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.

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Free To Go

From almost the first days that I rode my BMW /5 motorcycle, it was clear that it was nearly as capable in the dirt as it was on pavement.

Now we’re not talking Travis Pastrana backflip dirt, or Erzberg Rodeo dirt, but simple, straightforward feet up enduro riding dirt. On fire roads or reasonably sane trails in the woods, the boxer-engined Wunderbike was surprisingly competent when ridden rationally and within certain fairly sensible limits.

The fact that I know about those limits begs more than a few tales.

The first limit involves the limits of the tires fitted to the bike. Over 35 years of riding it, my tire choices have slowly evolved from the ubiquitous Continental SuperTwins street tires of the early eighties, through a series of mild dual sport skins like Avon Distanzias, to the set of Heidenau Scouts that I’m getting ready to fit. What one can do with this motorcycle in the loose stuff involves how much stick one’s skins can provide.

The second limit involves mass management. The great drive and good torque make tractoring up incredible grades — tire grip permitting — almost trivial. Working down the same grade on 450 plus pounds of motorcycle is … less trivial. I never recall experiencing unplanned vehicle rider separation going up hills. I did, however, get fairly skilled in learning to pick up and recover the motorcycle when facing down grades. Sadly, what goes up must eventually come down, but some planning is your friend here.

Water crossings are also well within the boxer’s capabilities… the older bikes, with their air intakes up on the frame backbones, are good swimmers… as long as the water level is under the roundels, you’re good!

As a youthful boxer affectionado, I sought out every trail and offroad opportunity I could find. The Baltimore City watershed, starting from Loch Raven park, had multiple trails that were built to support water lines, power lines, and other infrastructure, and the /5’s near-silent stock exhaust allowed me to explore without disturbing other park users or attracting the wrong kind of attention. Activities which would have brought the long arm of the law down swiftly and hard on my two-stroke riding contemporaries never resulted in any awkward conversations with the constable. Being street legal meant coming out near a public road at the end of trail just meant throttling up and disappearing into the normal flow of traffic.

The Pretty Boy reservoir system and the Papapsco State Park System … which was within a 10 minute ride of my early work location at the Social Security Administration’s Woodlawn Datacenter also provided hours of exploring and honing my dirt rider’s skills. I might not yet know everything that BMW’s Factory ISDT riders knew about boxering the dirt, but the gap was slowly narrowing.

Which brings me to my most exciting dirt adventure.

Sometime in the mid 1980’s I headed west out of my then-home of Baltimore to my first BMW Rally — the Baltimore and Metropolitan Washington BMW riders (BMWBMW) Square Route Rally — based out of the American Legion’s Camp West-Mar outside of Thurmont Maryland. 30 plus years later, I live in Frederick County, but to young Rally Pup, the green mountainsides, twisting roads and deep forest were like another planet.

On Saturday afternoon of the Rally, after field events had wrapped and way before dinner, a natural lull presented me with what sure seemed like an opportunity to explore. The old American Legion Camp is laid out like any military installation, with a ring of barracks arranged around a Mess Hall. On the far edge of the Camp, two barracks are separated by a slightly larger gap, and that gap contained a dual track that disappeared into a green tunnel into the woods.

The temptation was more than I could possibly bear.

I pulled on my gloves and helmet, kicked the bike — which still had its original 4-speed then — to life, and quietly motored into the green.

For a guy whose home was in the brick rows of the BelAir/Edison neighborhood of Baltimore city, it was absolutely heaven. The trail was a grass and mossy dual track, with a heavy tree canopy that allowed the sun to filter through in places. Speed wasn’t important. Just maintaining headway and reading the trail was completely immersive. I was focused, calm, centered.

As I exited a corner in that trail, though, I heard an unfamiliar sound.

“CHAKA-CHAKA-CHAKA-CHACKA-KA-CHAKA-CHACK-CHACK-CHACK…”

I pulled the clutch in and coasted to a stop. I knew every noise that motorcycle made, and I was fairly confident this wasn’t any of them.

I was having a full-on ‘Mr. Jones Moment’ again — I knew something was happening, I just didn’t know what it was, yet.

I peered ahead into the forest, squinted a little, and as I did, the unexpected sight of a squad of fully armed United States Marines in tactical gear slowly came into focus out of the camouflaged position where they’d been invisible mere seconds before.

My /5, known for a slight noisy top end, hadn’t hung a valve. The “CHAKA-CHAKA” had been the sounds of 16 M-16 safeties coming off.

The Squad Leader addressed me in that subtle and gentle manner for which the United States Marines are renowned.

“THIS IS A RESTRICTED AREA!”

I took about three-quarters of a second to absorb this, and then about another three-quarters of a second waiting for my heart to restart.

“Am I free to go?”

“Yes, Sir.”

I gently dropped the clutch, did about the smoothest in place O-turn I’ve done before or since, and gently headed back towards Camp West-Mar along the same vector from which I’d come.

Now, folks that have spent their entire lives in Thurmont Maryland are well aware that Camp West-Mar isn’t the only installation back in them there woods. Seems that there’s also a little place called Camp David, and the two camps, as I now fully understand, share an extended property line.

Seems The Boss Was In Town that weekend, along with his heavily armed little friends, I was the only dimwit that wasn’t fully aware of same.

