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fintip 09-24-2012 01:12 AM

Let's ride to Central America on a bike 10 years old than the rider!
Some months ago, I discovered this forum and began lurking. Why?

I had gotten a crazy idea in mind to ride a 2001 Yamaha Riva 125 (a scooter) that was given to me down to South America. The guy who gave it to me was a family friend who had way too many vehicles for his own good who knew I was lacking wheels, having just gotten back to America for a stint after being in Israel for 3 years.

He's the kind of guy who has a certain way of treating every vehicle he owns--rides it like he stole it, until he wears it out and moves on. Life's too short for maintenance! Not a bad lifestyle, even if it's not mine.

To each their own. Let it be noted that he's just about the most generous person I've ever met, though. Anyways, I should have known better; so he gives it to me, and I drive it 350 miles on the backroads of Texas home.

Stopping along the way, looking at my route.

A weird moment in Texas.

Well, I drive it 300 of those 350. 50 miles out of Austin or so, in Rockdale, TX, it stops for good. A friend with a truck is called, and we bring it back. Next day, after an oil change...

Yes, that family friend that gave the bike to me? I'm sure he never changed the oil once. Stupid me for not changing it before.. I was still green on mechanics--as green as they come. I figured I'd just change it when I got to Austin... At that point, I didn't realize exactly what not changing the oil could actually do, just that it's something one does. In that sense, a valuable lesson.

Anyways, after an oil change, it starts up and runs again. What I don't realize (remember, I was green) is that the compression has been severely compromised, and it is now eating oil. Within 3 days, I have truly ridden it into the ground, as it has eaten enough oil to be losing what little compression it has left.

Well, damn. It's gonna need a top-end rebuild. When I finally get some money, I spend almost 1k on a mechanic I trust having him rebuild it. But I don't get the money until I'm just about to leave and buy a ticket to South America. So it's being rebuilt, and I figure I'll just keep it in the states and have a vehicle anytime I'm in town. But as I'm having it rebuilt, looking forward to riding it again, thinking what a shame that it will only be fixed a week or so before I leave, a thought occurs to me:

I could drive to South America.

Right? I tell a friend. He says that's crazy, stop talking nonsense. But the idea keeps me up that night. I start doing research. Find a yahoo group based around users of the Riva series. Start asking them about reliability, common things that fail, things to fix pre-emptively. A lot of them tell me I'm insane. I find out about a guy who rode a Vespa to South America in the 60's. I find this forum, and finally someone understands.

I can do this.

When I finally get it from the mechanic, having told him my intentions, he tells me... Look. If the bike was in ok shape, I'd say it's possible. But while I did a good rebuild, and it will be a great scooter for whoever owns it, the crankshaft (which would not be worth labor and parts to replace on this vehicle) was probably a little compromised due to the nature of its last death before the rebuild. So his professional opinion would be against riding it long distance into remote areas.

Well, shucks. What the hell. I like motorcycles more anyways.

My story with motorcycles starts 5 days before my 11th birthday, on December 25th, 2000. As I walked downstairs into our livingroom that year, I saw no presents under the tree, and only a card. I didn't even open it. Being the first one awake, I sat on the couch in a state of shock, thinking I'd finally been a bad enough kid to not merit any presents.

When the rest of the family woke up, they prodded me and I finally read it. Still shaking the sense of shock, I realized it was a treasure hunt. I went around the house finding my safety gear, eventually leading to a brand new Honda XR90.

The rest is history. We had 40 acres of land in our backyard out in the middle of nowhere, then, and I rode around like a madman. We made a little track with jumps. Once a year the family, including uncles aunts grandparents and cousins, would take a week camping trip to the mountain forests of arkansas and ride hard trails--really hard trails--and I got the reputation as the dirtbike rider in a family of quads and dune buggies.

Only picture I personally have, I'm sure some more exist somewhere... This is just my grandparent's driveway/land out in East Texas.

I rode that bike for 3 years, until on a trip out there, last day coming back home on a dirt straight away, there was a section of rock/concrete with an inch of water flowing over it by design. Redlining in 5th gear (45mph?), I hit a pothole that resembles an indention by Thor's hammer and fly.

When the bike landed, it shattered the innards of the engine--you could hear parts rattle around. I was wearing full gear--breastplate, boots, and everything--so the only wound was a deep gash in my elbow that I quickly rinsed off in the stream. Park ranger said we could make a claim against the park for it, since the trail was inadequately maintained, but it'd probably take a year. My parents were way too lazy and ADHD for that, so that was the end of my motorcycle days for the near future... Shortly thereafter, they went bankrupt, so that put a definite cap on my plans.

My first car, when I was 18, was an '84 VW Vanagon. But I only had it a couple months before moving to Israel, where I had neither money nor rights to have any vehicle other than my folding bicycle, which I lived on, putting hundreds of miles on on mountains, even riding around the Sea of Galillee on.

But I digress! I wanted a motorcycle, but the scooter was free. Scooter wasn't in great shape? Fine. I sold it for 1.3k, making a small profit, and started looking at old UJM's in my area on craigslist. Narrowing down the choices to a '79 GS850 and an 82 XJ650... I vastly preferred the GS in theory, but in practice it wasn't exactly running, and I was still very green in mechanics. The XJ (a Maxim, so proto-cruiser bike from a time when 'cruisers' were called 'specials') looked solid (despite my not liking cruisers, it had the same rake as the sport model, the seat wasn't ridiculous, and the handlebars were actually very practical) and ran strong, though, so I got that one.

I promptly found a good forum and went to work. I wanted to learn everything I could about the bike and fix everything in advance, so that I would know I could handle any situation that would arise. I started treating it like a full time job, learning this bike. Over the course of a few months, I went from asking questions and questions, to just asking a few. To asking smarter questions. And eventually, to answering as many as I was asking. I took the carbs down to every small part and replaced almost all the rubber in them, and reassembled them. I learned how to swap valve shims, and got pretty quick at it. I replaced the plain plates in my clutch pack, and made a how-to video in the process. I studied videos and consulted friends who had experience. I and a friend welded my exhaust back together when the left baffle rusted off. (Holding well several months later, it was a hell of a weld!)

The weld:

Working on the bike:

A poor man's fix for carb boots... Bicycle tube rubber with black RTV. Works wonders, looks rough

I don't have many pictures of me working on the bike, but I invited a friend who wanted to get into motorcycles to help me work on the bike, and he does some amateur photography for fun, so he shot these.

Reinstalling the carbs:

Taking it on some test trips:

(I found the backrest/rack on an old Virago in my mechanic's shop. He let me take it off for $20, and I spent some time with a friend getting it to fit my bike... Pretty interesting custom setup getting that to work.)

And then, just as I was about to leave--literally standing in the parkinglot saying goodbyes to my roommate during this time--a Mexican with no insurance backs his truck up soundly into the forks of my bike, totally ruining the front ends. By a ridiculous stroke of luck that I won't go into here, it happened to be that, against my wishes and for a small window in time, my motorcycle had full coverage and that included uninsured motorist.

The bent up forks:

It doesn't look bad at first glance, but to drive 'forward', one aims the handlebars to the side. I had to ride like this for a while, around town, lacking any other option.

Knowing the bike still wasn't perfect--the speedo needle was broken, the tach would start jumping and become unreliable often, the headlights had gone out, lots of little things--I looked around on craigslist on all of Texas for another XJ650. The only option was 3 hours away in college station, an '81. He was asking $1200.

I had a friend drive me there and I bought it. As a base, it's ultimately a better starting point than mine--although the owner of the last 4 years was mechanically incompetent, he did do good on changing the oil and filter overzealously (even if he didn't know what valveshims were and cut the exhaust pipes off crudely because deep inside he really wanted a Harley). The gauges on this bike were in perfect shape, though. I got him down to $650. (Yes, I kick ass at haggling. I lived in Israel, remember?) :deal

The new '81 before I've done almost anything to it:

The flat black looks better in the pictures than in real life; it's a shitty spray-can job with no clear coat, so the tank had already been messed up from gas when I got it, and the headers were flaking from not having high-temp paint.

