Colombia – Part 1

November 25th: Cartagena

Joel, Ryan, Nate and I were up by 5.30am to go get our motorcycle. The captain asked us to be on the pier by 6.15am and we made it there a bit early. Joe and Tom were in the taxi in front of us and we all boarded the smaller boat together towards the Stahlratte. Once on board, it did not take long until the crew started to load the bikes on a barge. It had a capacity of four bikes. I had to wait for the second trip. Some bikes had been damaged a little but mine was fine. They lifted it from the head of the frame and the passenger foot pegs which was good. Ludwig was using one of the mast and the hydraulic winch to lift the bikes and was quite good at it. Soon, I was standing next to the bike and heading towards shore on the barge. We needed to drive two blocks to the customs office. Once there, we had to wait for an hour before the office opened. Our passports were with some guy that supposedly was responsible of filling out all the paperwork for us.  Although we were all waiting in the sitting room at 8am, he showed up around 8.30am. After handing us our passports, he asked a custom lady to come outside to verify the bikes. I was the first to be verified and unfortunately, he forgot to write one of the digits of my license plate. All the other bikes were fine. The guy called a friend and a few minutes later he received the updated form by e-mail. We printed it and the lady accepted it. We sat in the sitting room until 10am. At that point, there was an evacuation simulation in case of a shooting. It set us back another 30 minutes. We finally got all our paperwork back around 11.30am.

We then needed to ride about 2.5km to get mandatory insurance. The whole group was following me there as I was they only one to have his GPS. It went well until, 2 blocks before the insurance office, my motorcycle started stalling again like it did in Costa Rica. We finally got there and realized that the office was closing between 12pm and 1pm. Two bikers stayed there including Nate and the rest of us headed back to the boat to get our luggage. After a few trip back and forth on the small boat, we were all packed up and ready to go. Once back at the insurance place just after 1pm, we were told that they only sell insurance in the morning. We had to come back the next morning. Like… what? They suggested that another office may sell insurance in the afternoon and so we rode there. After walking to 4 different place through town while Joe was watching the bikes, we were told that we had to purchase the insurance policy for a minimum of 2 months and that was 400$. A bit steep for the two weeks we were planning to spend in Colombia. Tom came in the office at the same time and warned us that the cops wanted us to move the bikes. Tom and Joe decided to take off from Cartagena. Joel, Ryan and I headed to a secure parking lot before walking back to our hostel.

Both of them had to get their tires which were supposed to be sitting in an office nearby. I took the opportunity to work on the bike a little to figure out what was going on. I fooled around with different mappings, I verified my throttle position sensor and put it back together. At night, we all went out with some other travellers from the ship. I decided that I wanted to follow Ryan and Joel the next morning. I explained the situation to Nate and I believe that he understood why I wanted to do that. I definitely felt bad leaving him behind then… We made plans to catch up later after Christmas. We were all happy to go to sleep at 11pm.

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First load on the barge

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Captain Ludwig with the hydraulic winch

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Evacuation exercise sped up the process

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Old Cartagena



November 26th: Cartagena to Ariguani – 235km

The next day I got up around 6am. We needed to get the bikes out of the parking lot by 8am before getting our insurances. I turned on my computer to plan the road a little and I had two new e-mails. It was my birthday! Both of my parents wrote me a nice birthday note before heading to the gym. It made me really happy. Soon, the boys were up and the first thing they said was happy birthday as well. It was better than good morning! We packed our stuff on the bikes and headed to the insurance office. Less than an hour and 40$ later, we were all ready to go. We took some time while waiting to pair our headphones. The three of us were then able to communicate while riding.

We stopped for lunch some 100km later. While waiting for our chicken to come in, I updated my e-mails on my phone. After my weekend in Barcelona, I was eager to hear back from them. There it was, an e-mail from the admission director with an interesting title: “IESE MBA Admissions Committee Final Decision”. I could barely concentrate to read it from the start, my eyes rapidly scanned the message and I read the part in bold about midway: “Congratulations and welcome to the IESE Community”. I do not remember feeling so happy before. I looked up to Ryan and Joel with a smile on my face and it took me a few seconds to formulate how I wanted to tell them. They were both really happy for me. I then called home to announce the news. I surprised myself being emotional when I announced it to my mom and dad. For the rest of the meal, my mind was elsewhere. I was reviewing all the things I did in the past few years in order, one day, to get that exact e-mail from that exact school. Between interviews, reference letters, essays, work experience, mastering English, good undergraduate grades, interesting extracurricular activities and studying for four months strait to pass a standardized exam, the journey to that final decision e-mail had been a lot of work! IESE had been my goal for the past four years and at that moment, I stopped thinking at what else I needed to do in order to get in.