You do your Adventure Riding, and I’ll Do Mine.

With a change of underwear, and a cold beer (or two), I’d be just fine.

Half a Harley Mechanic

I don’t know about you, brothers and sisters, but lately I’ve been finding myself doing more than a couple of things I was pretty sure I would never do.

I feel like Rolling Physics Problem is inexorably constructing its own cosmology — its unique internal laws of its own energy, space and time. And one of our foundational laws of time is that the future simply can’t be foreseen.

This means a lot of things surprise me, when perhaps they really shouldn’t.

I’m really coming to embrace that it pays to be flexible.

 

***

 

Having firmly established the complete absence of validity of anything I might have ever thought about my future self and existence, I was pretty sure one of those things I would never do would be to own a Harley Davidson motorcycle.

Now don’t get me wrong, fellow riders. Don’t assume any malice or deficiency of character where none exists.

I’d love to have one of those lovely XR1200s that buyers ignored from a few years back. All of the V-Rod series of motorcycles, with their Porsche-designed engines, were one chassis and suspension transplant away from being really compelling motorcycles.

I’d like to own a VR1000 or an XLCR, but as flexible as I might be, I am also short of disposable income.

And cheap. A deadly combination for a Gentleman of Fine Discerning Motorcycle Tastes.

All that aside though, nothing HD currently sells from the showroom floor really does anything for me, at least not enough to sign a note on one.

So I just didn’t see myself owning one.

And if you, on the other hand, totally dig the machinery that Harley Davidson makes, and how it makes you feel, that’s cool, man, and I can totally see why you feel that way.

But it doesn’t do that to me, so I just couldn’t see it.

And not being able to envision owning one, meant that all of the Bar and Shieldy goodness that is how these motors work and how one tends to them had been unexplored blank space in the universe inside my head.

I had absolutely zero interest, cause it was information I was simply never going to use. End.Of. Story.

 

***

 

Whereupon I purchased my son Finn’s Buell Blast.

On only the thinnest of graspable technicalities could one argue that the Blast was somehow not a Harley Davidson. If, however, your thesis was that The Blast was a half of one, then you …had nothing.

Half a Harley?

Those that do know about such things claim that the Blast and a Sportster share no common engine parts, but the eye tells a different tale. In development Mr. Buell did what the HD-owned Buell and Harley itself always did — start with the bits they already had on hand and put them together in different combinations and improved them from there.

The lower engine case is cast aluminum, and shares the shape and basic dimensions of the modern 1000 cc Sportster motor. Where the Sportster has two cylinder base plates machined for a pair of air cooled cylinders, the Blast case simply has one — the front one, to be specific, inclined at approximately the same angle as the Sportster’s V. The back one…well, it’s gone. Or not there yet. Or something.

Considering that Harley had not made one of its own singles since 1934 — Aermacchis and DKWs badged as HD’s don’t count, ’cause I say so — this was a pretty traditional way of solving the company’s small displacement problem. And, for good measure, not even an original way — BMW, Vincent, Indian, Ducati and no doubt countless others, just buttoned up one or two of whatever jugs they had lying around at the time to make a single and twin of the same basic engine architecture and parts.

Buell being Buell, they had improved the stock components for better flow and balance and anything else they could hot rod, but the basic tooling was the same. Where the 1000cc stock Sportster twin makes something like 52 HP, the 500cc Blast Single makes 34.

So anyway, as the new proud owner of Half a Harley, I was going to have to play catch up on how this corner of the universe did things.

 

***

 

Before Finn and the Blast departed for College Park, I’d paid dearly for all of my hard fought Harley ignorance.  I’d figured out oil changes and spark plugs, brake service and tires. The bike had even received some small degree of farkelage, with some actual rear-view mirrors, a wired-in mini Battery Tender, and a set of soft bags.

Post decamp a soaking wet and shivering cold Finn had rediscovered gravity   and had bent some small stuff that had to be replaced. Finn had also said while the bike was on its side it had been spitting out small chunks of black rubber from under the tank. I was pretty sure I knew what those were.

So I became determined to further confuse Harley Davidson of Frederick, who are likely starting to wonder why my R90S is always parked in their lot. While there I picked up a shift lever toe peg kit, and a set of the rubber gas tank isolators, which had been visibly trending toward entropy when Finn and I had been in there last.

When I got home I looked at the new shift peg, which, in a major failure of design, didn’t have a wrench flat on it anywhere — kinda hard to torque or detorque, for that matter, when there is nothing to hold onto. Given that the one on the bike had been gravitationally customized, and is supposed to be secured by red LockTite, I imagined a part that might need extreme externally provided motivation in order to be removed. A butane torch and Vice-Grips went onto the tool pile.

Unlike many technicians, I elected to actually read the documentation that was inside the parts bag. The installation procedure stated that the enclosed peg was a retrofit repair part for several models which it listed. The procedure went on to say that if, however, it was to be installed on a Blast, that the hole in the shift lever was 1/8 too shallow, and that a 5/16s tap would be required to install it.

I’ve got a lot of tools.

None of them, however, are taps.

I placed my selected tools, new parts and swingarm service stand into my wagon, and headed for College Park via a short pit stop in the hand tool department of my local Lowes.

 

***

 

When I got down to Finn’s place I gave The Lad a big hug, and then he helped me unload the mobile bike shop.

