Repair Saga : Doing Business in Colombia – Barranquilla, Colombia

Over the next week, we visit Honda several times to get a status update on the parts shipment. Andreas, the boss, is hard to get hold of. On several occasions he (or his staff) tells us he will be available in his office at a certain time on a certain day, but when we get there he is not around. It seems like he is avoiding us – but why?


Aside from the parts delivery we want to agree on a final price for everything, and since we’re going to be spending a small fortune here, we expect there will be decent guarantees on parts and labour. When we do manage to speak to Andres, he states that, of course everything will be guaranteed, yet he is uncertain about the exact extent, he thinks it’s six months. But he he promises to confirm that – with much deliberation. As for the final pricing, he gives me individual parts pricing but says the final price he can only work out when the work is done as he cannot discount individual items, only all the work as a whole.

A few days later he says that the work is guaranteed for 60 days, but parts do not come with a guarantee. This I find ridiculous and I tell him I will be expecting a decent guarantee on everything.


The whole procedure takes over a week, but finally by Monday 4th of March all the parts have been delivered to Honda Atlantico and in theory we should be ready to get some work done. We are relieved! The bad news is that no head gasket was available anywhere. Honda would need 30-45 days to get one from factory which is unacceptable, and the one I bought in Boa Vista, Brazil doesn’t fit. I have no choice but to keep on going with the one I have in place now. It has served well so far with only a very slight leak, but that has not changed in thousands of kilometres, so I think it will be ok.


We agree to do the surgery on Tuesday the 5th starting 07:30: cylinder re-bore, piston and rings replacement, new valve seals, cam shaft bearing, new clutch springs and friction disks.


First thing, I ask Horacio the workshop manager, to confirm to me a list of all the items of work to be done, so we can be ‘on the same page’. He ignores me. Fist thing he does is go to the workshop and gives the mechanic all the spares, including what looks like a set of clutch separator disks, and tells him to get started. Of course that gets me pissed off already. He ignores me when I try to get his attention, so I have to actually reprimand him in order to get him listening.

Next I’m in the office with Horacio and Andres and I’m about to go ballistic! I’ve had enough of this arrogant workshop manager treating me like an idiot! I for once want them to agree to a plan of action and stick to it! I’ve spent so many days chasing them up, trying to get them to finalize a diagnosis, a list of work to be done, a list of costs, and share that list with me so that I know what’s going on. They were apparently too dumb to manage that, and now they’re wondering why I’m throwing a tantrum, when they just casually snuk in an additional set of items into the work list without telling me?!


“But the separator disks are out of spec,…” utters Horacio The Dim. Three times they have had the chance to review the clutch properly, and so I have requested each time, and also that it be done according to the service manual specifications, so that we can be sure nothing has been missed or misinterpreted. Three times they have some back with different solutions that failed, but never a mention of any separator disks! However, here we are once again, and the mechanic realizes that another set of parts needs to be replaced! They’ve pushed me to the point where even I am feeling nasty and sarcastic. Surprisingly Ebru is the one that reigns me in a bit.

I demand that Horacio prove to me that these disks are not in spec. After making a few flippant attempts, he disappears off to get the manual and returns, demonstrating that they are no longer even when placed on a flat surface. Fair enough, this I can accept. But why only NOW?? And what of your bullshit diagnosis of “glazed friction disks”, which you last determined to be the problem, and, may I state for the record, you tried to hold me responsible for??! WANKER!


What’s the cost? 6 Separator disks, totalling a whopping 130000.00COP. Of course every time we have to do this I need to buy or provide another gasket and 2 litres of engine oil (50000.00COP).


By 09:30 23 finally get started with the work. The engine is dismantled, parts are sent off, and then we’re stuck waiting for the cylinder, which will be ready at 14:00.


Of course the cylinder only arrives at 15:00. The cylinder bore looks unreliable to me, as I can still see slight remains of the scratches inside, but Horacio The Dim tells me that it’s “nothing to worry about.” I’ve heard that before, so I demand that he take it to the factory where the bore was done and bring me a certification that it’s to spec. He promises to get that when he goes over to the factory to get the cylinder head, whose valve stems are being cleaned right now. But he returns back with just a strip of paper, written down on it is the new cylinder diameter, as supposedly measured by the factory: 85.75mm.


…Did I ever say anything about doing business in South America?… But I don’t have the energy to push more on the subject. I believe he has had it checked with a LAZER gauge as he says. If it solves the oil consumption and white smoke problem it must be OK and we’ll know soon enough.


At the end of the day, the work cannot be finished by 18:00 so we have to return again the next morning.

The work is completed the following day. The bike at least starts OK. Once again – the mind boggles – I have to ask them if any limitations apply whilst riding with this ‘new’ engine. I know that normally it’s recommended to keep the RPM low for a while. But I find it incredible that nobody mentioned this to me until I asked about it. They would totally have let me proceed to ride the bike at full throttle — and then if it had been ruined, supposedly blamed me for it?


I’m told I need to keep the speed to 70Km/h maximum. (Would that be in second gear then, sir?) I ask whether there’s a limit on RPM but they fumble about until Horacio eventually says 5000RPM. (I wonder if he knows that with 5000RPM in 5th gear I would be doing 90Km/h.)


(Never mind. I’ve already done some research myself before asking Honda’s recommendations – for reasons that should be obvious by now. The general recommendation (with many variants between) seems to be to keep to max. 4000 RPM for 1000Km, then change the oil and increase to max. 5000 RPM for the next 2000Km and change oil again. However some folks recommend that today’s engines can be broken in using full power from the outset (see


We take it out for a test ride of 70Km immediately. The engine stalls twice but I think I flooded it. I keep it under 4500RPM and check for exhaust smoke, and check the oil regularly. It seems to be ok. Back to Honda to settle the bill.

