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Day 25: Kalka to Shimla to Kalka

Narrow gauge train
My young travel companion
Long tunnel
Station signs
Mountain-side town
Snow capped peaks
I can dig it.
Nifty carts

A UNESCO World heritage Site, the Kalka-Shimla Railway was bulit commencing in 1891. It connected Shimla, in the foothills of the Himilayas at 2186m altitude with Kalka, at an elevation of 658m.

The narrow-gauge rails are 762mm apart, less than half that of "normal" railways, allowing the engine and rolling stock to maneuver around 919 curves, with radii as small as 37.5m.

The line includes 864 bridges and 103 tunnels.

My train from New Delhi arrived about 6:30, and I hurried to buy my INR230 ticket and climb aboard for the 6 hour, 97km trek that I travelled more than 2250km to see.

It was totally worth it. I've posted a handful of photos, and I have dozens more of beautiful mountainscapes that are done no justice by the camera. You had to be there.

The air grew cooler and thinner as we ascended the mountains. There were at least 10 stops at stations along the way. Each had its own chai wallah, curry booth, and sweets shop. All of us hopped on and off, scurrying back when the engine honked its departure horn.

Manual switches and mechanical semaphores, driven by pushrods, cables, and pulleys still control traffic on the line.

Expecting a few tiny villages along the way, I was amazed to find huge towns each with thousands of people, houses decorating the steep rock cliffs like a European picture postcard.

I thought San Francisco had steep hills, but upon reaching Shimla, I realized my plan to stay a while and explore would be almost impossible. In the thin mountain air, at over 7000ft ASL, my body couldn't complete the 2km walk uphill to the post office to find a postcard. The taxi drivers refused to drive me such a short distance. Even at the cool temperatures, a veritable rainfall fell from my pores.

I returned to Kalka on the next train, the sun setting as we descended the steep winding rails.

I giggled as four young fellows eagerly debated cricket. Without knowing the language, I understood the conversation implicitly. One argued his opinion about his team, another took the contrarian view, just for spite, while the rest jeered and pointed out the merits of each. It was a scene you could see in any country, for any sport, on the merits of anything at all.

Noticing my observation, they were immediately curious to know my opinion, to which I explained that I had tried to learn the rules of the game a few nights previous, and gave up on trying to understand overs and wickets.

With their various degrees of English proficiency and confidence, we chatted for the next couple of hours back and forth in simple English. They even tought me some Punjabi, which I quickly forgot minutes later.

Our topics included politics, dating and marriage, the Indian baby girl problem, what -35C feels like, education, and anything else we could think of.

Asking if they had girlfriends, they proudly assured me that they did not, being devout Hindus and Seikh, and looking forward to a day when they will meet their wives to be. I remarked that it must be difficult for them, with only 700 girls for every 1000 boys. "No, we are just more motivated," they laughed. I remarked that with a population of over a billion people, reproduction didn't seem to be an issue. My words were a bit to complex. "India is good at babies!" I simplified to roaring applause and laughter. "yes, you are right", they confirmed.

Remarking that it was -35C back home that night, they asked, "How do you live?" I explained that in the winter we just adapted, staying inside most of the time except for the trips to and from work. "No, how to you live?" they repeated. Having never lived in insulated homes with central heat, the concept seemed impossible.

My new friends were a view into a fun, devout, positive, new India; they are driven to seek education, find and honour wives, raise children, and contribute in every way they can to their India.

None of their spiritual practices condoned drinking, so after our trip we shared chai in lieu of Kingfisher, took photos, and went our ways.

They invited me to join them on their journey, but I had a train back to New Delhi to catch. While waiting, I found some shops near the station, indulged in an Indian sweet or two, and picked up a blanket for the cold trip back.

Day 23: Madgaon to New Delhi in 26 hours

Rajdhani Express

The Rajdhani Express is a high-speed train that runs from Madgaon, Goa to New Delhi, 2000km in 26 hours. It left at 10:00, so after tea and goodbyes, I left Porvorim by bus to Madgaon via Panjim, arriving at 9:30. On my last day in Goa, I finally had the bus “system” worked out.

The train would arrive In Delhi the next day around noon. From there, I would need to make my way across the Delhi subway system to another train station to catch the train to Kalma; however that train would not leave until nightfall, so this would leave me the day to explore Delhi a bit (one of the places my sister would not visit, FYI).

I figured out that if I timed things right, I would not need to seek accommodation, instead sleeping on the trains.

The ticket that I booked to Delhi was AC1, first class. I figured the 26-hour trip might be a good time to spend extra for comfort. My only comparison was sleeper class, which I took from Mumbai to Goa upon arriving in India. The two classes are very different experiences, and I now know my preference.

More on that, later.

Day 22: Last Day in Goa

Last day with the bike

Today I needed to return my bike, or rent it for more days. Still wanting to see other parts of India, I decided to make this my last day in Goa.

