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



  1. With all the stated issues you've commented on would you still prefer a KTM over say a Kawasaki Verseys, Suzuki V-strom,Yamaha Tendre. I noticed that there were just 3 KTM dealers in the whole of the Philippines, that's pretty sad. I could see possibility owning one if there was a dealership in each provience captial.

    1. I added another post that hopefully answers your questions. I hope it helps.