Back on our respective ride, the road started to be twisty and hilly a few kilometers out of town. For some reason, riding those awesome Colombian roads while listening to Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and thinking about my acceptation made me release some decibels in my helmet. It was one of those moments. A few minutes later, I lost sight of Joel behind me and turned around. One of his strap had snapped and got caught in his chain, bending one of his luggage rack bracket. This bracket was now rubbing on the rear wheel when the suspension compressed. Ryan joined us a few minutes later and we managed to bend it back into a position that allowed the suspension to compress without obstruction. We kept riding and hit some rain. My GPS was a bit off and we forgot to take a turn at some point. We rode a slippery dirt road for a few kilometers and the locals were looking at us like we were three green aliens. The road led us to a main bridge to cross a major river. Soon, my bike started to stall for no reason in a construction zone. I stopped on a small path by the side of the road and warned the guys through Bluetooth. I changed my voltage regulator as I had a new one with me. I thought it was quite funny that I was laying down in the middle of nowhere trying to fix my bike instead of partying for my birthday. The bike started and we kept riding. The sun was about to set and we were still 80km out of a major town. We passed by a hotel that seemed alright and decided to stop in that town for the night. We walked around town and I purchased some fuel additive. Joel found a place to bend his bracket to a perfect shape. We then had dinner at a small restaurant. I wanted to tear the bike apart to inspect my fuel system that night and did not want to drink much before. We all ended up drinking fruit juice with our meal. We thought it was quite funny considering it was my birthday so we took a picture. I had a fun dinner nevertheless. Once back at the hotel, I took my phone and could see that I had close to a 100 messages, but could not see them due to limited internet. I then called my family who left me messages during the day. Two hours later (10pm), I was done with my phone and started working on the bike. Joel helped me taking the tank off and then went up to his room. I had time to check my in-line filters before he came back. I was glad to see him and he helped me taking the fuel pump apart. The filter looked much better than the last time a replaced it. My pre-filters did the trick! Unfortunately, that was not solving my problem. I checked the connections and by midnight, everything was back together and ready for the next morning. Despite my mechanical problems, I was still really, really happy about my day!


Happy guy changing his voltage regulator

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Good times drinking fruit juice

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Fuel filter still in good condition



November 27th: Ariguani to La Esperanza – 350km

We wanted to cover some distance that day and were up by 6am. We stopped at a gas station around 7am and were invited to eat breakfast next door. The armed guards were very friendly and we decided that the restaurant would do. Soon enough, a bunch a guys gathered around the bikes to check them out. Our waitress Bieria was very cute and we had fun discussing with her. Outside, the guys were taking pictures next to our bikes. Ryan proposed that I asked one of the guards if we could borrow its shotgun to pose with it. Sure enough, it was not a problem for him. So we all posed with it. Then Bieria wanted to sit on Ryan’s bike and he did not object. We left around 8am. After almost 250km, it was 11.30am and my bike started stalling again. I had done some research on my phone the night before and read something about a corroded starter relay. I checked it out and it fell in my hand. There was a lot of corrosion around the pole. Joel and I figured a solution and an hour later, we left. I rode 5km before it started stalling again. We decided to stop for lunch. I was a little discouraged and told the guys that I would stay in that town to work on the bike and that I wanted them to keep on going. I felt bad about slowing them down so much. I read something about loose ignition coils on top of the spark plugs and decided to check it out. The rear one went down by almost 1/2in. I felt confident about it and told the guys I would be able to follow them. We rode for over an hour before the bike started to stall again, really badly. It would not want to start again like the other times. I was stuck on a hill in the middle of nowhere in the mountains. I took the skid plate down to check my starter relay but our fix seemed alright. After playing around with mappings for a bit and speaking with a stranger that was observing me, Joel and Ryan suggested that I joined them a bit higher on the hill where they met a nice family. At the same time, the owner of the house in front of which I was stuck arrived. She was very kind and she offered us homemade lemonade. Joel and I were going over what could be the problem when Ryan said that it must be the spark plugs. Ryan had been saying that he doesn’t know anything about mechanics for the past few days. Nevertheless, he had been talking about the spark plugs for a few time and even though I changed them 10 000km ago, it was a possibility. I managed to ride it up the hill and then Joel and I tore it apart to get to the spark plugs. Soon, he was laughing at how bad they looked. We changed both and after two hours of work, the bike was back together and not stalling anymore.

We then invited the family and my stranger to join us for dinner in a restaurant. We had only one car, and my stranger had to make two trips to the restaurant. We had a fun dinner. I was really tired and all three of us kept laughing for stupid reasons during dinner. At some point, our guests sang me happy birthday in Spanish. Then, we crossed the street to a place where we could play pool and a local game. We had to throw a chunk of cast iron to a board where they put a small piece of paper painted with an explosive compound. The goal was to hear the explosion. We had a great time! When we came back, the same lady who offered us lemonade offered to lend us her house for the night. Joel and I accepted and she went to sleep with the neighbors while we both slept in her house. You do not see that every day… Ryan slept outside in his tent next to the other house up the hill.


