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The Mongol Rally (www.mongolrally.com) is a charity event aiming to raise at least £1000. Motorcars and bikes will journey from London to Mongolia – the only catch is that the cars cannot exceed 1000cc nor the bikes 125cc. This is the Mongol Rally!
“Minsk Motorcycle, (Russian: Минск) or also known as Motovelo Corp, is a company that produces bicycles and motorcycles. The company produced a two stroke 125cc motorcycle based on a pre-World War II DKW RT 125 design made in Minsk in the former Soviet Union (now Belarus). ”
The Minsk motorbike is famed for its somewhat sturdy design. Unlike modern engineering design, the Minsk shares the same war-time ethos as the AK47 and the Series 1 Landrover: the time between failures might be high, but you can always get it going again with a hammer and some WD40. And when the chances of mechanical failure on such a rally as the Mongol are so high (drawing in water, potholes, really bad gasoline etc) the owner must be able to maintain and fix the entire function of the bike without precision tools or even previous knowledge of the problem. This is the Minsk!
With a fairly agricultural 125cc two-stroke engine, the Minsk isn’t the ecowarrior’s first choice of transport; as the engine has no sump the lubricating oil must be included with the petrol, and due to the nature of the engine cycle it manages to not only burn off a fair amount of this oil but to also blow a small amount of unburnt petrol out the exhaust – which gives the Minsk a characteristic two-stroke smokey exhuast. The upshot of this suboptimal combustion is that the engine produces twice as many power strokes per revolution, gaining a significant power-to-weight ratio over conventional four-stroke engines, whilst also being able to operate at any angle. This is why the majority of chainsaws are two-stroke; which technically means a Minsk has more in common with a domestic chain saw than a lawnmower. Something to muse over whilst elbow-deep in engine grease by the side of a road.
As the motorbike is 125cc it should be classified by VOSA as a light motorcycle:
“A light motorcycle licence (A1) which restricts riders to any bike up to 125cc and a power output of 11kW.” A Minsk is somewhere between 10 and 14hp therefore at most 10.43kW. This means that I can legally drive it on my existing car licence if I pass the CBT (Compulsory Basic Training)and only have to display L plates (adds comedy value).
With a 12ish litre tank capacity, one can expect to travel slightly over 200km. That works out at roughly 45mpg. A full tank of petrol requires 500ml engine oil.
The Minsk motorbike is produced in Belarus, with 90% of their motorcycles exported to countries outside of former USSR. This should hopefully mean that the spare-parts availability and local mechanical knowledge will be high enough from the start of Russia, well into Mongolia, right across China and into Vietnam/Laos/Cambodia. Which is useful as the wheel-bearings need repacking every 2000km.
Crown Relocations picked up the bike from Coung’s garage. You can see the panniers with spare parts on the left:
I’m now having to start the paperwork at this end to get the bike into England… Next stop HM Customs!
On the 3rd January 2007, to start the new year off in style, my Russian-made Vietnamese farmer’s motorbike arrived safe and sound to my home address.
After figuring out how to start it using the excellent Minsk 125 Repair Manual by Digby Greenhalgh, the next day and friend and I attempted to drive it.
For any would-be bike virgins please take note that without any assistance or labeling of controls it is actually a mystery trying to figure out how a motorbike gearbox works. Pushing it about and changing gear at least helps to locate neutral, but then it’s mighty hard to pull away in second gear, which needs first gear and is below neutral. Now you know. The muddy back garden proved an excellent training ground, even if some plonker did put a shed in the way…
It left in a haulage truck, it arrived in a removals van and it wouldn’t fit into a £45 per-day rented Peugeot Parter Van. I don’t have a trailer or a trailer hitch, nor can I afford one. So just how do you move a motorbike around if it isn’t road legal?
After chatting with the VOSA people, it transpired that the bike will need a labeled fuel line and that the exhaust must bear some manufacturer’s logo. The fuel line cost £1 and was a doddle, but the exhaust is a bespoke modification… oh wait, looks like it had one all along:
(the spray paint making sure that the manufacturer’s logo is nice and visible. I guess whomever originally chose that design did so because the Minsk bird-in-flight would be a bugger to spray paint on using only masking tape and enamel warhammer paint. Luckily the engine block one would be much easier for them to use. I assume.)