When I was in Panama a few weeks ago I’d noticed a funny noise. At first I was worried it might be coming from the gear box but realised it’s frequency was too slow. I could only hear it at slow speeds as my bike has a loud exhaust. After a while I worked out it was coming from the chain as it seemed to make the noise once for each revolution of the chain.
I stretched the chain out on the ground and started to inspect each link. It looked fine until I got to the end of the chain. Four of the rollers were a lot thinner than the rest. One of them, nearest the link, had worn so thin it had split in two. None of these rollers rotated as they should have done.
These tight links must have accounted for the noise.
Being extremely lucky Armando even had an old one which he gave me. Gracias Armando.
As I climbed towards Cotopaxi, the highest volcano in northern Ecuador, the bike was running really well. I stopped for a police checkpoint in front of the volcano. As I accelerated away all the power suddenly disappeared.
I thought the gearbox had gone. I tried using other gears but there was no drive, no response. The engine was running perfectly but I was just going slower and slower. I pulled over, stopped and started to look over the bike trying to work out what was wrong.
There was no chain. It had fallen off.
I looked up the road and saw it about one hundred metres away, lying in the middle of the road. I walked back and carefully picked it up using my gloves. They get really hot after a while. As I ambled back past the cars queuing for the checkpoint I waggled the chain and smiled at the drivers. They smiled and waved back. I was so happy I’d found my chain and I knew what the solution was.
I knew I had a spare link and reckoned I’d be able to fit it quickly and soon be on my way again.
I pushed the bike into the petrol station on the other side of the road. I put the bike on it’s centre stand, got out the link and refitted the chain. I pushed the master link through and offered up the side plate. I squeezed it together with my pliers, hoping it would slide on so I could fit the split link.
It didn’t move at all.
I resorted to a bit of violence, using two lengths of metal pipe, one as a hammer and the other held on the other side of the chain to absorb the shock.
After many blows I still couldn’t get the split link on.
It was time for plan C: Weld the plate on.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t a welding machine at the garage. The nearest one was ten kilometres away.
Would the plate stay on whilst I rode there? If it fell off it would be a disaster. I rode slowly and coasted most of the way downhill. Luckily it was still in place when I reached the ‘soldar’ man.
Five minutes later it was welded in place. I thanked him profusely and took some photos of him and his sons.
I had lost about an hour fixing the chain. I now remembered that I needed to set off early to miss the mist that descended over the mountains after Riobamba. The advice Ricardo gave me was to be past Riobamba before 11am. I still had about 100km to go and it was already 12.30 pm.
Well it was too late now, I’d just have to see what happened. Maybe I’d be lucky.
About 20km past Riobamba I stopped to take a picture of the clouds filling up a valley. Five minutes later I rode straight into them as the road descended.
At first it wasn’t so bad, just light drizzle so I made good progress. It then got progressively worse. First the tarmac turned into a single track dirt road and then the mist became a really thick, wet fog and I could go no faster than twenty or thirty kilometres an hour.
I had to constantly wipe my visor with my one of my fingers of my left hand to stop the rain distorting my vision. I turned on my heated grips to keep my fingers warm. The rain was seeping through my trousers and I was beginning to feel the onset of the familiar damp gonads syndrome.
I eventually approached Cuenca as it was getting dark. I was on a dual carriageway following a SUV at my kind of speed who seemed to know where he was going. As is the custom in Ecuador he suddenly jammed on his brakes – his brake lights didn’t work at all and turned left up a tiny, minor road.
Ok, so maybe he didn’t know where he was going.
I continued and realised my mistake within about ten seconds. Just over the brow of the hill the road ended. There were big lumps of concrete right across the road.
I turned around and went back to the turn off. It was a very small single track road which climbed up the hills and rejoined the dual carriageway a few miles further on. Five minutes later I was speeding towards Cuenca again.
It was now dark.
Trying to find anywhere in the dark is a nightmare. I stopped frequently to ask for directions to the centre of town. I eventually matched a street name to my street map and looked for a budget hotel. I saw some flags and stopped. It looked much too expensive for me. None of my hotels ever had flags.
Within a few seconds a chap came up to me. He too had a KTM Adventure.
He was soon joined by another who emerged from the flag hotel, the Santa Lucia. They both knew each other.
The guy from the hotel spoke perfect English. He introduced himself. He was the manager and his name was Fernando.
He asked me what my budget was.
‘Try the one across the street one block down’. It was the one I’d been looking for but missed.
I was desperate for a pee. I asked him if I could borrow his loo.
‘Sure’. As I followed one of the doormen inside I asked him what the rate was.
Oops, way outside my price range. No wonder it had so many flags.
Fernando said if it didn’t have parking or was full he’d recommend another hotel.
Cheekily, I asked him if he could do a room for $25?
He thought for a bit then said:
On the way back to my budget hotel I considered blowing my budget. I’d only be here for a few days. In the long run a few days of luxury wouldn’t make much difference. I can be so persuasive sometimes.
The other hotel didn’t have any parking and was full anyway.
I was tired, cold, wet, hungry and longed for a hot shower.
It was dark.
Fernando had satellite tv, a mini bar, coffee & tea, a great restaurant and a luxurious hotel. I wanted to ask him if he could hear the drums.
His hotel was only five metres away.
It was only for a few days.
It was fantastic. I had a perfect shower.
The next day I met Nico Merchan who was amazingly kind, taking me around to look for tyres. We met again on Monday when he led and introduced me to Wilson Malo Senior the KTM dealer. He also introduced me his son, to Willy Malo Junior who ran the workshop. I bought a new chain and selected some lovely new Pirelli tyres for my bike.
Whilst chatting to Wilson Senior I showed him a few of the websites from which I’d bought toys to add to my bike: KTM Sommer’s and Touratech in Germany, Wilson responded by showing me Moto-loco.com who arranged off road bike tours in Ecuador.
They looked like just the sort of thing I wanted to do but the prices were extortionate- $250 a day: when the ones I’d done in France were only $100 a day.
Wilson offered to take me for a ride to see the Amazon on Sunday. Would I still be here?
I thought about it for a few seconds.
‘Yes, when shall I call you?’
‘Friday at midday’.
I’d have to stay a bit longer then. Another week.
‘I’ll call you on Friday’.
I love the Santa Lucia. It’s like being at home. I can have a hot shower anytime I want and I can watch complete crap on tv.
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