High Altitude, Bike Problems, and Pets of the Incas

November 15, 2015

I left Latacunga (elevation 9300 feet) and immediately noticed something was wrong with the bike. I was headed for the Visitor Center at Chimborazo Volcano. The visitor center is at an elevation of between 14,000 and 15,000 feet, so I was concerned about whether or not I was going to make it. At just over 9,000 feet my bike would only run 40 mph on flat ground, and around 27 mph while climbing up the road towards the volcano. I was determined to make it to the visitor center, where I had decided I would set up camp early and start working on the bike.

As I rode along I made a mental checklist of what I wanted to check:

  • Cam timing (it really felt like the chain had jumped a tooth since it was still smooth just lacked power)
  • Valve clearances
  • Fuel quality (I had been buying “Extra” which is the equivalent of regular unleaded instead of “Super”)
  • Air filter
  • Air leaks
  • Error codes in the fuel injection system (none were showing but I would run through the checks anyway)
  • Spark plug (unlikely but it needed to be changed anyway)
  • Spark arrester (I’ve never had to actually clean one of these on a modern 4-stroke, but it’s included in the Periodic Maintenance in the Owner’s Manual, so I figured I might as well check it….maybe the lower grade fuel was contributing to carbon buildup)

I was having to ride with the throttle all the way open most of the time, though if I forced it harder, I could get just a little more acceleration out of it. (This should have been a clue.) The closer I got to 14,000 feet, the more I was convinced that the problem wasn’t related to a fuel/air mixture issue, as it didn’t get worse with altitude; the bike ran the same at 14,000 feet as it did at 9,000 feet. I was convinced it was a mechanical issue.

When I pulled into the visitor center, it was very cold, the wind was howling, and there was nothing to hide behind to work on the bike or to set up the tent.

That is the Chimborazo Volcano behind the bike, in the clouds. I’m at around 14,500 feet, and the summit of the volcano is at 20,564 feet. The top of Chimborazo is completely covered in glaciers.


Here’s what it looks like on a nice, clear day (courtesy of Wikipedia), including a Vicuña.


And this is my Vicuña photo near the same spot.


Looking the other direction away from Chimborazo. Apparently Vicuña fur grows slow; these guys only get sheared (shorn?) once every three years. Which explains why Vicuña fur coats are so expensive.

So I decided since the bike wasn’t running any worse I would head back down the mountain and find a hotel in the next town and work on the bike there. As I was riding down the mountain (much easier than up with only about 9hp on tap), I happened to look down at the heated grip on the throttle side and noticed that the wires running from the grip were touching the throttle housing. Apparently in all of the heat cycles from using the grip heaters, the glue had melted, the grip had rotated, and then it had re-glued itself in a position that caused the wires to bind on the throttle housing, not allowing the throttle to turn all the way. Doh. Never overlook the simplest of things. I had thought at one point that maybe the throttle valve wasn’t opening all the way, but I was going to check throttle cable free play, cable stretch, Throtlle Position Sensor adjustment, etc.

I stopped and forced the grip forward into its’ original position, and power was instantly restored. Phew. And embarrassing.

I rode for the next three hours in drizzle, in the clouds at 10,000 feet, with visibility at less than 100 feet. And since I had the grip heaters turned on, I had to forcefully grip the throttle to keep the grip from slipping. Tomorrow I’ll search for more Super Glue (that’s right….Super Glue. That’s what the grip manufacturer supplies with the heated grips, as regular grip glue is rubber cement and would melt when the grips were turned on. Just like these did, with Super Glue on them).

So, in keeping track of bike problems I’ve had in the first 15,000 kilometers of this trip:

  1. Blown aftermarket headlight bulb
  2. Leaking fork seal (aftermarket suspension work done prior to departure may have contributed)
  3. Loose aftermarket throttle grip

That makes me 3 for 3 on problems NOT related to the original motorcycle. And ZERO problems related to the original motorcycle.

Funny story #2 from today: When I met Ian on the mountain a few days ago (see “Quilotoa Loop” post) I gave him a card for the Magic Stone B&B in Baños where I had stayed. That night I posted the photo of Ian from our meeting. Yesterday, Ian pulled up to the Magic Stone, and the owners greeted him as if they had been expecting him. They had read my post, and recognized him from the photo. It’s a small world, but nice to feel like you’re being welcomed home in a foreign country.


3 thoughts on “High Altitude, Bike Problems, and Pets of the Incas

  1. Feel dumb for a simple mechanical problem, but that’s WAY better than figuring out why the cam jumped a link., or fixing it on the side of the road. … relief 🙂

  2. Last month in Mexico while riding uphill near that logging village (if u remember) we had mentioned camping at and offering the locals to cook some goat for us, my bike was having trouble in second gear, I couldn’t gain any more than first gear speed. We stopped and after cking the bike over, the rear tire wasn’t turning at all, then we noticed the rear brake was super hot and jamming, and then after trying to pry the brakes apart without getting burned and figuring that the trans gears weren’t the problem, we think to remove the wheel to inspect the brakes better or just wait awhile to let them cool off. And I know I wasn’t even using the rear wheel almost at all on the downhill, much less on the uphill, I had never had this happen to me before, and so I looked over the bike again and again, when at last I saw a tiny rock jammed between my rear brake foot lever and the engine side case, ahhh I felt really dumb but relief that it was so simple. No worries, laugh at yourself and move on…

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