Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Another Cup Of Java - the motorcycle maintenance post

Sun 23/08 - Mon 24/08
Its after 5 in Jember and Ramadhan continues in earnest. Ann tries to make a recording of the wailing on her mp3 player, but unfortunately the mic isn’t much good. Its a shame because its something we’d love to share with you guys, something we can’t really put into words. Maybe a hundred years ago, before each mosque had multi-directional, concert-level amplification, sitting out on a rooftop listening to the call to prayer go out across the city would’ve been a magical experience. Tonight however, its difficult to pick our jaws up off the floor. You’d need triple glazing if you had a house here.

Tue 25/08

Two nights of it are enough for us, but after setting off for Blitar we realise the headlight on Ann’s bike has stopped working. We don’t ride at night, but during the day its the only way Lucas can keep an eye on her in traffic, so this is pretty annoying. Apart from that we’re convinced its safer here; the oncoming trucks and buses tend to give us more room when they spot the headlights. What is it with bikes anyway? They seem to start falling apart as soon as you ride them out of the showroom.

Wed 26/08
The road to Pacitan the next day starts out a weekend warrior’s wet dream, but ends up a punishing, narrow, twisty, bumpy, dangerous place to be. We were pretty fit before we left, so can’t believe how tired rides like this are making us and we find ourselves needing the next day just to recover. You probably think we’re just wusses, but that’s how it is.

Thu 27/08
So the last thing either of us needs the next morning is another mountain ride out to see some caves. But that’s the whole point of being here so...

Having been to plenty of caves over the years they still continue to fascinate, and Goa Gong is supposedly the most impressive in an area famous for its caves.

But because we stopped believing the Indo hype a long time ago, this place takes us completely by surprise and actually does impress us.

Sure, the lighting guy was on acid but still... the photos exaggerate things a little bit.

Later on, back at Pacitan, its nasi goreng time again, and while parking the bike next to a warung we notice smoke coming from the exhaust. Oil seems to be leaking from near the water pump, something which we’d been monitoring for months as a slow buildup of sooty gunk on the left side of the bike. This is suddenly a lot worse though, with oil now visibly dripping on the exhaust and catching fire.

That night, after figuring out exactly where the leak is coming from, we do a bit of research and are pretty confident its a water pump seal. We knew before we left this was a weak point on these bikes, but its still a bit of a surprise after only 22,000ks. Knowing that its a massive job on an F650, we decide to make 100% sure and email Morgan and Wacker in Brisbane, sending them a photo and a description of the problem.

Fri 28/08
Pacitan isn’t really the place to attempt to fix anything, so we head relentlessly westwards to meet up with George in Jakarta, stopping in Yogyakarta along the way. Yogya’s backpacker hotels prove to be a bit of a pain for parking, but we find a place that’ll let us use their basement to work on the bike if we want to.

The beer on the rooftop is good. Not for making major mechanical decisions, but beer is always good.

Sat 29/08
GPS is mostly good, but being complete GPS virgins before we left, the thought of needing a separate cradle to mount one on the other bike never crossed our minds. It never occurred to us that, for example, all the temples would be listed. Or how handy it would prove in getting back to the hotel at the end of the day. Now that the Dakar needs some TLC, the only way to use it is to shove it in the tank bag on Ann’s bike and run it off the battery.

We skirt round Prambanan, checking it out from the road as we’d heard it was covered in scaffolding after the earthquake in 2006. You can’t even get near the temples anymore, and Lucas doesn’t see the point in photographing scaffolding, so its off to nearby Plaosan instead.

Candi Plaosan is impressive in its own right and even better, we have it all to ourselves.

Or almost. There’s a photo shoot going on, and at one point when we’re inside one of the temples, we hear a scream from outside. It seems one of the guys has whipped out his pet python and the male model is freaking out about it. We laugh at him and tell him what a pussy he is, taking turns to hold the snake ourselves.

Later, the beer on the rooftop is still good and we’re still putting off the decision on the water pump. Do we fix it here ourselves, or limp to Jakarta and find someone there to do it for us? Morgan and Wanker haven’t bothered returning our email (surprise surprise), so it looks like we’re on our own.

Sun 30/08
Ann’s come down with a stomach bug this morning, so after double-checking we’ve got all the tools for the job, decide to go ahead and change the pump ourselves tomorrow if she’s up to it. This leaves Lucas with the job of tracking down some oil and coolant. Oh joy, because again its a case of the things you think will be easy...

Riddle me this Batman. When is coolant not coolant? When its nitrite and silicate free coolant of course. We have no idea what this means, but what the bike wants the bike has to have. This would be fine if any of the stuff had the spec written on the bottle, but it doesn’t. So the bike ends up with Yamaha coolant which, going on the theory you get what you pay for, is possibly the best money can buy. Litre for litre its the same price as a good bottle of 15W50.

