Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports
Date: 7 May 1997
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list
Subject: Trip Report - 970507.rpt
Sunday May 4 75192
It is 0 degrees Celcius at 9AM in the shade, and the bikes' seats are covered
in frost. However in the sun it is warming up quickly and by the time we are
ready to leave it is too warm for the Aerostich fleece jacket.
I feel bad, about having to ask the guys to exchange money or lend me money,
since I was running a bit low. It's been an expensive trip by the standards
I've become accustomed to, but I don't mind. It's worth it to have
experiences like this, even if they are a bit more expensive. It's just that
I would have gotten more money out of the bank, before leaving on Wednesday.
In talking with Daniel this morning, he mentions that the guys had been
talking among themselves about how this was an expensive trip for me, and how
I had a plan for how much to spend per day and needed to stick to it. I
replied that it wasn't a problem, that I had enough money for "contingencies"
like this, and experiences like this were what made the trip really
We stop at a park near a hydro-electric dam outside the town of 25 de Mayo
for lunch, after having bought firewood at a service station in town. In
short order a fire is going and the last of the carne is being grilled over
the fire. These guys sure know how to whip up an asado. While the meat is
cooking we chow down on cheese, salami, and bread, and stewed tomatoes and
onions mixed with olive oil and spices. This is washed down with red wine
mixed with mineral water. When the meat is ready, atttention turns to it, a
combination of rib cuts and lomo, a fillet steak. Argentina is known for its
beef, which is range fed, unlike the feedlot fed cattle in most of the
We make it back to Mendoza just as sun set behind the mountains to the west.
I follow Daniel and Flaco to El Piezon, the "clubhouse", where I will stay
the next several nights until I leave Mendoza.
They give me their phone numbers and addresses and say to call if I need
anything. They introduce me to the neighbors, a doctor and his wife, who
sort of watch the clubhouse. She speaks excellant English and offers me a
kerosene heater. I thank her but say it isn't neccesary.
I ride to city center where I find an ATM machine and get some money. I'll
be buying tires and some BMW parts in the next 2 days. Then get some dinner
to go and return to El Piezon.
While eating, Carlos and a woman friend stop by to check if I need anything
and to chat about the weekend. I let him know I'll be by tomorrow and
Tuesday to do some work on the bike.
After they leave and I finish dinner I take a shower (cold), wash some
clothes, and then call it a day.
Monday May 5 75462
After fixing breakfast in the "clubhouse" kitchen, at 10AM I rode over to
Carlos' shop 5 blocks away. I had a long list of things I needed to do to
the bike, but the first order of the day was to wash the bike. The right side
of the engine was pretty much bathed in oil, and the joke during the past
weekend's trip was that my bike used a system of "total lubrication, inside
and outside the engine." The oil pressure switch on the other side was also
leaking as bad as ever, and I planned to replace it, since Carlos had the
Carlos knew a business that specialized in washing motorcycles, Anton y Hijos
Lavadores at J.V. Zapata 162, and he led the way over their on his old
Beemer. When we got there, they were just finishing up with Marcelo's G/S
which he had dropped off on his way to work. One of the sons involved in the
business, Alejandro, had a '94 R100GS-PD and we bullshitted about bikes while
the employees washed my bike. He offered me a used, partially worn rear tire
for free if I wanted it, but it didn't have enough tread left to make it
worthwhile. He and his wife have traveled through most of Argentina and
Chile on his GS.
On the way back to Carlos' shop I stopped off at the Honda shop and bought 2
more quarts of Castrol 20W/50 oil for the oil change that was due. They gave
me directions to a Lubricentro up the street where I could buy some epoxy.
The superglue I had used on the GPS bracket hadn't been strong enough and it
had fractured again at the same place. I also needed to repair the left-side
faceshield pivot plate on my helmet, which had been broken in my crash over
the weekend. The Lubricentro was affiliated with a motorcycle repair shop,
so I drew immediate attention as I parked on the sidewalk out front, and it
was 20 minutes before I even got around to asking about the epoxy. One of the
guys asked what it was for and when I showed him the helmet he said I should
plastic-weld it, and took my helmet back into the shop and returned 5 minutes
later with it repaired. No charge he said. I still wanted the epoxy for the
GPS bracket and for any future on-the-road repairs, so I bought a small
package for 2 pesos.
