Drenched

I can’t remember a time when I’ve been in a darker, shittier mood.

I was supposed to be on an extended motorcycle trip last week — attending my employer’s annual sales kick off conference in Nashville, Tennessee. It would be great to see my colleagues that I very rarely see – all of whom work remotely – do a little socializing, and have a beer or two. Originally, the plan even included making the trip on a press pool bike — a brand spanking new 2018 Honda Gold Wing. About 1300 miles of Blue Ridge Mountain rambling in the middle of May’s gentle weather sounded like a breather my soul and body badly needed. To say I was looking forward to it was an understatement.

Things turning inexorably bad takes more than one or two inputs.

First, the availability of the Gold Wing test bike was delayed. No matter, I have my own GT bike and truthfully, in the 500th mile of a 600 mile day, the familiarity of my own motorcycle was probably preferable — 20 years of muscle memory can ride out of a lot of things that having to think about it can’t.

Then the weather turned bad.

That sounds innocuous. This wasn’t.

The night before I was supposed to leave, a massive stationary front moved into the area – at one point dumping nearly 8 inches of rainfall during a period of just over 90 minutes. The City of Frederick – about 6 miles east of Jefferson – quickly started showing up first on the regional, and then the national news. Frederick – which had made a multi million dollar investment in the Carroll Creek Flood Control Project – flooded out in a major way, with the city’s main streets going under, the main city park turning onto a brand new lake, and then the City’s water and sewer plants failing, prompting both the City and Country to declare formal Disasters.

Figuring the bike trip would have to wait, I transferred by packed bags to my pickup truck, and then checked Google maps to see what the route down I-81 into Tennessee looked like. The aforementioned stationary front was stationary over 80% of my entire route — with zero possibility of improvement until I got past Bristol, TN., with flash flood and areal flood warnings throughout. Jefferson is about 65 miles from the entry to I-81, and that morning Google Maps showed 17 secondary roads and/or bridges between here and there either closed or destroyed.

At that point, bike or truck, it was a stupid time to be on the road, and a slightly less stupid time to leave my family unattended.

I called my boss and told him I was going to withdraw from the conference. He concurred with my decision.

It continued to rain like that for the next six days. Then the sun came out for an afternoon, and then it rained like that for four more days.

Frederick County, Maryland is crisscrossed with small streams, and those streams proceeded to wreak havoc on everything they could reach. Rolling Physics Problem frequently inhabits those tiny tertiary roads and their antique iron bridges – as of this morning, many of them have been washed out or destroyed.

All that was bad, but because of the Homebuilt Teardrop Camper V2.0 project that had consumed my garage, all of my motorcycles were temporarily being parked outside in these conditions. Which was worse.

So my family and I hid inside. The roads were not safe for venturing out for anything optional in nature. So I worked days. Took and hour or two in the evening working on the camper. And worked weekends and even most of the Memorial Day holiday on the camper. We had cabin fever bad, doing work for work, and what was starting to seem like work for fun, too.

I needed a break, and I really needed a ride.

Really.

So last night, after a burger with the Fam, Sweet Doris from Baltimore took one look at me and suggested I go for a ride.

This isn’t the type of guidance with which I’m prone to argue.

I grabbed my Shoei and a jacket, and headed outside to see how the /5 had dealt with the weather.

I’ve already covered how the Toaster Tank doesn’t really appreciate these kinds of conditions. After that little misadventure I had gerry-rigged what we’ll call a ‘Bikini cover’ — using a small tarp to fabricate a sort of soft batwing fairing that at least kept the controls, handlebar switchgear and headlight housing covered and out of the weather. The tarp’s four corner eyelets could be connected with a short bunji under the steering head and it kept at least the most weather sensitive bits protected.

I yanked the mini-cover, powered the bike up, opened the petcocks, set the choke, and petitioned the Lord with Prayer.

The Lord, apparently, was taking a little PTO.

On the first compression stroke, I got a tiny pop, but the engine did not catch. For the next 50 strokes or so, I got nothing.