Mon 31/08 – Thu 03/09
If you’re still with us, but can’t face anymore bike stuff, look away now. In fact, maybe just look away anyway. Things are about to get ugly.

As we’ve said, the 650 Rotax engine has a nasty habit of eating water pumps. For some reason the shaft wears, which in turn wrecks the seals, which in turn means the engine either leaks water or oil, or both. For some reason, over 10 years and three variations of the engine, Rotax and BMW not only decided it wasn’t a priority to redesign the pump, but as the engine and the bike evolved, actually made it more difficult to repair. Thanks a lot you bastards.

So here’s the procedure for installing a new F650GS water pump kit, including one or two of the many pitfalls you’re likely encounter:

Remove fairing
Remove engine guard

Drain coolant

Drain oil How’s that sump plug? Did you tighten it, or did that 200lb gorilla at your dealer do it? This alloy piece of junk can ruin your day.
Remove and clean stainless oil filter
Wondering the whole time whether this is the best piece of engineering on the engine. Oh... that’s right, its aftermarket. You bought it over the internet.
Remove left foot peg
Remove oxygen sensor Bastard, piece of shit, bastard, get off there you piece of...
Remove exhaust header
Yes, you read that correctly. And yes by the way, you’d better hope that bit of pipe (extender bar) is handy. Your 15mm spanner won’t be man enough for this job.
Remove water pump cover
Remove gearshift lever

Remove clutch cable from release lever
There doesn’t seem to be enough slack in the cable to make this possible, so you’ll probably be removing the whole lever.
Disconnect oil return pipe from cylinder head and bottom of engine The cylinder head bolt is possibly the most awkwardly placed bolt on the bike, and can anyone explain why it needs to be a torx head? Do you morons at BMW have any idea how difficult it is to find a 25T torx key in Shitwater Indonesia?
Remove clutch cover Even with the oil pipe finally loose this is like deconstructing a Chinese puzzle, and tearing that gasket would be really annoying.
Remove water pump This is finally the reason you’re here folks. And of course, when you come to remove the water pump drive gear, it refuses to budge. The picture on the BMW manual is different to what’s in your hands, and all the documentation you have says the drive just slips off. But it doesn’t. So you tap the shaft and pull on the drive, knowing full well that its plastic and to destroy it will turn your bike into an instant lump of wood. But you can’t get it off, so you decide that the next best thing is to knock out the pin holding the impeller to the other end of the shaft. So you scrounge around for something like a punch to punch it out. But you can’t find anything in the dark, filthy hotel basement where your bike sits in pieces. So you head out into the Shitwater traffic to try and find a punch, or even just someone who’ll knock it out for you. But the language barrier, the lack of decent hardware stores barrier and the barrier of wankers at bike dealers who refuse to help defeats you. So in desperation you co-opt the lady back at the hotel who tracks down a little bike shop and acts as an interpreter for you. Of course the mechanic has a bit of metal lying around that’s just the right size, so soon has the impeller off. But he gives the drive gear a worried look. He doesn’t want to wreck it either. But after a bit of duck and chicken, where you tell him you think its a press fit on the pin and will just snap off now, he gives it a couple of taps and its off.
Replace water pump shaft and seals
Install clutch cover Getting this off is stupidly hard. Getting it on again, while lining up the shift lever shaft, the drive gear and the clutch release, while manoeuvring the oil pipe back into position and not tearing the gasket is... a challenge.
Install Everything Else Except that annoying little screw holding the oil pipe onto the cylinder head. Its an impossibility with your Shitwater torx key, so after the bike’s rideable again you’ll be heading back to your friendly neighbourhood mechanic who’ll... fail to get it back on as well. Bloody thing will have to stay that way.
Add oil
Bleed cooling system and top up with coolant Because you can’t be 100% sure your Shitwater coolant is the real deal, this is the blind faith part of the job. This is also yet another part of the job where you’re faced with the absurdity of the BMW design. The coolant needs to be bled to remove air from the cooling system, so the entire 1.3L of coolant can get back in. But BMW removed the bleed nipple years ago, so you’ll be wasting a day running the bike up to temperature, waiting for it to cool down, and then burping the radiator hose while slowly trickling in the coolant, and then repeating until full.
Hold onto handlebars in confusion while bike rocks back and forwards on centre stand Ok, so that’s not strictly part of the procedure. But Wednesday’s earthquake is felt all the way to Yogya, and considering we’re in the basement when it happens, is a tiny bit scary.

There’s a 40 year old Honda CB100 parked opposite our hotel. Lovingly preserved, it sits there sparkling in the morning sun. Everything’s exposed. No need to remove fairings, oil pipes or exhausts just to get to a non-existent water pump. We eye it off longingly.