Back at Carlos' shop, I parked the bike outside in the driveway where I
changed the engine oil and oil filter, installed a new oil pressure switch
which cost me 25 Pesos, and straightened the crash bars a bit. Then I added a
bit of water to several of the battery cells which were low, I think
primarily from the several times the bike has ended up with its wheels up in
the air, due to the Patagonian winds or my incompetant riding. I also topped
off the driveshaft oil level.
It was about 2:30 by then and so we took a break for lunch. The shop has a
small kitchen and Carlos prepared some pasta which combined with bread and
cheese, and peaches and dulce de leche for desert made for a nice lunch. We
chat about bikes and life in general and I learn Carlos is also single and
38, with his birthday a month and a half after mine. When we are done
eating, the least i could do was wash the dishes afterwards.
After lunch I wheeled the bike into the shop which had a nice clean red-tile
floor and some low stools which made wrenching on the engine nicer. I
retorqued the left-side head nuts which were a bit loose, and adjusted the
valves on that side. The left-side head and base gaskets (actually base
O-rings) were fine, and the only leak on that side had been the oil pressure
switch. The head nuts on the right side were also a bit loose and this
probably contributed to the oil leak at the base of the right cylinder. I
accept the blame for the right-side oil leaks, bacause after installing the
new O-rings and sealant in Santiago, I should have retorqued the nuts after
about five or six hundred miles, but that point occured during the weekend's
trip and it wasn't convenient to do it then so I had waited. That combined
with the rough dirt roads had caused the oil leak to get worse. It's
possible that simply retorquing the right-side head nuts would have stopped
the leak, but since I had a nice BMW shop at hand with the best stock of BMW
parts I've yet seen anywhere in Central or South America, I decided to
replace the base O-rings once again and reapply new sealant material. I also
decided to install new pushrod seals on that side, since I had brought four
spares with me.
I decided to install a one-size oversize base O-ring for good measure since
this side seemed to be more susceptable to oil leaks, Carlos had that and
the small O-rings for the upper studs in stock. Carlos suggests to torque
the heads the first two cycles tonight, then wait till the morning to apply
the final torquing, allowing the sealing compound time to set. By this time
it was 7PM or so and numerous riders stopped by after work, so progress
slowed to permit the required bike chat. A guy I hadn't met before dropped
his '94 R100 GS off, and then Fabian came by and dropped his GS off as well.
Just as I was getting ready to install the right cylinder, Daniel arrives on
a beautiful, brand new, red, blue, and white Honda 750 Africa Twin. It
belonged to a friend of his, had less than 2000 miles on it, and was for sale
for P12500. Daniel was considering buying it. He handed me the key and said
to take it for a spin. Twist my arm! What a bike! Of course I'm not sure
comparing it to a G/S is fair (for the G/S that is). Great acceleration and
fabulous brakes. The first intersection came up very fast and but the brakes
hauled the bike down equally adeptly. With virtually no flywheel effect the
engine revs very quickly. By the same token, it requires an adept throttle
hand for a smooth ride, and one must not let the revs drop too low when
pulling away from a stop or you find the engine lugging. It doesn't have the
low-rpm stump-pulling torque of the Beemer which is more forgiving in that
sense. Back at the shop, I climb off the Africa Twin with a huge grin on my
face and jokingly ask Daniel if he thinks the owner will accept an even trade
for my G/S. Daniel asks which I'd select for a trip like I'm doing, and in
all seriousness I'd need more information on the big Honda to make a
decision. How is its durability and reliabilty in the dirt? It has a chain
drive which is a strike against it IMHO. It also has a lot of plastic up
front in the fairing and side panels and in a crash these would most-likely
get trashed. How easy is it to mount luggage on it? Despite these
questions, it is a beautiful motorcycle.
Since Daniel's BMW still has my spark plug cables, which I need to change
tomorrow, I ride on the back of the Honda back to Daniel's house, to pick up
his Beemer which I ride back to the shop. He says I can also use it to ride
back to the El Piezon since my bike will not be back together tonight.