On this motorcycle, with its V1.0 Electric Starter — geared too high — and overbored 900 cc top end — staying in the button that long is to risk completely draining the starter battery.

I was either going to need to diagnose this issue on the fly, or we weren’t going to ride this motorcycle this evening.

Pure intuition informed my next move.

After spinning the engine for that long with the chokes set, I should be smelling gasoline in the exhaust.

I wasn’t.

Ergo, the engine wasn’t getting fuel.

And what was the most likely cause of this engine not getting fuel?

Ummm, water, perhaps?

Fortunately, Bing CV carbs are designed to be dead easy to service. I reached down, flipped the spring clip that retains the float bowl, and brought the bowl up to eye level. Sure enough, the bottom of the float bowl, and especially the depression where the jets sit, was covered in water drops, moving around like the vinegar under the oil in a salad dressing bottle. You could clearly see the water, and it was clearly gumming up the works.

I walked over to the edge of my driveway, and dumped the entire contents of the bowl off the edge. I grabbed a shoprag from the open garage door and wiped out the water residue.

At this point, I realized that in my fixation on diagnosis, I had neglected to turn off the fuel petcock, so the open Bing was gently piddling small amounts of fuel onto my driveway.

If you work for the EPA, I admit fault — I’ll go quietly.

After closing the offending petcock, I repeated the drill with the float bowl from the other side.

I did the best job of wiping the fuel from my hands that a shop rag will permit.

Just on a whim, I dialed the Lord’s extension one more time.

My call was answered.

On the second compression stroke, the /5 fired, and it slowly came up to a slightly less enthusiastic state of operation than was customary. It was operating though, and that was a significant improvement over where we’d been a few minutes ago.

I pulled my Shoei back on, fastened the strap, and cinched down my gauntlets.

I rolled the bike down the driveway and rolled out through the neighborhood.

The Toaster’s drum brakes – also being filled with water — were largely ineffective. It was going to take a few miles of dragging them and putting some heat into the system before actual stopping was going to be a legitimate choice.

I made the right onto the Jefferson Pike and headed down the hill towards Brunswick.

 

***

 

Given the destruction following the flooding today’s ride was going to be the ‘Road Closed – Bridge Out Tour’. Less than 2 miles from home I hit my first ‘Road Closed’ sign. Having spent a few years riding these roads, I know there’s a difference between ‘Road Closed’ and ‘Road Impassable by Toaster Tank’. The county highway men always leave their site control barriers more than 32 inches apart, and 32 inches is all I need.

I knew there was a small culvert bridge just before the intersection of Maryland Rt 180 and Maryland 17 that had failed the first night of the storm, and had been closed ever since. I wanted to head down that way and see just how bad it was – worst case would be that I’d arrive at the bridge, see blue skies and open water and have to turn around. So I skirted around the first barrier and continued in the direction of the bridge.

Just after that I got this strange sensation … and it just wasn’t clicking what it was. When I looked down though, I could see that my crotch and my whole left leg were wet and getting wetter… wet with what and from where were immediate questions that I had. I pulled onto the shoulder and went into neutral. Given that this highway was technically closed my level of risk posed by other motorists was pretty low.

Looking down I could see a clear liquid streaming off the outside of the petcock’s retaining nut — it was hitting the fuel lines and dripping onto the exhaust headpipe. I stuck a gloved finger into the stream and brought it up to my nose. Thankfully, it wasn’t gasoline… so what the heck was it and where was it coming from? So I traced the flow back until I realized it was coming from the bottom of the bike’s chrome tank sides — the toaster panels had had so much water blasted at them that they were both filled up. The combination of some engine heat and vibration had them gushing the trapped liquid out … all over my privates.

I’ve had this motorcycle for more than 30 years, and this was a new one on me.