He picked the bike up off the sidestand, and grabbed a handful of front brake while I positioned the swingarm stand and levered the bike up in the air to render it ready for wrenching.

As a BMW guy, I now fully appreciate just what a luxury a bike with a center stand really is.

I’d made the same trip down a few weeks previous to help Finn replace a leaky carburetor boot that was causing some wonky running. All of that work looked like it had stood up and kept fasteners tight, which isn’t always a given with this motorcycle.

I got down on one knee to inspect the shifter peg which had been customized by Finn’s little run-in(s) with too much gravity and not enough friction. He had done a pretty passable job of unbending the bent — looked pretty serviceable actually, to an old cheap man’s eye. It had looked inexplicably rough — the shift rubber was split and had been neatly ziptied back on — before this had happened, so I had no problem with fixing it right.

It was an Internet style laugh out loud moment when I realized that the existing shift peg was actually backed out about a thread and a half. I grabbed it with my hand and it moved. Looked like I wasn’t going to need that torch. Actually, I guess we were more lucky it hadn’t vibrated out and fallen off.

I passed Finn the vicegrips and had him back the bent part the rest of the way off. He handed it to me when he’d finished and I placed it beside the newly purchased part.

The old and new parts were identical — even in the threaded part of the peg. The part we were replacing, therefore, was not the original factory peg, which was about 1/8 inch — remember the documentation? — or about a thread and a half coarse threads shorter. Looks like someone hadn’t received the memo about tapping the extra threads in the shift arm.

It also looks like when Blasts fall over – which apparently happens a lot – they land on their shift peg, with consistently repeatable results.

I chucked up my nice new Dewalt tap, and gently cut two more threads into the shift arm. A little LockTite, a little ViceGrips and we could cross this little problem off the list.

That wrapped, I pulled the tank vent and tank cover, which is held on place by a single bolt, and by the oil dipstick, which sits in the oiltank in top of the frame just behind the steering head.

With the plastic inner tank laid bare, I removed what little was left of the rubber tank mounts — little rubber cylinders that slide over steel rods that protrude from either side of the steering head to position and retain the tank.

The new tank mounts needed a little more coercion than I would have preferred, but they eventually were persuaded into place. The tank cover and vent went back on, and the Blast came back off the work stand.

I swung a leg over, turned the key and lit ‘er up. The Blast fired on the second stroke, and responded well to throttle, spinning up smartly on the gas. I let her idle for about thirty seconds, and then blipped ‘er again to make sure the goofy thermal choke disengaged.

For what it’s worth, if anyone knows of a good bodge to replace the thermal auto-choke on one of these bikes with a good old fashioned choke knob and cable, please speak to me.

Because Finn’s apartment complex is still mostly empty, the parking garage is also mostly empty. The uppermost floor, where we were working, was completely empty. Really large unbroken expanses of empty concrete pavement make certain motorcyclist behaviors more likly to occur, so they occurred here.

I took a couple of large throttle opening runs up and down the floor, being somewhat surprised the little beast would lighten up the front wheel with a little leading throttle and some clutch modulation, and drinking in the noise in the semi-enclosed space.

I rolled the bike back into Finn’s space, leaning it onto the sidestand, and killswitched it.

It was time to head for the diner down the street, and get some breakfast food for dinner and joke and cut up some.

 

***

 

Back at work the next morning, I reflected on how comfortable I was becoming working on the Blast.

Maybe this Half a Harley Mechanic gig wasn’t so bad after all. Check back to see how I feel about it after a primary case oil change and clutch adjustment next spring.

Right about then an incoming text lit up my phone.

It was Cam — my daughter Wallis’ boyfriend.

He was asking for help cleaning up the carbs and tuning up a 2006 Kawasaki ZZR600 he’d picked up on Craiglist a few weeks back. It was a carburetted motorcycle that had spent most of its life parked, so it likely needed some pilot jets, oil, air and fuel filters, and some spark plugs. Cam had called up our local Kwacker dealer and they’d asked for almost as much for the work as he’d spent on the bike.

I went over the parts he would need, and told him to bring the ZZR by when they came in.

Looked like I’d have half a Kawasaki mechanic to round out my half a Harley mechanic by this time next week.

 

Newton’s Fourth Law

This is an older story, but, in my humble opinion, a really, really good one. It originally appeared on the Internet BMW Riders List, and was subsequently reprinted by Motorcycle Times, a Maryland based motorcycle newspaper.

The reason I’m republishing it is an adventure I had yesterday — one involving a lot of smoke, a small amount of fire, and a fairly long term cessation of forward motion.  More details are forthcoming, but this will help to provide some context.

In the meantime, if your motorcycle inexplicably fixed itself yesterday, you have me to thank for it.

You’re welcome.

***

Motorcyclists, generally, tend to understand the laws of physics, or they don’t exist as motorcyclists (or living humans, for that matter) for very long. I know I do, but I try to never generalize about the human experience from the extremely small sample set of my parochial experience. I also know that when I went down to the Maryland DMV to try to get “RollingPhysicsProblem” registered as a vanity tag for my R90S, the DMV folks laughed at me, and trying to make it fit within the characters available only resulted in some of those impenetrable acronym things that result either in you driving off the road or rear-ending the doofus with the special license plate, and made the DMV folks laugh at me some more, only harder.

