“I’ll tell you, man, this bike has never run better….”

I’m begging you.

If you ever find yourself thinking this, punch yourself right in the face over and over again until you stop thinking it.

And whatever you do, don’t even consider giving voice to the thought.

Speaking it out loud, or heavens forefend, actually telling someone this is to guarantee complete and utter disaster.


This setup kinda reminds me of my old buddy Baltimore Doug.

Doug had deep, internal combustion wisdom, much of which was suitable for tatoo inscription on one’s hide.

One of Doug’s Gems was — “If it’s running good, sell it.”

I’m not sure he ever added “…and quickly…”, but from his tone of voice it was clearly implied.

Doug was a guy that owned 11 Fiat Spiders, whose sole purpose in carlife were to donate parts, up to and sometimes including the entire car, to keep just one of them in good working order. The utter unreliability and mechanical fragility of those Fiats may have colored Doug’s thinking, but only a little.

My conclusion was that on those rare days when everything with your motor vehicle was perfect, one was just being suckered for the dropping of a 10,000 pound other shoe, likely right on your head, and likely a whole lot sooner than simple probablity can explain.


My urban assault runs to my workplace are only seldom things of joy.

Usually there are just way too many carbound people, doing way too many other things than driving, moving far too slowly towards places they probably really didn’t want to be, anyway.

Today, though, was different.

In the middle of the week in the middle of August, the roads were spookily unjammed — no one was back in school yet, and everybody was likely in Ocean City, hon, or in the south of France.

This morning was uncharacteristically cool — right around 70 — with very low levels of humidity.

Coming out of town and heading over the mountain in the cool air the engine of the S slowly took heat — once the long alloy intake venturies and the bodies of the accelerator pump DelOrto carbs were fully warmed, enthuthiastic twists of the throttle yielded the familiar kick in the head torque.

Being cool out, the boxer’s cylinders were cool — the engine was loose and spinning, running smoothly up in the higher rpm ranges.

The slice down 15 to Leesburg, 7 to Dulles and 28 south to the tollroad went as smoothly as it ever does.

Coming out of the toll booth, I got a good break in the traffic from the booths to my right, and was able to run wide open, getting a good clean run going thock thock thock thock up through the gears.

I don’t have a lot of opportunities to really run the R90S open up top — top gear is so tall and the smooth part of the engine’s power — starting just under 5000 rpm — is so far up there that on most of the roads I ride, it’s unusual to use 5th gear at all.

This morning, in perfect conditions, with about 6 miles of good pavement between here and the exit for Town Center I got the S up to about 4800 rpm in top gear where this motorcycle simply comes alive. Everything went smooth and there was nearly as much power above this cruise speed as the power that had gotten us here.

For a 40 year old motorcycle, this is awesome stuff.

I played a little. A gratuitous lane change or two — feeling how settled and solid the S felt on its suspension at this speed. A few rolls of the thottle — just digging the whoosh.

Most folks in any kind of peak experience only recognize it as such in later refection.

Not me. Not here.

I knew, surfing the booms in a nearly impossble balance of huge forces, that I was getting just a tiny glimse of what Reg knew, of the beast that lives up top.

To experience it even once is a blessing, and I understood it as such as I was so blessed.

6 miles of road is nowhere near enough.


One of my co-workers is also a rider — a no BS guy with multiple bikes of multiple brands and 100,000s of thousands of miles under his belt.

Although we don’t work in the same location, we had business which had us on the phone not long after I dismounted. I guess the buzz had noway worn off, ’cause I felt like I needed to share and needed to try hard not to sound like I was babbling incoherently.

I vowed not to, under any circumstances, make motorcycle sounds with my mouth.

“Dave,” I more or less gasped, “I had such a great ride in on the old race bike this morning. Just flying man…”

“I’ll tell you, man, this bike has never run better….”

I thought I heard ominous spooky organ music, but it was probably just one of my co-workers surfing the web and hitting one of those obnoxious self playing video ads.


The remainder of day at work didn’t really didn’t provide anything particularly noteworthy. After completing my scheduled tasks and meetings for the day, I resolved to try and enjoy the afternoon and perhaps head for my secret dirt escape road out of Northern Viginia. The sun was out, there was not a cloud in the sky, what was not to like?

As I left Reston and rolled up onto the Toll Road, it seemed there was plenty not to like.

The S was running rough — it didn’t want to seem to take throttle and smoothness was nowhere to be found.

With old analog technology like Italian accelerator pump carburators, I’m accustomed to some fragility of tune. These bikes can even be noticably affected by humidity levels and the direction of prevailing winds, so I didn’t think too much of it.

That would change.


As I rolled off the throttle entering the Toll Plaza of the Dulles Greenway, things started to happen.

The bike gave one big snort and one big miss, stumbled and then stalled. The telltales on the dash all lit up, and then all went dark. The cockpit filled instantly with thick smoke and it just kept coming.