Having satisfied myself that I hadn’t encountered some new way of having a bike fuel tank go incontinent, I continued west on MD 180, past a second, and then a third ‘Road Closed’ sign. Shortly thereafter I came to the bridge with yet another conveniently spaced sign and barrier. I could see where this bridge’s deck had been torn off, and where crews had already repaired the erosion damage around the culvert and the edge of the highways. The surface of the bridge was graded gravel and some mud, but the signs of recent traverse by tracked construction vehicles was plainly evident, and I could see no sign of it being unsafe for toasters. There may have been a slight drop where the road had been peeled off, but with 8+ inches of suspension travel, I’ve ridden far worse, and cared less.

I continued through the barriers on the other side and up the hill towards 17.

As I started up 17, I hit the stagger and had to switch the bike’s petcocks to reserve. Pulling up 17 though open farm country I was able to get the bike into top gear and finally began sensing the bike was starting to dry out — things were a tad off normal, but I suspect that the combination of a wet air filter element and some slight residual moisture in the fuel were the likely culprits here — running off the bottom of the tank would help to get rid of what at this point was likely some moisture-contaminated gasoline.

With the Toaster finally punching through these little troubles and coming back to itself, my spirits finally started to lift. The bike, as always, handled the tight technical sections of 17 with the grace of a bicycle – changing directions effortlessly and setting up for and driving out of corners with verve.

It paid to be aware, though. There were frequent washouts of gravel and mud — the shoulders and edges of the road were eroded away — and there was substantial amounts of down trees, lumber and debris anywhere near any stream or body of water.

Still, the old boxer came on song, danced though sections of twisting roads that rolled towards us and slid under the forks, and generally made it so that I couldn’t remember why I’d felt so black 10 minutes before.

Which is no small accomplishment when you still look like a man that has just wet himself.

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Freeway Blasters

I know I’m lucky to be able to devote a whole garage bay to my motorcycle illness.

Three motorcycles fit in there easily. Four if pressed. Five if desperate measures demand it, and sometimes they have.

That ‘Garage of Blessings’ is probably a contributing reason why I still have a 45 year old motorcycle that is still largely dependable.

 

***

 

Sweet Doris From Baltimore and I have been well nigh consumed by the project of constructing Teardrop Camper Version 2.0. Its gone from years of planning to months of solder and sawdust. Because the cabin is being constructed currently, there is a need for tons of floor space to convert to cutting, shaping and finishing plywood, and given how completely insane the weather has been, its been temporarily necessary to relocate the three remaining motorcycles that live here outside.

My bikes have been parked outside before. It was no big deal.

Did I mention that the weather has been completely insane?

 

***

 

After Sweet D and I had finished a long day of work that resulted in the entire cabin of the Teardrop being joined and set in place, it was time for a brief Ibuprofen party, a good quality Oat Soda, and some much needed rest.

The weather report showed a line of rainstorms coming in during the late overnight — the weather radar looked like a train of red boxcars that stretched out all the way down the Appalachians and well past Nashville.

I remember thinking – having seen the radar – that it was going to be a noisy night.

 

***

 

At about 4:13 in the morning, I hit my face on the roof of my bedroom.

I’d been in deepest R.E.M. sleep, and now I definitely wasn’t.

I didn’t know who I was, who you was, where we were, what was up. You know, the whole everything. Nothing.

There was, though, this NOISE.

It was like an air raid siren, like a missile launch, like a Great Lakes Lighthouse Foghorn at a distance of three feet.

The combination of being blown out of deep sleep and this incredible, knock the wind out of your lungs, thundering noise was enough to produce at least ten seconds of total mental paralysis.

You never have a electroencephalograph handy when you need one, but to have run mine then would have shown perfectly flat lines and the soft rushing emptiness in the mind of a Zen Master.

Then my mental boot sequence wrapped up, and cognition came on line.

“SHIT! IT’S THE HORN ON THE SLASH 5!”

I pulled on some sweatpants and faux crocs, and sprinted downstairs.

The tiny bones of the plan had me turning on the outside lights, and opening up the left garage door, which would put two steps from the bike I had thoughtfully parked directly under my bedroom window, and three steps away from my tool chest.

I cleared the house door, crossed behind the new trailer, and got to the garage door.

I threw the door open.