Fri 04/09
Borobudur is about 40ks from Yogya and high on many people’s shortlists of things to see before they die, so today we finally escape the hotel basement and take the bike out for its first real test drive with the new seals. We make it there by about 7am, which is probably the quietest you’re going to get Borobudur during opening hours.

Unfortunately, and yes we know we’re harping on about this now, everything immediately surrounding the entrance is pure Indo tacksville. The hawkers who follow you don’t understand the word no, let alone tidak terima kasih. These assholes only understand rudeness.

The stupa itself is massive, but since the Indos have seen fit to hide it behind trees, you can’t really put it into perspective with the surrounding landscape. According to photographic records things were different a hundred years ago, when Borobudur dominated the surrounding countryside from the top of the hill. It must have been a truly awesome sight.

Making our way clockwise around and up the monument, we quickly realise tacksville has infiltrated here as well. It seems to be festooned with green plastic signs warning the public against committing any number of offences. These include smoking, climbing, littering and, believe it or not, scratching. They’re everywhere, they’re incredibly ugly and they detract from the whole experience.

As we’ve said before, the Indos just don’t get it. They’re hopeless at this sort of stuff. Borobudur is one of the wonders of the world, alongside places such as Angkor Wat and yet it took UNESCO to actually restore it from the crumbling ruin it had become. It could be transformed into a really awe-inspiring experience, because god knows they charge foreigners enough to see it. US$12 per head is a relatively massive sum of money here and is far and away the most expensive tourist attraction in the country. Locals pay $1 which, considering they don’t get hassled by the hawkers, beggars, taksi drivers and sarong salesmen and seem to have such little regard for the monument that they need shouty green signs telling them not to scratch it, seems like a great big fucking piss-take at our expense.

The bike on the other hand is good as gold.

Sat 05/09
Cilacap. There’s nothing we can add to what little has already been said about Cilacap.

Sun 06/09
Bandung on the other hand is a traffic nightmare; the roads here really aren’t the place to be on a late Sunday afternoon during Ramadhan. But each successive hotel is either full or has no parking, so each time we hang our heads wearily, mount the bikes and head off into the next stretch of gridlock. Ann is really copping it, having been sideswiped twice by other bikes, and Lucas well, he’s just homicidal, feeling for the first time in his life like he wants to nail a pedestrian just for the hell of it.

Another hotel looms up on the right so we pull in, before realising the place is too posh for us. Sigh. This is insane. Its getting dark and Ann is still minus a headlight. We’ll be sleeping on the street at this rate.

So tonight, unexpectedly, there’s plenty of uniformed guys to help us with our bags, a king sized bed, free mini-bar, cable TV, western bathroom with a toilet that actually flushes, oh and a rarity in Indonesia, free WIFI in the lobby.

The sink runs black as we wash today’s diesel fumes from our faces.

Mon 07/09
Our visas are running out and George is leaving for Kuching on the 10th, so we push on for Jakarta this morning after stuffing our faces at breakfast. Because its Ramadhan and there aren’t many guests here it seems like the kitchen staff are cooking for our benefit, wheeling out plate after plate until we look at the table debris in embarrassment. God we need it though.

Because motorbikes aren’t allowed on the tollways, a relatively straightforward trip turns into another relatively nightmarish trip. Once the road comes down from the Puncak Pass, you’re really into Jakarta’s outer suburbs, which means you’re into the thick of some of the worst traffic on earth with almost 70ks still to go. There are times along the way when we just want to hang our heads over the tank and weep.

It takes over two hours to fight our way through Jakarta’s suburbs, during which we stop twice, Ann is hit by another bike and Lucas by a 4x4. Its just pannier scrapes for us, but through his own stupidity the driver of the shiny new 4x4 winds up with a big scratch up his fender. And even though it happens right in front of half a dozen traffic cops, the thought of pulling over and sorting things out is so laughable its... laughable. Previously we’ve labelled the average Indo driver a moron, but in the last two days Ann’s been hit four times and Lucas once. This is after seven months on the road with no contact. What does that make the average Jakartan driver?

The plan was to find a cheap hotel on Jalan Jaksa before meeting up with George, but because his office is on the way and the traffic is so bad we decide to see him first. About 10 minutes after meeting us for the first time he’s offering us the spare room in his apartment. The offer floors us, and after the nightmare of the last two days we both feel like hugging him for it.

Tue 08/09
Because George is the Finance VP for a large company fabricating oil rigs, stepping into his world is like stepping off planet Indonesia and stepping into an alternate reality. He’s got a driver, so today we do too. Watching Jakarta wiz by from the window of his 4x4 is hilarious. The bikes seem to ebb and flow around the cars which, by driving so close together, manage to compress three lanes into four. Its difficult to imagine that yesterday we were part of this mayhem.