After tea, Ulrike and I rode scooter and bike to Candolim beach for breakfast, and a last look at the Indian Ocean. We debated the obsession of the largest of the Brits to come to Goa to lie in the sun and turn a painful shade of red; and places we wouldn't travel, based on reputation or hearsay.

We took the ferry to Panjim, dropped the bike off, and stopped for a cold coffee in the air conditioning, during the hottest part of the day.

Ulrike took the scooter back to the house. We weren't sure if it was able to take us both up the long hill to Porvorim, so I took the bus.

Ulrike watched Downton Abbey, as I studied the rail schedules and booked the next day's journey.

India has one of, if not the foremost, rail systems in the world. On this trip I wanted to see at least a couple of its particularly cool parts.

When I visited India with my parents in 1981, steam trains were still widely used throughout the system, and indeed our trip from Goa to Bombay was by steam train. Today, steam has been eliminated from the system, with the exception of one tourist train that runs every other Saturday. I would have liked to have experienced it nonetheless, but unfortunately I would be back in Canada during the next expedition.

While most of the system has standardized on broad gauge track, there are still some lines that use metre gauge (one metre between tracks), or narrow gauge (as little as two feet between tracks). These were constructed particularly in mountainous and hilly regions to accommodate the small radii required for winding mountain paths.

The highest concentration of these metre and narrow gauge lines are to the North, in the Himalayas. The famous Darjeeling line in Sikkim was crucial to the East India Tea Company's delivery of tea and spices from the mountains.

Another line, from Kalka to Shimli in Himachal Pradesh was built for the Viceroy to transport him from India's heat to his cool summer home in the mountains. This line, more than 2000km from Goa, is where I was headed.

Bicycle engine clutch gear replacement (Part 5: Bearing assembly)

Supplies: New bearings (optional), grease (wheel bearing grease, CV joint grease, or molybdenum grease), degreaser, block of wood
Parts: clutch gear (disc), clutch pads
Tools: arbor press or vise, drill, large socket

  1. Thoroughly clean the bearings and bearing race with degreaser
    Cleaning bearings
  2. Apply enough grease to the race to make it sticky.
  3. Pro tip: If you leave the bearings and race in the magentic part tray for a while, they will become magnetized and will almost assemble themselves.
  4. Install each of the bearings into the race.
    Installing bearings into race
  5. When all bearings are installed, thoroughly coat them in grease. Get it right up in there into their private parts.
    Greasing the bearings
  6. Seat the race into the new clutch disc.
    Installing bearing race
  7. Make a tool like the one shown.
    Press tool
  8. Sandwich the assembly tool, clutch gear, bearing race, flywheel and a large socket together.
  9. Use an arbor press or vise to press the assemblies into place.
    Pressing everything together
  10. Pro tip: Preheat the bearing race with a hot air gun to make it expand before assembly.
  11. Wipe away all excess grease.
  12. Install the clutch pads into the clutch disc.
    Installing clutch pads
  13. Use a wooden block and hammer to seat the pads, if necessary.
    Seating the pads

Bicycle engine clutch gear replacement (Part 4: Repairing gearbox and cover)

Supplies: epoxy putty, Goop, rubber gloves
Tools: flat file, die grinder or dremel, gasket scraper

If this were any other vehicle, most people wouldn't attempt to repair a gearbox in the state, they'd just order replacement parts. Well, the only replacement part for this problem is a new engine, and although I did tell you to buy a spare engine, this break can be repaired.

If you have a TIG welder you might be able to repair this. I would be surprised though, because the metal is of such poor quality, I think it would just evaporate.

I used a combination of epoxy putty and silicone adhesive. Epoxy putty comes in a stick and is sold in a tube under names like JB Weld. It costs about $5-7 a tube. If you chop off a chunk, it will look something like:

Epoxy putty

  1. Use the gasket scraper to remove all remnants. A screwdriver or razor blade can work in a pinch, but be careful. The steel in the screwdriver or blade is harder than the aluminum allow and can scratch or gouge it.
    Gasket scraping
  2. Time to put on the gloves.
  3. As you can see, the two parts of the epoxy are rolled together. To activate the epoxy you thoroughly mix the two parts by smooshing it like playdoh. After about a minute it will start to warm up and is ready to mould. The clock is ticking. In about 5 minutes it will be unworkable.
  4. I split up the putty and moulded it to repair both the gearbox and the cover. The cover worked pretty well, but unlike playdoh the epoxy is not sticky, it is quite dry. I gave up on having it stick in place and instead just made it fit perfectly, as if it were stuck in place. After a few minutes it was hard, and I had a nicely cast piece that wouldn't stay in place.
  5. Goop to the rescue! Goop is a silicone-based adhesive and it is amazing at bonding things that usually don't like to bond, like glass and metal. It comes in gel form in a tube like toothpaste. A tube is about $10 I think. I generously coated the cast gearbox piece in Goop and held it in place for about a minute. It cures quickly once exposed to air.
  6. When both parts were repaired it was time to touch-up the repair. I used a file to smooth the mating edges of both pieces so that they were flat in the same plane as the rest. I test-fitted the gears and there was a bit of interference in a high spot, so I ground it down using an air die grinder.
  7. A few blasts of compressed air cleaned up the job. If successful, the two pieces should mate perfectly (no gaps) and the gears should be able to turn freely.