It was absolutely, totally pouring. I found out later we’d gotten 3 inches of rain across 4 hours. The next day, doing triage, I found water inside the topcase of the LT that was sealed and latched.

It was RAINING.

Not that you could hear the rain, though.

If you’ve never stood five feet directly in front of a set of Fiamm Freeway Blaster Dual Tone horns, wired directly to a really healthy battery, and stuck on, I can’t really recommend it.

It’s three days later and my ears are still ringing.

It took more force of will than I’d anticipated to actually walk toward it.

I grabbed the bars in my hand, and bopped the horn switch a few times, and the sound of the end of the universe morphed into a sick sounding bleat, and then stopped.

I was not taking any chances, though.

I unlatched and flipped up the /5s Police Saddle. I could see the big Philips screw on the new DEKA battery’s ground terminal. I hopped to the tool chest, pulled out the big Philips, and pulled the bike’s ground bolt.

It was over. For now.

Quite a few of my neighbor’s lights were on, and I was more than a little damp.

I went upstairs, and used my bath towel to dry off.

I got back in bed, but sleep wasn’t going to come back easily.

In my head, the beating of the pouring rain sounded like Fiamm Freeway Blaster horns.

Possessed

Finn came home for dinner on Sunday.

He had a new friend he thought we should meet.

As he was headed back to his car, he walked past the Blast, that I had parked out in the driveway.

“Goodbye, Satan!”

Finn’s friend said, “Oh, it can’t be that bad…”

“Oh, it can be. You have no idea….”

 

***

 

So yesterday

When it was warm and sunny

I took Satan for a little ride

Satan’s speedometer

stopped working

 

SATAN!

 

***

 

I will never be able to sell this motorcycle

and look myself in the eye in the mirror without knowing shame

Donut

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.

Donut.

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.

Shouldn’t this…. be connected to THAT?

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.

Loud

Maryland doesn’t have winters.

Its a major reason why motorcycling me chose to settle here.

Oh, sure, it snows every once in while. And while every once in a great while you might even have to take a shovel in hand and do something about it, most Maryland snows can be waited out — ignore them for a few days and they go away.

If I, as a Marylander, were to attempt to convince someone from the Southern Tier of New York, or Wisconsin, or Vermont, or Montana, that I experienced actual Winters, I would not hear the end of their riotous laughter until we both were experiencing flowers blooming all up verifiable spring.

Which is why its a tad odd that we Marylanders just punched out of a 23 day period where we never saw any temperature above the freezing mark, with a full 10 day run of nights in the low single digits. We didn’t get any snow – we just froze our collective butts off. So instead of riding, we spent our time feeding the woodstove, nursing some Union Snow Pants Oatmeal Imperial Stouts and cursing under our breaths while we plotted our rider’s revenge against the cold.

All of these motorcycling hostile conditions meant that many things we would normally do remained frustratingly undone.

Then, in classic Maryland fashion, it went from a daytime high of 18 to a daytime high of 67 in a single day.

Unsurprisingly, I more or less sprinted straight to the garage, hopped on the LT, and turned the key. Older K bikes have a few signals they send using the ABS lights. Normal operation consists of both ABS lights blinking on and off together on power up. If the battery fails to meet the minimum ABS arming voltage, they will blink alternately — first one, then the other. This time, the ABS lights lit, then went out altogether, the system spontaneously reset, and then assumed the normal start sequence. I let the bike sit for about 20 seconds with the key on just to get some current flowing, then pressed the starter button.

If the LT has ever cranked slower than it did that day, I don’t remember it. On the first spin, it didn’t fire. On the second try, as I found myself considering the possibility it might not fire, it finally did, assuming its customary slightly diesely sounding cold idle. As the instruments all assumed normal operation, the bike’s thermometer displayed 13 degrees f, indicating just how cold things had gotten inside my closed garage. I rolled the bike down the driveway, toed it into gear, and said quiet thanks as the ABS trashcanned to life, indicating my battery was at least a little more healthy than I’d given it credit for.