Ok, so competent motorcyclists know Newton’s three laws of motion.

Objects at rest stay at rest – objects in motion stay in motion unless acted upon by by an outside force. Check.

Acceleration of a moving body is proportional to that outside force applied, and inversely proportional to that mass of the moving body. No Problem. Check.

When two bodies interact with each other, action and reaction forces are equal in magnitude, but act in opposite directions. Piece-a-cake. Nyet prahblema. Check.

But most motorcyclists don’t know that, like most true geeks, Newton wasn’t much on writing documentation. Newton had a few other laws, but they only got written down on napkins from Chipotle, and we all know what happens to those.

Newton’s unknown fourth law goes something like this. The amount of stuff which works in the universe, and the amount of stuff with ‘out-of-order’ signs hung on it, totals to a constant. If you fix something, something else in the universe will break so that its still totals that constant. People love slogans, so the easy way to think of this is ‘The conservation of screwed’.

At this point, I may be getting arcane, so an explanation is clearly in order.

I still ride my R75/5 toaster tank nearly every day. There are newer bikes in the garage but for daily transport the Toaster is ideal for round town excursions, occasional small dirt road adventures, and, with its solo saddle set up, it will easily carry bulky stuff like 50 pound bags of cat food over the back fender and between the saddlecases. Any bike that has been on the road nonstop since 1973 has at least a few little flaws that someone biased can just call ‘character’. Perfection, in Islam, is reserved for the lord alone – One sees these in the deliberate flaw woven into Persian carpets. My toaster tank isn’t causing the Godhead any lost sleep about the perfection franchise.

The Toaster’s flaw, of late, had been an odometer that had gone completely berserk. At some point, it seems like all of the digits in the odo had just lost track of each other… one would go out on a ride with 67,000 and some odd miles showing on the cluster, and would return home with 42,000. I’ve had to rework this instrument at least 3 time since 1983, when I bought the bike, so this wasn’t really in any way shocking.

What was shocking was what happened next, though. Yesterday in Maryland was Heat Wave Hostage Crisis day 13… we’ve had a run of 98-108 degree days that is really a tad unusual for this area. I get stir crazy if more than a day or two goes by without a ride, so I riffled through my lame excuse for a ride file, and found my daughter’s Nissan Cube overdue for an oil change, so decided on a ride to town for a few quarts and a filter. I threw a 2 quart insulated water jug in one of the saddle bags, grabbed my Vanson Way Ventilated SuperMoto jacket, and rode the Toaster up to town. While I was there, I realized our bird feeders were empty, and added a 25 of seed to the bike’s cargo area.

On the way back, I decided that the heat wasn’t really that bad with 45-50 mph of wind added, so I elected to take a slightly scenic route home.

And that’s when things got weird.

Running down New Design Road, I looked at my odometer. At that moment, I was running through the numbers to the next thousand — 998 — 999 — 1000. And when the odo turned through that thousand, the numbers in the cluster appeared to marry back up, the thousands digits stopped dancing randomly, and the whole thing went back to working as its maker intended.

“HA!”, quoth I, “How often does that happen? That sucker JUST FIXED ITSELF!”

A strange feeling of preternatural satisfaction came over me. Riding bikes is usually an exercise in things breaking, not things fixing themselves. I was probably observable to be feeling pretty smug from a distance of 50 yards.

And that’s when things immediately righted themselves and, by becoming unweird, got really weird.

New Design road is likely called that because it was the first straight road anyone ever built here. Rolling down New Design road, on a 100 degree day, was a visual feast — raptors circling in the rising air, hay balers PHOOMFing out bales every 3 seconds or so, the double yellow rolling from one bluff to the top of the next. So there I was, about 3600 RPM in the fat spot of 4th gear, enjoying my self made breeze without a care in the world. And that was when the lights on my Motometer all went black and the engine stalled as we were rolling at 50 down a arrow straight road.

Remember ‘The Conservation of Screwed?’.

Lots of things go wrong with old motorcycles. But total loss of electrical power without warning while running on a 100 degree day is almost always a battery that has decided to melt down no matter how you might feel about that.

After drifting to a stop, then pushing the bike across the road into a flat, shady spot across the highway, I did a few tests that confirmed my battery had failed. As I was standing there, literally scratching my head and weighing my options, a white Suburban pulled over and a white haired Gentleman leaned out the window and asked if I needed anything. I asked if he had a few seconds to drive me back to the WalMart I had just left. He said he did.

On the way back up NewDesign, John and I had lots of fun talking about his old motorcycles, and my old motorcycles, and the fun we’d had when things like this happened.

20 minutes after John had pulled up, I was standing back beside the bike with a new battery and tools in hand. I thanked him profusely and gave him the old Irish blessing. He accepted my thanks and just told me, “Pay it forward, man.”

A few minutes of removing the airbox later, I pulled the dead lead and was putting the new one in its place. As I’m started to reattach things, another Samaritan appeared — Patrick worked at the tree service at the end of the road and had stopped to make sure I had water. Once I said I had things under control he said he was a dirtbike guy and kept the conversation going as he got around the other side and ghosted what I was doing on my side of the bike. It was like he’d been working with me on BMWs his whole life. So after 10 minutes that would have been 20, I tested the starter and the bike fired right up. I killed it, put the tank back on, threw the side covers in my bags, put the saddle and cases back on, and shared some cold water and a handshake with Patrick, then fired up and rode home.

