Day 339 to 370 – Kuala Lumpur – Delays, Fixes and Phantom Problems

Landing into Kuala Lumpur I was a little out of it. It was 5am and I hadn’t slept. I stumbled out to the cab stand and lumped up for a private ride into town. I couldn’t be bothered trying to navigate public transport in this state with all my gear, a check-in bag, a guitar, a rucksack and wearing my boots and bike jacket.

The cab jumped on the highway and it was a good ten minutes of staring awestruck out the window. I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong. Then I realised: No horns. Not a sound except the tyres on the road, and they weren’t bouncing over bumps. It was a smooth, steady hum from the engine and tyres. It was so calm and so easy. After the chaos and constant battle that is driving in India I couldn’t get over it.

Too early to check in at the hostel, I dumped my bags behind the desk and treated myself to a nice breakfast in a cafe. Then realised the cost that comes with the calm, back to western prices for western food, I didn’t even have enough money, having to run to the ATM to pay them. It was worth it though, after a good meal I slept like a log in my private room. Waking up only for dinner of a proper beef burger (a rarity in India, given almost nobody eats beef) and a beer, and then back to bed.

My sleep was a bit messed up for a couple of days so I ended up going out for a walk to watch the sunrise, completely forgetting I was in a huge city and couldn’t even see the sun between the tall thick buildings and resting smog. It was peaceful though, wandering around a place that was just waking up, no chaos, no car horns, nobody trying to run me over. Although I did nearly get myself run over a few times. After months in India I’m used to just wandering across roads and letting it sort itself out. People in Malaysia get understandably angry when pedestrians walk out in front of them.

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With Donkey’s boat arriving it was time to get pro-active with the paperwork. After the hellish shitshow that was shipping out of Chennai I was keen to get ahead of it here. I contacted the agent and tried to get some information. To my surprise she not only provided me with everything I asked for with great explanations, her English was great and she was lovely to chat to.

I tried to get things a bit cheaper and quicker by chasing down some insurance myself. I was still in the India mindset of “Nothing is easy. Everything is possible” Not true in Malaysia, somethings are not possible and there are laws and rules that are mostly followed, this was new for me. I eventually surrendered my paperwork and my control of the situation to the agent, having failed to achieve anything myself.

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I took the train out to Klang, the port town and she picked me up from the station. We sat in a McDonalds doing the important paperwork, which felt much more normal to me. I handed over a big wad of cash to cover the initial charges and she dropped me off back at the train. The charges were mounting up to much more than I had been expecting but it was all totally out of my control. I left feeling OK though, we’d had a good chat and I was sure she knew what she was doing and that I would actually see Donkey again soon.

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Parked up outside the hostel was a big motorbike, muddy, with panniers and an Aussie number plate. All the signs of an overlander! I asked the hostel owner about it and she pointed me to Liam. We had a good long chat about our trips, nattering away, it had been a while since either of us had bumped into other overlanders. He and his brother Owen are from New Zealand and travelling Australia to England (Oz to England Motorcycle Adventure Facebook) on their two bikes. As it happened they were stuck in KL for a while too, waiting on visas, we ended up out that night for “just one beer” and got way more drunk than we intended on much more expensive beers than we should have.

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A couple of days later I got a message from the agent saying Donkey was ready and waiting for me. Only 3 days after I handed over money and paperwork! All the appropriate stamps, paperwork, signatures and permissions were done. I didn’t believe it. I caught the hour long train out there and fully expected to be taking the same one back again. But there he was, still strapped tight, upright in the container as I’d left him, with all my luggage still locked in place. After filling up with some spare fuel from the agents warehouse I could finally hit the road in Malaysia. A huge grin on my face and the biggest sigh of relief that it was all over. Freedom. Back in control of my life. And such a nice place to be back riding. I was doing 80mph down the motorway in shorts and t-shirt without a single worry about a surprise pothole breaking my wheels, or a bus pulling out of nowhere without looking. Easy peasy riding.

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Now reunited with Donkey the second stage of my plan could begin. I rode out to Garret’s workshop, Liam and Owen had some work done here and recommended it. I wasn’t expecting much but I was greeted with a full blown sports bike workshop with lifts, compressors and all the tools I could wish for. Garret was a busy guy and slippery to get hold of for advice but super helpful whenever he could. His thick american accent apparently leaked into his fluent Malaysian while he chatted with all the guys working for him. I spent 10 days in total at shop, a lot of that waiting around around for parts or hanging around eating and chatting though. A couple of nights me, Liam and Owen and Garret ended up just getting beers and sitting in his garage till the early hours, it’s a simple transition from working on bikes and chatting, to drinking while working, to just drinking and chatting, especially when Garret knows where the cheap beer is.