15 miles or so of sunny Valley roads later, my motorcycling life had itself thawed out, and my attention returned to rides long delayed.

 

***

 

First on the list was to reclaim Finn’s Buell Blast, which had been sitting idle in his apartment’s parking garage in Greenbelt since before the holiday break and the subsequent deep freeze. The Blast needed to contribute it’s Battery Tender and harness, a modified version of the toolkit I’d assembled for it and its soft saddlebags to the new CB500F that would replace it for the soon coming semester. It also needed some minor service – most notably the installation of a new quiet core baffle for its Jardine exhaust.

A quick look at the weather report showed a Saturday with a daytime high in the high 50s or low 60s, and so the plan was outlined — load up a car with school supplies, computer gear and some groceries for pre-positioning for the start of classes, and head down to reclaim the little single. To those necessities I added my tire inflator and a battery charger/jumper — given the drama associated with waking up the LT post freeze, I wanted to be prepared for possible drama.

 

***

 

The drive down to Greenbelt was sunny, smooth and uneventful — which, given that we’re talking about Metro DC, is by itself noteworthy. Upon arrival at Finn’s place, we offloaded our cargo into his apartment, grabbed some hydration, made a comfort stop, and visited the property’s management office to register the CB in their parking records and take care of some other administrativia.

We headed back upstairs, and went back into the parking structure where I pulled on my gear. I grabbed my inflator and topped up the tires, which were just a bit below spec. I pulled on my helmet, strapped on my elkskin gauntlets, and swung a leg over the Blast’s low saddle. I opened up the fuel petcock, and turned on the ignition.

I’d been concerned about drama about starting a flash frozen bike.

I’d needn’t have been concerned. The Blast, like my Slash 5, has a Deka AGM battery, and these batteries hold a charge better when stored and deliver more cold cranking power than any other motorcycle batteries I’ve ever used.

The Blast spun up hard, and fired on the third compression stroke.

There was no question whatsoever that the 500 single was running.

Finn’s eyes narrowed to slits before he ducked and rolled away from the bike. Without the quiet core inside the Jardine muffler, and inside the concrete cave of the parking structure, the din was absolutely staggering. Out of reflex more than intention, I blipped the throttle.

That was a mistake.

With the butterflies open, what had been merely stupid loud changed to mind-erasing cacophony.

I leaned over toward Finn.

“I’m going to head up I-95 towards 32. Give me about a 10-15 minute head start, so If I run into any mechanical issues, at least you’ll be somewhere out behind me.”

Finn just looked confused and pointed both index fingers towards his ears and shrugged.

I grabbed his head with both gloved hands and pulled him into the eyeport of my Shoei. I rebroadcast the message — only louder this time.

This time I could see comprehension on Finn’s face. He responded with a simple thumbs up.

I gassed the Blast and headed toward the ramp out of the garage.

Given the Blast’s relatively narrow powerband, low power output and short throw throttle, my normal riding approach involves pretty aggressive application of throttle. As I rolled the throttle open to get the bike headed towards the first of the three ramps that would get me out of the garage and out to the street, it was clear the normal method would require some situational modification. Every time I even cracked the throttle inside the parking structure, the increase in sound volume was well nigh unbearable.

I basically coasted the Blast down the three ramps, though the automated security gate, and out into the street.

Once I was outside the parking structure, I figured it might be OK to finally open the throttle.

I was again wrong.

The street that leads away from the apartment runs between two apartment blocks — cracking the throttle in that masonry canyon had the net impact of delaying the echo of the noise coming back from the Blast’s motor for a few extra milliseconds, but was still nearly unbearably loud.

Finally, the street took me away from spaces defined by concrete and brick, and out into the open. The standard Buell design, with the exhaust exit located under the bike just in front of the rear tire, meant that the rider was mostly isolated from the sound, but anyone located in a roughly 160 degree section to the sides and rear of the motorcycle, was being exposed to sound that was more suitable to a racetrack or a combat theater than a public road.

