What's your long trip, mechanical horror stories? Are they avoidable?

Discussion in 'Trip Planning' started by aaarrm, Jul 1, 2020.

  1. aaarrm

    aaarrm n00b

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    Hey,

    I haven't gone on a big epic adventure / trip yet, but I like following people's for the time being. I'm currently going through the motoventuring videos of the girls from alaska to the tip of South America. One thing I've noticed is a lot of shit tends to go wrong. Flat tires, cracked subframes, engine failures, etc etc. I feel like any one of these things could have been an 'oh shit', trip-ending problem.

    I'm kind of curious if this is standard and expected for big adventures, or if you can plan appropriately to keep things solid. I'd like to hear your thoughts on whether the 'oh shit something important broke' experience is indeed part of big trips or if isn't necessarily always going to happen. And I also want to hear your horror stories of mechanical failures and such that happened on your trips and how you solved them! (if you did).

    One fear I have for these big trips is what if your bike just completely gets ruined while in some remote land in an odd country. How do you get out or get back home?
    #1
  2. baldman1

    baldman1 Long timer

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    Trip from California to South America and back in 2015. On the way back up blew the piston on my XR650L in Belize. Left the bike in Belize, flew home to California. I flew down a couple of times with parts, repaired the engine and finally finished the trip in 2017.
    I don't dwell on the what if's if you do you'll never leave the house. Prepare as best you can and go for it. Shits going to happen but I've always managed to solve the issue and keep going. There are lot of very helpful and friendly people out there and have relied on them for help when needed. These strangers have always come thru, storing the bike loaning me a car, putting me up, finding parts, ect..
    #2
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  3. tlub

    tlub Long timer Supporter

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    July 1978, R75/5. On a trip from Riverside CA to the Midwest and back, my gearshift got too easy in Denver on the way back.Took it to the local dealer, they diagnosed and fixed a broken internal spring. Same bike, May 2018, on a trip from Wisconsin to Eureka, CA it seemed to maybe lose a little bit of power in Iowa on the way out. I had wanted to do a top end before I left. as oil consumption was a bit high, and had a used R80 top end ready, but family matters interfered (funeral) and I didn't. After the 'maybe' loss of power, the oil consumption definitely improved, from 1 qt every 800 miles to 1 qt every 2000. Hmm. I rode it there and back, 5500 miles then tore it down. compression was 115 right, 145 left. The right top compression ring was in two pieces. So I had less power but better sealing on the oil control ring, presumably. I rode a bike with a broken ring to CA and back.
    Aftermarket electronic ignition failures (Dyna II and III) on the same bike, re-installed points to get home.
    Worn generator brushes on an R69S, but it ran on the magneto, without lights, at daytime, to get home 3 days later.
    That's all I have in about 400,000 cumulative miles. That's why I like Airheads. Even when they break they pretty much get you home.
    #3
  4. aaarrm

    aaarrm n00b

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    I'm younger and something I never really considered is how different things were back in the day. If I plan a road trip now, I have my cell phone with infinite conveniences on it. I can look up info about the city I'm in, I can look up hotels, where they are, their pricing. I can order ubers to get around if I was stuck bike-less for a bit. I feel like I literally can't imagine what it was like to plan a trip back in the day. Did y'all even really "plan" or do you just kind of say 'fuck it' go for it? I wonder if it was easier to plan trips back then since you didn't have to worry about all the planning you COULD be doing. As opposed to today, I CAN plan everything ahead, so I feel obligated to.
    #4
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  5. ADV Wanderer

    ADV Wanderer Been here awhile

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    You used paper maps and estimated your travel time (no traffic or road closure info available).
    If you got lost, you backtracked the way you came, or tried navigating by the sun (you can figure out east/west north/south, etc). Hmm, I know I am north of the freeway, and it runs east/west, so I'll head south until I hit it.
    You stopped at the local diner or road house as the opportunity arose. Lots of truckers and cops parked in the lot? Best place for food!
    If you broke down you either figured out how to fix it, or fix it enough to get to the next gas station, or walked to the nearest payphone, or asked a passing motorist to call you a tow at the next town, or hitched a ride, or walked to a farmhouse, got invited to sleep in the barn, and then be joined later that night by the farmer's hot daughter. :crash

