Updated: Dec 12, 2020
The next morning we’d planned to ride together and take the road that looped Lago Gral Carrera, hitting Puerto Rio Tranquilo and Puerto Guadal, then to Chile Chico for the crossing back into Argentina again.
The road was great, running through the national park of Cerro Castillo, just a superb ride.
At one of the photo stops, I noticed an oil stain on the side of my rear tire and then saw where oil had begun to leak from the right side of my final drive. A sick feeling hit me, as I’ve begun to expect something to happen to the bike every time I swing a leg over it. Unreasonable, yet unstoppable, as I’ve had more than enough issues and the final drive on BMW’s have a history of failures, especially on bikes past 60,000 miles. Luckily it was from the right side seal and not the left, so it meant the drive bearing might not be failing...
My excitement from the last few days nearing the region of my final destination, Ushuaia, was short lived and I resigned myself to another bike failure. I told Charlie I had to turn for Puerto Ibañez and the shorter ferry to Chile Chico since I couldn't chance a final drive failure somewhere on the long, remote gravel roads south of the lake.
My mind was elsewhere on the oil leak and "what if's" the rest of the way to Puerto Ibañez where the winds had become extreme. Making turns in the town weren’t easy with the howling gusts. Passing the police checkpoint showed the flags shredded and almost stiff from the wind, an indicator of the climate. Gingerly parking at the ferry building, the view of the ferry was a nice sight and it sat stable in the heavy wind. Inside the shelter of the office, we were told we could get on a standby list for the 8 pm ferry as it was full that day. We did, and then had to wait 7 hours in the tiny community.
Almost big enough for me and the bike to fit!
Finding some lunch killed a little time at the local cafe and then the rest of it was spent watching the waves and listening to the howling wind and creaking roof of the waiting area until around 7, when the vehicles began arriving. Charlie was nervous we wouldn’t make the boat but I felt confident that they could squeeze a couple of bikes into such a large vessel. We stood outside the office and the security guard waved us up to get a numbered ticket, a good sign. In a few, we were inside and the smiling agent accepted our credit cards and rewarded us with tickets for the ferry. It was costly for the two hour ride, almost $10 US for a bike and rider :D
After loading onto the ship, we headed up to the top deck to enjoy the ride across as the light faded, the blasting winds making it chilly as the sun set. I met a German photographer using a double camera system to shoot stereo images of his travels to be viewed on 3D television. We had a good chat about his backpacking around the region, and despite my efforts to joke, he responded with just a stare.
The trip was spent on the top deck, enjoying the serene scenes and cold winds. The sun came and went as did different clouds and spats of rain. Very relaxing and enjoyable to not have to think and focus.
At about 10:30 that evening we arrived and pulled off, agreeing that was the best $10 ferry ride in existence and looking for a hostel that Kevin Chow had texted Charlie he was in. We found it and got into a shared room, meeting Kevin afterward. He was on his way back north after making Ushuaia and it was good to meet him in person and exchange information. Always good to meet other moto travelers and share the love.
The next morning Kevin left a bit before us, after we shot some photos and exchanged stickers.
After packing for the road and the Argentinian border, I looked at the leakage which had only left a couple of splatters on my tire and rim though it was only a short ride the day before. Today would give me a real idea and test of the leak since we had to make the border, then to Gobernador Gregores about 300 miles south.
Make or break, but I was sick of worrying about issues on the road. So close and yet so far. We gassed up and I found a quart of GL-5 rated 80-90W to carry with me. I had what I needed on the bike to service the final drive several times if necessary, and figured if the leak was bad at least I could pull the wheel, drain and refill on the roadside if need be.
Hank had messaged me and confirmed the final drive bearing was probably okay and the oil may have burped through the right side seal, though somewhat unlikely since there was a separate burp valve on the drive. I could do little but watch it and we headed for the Chilean exit station, taking only a few minutes for the process and a discussion with the guard for a while. Into Argentina, it was only a few kilometers before the entry station appeared, professional and easy though I always get nervous. At the inspection point before we could leave, I awaited the moment to show proof of Argentinian insurance, ready to whip it out with the sound of a Ninja swoosh, but they didn't even ask :(
After leaving Perito Moreno and turning south, the vistas of the incredible wide landscape were taken in. It reminded me very much of Wyoming, vast rolling plains, hills and plateaus with distant mountain peaks, buffeted by winds and following big sweeper curves as I tried to stay around 60 mph, hoping to keep internal pressures in the final drive a bit lower, even if only imagined.
The massive landscapes were occasionally dotted with flightless rheas, a surprise frankly and the occasional herds of guanaco, sometimes on the road and sometimes distant. They are skittish like deer, an engine drop in rpm triggering a run as they gracefully clear the fences on the roadside.