I then made the best of the two bikes, stripped almost everything of value off the '82, and then got my $1200 for it having been totalled from the insurance company. This time, the upgrades and work only took 3 weeks, and I stayed in a friend's spare bedroom.

(Only thing I miss: the tapered headset bearings I installed in the '82. I didn't have the patience to remove that and install in the '81, as that was the biggest hassle of anything I did. I still feel worn spot on my bearings, and realize that under weight the nimbleness of the bike is seriously compromised. Alas. Here's a picture of the mess that changing that was:)

I finally pack everything up onto the bike one morning and decide the time has arrived. A friend has arrived in Mexico city that I know from Israel, a close friend, and he's there visiting family for a month. And Mexican Independence day is right around the corner.


Let's do this.

Don't be fooled by the red tank--I decided it was in better shape than the black one, which had just a tiny bit of rust and a dent, where the red one only had cracked original paint and a nearly flawless interior. I took the badges off to make it look a little more junky so it'd be less attractive in Mexico. I also brought over my welded exhaust in place of the cut-off, baffleless, poor-man's-paintjob-headers. I kept the seat; while it looks worse, it feels subtly better. I got to keep the old seat as well, though, courtesy to the junk-yard's tow-truck guy. (Given that it looks better, I'll stick it on when I sell the bike or sell it on Ebay.)

By the way, this seat is kicking ass (or... it's being good to my ass, rather, I guess). I rode 15 hours straight a few days ago, and while I didn't feel wonderful, I didn't feel bad at all. I mean, it's ridiculous how fine I felt. Shocking. Firmer foam insert, a little more defined 'back' to the primary driver's seat to press against. Fabric and sewing looks second rate, but those aren't affecting comfort, you know?

Anyways, I've made two updates on the XJ forum since taking off that day. I just started the trip a week and a half ago. And I figured it was finally time to really become a part of the community here, since y'all seem like a swell bunch of folks. So... :freaky

See y'all around. Current plan is to hang out in Nicaragua for a few months once I get there, after touring the Yucatan with my friend from Israel that I mentioned. Once this thread becomes approved, I'll add the updates from the other forum.

fintip 09-24-2012 10:25 AM

I'm now in Mexico. It took me longer to get here than I'd have liked, but I am on my way.

I studied with a Mexican Jew in Israel (we learned Hebrew together), and he was one of my closest friends there while I lived there. He's visiting Mexico city, so I'm going to meet him and he's going to ride bitch while we go and explore the Yucatan Peninsula. Afterwards, assuming my money situation is still ok, I'll continue on to Costa Rica--though Costa Rica was never the goal, it was just to explore 'out there', so if I find some place I like, I may stop for a while.

The bike is running beautifully! For the most part. Unfortunately (brace yourself for Fitz' bitching, haha) I did not get to rebuild these carbs before I came out here. They work pretty well, maybe 80%. Choke is functional, bike idles happily at 1k... sometimes. It can be a little finnicky, but I haven't found a rhythm.

But the time just came, and I had to go.

I mostly powered through a bunch of rain and storm clouds--being cold in September in South Texas? Ridiculous--to get to the border. Through a lot of that, I was driving an indicated 85+, when the speed limit was 75 and there was no one in sight. That meant a good deal of time at 7k and above, continuous.

I guess it overheated after too much of that, because I started losing power and then it stopped and would only stumble when trying to start. I didn't get nervous, though, just pulled over and gave the bike a break.

After about 35 minutes (maybe sooner, I didn't push it) it was happy again. Since then, I've kept it between 6.5k and 6.9k for cruising (75-80mph/130kph/ish/indicated). Have had zero problems since then, bike is very happy going for hours and hours at that indication, buzzing along.

Question, though... In that kind of a scenario (I thought it'd be fine, also, since the weather was so chilly--evening, no sun, mild/medium rain), what does 'overheating' actually do? Since it was obviously no permanent damage (or at least no immediately meaningful damage), what actually causes combustion to not occur in the cylinders? Is the heat so great that the combustion happens early, making the timing all screwed up? That sounds unlikely, but it's all I can imagine.

Fresh oil change, oil filter change, and gear oil change day before I left, btw.

Some pictures:

In the driveway, about to leave:
By lacklacklack at 2012-09-15

Pulled over when overheated [rediagnosed: vent cap seal error makes more sense with symptoms, and did not overheat when drive more hard for longer, later, in less cold weather.] (?):
By lacklacklack at 2012-09-15

Enjoying that moment of relaxing after all the tense bad weather driving:
By lacklacklack at 2012-09-15

Slightly different angle:
By lacklacklack at 2012-09-15
By lacklacklack at 2012-09-15

So the story isn't over... I got to the border, much later than intended. Was hoping to make it to monterrey, another 3 hours past the border. Takes me forever to find internet and phone on the Mexican side (surprisingly didn't have trouble with getting lost, it's pretty straightforward). Contact couchsurfing hosts only by messages, one way, can't get any on phone. Decide, screw it, it's getting late, I'll find a hostel if I have to or whatever.

Hit the end of the international trade zone, 26 km past the border. Find out I have to go back to get permits. Oh yeah, I remember reading about this.

Drive back. Spend 45 minutes getting conflicting information on finding the office that can issue permits.

It's now midnight. Find the office.

Go through 3 stations of paperwork. At last station, at end, after showing them all documents and answering all questions... "Are you sure that your VIN # is correct?"

"Ok, let's go out and look at it."

First six digits on my VIN are... Come on, if you've read Chacal's stuff, you should know it by heart, every '81 650 maxim has the same...


...Wrong. JYA4H8. Didn't notice that during the title transfer, just kind of assumed it had to be right.

I hadn't realized this, he hadn't told me there was a problem, but when we go out to look at the bike, it turns out it has a 7 and an 8 superimposed on top of each other for the 6th digit position. Both look like factory stamped numbers. (Are there any other reports of this happening on an XJ? Of all the VIN joints in the world, this bike and I just had to meet...)

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I go off telling him that that may be, but it has to be a 7--4H8 didn't exist. Look, it's even stamped into the engine, 4H7. It's on all the part numbers for this year. The next year used 5N8.

And then he shows me my title: 4H8.


Just to see, he types it in as 7. Computer says no problem. (My guess is that it knows the checksum calculation and sees that when the 8 is in there it doesn't add up, but when 7 is in everything works as it should.)

While it's an obviously innocent mistake (who tries to steal a 30 year old jap bike that looks as ratted out as I've intentionally made mine to be?), they don't care. They tell me I can't get a permit without a title with the correct VIN.

So I go back to the American side, look online for a couple hours, and set up a hammock in some trees in an abandoned lot (no way I'm shelling out $50+ for some motel) and crash at 6am, defeated.

With one tiny sliver of hope.

I wake up and head to the DPS office (in lieu of a DMV, since there is none in Laredo) which I'd looked up the night before. Wait in line. Am told to go to the County Tax Assessor's Office.

Go there. Park across the street at the courthouse. Wait in line. Explain and plead my case. The people there like me. When I mention the bike is outside, they say, 'it's not in the corner of the courthouse parkinglot, is it? There was one knocked down there."

I rush out. Sure enough, someone hit it and knocked it over. Luckily, no damage--some scratches on the tank, but no dents, and the paint job wasn't pretty anyways. Some witness told the guard that a woman in a white truck did it. No one got the license.


Also, I was about to get a ticket--not allowed to park there unless I have business with the court. Drive away just as the ticket-giving official shows up, and they let me go. I drive it to the correct parkinglot, park it. Head of the Tax Assessor's office goes out. Agrees with me that it looks like a factory defect, buys my story, and issues me a temporary 30 day permit--best they can do until I get to Austin again and actually have the title changed.

