70,000-mile maintenance

Text: Ramona Eichhorn, Uwe Krauss • Photography: Ramona Eichhorn, Uwe Krauss

For three years we have been riding our KTMs on a long and winding road around the world. When we got to Colombia, our gauges had ticked over a distance of some 70,000 miles, roughly equivalent to two and half trips around the globe along the equator. Our trusty companions have not always had an easy life: We tortured them in the hot sands of the Sahara and had them swallow the red bull dust in the Australian Outback. In the Andes, they almost suffocated at dizzying heights above 16,000 feet. There were also many rivers crossed and more mountains climbed…

In order to survive these extreme riding conditions without too much harm, our engines bathed in new synthetic oil every 6,000 miles (always the best quality we could find); and even more importantly, they got daily doses of TLC. (We pet them and speak to them every morning!)

Small repair jobs (just normal wear and tear like wheel bearings, brake pads, etc.) were usually conducted in the ditch. Until now, we have been lucky enough to be able to handle the whole maintenance business ourselves. And our attitude hasn't changed: "As long as it works, don't touch it!"

But once we enter the tiny motorcycle shop "Moto Angel" in Medellin, the owners, Carlos and Victor, want to throw this philosophy overboard. Catching sight of our 640 Adventures, they immediately drop their spanners and converge to take a closer look. Curious, they assail us with questions:

"How fast?"
"How heavy?"
"How many miles?"
"Have you rebuilt the engines yet?"

I told them that we had replaced a broken camshaft bearing in Kenya for $ 1.50 and later, in Australia, a lost level indicator for checking the oil. In Chile, we needed a set of new clutch disks and had to exchange two worn-out starter clutches. A broken gasket in the water pump was replaced in Brazil. That's about it. Overall, an astonishingly small amount of repairs after 140,000 miles for both bikes over rough and smooth!

"At that mileage you might consider changing the timing chains," Victor advises us.

And when I tell them that my bike had gotten into the bad habit of using a quart of oil for every 1,000 miles, their ears prick up.

"Let's open the engine," Carlos proposes. "We've never seen the inside of a KTM!"

We had only come by just to get a new bolt for a luggage rack, but since it was evident that these mechanics put their hearts and souls into their jobs, we had to give their offer some serious thought. Proudly presenting their self-made tools, Carlos said, "The originals are too expensive, but ours are better anyway. We repair all the Boxers of Medellin with them." It didn't take much more than that to persuade us that our motorbikes couldn't be in better hands. And although Carlos and Victor had lots of other work scheduled, they dropped everything else and enthusiastically began to overhaul our engines. We all wondered what the heart surgery would reveal after so many off-road exertions.

The close quarters in the workshop become even tighter after one of the two lifting ramps is cleared and my KTM is lifted upon it. Here we go. Cleaning and taking things apart are my jobs. I had only worked on my engine as far as the camshaft, but that was more than two years ago; so Carlos and Victor, looking over my shoulder, ensured that I wouldn't go astray.

When draining the cooling liquid some strange pieces of plastic fell out. These bits used to be the blades of the water pump! Suddenly I see why my bike has been running hot. I had foolishly blamed the tropical climate in Colombia! Carlos thinks we've also found the reason for the increased oil consumption.
The next part to diagnose is the camshaft, and we discover the cams are short 0.7 millimeters of steel. The rocker-arm rollers show signs of pitting. Carlos frowns. "The oil level must have been far too low." With a guilty conscience I have to claim responsibility for this faux pas. Spoiled by almost zero oil consumption in over 60,000 miles, I had grown lax about checking it. More than a quart was missing. The faces of Carlos and Victor bear pained expressions, as if I had slugged them.

The intake valves are worn in 0.5 millimeters and need to be replaced. The exhaust valves are fine; they only have to be ground in. The silica coating of the cylinder is like new, as smooth as glass. The times of re-bored cylinders and oversized pistons are over. And since the crankshaft bearings do not show any radial wear, there is no reason to open the engine any further.
Both bikes examined, Carlos and Victor are astonished by the results. Ramona's KTM is in especially good shape. We only have to change her intake valves and, preventively, the timing chain.

With just a new wheel for the water pump, I could expect to travel another 15,000 miles on my bike. But the mechanics' pride demands more, the best job possible, and they make the following repairs:

•New wheel plus shaft for the water pump (there were some grooves where the seal sits) and a new shaft sealing ring
•Two new intake valves ground in
•Two existing exhaust valves ground in
•Four new valve stem seals (routine)
•New piston rings (the old ones were worn and might have caused the increased oil consumption)
•New camshaft and rocker arm rollers
•New timing chain (routine), but the old one was still okay
•Clutch basket had some grooves, which were filed smooth

The two chassis got the following cosmetics:

•New bearings for front wheels
•Replacement of Ramona's steering head bearing (had a hard spot)
•Replacement of bottom-end bearings of the rear shocks on both bikes
•Full service with new fillings and seals for my rear shock, which was leaking slightly for the first time after thousands of miles of corrugations. Ramona's rear shock absorber is still in good shape.

"How much do we owe you?" we ask Victor, who had worked on our KTMs off and on for four days. He shakes his head and says, "Nothing. It was good fun for us and an honor to work on them." We can't believe our ears! They certainly don't seem to have an overabundance of money: the only bike Victor can afford is a 20-year-old Honda, 200cc, and they even wash their cleaning rags to reuse. It is almost impossible for us to persuade him to take any payment at all, and in the end, only $ 200 changes hands. This is as much as they usually ask for one engine rebuild like ours. But they overhauled the engines and the chassis of two bikes! Fortunately, we don't have to work as hard to convince the best mechanics in South America to accept our invitation to join us after work for beers.

With the words "Now they are good for another 70,000 miles," Carlos and Victor bade us farewell. Fate willing, our KTMs will take us all the way back home to Germany, where we will happily write, whenever asked, another homage to the hospitality, generosity and skillful natures of people in foreign places.

[For the record, since this service stop in Colombia, we've put another 30,000 miles behind us, and all without encountering any major mechanical problems.]