Hello World, Goodbye Aachen (or how to travel 900 km on a 30 year old moped)
I handed in my master’s thesis, held my presentation, packed my things, met my friends, canceled my flat and ate some french fries at Kathys, 8 years of living in Aachen is enough. I have to get out.
I’ve put a lot of thought into whether I want to sell my baby in order to enlarge my travel funds. However, all the work I put into it and the fact that I would never get back what I once invested along with the prospect of having cheap and reliable means of transportation for the time after my journey lead me to the decision of keeping it. Since I cannot leave my Simson S51 – fabricated in 1986 – on the side of the road in Aachen, I decided to transfer it to my home town and put it in my mum’s basement. Doing a big tour with it has been on my list for quite some time now. In this post I am going to tell you how one can drive 900 km with 50 ccm³, 4 hp and a a lot of patience.
Day 1: Aachen – Luxemburg
My journey starts on a Saturday morning. With only 970 km since I completely dissasembled and restored it last year, the motor is still a virgin. Changing the motor oil and cleaning the carburetor are the two last acts of maintenance before going on my trip. Although it worked quite reliable in the last couple of months, I have a queasy feeling while thinking about the next days. But, I have an ADAC membership (road side assistance), all sorts of tools in my backpack, a lot of time and I am looking forward to this adventure.
It is quarter past 10 when I drive off. Nearly 200 km lie ahead of me. I didn’t even watch the weather forecast as I was scared of what I might see. It is a strange feeling to leave the town in which I have lived for the last 8 years on such a small moped. I am not even outside of Aachen when I realize that the acoustic navigation with my ear plugs could get relatively tricky.
About half an hour later the first raindrops start falling from the sky. No problem for me: I pull over and put on my rainpants. I also use this opportunity to adjust the settings of the carburetor. I am convinced that my leather jacket will keep me dry and drive on. A huge mistake.
My route takes me through the Eifel. It is foggy and wet, which decreases the comfort while driving but not the fun I am having while doing so. Dark and foggy forests wherever I look. A unique impression. At some point I feel a little too cold and wet, and I decide to put on a pullover and my rain jacket. I find sanctuary at a bus stop in the middle of a small village. By now my backpack is already totally wet, I’m swimming in my shoes and even my t-shirt is wet in places.
Completely wrapped in warm clothes I drive on. At some point, the nice little fairy – who has so far whispered at least half-way reliable directions into my ear – becomes suspiciously quite. At first I don’t waste any thought on it, but then I realize that apparently there must have been an error while downloading the map of Rheinladpfalz on my phone. “Tolle Wurst” (literal translation: “awesome sausage,” a nicer expression for “fuck it”). From here on out I just follow my gut, looking for signs to Trier and afterwards to Luxemburg.
Shortly before I cross the border, I enter the address of my cousin into GoogleMaps. No I must not lose my way under any circumstances, as calculating a new route without an internet connection does not work. 16 km before I reach my final destination the rain starts to get so heavy that I can no longer see through the visor of my helmet. I pull into a gas station to wait out the rain. I start a conversation with other stranded people. Everyone is fascinated by my little moped, and they confirm that I am crazy to ride 900 km with such a small bike.
I drive on as soon as the rainfall gets a little lighter. And then: a road block. Google’s fairy is letting me down. I remember the name of the village my cousins lives in, spot it on a traffic sign and continue without navigation. After nearly 5 hours of riding I finally arrive. I am completely soaked through and the hot shower fells so damn good.
In the evening we go out to eat and then take a little tour through Luxemburg (the city, not the country, although the country itself is not that much bigger). It’s nice to see that tax money is invested properly.
Day 2: Luxemburg – Frankfurt
After my cousin personally serves me breakfast in his freaky kitchen, I drive off on the longest stage of my tour: from Luxemburg to Frankfurt in order to visit my uncle and the new addition to our family. Nearly 260 km lie ahead of me. At least the weather plays along today.
Luxemburg is one big forest. As I am not allowed to drive on highways with my little moped, I drive through the small villages in the south in order to get to Germany again. After driving through a small village, I see some guy “taking his dog for a drive”: the dog is running across the field while the owner is driving behind him in his Landrover Discovery. Finally someone uses such a car properly.
I make real headway and text my uncle that I will most likely be arriving before 6 pm. Again, I am driving on wonderful routes over country roads and through forests. The area around the Hunsrück requires a lot from my little moped, but every long way uphill is afterwards rewarded with a funny downhill passage. On the previous day I was still a little scared, but today I test what my little moped is capable of: 80 km/h downhill is no problem. Very nice!
Slowly I get the feeling that it might be time to refuel, but I don’t see a gas station for kilometers to come. After driving for another 20 km, I pull over and take out my emergency canister. Not even 2 km later I spot the long awaited gas station. I fill up the tank and my emergency canister, treat myself to 2 cheeseburgers at Mc Donalds and cross under the A61. From here on out everything changes.
The acoustic navigation is slowly driving me crazy. In cities I am often standing at a crossing and the good fairy in my ear tells me to “Please turn left!”. Which of the 3 possibilities to turn left she means, however, she doesn’t tell me. I fight my way through the cities and my average speed decreases just as fast as the fun I am having while driving.