Couples hours later, it works. I get through. I was sure I was going to have to leave the bike with a stranger on couchsurfing in Laredo and take buses (wasn't taking no for an answer!), so I was pretty ecstatic. Wander around Nuevo Laredo (Mexican side) for a while, absorbing it all (this time not quite lost, but certainly not finding the place I want to for 45 minutes or so), and get to the same place I got internet last time (10 pesos for 30 minutes... First time I think I've ever paid for internet in my life, this place). Contact some people and let them know I'm ok. Get the phone number of a couchsurfing host in Monterrey that seemed solid out of the list of prospects I'd been fielding.

Give host a call (as I learned to use the payphones, which have some card system with a learning curve, the night before). All is well.

Head out. Smooth sailing. Freaking cold. COLD. YOU READ IT RIGHT. STILL COLD. Storm clouds overhead the whole way through, drove from 6pm to 9pm. Never quite rained on me except for some light showers when I finally made it into Monterrey.

Had a great evening over some tacos, stayed up talking politics, money, mexico, drug war, travelling, rent, American vs. Mexican problems... And now here I am. Hoping to pound out 9 hours straight to Mexico City the day after tomorrow, I think--tomorrow is the country's couch surfing party, here at my host's house! Will be dozens of people, maybe 100!

Will be editing a video tomorrow of some of the ride. It won't be ride-focused as much as life-focused, but given that my life revolves around this, it will obviously be heavily related. Will put up the link when (if) that gets finished soon.

So there you go. It actually happened.

fintip 09-24-2012 11:20 AM

Update 3
Make that 600+ miles, or 1k+ kilometers. But more on that later. For those who might, in spite of themselves, find the cultural commentary a bit more boring and are more interested in the motorcycle parts, go down bellow until you find the big text that says "MOTORCYCLE STUFF".

Monterrey was pretty amazing. As I said before, I stayed with a couchsurfer, and I hit gold this time. My host was a great guy with a great apartment, who gave me his room and took the couch for himself! (I didn't realize this until my last night there, when I walked down for some water and saw him on the couch--the apartment was so big I assumed there was another room I didn't know about). He also had a private outdoor garage where I was able to leave my bike and not worry about it.

But this was the ideal host for me--we talked for hours about Mexico and Mexicans and the culture here. Aside from having traveled all of Mexico himself, he was a wise person who had spent a lot of time developing opinions on his own country in a way that few countrymen really do.

Juan (nickname "Ejemplo", "example", since all the schoolbook examples everyone grows up with here feature "Juan Perez") said an audiobook had changed his life a few years ago: Rich Dad, Poor Dad, by Robert Kiyosaki. (Oddly enough, I grew up listening to this audiobook on the hour drive to school in the morning in 5th and 6th grade.) I would sum up a lot of his discussion on the state of Mexicans in general as falling under three vices.

Mexicans, he said, spend all of their money as soon as they get it. Many of them will tell you, "Money burns in my hands; as soon as I get it, I have to spend it." It is said jokingly, but it indicates a real problem. This is exploited by the companies in they way they pay their employees, who historically were also the source of loans for the employees--they would pay them more than enough money, it would all be spent in a drunken spree, and then they would have to go back to their boss to get a loan to make it through the month just to buy food. This poverty would push them to celebrate overly when they received so much at the beginning of next month.

It's one thing to notice it in the present, but the thing that really solidified it for him as a deeper cultural problem, was one of his trips in Mexico to an historical Spanish Goldmine in the south. He said that at the museum that had been built around the mine, there were some letters preserved by, among others, the Spaniard who was ultimately in charge of the mines. He paraphrased it for me something like this:

(Written to another Spanish Administrator elsewhere in the country, sometime in the 17th century)

'I cannot look at the indians who work for me as any less than myself; I eat with them, and they are my friends. I spend most of my time with them. I treat them very well, better than any other slave owner I know. They are the best paid workers in the whole region. What I do not understand is why they are also the most indebted; for even though I give them more than sufficient salaries, they are always spending all they have and coming back for a loan to buy bread to eat.'

I don't know what the source of this problem is, but it is certainly a natural human tendency, not just a problem of Mexicans. Americans are paid 10 and sometimes 100 times as much for their work as those in other less developed countries, and yet our collective debt outweighs our collective wealth.

The interesting dichotomy is between the well paid and the actually wealthy. This brings us to the next major problem he identifies with Mexicans (and, again, I would argue with humanity): the problem of status. Status is very important; the price of a nice house in an expensive neighborhood is not substantially less than an equivalent house in Austin, TX (despite wages being substantially less than in Austin). But to rent that same house can be less than $1k/month! He made the example very concrete by directing me to this website, where prices of some very nice houses in the nicest neighborhoods in the city are found. (Keep in mind that $=peso as well, and that a peso is 1/13th of a dollar). On top of this, interest rates are much higher on mortgages in Mexico than they are in the US.

Still people will buy houses! And they will buy them when they can't afford them. (As do many in the US; my parents bought a house outside their means when I was 11, and lived likewise... They went bankrupt when I was 13.) Why?

He tells me that his friends who make as much money as he does (he is somewhat well off, by being self employed; he has a couple of ventures, the only one of which he described to me being industrial engineering at a machine shop) feel sorry for him for renting an apartment. Why? It's a very nice apartment, two stories, quite large, with a very large private garage, 5 minutes from downtown, well furnished... And it's only $600 (dollars)/month.


Now for him, it's everything he wants. He has no desire to buy a house, as that would be a foolish financial decision. But he has opted out of the status game that most people in his monetary bracket play.

He finds that he spends such a small amount of money every day, that he can save huge amounts of money. He then spends this on the things he enjoys, without going into debt; he has a 2007 dodge charger, a basic model, and it was bough outright after saving for some time. He also spends most of his money on travel, and travels lavishly; this is where his money can actually make him happy.

A wise man, I think.

I could keep going, but on to the fun! Independence day was Saturday/Sunday (originally Saturday, changed to Sunday by some politician at some point who wanted it to be on his birthday instead?), and my host had a great party of couch surfers from around the city, maybe 40 or 50 people. And they partied until the wee hours of the morning! There was a pinata, lots of tequila, homemade food, lots of dancing. I was worried that there would be a language barrier, but despite my difficulty talking with government officials in Spanish (functional, but bumbling), I found myself much more comfortable speaking 'party spanish'. Aside from this, it being a gathering of couchsurfers, there were also many English speakers; so I found the night a great mix of the two languages. I also stand out at a party, what with having blonde hair, so I found conversations starting themselves.

Great time! :)

I had planned to leave the next day, but the weather was supposed to still be quite bad the whole route through, so I put off driving for one more day. We went and did a little sight-seeing, looking at the old town area--there used to be an avenue filled with clubs that were almost all closed now, because of the cartel violence.

He told me that Monterrey used to be very safe, and that people used to be afraid for people when they would hear they were going to Mexico city. Now, he said, Mexico city is seen as a relative safe-haven--they'll only take your money and let you go in Mexico city. The cartel activity in Monterrey, though, at some points in the last 5 years, got so bad that you could not be out at night at all. The car theft had become absurd, too. Kidnapping was really bad for a while--for at least a year, not a week went by that you didn't hear of a kidnapping connected to someone you personally knew. In the last year it's getting better, he said; only one kidnapping he personally heard about in the last year, a friend's nephew. He said that he feels like the cartels are becoming a little more selective about their crime, more 'precise' in their picking of targets, instead of just victimizing random civilians. He talked about the shock of how desensitized people of the city had become; movies with child violence were almost funny, now, at times, given how dramatic they tried to be and how normal it all seemed. Unable to recruit any more adults for their activities, cartels had started resorting to child brainwashing and abduction. Thirteen to 16 year olds were commonly working for the cartels now, often having killed many people.

Monday, I was finally leaving. First sunny day since I'd left Austin on Thursday. Could see the mountains around the city for the first time; beautiful! You will see them in the video I'm working on.


