Apart from very heavy down pours in Ethiopia, our KTM 990 Adventures hadn’t been cleaned the entire trip and had gradually started to look a bit battle weary. They were both mechanically sound, but badly in need of a service. There was nothing really wrong with either of them, but I could tell from the engine sound and performance that the time had come to for them to visit the bike spa.
It had been more than 9,000 kms and some tough roads since we left Nairobi where both bikes had been given a basic and rather mediocre service at enormous cost and I am still reeling over the fact that KTM Nairobi had failed to check the tension of the chains, nor lubricate them and had the audacity to say that doing so would cost extra. The bikes had not been cleaned either, always a red flag of a bad service.
Before we set off, I had worked with KTM Cape Town on the 18,000 km service on Fanny’s bike and my new R had had the initial 1,000 km service which basically entailed changing the “run in” oil and tightening things up.
Now both bikes had done 21,000 kms across the continent of Africa in conditions and surfaces ranging from volcanic rocks in north Kenya, salty humid Tanzanian and South African coastlines, 4,000+ metres plateaus and rain storms in Ethiopia, scorching hot deserts in Sudan, sandy gravel roads in Namibia, blinding sand storms in Egypt and sliding about in mud in the Masai Mara.
We found out about a KTM shop in the surburbs of Cairo which turned out to be a rather small sales centre. The KTM service centre and mechanics were actually in Sharm El Sheikh, only 100 kms away from Dahab where we were to live for a couple of months.
We found out that KTM Sharm had excellent mechanics and a state of the art workshop, however they did not carry all the spares needed for a full service, especially those needed for our LC8 engines and so we had to wait some time while they sourced the correct engine oil for our motorcycles, which they did, Motorex 20W-60 fully synthetic oil endorsed by KTM. When I asked the price I assumed the answer had been given in Egyptian pounds. No…. Euros.. All one hundred and ten of them for 4 litres! Clucking Bell.
Luckily we were carrying spare fuel filters, spark plugs and oil filters– which we had carried all the way from Cape Town, but we didn’t have any air filters which are actually a bit bulky and we only had a few litres of oil for top-ups. Fanny’s old 2009 Kawasaki KLR 650 used to drink more oil than petrol, but our LC8s barely used any. The KTM user manual recommended 10W-50 fully synthetic, but allegedly a memo had been sent by the KTM factory in Austria to service centres around the world recommending 10W-60 Power Synt which was what KTM Cape Town put in our bikes and we were carrying.
So what was this 20W-60 liquid gold stuff? It seems that the oil grade numbers describe the viscosity ratings required to protect rotating parts from heat and friction at ambient temperatures. Different brands and grades also contain different types of additives and detergents that are critical to keeping engines running. However, depending on what material, say, engine bearings are made of can mean a particular oil can be either beneficial or harmful over extended periods of time.
All very confusing, but suffice to say the more specific an oil needs to be the more technical and expensive they are. Whilst, one could put common 10W-30 multi-grade in an LC8 engine, it would almost certainly degrade quickly causing damage in the long term, or indeed in the short term during a demanding rally race in the desert, or extended and demanding use on a motorcycle expedition such as ours.
According to to the manufacturers, Motorex 20W-60 was made specifically for KTM rally racing in hot desert conditions, such as the famous Dakar Rally. In the absence of the recommended 10W-60 Power Synt oil, this higher specification oil would be fine, albeit being more suited to higher temperature environments like Africa. How it performs in the cold of a European winter we will have to see, if indeed the starter can turn the engine with such thick oil.
Fanny and I made an appointment with Hossam, the boss at KTM Egypt and then rode through the desert mountains to the southern tip of the Sinai peninsular. A great ride, and I was thoroughly looking forward to the return ride after the bikes had been serviced when we could enjoy giving the bikes a bit of a blast.
Each bike required about 8- 10 hours of labour and Fanny’s still had a few minor problems to sort out due to her involuntary cartwheels in the Namib desert and a few spills here and there. The chief mechanic had been sent to KTM in Europe for training and was very familiar with all their bikes.
When we arrived we were very warmly welcomed and also given a guided tour of the very impressive facilities and workshop. There was a truly amazing desert training track and an impressive collection of KTM 450 EXEs.
The training school and guided desert tours were run by Ricardo from Italy, a seasoned KTM rally racer. The school provided all the safety equipment and clothes, in addition to the bikes.
While we were waiting in Sharm we stayed with Desi and Marko, friends of Ricardo who run a very beautiful Bed & Breakfast called Sinai Old Spices http://www.sinaioldspices.com/inglese.html.
The B&B is located out towards the mountains in a more local and industrial part of Sharm but that added to the charm. The whole B&B and our room were extremely well designed, spotlessly clean and well appointed and had satellite TV that could reach 700 channels–300 of them daft Italian game shows, 300 religious ranting shows (both Christian and Islamic for balance), 99 channels which appeared to be reviews of Arabic porn websites (never knew they had any), and CCTV 4. I know all this because I flicked through every single channel, three times just in case I missed anything vaguely watch-able .
In the end we settled on a Mandarin program about pots from the Qing dynasty for our evening entertainment…. or read the KTM manual… over and over again. A new book would have been nice and later I managed to swipe a very old Michael Palin travel book called “Himalayas” which would prove to be very apt as later we would ride through many of the same places.
