The Outer Hebrides Tour Hits a Snag

June 10, 2013
By Danny Morris
The weekend leading up to our five-day break was a UK public bank holiday weekend. l spent most of it wandering the streets of London with my girlfriend – through the city parks, along the River Thames, enjoying our time together and sunshine. But like a kid on caffeine – all our stories came back to the forthcoming motorbike break. I was way too excited not to keeping droning on and on – so it’s fortunate my girlfriend is a good listener, while understandably bored to tears. Over the same weekend, l spent time researching a new job contract prior to an interview on the Tuesday morning before l departed. I was leaving everything really tight, but looking forward to the interview and pretty sure my experience matched the brief, before l got the hell out of dodge. So, my girlfriend headed home after the long weekend and l packed my bags, washed clothes and prepared my biking gear, camera and other equipment.

I headed down to my garage to collect the bike, fitted the panniers, checked the oil and filled her up with petrol. I dropped the keys into my bike and turned the ignition, but there was nothing. l tried again and again… Nothing! All l got was an error message on the screen ‘EWS!’. I hadn’t a clue what it meant, so I tried over and over and then called a couple of motorbike friends, one that had worked at the Nottingham BMW Dealership. On the call, Dale couldn’t wait to tell me that ‘EWS!’ meant ‘Engine Won’t Start’ as he laughed away on the other end of the phone.

At that point l realized how serial killers were born, and it’s just lucky at times like this you can’t reach your hand down the phone and drag people kicking and screaming through the network. I put the phone down to Dale and picked the phone to Chris who was also laughing and promptly informed me that ‘EWS! Stands for ‘Engine Won’t Start.’ He knew because he’d just spoken with Dale. I informed Chris that Dale had just relayed the news and thanks to both for offering no solution, but l was happy that l had amused them at my non-starter. Damn-it l thought, was the trip-off?

I quickly completed a little research online to investigate the potential problems. I realized that it was 99% likely the problem was linked to the radio antenna, which had caused the engine to fail and it all linked back to the immobilizer key. I was surprised that this was the problem as the part had been changed recently at the dealership and the bike was less than six years old. It seemed that the beancounters at BMW Germany thought that the radio antenna could be made cheaper if manufactured in China, hence like everything that’s ever been made in China – it has a shelf life of anything between one day and six months.

I tried to turn the bike over a few times more and then decided there was nothing l could do but call the AA (Automobile Association). They arrived and did exactly the same procedural checks that l had completed earlier, but again there was nothing. I called my local BMW Dealership, but it was a public holiday so everything was closed. My bike was strapped

The bikes strapped down and its upstairs for a feed - as we wait to depart for Barra.
Just getting to the ferry was a feat, considering the headache this BMW caused in the days before the trip.

to the back of the truck and sent to BMW, l needed to leave for Scotland tomorrow afternoon and my bike needed fixing, quickly! Give me a Honda XR650L any day of the week and all the mystical problems would have gone away with its simple, easy to maintain air-cooled engine. Due to the public holiday, l couldn’t go with the bike to BMW, but the Polish driver informed me (in pigeon English), ‘he would drive bike to Dealer, drop-off with security and pray they fix-it’. We promptly strapped the bike down. The AA mechanic was helpful, but l felt a little uncomfortable as l watched my bike leave the comfort of my drive at 11:30 p.m., it was definitely now in the hands of the Gods. That night, I went through my research notes collated for the next day’s interview and slowly drifted to sleep only to be woken by the 7 a.m. alarm, followed by a prompt call to BMW to make sure my bike had been received. I showered, dressed and pushed-out to the underground station for an 11 a.m. interview (some 18 tube stops and a brisk walk ahead), en-route calling the dealer to confirm that the ‘EWS!’ signal was showing and requested that the radio antenna be replaced. I called my friends and informed them it was unlikely that l could make the trip, this was the trip that l had convinced them to take with me, the trip where Nick had purchased a new tire and camping seat over diapers. The BMW dealer called and confirmed that they had a two-week backlog and could not make my bike a priority. I was gutted and headed into my interview.

I wasn’t nervous about my interview, my focus was the bike. Then when l found out that the people l needed to see had the wrong interview time in their diaries, l could have exploded – the pressure was mounting. The actual interview was an absolute waste-of-time, interviewed by an idiot and glad to be out in 15 minutes. Next my phone rang – it was the Dealership and they had managed to fit the bike into their schedule. They confirmed that the radio antenna was not the problem; I dreaded the thought of what it could be and the potential cost. Whenever you take your bike to a dealer, you just know he’s going to put on a white scientists suit and you’ll be writing them a fat check. I went home and packed my bags, it was afternoon and l was shattered when BMW called to say she’d been fixed. l headed on the underground across London, the trip was back on, so despite everything – there was a big sigh of relief after the day’s events.

I anticipated a bill for maybe $200 for parts and labor. But when l arrived the bill was $600. I was gutted. The color drained from my face as l realized that this was pretty much the whole budget for the trip. I asked what the problem was only to be told it was a failed radio antennae, just as l had diagnosed – but why such a huge bill? I was informed that the problem hadn’t shown-up on the engine management system, so they stripped the bike and then found out that it was the original problem l had diagnosed. I was still charged all of the manual labor, so nice one BMW – thanks for that! This basically translated that the men in white suits realized that you wanted your bike fixed ASAP, so we as a team had you by the ‘Texan Oysters’ and you have no-choice but to pay-us for fitting the bike into the system and charging you nearly triple for our misdiagnosis. I had just ridden from LA to Rio on an old Honda XR650L, a bike l never knew any of the history, but also a bike that rarely let me down on the whole 15,000-mile journey. It made me question why l kept such an expensive machine. l suppose ultimately – it never ever let me down over the years, but the expensive bill had just hurt my pocket. In my opinion, motorcycle manufacturers need to minimize the electrical systems on new models, they need to be made easier to diagnose and maintain.