    People were more open to strangers (less suspicion of people in general and it was more normal to ask for directions), and local mom&pop businesses / corner stores / mechanics were more prevalent.
    #5
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  6. tlub

    tlub Long timer Supporter

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    You know, it has changed. :1drink
    As late as 2013, when my son and I took our first long trip, from Madison to Quebec City and back (he on my R69S, me on the R75/5), I planned it first with paper maps, then online, and asked here on the forums. So a mixture. But our primary routing was a paper map or route sketch in the tank bag window. (My son and I still currently use a schematic in the tank bag window as our primary. It's easy to see and reduces clutter.) I reserved a motel in Manistique, MI, a KOA in Parry Sound, and a hotel in Q City, for 3 nights. Our trip back was not planned. My son had an iPhone; I had a flip. It turned out I was continually asking him for information. He found the place to stay in Mattawa (Le Voyaguer, highly recommended), and made reservations in MI on the way back. It was my last old school trip. On the 2018 trip, we planned it on the fly, using our smart phones.
    They both work. There were a few times in the old days where lodging was less than we wanted, but paper maps work very well. And being flexible helps a lot. The strategy of 'head south till you find the freeway' worked well, too. I stopped at local restaurants, and asked "where would a person go if they just wanted to throw a sleeping bag down for free?". That worked well, too.
    You kept track of towns, miles, and gas. I still do. Once, in the middle of Kansas, when putting the bike on reserve, I accidentally hit the choke to half way- it's next to the left petcock on an old airhead. I ran empty in about 6 miles, not 25 miles like I planned. As I coasted to a stop, a Winnebago stopped behind me. The driver got out, asked what was happening, and he gave me a gallon he had for his generator. I and my GF never even got off the bike. He refused payment and told me to pay it forward. This was on the same trip as the transmission going the next day in Denver.
    #6
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  7. wellcraft

    wellcraft Been here awhile

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    Good maintenance practices will avoid most but not all mechanical breakdowns and it pays to know your bike so if the engine suddenly sounds different that may be a red flag something bad is going on. Flat tires are just something that is unavoidable so carry a small air pump and tire repair kit to at least get you off the side of the road. When I plan a long distance trip my plans are detailed as much as possible so I know exactly how many miles I plan to ride each day, I know points of interest along my route, I plan where to eat and where to sleep. By planning my trip down to the last detail helps mitigate any hiccups or surprises along the way and makes my trip more fun and enjoyable. It also pays to have a "what if" backup plan. How will you get home if you experience a major engine or component failure, where's the closest dealership that can service your bike, purchase roadside assistance to avoid being stranded, carry a small tool kit for minor repairs. Prior planning will go a long way towards eliminating any worries and as a result you can ride with confidence that you have most bases covered.
    #7
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  8. Mark Manley

    Mark Manley Long timer

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    I think overloading and aggressive riding are two of the most common causes of mechanical breakdown, many people take too much stuff a lot of which they will never use or can make do without all of which puts a lot more stress on the frame and suspension components, most bikes should be able to do an Alaska to TDF trip without too much problem. The other cause is people having too little time or being in too much of a hurry and trying to ride a heavily laden bike at the same speeds they would when out for an afternoon trail riding, not only is there the increased risk of an accident possibly in a country where medical facilities and not what you would want but the increased wear and tear on components can lead to more failures. On a trip down to Baja from the US I was overtaken by many bikes travelling at 70-80 mph and probably met a dozen who had pinch punctures after hitting potholes.
    #8
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  9. 9Realms

    9Realms Drawn in by the complex plot

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    One thing that can be quite handy to have along to possibly fix your bike, a ripped jacket or tape something over a wound or make a splint is some narrow duck (duct) tape.
    A couple sources (ebay, etc.) sell it packed in little Mil-spec waterproof bags, rolled narrow on smaller rolls, or some people re-roll their own onto a pencil.

    I have used it in a pinch to fix a busted helmet face shield so that I could complete a trip.

    450 duck tape.jpg
    #9
  10. Cal

    Cal Long timer

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    No real trip stoppers for me riding in 43 countries. I had a Suzuki Bandit 1200 in Croatia and dropped it in a coastal camp ground and right where it fell was a rock that broke the shifter tip off. I walked around the camp ground asking about repair shops but it was a long weekend and every thing was closed. I saw a plumbing truck with Slovenia plates and asked if he had a drill and some bolts, why yes he did the truck was completely stocked for work! He did all the work and would not let me help, when he was done the shifter looked new , he even had the right size bolt so that the rubber tip cover would fit back on. All this was done using hand signals because he spoke no English or Spanish. We then sat and had a beer which he provided. Remember you are riding where other people live.
    #10
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  11. Yinzer Moto

    Yinzer Moto Sloppy 300 rider Supporter

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    I have not had any trip stopping mechanicals, personally. My buddy did this to his piston. He rented a Uhaul and drove home.