As you would expect by now, by the time we return to settle the payment, the big boss has crawled under a stone somewhere and left his minions, Horacio The Dim and Non Blond Bimbo at reception to do his bidding:

To give you a break from the seemingly-endless mundaneness of these going-on: as we’re sitting at Honda Atlantico work shop, something quite interesting happens: The Colombian army comes to pick up their bikes…

Colombian army picks up their bikes…

Horacio dishes out a bill to the tune of about 1.14-Million COP. This is about 300000COP higher than quoted by Andres!!! Now we have to sit with Horacio the Dim and the air head and go through item by item, checking up prices in the system. It turns out that the prices in the system are different than the prices quoted to us by Andres. Also the cylinder head cleaning was ‘included’ in the cylinder bore, so this has become 90000COP instead of the original 30000COP! The discussion goes to and fro. Dim cannot do anything without boss, so he has to make phone calls all the time to confirm. Finally we’re down to a price only 10000COP above the original price quoted.

But when it comes to the discount, all they offer is 0.99%! We waste more time discussing this, and Horacio’s excuse is that they CAN ONLY DISCOUNT CERTAIN ITEMS, NOT THE BILL AS A WHOLE, WHICH IS IN DIRECT CONTRADICTION TO WHAT ANDRES TOLD US IN THE BEGINNING! ….Did I say anything about doing business in South America??

Finally, we bargain down to 800000.00COP, which is 43000COP below the originally quoted price, and at least gives us about 5% worth of discount – however this is 5% discount only off the latest batch of work, and not the already paid 620000.00COP or more! Gee, thanks Andres – not!

Next and final item we have to whack out is of course the guarantee. As you might have guessed, there is no mention of the guarantees discussed with Andres (90 days parts and 60 days labour, valid at any branch in the country) anywhere.


The only guarantee is stated on the bottom of the bill, which says the labour is guaranteed for 30 days OR 3000Km. The guarantee which Andres the Boss promised us, is denied by Horacio the Dim. Eventually, Horacio tries to console us with the idea that the 30 days on paper are merely implied, but the guarantee is actually for 60 days. You have got to be kidding! We want what we were promised and we want it in black and white. So once again, we’ll have to return on another day, and of course they want us to leave the bike as security.


### NEWS FLASH ### As it happens, the day on which all the big repairs are finally completed, is Ebru’s birthday! This means that she can spend her special day basking in some light anticipation and a whole lot of stress, whilst sitting in the air conditioned waiting room at the Honda workshop.


Not quite what she was hoping for I think. I do manage to get away for a while to order a decorated cake for her at the big 24h bakery, but when I go to collect in the evening, they haven’t made it!! (Did I ever mention anything about doing business in South America???) I’m stuck with buying one of their standard off-the-shelf cakes, and the I get the lady there to quickly write Ebru’s name on top with some chocolate paste. Oh well. At least we have a cake. And that night we do manage to bring a few smiles to Ebru’s lips.


The next day we get the guarantees we were promised, in writing, on an business letter from Andres himself, and we pay our bill. Finally!

We decide to do a test ride to Cartagena and back immediately. First we take the bike to a nearby wash to remove any grease and oil from the surfaces, so I can make clear observations during the run.

As we ride the last 100m coming back to Garrett’s place I open up the throttle and in an instant, a terrible grinding noise comes from the engine below as the clutch seems to lose grip. OH SHIT! I stop and pull away gently, which works fine, but when I open the throttle hard again, it seems to disengage again and a terrible sound emits. Something’s really fucked now!!

Gonna be another happy trip to Honda tomorrow….


Back at Honda the following day, the terrible noise turns out to be something else: the front sprocket has finally reached the end of its useful life. It’s teeth must have been worn so thin that the final throttle-boost last night was enough to flatten them entirely. I feel almost a little proud to have worn a sprocket to this extent. I have a spare so we install it.

After this we do more testing and the bike seems to run OK. I imagine that it sounds different, which may well be my imagination, and may be normal or not. As for power, it seems to be less powerful than before, but I am running the engine in and cannot exceed 4500RPM, so it is hard to tell.


Within a short time I do find that the valve cover gasket is leaking oil. Off I go back to Honda and get them to fix it. What was the cause for the oil leak, I ask the mechanic? A piece of dirt in the seal. In goes a new gasket and this time some more careful work, and the problem is solved. The cylinder head gasket (the one we had to re-use from old) is leaking a little more than it used to, but nothing grave and also, there is nothing we can do about that.



We do some more test riding down past Cartagena. The country side is beautiful. I’m trying to run the bike past the first 1000Km so that I can get Honda Atlantico to do the required oil and filter change – a sort of proof that I did get it done.

Somewhere in between we manage to find the very important SOAT insurance, so that we can drive on legally and with peace of mind. More info on where we bought it you can read in this post. (PS: in case you were wondering, postings on bike forums confirm confirm first hand experiences of foreign bikers who had accidents in Colombia, and they say the SOAT here is worth every cent.)


We also buy a Colombia Road Map and Tourist Destinations Guide. These are available at many of the Peaje (Toll) offices on the highways, for 15000COP. This turns out to be probably our best buy in Colombia. It’s excellently laid out! It is packed with information about the various places you can visit and what awaits you there. Also there are plenty of detailed road maps for the various regions, showing brilliant break-downs of distances, altitude profiles and so on, and better still, many of these can be extracted for ease of use. Our advice is: GET ONE, and be sure to pass it on to another friendly road traveller when you leave the country!

Pretty soon we’re all set, we’ve done the required 1000Km oil change, and we’re ready to move on!