Made it out later in the day than I intended; by the time I drove out, it was a little after noon. The planned route. All my stuff packed up and ready to go, complete with flag my host gave me from the party:

Basic phone I bought the day before featured similar plans and prices to those in Israel... Starting to think the cell phone market in the US is a relative bubble in its setup:

My host and I:

For this drive, given its distance and how important it is to not drive at night in Mexico, I was going all toll roads where possible: They're safer, but they're also in better shape (allowing you to drive faster), and don't go through city centers like the normal highways. Give this, instead of writing out directions like I normally do, I just memorized the names of the major cities on the way and decided I'd follow the signs. In general, this strategy worked; inside Monterrey, trying to get out, however, it didn't work quite so well. I drove the same three highways back and forth trying to get my bearings before I made a leap of faith that one road was correct, and then found out it was a little ways down when I started seeing signs for "Saltillo." By the time I got there, and filled up the gas tank and 2 gallon spare in the back, and was leaving, it was 2:30pm--well behind schedule.

The roads in Mexico, as might be expected, aren't exactly like the roads in the US. Speed limits are suggestions. The common top speed listed is 110 kp/h, a little less than 70mph. There are very few patrols, however, and so everyone speeds. I pushed the bike a little harder this time than I did on the way to Monterrey, and realized that the carbs' need-to-be-cleaned-limitations are mostly evident at the top end: anything about 7.5k shows stumbling, most of the time. Still, for the first half of the trip, I was going 6.8 to 7.5 in 5th on the tach; as you all know, our speedo only goes to 85, but I'd guess it was generally somewhere around 95 to 100mph. (Tsakz should be able to shed some light with his 550 speedo on his 650 seca as to what those RPMs would indicate?)

It was a long day. And in spite of the sun, it wasn't hot, especially at speed. I bought a sweater the night before, given how cold I'd been driving most of the trip, and hearing that Mexico city rains a lot, and I'm glad I did. By 4 or 5pm, I put it on and found myself comfortable. (And a US Medium is a Large here, by the way... Found that out the hard way, as my sleeves are too short.)

The scenery was often quite beautiful up to this point... Long stretches of valley with mountains around off in the distance, lots of rolling green grass and open spaces with long views in every direction. I made myself some Quaesedillas for the trip before I left, and had eaten them for lunch earlier. For dinner, I had two 'burritos' (which were small; we would have called them tacos in Texas, for us, burritos are generally quite large) for 13 pesos a piece, about a dollar each.

By about 7pm, I'd made it to San Luis Potosi, which is roughly the halfway point; I was sure I had to be close, though. At my speed, I was basically going through most of a tank of gas in an hour (again, about 100 mph out of a theoretical max of about 120 mile range per tank, ish--haven't been tracking mpg because everything is in liters and I've been in a rush), and so stopping to gas up about every hour. I had three gas station attendants in a row, one hour after another, that Mexico City was 5 hours ahead. (ha!)

One of those gas stations had this massive 'bike' out front with a boxer engine sitting in the frame

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I was driving fast, however. (Never did get pulled over, by the way, though I passed maybe 3 cops the whole time?) So I thought from San Luis Potosi, I might be able to make it in 3 hours. Sunset, it turns out, is about 7:40pm now though. The days are getting shorter than they were 2 months ago, fast, and I hadn't thought about that much--it's not almost 9pm anymore like it was two months ago. So by 8pm is was getting cool and dark--not good--and I donned my rain-suit to block off the wind.

And took a picture.

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I had hoped to have a back-up host in Santiago de Quereterro in case I was running late or was tired--both of which I was. Unfortunately, that didn't work out (my fault that I didn't pursue it more, having only contacted two people--you should generally contact 5, and my good luck in Monterrey had made me lazy). Around this point I became determined to get to Mexico city tonight, and pushed the bike hard.

One of the main reasons you shouldn't ride at night in Mexico is that the roads are not lit; the second reason is that some people drive without lights at night; the third is that the roads are not maintained as well as in the US (though I was travelling on the best roads Mexico had to offer). Fourth can be the cartels, but that's not really a problem south of Monterrey.

So let me tell you, if you want an adreneline rush, forget skydiving. I've done that. I mean, sure, it's good. But it's short. There's something heartpounding about going 90 mph at night on poorly lit roads, however, trying desperately to make it before it gets any colder to your destination.

(I admit this was foolish. I don't expect to drive like this again for the rest of the trip, as I won't be in a hurry, and I won't be trying to span great distances in short time periods. So while I could spend this post rightfully calling myself stupid, I'm just going to do it for everyone else here at this point and just admit how intense it was in spite of that for the rest of the post.)

Eventually, I stop and get some gas and, freezing, get a big cup of coffee from an auto-coffee machine like you'd find in America to warm up. (Not so romantic). I ask some old truckers outside how far to Mexico, and I get maybe 'an hour and a half' away if I drive very fast, from Mexico/200km. I start driving and see a sign that says 250km. It just never ends. It's completely dark, and just 20 minutes down the road I hit unbelievable traffic. Stop and go. I hop on the tiny shoulder and inch around cars at a standstill at about 20mph... and I do this for MILES. I eventually checked the odometer, realizing it wasn't ending soon, and I still passed traffic like this for the next 4 miles. It took me maybe 35 minutes or more--construction was the cause. I shudder to think what it would have been like if I'd gone with traffic... hours for sure.

At some point there, my bike died suddenly. Clearly electrical. I pulled over, checked fuses--fine. I tapped the battery--boom, lights up. In a hurry, I put the seat back on and strapped the spare gas can and set off. One or twice during this the bike shut down for a second, same connector I thought, and a quick tap to the battery fixed it or it would fix itself after a moment.

Passed the traffic. It's cold again, going fast again. Running low on gas, not seeing much around me. Finally a gas station, but it's right around a corner and a semi truck kept me from seeing it in time, no option for a U-turn here, so I keep going, waiting out for another. 110 miles on the odometer. 115. 120. Nothing. Start feeling the subtle power change that tells me I don't have much more than what's in the carb bowls, 2 minutes left. No shoulder here. Go into right lane, waiting for the right moment--remember, I do have a 2 gallon can full on the back, I just need a safe place to pull over.

Finally, just in time, there's a little area of shoulder to pull off onto with a big lit "Capufe" (use google translate's webpage translation service) truck with a sign. I pull up behind it, and as soon as I stop, my electrical problem kills the bike before I do.

No problem, I think. Just will fill it up and tap the battery and be done. The can pours slowly, though, so eventually the driver of the capufe (think the federal agency in charge of maintaining the Federal Interstates and handling tolls) truck walks up and asks if anything is wrong. I say no, just filling up. He stands by all the same as I fill it up. Tie the can back up. Turn the key. No lights. Tap the battery. No lights. Odd.

Tighten battery connections. Wiggle some wires. Untie the gas can. Pull the seat and check fuses. All fine. Wiggle more wires.



Wiggle wires coming from the ignition key switch. Unscrew the headlight and check connection inside, since I did install the key switch from my old bike onto this one after all. Seems fine.

At this point I pull out the voltmeter and check the batter. 13.07. I check the plug from the key switch behind the light--0.01, i.e., nothing. Uh huh. No electricity is getting to the key. I pull the fuse for 'head' and look closely--it's fine, it really is. No resistance from one side to the other. I check the fuse mount--nothing. There's no power going to the fuse. The Capufe guy is helping me here, checking other things as well while I'm screwing and unscrewing things. I had also tried the ignition switch, even though that shouldn't have kept the lights off, having pulled open the Haynes and looked up trouble shooting for 'complete electrical failure'. No power getting to it either.

Capufe guy checks all the fuses, and points out that only one is getting power, one of the 10A fuses. We trace it back, and eventually, the starter solenoid (if I am not mistaken--the pill shaped thing that the positive terminal of the battery directly connects to) is the problem. I need to find a clearer explanation of exactly how it works, because I still need to fix the problem. (anyone here able to help?)

