Monday, February 9, 2015

Mexico Mazatlan to Durango - February 2015

I learned three things today.
1. Mexico does have some nice roads. We just spent the day riding one of the best roads I have ever ridden. It was spectacular. The road was recently finished in 2013 and winds its way up through the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains from Mazatlan to Durango. The road has 63 tunnels and 115 bridges crossing ravines and going through hill sides. Just about the time you reach the top you are treated to the Baluarte Bridge, which is now the highest bridge in North America at 390 meters (don't look down that's 1,280ft). It is a toll road but it seemed more like the price of admission to an amusement park ride. Now I just need to come back and make this ride on a sport bike.
2. It does snow in Mexico
3. Durango is a beautiful City





Sunday, April 1, 2012

Was the KTM the Best Bike?


Was the KTM the best bike?  That is a good question.  Yes and no, and hard to say without actually having ridden another bike on the same or similar trip.  I definitely wanted an enduro type bike, and I would still choose that type of bike without a doubt.  The roads in the Philippines are typically narrow, rough, under constant construction (which has more to do with the topography  than the quality of the roads themselves) and in the provinces, there are a lot of dirt roads.  Some of the dirt roads would have been impassible or very difficult to navigate on any type of road bike.   The quality of the roads can also change quickly due to weather conditions.  Mud slides were commonplace in the mountain provinces and a dirt road that was nicely graded on your way in could turn into a true 4X4 trail  or a clay ice-skating rink on your way out, if a heavy rain came through.  

Hauling the Bike Over a Mud Slide
When I say the roads can be rough, I mean that in every sense of the word.  Most of the roads are two lane concrete.  When these roads start to crack apart, there are huge pot holes and slabs of concrete that just drop off anywhere from a couple of inches to a foot or more.  The travel on the KTM or any other enduro bike suspension will save your back side and the bike in some cases, if you happen to go through these concrete obstacle courses unaware.  We hit more than a few, that would have ended up bad for us and the bike had we been on a street bike.

We also went through the Negros Oriental area after the earthquake and there were at least two collapsed bridges, which forced us to cross the rivers without them.   One was crossed by riding through the 18 inch deep water, after riding through about 6 inch deep very wet and slimy mud that was like riding on ice.  The other river was crossed on a Planck set up by the locals.  The small 150cc bikes got across it no problem, and we managed to get across it OK ourselves, but if we had a bigger bike, I doubt we could have made it.   There were many other instances that we came across that would have been ugly on a street bike, and trying to load a large heavy street bike onto a Bianca boat would also have been difficult if not impossible in some instances.  
Bike Loaded on Bianca Boat (Bohol to Leyte)
I looked at a Tenere, and I almost bought it as I think it would be a good bike for this kind of trip.  However, it was quite a bit older, and I was concerned about the age and that it was also air-cooled.   An older air cooled  bike is OK when you're moving but when you get into some of these towns and smaller cities, you will not be moving that much and even the water-cooled  KTM got pretty hot sometimes.  These are tropical conditions, and every bike will be running hotter than normal compared to the US or Europe.  Another reason I chose not to go with the Tenere was the handling and suspension.  There is no doubt it could have carried the load, and had the travel to absorb the 12 inch deep pot holes you come across, but because it was an older bike, it was heavy and did not handle all that well, which you would expect on just about every aged bike.   I would have been pretty worn out riding this bike any long distance.

As far as the dealers being an issue, even though there are many Kawasaki, Yamaha and Honda dealers here in the Philippines, they do not sell big bikes, they do not know how to work on big bikes, they don't sell any parts for big bikes and I don't think they can even order the big bike parts since they don't import the bikes.   So regardless of how many of these dealers there are, it is equivalent to really having none if you have a big bike.  I believe there are a couple of dealers in Manila that sell a few of the Japanese big bikes, but the only ones I saw were street bikes and outside of Manila or Cebu, I never saw any dealers that had any big bikes.  You will have to order or get the parts yourself and do all the work yourself on the Japanese big bikes.

The advantage with the KTM was that, even though there are only three dealers (The one in Davao is new since I bought the bike) You can call them and have a part sent to you were ever you may be, if they have it in stock.  I had to do this once when we were in Bohol, and the part got there about three days after I called them.  However, I was lucky they had the part in stock.  They do carry some stock but I don't think it is a large inventory.