At the end of Greenbelt Road I briefly turned on to Kenilworth Road and then opened the butterflies wide and accelerated up the ramp and onto the DC Beltway, surfing the pressure waves of this overwhelming sound. I had to admit, with the exhaust core removed, the Blast was making more power over a wider spread or RPMs. On the flip side, though, as I passed a car topping out 4th gear, I looked briefly to the side, and was greeted with the sight of all 4 of the car’s occupants gaping slackjawed and googly-eyed straight at me.

That told me pretty much what I needed to know.

It was going to be a long 50 miles back to Jefferson.

I don’t want you to think for a minute I’m some sort of internal combustion sound prude. I enjoy the sound of a well-tuned and appropriately muffled motorcycle as much as the next guy. But the sound coming out of the Blast was in no way anything like that.

I’ve spend my fair share of time enjoying the Barabara Fritchie Motorcycle Classic — America’s longest continually running Half Mile Flat Track Event. I have also been known to hang out at Airshows and Commemorative Air Force fly-ins, where old warbirds like the famous B-17 Memphis Belle are shown and flown.

Net/net is that with a open drag pipe and straight through resonator, the Harley Davidson based 500cc single was less MotoGuzzi LeMans (Bella!) and more flat-out XR750 or Wright Cyclone on take-off roll (plus or minus 8 to 35 cylinders). The sound is an all-out sonic assault — it hits you in the diaphragm — right in the solar plexus — it scrambles one’s brains and takes one’s breath clean away. The sound is a combination of intake growl and basso profundo roar — it makes no sense whatsoever that this tsunami of sound is coming from this diminutive motorcycle.

Fortunately, I’d planned my route so much of it was at less than Interstate warp speed — MD 32 is a secondary road where 50 to 60 miles an hour is the prevailing speed — so I could loaf down these roads in either the top of 4th gear or the bottom of 5th with minimal throttle openings.

After running across much of the state on MD32 I came back to Interstate 70. Once clear of Baltimore — especially headed west — drivers fly out here. There would be no loafing on the next stretch. I roared up the ramp and settled in at about 76 mph to be able to blend in to prevailing traffic.

After all of the grief it has caused me, and all of the shade Finn and I have thrown its way, I’ll admit I got a little thrill from having the loud little monster run this well — probably as well as it ever has. Sound pressure not withstanding, the bike was making better top gear power than it ever had — it was pulling 5th gear with authority from under 70 miles an hour, and 70 to 80 mph pulls felt pretty strong. Of course power on a single most times equates to vibration, and I was taking quite the beating at speed.

Just about New Market, with about 70 miles showing on the tripmeter, the Blast stumbled as it hit reserve. Unlike my customary practice, for some reason I didn’t mind the notion of a fuel stop.

I rolled into a High’s where the Buell took a whopping 1.1 gallons of fuel. I’d noticed some visual telltales that my blood sugar was headed dangerously low — in our excitement Finn and I had skipped lunch — so I grabbed some fruit juice for my own tank which instantly set things right.

I rode the roar back up through the gears – accelerating as hard as a Blast ever does – then cruised past Frederick, over the ridge into the Valley, and was shortly up the driveway and killswitching into blessed and welcome echoing silence.

Due to the gas stop, Finn had just beaten me home.

“Man, Pop, I heard you all the way down the ramps in the garage, all the way up Greenbelt Road, and accelerating up the ramp onto the Beltway. That bike is some kind of obnoxious.”

“Yup, it sure is. Let me take off my ‘Stich and as soon as The Blast cools off we’ll put in the new quiet core that’s sitting on the workbench. No way I’m running that bike again without the cork installed.”

I Surrender

I never thought it would come to this.

When I bought Finn his Buell Blast, my operative assumption had been that a piece of machinery that simple couldn’t really break in any meaningful way.

That assumption has proved so repeatedly wrong I find myself humbled in ways to which I am simply not accustomed.

I’m not merely wrong. I’m colossally, cosmically, monumentally, fundamentally and eternally totally wrong.

My shame in this knows no bounds.