So I find that if I put a metal wrench across the incoming positive and negative terminals, I hear the bike trying to turn over, but no lights, so it won't ever hit since the 'kill switch' isn't getting current run through it, I guess. But on the some of the output leads, I see no current. I don't know exactly where I should see it, or when (maybe only when turning over here, for example?), so I can't really troubleshoot the solenoid itself. But I realize the problem is that I'm not getting power to my key and kill switch. So I have to bypass them. I start talking with my capufe friend, and it's almost been an hour (and let me tell you, doing mechanics in Spanish with a kind stranger is quite an experience! haha), and I'm just figuring out the problem... And saying, ok, we need to pass current before the switch. We think.

And then, an AH HA! moment: "What if we just get wires to bypass the fuse and plug its sides into the one good fuse that has electricity running through it?"

So I get some scissors out, cut the wires, run them to the metal connectors for the good fuse...

AND VOILA! LIGHTS! I felt like McGuiver! Electronics are my weak spot, so it was an especially happy victory. I hadn't lost gumption the whole time. My capufe friend also told me I only had like 50 more kilometers to go to my friend's house, so it was good news. I get back on the road, fill out some papers for him to indicate he was helping a stranger and not wasting time (talking with him: this is his night job, his day job is being an ambulance technician--he's helping people all day. He loves his work. Great guy. Left me feeling very good about Mexico in spite of all the bad.).

And off I go. Cold again. Fast. Late. Tired. It's getting close to 1am, then past 1am. Almost there. Looking for my exit, "Ceylan". It's now misting, very hard to see through the visor. Slow down and pull up the face shield on the helmet.

Hit some very bad road as the highway dead ends for construction and turns into a different highway. Go down for a while, but it feels wrong, too far... Pull off, drive down some inner city roads and find a convenience store. Call my friend, and hand the phone to the convenience store worker to explain where I am and get directions.

The rest was another hour and a half of trying to figure out how to get to him via terrible directions, given that he hasn't been in town for four years until two weeks ago (thus me meeting him now, while he's visiting for a month). Eventually I do. He takes a taxi to meet me in the center, turns out I passed the exit somehow, apparently, though I was watching like a hawk for it.

And then I'm at his family's house. And I'm going to sleep.

Welcome to Mexico City. After getting lost at the beginning and the end, it ended up being over 600 miles. Surprisingly, the seat did not have my ass nearly as sore as you'd think--the only point of pain was my left shoulder. Don't know why? Some previous issue exacerbated? Still stretching my neck/shoulder two days later...

More on Mexico city later! Video coming soon!

Buen viaje amigos!

fintip 10-06-2012 07:32 PM

Update... 4?
Sorry it's been so long guys. Not much riding lately, just enjoying Mexico city here with my friend and his family, seeing what life is like on a day to day basis.

My friend's (Samuel's) mom is a dentist. She owns a relatively large house that is technically shared ownership between all of the grandchildren of a wealthy and once-well-known grandfather from Nicaragua who was the patriarch. The house isn't luxurious, by any means, but it's not something to complain about either. It includes an apartment up front that she rents out, and a side room where she practices dentistry with her own equipment. She doesn't make much, however, as dentists are apparently paid much less here than in the states.

They are at the bottom end of middle class, perhaps; not exceedingly poor, though we wash our clothes by hand here. The electricity goes out on occasion for a while, a few minutes or a few hours, sometimes a day. That sounds bad, but it becomes quite normal here--the weather is always mild in Mexico city, so you don't really notice it if it's during the day, and it usually is. (There is no central air conditioning or heating.) They live in the north of Mexico city, on the outskirts of a suburb of the city. Mexico city is vast, huge, mindbogglingly so. You can drive from here for 30 minutes on the highway at high speeds and only be 'less north' than we are now, still not to the center of town. It goes quite far south. If you just keep going north, though, which I did the other day, the city never quite thins out... Just keeps going, thick metropolitan crammed streets for miles and miles and miles. It's really not comprehensible.

Mexico city, after Tokyo, is the largest city in the world by population when including its suburbs. (It also has the worst air quality in the world; it is said that a day in the center is like smoking a pack of cigarettes.)

So most of the time, I have used the city's excellent public transit. Out here, there's a train (called the 'suburbano', even though it doesn't go underground, for some reason). The train will take you in less than 20 minutes at high speed to a fairly north/central Subway and "Metrobus" (specialized bus system that has dedicated lanes--like a subway, above ground, on wheels, that stops for nothing but lights) station.

The system altogether is pretty impressive--utilizing train and metrobus, I was able to get from the far north of the city to the far south in 1.5 hours (not during peak hours). I didn't realize how impressive this was until much later.

The subway is amazing--vast and fast. It is also very easy to navigate, and within a few days I felt confident going anywhere in the city on my own on the public transit. Again, the speed with which the subway moves is deceptive, and makes things feel closer than they really are. Travelling the same distance above ground takes many times longer.

At the same time, it's usually quite warm from all the bodies--even when it's not during peak hours, when people cram in Tokyo-bullet-train style, shoving and cramming in as many as can fit and still get the doors to close. (The two front subways are dedicated to women and children during those hours, though they are equally crammed I am told). There is a kind of 'mafia' that operates on the subway, with the footsoldiers being peddlers of random goods--pirated books on CD, bubblegum, scissors, pirated music on CD (they come in wearing a speaker in their backpack, skipping through tracks to sample the CD for sale, yelling out the artists and songs featured--everything from dance music, to pop music, and mariachi music), toys. Then there are beggars, and occasionally, if you're lucky, buskers. One very lucky day, I got to see a family (a father and his three children) playing an instrumental of a Simon and Garfunkel song quite beautifully. Alas, I ran out of space shortly after I started filming--terrible timing.

All forms of public transit are incredibly cheap, and are subsidized by the city in an effort to help with the air quality, which the city is aggressively trying to improve. (The situation isn't helped by the surrounding mountains, which trap air in.)

Mexico city, Samuel frequently has told me, is remarkable as a microcosm of the income inequality of Mexico itself. I can clearly discern some of the different accents in the city, and he tells me this is because the rich and the poor and the middle class all live in such different worlds that they never interact, even though they live among each other. I have only a tiny grasp of this, because as much of the city as I've seen, I have only gone wide and not deep. To go deep in this city by any measurement would take at least 6 months of concerted effort.

But the diversity in what I did see is just unfathomable. High end boutiques and middle class shopping malls and art museums and iconic structures and old churches and beautiful murals and wooden post expansions on falling apart adobe homes; roads in so bad a state of repair that you much creep along them leading directly to the highway where you can effortlessly coast along at 90 miles per hour (and still be passed on occasion by someone actually in a hurry). A forest in the middle of the city featuring an exquisite 18th century castle and a lake, as well as a stunning monument to the 6 "Ninos Heroes" (Heroic boys/children) who defended the capital against the US invaders in the 1800's. Tacos on the side of the road for 3.50 pesos (about $0.28), a stone's throw from restaurants charging exorbitant sums by any standard, where those who wear suits dine, who will never touch those same tacos.

Those who ride the subways don't have cars. Those who have cars never ride the subway. Beneath all the grandour of the most beautiful parts of the city, the people beneath slave away. A man working behind one of those taco shacks may just be an employee, and may make $300 a month--just barely enough to survive. One older woman I found, who sold tacos the cheapest of all, said she owned hers all to herself. Had worked it for 20 years. Just outside of a subway station.

This is not the rednecks out in the sticks and the slicks in the city--this is both, next to each other, never making eye contact, and speaking their language differently. This is a jacket made in China and having an American brand name selling for $70, seams starting to fall apart in a month, and a handmade sweater of wool sold two hours away for $12.50--the tourist price, that is.


The violence doesn't quite reach to Mexico city, but the fear does. I still can't tell if this city is really dangerous or not, as I didn't have any personal encounters with it. But people have good reason to be afraid: 70k people have died in the last 5 years from the drug violence in Mexico. So whether the city itself is so dangerous or not, my friend was obviously somewhat terrified of leaving the city. While we'd originally planned to leave the city and travel to the Yucatan, he at first said he wanted to wait until Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement for Christians) passed, so he could spend it at the synogogue with his family. When that passed after a week and a half, he said he'd had a change of heart--he'd rather stay with his family while he could.