Bicycle engine clutch gear replacement (Part 3: Clutch assembly and bearing disassembly)

Tools: awl, hammer, magnetic part tray

  1. First we need to split the clutch assembly into its two components: the flywheel and the clutch disc. Use an awl and hammer to gently tap the pieces apart. Do this in the parts tray, because the bearings could spill out at any time.
    Separating the clutch assembly
    Separated halves
  2. The clutch disc and the bearing race should separate easily.
    Bearing race
  3. Collect all the ball bearings. They are very small, and like to hide.

Bicycle engine clutch gear replacement (Part 2: Gear removal)

Getting to the clutch gear

Tools: small flat-head screwdriver

  1. Disengage the clutch and lock it.
  2. Remove the gearbox cover by removing the five Phillips screws.
  3. Remove the flower-but retaining screw with the small flat-head screwdriver.
  4. Remove the flower nut by hand.
  5. Remove the pressure plate and return spring

Removing the clutch gear

Tools: 2 socket wrenches, 14mm socket, two 19mm socket, Super Magic Tool (SMT)

  1. Remove the clutch-lever cover by removing the three Phillips screws.
  2. Remove the 14mm nuts at the gearbox end by using two socket wrenches simultaneously, one on the gearbox end and another on the clutch level end. This will prevent and strong forces from being applied to the chain.
  3. Install the large end of SMT into the clutch gear assembly.
    Installing SMT
  4. Using a 14mm socket, turn the small half of SMT into the large half. It acts as a gear-puller to remove the gear assembly.
    Gear assembly removal
  5. Find the Woodruff key before it is lost, and put it in the magnetic part tray.

Pro tip: If your gearbox exploded like mine did, and the Woodruff key is missing like mine was, the two may have something in common.

Removing the Drive Gear

Tools: Big-ass flat-head screwdriver, SMT, magnetic part tray

  1. Remove the retaining screw with bag-ass screwdriver.
  2. Install the medium size end of SMT into the gear,
    SMT installation in drive gear
  3. Using a 14mm socket, turn the small half of SMT into the large half. It acts as a gear-puller to remove the gear assembly.
  4. Find the Woodruff key before it is lost, and put it in the magnetic part tray.
    Woodruff key

Super Magic Tool (SMT)

Super Magic Tool (SMT)
Pair of wrenches using SMT

If you plan to work on your chinese bicycle engine, you need Super Magic Tool. Technicians call this a Specialized Service Tool, or SST; but I like SMT better. If you bought the engine as a kit, it probably came with SMT. If not, do not attempt disassembly/assembly without it. Pick one up for three bucks.

It is the fucking bees' knees.

The engineers that designed this engine cleverly threaded just about every shaft, passage, hole with one of three sizes of fine threads. SMT can be installed into or over any of these. It is a press, a puller, and an alignment tool, all in one.

Bicycle engine clutch gear replacement (Part 1: Trouble)

I have one of those chinese bicycle engines that you see all over the place. In my home town of Guelph, I see one almost every day. You see them sold all over the place: online, the back of Popular Mechanics, eBay. I got mine from a Canadian company called ZoomBicycles a few years back. They are all the same engines.

If you want a fun way to give new life to an old bicycle, one of these engines is a great way to do so. That said, if you are not mechanically inclined and/or have no interest in learning, these are not for you. I've spent about 1 hour riding my motorbike, and about 24 fixing it.

You see, these little two-stroke engines are beautifully engineered. Unfortunately they are made with poor materials, which is not surprising since you can find them for about $100 for a complete kit if you shop around.

Pro tip: In addition to the kit, buy a spare engine, carb, gasket kit, 10+ clutch pad sets, spare clutch and drive gears. They can take weeks to order from China (some are available in North America).

I won't go into detail about the installation. It takes a few hours, the instructions are pretty good, and unless you're missing any major parts, they usually run the first time.

One recommendation though: the manual recommends a fuel:oil mix of 16:1 for the first two tanks. I know where they are coming from, because you want lots of lubrication while the rings wear in; however at 16:1 combustion is far from optimal, and yoy may spend lots of time try to tune a poorly running engine when it is actually fine.

Pro tip: Use a fuel:oil ratio of 20-25:1 for the break-in period.


One day I got the bike running and decided to drive it home from the office, about 7km, or 15 minutes on the bike. After about 1km I lost power and heard angry noises coming from the engine. I headed back to the office and took the gear cover off. Wow. A gear had chipped a tooth, which caused a chain reaction that caused teeth on both gears to chip. Then a piece of shrapnel left the engine, via the engine wall. It tore a large chunk out of the gearbox and its cover.

Above: Note the missing teeth.
Below: That hole is not supposed to be there.

The aluminium that these parts are cast from is quite brittle.


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