Having succeeded in my roadside diagnosis and repair, I was probably again observable to be feeling pretty smug from a distance of 50 yards.

So this is always the point where my inner stentorian voice asks, “So what have we learned?”.

I know that dropping a battery on your index finger will make you cry and wish you were young enough to ask for your mommy. And I also know that even if you did that and she showed up it still wouldn’t get you off the side of the road.

I also know that no matter how bad people tell you things get, that there is always at least one old biker looking out for you when things go straight to sheet. That old biker might even be me, ’cause I got to pay it forward again.

And I really know that when things start fixing themselves, you’d better sharpen up and start paying attention, because Newton’s fourth law says that the amount of screwed in the universe is a constant, and something else is just about to break.

 

Lunchtime Brain Surgery Break

People who are in the habit of offering advise will always tell you that, in the matter of how one makes one’s living, one should always ‘follow one’s joy’ — i.e. make your living doing something that makes you happy.

This advice, is, like most advice offered by people from whom advice has not been solicited, purest unadulterated horseshit.

Joy is joy. Work is work.

That’s why we call one joy and the other work.

***

So, a few days back, I was hard at work.

Unsurprisingly, being at work, I was experiencing minimal joy.

Don’t misread me — I’m not for one single second claiming that work is always one giant, soul-sucking bottomless pit of despond.

It’s just that statistically speaking, it usually is.

Today wasn’t bucking any trends, buddy.

I’m a complex personality, an important part of me is An Engineer. Engineers like to think of stuff, but, more importantly, they like to finish stuff.

To Get Stuff Done.

And if you’re struggling for a way to understand this work/joy continuum, one of the reasons work is work is that finishing stuff — that real, pop the Champagne corks and fire up the Cubans moment — happens so infrequently.

Heck, that might even be joy.

Problem is, these moments are separated by a metric crapload of hard, grinding work.

***

Maybe it’s a Dilbert-style coping mechanism, but when I’m having a tough time remembering the last time I had a “Hot Damn, this sh*t be done! and The Lord Pronounced it Right and Just” moment at work, I will sometimes think hard to identify and then complete something that badly needed to be done, and lacked only my will to attack and complete it.

Think of it as an artificial motivation/fulfillment sweetener.

Or maybe fast food for the beleaguered soul.

Then, having Got Stuff Done, I can look at my face in the mirror with a smile, and sleep the sleep of the righteous when I go to my much deserved rest.

***

These little joy pellets usually take the form of laying tools on some bit of material reality, and either making something where nothing existed before, or taking something performing suboptimally and making a difference in the quality of its little mechanical life.

That it takes accomplishment outside of work to keep the emotional tank full while at work is somewhat ironic, but given a choice, I’ll take irony over despondency any day.

Anyhoo, in a work period of particular unremarkableness, I looked at my emotional joy indicator dial, and discovered that we were deep into the reserve tank, and in danger of running completely dry.

What was it that needed me?

***

I had spent a great deal of time going through my R90S last spring and summer, and that meant laying hands on a really material percentage of the parts — both moving and non — in the entire machine.

Fairly early in the process, after I’d essentially stripped the bike, I remember looking at the bare motor sitting transmissionless in the frame and thinking, “I can’t remember the last time I checked the valves on this beast. Well, it’s never going to be as easy as it is right now — the bike’s already stripped and it’s too disassembled to get away. Let’s have at it.”

So I did.

The heads had definitely needed to have their studs retorqued, but given how much more work was queued up, and the non-zero possibility that the bike might not end up running after removing and replacing essentially everything, I’ll admit that I probably didn’t complete the job with my customary zeal for detail. That — combined with the fact that both the battery and fuel tank were on the bench — meant that I also didn’t check my work after completion.

Fast forward about four months, and the bike was indeed back on the road. It shifted well, it ran well, but it didn’t have the same comically wonderful throttle response that it had before the rolling resto.

After playing back that distracted valve service, I knew what had occurred, and I knew what bit of mechanical reality really needed me.

***

It’s hard to imagine that a piece of machinery very similar in complexity to a Briggs and Stratton lawn mower engine could be sensitive to the smallest niceties of the tuner’s art, but the BMW Type 247 Airhead motorcycle engine definitely is.

In the case of this particular engine, my oversight had been to skip the detailed setting of rocker arm end float before adjusting the valve clearances. What I was confident I would see when I opened the cases was a set of rocker arms with about .002 inch of unnecessary end float in the valve rockers — end float whose result was noise, wear and the reduction of about exactly .002 inch of valve lift in operation. That miniscule oversight accounted for the difference — upon rolling the throttle open — between being kicked in the head by a mule and being slapped in the head by your sister.

They’re both very similar in description, moving mass attempting to vary the trajectory of your noggin.

But they are very different in effect.

***

So with my large cuppa Joe in hand in the morning, I went to the garage.

I rolled the bike to a position where I had room to walk around, disconnected the negative battery lead, and removed the alternator cover and both valve covers.

Then I went back inside and got into the day’s work.

Having arrived at lunchtime, I grabbed a glass of water, a carb bar, and went back to the garage.

