So, it’s been raining.
And because of my recently completed teardrop trailer build, all the Shamieh motorcycles lived outside through all five months of it.
An lest you think I am exaggerating about the experience of sustained rainfall rates, judge for yourself from this view out my shop door on an average day in May.
When the project wrapped, and the bikes came back inside, my K1200 showed no ill effects, with the possible exception of the LCD display on the bike’s radio, which absorbs moisture and becomes opaque. A little strategically applied alcohol pulls the moisture back out and the display becomes clear again.
My R90S — even with it’s Italian carburetors — pretty much shook it off.
My oldest alloy girlfriend – the R75/5 – really did NOT appreciate the experience. Either its Bing carburetors, simple fuel tank vent or some other secret route was admitting rainwater into the float bowls, and both carb jets and tune seemed to be suffering from deposits being left by the water. As if that weren’t enough, after low annual mileage and a bit of benign neglect had decided to pile on by having the valves decide they really needed to be adjusted as well.
If one looks up “Symptoms of BMW airhead needing valve adjustment” on the Adventure Rider forum , the first answer is: “Won’t Idle. Runs Like Crap.”
Yup. I got that.
Its not like an airhead valve adjustment is any kind of big deal, but it just meant the Old Girl was demonstrating her displeasure in every manner available to her.
The Toaster was going to need a full service — engine oil, transmission, final drive, forks, valve adjust, time and carb sync. First step was a thorough fuel system and combustion chamber clean – run a tankful of fuel with a strong concentration of good old Seafoam. Once that was done, the absolutely filthy contaminated oil could be changed, and the rest of the service could be completed.
Maybe, at the end of that, we’d return to having this be a fine running airhead.
And maybe she’d forgive me.
So, to move this along, the Toaster has been primary transportation. Anywhere I needed to go, the R75 is what I’d ride.
So its been to a lot of grocery stores, beer stores, autoparts joints, and delivered more than a few packages to the UPS terminal, given the nice flat parcel area described by the saddlebag tops and in between the short police saddle and the front of the luggage rack.
One day, while trying to fudge the idle adjustment – just to get the bike to idle, even badly, in the meantime — I made the mistake of pulling the bike’s toolkit. My airheads share a factory-ish toolkit — a third party oversize Cordura roll pouch, and all the stock BMW tools which were purchased grey market though Capital Cycle’s DC Storefront back in the early 80s – you know, so long ago that they all say “Made In West Germany”. There’s also a bunch of specialty tools and other little tricks of the trade — a four blade multi screwdriver, a Channel Lock expandable pliers, different feeler gauges, and some electrical bodge bits — a wire nut or two, spare Euro fuses.
The tool roll, though, had gotten wet. Really wet. Prolly more than once. The wet Cordura had then held the moisture up against the tools. The tool roll itself was mildewed and covered with mold. The tools themselves looked like something that had been pulled up from an ancient shipwreck – vague shapes trying to emerge from the rust.
My heart sank.
That tool set has been with two motorcycles, and kept them both fettled and running for a quarter million road miles and more than 30 years. Many of these exact tools would be hard to find — BMW fork cap pin wrench, anyone? — I could see ending up with a insufficient recreation courtesy of Harbor Freight.
I suppose that to make this story closed loop, I should have taken pictures of them in their unspeakable state. But it never occurred to me. It felt like some sort of hideous crime scene — there are some things that perhaps should just not be seen.
Sweet Doris from Baltimore set about running the Cordura tool roll though the washer, while I hosed down the tools with WD-40, and then spent a little time researching rust removal products.
According to fellow Internet users, what I needed was something called Evapo-Rust — an allegedly miraculous product that would set everything aright.
I’m from Brooklyn, so I’m skeptical, but one Slash 5 ride later, we had 32 ounces of the stuff. I cleaned the WD-40 off the metal surfaces, laid the tools out in a paint roller pan, and submerged everything in the cleaner, and waited for time to do its thing.
24 hours later, the less rusted tools had been restored to like-new condition. I rotated the remaining tools in the solution, and after another 24 hours, almost everything had been completely restored.
There were a few small things that didn’t survive. After fusing all the blades together, I needed to replace the micro-size feeler gauges that I use to gap airhead pointsets. Fortunately, with both bikes equipped with Dyna Ignition Boosters, I don’t need to do that very often, and more fortunately, the exact same gauge I bought in 1985 is still a Pep Boys stock item at $2.79. I also had fabricated a special tool to remove oil filters – a small wire hook to reach in a get a hold of the filter — the wire I had used turned to dust once the rust had all been removed. I have a great deal of leftover wire from the teardrop project — I made one, and I’ll just have to make another.
Having been washed and reconstituted for the first time in 30 plus years, I rolled the toolkit back up and placed it back under the saddle of the /5. And while a day in the mid 40s might not seem like the ideal naked bike riding day, with the sun out, I couldn’t resist — I still had a some fuel system cleaner juiced fuel that I needed to burn off before I could take tools in hand and set this old motorcycle back aright.
The old girl fired right up on the first compression stroke as it always had — although coming off of choke it was a tad finicky — it took a little extra throttle to keep things spinning. Once on the road, and with a little heat coming into the motor, the Old Girl seemed to be genuinely enjoying her resurrection. I kept the revs up and the throttle open, and headed towards one of my favorite roads — Elmer Derr road — a tight, twisty, technical road that runs along a stream canyon for about half its length, and then becomes more fun when it climbs away from that stream.
BMW Type 247 air-cooled engines do run like crap with tight valves — at idle and transitional low engine speeds. There is a flip side, though. With the revs up, those tighter clearances translate to more lift and better breathing — right up to the point where the valve will no longer fully close into its seat and quickly self destructs. Trusting in an Aluminum German God that we were not yet that far down the road to destruction, I kept my 900ccs happily spinning in the fourth gear of its transplanted five speed box — coming through the Multiple Bang-Bang 90-90s coming out of the Elmer Derr canyon the /5 just ate it up — lightening the front wheel on throttle on every corner exit.
Its hard to explain, to the uninitiated, how a very old motorcycle can somehow never get old.
I spent a good bit of time, winding around the south end of the county, before my road bent back in the direction of the shop. With a choice between my secondary roads towards home and the highway, I did the opposite of what I normally do, heading up the ramp onto US 340 and toeing the old boxer up into top gear. It’s only after years of burning up highways on a more modern, faired machine that it really sinks in just how comparatively narrow and tiny my /5 really is.
With no plastic to intercede with the wind, I sought out distant muscle memories to find that perfect aerodynamic tuck — where my mass and the wind zeroed each other out. Taking the old boxer up to about 4200 rpm, the Toaster found a serenely smooth 73 mph — this was still the motorcycle that had carried a much younger me to New Mexico and Arizona from Baltimore and back again.
Heading up Dynamometer Hill, the Toaster even had enough steam to accelerate crisply in top gear, which is not shabby for a 45 year old motorcycle with nearly 200,000 miles on the clocks, and its factory original bottom end.
Back in the driveway, the cold air had my head cleared and my heart high in a way that I don’t know any other way to find. Soon the air will be too cold for this bike to see the road on anything but a freak warmer day. Until then I’ve got some shiny wrenches to spin, fluids to change, heads to retorque and valves to adjust. After the freakishly stormy weather and all the time outside, it wouldn’t entirely surprise me if my air filter housing conceals some leafy, furry or feathery thing that does not belong, either. I’ll go through the long-familiar tool-in-hand motions, and get everything back in tune and running sweetly.
I may not be able to make her pretty, but I sure know how to make her sing.