The only gas available south of Perito Moreno is in Bajo Caracoles, and if they’re empty, there is none until Gobernador Gregores. My big GSA tanker had no problems, but Charlie had to top off in Bajo. The pumps were old and coated in stickers from countless travelers. The place is a gold mine for the somewhat unfriendly owner, who takes his time coming to pump gas for the line of overlander vehicles and rental RV’s, manned by tourists and travelers. There was significantly more oil drips and splatters on my rear wheel and tire, but I had no way to really gauge how much of the limited amount of oil in the drive had seeped out.
As we headed for Gobernador, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, at one point beginning to feel more vibration than normal and then whiffs of a metallic burning smell. My heart sank as that would indicate metal failure and a burning drive. I pulled over in a spot with a decent section off the road and couldn't see any obvious failure. Charlie pulled in behind me and ran up, saying he had smelled a metal-on-metal burning smell. I put my hand on the final drive and it was warm but not burning hot nor could I smell anything out of the ordinary.
I ran back to his bike to compare how the final drive felt and was relieved to feel the same temperature as mine. Neither of us could explain the smell and the head game was getting old.
For the last 30 miles I went as fast as reasonable to make Gobernador Gregores. Reaching the town I immediately filled with gas, a habit I have gotten into in order to assure I have a full tank in the morning just in case...
A great hostel was found and it felt like home. I was too tired to deal with doing anything to the bike and waited for morning.
With the design of the final drive on my particular year, there is no way to check fill level other than to remove the rear wheel and drain the entire unit, then refill with the proper amount. BMW has had a couple of quantities of oil specced, originally 230cc’s then reduced to 180cc after blowing seals from the volume. Hank specs 160cc and advised me to do the same. Having had the final drive fluid just changed before leaving Osorno, and seeing the mechanic filling a graduated container carefully, I’d assume it was the proper amount but what spec? Who knows, but the timing of the oil leak so close to a service seemed like a possibility of overfill and a blow out.
I calibrated a plastic soda bottle with my 60cc syringe and marked 60, 120 and 180 cc's with a sharpie to get an idea of how much had leaked in the previous day’s 285 mile stretch. I’d put the bike on the center stand and checked for wheel play or grunchy sounds or roughness, but felt or heard nothing, so that was a good sign. Upon draining the rear, I was surprised to find about 190-200cc’s of oil, despite the leaks and drips. It was more than a relief. It seemed likely it had been overfilled, maybe to 230cc's since I'd definitely lost oil. If so the burp valve hadn’t worked and instead it had burped out the right seal instead. Either way, it hadn’t damaged the bearing and I could easily make 300 miles a day if it continued at this rate. Wow was I relieved.
I refilled and used new crush washers, then removed the seal cap and looked for any obvious damage before cleaning the hell out of it and wiping any oil off the drive, rim and tire. Any new leaks would be easy to spot.
The relief was huge. The last thing I needed was a final drive failure in the desolate stretches of Patagonia and my nerves were raw. Who knows why it happened, maybe just the age of the seal and preparing to fail, maybe just a piece of grit that managed to work it's way into the seal rim, or as mentioned possibly overfilled at the shop. I have no idea.
I spent a couple more hours on the bike, dealing with details, Locktite-ing a few pesky bolts, swapping in yet another parking lamp that had burned out, as well as an H7 headlamp for the burnt out high beam after staring at the warning for weeks. My Clearwater LED flood lights had not worked since Peru and I suspected the dimming switch design. I swapped in my second spare air filter after the sand storms of Peru and took care of a few more details forgotten on tired evenings, going over the bike once again to look for loose bolts.
Later that evening, I heard a bike arrive, and soon met the rider, Tom from Canada. He was on a new Africa Twin and had made the trip from Canada south, connecting with a MotoAventura tour group in Osorno to make the last section to Ushuaia so he wouldn’t be solo in the heavy winds and gravel. He was now heading back north to ship back from Santiago.
That night at a fantastic parilla, I asked him his opinion on the Honda Africa Twin and he was generally happy with it, saying it was easier in the gravel than his previous Suzuki V-Strom but not as adept on the tarmac. He’d only had one semi-major issue, when on the muddy gravel roads a rock had wedged between the front tire and fender momentarily and locked up the front wheel, then shattered the fender, breaking the wheel loose again just before taking him down. His initial thought was he could just toss the broken fender until he realized it held the brake lines and there was no option. The chase truck helped him duct tape and wire the fender back together so he could continue until Punta Arenas where a local mechanic fiberglassed it solid enough to ride home. He said he did not have the aftermarket fender riser but would be getting one. The only other issue he’d had was running any oil weight other than 10w-30 that made the bike hard to shift and oil consumption went up significantly. Finding 10W-30 wasn’t too easy apparently.