The other thing I liked about the KTM was that, it really is a joy to ride.  It handles wonderfully, and it is about as close as you are going to get to street bike handling on an enduro type bike.  Not only does it handle well on the street, but it does a pretty excellent job in the dirt, and if you really want it to do well in the dirt, a decent set of knobby tires is all you would need.  The bike is a little heavy to be called a true dirt bike, but unless you plan on competing in super-cross, I don't think anyone would have any complaints.  The other thing about the KTM and the part that made it truly enjoyable to ride, was the power.  This bike is a beast, and I believe it is the most powerful big bore single on the market.  It is an exhilarating bike to ride, without a doubt.

That being said, I still think the KLR 650 would have been the better bike.  It comes close to the KTM in all respects, and it has been around since the 80s basically unchanged other than the suspension and a few other things.  I think it would have been a more reliable bike, and parts availability is not a problem since they have been making this same bike for years.  You would most likely have to order parts from overseas, but I am sure you could find them in stock and would only have to wait for them to be shipped.  And, you do not need a Diagnostics tool so you can do all the work yourself.  Unfortunately, I could not find one that had legitimate papers, and I did not have the time nor inclination to import one myself.   

You do see a fair amount of big street bikes here in the Philippines, but you are limited in where you can go and really enjoy them.   There are a few places where you could truly have a fun time on a street bike especially going up to Baguio.  I do think I will end up getting a big street bike here just to take out for the occasional joy ride, but for touring around the Philippines I don't think any type of street bike would be a good choice.  

The Bike - 2008 KTM 690 Enduro



The modifications to the bike included the addition of a custom fabricated rack mounted at the rear grab handle locations and was designed to mount a "Givi" box. The 12.0 liter fuel tank is located on the rear of the bike. The fuel tank also acts as the rear sub-frame for the bike along with the grab handle mounting and the frame is molded into the fuel tank. It appears extremely strong compared to previous KTM sub-frames. However, if you damage this internal frame, the entire fuel tank will need to be replaced, so I tried not to over load it.

I also geared the bike down by reducing the front sprocket by one tooth. The average speeds on the roads in the Philippines are low and combined with the traffic, narrow roads, and many dirt roads, gearing the bike down was a huge improvement over the stock gearing. This made getting around in traffic and around busses and trucks much easier. You will rarely get the bike into 6th gear except on the expressways or on some of the better straight highways in the provinces, even with the down gearing.

I also, disconnected the power restriction on 2nd & 3rd gear. ( Mono Maniacs ) This is very easy to do, but you might have a problem passing emission requirements. However, emissions are not a problem in the Philippines, all you need to do is spend 5 minutes behind a jeepney to figure that one out. After removing the power restriction, there was a noticeable improvement in power and gave that extra little bit of punch when you needed it at lower speeds.

Other luggage we carried was a dry bag strapped on top of the "Givi" Box and a little tank bag where I could view the HTC/Phone-GPS when riding and, which carried the tool kit, along with a few other things. We also had a small back pack with a water-proof cover for carrying our camera gear. We traveled light and stayed in whatever accommodation we could find.

There are accessories available for the 690, that include a 2nd 14.2L fuel tank on the front of the bike which will increase your fuel capacity to a whopping 26 Liters. There are also up to 41 liter aluminum side cases available along with a rear luggage rack that is similar to the custom one I had built. With the side cases and "Givi" box along with the extra fuel tank, I believe this bike can be a true adventurer.

The extra fuel tank would have been a nice addition for our ride, but I could not find it for sale in the Philippines and would have had to order it from overseas. There are usually plenty of fuel stations present in most areas and lacking any fuel stations there is always fuel attainable on the side of the road being sold in liter bottles. However, with this being a fuel injected engine, any contaminated and poor-quality fuel could be a big problem, especially since the fuel filter is located in the tank, which is not easy to get to.

In some areas even the fuel being sold by the side of the road could be scarce. This was especially true in Palawan, Samar and in the Mountain provinces of Luzon. With the extra fuel tank, there is literally no place you couldn't go in the Philippines on this bike. It would have also eased my mind when running on reserve hoping to find a fuel station. Fortunately, I found a fuel station most times and only had to purchase fuel in the liter bottles a couple of times.