 

***

 

I don’t know, but after I put the motor back in after it fell out, I had what I guess was a false sense of security.

The Blast seemed much more solid on the road, and on a warmer day — say 70 degrees — the carburation seemed spot on and it was making good power.

Bliss, they say, is fleeting.

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Another series of texts from Finn.

When these arrive out of the blue the import is seldom good.

“Stinking bike blew the quiet core out of the muffler.

You’d think I’d have noticed THAT when it happened. 😉

Checked back on the ground in the garage. It’s gone.”

How the asshole reduction baffle — Jardine calls it a ‘quiet core’ — intended to make their racetrack pipe almost socially acceptable — could have been shaken loose is beyond me. I’d used blue locktite on the baffle securing bolt and added a fillet of high temp copper silicone to secure the insert in the exhaust outlet. That insert should have been in there. Instead, it was outta here.

So now the Blast was blasting around sounding like an asshole’s motorcycle.

Then the temperature went under 40 degrees and the bike’s not exactly auto auto choke decides it doesn’t want to fully disengage. A good running motorcycle transforms into an unridable mess — backfires, momentary power loss.

If you are trying to run down Greenbelt Road or US1 in the left lane in morning rush, a big hairy backfire and three seconds of no power are enough to get one steamrolled. It ain’t fun, and it sure ain’t safe.

When this information was shared, Sweet Doris from Baltimore overrevved and threw a rod. “My baby boy is going to get run over by some Crazy PG County Driver on that ‘motorcycle’.”

No mas. Make it stop.

I really wanted to like the Blast. A small light simple single. Descendant of the Vincent Comet.

But it kept betraying me. Shaking parts off. Developing the same intake leaks, carb warmup and drivability problems.

It’s goddamn engine fell out, for Pete’s sakes.

I still want to like the Blast.

Maybe if throw out its fuel tank, carburetor and ignition and replace them with modern components I might yet.

But when I look at it now, all I see is a motorcycle that has been trying to encourage people to run over my son, and an undeniable evidence of my utter and indelible wrongness.

I did a quick review of the few motorcycles currently made that are even remotely related to what we used to call ‘a standard motorcycle’.

I didn’t really want to put Finn on a smaller motorcycle, given his maturing skills as a rider — so the new generation 300s and 400s were non-starters. Fully faired sportbikes, four cylinders, things called ‘Ninja’ and cruisers were out. What one had left were about 5 bikes with displacements between 500 and 800 ccs., and the Honda CB500F was the most versatile, most comfortable, and like a lot of past Hondas, had been so perfectly useful that nobody bought them.

Plus, It’s a Honda.

I probably neglected to mention it was also the least expensive.

If I lived in LA, where coolth apparently has more impact on what people buy to ride, I could buy a leftover 2015 model of these bikes for around $3,800 which is crazy short money for a two cylinder, double overhead cam, water cooled, fuel injected, highway capable modern motorcycle.

In less cool Jefferson, though, there are still leftovers that can be had, and the best such deal I was able to find was at Pete’s Cycle in Baltimore, which had been my dealer when I first started riding my first motorcycle, my CB750K1.

After a phone call or two, I put a deposit on the CB.

It’s a good-looking motorcycle — matt black paint with silver tank shrouds and tailsection. There’s a good looking set of twin silver stripes around the top of the tank, a nice racetrack spec fuel filler, and bright blue anodized fork caps with preload adjusters decorating the bike’s cockpit.

CB

A unsplatted Finn is worth immeasurably more than $4,699, plus freight, assembly, title, taxes and tags.

Finn’s 20th birthday is on Thanksgiving. Apparently he will be celebrating early, and for sometime thereafter.

 

***

 

Postscript:

Just got back from Baltimore with the bike – A lovely, cold, rainy 65 miles home.

Despite that, I don’t think Finn is going to stop grinning for some time.

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Great Grandson of the Black Bomber

 

 

Shaky

I spent today making another tool laden Blast reassembly run from Jefferson to College Park.

A few days ago, Finn calls me up on the phone and says “My Bike is Shaky.”