At KTM Sharm I explained to the mechanics how the starter relay had been repaired in Sudan and replaced with a Chinese one. The mechanics, in Fanny’s presence, were less than complimentary about Chinese motorcycle parts and recommended they get it out as soon as possible and replace it with a safe and reliable Austrian one before something really bad happens. Fanny made the big mistake of asking KTM mechanics what was wrong with Chinese bikes.
I guess a laugh is the same in Arabic as it is in Mandarin or English. But let’s be fair, was there a KTM starter relay to be found anywhere in the Nubian desert? No. The Chinese one found its way to a small shop in Jebel Barkal, it was cheap and it kept us going for several thousand kilometres.
When we collected Fanny’s bike we dropped off mine. KTM Sharm El Sheikh had done a great job. The steering and front forks that were still slightly twisted from the Namibia tumble in the sand had been completely straightened out, the fairing plastic had been repaired, and the bolts holding the back end together had been replaced. We were shown several bent bolts which was the reason why the exhaust and pannier brackets had been asymmetrical and out of shape.
They told us we were lucky it had held together so long and that the bolts were close to shearing. Apart from that, the mechanics said that the bike and its engine were in pristine condition. It had been thoroughly cleaned and polished and looked magnificent in its classic orange livery.
And one more thing, along with a thorough service and tuning that included re-mapping, valve clearance adjustments and shim changes, the baffles had been taken out of the Leo Vince exhausts as recommended. It now not only looked great, but it sounded like a Phantom jet on after burners. I guess only a few people of my age or older know what that sounds like. Well its very loud.
Whilst waiting for my KTM 990 Adventure R to be serviced we rode around Sharm on Fanny’s bike and explored the tourist areas. Not that interesting or particularly appealing I must say, and full of too many charmless Russians, package tourists and local touts. Not my cup of nai cha. We considered doing a training course with Ricardo, but the service of both bikes was going to dig deep into the budget and so we decided as we were half way to El Tur that we would ride there to extend our visas.
El Tur is the administrative centre for south Sinai and a bit soul less. When we got to the administration offices they were completely derelict and surrounded by lots of soldiers and police as riots and protests had started throughout Egypt again.
We filled in our forms and two hours later after we had paid our fees I was given my passport back with a six month multi entry visa. I checked Fanny’s passport and there was no visa extension inside, just a date stating she had registered for an interview with the security police.
I queried the staff who were thoroughly disinterested and so I invited myself in for a chat with the chief of immigration who was in his office watching movies. He said Fanny could not extend her visa and had to go to see the police in Nuweiba some 300 kms away after about 6- 8 days (maybe longer) to arrange an interview. Why were the security police not in the same location as the immigration department? A smile and a shrug of shoulders was my answer.
After the interview, if successful, Fanny’s “special” application would then be sent to Cairo where it would be reviewed –maybe a month later given the troubles and breakdown in the civil process and administration. It would then be sent back to Nuweiba where Fanny would have to go for yet another interview.
If successful, and there was by no means any guarantee, she would need to go back to El Tur, again, to apply for a visa for a month. Then and only then could we apply to extend our motorcycle permits. Public servants the world over… do half as much work as the private sector, take ten times longer to do it and still want to continue to get paid the same when they retire.
Given that an Egyptian tomorrow is more like a week and an Egyptian week closer to a year, it was near on impossible to get Fanny a visa extension before the bike permits ran out and so our arm was forced to get out of Egypt before the year end.
We were back to square one yet again and Fanny was back on the phone discussing with “China Shipping” whether we could get the bikes transported from Alexandria to Mersin in southern Turkey before the end of the year.
We rode back to Sharm rather disappointed and angry at Egyptian inefficiency and inequality. It seemed unfair to me that Chinese citizens are subjected to such restrictions, and yet the many European and Russian body pierced hippies we saw chain smoking in the waiting room with their daft hippy uniforms, daft haircuts and daft ankle bracelets could keep extending their Egyptian visas indefinitely. To my mind, a very short sighted policy given where the balance of power is heading in the world.
At least some of the hippies had completely daft Chinese characters tattooed on their bodies. The tattoo artist was either illiterate or had a wicked sense of humour. Anyway that cheered me up a bit, but not nearly as much as the girl with a bolt through her nose who had the Chinese characters for “Wardrobe” tattooed on her neck.
We collected my bike the next day and it looked brand new. All the filters had been replaced except the air filters that had been cleaned and re-oiled as they did not have any spare in stock. The valve clearances had been adjusted, the shims had been swapped over and the ECU tuned. In fact, better than new as I didn’t have to run it in.
Brakes, chain and sprockets, gaskets and other items were absolutely fine and would last a good deal longer. Our tyres could have done with being replaced, but we would manage to squeeze another couple of thousand out of them ….if I ccould resist hooliganing around.
Having thanked all the KTM team for their great work and made our farewells, we rode back to Dahab, both of us enjoying putting our awesome bikes through their paces along empty desert roads and through spectacular yellow rock mountain passes.
If our tyres had been better we could have pushed the bikes to over 200kph, but instead we stuck to a safe 140-160kph or so as we leaned side by side around the many sweeping bends.
I was very aware that we were in biking heaven and this would not last for ever as cold weather, icy roads, speed cameras, expensive fuel, and general European restrictions against motorcycles lay ahead north of the Mediterranean Sea.
Photos at http://www.facebook.com/bigbiketrip