Biking The Balkans Means More Motorcycle Maintenance

It’s after dark when I leave Gostilna Pecaric, but it’s a short ride to Guesthouse Bajc where Jure arranged accommodations. I take my things to a modest and comfortable room on the second floor before taking a seat in the restaurant downstairs. Instead of ordering from a menu, the waiter tells me what’s tasty and available tonight. I agree on a plate of grilled beef, french fries, and a salad. Instead of wine, I order a cold beer.

Dinner at Gostilna Bajc—simple yet delicious.

The restaurant is simple and cozy. Wooden tables and chairs, table clothes. Three guys in a nearby table finish their dinner, another group in the next room near the reception area for the guest house, and three parties sitting outside on the patio facing the parking lot.

I hop onto the wifi, update this blog, contact and follow up and make appointments with the winemakers referred by Jimmy in Tirana and Alen from Bibich in Croatia. I then try to find a mechanic who can replace the chain and sprocket on Doc. Slovenia is a small country of about two million people—about the population of Houston, Texas and less than the San Diego metro area where I call home when I’m not wandering the world.

Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, has just under 300,000 people. I map my route for tomorrow and try to identify a town or small city that might have a motorcycle shop. All the towns along my journey to the wine region appear to be small—and the same size—on Google maps.

One town strikes me, Nova Gorica, so I google and come up with a short list of motorcycle shops within thirty kilometers of the town. They all seem to be small. None have websites, and if they have a Facebook page, it’s barren and unpopulated. I find a few Google reviews, but they are in Slovenian and usually just one review. Even so, I’m drawn to one as there’s a picture of a shop with a bike on a lift, it’s a BMW.

I map the direction to Moto Servis Tomi in Nova Gorica. I can be there in an hour. After a simple breakfast at Bajc, I Head to Nova Gorica.

The GPS gets me close, but for a moment I drive in circles around a small business park looking. The driver of a car ahead of me turn around and drives toward me, sticking his head out of his window.

“You looking for BMW service?” For a moment, I wonder if this is Tomi. It’s not. Just a good Samaritan offering to guide this weary and lost traveler. He points to a building just across the street.

The skeleton of a BMW F1200GS on the lift next to my trusty F650GS Dakar at Moto Servis Tomi in Nova Gorica, Slovenia.

“Tomi,” he says. I thank him, and in minutes I’m talking to who I believe is Tomi’s girlfriend at the front desk. She beckons to Tomi who’s working on a bike the workshop. It’s a modest shop with two motorcycle lifts. On one lift is a 1200GS or the skeleton of one. It’s in a million pieces with parts, nuts, bolts, and other odds and ends. On the other lift, he is working on a Ducati sport bike. Once he finishes with the Ducati, he tells me, he will replace the chain and sprocket on mine. Excellent!

Tomaz Stubelj (Tomi) specializes in BMW motorcycles at his shop, Moto Servis Tomi in Nova Gorica.

So I strip down the bike, pull off the boxes, and since I’ll be here for a few hours, get out of my riding gear. It’s not even midday, but it’s scorching hot outside. Tomi closes the garage door and lets the air conditioning cool. I take a walk to a nearby shopping mall and cozy up in a coffee shop and take advantage of the wifi, two wineries confirm appointments over the next two days. I find one of those wineries that has a small guesthouse, I hope they have accommodations for me. Some two hours later, when my laptop battery wanes, I walk back to Moto Servis Tomi where I find my bike and Tomi nearly finished with the chain and sprocket.

Before I get to snapping pictures, Tomi shows me something that concerns him about my bike. He grabs a flashlight and shines it through the bearings of the swing arm assembly—part of how the subframe and rear wheel connect to the main frame of the bike. While the bearings are fine, the bushings look worn, and one of the gasket rings (seal) for the bushing is missing, and the other is rotting. He says this is not critical as he tries to move the wheel back and forth and then front and back. There’s no play, so the bike is safe to ride. But, he warns me, that sometime in the next thousand kilometers, I should replace the bushings.

