Old motorcycles have character.
Sometimes, perhaps too much character.
But, on balance, those little functional imperfections, just like the imperfections of our favorite humans, are critical parts of why we love them.
This love/hate mix of fault and perfection doesn’t mean that we don’t get annoyed when some piece of antediluvian hardware — whose design may have been updated 15 times in the last 50 years and was improved to the point of utter perfection 35 years ago — decides that today is a good day to fail miserably for no good reason other than to see if you have any new invective bullets in your clip.
Like, for example, the latches on a vintage Krauser saddlebag.
Viewed objectively, the original Krauser saddlebags that festooned all BMW motorcycles made between 1969 and 1983 or so, were never that great, even when they were new. What made them perceived to be great was that they were miles better than lashing on duffel bags (which I have done) , and kilometers better than any throw over soft saddlebag, which at that time was likely leather, and meant that when it rained, your stuff not only got wet but likely also got drenched in brown or black aniline leather dye, as well.
When I was a young pup first coming to the enthusiasm of motorcycle travel, I do remember wondering why almost every single heavily loaded BMW rider I saw always seemed to have a stout bungee cord running over the top of their Krauser saddlebag’s case lid.
I don’t wonder any more.
I had another run in with my friendly local scalpel-wielding Dermatological surgeon Wednesday. This one — involving my clutch arm about eight inches above the wrist — isn’t, as previous ones have been, life threatening, but it’s never flowers and kitties when somebody removes a few small hunks of your person and cleans up after themselves with sutures.
After about a day and a half of taking things easy — the relative lack of discomfort and lack of mobility I had feared wasn’t really in evidence. Opening and closing my clutch hand didn’t seem to stress the wound, so a ride, especially of a light motorcycle, seemed in order, if for nothing else but for restoration of my spirits.
I’d been speaking, for the last several days, to a garden center up in Middletown, about a firewood delivery to keep the family room woodstove flaming when the weather inevitably turns. They were a supplier I hadn’t used before, so I wanted to get a look at the goods, and obtain a small sample quantity for a test burn. Because a small bundle of firewood will fit perfectly behind the Slash 5’s police-spec 3/4 saddle, it seemed like a magnificent way to combine business with pleasure.
And, on a now-rare day with no rain and no alloy melting levels of heat, it really was.
Rolling up Holter road, keeping the pace well below my customary WFO lunacy, it was just great to feel the old boxer thrumming along as we worked the chassis easily left and right, banking through the corners on a nice sunny day in The Valley.
My arm felt good – good sensation in my hand, and no pain working the clutch. I wouldn’t want to do curls with that arm, but ride a Toaster I could do.
Business was pretty straightforward. Looked at wood. Said, “Nice Wood”. Set up time for lady at nursery to deliver in a week or so. Nice lady at nursery allowed me to pull 5 logs off the stack outside which I’ll prolly test burn in my outdoor fireplace over the holiday. It looks like it’ll burn fine.
Back at the bike, I made a bundle of the logs and tied it down to the frame with a pair of flat nylon packing straps that I’d brought. I ran a bungee across the bundle to keep things secured laterally — could probably run the ISDT set up this way.
Coming out of Middletown, I got on Roy Shafer road – a one-and-a-half lane farm road that follows along a streambed — the Cone Branch. Its just another road out in the Bottoms — shaded and running on marginal pavement — throwing curve after curve as it follows the stream. You’re always by yourself if you’re riding out there — at best you might see one pickup, and a well used hard working one at that.
Roy Shafer is the slowest way back to Jefferson from a village 7 miles away, and that was exactly what me and this moto-firewood needed today. As we followed the twists and turns of the Cone Branch, I’d occasionally shoot a look in one of my bar end mirrors just to make sure my logs were where I last saw them. After about 5 such checks, I stopped thinking about it.
After a shaded and relaxing run across Sumantown road, and then past my old house at Broad Run, and a slightly faster run up Broad Run Road into Jefferson, I pulled the bike up into the top of the driveway, and pulled the ignition pin to shut everything down. My firewood was right where I’d put it, down to the last log. Unfortunately, in keeping track of the logs, I’d apparently been looking at the wrong thing. The lid of the bike’s right side Krauser was open, and likely had been for some time.
