now R.I.P. from the flooded pocket, I needed to pull the SIM card and borrow her phone to find 7Summits my next stop on the search for replacement parts and service somewhere in the labyrinth of a large city. There was also a street person lurking at the bottom of the steps to the music store, located on the corner of the 2nd floor of the department store building with wide stone steps leading up to the entrance. At first pass, I avoided the street man, but when I exited the building the second time - he mugged me! This was all quite perfect timing since my iPhone was dismissed due to rain, the rack luggage carrier twisted aluminum now transforming into rubbish, and of course, now I had been mugged. But what was missing? My cycling gloves. Oh, I hope the street man already has a bike. Farewell my dirt covered friend. I dug into my panniers and donned an old pair from the Himalayas.
After reaching 7Summits, I learned they had no luggage carriers and only a fleet of mountain bikes to rent or sell, all of which was priced MSRP, which is over the market value in any country. The customer rep at 7Summits was really helpful though, directing me to the new bicycle shop across the city. It took a long time to get closer to the shop, over a bridge, out of the central part of the city and into an industrial area again - I thought I was lost. Fortunately, I found a tire repair center at a cross roads, they were genuinely helpful and the lead mechanic spoke fluent English, he had studied in a university overseas in Praque, Czech Republic. We proceeded to unloading the carrier rack and the mechanics twisted the aluminum metal, it was strong, double-walled material - but the twisting reduces the quality and stiffness of the metal - it was finished as a carrier, soon to be recycled somewhere. With a man standing by watching us, he asked in Mongolian if there was something I needed, "a bicycle shop, do you know of one?" And fortunately he did, and offered to assist carrying all the rear luggage inside his Hyundai SUV, perfect timing for helping hands again. Off we went, sweeping through the rough pavement, traffic and chaotic traffic behavior, that is, quite the norm once you arrive in UB. We went though housing block areas, gravel roads turn to dirt and mud, and finally we reach TREK BICYCLES and behind them is the heavenly - ATTILA BICYCLES.
There at ATTILA, I met Naran and Miga, along with a team of mechanics who have been mountain biking in Mongolia for over 25 years. It didn't take long to find replacement parts, I needed a luggage carrier and this time we hard mounted metal-to-metal, the aluminum adapters with 5mm bolts and teflon washer bolt, double-nutted and counter-turned to lock together and never loosen. A great help they all were, many helping hands along the way - getting me back to the expedition in 1 day and I still managed to cover 75 kilometers, it's a good start today. Day 1 complete, just 44 days to the finish!
More adventures coming soon! Stand by for more episodes through the X journals in Mongolia. (: