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-   -   Mechanical knowledge required for a Europe trip? (http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/bodger-fix/mechanical-knowledge-required-europe-trip-58135)

Lagan 10 Jul 2011 10:09

Mechanical knowledge required for a Europe trip?
I'm thinking about going round a bit of Europe this summer, but have next to no technical knowledge re. my bike (or that many others for that matter, it's a 2004 R1150GSA). My current level would be changing a filter or the oil.

Don't get me wrong, I want to learn but frankly I'm scared stiff of breaking something which would could substantial amounts of money to correct... :(

Anyway, re. the Europe trip, is it really necessary to have that much technical knowledge?



backofbeyond 10 Jul 2011 13:35

Well, this is how I'd approach it. Presumably the bike is reliable enough in everyday use for you to consider taking it on a European trip. If that's the case then you've got three possibilities once you're underway. Either nothing will go wrong - in which case your lack of mechanical knowledge isn't a handicap, or something will go wrong. If it's something terminal - engine explodes, forks snap, bike is stolen etc then no matter how much mechanical knowledge you had it wouldn't have made any difference, so no knowledge is fine.

It's in the middle, where something has gone wrong but with a bit of knowledge you could have fixed it that your concerns lie. Suppose it won't start one morning or some sort of clanking noise suddenly appears. You've got no idea what's happened so what are you going to do? The answer is to find someone who can figure it out. Europe is full of people who can do that - dealers, roadside breakdown guys, even other bikers who'll sometimes stop. The downside is that it usually takes a bit longer than it would if you could do it yourself and you'll have to pay for their time (parts you'd have had to pay for anyway). Effectively you'll be trading your time and a bit of "what's that noise" worry for your lack of knowledge.

If you get some good breakdown insurance, a list of BMW (and other makes) dealers, and a mobile with enough battery life and credit to withstand the runaround you'll be given when you try to phone anyone I would have thought you'd be ok. Just make sure the bike's been really checked over before you go - and that doesn't just mean a 12K service or whatever. Get it looked at with a "stitch in time" mentality - what could go wrong.

Also, you don't have to be a time served mechanical genius to be able to fix simple stuff. Common sense will get you out of a number of problems. I came back from northern Spain some years ago with the end cap of the silencer held on with a couple of matchsticks and a short length of wire I found in a gutter at the side of the road.

Threewheelbonnie 10 Jul 2011 18:54

RAC card and a phone that works.

Don't worry, don't panic, don't mess with things you don't understand.

Nothing goes wrong you are fine except the RAC ripped you off for a hundred quid and did nothing but be ready to answer a phone. It's In-Sewer-Ants, you hope it's money down the drain.

You put Diesel in, some grease monkey is going to take the **** out you when telling the RAC how much they owe him. You won't have a clue, you'll just be given the keys back.

The drive shaft goes, you get a week touring in a hired Nissan Micra and the trip from hell coming home on Quesy Jet. The bike will be dropped off a month later at your home, utterly filthy and just as broken but otherwise fine.

Put any thoughts of spending £10000 on a new BMW (just as likely to break) or an Enfield, five hundred piece tool kit and a year of night school aside, you'll get better service in Budapest than Brighton or Bradford.


dave ett 10 Jul 2011 23:47

Join the AA / RAC / motoring organisation of your choice. Put their card in your wallet. Forget about it and enjoy the trip. :)

Lagan 10 Jul 2011 23:57

Yup, seems like the best idea. I'll have to tackle my lack of knowledge later on. :)

Thanks all.

gixxer.rob 11 Jul 2011 08:19

the odd one out
It seems I am the odd one out here but I think you should try to get a least some basic nuts and bolts knowledge about your bike. It never hurts.

oldbmw 12 Jul 2011 01:23

You dont need to know a lot, nor have the inclination to fix your own bike.
It does in my opinion help if you know a little, perhaps able to do a simple annual service and change a chain.
best thing would be to ask some honest mechanic to service your bike -and- at the same time look out for any impending problems. Maybe fit a new chain/sprockets too soon and keep the old ones for spares. Many people make the mistake on running on worn out consumables whilst carrying brand new spares. do it the other way round.
I know of BMW riders who have had diaphragms in their saddlebags for so long that when they came to use them they were already perished. When I service my bile it is a chance to recycle some of my riding spare parts.
But unexpected things will happen. Once I had a total power failure on a BMW. battery killed and some wires burnt including the power cable to the starter motor. But it did break up the journey. I left it in a garage, Euro 35 labour and the rest normally priced parts. It did allow me to make different friends and get to know the town better :) Oddly my TP insurance unexpectedly paid for my two days hotel bill :)

On my last trip to see the flytrap in Poland I had a big end fail, so it rattled all the way home. Unexpected and I did not carry the appropriate Parts. Once home I put it in the garage, ride in ride out. cost about a third of the cost of an efi problem on my Volvo. It is now not only fixed, but bigger and better :)
thing is not to worry too much and just deal with things as they arrive. I ride with a rough idea of where I intend to go, but neither the route or schedule is at all fixed.