Broken terminal on the starter relay


Not much space to work

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I swear I was happy



November 28th: La Esperenza to Bucaramanga – 70km

Once again, we were up early thinking that now that the bike was fixed, we could ride good distance. We thanked the family for their help and hospitality, took a few pictures together and took off. The bike felt good and I was happy. We made it 70km into Bucaramanga before the bike stalled again. I was a bit upset. I tore it apart one more time in a parking lot with Joel’s help. We checked the main connector between the air intakes management and the ECU. One small wire was damaged. It was not broken, so I put some WD-40 on the contacts and shrink wrap around that wire. The bike started, but stalled again 1km down the road. I found a KTM shop on my hone and we headed that way. At 11.30am I first spoke with a salesperson and at 12.30pm, the main mechanic was taking it around the block for a ride. I was not expecting such good service. For some reason, the problem seemed to show up whenever the bike was getting warm. He encountered the stalling and diagnosed the fuel pump. He asked me to take the bike inside and allowed me to take it apart in the shop.

By that point, I suggested to Joel and Ryan to keep going. If I solved the problem soon, I would catch up with them at night. If not, I would not slow them down anymore… They went out for lunch and then left towards San Gil. I was convinced I would see them soon. Rodrigo then put a pressure gauge on the fuel line and observed the pressure drop as the bike was stalling. By that point, I was also convinced that the fuel pump was the problem. He took it apart and back together. He did some tests and it was still stalling. Then he spent the rest of the afternoon changing the pump motor. He found a similar one in town, but needed to do quite a bit of fitting to make it work. By 5pm, the pump was back in the bike and he was taking it out for a ride. Unfortunately, that did not solve the problem. He went around the block one more time and came back saying that I had too much pressure in my tanks. He thought that the problem disappeared when he loosened the fuel cap. He asked me to come back the following morning. I agreed and then we took a few pictures with the other guys hanging out in the shop. Both mechanics rode in front of me to a nice hotel. I ate dinner at the built in restaurant as the receptionist told me it was dangerous to get stabbed when walking in the streets at night.

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Nice beds

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The house we slept in


The family

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Rodrigo having fun with the fuel pump




November 29th: Bucaramanga – 25km

I was at the shop at 8am. I took the bike apart one more time and Rodrigo put the pressure gauge back on with the voltmeter. We ran the engine for many minutes, but the problem did not happen again. I added a vent on both tanks. By 11am, I decided to hit the road and try to catch up with my friends. I rode for about 20km up in the mountains before the bike stalled. It was a narrow road and I was in front of a house where they were having a lot of guests and a bus. I walked down and asked to speak with the owner. They took me in the backyard where and old man with a cowboy hat was drinking with what seemed like his friend. I told him my story and asked him to use a small part of his front yard to work on my bike without spilling nasty liquids. He agreed with a smile as his daughter was living in Toronto and he was happy that I was Canadian. I took both tanks off and checked my main connector. I then checked every wire for change in resistance as I moved them around. I repaired two of them, but the bike was still stalling.  I then changed an injector, which took me a while. The bike kept stalling. By that time, it was getting dark. I spoke with the owner one more time to ask if I could sleep in my tent on his yard for the night. He agreed and I had time to set it up before it was completely dark. He drove me to a nearby restaurant. I called a friend I made at my motorcycle riding camp in California. Andrés lives in Bogota and I hoped he could help me find a truck to take the bike to a bigger shop in Bogota. Unfortunately, he could not find one, but he sent me the contact information of a guy named Edwin who could help me in Bucaramanga. At the restaurant, I met a truck driver while having dinner. He gave me a ride back to my tent. I went to sleep at 7.30pm that night.

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New injector



November 30th: Bucaramanga – 25km

I woke up after a full 12h of sleep. I packed my tent and put my bike back together. I decided that I would try to ride back to the shop to get help. I was about done with the bike when one of the tenants arrived with breakfast. I was very grateful for her generosity and ate the whole thing. By 9am, I was riding back towards Bucaramanga. Luckily, it was downhill the whole time. By 10am I was back at the same hotel I stayed 2 nights before. It was Sunday and the shop was closed. The hotel had internet, air conditioning, private parking and nice beds. I contacted Edwin and explained my problem on the phone in Spanish. He asked me to be at the shop the following morning by 8am. I spent the afternoon catching up with e-mails and messages for my birthday. I went to bed early again that night.

