All I wanted was a donut.
Is that so wrong?
Judging from the universe’s reaction to this simple animal desire, apparently I should be eating more healthy.
I woke up Saturday morning, and the sun was out in force, my little electronic weather station showed rapidly rising temperatures in the high 30s, my roads were free of snow and ice, and Sweet Doris From Baltimore was in the kitchen starting to whip up a pot of hot coffee.
“You know what I’d really like?” she asked. “A danish.”
Me, of course, I wanted… well, you already know that.
My small town of Jefferson has only a few commercial establishments, but one of the better ones is the Jefferson Pastry Shop, which whips up fresh-baked goods in a tiny building that was the original home of our renowned butcher shop, Hemp’s Meats. Hemp’s, which operated in that roughly 20 by 25 foot building from 1849 until 1981, finally outgrew it and built a building that is roughly 10 times the size that sits at the back of the older building’s parking lot. The two businesses are now neighbors. The Pastry Shop celebrates that history by retaining the old butcher shop’s cast iron overhead hook-and-rail system that was originally used for processing, storage and display of…. the meats.
Hemp’s and the Pastry Shop are no more than 3/4 of a mile from my front door, so they’re a perfect destination — with occasional scenic detour — for a short motorcycle ride. The knife wielding pros at Hemp’s see me so often, that if they hear the sound of a BMW boxer in the parking lot, they know enough to head into the walk-in and grab a fresh sirloin before their front door even opens.
This, though, was a donut run. A donut run, I should point out, by a sleepy, hungry man who had not yet had a cup of coffee. The situation called for the smallest, simplest form of transport available, as I didn’t intend to tarry or to extend the ride.
I just wanted a donut.
So I grabbed the keys to the son Finn’s former Buell Blast, which was sitting closest to the garage door, and is the smallest, lightest motorcycle in the stable by nearly 100 pounds.
In retrospect, this might not have been among my better decisions.
Despite having been sitting for about eight ice storm, snow storm and otherwise shinkage-inducingly cold days, the Blast fired up on the second compression stroke, and came right up to a steady thump-thump-thump of an idle. I rolled it down the driveway and once rolling toed it into first gear.
Whereas I might normally troll around my neighborhood to get some heat in any motor before heading out to The Jefferson Pike, this morning I skipped it.
I just wanted a donut.
And although the throttle response was a little less than crisp, and the gearshifts were a tad high effort due to what was probably close to solid oil in the baby Harley’s primary case, the little motorcycle seemed glad to be alive, and made a happy braap as it pulled me up the Pike toward town.
After only half a minute on the roll, the Pastry Shop was in sight. I caught a break in what passes for traffic in Jefferson, pulled a big hairy U-turn across The Pike, and rolled the little Moto right up next to the curb directly in front of the shop. The shoulder there isn’t wide enough to park any car, but feels custom made for that small motorcycle.
I killswitched it, yanked my lid and went inside.
Clearly, I wasn’t the only one on the hunt for sinkers.
In the clusteraphobically small space the shop has left for customers, I was fourth in line. These tight confines enforce a certain intimacy with one’s neighbors and fellow donut enthusiasts. This intimacy meant that the gentleman in front of me couldn’t help but hear the small sighs of disappointment as his enthusiastic order cleared out several of the pastry varieties that were in my personal confection lust list.
Finally, my turn at the counter came up, and I put together a small bag of danish, donuts and a impulse purchase of some fresh coconut macaroons that looked too good to pass on.
I paid the nice lady, headed back outside, dropped my paper bag into the Blast’s soft saddlebag, and pulled my helmet and gloves back on.
I swung a leg over, flipped up the sidestand, pulled in the clutch and pressed the starter.
Instead of the instant thump-thump-thump I expected, on the second compression stroke I heard a distinct ‘FOOOP!’ of some sort of misfire under the tank, and the engine did not catch.
I hit the starter a second time, and the engine spun enthusiastically without even the hint of any action towards actually starting.
My uncaffinated and undonutted mind struggled for comprehension. This bike had been running less than 2 minutes before. What could have possibly happened? The accursed and suspect Blast ‘auto-choke’ no doubt had something to do with this.
I’ll admit that I was in a persistent state of reduced cognitive ability. Reduced Comprehension Greg settled on the idea that the misfire had fouled a spark plug. Wet plugs, of course, will not fire, and not firing clearly was at least one component of what I was experiencing.
In my rising state of frustration, on the road to panic, I opened the throttle slightly and pressed the starter again. For 10 full seconds the big single spun to no effect. Since it clearly wasn’t working, and I was out of ideas, I tried it one more time.
Coffee withdrawal is an ugly, ugly thing — rendering its victims clinically insane — and there I was, trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
My diagnosis was clear – total bikesanity.
Finally, after the better part of a minute of impotent ‘whoop-whooop-whoooop’ing, reality finally pierced through the fog.