My biggest complaint other than the fuel injection stalling issue was not being able to purchase the diagnostics' tool. You can play with the adjustments manually without knowing whether or not you are making the correct adjustments. This at least gets you up and running or temporarily fixes an issue you are having, but to do it properly you need the diagnostics' tool.

Specifications:
Year:2008
Model: KTM 690 Enduro
Category: Enduro / offroad
Displacement:654.00 ccm (39.91 cubic inches)
Engine type: Single cylinder, four-stroke
Fuel system: Carburetor. Keihin THB 46
Fuel control: OHC
Ignition: Keihin
Lubrication system: Semi-dry-sump lubrication with 2 Eaton pumps
Cooling system: Liquid
Gearbox: 6-speed
Transmission type, final drive: Chain
Clutch: APTC Wet multi-disc clutch, operated hydraulically
Exhaust system: 2-cell stainless

Chassis, Suspension, Brakes and Wheels:

Frame type: Tubular trellis steel frame (CrMo)
Front suspension: WP USD, 48 mm
Front suspension travel:250 mm (9.8 inches)
Rear suspension: WP monoshock
Rear suspension travel:250 mm (9.8 inches)
Front tire dimensions:90/90-21
Rear tire dimensions:140/80-18
Front brakes: Single disc
Rear brakes: Single disc

Physical Measures and Capacities:

Dry weight:138.5 kg (305.3 pounds)
Seat height:910 mm (35.8 inches) If adjustable, lowest setting.
Ground clearance:300 mm (11.8 inches)
Wheelbase: 1,498 mm (59.0 inches)
Fuel capacity:12.00 liters (3.17 gallons)
Starter: Electric

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Friday, March 30, 2012

The Art of Philippine Motorcycle Maintenance



After we left 100 islands we went up to San Fabian near La Union to visit some of my wife's family and then headed back to Manila going through Tarlac using the expressway to Manila.  I needed to submit some paperwork for my Philippine residency in Manila.  It was Thanksgiving,  and I could use a few days to do some maintenance on the bike along with taking it to the dealer in hopes of sorting the Stalling issue.  The inconvenient part about having a computer-controlled  fuel injected bike is that you need a computer or diagnostic tool to sort out most problems with the fuel system.  Unfortunately, KTM does not sell a diagnostics tool to the public which pretty much leaves you at the mercy of the KTM dealer if you have fuel or other computer-related  problems.

I can somewhat understand KTM's desire to keep the technical maintenance of a computer-controlled  bike confined to their dealer network or to authorized repair centers.  However, if you're going off the beaten track on an adventure, it would be nice to have all the required tools with you.  My bike is not necessarily designed as an adventure touring machine, but you can configure it that way with accessories and KTM does sell a specific adventure touring machine here in the Philippines called the 990 Adventure, with a marketing sub title of "To the End of the World."  It has a bigger engine that is fuel injected and controlled with a CPU the same as the 690.  
The whole point of an adventure touring machine, in my opinion, is to use it as the name of the machine suggests, as an adventurer.  However, if you're going to go to the end of the world on a KTM, there better be a KTM dealer when you get there and more than a few along the way.   The marketing gurus and business types at KTM who made up their catchy slogan obviously did not talk to the maintenance or part departments.  You would have thought, if they were going to advertise a bike as being capable of reaching the end of the world, they would sell the rider the parts and tools to get there.   

I wouldn't call the Philippines the end of the world but there are 7,107 different islands in the Philippine archipelago with Manila, and Cebu being on two of them.  If you happen to be on one of the other 7, 105 islands in the Philippines, it is not very convenient or cheap, for that matter, to get your non running motorcycle back to one of the two islands capable of servicing it.    

If you own a KTM or any other big bike in the Philippines getting it serviced and getting parts is one of the most inconvenient things about that ownership.  You can solve the service issue by doing it yourself if you know how, however, with the KTM, you will still need the dealer to perform certain tasks.  For parts needed in a hurry you will most likely need to order them from overseas and pay the obscene Philippine duty on top of your shipping costs.  If you don't need them quickly you can get them shipped using a Balikbayan box, or have a friend bring them over who happens to be visiting.  I had a $20 dollar part sent over, and the duty was $22 on top of the $75 shipping.