I arrive back at the shop to find Marcelo and Fabian, so have an audience as
I install the right cylinder, torque it down to the first two torque levels,
then reinstall the carbs and exhaust header. By this time it is 10:30 so we
call it a night. Carlos leads me to a restaurant, but apologizes for not
being able to stay himself. He says his girlfriend is waiting for him and I
say I understand. Women are the same all over the world. I enjoy a
leisurely dinner and make it back to the El Piezon by 12:30.
Tuesday May 6
On the way to the shop I stop and buy some more shop towells. Rather than
mess with washing them, when they get too grimey, I throw them away and buy
new ones. Later the guys at the shop, joke I must be rich, since I throw my
shop rags away.
At the shop I finish torquing the right cylinder and adjust its valves, then
remove Daniel's plug wires from my bike and reinstall them on his R100/7.
Thinking I still have Gonzalo's ignition unit in my bike, I look for my unit,
but can't find it. I remember, after we finally got my bike running again,
that Flaco handed me several items wrapped in paper, saying they were my old
components. One of them was supposedly my ignition control unit, but now as
I look in my Givi topcase where I stashed them, I can't find the control
unit. I begin to sweat at the thought of having to shell out US$6000 for a
new unit. I ask Carlos to call Flaco to confirm that he in fact returned my
unit to me. It turned out that while I was buttoning up the bike, Gonzalo
had reswapped the ignition units, so I was in fact using my ignition unit,
and Gonzalo had his. Whew!
The local Beemer pilots here in Mendoza would have nothing to do with the BMW
sparkplug cables with the solid black rubber plug caps. These cables have a
resistor built into each plug cap, primarily to reduce radio interference and
static from the ignition system. However they claim that they are
susceptable to failure at the resistor connections and that when that
happens, there is a high risk of then also frying the black box ignition
control unit. It is for the same reason, to prevent damage to the ignition
control unit, that when testing a plug for spark you must ground the plug
against ther engine case. They say these cables have failed many times with
the police Beemers in Argentina and that they have all switched to
resistorless plug cables.
I'm not sure I completely buy the argument. I guess it depends on the
failure mode of the cable, the resistor, and its connections. If it is
simply a broken connection, then it seems to me it is simply another gap to
jump, but that ground is ultimately still present on the other side. I know
that's not a rigourous engineering argument but ...
At any rate, I do buy the argument that, having a resistor in the circuit,
must increase the failure rate by some factor (albiet possibly very small),
and that if you don't need a resistor plug, then why have it. So being made
paranoid by these guys, and also influenced by the fact I was not carrying a
spare ignition control unit, I decided to replace my plug cables. New ones
only cost US$40 a pair.
Carlos has the BMW metal plug caps and we drive to a local shop and buy a
meter of bright red plug cable for 40 centavos. My choices of color were red
or red, so I choose red.
On the way back to the shop we stop off at Carlos other storage area to drop
off some old oil. This place would make vintage bike nuts salivate. Stacked
on large wooden framework, two high, were old bikes. There were Vincents,
Royal Enfields, Indians, an Ariel Square 4, Beemers, Puchs, Guzzis, BSAs,
and more which I can't remember. All were in an unrestored state, and
clearly lots of time and money would be required to bring these machines back
to their former state of glory. In another building were shelves and
shelves, reaching up to the ceiling, of motorcycle parts. Engines, wheels,
suspension and electrical components. Several more, more or less complete,
motorcycles were inside. I like vintage bikes but am not a "nut" and I was
Back at the shop I buy a used ignition timing unit from Carlos for US$380. A
new one, which he also had in stock, cost US$650. The used one had its cable
pinched in 2 places with the insulation on 2 of the 3 wires worn through, so
I cut the cable off my old, bad unit and solder it onto the used unit I
bought. Then I remove Flaco's unit from my bike and install my "new" unit.
We test for sparks with the new unit - success!