I removed the spark plugs and rotated the engine around to Top Dead Center.

With their 360 degree crankshafts, the Airhead engine will have one set of valves closed at TDC on its compression stroke — which is where they need to be adjusted — and then have the other set of valves closed 360 degrees of crank rotation later.

I located the cylinder with both valves closed and grabbed the intake valve rocker.

Sure enough, it had measurable end float — just enough to turn this tiger into a pussycat.

About 15 minutes with my torque wrench and feeler gauges was sufficient to set everything aright.

Untorque the rockers, squeeze the rocker supports together, and retorque them in the correct position. Set the proper .006 and .008 intake and exhaust clearances.

Rotate engine 360 degrees. Move to other cylinder and repeat.

Replace covers.

Install battery ground, and test fire.

The S came to life with authority. Throttle response at idle seemed noticeably improved. Valve noise was down, and the idle was smoother as well.

Joy. Total investment 20 minutes, or about 10 minutes less than I usually take with a sandwich and the Washington Post.

My serenity levels were markedly improved as I completed my work that afternoon.

***

Spinning wrenches can be an easy shortcut to achieving joy.

But one doesn’t know if one has really gotten there until one takes a test out on the road.

After work that day, I leathered up, and cinched down my elkskin gauntlets and my Shoei.

Upon turning out of the neighborhood, I headed up MD180 West and started up through the gears. The engine had enough heat in it to take large throttle so, biting third, I rolled it open all the way.

The beast, long dormant, had returned. Barely a third of the way open both ends of the boxer rose hard to top out the suspension, and things picked up from there.

Making a left on Olive School Road, we had the ultimate test. Olive School is one of those Roller Coaster Roads — more or less flat with a series of small hills in line that allow the torquey to pull one power wheelie — or even a jump or two — after another.

At the top of the first hill-let, I rolled the throttle in third and the front wheel came smoothly and smartly off the ground, not returning to earth until I gave throttle back.

Bodhisattva. A Flash of Unadulterated Joy. A Dancing Soul.

The effects of this enlightenment should be sufficient to hold me for several weeks at least.

Wonder when the last time was I bled my brakes, though…

 

The Two Percent

You’re absolutely sure you know where I’m going with this.

I’m just as sure you’re absolutely wrong.

This isn’t some tale of the ‘More-Money-Than-Sense’ Club.

It isn’t some paean to how the other half — OK so the math has changed — the other whatever the percentage is now lives.

No, I’m just like you, buddy. No Thurston Howell III action, here.

Its not the 1% with all the money vs. the 99%.  That 1% isn’t growing and is never going to get any where even remotely close to 2%

It’s something else altogether.

***

 

Shopping for motorcycles is a very personal thing.

If you’re like me, the process is highly revelatory in a multitude of surprising ways.

The process of “what-is-it-on-two-wheels-that-i-like?” will shine a light on your engineering sensibilities, your personality, your sense of aesthetics,  your personal economics, the core of you that somehow balances function vs. form, the spiritual vs. the material, the part of you that embraces and envelops a tool and makes it a tranparent part of you — a thing that you operate without having to think.

And if, like me, you’re doing this with an eye towards a bike for one’s precious son,  it picks up another dimension. Some accomodation for his aesthetic. Simplicity. Tractability. Ease of use.

And there ain’t a lot of that about.

About 2%, by my estimation.

 

***

 

Another Day. Another Craiglist scan.

Most of it is just crap.

“Sick, Sick, Siiiiick R1. Custom Flat Black Paint Job.”

A crasher.

Nope.

“Harley Davidson FLHXTRMUI Ultra Custom”

Lead sled blingy dresser.

Nope.

“Stretched Slammed Rodded Ruckus. $9K”

Drag racing scooter, asking double price of new.

Nope and Nope.

A million japanese plastic wrapped sportbikes, high end euro tech tourers and ADV bikes, a million Harleys of various stripes. How many GSXRs and Hayabusas can there be, and why are they ALL for sale?

When my son Finn first saw a new Royal Enfield Continental GT, it was as if a great big relay had slammed shut, and delivered the full voltage of the elemental motorcycle experience to someone who had never really taken any notice of motorcycles previously.

Imagine it: A deeply finned chunky single cyinder air cooled engine, two spoked wheels, a long low tank, painted red, and a 3/4 saddle with a cafe style bum stop. You can see blue sky by being able to look straight though to other side of the bike, all around the engine, and above the rear wheel. Everything is made of metal.

continental gt

When the word ‘motorcycle’ flickers through your mind, this is the picture that flickers in with it. Two Wheels, handlebars, tank and a motor. If there’s some sort of International Signage Symbol for ‘motorcycle’, this is what it looks like.

Think Norton Manx.

There are so very few motorcycles that look like that any more.

More importantly, there are very few motorcycles that work like that anymore. Single cylinder or small displacement twins –high torque engines. Low weight and low width. Minimal electronics, and simple mechanical systems — easy to visualize, access, repair and maintain.

So if, you’re cruising the tubes of the global internetwork, most of what you see offered for sale is so much pure crap. Thousands of tons of plastic, chrome and electronics that might as well be a chest freezer or a game console before it will be something that will find itself stuck under the bum of anyone named Shamieh.

But all is not lost.

