It's An Adventure... Right?
Updated: Dec 13, 2020
The bike had left a good size oil puddle in the dining room of the hotel the first night, but afterwards didn't leak another drop. Miracles happen, but I wasn't dumb enough to think the oil seal had healed itself. The search for a solution to a very big dilemma began.
Michnus told me Kevin Chow, a friend and fellow adventurer on a BMW similar to mine, had had a main seal failure in Quito a few weeks earlier. A local shop there, MotoHell, had done a great job working with him on replacing it. Michele, the partner in the shop, had located a seal for him in Colombia and he had to wait about a week and half, mainly due to a shipper's strike in Colombia, but got the moto repaired and on the road in a couple of weeks.
Michnus connected me with Michele at MotoHell in Quito, and she began looking for parts while I began searching for any BMW dealers in case they had parts and abilities to repair the big 1200. I was happy to have MotoHell tackle the job, but the problem lay in the fact that Quito was about a 10 hour ride north, and I had no idea which seal it might be. The clutch plate could easily become oil soaked, and though it was thankfully not slipping from my hour long ride back to Cuenca, at any moment it could worsen and ruin the clutch unit as well. If I could be lucky enough to keep the repairs to just a seal, getting parts shipped from the US would be far easier than an entire clutch unit.
Frankly, I had no desire to go back to Quito if at all possible. It being a weekend, I sent an email to a BMW dealer in Guayaquil, a city a few hours away, though there would be no response for a couple of days. MotoHell had also recommended Morejon Motos in Cuenca, as a possible local shop that might could help. It turned out Morejon Motos was also the shop Michnus & Elsebie were going to for replacement chains and sprockets for the Suzuki DR650's.
Monday would hopefully bring some solution, when Morejon opened and I could get a chance to speak with them about repairs, and possibly the BMW dealer in Guayaquil would answer my email.
In the meantime, I swallowed down the bitter pill of what lay ahead - finding a mechanic, total disassembly of the bike, waiting for parts from somewhere, the loss of a month and the resulting financial hit from hotels and repairs, not to mention my schedule for reaching Ushuaia in prime good weather season. I was now very glad I hadn't blown a couple grand visiting the Galapagos Islands, as much as I hated missing the opportuniy.
An internal oil seal leak on any bike is an issue, however on a BMW it is much more serious. Due to their traditional engine design, the engine has to be split, entailing massive dismemberment of most of the motorcycle which is far more complex than some other motorcycle designs. Outside the US and Europe, parts and dealers are very limited.
The other problems associated with splitting and disassembling a moto as complex as the BMW are the sheer number of electronic connections, which can get finicky when the connectors are separated, not to mention miniscule vacuum leaks, poorly torqued bolts and a thousand other things that can happen, not to mention previous to entering much more desolate terrain in Bolivia and Patagonia. If the bike couldn't be set right, it would have to be shipped home, ending the trip. My thoughts were going crazy and never left my head.
I'm glad Michnus and Elsebie were there and hanging out with them was a lot of fun. We wandered and shot photos, ate both good and not-so-good food, and had some fun over the weekend.
Michnus and Elsebie
Monday rolled around and we rode from our hotel to Morejon Motos, pulling in and assessing the place. The shop was busy, with a few KTM's in for repair, as well as a couple of BMW's parked around. There was also a good selection of tires and moto gear in the shop. It looked promising that they at least had experience with motorcycles of European background and I felt some measure of relief. It was better than the dirt floored garages I'd seen that worked on the little motorcycles and scooters at least.
In the repair area, I saw a familiar looking BMW R1150GS in pieces and wearing some serious damage. Shortly after, Griffin rode in on his DR650, followed by Carson on foot. The R1150GS belonged to Carson. Griffin and Carson were two riders who'd been in Cartagena the day we'd arrived on the Stahlratte. They'd taken a different sailboat to Colombia, but had found insurance somehow and gotten on the road quickly. In Medellin, at the BMW shop, I'd bumped into Carson again, who was looking for some parts for the 1150. It was a surprise to see them again.
Carson told me the crash story behind his damaged 1150. He'd missed a curve on the way in to Cuenca, flipping the bike and knocking himself out cold. He came within a quarter inch of losing his eye from a helmet chin guard breaking and piercing his face right next to his eye. At any rate, he was having Cristobal, the owner of Morejon help him with repairs, having trashed his engine guards, shattered the valve cover into pieces and shearing the cover bolts, breaking the bolt hole castings in the head in the process. The bike was in bad shape but even in such condition he was told it could be sold for $2000 locally and illegally, and if repaired, $10,000. He was intrigued by the idea and considered pocketing 2 grand and buying an inexpensive motorcycle locally to continue his trek for Ushuaia.
When Cristobal had time to look at my bike, he said he could do it in a few days if I could start finding the seals. Question was, which seal, as there are two at the rear of the engine - the rear main seal and a countershaft seal - and only disassembly would show which one. Whereas in the US, it would be simple to buy both but in South America finding one would be a challenge.
