Tuesday, June 19, 2007

If you're bike doesn't look like this, you didn't really enjoy Ecuador!

Technical Notes

We are on the high speed boat from Buenos Aires to Colonia, Uruguay after a harrowing day getting our bikes back from the BMW dealership, paying for some antique lighting we found for the Big House, checking out of our hotel and getting a document notarized for Citibank since someone has stolen my credit card number and has run up some tremendously unquthorized phone bills in Australia.

In other words, it is a great time to write some technical notes.

Both Clara and I now have more than 10,000 miles on our bikes. As I say, it is not just the miles, it is the Hard miles! Both bikes have performed admirably in their own ways, but at this point in the trip if I was to choose a bike for this journey it would certainly be Clara’s F650GS. It has the same distance capacity, maybe even a bit more, as she gets between 50 and 77(!) mpg. My R1200GS on the other hand gets between 40 and 55 mpg. For our German friends Tom and Christine whom we have spent much of the last week touring through Argentina with I calculated that my bike got about 19 kilometers to the liter, Clara got 26 kilometers to the liter.

I checked the oil regularly and changed it every 3,000 miles.

We just got our 15K service, some warranty work and new tires for the bikes. My bike got two new Bridgestones at the inflated BMW price of $200 dollars apiece (we checked at a local bike shop and good tires could be had for $70). New filters everywhere, a nice bath, and the reason we bought BM’s as they are known to the brethren, excellent warranty work. The roads of Bolivia were unforgiving. My rear shock was completely gone. If there is a Guinness World Record for 1000 miles of pogoing across the Pampas of Argentina, I hold it. My rear mudguard sheared a bolt and fell off somewhere on the “highway” between La Paz and Uyuni, unbeknownst to me. After some help from BMW Northamerica all of these items were taken care of, in the time that they said, and with a welcome Argentine Smile. My air filter was full of sand apparently, and my rear tire had sustained a flat due to the Big thorns stuck in the road by the farmers in Peru. That hole had to be plugged three times on my journey to Argentina’s capital. They also put a new rear taillight in, which has taken the warning light off my instrument cluster, but I fear not for long. I don’t think they did the real analysis or computer modification necessary for the correct current, voltage, or bit which has infiltrated my electronic innards. We will see, but I’ve gotten used to the warning light on the dash after 8??? miles of staring at it.

Other than that my bike is fine. It is definitely big and heavy on the dirt road riding, which isn’t helped by the panniers and backpack I’m carrying. The bike is solid, smooth, and comfortable. It appears to be burning a slight bit of oil, but with the few thrills and spills I’ve had, it maybe a bit hard to tell for sure.

Clara’s bike needs a bit more attention and care, but is well worth it of course. We met 2 other Germans who have been around Europe, Asia and now South America who have about 60,000 miles on their two GS’s, and one is just now needing some more serious engine work. The single cylinder GS does vibrate a bit more and hence requires closer scrutiny when cleaning, checking and lubricating. Near the end of the road in Bolivia, I get out my hex head sockets and checked virtually every bolt on the bike and more than 80 percent needed a well deserved quarter turn, if not more.

Along the way, we lost the left side rear subframe bolt twice. Once in Guatemala, and a second time in Bolivia despite loctite. This time I added loctite and a split washer. The left rear turn signal nearly vibrated off at one point which discovered during a routine cleaning and fixed. The right front fork seal couldn’t quite survive an unseen ditch on the “highway” in Bolivia with me, two tankbags and the backpack along for ballast. The front tire also didn’t quite survive that road between La Paz and Uyuni and suffered an innertube puncture. The rear mudguard suffered some friction damage, whether cumulative or a one time incident we’re not sure. Of course there was also the well documented Miraflores, Nicaragua disaster which lost the pannier mounting bolt and needed to be welded: the new joint is holding up like a true champion. But, despite these things and the few thrills from the spills that have been nicely absorbed by the touratech panniers and the Acerbis hand guards, the bike is quite impressive.

Clara has no problem keeping up with me as we have cruised along usually between 60 and 70 mph on the real highways, but occasionally giving 80 a try. In fact she enjoys going fast, sometimes too much for my comfort! It handles the curves wonderfully, doesn’t burn a drop of oil, the chain and tires don’t wear much, and it looks great.

She has now added an Argentinian addition, cloth L shaped hand sleeves, which keep the hands protected from the wind, rain, snow or whatever the road and weather sends at you. They are like big mitts and you stick your hands in, not to be seen for the duration of your ride. She gives them a big thumbs up, although we only know by word of her beautiful mouth since we can’t see her fingers, thumbs or hands!

We have run 20W50 oil in the bikes. We have altered the air pressure in the wheels depending on road conditions from a low of about 22/24 in the dirt, sand and mud to a high of about 36/38 on long distance high speed roads. I have my suspension set on the hard side with high compression damping, and hard rebound. I have Clara’s a bit softer as she is not carrying as much weight, but she doesn’t seem to notice the differences much, although in the slippery, rocky stuff she appreciates putting the settings to soft.


Gas has been different in every country. It has been from a low of 84 octane to up to 100 octane. Most of it appears to be leaded, and many places such as Brazil don’t even know what octane is. It was from a low of $1.50 a gallon in Ecuador to almost $5 a gallon here in Brazil. Brazil sells “gasoline common”, alchohol, and diesel. The alchohol is a mix of gasoline and alchohol from sugar plants. We ran the 84 octane in Ecuador and it knocked a bit, and definitely was down on performance but they ran ok.

I'm finishing this up in Brazil and my annoying rear light warning indicator is on again. And I've discoverd oil or grease at the back of my engine. Could be the old shock...I've cleaned it and am keeping an eye on it.

Things I've been warned about with the R1200GS. Two Canadians both had their solenoid switches go bad on them. The rear drive shaft needs to be drained and maintained at about 25,000 miles, it is not good for a lifetime. A Swiss guy in Bolivia on an Africa Twin told stories of having to replace the ignition module on a couple of friends GS's in Europe. They are supposedly sealed units that can fail when rain and water get inside. The procedure is hell, involving removing the front forks, drilling out non-removable bolts, etc. Apparently there is some sort of radio signal from the ignition to the bike which must communicate for the bike to run. My 1960 R60 is sounding better all the time...just follow the leads and check for positive grounding.