Only about 98% is.

If you keep clicking on things, eventually you’ll find this — what looks to be a fairly complete, original, straight appearing, unmolested, running 1966 Honda dream.

Pretty.

Dream

Probably nearly perfect to learn on.

How much money and garage space do we have? How much do we love ignition points and drum brakes? And who will attempt to explain this to Sweet Doris from Baltimore?

Serious questons all.

Let’s see what else is out there.

(Significant time elapses. Myriad plastic and blingy things are discarded.)

Ooooh.

More Honda Flesh.

This one a 1973. Really pretty. Stylish High Pipe.

More money. Still a points/drums bike. Better be on the lookout for a Dyna electronic ignition kit.

cl350Repeat. How much money, etc.

Let’s see what else is out there.

(Ommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Be one with time. )

A 78 Suzuki. A GS series twin. Doris owned one of these for a little while. It was nice and quick. Perhaps too quick for ‘the littlest one of all’. Hmm.  Still, this one looks really nice. Has disk brake! Still more money, though.

GS400Roll on.

(Pages from the calendar fly away, as if blown by the wind….)

Ohhhh, my.

Honda again — a 1984. This could be a really easy bike to live with and to keep running.  My college riding buddy Doug had the 700 cc version of this motor — a modern, 3 valve engine with auto-adjusting valves.  Light, narrow.  I think I’m in love.

VT500Is it too quick for my puppy? Am I being over protective about this? Am I being underprotective by not being willing to be a hypocritical jerk about the idea of Finn riding?

More serious questions.

(Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. That is the sound my boxers make when they’re up on the pipe out on the highway. )

Ooooh. Pure bike porn. Red. Shiny.

KRSWhat the hell is that doing in here?  Focus, man. You’re departing from the thread.

No bikes for you. Bikes for Boy.

(Theme music up and under.)

Hmmmm.  This prolly fits the bill. A CT100….complete and a runner. Like the C90 that Ed March has been riding around the world. More than once. Not sexy, but functional. Puppy friendly. Easy to understand. Indestructable.

ct110Have you ever seen the Discovery Channel’s “10 Greatest Ever Motorcycles”? Number 1 is the Honda Cub.

Spoiler alert. They throw one off a building. It still runs.

Did I menton it’s cheep? And it is,  against all odds, located in my very small rural town.

I dunno. Maybe we could get the CT100 and the Ascot.

And the KRS.

Focus!

How much money do we have?

And who the hell is going to try to explain this to Doris?

Very serious questions, indeed.

Wrenchin’ with Nixon

9

There was a point in my life when the shit I didn’t know vastly outweighed the shit I did know.

That probably isn’t earthshattering news.

Heck, I can even think of a few people who might opine that those days never ended, but we’re not going to get hung up on their negative vibe, man.

As a puppy motorcyclist — bright eyed, empty headed, and 22 years old — the things I didn’t know about motorcycling were manifold and encyclopedic in scope.

I didn’t know anything about motorcycling history.

Anything more complicated than Honda and Harley-Davidson were utterly wasted on me. Motoguzzi? FN? Sarolea? The Vincent? Aermacci? MV Agusta? Velocette? Huh?

I knew less about motorcycle engineering. Telescopic Forks? Roller and plain bearings? Overhead Cams? Twin Swirl Heads? Frame rigidity and controlled flex? Progressive linkages? Air cooling? Singles, Twins, Fours and Sixes? You talkin’ to me?

My knowledge of motorcycle competition was even more miniscule. To nothing and more than nothing we added nothing to a higher power. I thought that Glen Curtiss only made airplanes. Cal Rayborn? Kenny Roberts? Who? Geoff Duke? A movie star? Giacomo Agostini? Maybe an Italian restaurant?

Everybody’s got to start somewhere, and I started with a blank sheet of paper and the sound of crickets.

I hope I can be forgiven.

Its not like we Americans provide a great deal of public respect and adulation to what should be our motorcycle racing heros. Bike race winners aren’t on the evening news or the front page of the paper the way NASCAR and Indianapolis winners are. Even today, the number of American competitors in the Global MotoGP championships is a tiny minority, will the majority coming from Europe and elsewhere.

Why kill all these electrons to drive home the point of how dumb I was?

Don’t make me get ahead of myself.

***

How dumb I was starts to explain how anyone might think it was a good idea to buy a 1973 Honda CB750 Four that someone else has tried to hack and modify into an American Style Cruiser.

The bike had a Two Inch Overstock Extended Fork, Kerker Four Into One Exhaust, K&N Pod Air Filters, and a stepped cruiser saddle. It was working way too hard to be cool. That Honda — my first street motorcycle — was a magnificent motor wrapped in total, utter garbage. Every single one of those modifications had made the bike less ridable by degrading its handling and throttle response. It was pretty cool with the revs up in a straight line, but everywhere else it was a nightmare.

That nightmare was on big-screen display every time I entered a corner. The extended front end had moved the already high center of gravity higher and the weight distribution further rearward. The OEM shock absorbers, which were never that good to begin with, were no longer even phoning it in with 40,000 miles on them and under these less-than-optimum conditions. Once leaned in the bike was a pogoing, wandering mess on which it was absolutely impossible to maintain any kind of cornering line.