If this had been a World War Two Heros of the Air War movie, this is where my goggles would have instantly been coated with smoking black motor oil.

You have your own, favorite go-to strong oaths and curses.

Sufice it to say — billowing smoke and coasting in dead stick to the busiest toll plaza in the entire region at the height of evening rush — I made enthusiastic use of each and every one of them.

Some of them twice.


Adrenaline has a lovely ability to clarify the mind.

As I ran out of momentum, there was a very short list of things I was sure of.

1) I needed to find some way to avoid getting run over.

2) I needed to remove my right saddlebag, open the saddle and get a 10mm wrench out of my toolkit.

3) I needed to disconnect the negative battery lead before I found myself wearing flaming bits of old German steel as a sylish hat.

Anything that occurred after that was pure gravy, and outside the current critical planning horizon.

I’ll complement the Virginia Toll Road Corporation for the nice job they do using traffic cones to create a buffer space in front of the concrete butresses that separate and protect the toll booths from out of control auto missiles. It’s not like it is a safe space, but it was a space that I was able to coast into, brake to a stop, get the bike on the main stand, and go right to work.

I could have been steadier with the key to the bag frame lock, but let’s see you do better.

As the bag hit the pavement, I was approached by a young Indian gentleman who I assumed was the toll facility manager. I was politely adressed in perfect Public School Brittish English.

“I am dreadfully sorry, sir, but you cannot do this here.”

“Ordinarily, My Friend, I would quite agree with you, except that this motorcycle IS ON FIRE!”

“I see.”

I’ll point out that while it may have been bad manners to keep working my checklist towards having a 10mm in my hand, I was not as concerned about decorum as I might sometimes be.

“Might you direct just a little traffic while I attempt to keep us from being blown up?”

“Certainly, sir!”

A stellar fellow, I must say.

About 45 seconds later, I had one battery bolt in my hand, and as the smoke slowly cleared, I set about a conscious correction of my rate of respiration.


My new friend from the Toll Road Corporation was also very helpful in continuing to direct motorists around me as I pushed my bike from the center of the Toll Plaza to the shoulder.

Once there I set about determining whether there was any way I was going anywhere under my own power.

man downMaking sure the end of the battery ground was outside the frame rail where an accidental reconnect was essentially impossible, I slid the fairing’s headlamp gasket up into the inside of the fairing, and yanked the headlamp ring and with it, the headlamp.

Diagnosis took about 8 seconds. There was a headlamp reflector retaining spring lying visibly across the leads that radiate from the ingition switch. Melted insulation and broken copper radiated out from there.

WP_20150812_18_04_56_ProI knew I had a small spool of repair wire, but no connectors, no electrical tape.

Was I going anywhere under my own power this evening?

Short answer was no.

Had I been out beside a rocky road across Northern Tibet, and failing to get it running would result in my certain demise, I’d have attempted it.

But this night, somewhere just east of Herndon Virginia, with the 113th Northern Virginia Distracted Driving Division members cruising by about 4 feet from my location, it was time to call for the truck.

That, and time to remember to get the old e-bodge kit that I kept in the door pocket of my now departed 1995 Ram Pickup – filled with butt connectors, wirenuts, shrink tubing, zip ties and electrical tape — and put it back in the secondary tool space that sits under the R90’s cafe style tailpiece.


I have nothing but good things to say about Frederick, Maryland’s Vinnie’s Towing. They have a slick motorcycle specific tow truck with a hydraulic lifing bed. They drop the bed to the ground, load and secure the bike, and then raise the entire assembly back into the truck. It isn’t the first time they’ve recovered one of my bikes off the side of the road. They always do a stellar job and here’s hoping against hope that despite my satisfaction with their service, that I never see them again.


So I have a shopping bag filled with low profile ‘flag connectors’, heat shrink tubing, and several colors and gauges of primary wire.

Gordon Wright of the International R90S club has published a wonderfully detailed and useful wiring diagram that actually shows the connections in their physical locations on the motorcycle. Thanks Gordon!

It looks like the five conductors leading out of the switch are all toast, and then there’s some minor-looking collateral damage.

Here’s hoping that the damage is limted to what I can see, and that it doesn’t extend back into the handlbar control subharnesses or, heaven’s forefend, the main harness. These parts are getting difficult to find, and I can see myself getting forced into having to fabricate a new one myself.

Here’s hoping.

So if you’re looking for me in the next several days, I’ll be the guy out in the garage with the magnifying glasses, the LED worklight and the soldering iron.

Ummm. Toasty.

Ummm. Toasty.


5 thoughts on ““I’ll tell you, man, this bike has never run better….”

  1. I’ve unfortunately had to use Vinnie’s when my Diavel decided it had enough of its wiring harness. Great read, thanks.

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