You may be able to find some parts locally, but almost all the local motorcycle shops sell parts and service for motorcycles of less than 250cc.  For a brake lever or something common between a small  and big bike there is no problem, but anything specific, and you will have a hard time finding it.   The advantage with a KTM in the Philippines is that the dealer does have some parts in stock, usually related to consumable maintenance such as oil filters.  The KTM dealer can also order whatever other parts you may need, but depending on the part it can take up to a month to arrive.  The older carbureted bikes have an advantage over the fuel injected KTMs with regards to service since working on a carbureted bike is pretty straight forward, and you can fix the bike almost anywhere without needing a computer diagnostics' tool, but you will still have the problem with parts.    

Now for a word of caution: A Philippino will tell you they can fix anything, and to be fair I have seen some pretty impressive ingenuity.  However, under no circumstances should you hand over a big bike to a local mechanic that has no experience working on a big bike.  I had a local shop wanting to replace my rear shock with a rear shock made for a 200cc bike that was not even remotely the same type of shock.  For starters, it was about 2 inches shorter and half the diameter of the original shock, and they wanted to weld on a piece of steel to make it fit.  I could not even believe they were suggesting it.  If you don't want your bike hacked to bits, it is better to do it yourself or find someone who knows what they are doing.        

We got back to Manila a few days before Thanksgiving, which gave me enough time to do most of the maintenance required and get the bike to the dealer, so they could reset the ECU and make adjustments to the throttle sensor, and throttle body, to eliminate the stalling issue.  We had some friends and family over for Thanksgiving, cooked a turkey with all the fixings, and I picked up the bike from the dealer the day-after.        

Unfortunately, the paperwork  for my residence card here in the Philippines required us to stay around in Manila until the first part of the following week, so we had a weekend and a day or two with nothing to do.  I figured this would be an excellent weekend to take the bike on a little two-day  ride to make sure everything was working properly before we took our month-long  tour around Luzon.  After doing a little research on places to go, we decided a ride down south to Batangas, and then take a ferry over to Mindoro and ride up to Puerto Galera for a couple of days.  It sounded like a pretty decent plan.    

Big La Laguna Beach - Puerto Galera -Mindoro Island

The bike was running good after I picked it up from the dealer, and the stalling issue seemed to be eliminated along with the fuel-injection  error light that always came on when the stalling issue appeared.  We packed up for a short two-day  ride and headed down the South Luzon Expressway to Batangas.

So far, so good, things were looking positive.  But, about halfway in-between Manila and Batangas the fuel-injection  error light came on.  The bike was still running good, but I was almost certain as soon as we slowed down, or I chopped the throttle, the stalling issue would return.  I tested my assumption by chopping the throttle a few times, and sure enough the annoying gremlin was back.  So much for getting the stalling problem fixed by taking it to the dealer for the use  of their fancy KTM diagnostic's tool.

I was not actually surprised that our little stalling gremlin was back.  I did  some research into this problem on a few different web sites, and it appeared to be a common problem on many of the KTM 690 bikes.  What worried me was that all that, I had read, basically told me that if your bike had this problem, you were stuck with it, as no one seemed to have any definitive answer.  Bikes had been sent back to KTM dealers with every cause investigated and every part that could be remotely responsible replaced, all to no avail.   The problem did not make the bike unable to ride and all in all the bike was still a very enjoyable bike to ride.  However, when it did happen it was annoying, and I was a always a little pissed off about it.  But, why let a minor annoyance ruin a good ride, so we continued to Puerto Galera with me blipping the throttle every time we came to a stop, or I had to chop the throttle.   I could take the bike to the shop again when we returned.