    B2CEBF27-384C-495C-920B-CE7529BFC8EA.jpeg


    This was my biggest and most unexpected breakdown, it cost me a couple days.

    CF65FFE6-64A7-4CB5-B140-F8800A7E24F0.jpeg


    A633D440-E2F0-4005-9D8A-85AC4E4C9601.jpeg



    Through the years, I have probably had 100 flat tires, a few broken chains, many holes punched though motor cases, quite a few burnt out wheel bearings, broken sub frames, burnt up clutches, etc. The best way to prevent a mechanical failure from ruining your trip is to know how to work on your bike.
    #11
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  12. Yinzer Moto

    Yinzer Moto Sloppy 300 rider Supporter

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    More to your exact question. As of recently, I have adopted the mentality that if my bike completely blows up in a bad place, I will just leave it, give it to a local, etc. I’ll buy a new bike and continue. I will pull any accessories off that I may want to keep. Put them on the new bike.

    This thought process has me riding a fairly universal small dual sport with throw over bags. I can jump on any 150cc-250cc bike and keep going. This also keeps me on a bike that has fairly universal tire sizes.
    #12
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  13. shu

    shu ...

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    Keep in mind that generally when you enter another country you have to register both yourself (passport) and your bike (registration). You generally are allowed to enter the country with the proviso that you will be taking the vehicle out of the country within a certain amount of time. This is to prevent you from taking advantage of their currency or avoiding their import taxes, which can be very high.

    We were headed for Mongolia, having crossed Europe, through Greece, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and entered Uzbekistan .......
    [​IMG]
    After a brief stop on the side of the road (110*F) we started the bikes back up to roll on. The BMW F650 (the middle bike in this pic) caught on fire and we poured the rest of our water down behind the smoking fairing to put it out.
    [​IMG]


    The wiring harness had shorted out on the bottom of the seat and burned itself into an unrecognizable mess!... ...
    [​IMG]
    We hired a cab in a local hamlet to lead us to the next big town with a hotel, and I towed the BMW 40 miles with my DR650.

    In town, we searched for suitable wire, a soldering iron, and a couple of other tools to try to repair it. Nothing. We had the local electrical guy come out and look at it, no dice, he didn't even want to try.

    There were 3 of us. After a while the other guy and I decided to go on, changing our plan and heading north for Russia.
    [​IMG]

    Anyway, the guy we left behind wanted to just push the bike into the ditch and leave it. But the immigration officials wouldn't let him leave without his bike- or paying the exorbitant import duties on it. Eventually, he hired some guys to build a crate for it, and he flew it to Dushanbe, and then to Holland where his sister lives. Shipping it was cheaper than paying the taxes, and it wasn't cheap! To his credit, in Holland he totally repaired that harness and the bike ran for several years more before he sold it.

    Long story, but the moral is: leaving your bike behind - even if it's a stinking pile of ashes- and cutting your losses may not work very well as a strategy.

    .................shu
    #13
  14. szurszewski

    szurszewski Long timer

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    Our most recent really big trip we had a really overloaded sidecar rig - caused quick wearing of the final drive bearings (about 10,000 miles instead of 60,000 or more). As a result we got to spend extra time with friends in Mexico, and New York, and Oregon while we waited for parts/made repairs - actually quite pleasant.

    Cracked the frame right at the engine mount once - made some new friends in the process of finding a welder willing to work on an unusual bike.

    Had a wheel bearing fail, on a Sunday, in a rural area, on a Ducati... (same trip saw a failed clutch slave and a failed/heavily leaking oil pressure sender - seriously a great trip and seriously loved that bike) Spent an extra day in a very small town and made new friends trying to find tools and help to remove the old bearing and also to get to/from the auto parts store about 90 minutes away to get a new bearing.