He immigrated to Israel (as all Jews have the right to do under Israel's "Right of Return") a few years ago, which is where I met him, and it'd been years since he'd been back. Now, realizing that he was going to be in Israel for some time, and not knowing when he'd return, and aware that there could be a war soon and he might be called into service, and not knowing whether he'd live... He wanted to spend as much time as he could with his family.

Which was fine with me; Mexico city or the Yucatan, it's all new to me. We were supposed to make more day trips than we did, but things just didn't happen most of the time. We did make a trip recently out to the Aztec pyramids, which were pretty stunning. It was his first time on a motorcycle for an extended period--it was his second time ever, his first being a few days ago to run a quick errand with me in town. He was terrified and elated! And he plans to buy a scooter when he's back in Israel and work his way up.

I was planning my next move. Inspired by how cheap food was here, I started looking online for what parts of central america were truly the cheapest, as Samuel said it was 'expensive' compared to what it used to be. (I imagine it's mostly inflation and imagination on his part...).

Mexico city was certainly near the bottom of the list, but the cheapest I found in Central America was the capital of Nicaragua--Managua. Also, the weather is perfect--75-85 from November to April, which happens to also be the dry season.

But, Managua is as far from Mexico City as Mexico City is from Austin, at least, and the most expensive thing I can do is drive. (Fuel is cheap here compared to the US, but living is even cheaper. And toll roads can be EXTREMELY expensive, and at least in Mexico those are the only safe option at the moment, and I don't know enough here to be confident trying them on my own.) Also, I realized that stats would only be available for major cities, and smaller towns were likely even cheaper. So I thought that after here, I'd just go to the next country south, Guatamala, where I hadn't been since I was 4 years old, find a sleepy town on the beach, and rent out some room for $50 or $75 a month, and just... live. Study programming and finance and history and whatever else tickled my fancy, and meet local people, and go to the beach, and explore local roads and make day trips.

When I first got to Monterrey, I realized that my bike was of a larger bore than 99% of the motorcycles I saw. (One rarely sees anything larger than a 350, and even still most bikes are 125cc Yamaha YBR's and the like. If it's bigger than a 350, which you see on occasion, it's likely to be a very expensive R1 or R6 or Harley or such...) So I wondered what my bike would go for here. Then I wondered about maybe selling it at some point, and flying bike--if it goes for 2k, I could live a long time here on 2k. Like, several months.

On doing a little research, I ran across a tidbit of interest: if you sell it illegally (i.e., just sell it to some guy on the streets here, having only done a temporary import as I did), you can never bring another vehicle into Mexico. In fact, even if your vehicle is stolen, you can never bring another vehicle into Mexico. (Because how do they know it was actually stolen, and that you didn't just sell it on the black market?)

Heard a story of a guy who legitimately had his car stolen, and 6 years later was stopped driving into mexico and told he couldn't come in.

It just happened to be mentioned on one of these pages that a trick (one I had planned on using and had read about before) that used to work no longer did, as the system had become highly computerized.

What trick?

Well, to get into the border, I give them a $200 deposit to be returned when I leave the country, if I do so legally. I also pay several non-refundable fees, since this work is all outsourced to a major bank in Mexico, and they have to get their cut.

So you leave the country and let them know you are cancelling your permit, they look you up, and let go of the $200 withheld on your card (or give you back your cash), and you're done. To come back in, you have to repeat the process from scratch.

If you come in through the north and leave through the south, you could, however, just not tell them you were leaving. This would mean you don't have to pay the fees twice. And as long as you are in and out and in and out within 6 months, no problem, right?

Used to be the case. However, I found on one of these sites by chance a mention that this trick isn't working anymore. They had received several emails of people who had tried this, and who had been thus disallowed from re-entering the country, and become stuck with their vehicles south of the border.

Lame, I thought. Guess I'll just have to pay the fee twice.

And that was the end of it, I thought.

And then, a few days later, a few days ago, it hit me. This is a huge problem.

If you'll remember my first installment from several weeks ago, I had a lot of trouble at the border. The eventual solution was to visit the County Tax Assesor and have a temporary paper issued--good for 30 days--that basically was a VIN/Title correction.

30 days you say? Does that mean you have to leave in 30 days? No reason to be alarmed, I only need it valid for the day I am to be issued the Mexican Temporary Import Permit. That Mexican Permit is then valid for 180 days (6 months), and the other document ceases to be meaningful (while in Mexico).

Originally, this wasn't a problem, when I thought I had the permit and I was good for 6 months. But if I go south to Guatamala, and cancel the permit, and need to get it again... But this time that paper has expired...

Can anyone say SOL?

So that means I'd be stuck in Mexico only. Which is an option... but less than ideal, given the security situation which is keeping me on the mega-highways and off the curvies...

This is where the second part of this story comes in.

When my first XJ650 was hit about 2 months ago, I promptly set about finding another XJ650 Maxim. I had invest months in learning THIS bike, and I didn't want to learn another bike at the last minute. So I found another one. Simple as that.

But this time, things were different. As I went through the motions on that bike, disassembling the old one and taking everything of value I could off before I had to turn it over to the insurance company, and prepping the new one for long ride duty... It was all so easy. I enjoyed it (even scraping that awful old valve cover gasket off, I really got a great sense of accomplishment installing the new one properly, attaching it to the valve cover with RTV and smearing a bit of oil on the engine's mating side... 3 days of work, doing things slowly and right, trying to figure out a way to get all the bits of the old gasket off... And yes, bigfitz, next time I will remember to stuff shop rags in the gallery beforehand...).

I enjoyed it, but it wasn't new anymore. But the real thing was that first feeling--that feeling I got when I test drove my original XJ650, when I pulled back on the throttle and the bike shot forward, and I felt that power--that feeling wasn't there for me anymore. I knew this bike well. When I would turn with my friend, who also occasionally rides bikes, riding bitch, he would get spooked by how effortlessly I was cut sharp corners. I knew the throttle well enough to pull it all the way back, and I could hit the bike's top speed and not really find myself on edge anymore. And I was starting to notice why old SJM motorcycle frames quietly disappeared in performance bikes, and feel the limitations of the brakes and suspension, starting to get curious about why "twinshock" was used as a term to identify vintage motorcycles.

And so, as I fixed the new 650 by day, I researched by night. I started looking for the next bike.

Just for future reference, I would generally say this is a Bad Idea. There's no better way to become dissatisfied with what you have than to start looking for something to want.

Originally I turned my attention to XJ900's, after looking at the XS1100 standard (not special) for a bit. I read up on it. A good bike, for sure. I started looking on various craigslists to get a feel. Saw a few come and go on ebay. Thought that was what I'd start looking for when I got back.

But then, on a whim, having once heard someone mention an FJ very briefly on this forum, I decided to give it a glance.

And then a look.

And then I found an FJ forum.

And some old reviews.

And then I joined the forum and started asking some questions. (And pissed off a few people in the process, I tend to ask too many sometimes....)

I found a website of a mechanic who only works on FJ's, and races a super-customized '84 FJ1100 in the pre-injection class against '01 bikes, the last of the superbikes that used carburetors, and he is in the top of the results.

And I really fell in love with this bike. I started studying it voraciously in my spare time at the house in Mexico city. I started looking them up on craigslists around the country. They can get pretty steep, up to 4k in price, but usually more like 2k. Occasionally you see one below. Once in a blue moon, you seem them for less than 1k, usually as a project bike, but VERY occasionally running rough and needing just carb and cosmetic work.

About the time I realized I was stuck in Mexico, I found a beautiful example that was perfectly fine, but had developed an electrical problem a year ago, and the owner was very hands-off, mechanics only, I don't have space and time to work on it, etc.. Given the price per hour, once he had had the starter and solenoid replaced to the tune of 1k, he didn't feel he could afford to just have the mechanic start blindly trouble shooting.