Threewheelbonnie 12 Jul 2011 08:29


Originally Posted by gixxer.rob (Post 342196)
It seems I am the odd one out here but I think you should try to get a least some basic nuts and bolts knowledge about your bike. It never hurts.

Depends on the person IMHO. I've known riders who knew nothing beyond what they remembered from the service manual and did fine. An old boy who'd you'd have thought would have had a cheauffeur once asked me to change a Bentley headlight bulb for him in a hotel car park, no problem, he spoke four languages, I know machinery, we are all different and get by together. It wasn't as though you could die of starvation waiting for the ADAC or a garage to open in Frankfurt.

Unfortunately, I think a little knowledge is dangerous in the wrong hands. I've met countless riders who've read tales of doom on the net and get it into their heads some percieved rattle is the big end on it's way. The worst ones decide to take a look and in trying to get the head covers off their BMW's accidentally break the seal on the cam chain adjuster. If you can avoid the screaming voices of doom in your head and the urge to fiddle, the more knowledge the better of course.

I once met a bloke in Norway carrying a spare drive shaft for a GS. It was an expensive means to hold a tent flap down. Leave the contents of the garage at home, you'll never have the right bit with you.


Lagan 14 Jul 2011 14:23

Heh, that's the key isn't it - having the knowledge to know what is a problem and what isn't. :)

Either way, for my forthcoming trip around Europe, a RAC or AA card will do the job I think. :)

Tony P 14 Jul 2011 16:58

All highly sensible replies. But the one thing not addressed is Lagan's lack of mechanical confidence.

OK - he can change oil and filter.

How about brake pads, fuses, all bulbs, correctly disconnect and remove battery, chain/sprocket adjustment/replacement (where appropriate), clutch cable, spark plugs, wheel removal, top up other liquids ?
All fairly small, simple, straightforward tasks, quickly learned and building in knowledge and confidence by working on various parts of the bike. The forums and FAQ sections of model specific websites will go through these tasks in detail.

Armed with these skills (and tools!) you will at least have something to play about with while waiting for the breakdown truck to turn up !

henryuk 14 Jul 2011 17:20

This is another entirely personal choice thing I guess. I love getting my spanners out and figuring out what's going wrong (and tend to ride very breakdown-prone bikes as a result), and some people would rather have the confidence of knowing something's been done by a professional (or rather that they will have some comeback if it goes wrong).

I'd rather do my own wiring and plumbing and plastering than pay someone, which is why my house looks like sh*t! My mate would rather pay someone to do his house up which is why he doesn't have a bike collection, neither one of us is 'right'.....

gixxer.rob 15 Jul 2011 06:18


Originally Posted by Threewheelbonnie (Post 342307)
Unfortunately, I think a little knowledge is dangerous in the wrong hands. I once met a bloke in Norway carrying a spare drive shaft for a GS. It was an expensive means to hold a tent flap down. Leave the contents of the garage at home, you'll never have the right bit with you.Andy

Yes there are idiots everywhere but I still think having basic knowledge is nothing but a good thing.

McCrankpin 15 Jul 2011 16:58

Not been said so far so I'll chuck this in.
Use your eyes.

Everyday on the trip, and on the lead up to it, outside your tent/hostel/hotel, have a good look at your bike. At least a minute, two or three are better. Wander around it and study it. Even if you don't know what you're looking for, or at. But note what you see, all the bits, where they are, how they're held in place, how they connect visually.
Waggle things if they look as though you'll learn something from doing so.
(Riders who clean their bikes regularly do most of this anyway, but only on cleaning day - I don't clean much).

When you attach the day's luggage, do the same, look all around and underneath wherever it is that the luggage fixes to.

One day you may see something different, something missing, in a different place, something with a fine crack, or covered with some substance that wasn't there before, a patch of rust or bare metal that wasn't there before. An empty hole. So on and so on.

Gives you a chance to find something before it trips you up in the middle of nowhere where phones don't work, or much worse, there're no people to help.

If you find something strangely or worryingly different, at least you have a chance to visit a garage or bike shop first.

Anyway, to answer your question:

Originally Posted by Lagan (Post 342060)
re. the Europe trip, is it really necessary to have that much technical knowledge?



No, unless your bike has been severly mistreated before you acquired it, and not serviced as the makers advised you.

Enjoy your trip

Tenere99 12 Aug 2011 11:15

Buy a running rat bike for cheap. Take it to bits and put it back together again. hands on is the only way.

Jtw000 14 Aug 2011 23:41

Europe is easy enough, everyone wants to help you out. I'd say go for it. My understanding is the 1150 is a great, solid and reliable bike. Plenty of people riding them on the continent would say so so I reckon there's plenty of help available there.
There's nothing to stop you from doing both though, do your trip and brush up on your basic skills. Fixing a bike is really not that hard, I'm talking about basics here. So long as everything is checked regularly on a boxer you've got very little really to worry about. Oil changes, plugs, brake pads and the likes are all easy enough, and if you can do any of that then chances are the only thing you're really lacking is a bit of experience.
Have you considered just riding it and not bothering with RAC/AA cover? I mean if something happened you could just buy it online and then tell them you broke down the next day.... I mean you could do that....

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