The heros of Tashkent: Said and Steve

Posted by Dan
Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Donkey and horse carts greeted us when we were dropped off on the outskirts of Tashkent at 11 o’clock at night. Gutted, exhausted and disorientated we struggled to drag eleven heavy pannier bags, a delicate broken bicycle and my bike onto the curb.

We asked one of the horse and cart drivers if he’d take us the last 10km into the city to a guesthouse, but the silhouetted man refused, claiming it was too far. Any car, any vehicle can act as a taxi in this part of the world – all you have to do is flag one down and name your price and destination. An hour and a half later, after continuous failed attempts, I managed to convince a driver of a small van to take us in.

Reaching the guesthouse, we were pleased to find two bikes exactly the same as ours sat in the courtyard. Under the cover of night our spare parts problem could dissolve should we dare to tinker with these carbon copy velos while their lovely Belgium owners slept upstairs!

The following morning we met Sandrine and Gerard, whose bikes we had admired on arrival. Over breakfast they told us about their journey – great cycling stories from their recent time in South East Asia. They also filled us in on where we might find spare tubes and a new tyre as they’d had a few bike problems of their own and so had already worked out where the best Tashkent bike shops were.

Then, in the shade of the open courtyard, I leant over Krista’s damaged wheel and took a file to the rim, sweating with apprehension for a whole morning as I gently, tentatively, sanded and filed away the jagged edges until I’d made a smooth surface for the bead of the tyre to seat against.

And in the afternoon, following Sandrine and Gerard’s directions, we took the Metro to the street full of bike shops. Apparently, this was the best and most likely place to find the right size spares in Tashkent – though we were pretty sure that they would be of dubious quality.

The man running the shop want ed a highly inflated price for the worst quality inner tube ever, and refused to negotiate! Although there were rows and rows of other bike shops on that street, no other shop had the Presta valves we needed. Frustrated, disappointed and unwilling to pay so much for a bad quality inner tube, we walked away, not quite knowing where to turn next.

Trudging back along Rustaveli Street, I spotted Gerard whizzing by on the other side of the road. I waved frantically, hoping he would stop and help us negotiate a fair price for the tube, as he told us he’d made friends with the shop owner that morning.

As the cyclist came to a skidding halt, Krista looked at me and said, “Who the hell’s that?” When I looked closer, I noticed the bike had a basket on the back – and the rider suddenly didn’t look like Gerard anymore… But the guy had stopped and was waving back at us as if he was our best friend!

Apprehensively, we crossed over toward him – and we were greeted by an over-excited lad, speaking quickly at us in Russian – still as if we’d known him all our lives. His one English sentence was “I love you bicycle”. Krista thought he was crazy, and rolling her eyes, she said to me, “You’ve picked a right one here”.

The guy, who introduced himself as Said, was ridiculously hyper, and seemingly passionate about bicycles – motioning and gesturing the acts of riding and repairing bikes – so I thought, “what have we got to lose?” and tried to explain our story (complete with loud explosion imitation and deflated “PSST!”, injecting the Russian words we just learnt for tyre and inner tube).

So, with wheel in hand, we followed Said for the next 4 hours, slowing coming to realise – with awe and deep respect – that he knew far more about bikes than we did. With a quick glance he knew the materials that made up the different parts of the wheel and where they’d been manufactured, and as he walked through the bazaar, we also came to see that he knew every person in Tashkent who had anything to do with bicycles.

Said was so pleased to have met us that on the way to Chorsu Bazaar, he went in search of a street photographer who could take a picture of us all standing in front of the Circus.

When Said’s friends from the different stalls at Chorsu Bazaar couldn’t provide the spare parts we needed, he urged me to meet him at 5am the next morning to cycle 20km to a different bazaar. It all seemed so random, but I agreed anyway as we had no other options left.

Reluctantly I got up at 4:30 the next morning to meet Said, unsure of where I was going or why I was going there.

Yangi Bazaar was just how I imagined a market during the Soviet times to have looked – full of dusty old shoes, oily car spares and electrical parts salvaged from every Russian machine ever invented – loving collected up as if they were valuable antiques and then spread out on tables through the crumbling graffitied concrete walls of what looked like an old aircraft hanger.

Following Said through the labyrinth of dark corridors, I began to get the picture – not only did he know all of the 100 odd guys setting up their stalls selling tyres, mud guards, wheels, spokes, gears, bells saddles you name it they had it, all of which was from China of course, but he too ran a stall selling second-hand imported bikes – Russian, German, French and Italian steel frames from the 70’s and 80’s.

At 6:30am the penny dropped. I was holding 4 spare Presta value inner tubes and the best quality tyre available (in Uzbekistan!)

I had accidentally flagged down the most perfect person to help us find bike parts, the best case of mistaken identity ever made!

NB: Having said all this 3 of the 4 spare inner tubes broke the following day as I was fitting them! One exploded while only half inflated and the valves of the two others fell clean off! Thanks to Steve, a WarmShowers host living in Tashkent, who donated 3 of his precious and rare tubes to us.

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