So he was selling it. For half of its value, at $1,299.00.

In Seattle. Where I had 2 friends living and 3 friends visiting--one of whom owed me $1100.

And I thought... This is crazy... But what if...

What if...


I called the guy and started talking to him. Asked him a lot of questions. Felt like he was rather trustworthy. Asked him how he felt about $900. He said that was less than he was willing to take. I said I'd have a friend look, and we'd talk. He said that sounded good.

Tried to get a friend out there. Took a day or two or three. Finally after thinking and studying some more, I called the guy and talked to him, made sure it was still on the market. Asked him how he felt about 1,050. "Closer", he said. "You're not the only one looking at this bike, you know. I have another girl who has been emailing me for some time who is considering a serious full restoration of the bike."

"1,100 is all I could possibly do."


A sigh.

"...I think I could do that."

I call my friend urgently. Yes, he can make it that evening. Yes, he can pick up money from my other friend.

That evening was pretty tense; at the last minute, I had one friend trying to withdraw $550 from an ATM (too much; but his son was there, and they were able to do $300 from one and $250 from the other, and pay each other back later), another trying to get to the Ferry and meet them before the 6:45pm (bike was an hour long ferry ride across the pudget sound) ferry left--luckily, they were located on the way, close to the ferry. Everything *just* worked out, me calling people from my computer coordinating. Writing a check list for my friend to inspect the motorcycle with, since he didn't have any background in motorcycles.

And then, handing over $550--half for now, half upon pickup.

So if I wasn't going to go to Costa Rica, screw it. I wasn't going to stick to the highways.

I'm going to drive back to Austin, sell my XJ650 if I can or take a loan with the bike as collateral from family or friend if I can't, and buy the bike, fix the electrical problem (electrical on old bikes is just... easy. I've been doing my research), and then drive the bike down the west coast.

Visit Canada, just because I've never been and it'll be an hour and a half away.

Drive down Hwy 1. Detour through the Redwoods via Hwy 36, "The most perfect road ever designed," go through some more redwoods south of there, back onto Hwy 1, enter San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge, head east to Death Valley, Drive through Las Vegas, see the Grand Canyon, go to Santa Fe, Roswell... And then get home. At least, this is the early sketch--if anyone else wants to recommend any sights or routes or people to visit--or if any of the wizards of this forum are on the way and would like me to buy them a beer--I'd be glad to hear them.

Here's the route.

So Costa Rica will happen another day. As for me, I'm leaving Mexico City tomorrow afternoon; I will arrive in San Luis Potosi 300+ miles away that night and leave the next morning. I will drive another 300+ miles to Monterrey and visit old friends who have invited me back, and leave maybe after a day there, drive another 300+ miles clear to Austin. About a thousand miles.

I'll paint the bike and start selling the spare parts I collected (already put a thread for those, see my signature or profile or the XJchat section), put the bike on CL, and either sell it--I'll go as low as $950 just to make everything work and get out of town ASAP--and buy a ticket to Seattle.

Lots of pictures and video to come still, it's a big task editing all this video, but I promise you it will get done at some point, though it might be with me back in Austin.

horseiron1 10-06-2012 08:55 PM


fintip 10-07-2012 03:20 AM

Edited last post... Fixed links throughout, added a pic in the post of the motorcycle to be bought. Saw a couple typos, to exhaust to fix right now.

WhicheverAnyWayCan 10-07-2012 06:12 AM


Muddy McDirt 10-07-2012 06:27 PM

Place to crash in SLP

Enjoying the read with envy. Im an Irish biker currently in SLP on business for a few weeks. If you need a place to crash or wanna grab a beer in SLP give me shout.

Best of luck for the rest of the trip,

fintip 10-09-2012 11:21 PM

Picture time.

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This one's my favorite of the day, I think:

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There's nothing quite like getting to pull back on the throttle as far as the bike will go and just fly at that speed, smoothly going through very light traffic, on a road that looks like will never end, mountains growing around you like a crescendo, announcing your arrival to Monterrey (a city surrounded by mountains).

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Happy with this one too...

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Debadged tank to make it look less attractive... There are lots of chinese bikes here, and so the value of a Yamaha is well understood. I tried to advertise it as little as possible.

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Parked out front of my host's house... Putting the factory powerlock to use as a theft deterrent. Not long enough to latch onto anything, but at least they won't be rolling the bike away.

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Aaaaand... THIS is how you keep a bike from getting hotwired. ;)

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Typical Mexican gas station. Basic and premium. The bike runs happily on basic ("Magna"), which is 87 octane. The gas here is usually red, by the way. Pretty attractive looking, red gasoline.

It's cheap here, too.

Also, all gas stations are full service. Whether you want it or not.

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My friend from Israel that I stayed with (who was raised in Mexico, immigrated to Israel as a 19 year old or so.)

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His family

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The packing job. It's heavy enough and leveraged right so that the bike totters from its front to its back wheel on the center stand with just a pindrop of pressure. Yet, it stayed remarkably stable--I had some fast turns that I got some significant lean on, and I never felt a hint of wobble from the weight. I was impressed.

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Family dog, adopted from the streets. Sweetheart.

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Just the bike, all by herself.

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I saw a thousand and one YBR125's from Yamaha, but it was pretty rare to see something with character like this one... What is this, the foreign market XS rebranded or something? It looked like a close relative to ours...

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It's a touristy thing to do, but you can't skip seeing an Aztec pyramid while you're here. (Next time I'll have to make the Mayan ones.)

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The sun was super bright, so I couldn't see the screen to line up the panorama right... But you get the idea. View from on top of the pyramid:

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fintip 10-09-2012 11:56 PM

Oh, one more thing... Proof of my obsession with this FJ bike I'm about to buy... Already studying up on its electrics. Couldn't find a wiring diagram for the '86, except via a viewable-online-only PDF of the Clymer's repair manual... So I did a bunch of screen shots and hand stiched them together in paint.

Then, because B/W is too hard to really read on a computer screen, I started coloring in wires according to their labels... By 'hand' on computer, on Windows Paint.

I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of what I'm going to do once I show up to the bike. Optimistic that I may be driving it out of his garage, not towing it.


fintip 11-08-2012 12:54 PM

Long time no type
Pictures and video clips coming soon.

Story goes something like this.

My plans went through, and then some. I started the drive back, breaking the trip into three days--San Luis Potosi, Monterrey, Austin. I didn't have quite enough money to make it back, but the friend from before who owed me money was going to be putting some in my bank account in a day or two that would be enough to make it back.

I make it to San Luis Potosi without problem, and am staying with a couchsurfer in town. I'm her first ever guest on the site. We have dinner with her friends at a local taco place, have the conversation in mostly Spanish with sprinklings of English sentences here and there on both our parts. (I'm missing the food now as I think back on it... Oh, those delicious cheap tacos...)

I check my internet presence that evening. Here at, I've got a response from an Irish biker who is enjoying the story, and says he happens to be in San Luis Potosi on business, and would love to take me out for a beer--see above. I message him: Alas, I will be leaving tomorrow morning, trying to get back to Austin ASAP, and it's a long ride to Monterrey. But maybe I'll catch him in Ireland, since I have some distant family there.

I have planned to leave the next day, but I need that deposit. It's Sunday. Friend will deposit it tomorrow...

...Oh wait. We're on the phone, and realize it's Columbus day. Which is, yes I checked, a bank holiday. Looks like I'll be staying an extra day in SLP after all.

I message him and say I'll be available for that beer after all. So we get on the phone and realize that we're pretty close to each other, and he picks me up.

We got out for beers and have a GREAT evening. Awesome guy. We talk bikes all night, and it was just... A good time. Swapping stories. Sharing the love of travel, dirtbikes, trails, languages, and bikes. Turns out he actually had an FJ1200 for a while.

At the end of the night he tells me his family in Ireland runs a bike shop, and has 30 bikes at any given time--and if I'm ever in Ireland, I'll have a bike to ride.