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My biggest problem was the rear suspension. It had slowly, over the last couple of months, been sinking. I hadn’t noticed until it had been pointed out to me a couple of times. (Would you notice if your office chair got 1mm lower every day?) Now here in Malaysia it was almost bottomed out, a little uncomfortable on normal roads, perilous to me and the bike on anything bumpy. I was scraping the bash plate just going over speed bumps. I needed a new spring and maybe new gas too. Garret searched his regular places, and I scoured the internet to no avail. We could find loads of springs close to the size I needed but nothing exact. Frustrating. I bit the bullet and found a brand new one for £500, better than stock and properly serviceable, the shipping from Adelaide would take around a week though so I decided to bugger off for a little holiday.

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By this point I’d already been in Kuala Lumpur for two and a half weeks and needed to get out, see some things and, more importantly, ride! I missed riding so much, I live on the bike so 5 weeks off it is a lifetime. I put the bike back together as best I could, minus a few bits that needed fixing, then had a small panic attack when water started pouring out of the radiator at a traffic light on a test run, I feared the worst but I’d just forgotten to re-attach the overflow pipe. Typical.

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I headed out east to the opposite side of the peninsular, not expecting much, just wanting to ride and see what I found. A couple of days riding and I found myself near an Elephant sanctuary in the North east. I had meant to avoid these kinds of things in South East Asia as a lot of them are nothing more than slavery camps for elephants captured from the wild. This one though checked out in my research online and, having missed seeing any in the wild in India, this would be my last chance up close. I was not disappointed, it was an amazing experience, getting up close with them, a feed, a wash and even a little ride. It’s certainly not the perfect environment for them, but there was no bad treatment, and more staff than guests while I was there.

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So happy to be back riding I barely stopped anywhere on the way, the roads are good, barely any traffic and when I stop for fuel everything else is there. I just rode in a blissful trance, enjoying being on the bike and the beautiful scenery, nothing spectacular, just palm plantations, the occasional beach and small towns. After the elephants I headed to the giant “National Park” area I’d seen on the map. I’d heard the village in the middle of it was a nice place for foreigners and scenic so I just aimed for that.

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This tourist village turned out to be almost completely surrounded by Jungle. So much so, all the tourists I met wondered how the hell I’d ridden the bike there. They had been bundled into a boat for 3 hours to meander up the river to the village, though I’ve no idea why as the road directly to the village is perfectly good. I got social again for dinner meeting a bunch of other solo travellers in the hostel, and the next day went for a nice long walk in the Jungle. With no real walking gear I only planned for a short one but it was so captivating walking through it we carried on for hours. It actually close to what I had imagined a jungle would be, thick trees, hanging vines, constant noise of insects and animals, thick air so humid it was hard to breath. I loved it, I could have wandered around in it for days.

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Back in the town in the evening I decided to head straight back off to Kuala Lumpur, it would get dark on the way (one of my few rules is not riding in the dark) but with no cheap beds available for the night and the suspension arriving the next day I decided to risk it. Unfortunately I hadn’t noticed in my work in the garage that my headlights were broken, though thankfully the high beam still worked. I could flick it on when there wasn’t too much traffic. The winding roads through the hills were a challenge, my high beam could blind people mid bend, so I rode like a disco on wheels. Flick them on. Check the corner, start braking, see lights coming the other way. Flick off. They pass. Flick on. Corner still going, nothing in the road. Flick off. Cornering blindly in the dark is terrifying, I do not recommend. With the glare on the visor from headlights I had that open too and managed to take a couple of large bugs directly to the eyeball at 50mph, it’s even less fun than it sounds. After two hours of that the relief of well lit, four lane highways appeared, all the way back to the city. I still had to be careful overtaking, since I was basically invisible to everyone else without lights.

More surprise awaited me in Kuala Lumpur. I swung by the workshop on the way back in, hoping beyond any hope that Garret might be pulling a late nighter and I could leave the bike inside for the engine to cool overnight to open it the next day. I was amazed to see lights on and him coming and going. When I walked in I realised why, he was stripping the place. A mess up with his landlord meant he now had to move to his new workshop this month, instead of next month, and he had seven days to clear the entire place out. It completely screwed him over, but I was just thinking where the hell do I now work on the bike. It felt like a movie script, a last minute hard ride to Kuala Lumpur to work on the bike only to find the workshop missing when I get there.

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For the next couple of days I could still work at Garrets though the suspension still hadn’t arrived yet, tracking down and fixing the headlight problem and checking the valves in the engine. That work is a little complicated for me, but I can do all the hard work of getting into the engine, about 2 hours of removing things and prepping, for Garret to then do the complicated bit in about 15 minutes. I had another problem to solve, the bash plate, like way back in Nepal it was completely screwed up again. getting off this time was even hard because the threaded bit of metal had snapped in, leaving me with a bolt with a perfectly round nut on it. It took a lot of effort and some tips from Garret to even remove it.