Around half past 6 I finally arrive. My bum hurts, I have a sunburn in my neck and I am just so happy to not need to drive anymore. Meeting my little cousins for the first time gives me great pleasure. Frankish “Ebbelwei” (kind of like Cider) is also worth recommending.
Day 3: Frankfurt – Bruchsal – Stuttgart
On the third day of my tour I adjust my plan to take a little detour. A friend of mine, whom I’ve met on the Camino de Santiago last year, coincidentally lives close to the route I had planned. As I am already in the vicinity..
Today the engine causes some problems. A couple of times I stop at a traffic light and when I want to accelerate the rpm don’t go up. Only after trying it for one minute the motor reacts to full throttle again and I can drive on.
In Heidelberg and Darmstadt the same problem occurs to me as the day before: the fairy in my ear drives me crazy. Somehow I manage to get to Bruchsal. Julian and I have a drink and talk about our plans for the near future. He will also start traveling again and if possible we will meet again at the other end of the world.
The route from Bruchsal to Stuttgart is not that nice, as it consists of one single country road only. However, the road is steadily descending, and my moped runs and runs but starts to rattle a little bit. It annoys me, but I drive on. I will look after it tomorrow.
I arrive at my sister’s in the evening . We have a BBQ with her boyfriend and afterwards we relax in front of the TV. For tomorrow we plan lunch together. Fed up and happy I go to sleep in anticipation of the next day – probably the last day of my tour.
Day 4: Stuttgart – Stuttgart
Navigating through Stuttgart is even harder than it was the days before. There are one-way streets and motorways everywhere and generally way too much cars. I need over one hour for the 17 km between my sister’s and her boyfriends where we decided to have lunch together. Furthermore, my little moped starts making trouble more and more. The rattling becomes louder than on the day before, the engine feels way too hot and the gears won’t always snap in correctly.
I am very happy as arrive and – strengthend from a delicious Spaghetti Bolo – I decide to control the oil level. With a shock I realize that most of the oil I put in 5 days ago is already gone. Fearing the shaft seal of the crankshaft could be damaged, I open the motor to check it. Everything looks good. I assemble everything and fill in some new oil and try to kickstart the engine. Again, I am shocked as the motor does no longer react to the throttle and every 5 seconds a loud hiss escapes from the exhaust pipe. After some research and considerations I decide to burnout the exhaust pipe. My exhaust pipe is now free again and Daniel received a free depilation of his right foot. Remember: break cleaner burns good and fast and flip flops do not provide appropriate protection against flames. After I put everything back together again, I try to kickstart the motor once more. Again, it won’t work. I remove the carburetor, disassemble it, clean it with compressed air and put it reassemble it piece by piece. After installing it, I try once more to get the engine to work, lo and behold it works. However, I realize that I have not properly connected the ground connection of the motor, causing a lot of sparks that nearly weld the cable lug to the motor housing. As it is quite late by now, I decide to continue my tour tomorrow. One more BBQ can’t hurt.
Day 5: Stuttgart – Volkertshausen
At 7:30 in the morning I am on the road again. Besides the unscheduled action yesterday, this is the shortest stage of my tour: around 170 km. As Daniel lives in the south of Stuttgart I don’t need to drive through the city center again. The flow of the rush-hour-traffic carries me and soon I am on country roads again.
In Tübingen the little fairy in my ear fails as I drive through a tunnel and loose the GPS signal. I miss the turning. Annoyed I turn around, but I have no luck on the opposite lane as well. I pull over and take a look at the map so that I can hopefully remember the correct turning. As I want to drive on, I am no longer able to put in the first gear. I push my moped on the sidewalk, search my backpack for the tool to adjust the gearings – built by myself in anticipation of exactly such an event – and after a couple of seconds my little moped shifts as soft as butter again.
At some point the little fairy tries to lead me onto a motorway. I try to drive around it and find myself in the middle of nowhere. Totally annoyed I take a look on the map and decide to drive the remaining 90 km with Google Maps and my knowledge of the area.
Around 15 km before I arrive in my hometown black clouds are gathering over me. Not even two minutes later it starts to rain like it was the end of the world. On the last part of my journey I am once more soaked to the bone.
As I finally drive into the backyard of my childhood home I am relieved. I drove 885.4 km on 5 days. My bum hurts, my neck is tensed, I am totally wet and just so very tired. My mum must have heard the little engine and opens the door for me. I can’t get inside the house and out of my clothes fast enough. I really earned that hot shower.
It is definitely possible to cover long distances on a little moped. The navigation is tricky but doable. However, this could still be improved.
Driving with a moped is also profitable from an ecological point of view. As my moped needed around 3 liter per 100 km and one liter of gasoline forms 2.33 kg of CO2 (ignoring incorrect combustion, losses due to overflow at low rpm and other influences, for example the two-stroke oil), I caused CO2 emissions of around 62 kg on my tour. Or to put it differently: my moped emits around 70 g/km of CO2, while a typical small car emits around 140 g/km (Source: Dekra).