I took a quick mental inventory of what had formerly been in the bag. That inventory seemed to indicate I was short one 30 inch heavy-duty bungee, and a small terry seat towel that I keep in each of the bikes.
Bungees — even a nice one like this — are replaceable. But I hate losing those towels — they’re hard to predate from the roadside motels that are their natural habitat.
I hadn’t really come that far — I’d just backtrack until I found my stuff. My gut was telling me that the bag likely didn’t let go until the first time I’d carried any speed, which was after I hit Broad Run Road — it was the first place I’d come out of the woods and shifted into top gear.
I took a few minutes to untie and remove my firewood. I checked in briefly to the real world — checking my phone messages and e-mail — which confirmed I had nothing new or pressing which required my immediate attention. I tossed my full face and jacket on the bench in my hall, and headed back outside with my Bell 500 and gloves — finger waggle all you want, ATGATT types — this was a 25 mph, 2 mile ride, and the only important requirement was being able to see what was on the side of the road.
So, I fired the Toaster back up and slowly trolled back out in the opposite direction whom which I’d so recently come — maintaining a pace that reminded me of riding lawn mowers I’d run many years ago.
I operated in re-directed attention mode. Rear view mirrors were first, just to make sure I was not about to be obliterated from the rear by one of the Charter Members of the Extremely Hot Rodded Unspeakably Massive Large Black Cloud Diesel Pickup Truck Society that is active hereabouts. Second order of business was the road in front, followed very closely behind by a conical scan pattern of the oncoming lane and the opposite shoulder of the road.
I worked my way down Maryland 383 — down the extremely steep grade to Catoctin Creek — and back up the big hill on the other side — thinking that the whole experience was strangely uncompressed when performed at comically low speed. I kept the bike at lows revs in 2nd gear and basically continued my slow roll up towards Broad Run Road.
I really didn’t encounter any other vehicles, but I also didn’t see my bungee, either.
After rolling through the middle of the fields towards the Old Shamieh Homestead, and the intersection with Sumantown Road, just as the old place came into view on the horizon, I saw my bungee lying in the left lane. Now, we have more than our share of Black snakes about, but if this was a Black snake, it was one with symmetrical hooks at its head and tail. I scanned the road behind and ahead, and was all by myself — bereft of pickups, devoid of tractors. I pulled a 180 across the road, rolled back to the shock cord snake, reached down and picked it up off the road.
Now, if things were going to be flying out of my open saddlebag, the lightest stuff would take off first, with heavier objects taking a little longer to be thrown free. If this analysis was correct, my seat towel should be about 50 or 60 yards further up the road.
I toed down into first, did another 180 and continued up in the original direction of travel.
And sure enough, about 60 yards up the road, was a flash of white, slightly customized by a few bits of routine wet seat road mung, liberated motel seat towel. I did another 180, picked up the towel, and then tiddled over to the side of the road.
I opened the case opposite from the one that came unsproinged, put my reclaimed bungee and seat towel in it, securely latched (or what passes for securely latched in Antique KrauserLand) both latches — checked ’em both twice — then swung back up, toed the old girl back into gear, and headed for home.
I’ve had quite the run of extremely long odds stuff happening lately — stories that start with the phrase, “Really, what is the chance of a thing like that happening ….”. Finding both these lost items along a rural country road felt like one of those – what should have been a snipe hunt – a finder’s challenge with no chance of success, had turned out as a score on both counts. It was pretty unlikely — I felt pretty smug.
Plus I had my towel back.
I feel like I may have accidentally invented a new Motorcycle Rally event – ‘Snipe Hunt’. Rig contestants up with a specialized case that power ejects its contents upon command from some manner of remote control. Smart phones can do an awful lot of stuff.
Give your contestants a short windy road route, and sometime during transit, somebody else activates the eject button. Upon return to the ‘Start’ line, turn ’em loose to find ‘their stuff’. First one back with everything is your winner.
Feels like it would take a lot more biker skill than the ‘hot dog bite’ event, anyway.