Fat-Bike Van Life – Balkan Holiday by – Stephan Spruyt (Part 1 of 3)

Road Trip The Balkans

(Part 1 of 3)

Hey Ho.. another year another road trip so it seems.. As some of you may know my goal is to visit all EU countries in my bus before I’m 40.. As I’m scarily fast approaching this number I had to come up with a plan to see as much as I could in one Holiday. Unfortunately, the days where I managed to get a months holiday have long gone now.. You know how it goes .. you get older, want to earn more money, so you have to up the game.. or better your career and naturally that comes with more responsibility which unfortunately results in less holiday ..


After last years superb solo trip to Croatia I became rather curious what else Eastern Europe had to offer… So I started mapping out a route and it quickly became apparent this would be a lengthy trip. On a positive note, this year I’m accompanied by the lovely Sian who I met just after last years trip and we’ve since been glued together 🙂


The lead up to the trip was rather exciting or better challenging. My bulletproof engine suffered a dropped valve resulting in a mess and was being rebuilt by my good friend Leslie over in Belgium who originally reBuilt it. This proved to be a long process as his days are filled with picking old cars in the US and Europe.. Lucky man! Eventually 2 weeks before the trip my engine was ready, bench tested and installed. The results were fantastic, better performance than before and more fuel economy, Win-Win!! Excited like a little boy getting his first real bike from Santa, I left his workshop with a funny sounding gearbox and only a few miles later I found myself stranded next to the road with no gears… The new engine caused the diff to snap in half… Luckily Leslie had a spare gearbox in the workshop and a few hours later we were finally on our way.
I couldn’t stop smiling all the way back to England. Having missed it for over a year and having to drive a poor performing engine instead that topped out at 45-50 Mph I was ecstatic, to say the least.


The road trip kicked off on Thursday straight after work, Sian and I work together and come 5.30pm we jumped in the bus and set off… The plan was to drive overnight in one go to Bratislava, some +1000miles… Unfortunately in the night when driving over the border into Germany I found the bus running a little hotter than normal and performance was declining too. Being a little anxious I decided to pull over and let the bus cool down. We’d only done about 700 miles with the motor (since new) and I didn’t want to ruin it… After speaking to Leslie in the morning he advised to change the position of the distributor.. The engine had been set up with 95-E10 for better performance and running with regular fuel it caused all sorts of technical conversations that I quickly abandoned and instead just listened to him 😀


I don’t think that both Fatbikes on top of the bus contributed to better aerodynamics.. and in all honesty, I didn’t really drove the bus accordingly either.. Vvrrrooaaammmm.. 😁

Some hundreds of miles later and about a dozen roadworks later I noticed the gearing was going more difficult again, I had already once before tightened the nuts on the front gearbox mount and found them to be quite loose.. A new rubber was placed when the replacement gearbox got installed and later to be found guilty of many stops to come. Eventually a day later we arrived in Bratislava, the traffic jams in Germany caused huge delays and combine this with torrential downpours and several gearbox related pitstops and you run massively behind schedule.


After a couple of hours enjoying the local scenery in Bratislava we decided to catch up on the time lost and drove off to to Budapest. Approx 2 hours later we arrived and could enjoy the nightlife in the city.

.. A week before we left we bumped into someone at a local pub that happened to be half Hungarian and he pointed us to a lively area in the city. We parked up and instantly found ourselves in a great place. A little alley was filled with people from all over the globe, plenty of stalls serving world street food and good vibes all around. We enjoyed the night and ended up sleeping next to the river. The following morning we strolled through the city and took in the colourful architecture. I really loved the patina on some of the buildings, it’s definitely a city I could see myself living in.

We decided to leave the city, look for a supermarket and have a shower, we managed to do all of  this at the same spot 😊 Later on in the afternoon we carried on driving towards Belgrade.. the border crossing into Serbia was very busy and delayed us by an hour and to make it even more interesting the bus had now developed serious shifting issues to the point where I lost all gears and we ended up pushing the bus through the border control.. It made for a funny sight 😁 .. A little later we were cruising again but later in the evening we lost gears yet again, it was becoming a routine – crawling under the bus.

I noticed there was a lot of oil thrown away around the driver’s side CV joint… I didn’t have a torx key set with me to check if the bolts were still tight and this was frustrating.

We found ourselves next to a toll stop at the entrance of a small police unit. An officer came up and asked if we would move the bus elsewhere.. I think at this time both parts were a little unsure what to think of one another but eventually, he helped us out by asking a friend to come out to tow us away and offer some help. We didn’t use the tow option but we did end up in a local estate with another random bloke who had a small garage. A little diagnose of the situation and it turns out that everything is tight as it should with the exception of the nuts on the front gearbox mount (again). We set off for a couple of hours and then pull over at a petrol station and call it a day.


By 10am the next morning we arrived in Belgrade. We have a browse around the city and go for a drink. Still unhappy with the performance of the bus I contacted BBT to see if they had any contacts in the area. Unfortunately, nothing close to Belgrade .. The closest contacts were back to Budapest or Sofia in Bulgaria which would have been my preferred choice. Luckily I remembered meeting some great chaps at last years ‘Let’s bug together’ show in Slovenia. Within 5 minutes they sent me a Phone number from a top bloke named Dika, about 30miles south of Belgrade. A couple of minutes later, I receive a text from his daughter Bojana, who’s an English teacher, saying they’re awaiting my visit.. This was a happy moment 🙂

Serbia Border

We continued exploring the city a bit more and then left to visit my new Serbian friends…


Continued in Part Two!


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