Quality people. That just made my week.

So with a spring in my step the next morning, I pack up and head out. It's Tuesday. I skype my friend who is supposed to be making the deposit, says he has a meeting in the morning, but after that he'll go make the deposit. He's in the West Coast, so he's two hours behind me, on top of that.

So I start driving. Fill up my tank around noon when I leave. He should have made the deposit just recently, or be about to make it any minute. Card declined. Pay with cash. Drive for 100 miles. Fill up again. Card declined, use cash... Getting a little nervous. Drive another 100 miles. Fill up. Card declined. Use literally the last of my cash. Something is wrong, he should have made the deposit by now.

So here I am, in the middle of the Mexican desert, without enough money to make it to my host for the night, and with nothing around for miles. I walk into the gas station, and knowing the answer will be 'no', ask if there's wifi by some miracle at this gas station in the middle of the desert.

'No', he tells me. 'Oh, momento, como internet? Pienso que si, momento.'

By some act of God, I have found the only gas station in Mexico with internet. So I sit down, pull out my laptop, and start trying to call the guy and figure out why he hasn't put money in yet. Definitely a little panicky.

No response. For like an hour. I call his son, who is with him, and his son says he left for the meeting hours ago, hasn't made it back, should have been back by now. He tries to call him. Nothing. We both start getting nervous that maybe something happened to him, car accident or something.

Then, 1.5 hours after I sat down here, I get a call. It's the guy.

He's at the bank making the deposit. Apparently the meeting went overtime, which meant he had to rush to his next meeting with an investor that couldn't wait, which then went overtime, and so he hasn't been able to get to a bank until now. He had to go to his bank first to withdraw, and then to my bank to deposit.

He puts the money in. I breathe a sigh of relief and get on the bike. After having conversation in Spanish about motorcycles with the gas station workers, who are admiring my bike's sheer size (ha, Mexico and its small bikes...).

What with the delays, I don't make it to Monterrey until late at night. I get fantastically lost in Monterrey again (most confusing roadways I have ever encountered), and so don't make it to my host (same one as last time, enthusiastically invited me back when he saw I was passing his city again on Couch Surfing) until like 9 or 10 pm, exhausted.

I spend an extra day in Monterrey resting, meeting another couchsurfer for coffee that I missed last time. Pack up and get ready to head out the next day. Leave later than intended, 2pm or so.

In the interest of minimizing the damage of a mugging, if it would happen, I have been keeping my wallet in my luggage and just keeping small change or no change, debit card, and driver's license in my front pocket. So I set out of Monterrey and fill up my tank and my spare 2 gal tank. I buy two half-liter glass bottles of Mexican Coke-a-Cola as a souvenir. And I hit the toll road, heading north for Nuevo Leon. About 60 miles down the toll road, I finally hit the toll booth--but not until I've pulled out my camera on the way and filmed some of the beautiful landscape. So I pull up to the toll booth, and reach into my pocket for my debit card.

Huh. That's strange. Where is it?

Other pocket? No... Jacket pocket? No... Daypack backpack? Hmm....

No... Big backpack?

Umm... Well, this is strange.

And then it hits me. It must have slipped out of my pocket when I pulled my camera out at some point in the last 60 miles.

Crap. No cash, given yesterday's turn of events. About 4 gallons of gas between my tank and spare gas can. Another 300 miles ahead of me, more or less. And stopped at a $15 USD toll booth, 50 miles from the US border with no way to pay.

You've got to be kidding me. The toll booth operator tells me I should talk to the boss who runs the toll booth. I pull over and find him, and start trying my best in Spanish to explain my situation. When he seems inflexible about the immutable fact that one must pay to cross, I do the only thing I can think of: offer my camera as collateral if he will loan me much less than it is worth, and give me his address and phone number, and I will call him and coordinate and pay him back when I get back to the states.

He says he would feel too guilty taking that, and starts to tell me that I should just go through the truck-pass lane of the toll booth, and get my toll fine 'in the mail' (wink). I am not sure I am quite understanding him, but after a couple minutes I realize that yes, he is telling me to basically break the law and he'll turn a blind eye. Thanking him, I continue on my way.

As I make it to the border, it is getting dark. I have paperwork to fill out to get my motorcycle out of the country--oh yeah, and they have to return my $200 deposit that I left with them to temporarily import the vehicle to Mexico! I'm saved, right? Just as I get into Nuevo Leon, I spend my last 2 or 3 dollars putting about a gallon of gas into the tank, and empty my spare into the tank. Cutting it close here.

I do the paperwork. This time, they give me trouble for the two digits half scratched out on the VIN sticker by the rubbing of the clutch and throttle cable housings over the last 30 years. Even though half the number is visible, and it lines up with the number stamped into the frame and engine, the guard insists on taking multiple pictures of all three, calling out his superiors, and making the process take about 30 extra minutes.

Oh, and since I made the deposit on a card it has to be returned to a card. Period. No exceptions. I tell them the card is gone, and they ask if I have any other cards. I don't. They ask if I have any family in the states with cards I could have the money sent to. Are you serious? You can't just give me cash? Rules are rules, they say.

Wow. Just, wow.

I tell them to just put it on my card, I'll get it sorted when I get to the states.

I cross over back to the US. There's a $2 toll to cross the bridge into the states. I don't have it... Then remember I have some change at the bottom of my daypack. I check. If I combine pesos and US coins, I have just enough to cross. The lady at the booth gives me a funny look and a pitiful laugh, and lets me cross.

I drive over to the same Denny's I went to the first time I had trouble, and get online. I call my family and explain the situation, still in reasonably good spirits based on the humour of the situation alone.

Here's my options:
1. There's an Esperanto speaker in Nuevo Laredo that might help me. He should either be able to loan me $30 (enough gas money to make it back to Austin) or let me stay for the night so I can make a withdrawl from the bank in the morning.

2. I can whip out the ol' hammock again and go back to my same secluded spot behind the jack in the box on the edge of town.

3. A Western Union transfer might be possible at the nearest HEB (Texas based grocer).

4. I can beg.

I call the Esperanto speaker. He's living with his girlfriend now, so he says he needs to check with her, but it should be fine for me to stay over.

He calls back. She's weirded out by the idea and thinks I sound weird, so she's not comfortable with that and says I should go to the homeless shelter... Seriously? Hospitality in this country is depressing. If it weren't for couchsurfing to restore my faith in humanity, I think that might have been a death blow.

Loaning me some money, I can leave collateral? Says he literally just overdrafted his account, he won't have money until tomorrow morning.

You've got to be kidding me.

I go to HEB and check on Western Union. They closed at 6pm or so, so that's not an option.

Well. It's either sleep it off or beg.

I decide I want to make it home tonight, fate be damned. I go to the nearest gas station, and start telling random people my story, asking if they could give me $25, and I can pay them back if they give me their address or phone number.

Most people brush me off. I find that the white people are actually the worst, in this regard. The three people who help me are all poor. Finally, I have about $20 and I remembered some more coins somewhere tucked away, putting me close to $23.

I start the long ride home. It's cold at night on these lonely roads. A lot of the way I'm chattering, even though I'm now riding with a wool sweater I bought outside Mexico City that's fairly heavy--don't know what I'd be doing without it.

Around 2am, I finally make it home. I eat ravenously, since I haven't had money for food all day. And I sleep, blissfully.

(That was two weeks ago. Next chapter coming soon.)

Hektoglider 11-08-2012 03:05 PM

Wow. you are quite the guy.

I am not going to tell you what you should/ should not do.

Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences

Luck is on your side. Some of its good.

805gregg 11-08-2012 04:52 PM

It's a good idea to take pictures without the bike, this is a riding forum we all know you are on a moto.

Comrade Art 11-08-2012 09:30 PM

You are one lucky gringo :freaky
Keep us posted on the FJ and don't forget your rain gear when visiting the NW.

mustardfj40 11-08-2012 10:00 PM

Wow, what a story!!!

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