Jakarta itself seems massive, far bigger than its supposed population of 13 million. Huge shopping malls squat on every corner, but we wonder how anyone except the expats can afford most of the stuff on sale.

We crisscross the city on another fruitless search for tyres, and after visiting every place that seems even half-likely, including Bridgestone, KTM and even Harley, feel like we’re in a position to make it official. If you’re ever foolish enough to come to Indonesia with a big dual-sport bike, make your tyres last. You will not find replacements.

Amazingly we find a new headlight for Ann’s bike.

Wed 09/09
At some stage during your travels here, the odds are pretty high you’ll encounter official corruption, usually via the cops or immigration officials. Today its our turn.

We decided a couple of days ago that we’d had enough of Indonesia and didn’t want to renew our visas, just wanted to get the hell out of here as soon as possible. The trouble is, with the detour to Bali and the time in Yogya fixing the bike, we’d left ourselves less than a week to get all the way from Bandung to Belawan in Sumatra and put the bikes on a boat to Malaysia. That’s a killer timetable, and because we’re already half dead from the ride across Java, our only alternative is to renew the visas.

Putting us nicely into the lap of the Jakarta Immigration office, which seems to be staffed by the sorts of people typical of all the Indo government employees we’ve met so far. Lazy, barely competent, and working with systems and processes which are outmoded and inefficient. One of them casually enters our data into his terminal, while the other sits behind her desk reading the Koran and chatting to our driver. The boss just sits in the corner surfing the net.

At some point during this four hour pantomime, one of the officials takes our driver aside out of earshot and has an earnest, whispered conversation with him. We look at each other and shake our heads. Its pretty obvious they’re discussing “The Fee”.

We’re still not sure who got what out of this transaction, but the net cost to us is just under AU$200 for extending two visas for one month. In comparison, the original two month visas we got at the Indo consulate in Malaysia cost us AU$115.

Oh, and we’re not sure if this is a new Indo security thing, but having our fingerprints scanned into their immigration database does not please us. Not One Little Fucking Bit.

There are people who try to rationalise official corruption by telling us about the poor underpaid workers who are barely making ends meet. Or that payoffs are just the price you pay for doing business here. And that we shouldn’t judge these people by western standards. Well it doesn’t wash with us. We’re both highly skilled people capable of working under constant pressure, and worked our asses off for every cent we have. So we’re going to spell things out, so there’s absolutely no confusion.

Almost every single Indonesian we’ve met in the past four months is either working an unskilled job, bone idle, incompetent, or just plain stupid. Every system we’ve seen them use is inefficient, and in nearly every situation where we’ve seen two, three, or maybe four workers in the same area, their jobs could easily be covered by one hard working person.

And yet they all want western wages, with a western standard of living to go with it. Well if that’s the case, we’ll feel free to judge them by whatever standards we feel like.

Maybe if their taxation system wasn’t so completely ineffective, public services and infrastructure would be funded properly. But its a mess, so nobody seems to pay much tax at all.

Finally, we’re not here to do business. We have nothing to gain financially from being here. In fact the reverse is true, having in the past four months spent a lot of money here. On hotels, food, petrol, tourist attractions, you name it... And yet they still feel its their god-given right to rip us off.

You suck Indonesia. You suck big time.

Thu 10/09 – Sun 13/09
Maybe we should’ve shown a bit more enthusiasm for Jakarta, after all it is the capital. Admittedly, its so unlike anywhere else in Indonesia, its probably worth a look for that fact alone. But to be honest, at this point in our journey we really don’t give a shit. The hot tub in George’s apartment complex is far more interesting, and we spend countless hours alternating between it and the pool. Pool, hot tub, hot tub, pool, pool, hot tub....

Mon 14/09
So thanks to George, we leave the alternate universe of Jakarta refreshed, blasting a hole through the peak hour traffic to reach the Sumatra ferry by midday. Standing at the stern of the boat, munching on a lunch of melted Tim Tams, we watch Merak sink slowly out of sight in the thick smog.

We’re not about to get all gushy and sentimental about Java. In fact our verdict is: well... if you’ve read this far you can probably figure it out for yourselves. Interestingly though, every single Indonesian we’ve met seems fiercely proud of their country and would be astonished and offended to hear what we actually think about it. So anytime we’re asked, we just smile politely and say its beautiful.

No doubt Sumatra will be more of the same, after all most Indonesians seem to fit a limited number of moulds. However we’re always prepared to be astonished...

1 comment:

  1. Hey , Slowly catching up on the gossip.Will send you an email soon. Love N