A Chinese guy ran a metal shop not far from Garrets and knew exactly what he was doing. I pulled up, showed him how the plate was supposed to fit, and how it currently did. After a little translating from his wife he set to work like a master. An anvil, hammer and a blow torch and he had it all fitting spot on in about 30 minutes and even replaced some of the bolts and rubber spacers.

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Now that had been so much faster I had a spare afternoon. I figured I might as well do the most touristy thing in Kuala Lumpur, Batu Caves. Natural limestone caves just on the edge of the city that had attracted tourists for god knows how long. It was amazingly disappointing, it was teeming with tourists, all the inside had been built in, concreted and being expanded hugely. The cave was just a nice little spot to put all the tourist tat it seemed. The monkeys hanging around the steps were a joy though, torturing tourists, stealing food and drinks and shagging in front of old Chinese ladies who didn’t know where to look, struggling down the hundreds of steep steps.

I had another unwelcome surprise leaving the caves. I opened the throttle at the lights intending to blast away and got stuttering from the engine. It popped back into life after a second and I shot away, wondering what the hell just happened. Meh maybe a trapped throttle cable, shouldn’t be a problem. Then it happened again, worse too. Oh crap. I started riding in limp mode, aiming for the garage. Garret had a quick ride and couldn’t reproduce it, but thought it sounded like the fuel pump, something I’d heard about problems with on this model before. With only 2 days till Garret closed up though I headed for my backup plan. Sunny’s, only 10 minutes down the road. Sunny’s is pretty famous in the overlanding community, he’s been around for years and most Europe to Asia trip will pass through Kuala Lumpur at some point so he’s seen hundreds of us homeless bikers and knows a lot of the common problems too.

They first told me I’d have to wait quite a while because they’re very busy, until I pointed out I just wanted space and some tools to work on my own. “Oh! Then go ahead, just shout if you need some help”. Sweet. I started with taking the fuel pump apart and looking for anything obvious. Nothing. Some quick tests and I put it all back together and went out for a test ride and couldn’t reproduce the problem at all. Gahhhhhhh. How can I fix it if it’s gone.

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The following day I left with a plan. My theory was the problem only happens when it’s hot so leaving it in direct sunlight at 35 degrees should do it. I rode to the cinema and left bike sitting in the sun while I watched a movie. I took the long way back toward the hostel with no sign of the issue until the last 400 meters, dashing any hopes that it had fixed itself. I carried on riding for a while, trying to cause it in different ways and narrow down causes. Nothing made any sense, by the time I got back to the hostel it was dying even at idle, not just high revs like before and I was more confused than when I’d left. I spent all afternoon scouring the internet, though it seems an impossible problem to google for. Bringing up everything from failing bearings, dying fuel pumps, bad fuel or electrical shorts. I posed on a few forums with good communities but they couldn’t find anything concrete either, just potential things to replace and hope it fixed it, none of them cheap.

Then all of a sudden it was Day 365, one year whole year on the road! It didn’t feel particularly weird, but then why would it, do anything for a year and it will feel normal. What was weird was remembering all the time I’d spent planning and dreaming of being on of those people that had been on the road for a year. I certainly felt I was different from back then so maybe it does feel different.

Back to Sunny’s garage I started just tearing everything apart, all the fairings off, down to the engine and frame, looking for anything at all. Cleaning and organising as I went I solved a couple of things that had been bothering me but found nothing that would obviously cause a problem. When I got down to the throttle bodies they were filthy. I didn’t think much of it, but Hussein gasped and shouted at me when he saw them and grabbed them out of my hand to go clean them in their kerosene shower. The dust in Nepal had been absolutely awful and had gotten in to everything, that was months ago though, likely not the issue here.

No time for more diagnosing the phantom issue, my new suspension arrived! I shot off to Sunny’s to start fitting it which was routine by now, stripping everything down, wheel off, fairings, old suspension out. Getting it in and put back together was a big relief, I could finally leave Kuala Lumpur! Only about 2 weeks late…

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I still had the front suspension to rebuild first, some shiny new emulators arrived with the shock to improve their performance a bit, so I stripped those down and replaced the oil and seals too. It feels good to be able to do this myself now. I didn’t even consider doing this job back in the UK 18 months ago and paid someone a couple of hundred pounds to do it for me. Another long run out in the afternoon for one last crack at the fueling issue. Nothing. Well sod it, if I can’t reproduce it there’s no point sticking around in KL trying to fix it. I’m off!

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Spoiler alert! I’m writing this 4 months later and I haven’t had a single peep of that performance problem, in all kinds of conditions, I’ve still absolutely no idea what caused it. I didn’t replace anything, just fixed a blown headlight wire and cleaned the throttle bodies (which had been that dirty since Nepal 6 months before). Sometimes logic does not win, or at least mine doesn’t. The only reason I wrote about it at all is because of all the worry it caused me and time it took up only to eventually come to nothing. Just how it goes sometimes on the trip, there’s so much on your mind you end up worrying about the wrong thing.

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