Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Bikes and Welding in Nepal

Two stories about welding, two stories about bikes, three stories in all:

Yesterday I went to the Naku test site for Ecosystem's projects. I went with Nandu, the company's Nepali manager. We checked out both the test wire bridge (Tarpul) and the two test wire roads (Tarbatos). Pretty exciting to be up there in the pedaling chair for the tarbato - I'll post a picture of it as soon as I get the photo section of the website working. Afterwards, since our cook Koche was out sick, Nandu took me out to lunch - we had Indian food. I'm getting better at using my right hand to eat - I'm left handed so the fine-motor control in the right is historically lacking. Nandu took me to a bike shop on the way to Nakhu. I'm still riding a bike left by a former intern that's made for someone who's 5'4" - which wouldn't be a big deal riding around Stanford campus. However, the situation here is a bit more demanding - not to mention the seat is... not comfortable. That seat is turning what would otherwise be good days into, averaged out, bad days. So, we're at the bike shop: Nandu and I showed up to look at some Indian single-speed bikes. I almost fell off the thing when, on the first five feet of riding it, my legs hit the handlebars mid-thigh and my foot hit the front wheel turning. I became the topic of conversation not only for all the employees at the bike shop, but for some people on the street passing by - they were really into me being 100 kilos. I don't know why a guy selling bikes off the rack wanted to know how much I weight, but he did. I think I may be the heaviest person those guys had ever met. I'm still on the hunt for a bike - let me know if you're in the market to sell a big bike in the Kathmandu area. Word on the street is that adventurers who bike from Lassa in Tibet (15,000 feet) up to the border (18,000 feet) and down into Kathmandu (4,500 feet) sometimes sell their bikes before continuing on their adventures. Hopefully some of them are tall. Can you imagine biking uphill at 18,000 feet on a dirt road?

At the bike shop, I was looking at the welding on a number of the Indian bikes - and I tell you what, this one bike was the worst welding I have ever seen on something for sale. It looked like it was done with MIG by hand - one pass all the way around. Too much wire and too little heat, like you warmed up an entire hotglue stick (the small kind) and wrapped it around the joint. And where the beginning and end met up? Forget about it - there was a hole you could put an unwound paperclip through - clean through to the inside of the tube. Amazing, but less than $30 for the whole bike.

Speaking of welding - on the day I arrived, we drove by a metalworking storefront where a guy was stick welding without a helmet. And I don't mean turn-your-head-and-tack welding. I mean he was arc welding a non-structural gate together, looking at his work, not closing his eyes. He was blinding himself. No gloves, no boots, no leathers, no helmet.


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