Floating Bikini Bar - Sabang Beach - Puetro Galera - Mindoro Island
  
Tamaraw Waterfalls, Western Nautical Hwy Near Puerto Galera - Mindoro Island

Getting Ready for Town Festival - Western Nautical Hwy - Mindoro Island

 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Bola-Bola Definition


For anyone who does not know what the term Bola-Bola means, I thought I should provide a brief definition. Bola-Bola is a Philippino term that basically means bull excrement. However, if one does a little more research into the word, you will find in Tagalog, which is the official Philippino language, the term derives from Binobola mo lang ako, which implies saying untruths but in such a charming manner that what the speaker says appear to be true. It's related to "binibilog ang ulo," literally making a head round -- bola (ball) and bilog (circle) have the same shape round. It remotely recalls "drawing circles" around someone. If you look up the word bola on Dictionary.com you will discover that the origin of the word bola is Spanish and means ball. Which considering the Philippines was a Spanish colony for over 300 years it all makes sense. Or does it?

Bola-bola definition aside, the point I am trying to make is this. This blog and web site may contain Bola-Bola at times so do not hold myself or anyone else who happens to make comments accountable. However, I also believe Bola-Bola should be kept to a minimum and only be used when one has nothing else intelligent to say.

Decision Made - Moving to the Philippines

Motorcycle Touring Through the Philippines.

How does one end up riding a motorcycle through the Philippines you might ask?

Have you ever had one of those jobs where you can't seem to decide if having that job is a good thing or a bad thing? You go to work every day, and sometimes you enjoy the work, and the people you're working with, but there are things about the place you are working that you simply detest. The politics of it all and the bola-bola gets so thick that you feel like you need to wear a pair of knee-high rubber boots to wade through it. However, even with a pair of knee-high rubber boots you still can't get rid of the stench, both literally and figuratively.

Well, it just so happens that I found myself with one of these kinds of jobs. On the plus side it was a job, which is more than a lot of people have these days. I was getting paid good money. I worked with a group of pretty decent guys. The job was challenging to say the least, which is something I enjoy most of the time, and I enjoyed the job most of the time.

On the negative side, I was living in a country that did not seem to have any sort of moral compass, as my dad would have put it. Farmers would water their fruits and vegetables with toxic chemicals to increase their yield at the expense of their consumer's livers. Livestock was routinely fed steroids to provide leaner meat. Fish farms fed their stock expired birth control pills to fatten up their fish. Waste products were reused and put back into the food supply chain. Even products that were never intended to be part of the food supply chain were ground up, or broken down in such a way that they could be inconspicuously added to actual food products.

The scary part of all this food manipulation, was that there was no way to tell if you were eating tainted food products or not. There were no governmental controls, and even if there were laws on the books or an agency to enforce those laws, they were never enforced. And if they were, they could easily be circumvented especially if you had the right friends in the right places.

The only time tainted food became an issue was, for example, when half of a wedding party got ill from eating tainted meat and one of guests who got sick happened to be a member of the government or had a close friend in the government. The sick guest would call for justice and if his governmental contacts were higher than the venue owner / caterer of the wedding party, then justice would be served usually quickly and severely. In addition, the government, not wanting to miss a good public relations opportunity would use this application of justice as a perfect example, of how they were cleaning up the system.

The government officials would make speeches on the television telling everyone they were cleaning up the system and not to do these bad things, or you will be punished. What they actually meant by cleaning up the system was this. We are not going to do anything or enforce any laws, but if you get caught because you are stupid enough to sell your tainted food to government officials or friends of high-ranking government officials, and you don't have a higher government official in your pocket; your punishment will be severe.

The severity of the punishment was unquestionable. This severity was obviously the public relations portion, since it was not uncommon for the death sentence to be carried out. It always kind of reminded me of the old English kings who put their criminals (and enemies of the state) heads on a stake exactly outside of town. Who needs a functioning legal system when you can just scare the Bola-Bola out of everyone?

There were other negatives and reasons that I decided it was time to forgo my current job and ride a motorcycle around the Philippines, but I am not sure that is what this writing should be about, should it? I am purposely not naming the country as I might want and or need to go back to work there again. I don't think the citizens of a said country would want me telling personal stories and experiences about what a negative and Bola-Bola place it could be would they?

All that being said, I believe every country has its negatives. If you were to replace tainted food in the above writing with say, tainted financial products, then everyone would know I was talking about the US wouldn't they?

Well, I will leave this post where it is and see if first, anyone reads it. And second, if anyone might have any ideas on which direction, the continued writing might take? On the other hand, someone may suggest I find something else to do with my time?