I may have only known one tick more than nothing, but if I wanted to survive the next year or two I knew I needed to get that motorcycle some shocks that worked.

So I went looking for some shocks.

***

In the early 80s, me and my Honda shared an apartment with some of my buds in Cockeysville, Maryland.

One day, while headed north on York Road, I saw a fairly loud red, white and blue sign out of my peripheral vision. I turned my head to see “Gary Nixon Enterprises — Motorcycle Parts and Performance.”

I ran up the road until I found a safe place to turn around, went back to the shop, kickstanded it, removed my helmet and went inside.

The shop seemed a little threadbare.

I remember lots of beige painted drywall, a few posters, a few fairly sparsely populated glass display cases. There was a set of red racing leathers on the wall, and then there was that guy.

My host was fairly small of stature, with greying red hair and a seriously square set of jaw.

He got up out of his chair and walked to the counter.

“Help you?”

His jaw didn’t seem to move when he talked.

I told him I was looking for some replacement shocks for my CB750.

He said he had just the thing, and named a price which I knew to be well below reasonable. I asked to see them, and he went back into the stockroom to fetch them.

While he was out of the room, I started to let my attention wander a little just to get a feel for the joint. There were pictures here and there of racebikes — local kids on dirtbikes, and some more serious-seeming road racers.

I looked back at the leathers on the wall. They were bright red, with ‘Nixon’ emblazoned across the back — in perfect 70s style, the ‘I’ in Nixon had a big star for the dot. Upon closer inspection, it seemed clear they had been cut off the original occupant.

There was one more thing that took a long time to compute. The leathers had a fairly large, abraded hole, pretty much right where the left buttock of the user would have been.

I was having a ‘Mr. Jones Moment’. I was pretty sure something was happenin’, but I didn’t know what it is, yo. The hardness, the perverse humor, the fairinged and sponsor stickered road racers in the picture…

“Some shit, huh? Was wearing those on the Kawasaki Triple, flat out on the front straight at Daytona, when the two stroke sumbitch siezed right up. Slid on my ass almost the whole length of the straight. Ha!”

His jaw, Gary Nixon’s jaw, definitely didn’t move when he talked.

There was a reason for that, which you can find told in any history of American Motorcycle Racing. This was Grand National Champion Gary Nixon, one of the most competitive, gifted and unlucky men ever to grab the bars and twist a throttle.

But to my younger self, whose Native American name was “Sound-of-Crickets”, this was just a friendly guy in a bike shop — a lively soul like many more I would meet around bikes. I had no clue this was the equivalent of buying your baseball bat from Mickey Mantle.

Cheep. Cheep. Cheep.

***

The shocks that Gary produced were Boge Mulhollands. Unbeknowst to me — OK, everything was unbeknownst to me — these were the best shocks made for that CB at the time. They were fully rebuildable, valving could be adjusted, and all the roadracers and canyon hotshoes of the day had these on their single cam Hondas. All I knew was that they cost a great deal less than the Honda dealer’s OEM shock, and they were going to do the job.

I paid the man, pumped his hand and thanked him for his help.

When I got to the curb, I looked at the bike, the box in my hands, my luggage rack and my collection of bungie cords. These things were heavy, expensive and I didn’t really like the thought of them rubber banded out there.

“Four bolts”, I thought.

“Easiest way, best way. I’ll just eat ’em here”.

I yanked out the tooklit and had the street side bolts yanked in two minutes. I pryed the former shock absorber off and replaced it with one of the Boges. Just as I was starting to tighten the first bolt, Gary came striding out the store’s front door.

“Jeeeesus Christ, kid, you can’t do that here. If my neighbors see this they’ll run my ass out of the neighborhood”.

Gary scanned left and right up and down the block, seeing nothing. He quickly checked my state of progress.

“Ah shit… gimme that 17”.

I passed him the wrench and proceeded to tighten my side back up with an adjustable I’d added to the stock kit.

Gary had his shock off in significantly less than the little time it had taken me.

We both wrapped up at roughly the same time. One chopped Honda now had two gloss black, serious business road racing shocks.

***

I can tell you that those Boges absolutely transformed that motorcycle. Given its extended wheelbase, it was never going to be a roadracer. Although I began to think of it as more of a streamliner railway locomotive, it did absolutely do exactly what it was told in corners from that point forward.

***

That was many bikes ago, but my understanding and love for cornering started that day, twisting wrenches in a parking space on the side of York Road with Gary Nixon.

As many years of riding and love for motorcycles has gone by, I’ve come to understand just who Nixon the racer was, and his importance and heroic stature in the sport we both loved. The original ‘Never Say Die’ competitor — fighting through staggering injuries, fickle motorcycle factory teams that didn’t do right by him, and even some bad race officiating that cost him a title he had won on the track.

I saw Gary many years later along with a host of other racers out at MidOhio, when BMW sponsored the ‘Battle of the Legends’ series. One of the other racers was talking to me and said, “BMW tells us that this is an exhibition. He..” pointing to Nixon, “…laughs at them every time they say that”.

Nixon was, without doubt, a legend and a racing hero. But that day, sitting on a curb, he was just another motorcyclist, no ego, no barrier, just a bud helping another bud out.

I’ve met lots of would be heros that turned out, upon familiarity, to be first class creeps

Gary Nixon wasn’t one of those.