    Had a valve head come off and eat a piston. Ended up towing that back to my parents’ house (I had just graduated from college and was days into a “huge” cross country trip...or so I’d thought...) and taking a couple of months to get it full repaired. Couldn’t find a truck locally so had to wait two days for one to come to me. Was right on the pacific coast - had to spend two days drinking beer and eating fish and looking at the waves. Awful ;)

    ...there are probably others, but you get the idea.

    Will things break or go wrong? Probably, if you’re riding a long time - and maybe even if you’re not. They will take time and money - often you get to decide which to spend more of. If you have to be on a tight schedule AND a tight budget it can be a real pain. If you are flexible and can roll with it, it can often be the best part(s!) of your trip.
    #14
  15. Tricepilot

    Tricepilot Bailando Con Las Estrellas Super Moderator Super Supporter

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    It's too bad the OP, @aaarrm, hasn't been seen in two weeks after posting his first two, and only two, posts on this site with a really good question.

    There are a lot of really good replies here :deal
    #15
  16. ADV Wanderer

    ADV Wanderer Been here awhile

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    I think he's broke down somewhere... :lol3
    #16
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  17. cmattina

    cmattina Been here awhile

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    One thing i have done with a couple 90's Hondas i did big trips on was look up their common fail points and bring a spare (within reason). A notable one is the reg/rec.

    Otherwise, if you need a part, start looking immediately, and see if you can get it shipped to a location up ahead in your route. I have had good luck looking on that auction site for parts.
    #17
  18. tlub

    tlub Long timer Supporter

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    One other thing to remember is that if your alternator/reg/rec goes, you can buy a battery charger, an car battery or a deep-cycle one, and strap it to the back seat. Charge it when you sleep. I think someone completed the IBR this way.
    #18
  19. klebs01

    klebs01 Been here awhile

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    On my RTW trip I a shop in California really messed up a valve check and wire harness recall. I was already in Mexico before I admitted to myself that it was a real issue and not something like bad fuel that would go away. I found a shop in Chihuahua that would work on it. Spent a couple days there and found a bunch of things that were done wrong but no smoking gun. Maybe it was the wire in the harness that was cut but wasn't supposed to be according to the recall instructions. The bike seemed to run better until I was in southern Colombia when I woke up one day after some light off road and it was way down on power. I tried a few basic things and took it to a couple shops in Cali. They didn't have any ideas so I kept going. I made it to Quito and went to a shop and found a couple possibilities. Dirty fuel filter, wire harness, did a compression test (though not sure it was correct) and it was down on compression. Pistons looked terrible so we decided to rebuild the top end.

    I flew back to the US to get parts and the mechanic was supposed to let me know if I needed any more parts. He didn't tell me i needed more so I flew back with the original list. I then realized that he hadn't torn it down like he said he was going to. He finally got to work and one of the tasks was sending out my cylinders to get cleaned. That shop said they were out of spec even though they didn't show any wear. They decided to bore out the cylinders and put in some steel liners. bike was put back together and was running a lot better.

    A few days later I was in Norther Peru and notice the engine wasn't cooling down with the fan like it normally would. I checked the coolant level and cleaned the radiator. It didn't really help. I was still on the road so thought it may just be the different metal and kept going. I was driving from Lima to Huacachina and about 2.5 hours south of Lima in the middle of the desert the engine failed catastrophically. I then hitch hiked in some cargo trucks and over the next few days sold my bike quasi legally. Probably illegally, but I wanted as story to get out if questioned. The guy who bought it was able to get it out of the country with the Poder a few weeks later. He sent me pics when he tore it down and the liners looked like they rotated and made contact with crank and sent shrapnel through the engine.

    My lesson is mainly around picking a simple bike you can work on (with local parts availability if possible or have support back home), and be very skeptical of mechanics. I'm sure most are good, but its not worth the risk on a long trip. Always trust your instinct if you don't get a good feeling to move on.
    #19
  20. Yinzer Moto

    Yinzer Moto Sloppy 300 rider Supporter

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    My travels are just North America, for Mexico, I would just loose the $400ish deposit. I don’t think there is any penalty for abandoning a bike in Canada. I have heard of quite a few people abandoning bikes in South America at the end of their trip. You are correct, it is important to be familiar with the laws of the particular country that you are in.

    In my first post, my buddy melted his piston on his XR650, the cost of renting a Uhaul, then putting gas in that thing for 1000 miles, then shipping the bike motor off to have it rebuilt, he should have pulled the accessories off of the bike, sold the bike to someone in that town, and caught a plane home.
    #20
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