Marcelo had arrived a while earlier and waited while we installed and tested
the timing unit. He had invited me to lunch at his house today so the three
of us, Marcelo, Carlos, and I, rode to his house in the suburbs south of city
center. Marcelo sells insurance independantly, and his house was in a
neighborhood of relatively new houses. It was a beautiful two-story home
with a big back yard, and a big German Shepherd greeted us as we rode through
the side gate and parked out back. I met his wife and their 6 month old son,
a future Beemer pilot, Marcelo assured me. Lunch was ravioli, salad, bread
and red wine, with a torta and peaches for postre.
After lunch, on the way back to the shop, Marcelo took me to several tire
shops and I bought a set of Michelin Seracs for US$230. I hardly ever buy
Michelins in the States, so don't know if Seracs are available there, but
don't recall that model name. They are a more street-orientated enduro tire,
which I selected for durability.
The right side valve cover stud had been showing signs of pulling out for
some time now and I decided to repair it here in Mendoza. It already had
been helicoiled once. After removing the stud and pulling the existing
Helicoil out, it was clear that the threads were partially stripped. Carlos
had a friend with helicoil equipment and rather than have him come here for a
$15 fee, I would ride to his house this evening. So I buttoned up the bike,
sans the valve cover stud, and then adjusted the timing with the new timing
unit using Carlos' timing light.
By this point in my journey I had several small cracks in my windscreen so I
drilled small stress-relieving holes at the end of each to prevent them from
propogating. I did the same for the small crack at one corner of the opening
of one of my Jesse bags. Small 2mm bits don't like to go through neoprene
rubber; the inside of my Jesse bags are lined with thin 1/16" neoprene
rubber, and when the bit penetrated the aluminum, the neoprene rubber lining
grabbed the bit and snapped it off like that. The remnant of the bit had a
1/4" of neoprene material wrapped around it.
One of the mounting straps on the centerstand bashplate had broken again and
I fashioned a new one out of an old piece of hoseclamp strap.
By this time it was 8PM and I follow Marcelo over to where I was to get the
valve cover stud helicoiled. Having been helicoiled once already, it takes
a double Helicoil, but the repair is performed without a hitch on the
sidewalk out front of the guys home. The charge was $15.
Then it's time for the weekly asado at El Piezon, my second since arriving in
Mendoza 8 days ago. Daniel arrives on the Africa Twin and it immediately
becomes the center of attention with numerous test rides being taken.
Argentinos like to end their meals with sweets, and this asado was no
different than the other meals I shared with these guys. Favorites were
dulce de patata (sweet potato preserve) and dulce do membrillo (quince, a
pear-like fruit, preserve). These are of a thick, geletin-like consistency,
and you cut off a slice, and usually eat it with a slice of white cheese.
The patata and membrillo we had on the ride south had been made by Gonzalo.
He had also made some sweetened castanas (chestnuts) in a thick syrup.
The coincidence of their asado being on Tuesday evening was not lost on me
either. In the San Francisco South Bay area, us motorcycle geeks working in
the computer and high-tech industry have a weekly rendezvous every Tuesday
evening at a different restaurant for dinner.
Wednesday May 7
Today was to be an easy day, install the new tire, do some laundry (my jeans
were filthy with oil after several days of working on the bike), and send
Before tackling the new tire, I clean and reapply new silicon to the two
small holes in the driveshaft boot and tie a new clean rag around it to keep
the dirt and stones away as much as possible to prolong the silicon seal. I
pound the bashplate back into shape and reinstall it, and straighten the seat
latch so it works again.
In order to allow the silicon sealant I've just applied time to dry, I decide
to remove my rear wheel here at the shop and take it and the new tire to a
Gomeria (tire repair shop) which Carlos has given me directions to. Note
that in most other countries "llanta" is the word for tire. However here in
Argentina, "llanta" is the wheel, and "neumatico" is the word for tire.
I pull the rear wheel and see that my problems are not over with. There is
oil inside the rear hub. I don't use the rear brake a lot, but had thought
it seemed a bit ineffective as of late. Examination showed that the leak was
not the large oil seal around the hub, but rather the small O-ring around the
brake lever shaft. However, while I'm this far, and since I have a good shop
with a good stock of BMW parts at hand, I decide to also replace the pinion
oil seal at the front of the final drive where it mates with the swingarm
flange. This had been leaking since the beginning of the trip and was
responsible, I believe, for the two small holes in the swingarm rubber boot.