In the meantime the BMW dealer in Guayaquil had responded and said to send all my paperwork for the bike and they would decide if they could do it. Guayaquil was 4 hours away, so that seemed feasible, however he also told me there was a BMW dealer in Cuenca! It showed nowhere in Google searches. I found it from the name he'd sent and after talking with Cristobal, myself, Michnus and Elsebie took a taxi to the BMW dealer to get a feel for the shop. As it turned out, they only sold motorcycles, but had neither a service or repair shop. I was to find this common in South America.
Cristobal had a good reputation as a mechanic, from feedback from others, so I made the decision to let him tackle it rather than face either trucking or riding back to Quito. After my difficulties sleeping after getting the Yellow Fever shot there, I was a bit paranoid I might have another episode. Cuenca was a much nicer town. My only regret was that MotoHell had literally just done the job on Kevin's bike and were experienced and ready, parts availability the only hitch.
While talking to Carson at the shop, a couple rolled in on a huge Kawasaki Vulcan cruiser. They were from the Czech Republic and heading for Ushuaia. We all had fun talking about our travels and Michnus invited them, as well as Griffin & Carson, to meet us at a Belgian Brewery that evening. We'd planned to meet up with two of Michnus' friends who were Overlanding from the US in a Toyota Tacoma that evening. As it turns out, CanuckCharlie had returned from the Galapagos and was riding into Cuenca that day, where he was meeting up with Derrick, another rider from the Stahlratte, so I told them to come on as well.
While the mechanics jumped onto replacing chains and sprockets on Michnus and Elsebie's motos, Michnus noticed some oil on his rear shock base, pulling it off to overnight back to Quito where it had been rebuilt a couple of weeks earlier.
Michele at MotoHell got back to me that there was no countershaft seal anywhere in South America, one main seal located in Lima, Peru and one transmission input seal in Colombia. Parts shipments would be 15 days minimum.
I'd been on the phone to MotoHank in Texas and as bad luck would have it, the BMW dealers in San Antonio and Dallas were also out of stock. I went ahead and ordered a set from Dallas to ship when possible to MotoHank, who was familiar with shipping and customs to foreign countries. Hank had jumped on the search and contacted industrial seal houses in Cuenca, Quito and Guayaquil to see if a generic one could be found in proper size. He'd had no luck with any seals but has dealt with so many stranded travelers overseas that he wanted to handle the DHL shipping for me. I really appreciated it, even though it would be a minimum of a week and likely two or more with customs in Ecuador. Hank has busted his butt for so many travelers over the years trying to get parts or tires to them in various countries. Now, I found myself in the same situation I'd overheard so many times in his shop, on WhatsApp speakerphone calls from Africa or South America and voices asking for advice and help, followed with hours or days of often unpaid time helping collect parts and deal with shipping.
The next day I walked back to the shop, to find that Cristobal had disassembled the BMW. Despite having seen other BMW's apart, it was still shocking to see the level of disassembly done. All BMW's have to be split, and it's major surgery to do the clutch or seals, but since he wasn't a BMW mechanic there was much more taken apart than necessary. I was a bit dumbfounded and nervous that it would ever work again. There is so much interconnectivity of electronics and technology that there would be a thousand places that could cause issues. It's a big job even at a BMW dealership.
Would it ever be the same again???
The good, or bad, news is that it was a leaking main seal, one of three various seals in the engine housing. We measured the clutch plate thickness, since it is better to replace everything possible once inside. Surprisingly, the clutch was still in good condition with over two thirds thickness still left. One of the factors that had to be considered was the importation of parts from the United States into Ecuador. One of the biggest delays is when parts come through customs, it's common for them to sit for two, three, or four weeks at times, something I could not afford to do.
I had gone ahead and ordered the parts from the United States, which were out of stock but were due in. Adding a $400 clutch plate and parts to go with it would certainly cause more difficulties in customs than a small bubble-wrapped package with 2 small seals. I made a hard decision to not replace the clutch, which would mean another big expense in the future. For now, just getting the seal replaced and back on the road was my priority. I'd been in Cuenca for two weeks already and had no idea how many more might lay ahead. I wasn't sleeping well.
That evening our group collected up in pairs - the Overlanding couple whose names I've forgotten, Michnus and Elsebie, me-self, Charlie and Derrick, Carson and Griffin and then the new Czech couple. The upshot was that Michnus had mentioned how they never met more than a person or two at a time on the trip, and now there were eleven travelers meeting at one table. It was a great evening and nice to forget about the bike for a while.
A day or so later, Suzy and Kelvin, another pair of world travelers from the UK and friends of you-know-who arrived and we spent time together as well.
Michnus' rear shock had come back, a simple o-ring at the adjuster being the issue. Their bikes back together and with only a couple of days left on their Ecuadoran visa, they packed for Peru and left the next morning.
It was a great experience being able to hang out together with them and their zest for life kept me from being focused on my problem all the time.