Engineer at work


Miscalculation I: How a long period of stress, quitting the job and the beginning of a long trip influences your ability to think.


To ship our bikes from Germany to Ecuador we had to empty the fuel tanks of them. We did this back in Germany by use of a hose that I fumbled into the gas tank and sucking the gas out (and since I am an German engineer I didn’t even get a mouth full of gas by using proper equipment).

So filling up the bikes after pick-up at Quito airport would be necessary. In Quito we happened on to the store of Freedom Bikes. They rent bikes and also offered us some help. To fill up our bikes with gas they loaned us a gas-can of 5 gallons (=19L). On the way to the airport we filled up the gas-can (not all the way, because the taxi driver was afraid it could leak).

Once we had the bikes out of customs we filled them up.

We were in a hurry since it was slowly getting dark (that sentence is maybe just an excuse of what follows…).

So I put about half the content of the gas-can into my bike (as an German engineer I have it in my guts to get that right!) and than the rest into Christy’s bike. I was a little bit surprised that the gas actually ran over on her bike, so her bike was totally full. But whatever, we were in a hurry…

HitchcockChristy’s bike has a 14L tank, Andy’s Dakar version has a 17L tank. Both have 4 L reserve. If you get the math right, you may find the mistake already…


We connected the batteries to our bikes (they had to be disconnected during the flight) and hoped all would be well.

Christy started her bike and all went well. I started my bike and it ran immediately. I love our bikes! But what is that? My fuel light wouldn’t turn off! Since I just put half of 5 gallons into my bike there must be something wrong with the fuel light. Well, the bike runs, lets just take care of that another day!

We made it safely back to our hotel that night.

The next day I searched to find the cause of the glowing fuel light. I checked the connectors to the fuel-sensor. Maybe something happened to the cables during the flight. But after a detailed examination all seemed to be ok. The only explanation seemed to be that the sensor itself got damaged. Maybe I damaged it while I was emptying the bike back in Germany? Maybe the hose I fumbled into the gas tank somehow damaged the fuel sensor?

Well, since Christy’s tank has less fuel capacity that wouldn’t be too much of a problem. If her fuel light turns on, I would have approx. another 100km before mine reserve would start.

So we happily started our trip going to the town of Mindo. We didn’t have to fuel up, since Christy’s fuel light hasn’t turn on yet. Mine was on the whole time, but as we know already it was faulty.

You may notice the beauty of logic of my way of thinking!

Maybe 20km before we reached the town of Mindo my engine suddenly stopped.

It was on a curvy road but on a downhill slope so I just let the bike roll to the next possible stop.

While I was rolling down that hill I made an engineering approach of finding the problem:

1.) I had maybe 18L of gas in the gas-can when filling up at the airport

2.) I was filling up half of it into my bike (=approximately 9L)

3.) I was filling up Christy’s bike till it was totally full (=14L)

4.) Together (2. and 3.) that is 23L

5.) waaait a second: didn’t we just have a 19L gas-can (not filled up all the way)

6.) sooo approx. 18L from the gas-can minus 14L of gas in Christy’s bike -> 18-14 = 4L


Conclusion 1: I only filled 4 L into my bike

Conclusion 2: I WAS running the whole time on reserve

Conclusion 3: the fuel light MAY NOT be faulty

Conclusion 4: I do NOT have it in my guts to split the content of a gas-can in two.

Conclusion 5: sometimes I AM such a fool


Well, there we were. No gas. It slowly got dark and I went on Christy’s bike to get some gas to bring us to the next town.

I asked a guy in which directions I would find the closest gas station (and I was pretty sure he said “take a right”). So I took a left and it took me forever to find the gas station (proof of conclusion 5!).

By the time I was back at Christy it had turned dark and a very thick fog had rolled in.

So poor Christy had to go down a curvy road, at night with visibility under 15m.


Well, now I knew I could really get 100km on my reserve before the engine finally stops. There is always something new to learn!


PS: My fuel light works perfectly fine.

One thought on “Engineer at work

  1. Pingback: Site Content | peaks, pampas, and panniers

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