Up till now my parts bill had been limited to the used timing unit (US$380),
the new plug cables (US$46), and the oil pressure switch (US$25). Now with
another oil seal (US$15) and two small O-rings, it was now starting to climb.
I pull the final drive and mount it to a jig in the bench vise in preparation
for removing the pinion seal, and discover my problems are far from over and
getting more expensive by the minute. The splined coupling on the input
shaft to the final drive has noticable play in it, up and down and from side
to side, a clear indication that the small bearing there is bad. That would
also explain why the oil seal there was leaking. But my problems were still
not over. Further examination showed that the large wheel bearing, a part of
the final drive unit, also had some play and when rotated, was not smooth and
had a grinding sound. Would it get me back to the States? Possibly. Would
it fail in the middle of Amazonia, hundreds of miles from the nearest town,
and thousands to the nearest Beemer shop? Possibly. The weight I was
carrying, and bad roads would only accelerate the wear. If they were to
fail, the chances of finding another shop of this quality and with as good a
supply of parts, anywhere south of the US border was slim. That, the fact
that I'd eventually have to replace them anyways, and the constant worrying
if I didn't replace them here, all argued for "biting The bullet" and
replacing both bearings here.
At this point, with my wallet feeling ighter every minute, I stopped and
asked Carlos to total up the bill, not including either of the final drive
bearings. The timing unit, cylinder base O-rings, 2 new plug caps and
cables, oil pressure switch, and an oil filter kit, came to $US518. The two
bearings, pinion oil seal, and O-rings for the final drive would add US$286
in parts, the big BMW-unique wheel bearing being the big ticket item at
US$200. That would bring the total parts bill to US$804. Since I had never
dismantled a final drive unit, I decided I'd let Carlos do it, so asked him
how much extra for his time. He had also, here and there, helped out while I
was working on the bike. He said round it up to US$850, which I thought was
more than reasonable, for his labor charges that is. The prices of the parts
were another matter, but they were out of Carlos' control, dictated by the
high import duties in Argentina. I'm curious what these parts would cost
back in the States. On the other hand, I'm not sure I want to know.
So I decided to go ahead and replace the two final drive bearings. By the
way, the final drive was about the only large part on this bike which I had
never looked at or done any rebuilding of, since buying the bike used in
1994. I had always been subjected to good-natured ribbing by Noemi at my
tendency to do preventative replacement of parts before they were actually
required. I now felt somewhat vindicated, even if the current circumstances
prevented me from fully enjoying the vindication.
Over lunch I use Daniel's R100/7 to take my rear wheel and new tire to the
Gomeria where I have the new tire installed for US$3. I also install the new
spoke nipple and spoke which the clod back in Punta Arenas had broken. I
have a leisurely lunch at Kovo's while I wait for the shop to reopen at 4:30.
When I get back from my late lunch Carlos is working on my final drive, and I
tell him to also renew the big oil seal as well, even though that will add
another US$70 to the bill. The idea of doing all this work and then in
another 5000 miles having the old oil seal start to leak is not appealing.
More preventative maintenance. When he finishes up, I install the final
drive back onto the swingarm. Carlos recommends waiting until the morning to
do the final torquing of the final drive unit "cover" (??) bolts.
At 10 PM we call it a day, and ride to another restaurant for dinner. This
is the typical Argentine dinner time and the restaurant is packed with
people. I'm beginning to fear that I won't be granted entry because by now
my jeans are so grimey with oil and dirt. I have Brochette al Roqueforte
(sp?) which, after a long day, is delicious. I ask Carlos what he thinks of
the US$350 I paid in Santiago to have my two exhaust valves replaced. I had
thought that price a bit expensive, but Carlos says that is about what it
would cost here in Mendoza. New valves are expensive. At the end of the
evening, Carlos insists on picking up the dinner tab, despite my repeated
protests. I thank him graciously.