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December 1st: Bucaramanga

I was at the shop by 8am. The mechanics were a little surprised to see me. I told them the bike was still stalling and Rodrigo thought about something. He thought it might be the pressure regulator on top of the pump. It made a whole lot of sense. If the pressure regulator did not maintain its 42psi pressure and was releasing pressure before that point, it would mean that even though the motor worked perfectly, the gas was just going back in the tank rather than through the line to the injectors. We went around town together to find another regulator that could fit there. We had no luck, but one guy told us to put another good one in series with the one we had. That was a brilliant idea. We did it with a piece of gas line and two collars. The other regulator was set to 80psi. It meant that now, I would get much more gas in the combustion chamber. It would run rich, but would not stall. We took it around for a long ride. Rodrigo was behind me. After 30 minutes of riding around town, it stalled again! We had one more thing to try. There was a 990 Duke in the shop and we wanted to swap fuel pumps. We did that in the afternoon. I took it for a ride and the bike did not stall. I was happy. Still the bike felt a little strange and I feared that my catalytic converters were full of crap. He knew a guy who could solve my problem really cheap and in no time. I took my luggage system apart to get access to the exhaust. The bolts were all seized up from the heat cycles. Rodrigo took the grinder out and grinded the head of the bolts off. Soon, I was sitting behind him on his small 200 motorcycle with an exhaust in both of my hands hanging from the sides of the bike. It was memorable to split lane through dense traffic in this fashion. We arrived at the exhaust shop and Rodrigo said a few words to the main guy there. Then I took my phone out to show him how to take the catalytic converters out and he looked at me like he was offended. He said something like: “what do you think we do here?” I understood my mistake and asked him how much it would cost. 75$ for both. It would be ready by 11am tomorrow. That was great. I came back to the shop with Rodrigo and packed my bag with what I needed for the night. Then the salesman asked me if I would keep the pump. I said yes. Then he told me the pump was about $750US. I asked him to show me the proof and he did. I took out my emergency money hidden on the bike and paid for the pump. I then walked to my hotel and called it a day.


Two pressure regulators in series


Taking the exhaust cans off



December 2nd: Buracamanga to San Gil – 100km

I was in no rush to go back to the shop and got up at 9am. I walked back there an hour later and worked on the bike as far as I could in prevision of leaving as soon as I would get my exhaust back. At 11am, Rodrigo took me to the shop. The guy was working on the exhaust and was far from being done. I told Rodrigo to get back to the shop and that I would get a taxi when the exhausts were done. He agreed and I got to see what these guys were doing. They took the whole inside out. They then fabricated a hollow tube to go in the middle of the cans. The next step was to fill them with heat resistant fiber (better than glass). The last step was to weld the cap back on. Also, the bolts we cut at the shop still needed to be removed. They welded another bolt on top of what was left and with the help of a torch, they were able to spin them out of there. I paid them the fee and out I was with homemade Akrapovics. I installed them in no time when back at the shop and fired her up to ear the new sound. It was very loud and did not sound much like the aftermarket versions. Anyways, I had a new fuel pump, unrestricted exhaust and I was ready to take off. I left after paying all that was due and greeting my friends.

The bike sounded very loud and was making me feel uncomfortable. About 15km down the road, my empty fuel tank light turned on. I set my GPS to the nearest gas station about 4km down the road. 2km later, the bike stalled again. It stalled right in front of the same house I camped at 2 nights before. What are the chances of stalling at the exact same spot 20km down the road? My first thought was that the guys at the shop would take their pump back and I would get a refund. Then I felt a little desperate about my bike. After a minute, I started thinking about the possible cause. I realized that the new pump was higher and that my reserve had to be different with this pump. I used to be able to ride for 100km with that light on, but now it may be just a few. If it was the case, I still had gas in both tank, but the fuel pump was too high to pump it. All I had to do is to lean the bike on its side and let the gas flow from one tank to the other. Then shut the transfer valves and the gas level would stay high enough to get to the nearest gas station. I was so happy to be right. After stopping for 5 minutes and transferring the fuel, the bike started! I got to the gas station and did not have any problem since. The road to San Gil was beautiful and in a canyon. I made it to San Gil by 4pm and found a nice hotel to sleep in. I went to sleep after eating a delicious dinner.


Filling them up with fiber


Ready to be mounted




2 responses to “Colombia – Part 1

  1. LOVED THIS. First of all, Happy Belated Birthday. Secondly, MUCH CONGRATULATIONS to you on your acceptance to IESE – how exciting. And, lastly, you poor, poor guy having to deal with that bike of yours. You are a very patient man, Francois, because I probably would have hung it up long before you finally got the bike going. However, what a great story indeed. I really enjoyed reading the blog. I hope you will somehow be able to hook up again with Ryan and Joel. By the way, Carter and I ran into Nate in Cartagena when we were exploring the city – he seemed fine with being on his own. Happy and safe travels to you. John

  2. Lâche pas FX ” les voyages forment la jeunesse!” Contente qu’ Olga soit de nouveau en santé ! A bientôt ! Mom 😍

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