This little bike had nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada.
Looked like I was going to need a plan B.
In retrospect, I probably just should have taken my helmet off and eaten a donut.
But I didn’t do that.
It’s an admitted character flaw that when something goes pearshaped, I go full-on monomaniacal until things are fixed.
It’s not like we’re talking about a long distance — I can just about see the street in front of my house from the back of the bakery’s parking lot.
In the scheme of things, The Blast is a relatively small motorcycle — running about 375 pounds with a half tank of fuel. Jefferson Pike, running back from town, is mostly downhill. Not entirely, but mostly.
“WTF,” I thought, I’ll just push and drift the bike back home. How hard could it be?”
The less detail I share about what a poor decision that was the better. Sufficient to say that with no fuel in my personal tank, my blood sugar, and with it, my access to muscular energy, went red zone about 3/4s of the way home.
While scouting a short cut across a back yard leading into the neighborhood, a dog that was tied out went into full freak-out mode. The backdoor of the house slid open, and Finn’s buddy Rachel appeared.
“Hi Rachel! Bike broke — mind if I cut across your yard?”
“Hey, knock yourself out. You need a little help?”
“Sure — front of your yard is a little soft. If you could just help me get back onto the cul-de-sac, that would be great.”
Rachel stepped right up, grabbed the right handlebar, and helped move my wheels back to the pavement. In this sad little tale, Rachel is our hero, earning herself her first example of biker beer debt.
A little more puffing and a fair amount of sweating later, I found myself at the bottom of my driveway, with just one uphill sprint to get back in the barn. I think that repeat of my cardiac stress test I’d been thinking about can probably wait another year.
Now it was past time for that cup of coffee. And maybe two donuts.
A day or two later, I found myself with a few minutes and yanked the Blast’s tank to that I could access the plug. With the Harley Davidson branded plug in my hand, it was instantly clear my low-sugar addled prior diagnostics had been dead wrong.
The plug was dry and looked like a textbook perfect spot-on tuning illustration from the bike’s shop manual. I hooked the plug wire back up, grounded the plug to the primary case, pressed the starter, and got a big fat, perfect spark.
Given the classic moto-diagnostic trinity of air, fuel and spark, spark was clearly not my problem. Air is all around us, so fuel was the likely culprit. I moved in close to the Blast’s cylinder head and carb, and then literally smacked myself in the face with the palm of my hand. The ‘FOOOOP!’ that I’d heard wasn’t a plug getting fouled, it was a misfire in the intake that had blown the carb clean off the engine. Had it not been bolted into the side of the airbox, I’d have likely found it on the other side of the Jefferson Pike.
I’ll admit I spent a few minutes trying to route a manual choke cable, adapter and slide I’d had stashed on the workbench, but the Blast’s undertank packaging makes that very challenging — the area on the back side of the bike’s Keihin CV40 carb is the most crowded real-estate in the entire machine.
Once again frustrated in this, I reassembled the bike in the stock configuration — complete with accursed ‘auto-choke’ — and upon completion, it fired back up as if nothing had ever occurred.
Given that – in typical Maryland fashion – the string of freezing nights had segued into a freak warm snap, the just after sundown temperature of about 70 degrees was too much tempting to pass on — it was time to check my work.
Without turning the bike off, I went inside and grabbed my canvas field coat, my Bell 500 open face and my elkskin gauntlets. The first warm day was too soon for bugs, so a full face and its visor were optional.
Running down Horine Road on an inexplicably sensual tropical feeling February evening, the big single got a little heat in it, and really came alive. Despite the fact that I want so much to hate this motorcycle — given all the trouble it has caused me — I just can’t quite manage to get there.
Although I’m too young to remember a riding world dominated by BSA, Norton, Velocette and Matchless singles, the ghosts of those old 59 Club Rockers were riding alongside me this evening. As the Blast’s 500 single found its happy place well up in the rev band in third gear, the pulse of the machine spoke to me in my bones. Horine Road follows Catoctin Creek away from Jefferson heading down toward the Potomac, and the Blast danced through a series of increasingly tight and technical corners — turning in lightly on trailing throttle, exhaust burbling — taking throttle easily and using all of the engine’s torque on each corner’s exit.
The motorcycling world may have moved on and left this behind, but there is an undenyable charm to a 500 Single ridden well in its element, and that charm was fully evident this springlike evening.
I followed Maryland 464 across the back of town — shifting up to fourth gear and running between 50 and 60 mph and marvelling at the torque and acceleration it could muster with its revs up on the exits of 464’s sweeping corners. Lander Road’s roller coaster hills brought me back to town, and I found myself back in the driveway far sooner than I’d have preferred.
I’ll admit that after turning off the engine, I turned the key back on and restarted it, just to know.
Of course, with only a three step walk home, there was no drama this time.
I think though, that for breakfast I’ll stick to some fresh fruit and yogurt from now on.