“It’s making a jingling sound, and seems to be vibrating a lot.”

Now for a Buell Blast operator to say the bike is vibrating a lot is not news, but if it is vibrating more than it normally does, this is a concern.

I tell Finn I’ll call him back.

I do a few web searches. I have come to love the members of the Buell Blast enthusiasts online community, who have already seen every possible failure this simple machine can have.

Some of them more than once.

I call Finn back and then tell him to send me pictures of “That Big Rubber donut underneath the steering head.” He sends me this.

Holes with Nothing In Them

 

Strangely, it’s the isolator — the rubber torus in the middle of the mount — that is known to fail — the rubber tears. This isolator, though, appears to be fine.

Notice on the near side, where there is a hole in which should be an isolator mount bolt. Note that there is not one.

Then please notice on the other side, where there should be another one. There is one there, but its orientation indicates it is no longer connected to that to which it should be connected.

Finn is on campus… he’s calling me from the Architecture Studio.

He’s been riding like that for 2 or 3 days.

I told him to ride it to his place – 3 miles – really gently, and text me when he got home.  He made it.

A few days later I made the run down to look at it first hand. Turned out the Blast had completely spat out its front motormount. There is very little reason why this motor did not fall out. It looked like the wishbone that the cylinder head mounts to got hung up on the horn arm mount bolt as it was headed downward and that snag was sufficient to keep the engine in the motorcycle. Curiouser, the ignition grounds through that unconnected motormount bolt so I don’t know why it was still running.

Getting on the phone looking for this obviously critically stressed hardware did not yield joy. HD parts support is starting to thin out for the Buells. I don’t know whether Harley’s commitment for Buell parts support has just ended, or will end soon, but increasingly the parts are held by a third party contractor, and not HD themselves. The cost has increased accordingly. Getting OEM hardware was challenging.

Challenging, but not impossible.

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5 Buell OEM Parts Bags – 40 Bucks

Today I loaded by my LT with a service stand, a floor jack, a tool box, a few ratchet strap sets, a hunka wood and a service light.

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Rolling Motorcycle Service Shop – Not easy to transport a swingarm stand

I rode back down to the Garage at Finn’s place. After wrapping a strap around the motor, and using that and the jack to cajole it back into position, we were able to get the front engine isolator mount set back right. A few dozen dollars, some new bolts, standoffs, nylock nuts and Blue Locktite got everything that needed to be attached to each other attached to each other.

All of a sudden that bike seems way more of a piece and is seems to be delivering way more power. When I was road testing it, it spun its back wheel in the fat part of second gear, coming out of a traffic circle. It’s never done that before.

Finn thinks the motormount had been failing for quite some time – that one bolt had been gone for a while. He said he kept hearing ‘a jingle’. We found the reinforcing plates and one of the nuts captured in the frame when we pulled the tank. The jingle is gone now.

My Brand New Uncle Joe is willing to trade me the Blast for a Pacific Coast he has and a few more dollars.

At the risk of screwing bikema completely, I suspect the Pacific Coast would not require multiple mechanical emergency rescue missions.  But if I can’t trade the Blast I really can’t afford another motorcycle. We’ll just have to see how Finn ends up feeling about that.

On my way out of his place, Finn lead me on his Blast through Greenbelt Park – It’s US Department of the Interior-managed park that’s about 2 miles away from his place, and in the middle of a very densely developed urban area about 10 miles from Capitol Hill.

One right turn off the highway and its like you’re in one of the Great Western National Parks – deep forest, log buildings, all the Civilian Conservation Corps-built log guardrails.

We ran into a small herd of very young deer coming out of the second corner.

Amazing.

Greenbelt Park has about 3-4 miles of winding park road that is just perfect if you have a fine running 500 single.

I tailed him around before heading back home.  He looked great out there.

Cutting good lines and having some fun. He’s got skills.

I had a lovely ride home, stretching the LT out coming back across Howard and Frederick counties in the late afternoon sunshine.

For a day that started with a broken bike and dirty hands, it was a very good day.