It occurs to me that the deeper I get into Serbia, Kosovo and Macedonia, the chances of finding parts and service for this aging BMW bike will decrease with each kilometer I ride. Tomi agrees to call Avtoval BMW in Ljubljana and order the parts. I’m in luck as the parts are in stock. My next major city with a BMW shop is Belgrade. Tomi feels confident they will do a good job—provided I bring the parts.

Tomi is fast and efficient. With the meticulousness of a scientist or trained technician, he wipes down parts, the bike, and his hands. He double checks the torque on the rear axle bolts, the chain tension, and then lubes it before rolling it outside.

I retrieve my bags and set out to reload and pack up my bike for my journey into wine country.

It’s important to note, and regular readers of my blog will remember how, over the years, I’ve been plagued with problems with the side- or kickstand on my bike. These problems are part of the lore of this bike: the atrociously ill-designed side-stand. It’s frustrated many more people than just me. Even aftermarket manufacturers found opportunity by designing workaround solutions.

From the factory, the kickstand keeps the bike at too much of a lean angle. For loaded bikes, this means a precarious and unsteady lean; this also means it requires more muscle—and back—to pull the bike to center when taking it off the stand. I’ve used many aftermarket products over the years including the Jesse extender, which lengthened the stand and providing a more reasonable stance when setting the stand. I’ve used both the Wunderlich and Touratech side-stand foot enlarger which adds height to the stand and gives it a larger footprint—both help correct the lean and stabilize the bike.

However, over the years, with all the gear I carry, and with the many people who sat on my bike while on the side stand at my book signings and events, the connection of the stand to the bike frame weakened. So much that in Greece last year the side-stand almost broke off—the metal softened so much that I couldn’t set the bike on the stand. When parking Doc I had to lean it against a wall.

When I landed on the Greek of Paros last year, I set out to find someone who could fix and weld the kickstand. I took an hour of riding around that island until I found George (Moto Power Giorgakis). In no time he got to welding the frame and then the kickstand, just before he put the securing weld on the stand he turned to me. “This angle okay?” I did a quick assessment and said, “Yes!”

Flashback Photos: Paros, Greece October 2016

Later at my hotel, while removing one of the Jesse Bags, I realized the stand was too straight—barely any lean. So much so that when pulling the bags off the bike, I must nudge it to release it. Just then my bike toppled over. Shit.
A quick update from a few locations in Slovenia in this video.

So earlier this year when I returned to Greece I had the BMW shop in Athens try to shorten the side-stand. Because of the limitations of the various parts of the stand, they could only shorten it about a half-inch. Better, but still too straight.

Back at Tomis in Nova Gorica, two regular customers ride up on a new 1200GS. While talking outside the shop about travel, bikes, and the excellent service here, I load up my bike. When I put the last Jesse bag, O I apply just a little pressure to secure the bag. At that moment, in slow motion, Doc falls over—crashing on the ground only an inch short of the shiny high-performance Ducati Tomi just finished working on. My heart races. Tomi turns white—and before even helping me pick up my bike, he moves the Ducati far from Doc.

Close call.

I apologize, share the lore of and experience with my side-stand, pay my bill and bid my friends farewell. The cost? Just fifty-five euros (€55), not including the cost of the chain and two sprockets from Avtoval (€142). Amazing.

I make my way deeper into the wine region and secure a room at Hisa Kabaj and settle down to excellent views and splendid hospitality.

If you find yourself in need of service for your bike and you’re in Northern Italy, Croatia, or Slovenia—it’s well worth the trip to meet Tomi and receive his meticulous service.

Moto Servis Tomi
Tomaz Stubelj S.P.
Industrijska 4F
5000 Nova Gorica
+386 31 757 209

Guesthouse & Gostilna Bajc
Sinja Gorica 12a
1360 Vrhnika, Slovenia
+386 17 553 477

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