The Beef – Vegetarian Edition

I find, as I accumulate more unwanted birthdays, that I am starting to have a perspective about the harm that people and institutions do to each other that I did not formally have.

As a younger man, I was an optimum combination of hot headedness and naiveté — I was absolutely sure that taking the fight to someone that had done wrong and shining the bright and objective light of knowledge on their person would be sufficient to get them to change their behavior.

Now, though, I am just as sure that one cannot teach anyone anything.

If someone consistently visits harm upon your person and upon others, my righteous indignation and instruction is likely not sufficient to get them to stop — evil is their chosen way, and one’s attempts to reform them will likely only make their behavior worse.

So it is with that accumulated wisdom that I tell this tale. It is a tale of an organization that was presented with an opportunity — having wronged a customer — to do right and correct their mistake. And having been presented with that opportunity to right a wrong and do good, that organization tried to double down and re-screw said customer.

Class will tell.

There’s just one critical difference to my telling of the tale. Since nothing I do will make them change, and revenge is not my motive, I will decline to name the offender. I have no desire to make the animosity (who knows, maybe its indifference — maybe they just treat everyone equally badly) that apparently exists between us worse, and since what is published on the Internet exists — like some visions of the Deity — ubiquitously and eternally, I will choose here to rise above the fray and concentrate on the story, rather than condemnation of the guilty.

 

***

 

Back in 2014, I had decided to complete a mechanical refurbishment of my 1975 BMW R90S. This activity, which should be understood as something discretely different from ‘a restoration’, was just an attempt to correct some deferred maintenance issues, perform some functional improvements, and render the motorcycle suitable for everyday rider duty getting back and forth to my job – which required me to commute about half the time to a location in Reston, Virginia. Now I had a completely reliable motorcycle — my K1200LT — but traffic conditions were necessitating combat commuting tactics. On any given day, I might be lane splitting, running shoulders, or even running a secret, sub-rosa dirt road to get home from Northern Virginia, and under those conditions, I was willing to surrender a little comfort and mechanical robustness to make use of a motorcycle which weighed nearly 400 lbs less than the LT.

So many wrenches were twisted and more than a few dollars were spent. A completely new gearbox was assembled to correct the manifold failings of the leftover 1974-specification gearbox with which my early 1975 model motorcycle was originally assembled. I replaced the rusted out seat pan and failing saddle with an artisanal fiberglass pan and saddle combination made by FlatRacer of London, UK. I replaced lots of worn rubber bits, and refurbished a set of 1980s vintage BMW Touring Cases — aerosol Pickup Truck Bed Liner Paint is your friend — so that they looked better than new. I even obtained a Dark Smoke Zero Gravity windscreen and sourced the inner fairing headlight sealing gasket my bike had never had. Overall, what had been a tired and ratty looking motorcycle was now looking and riding sharp.

Sharp, except for one niggling detail.

The Previous Owner — that shady character always guilty of manifold motorcyclic sins — had repainted my R90S. When this was done, the PO had added insult to injury by buying and installing a set of 1980s vintage BMW Tank badges — which at the time, were cost cutting adhesive jobbies printed on an aluminum substrate and then sealed with a clear vinyl overlay. The injury part being important here because most R90Ss were built with high quality, cloisonné enamelled badges that were likely to outlast the motorcycle and show up looking new when they were discovered by archeologists centuries later. The replacements were cheap, they looked bad, and after somewhere more than 25 years in situ, mine looked roasted.

I figured if I could locate a set of original specification badges or reasonable quality reproductions — I was never intending to show this motorcycle — then the bike would have a little piece of jewelry that might allow it to feel better about itself.

So, to the Internet I went, looking to see what was available. BMW, to their infinite credit, still had the original specification cloisonné badges in stock, although they were priced a bit higher – at about $50 a side — than I would have preferred to pay. An enthusiast dealer with whom I had a long-standing relationship, though, had what appeared to be quality reproductions on their website.

These BMW roundels are a classy upgrade to the standard stick-on ones found on most models. They are ceramic and metal, a process called cloisonné enamel on a nickel-silver substrate. Emblems like these were an original feature on one model only, the R90S (1974-’76). Now, with these replicas, your bike can have a bit of that legendary panache too.

At a tick over $20 a side, these were perfect — premium appearance at a rationalizable price. I ordered a pair. After removing the old ones with dental floss and using 3M doublesided tape to mount the new ones, the old girl was definitely holding her head up.

And so it went until my recent teardrop camper construction project.  With the entire space within my garage consumed by materials and the trailer, all three of my motorcycles spent about 4 months being stored outside, with mostly benign results.

As the project wrapped up, I moved everything back inside, but noticed something unexpected and disappointing. On the side of my R90 that was pointed toward the sun, the supposedly cloisonné badge had essentially turned to crap. The ‘better’ side, upon reflection, didn’t look that great either.

Real Cloisonné Doesn’t Look Like This

Fortunately, any doubts I had about this being somehow a predictable result of weather exposure were quickly dispelled when I compared those former badges to the factory badges on my 1973 R75/5, which does have real cloisonné badges, and despite having been treated with no care whatsoever for the past 45 years, including having spent the exact same last 4 months outside, looked a tad patinaed, but otherwise none the worse for wear.

Even 45 Year Old Cloisonné Looks Like This

Since I had all of the documentation on the buy, I sent a picture of the melted badge back to the dealer where they’d been purchased. My communication was pretty straightforward. Whatever these badges were made out of, they were not the cloisonné they were represented to be. Melted Glass doesn’t remelt in the rain at 90 degrees f.

I asked for them to stand behind their product. If they thought it was just a fluke with this batch, they could just replace them. If they thought this might happen again, they should sell me a set of OEM badges with a credit applied for these.

I quickly got a response indicating they thought I’d be better served with some OEM badges, which they offered to me at a price of $68. They asked if that would work for me.

I quick check of my other online parts sources indicated that BMW’s MSRP for the part was $49 – a number that looked suspiciously like the difference between the quoted price and the amount of the credit they expected to have to issue on the transaction. In short, they had marked up the part so that after issuing the ‘credit’, I’d still be paying full price.

I responded to their offer with a single word – “No.” No context. No explanation, just “No”.

Five minutes later I got another e-mail, stating that they’d “checked their part numbers” and some song and dance about the part number being cross referenced, and an offer to provide the part for $49.

Shame on me, but after seeing the white flash for several minutes, I thought it better not to respond.

The proprietor of this business has, on occasion, directly questioned me as to why they don’t see so much of me any more.

This is why.

Riding motorcycles – on almost every level – involves trust.

Trust in one’s skills. Trust in one’s gear. Trust in your machinery. Trust in the people who provide parts and services that keep your bike operating properly.

And in the case of this one dealer, there was just no trust any more.

At a certain point, it became more important to separate me from as much money as possible from each transaction, with no regard to the quality of what was sold, or the quality of the service that was provided, or any concern whatsoever for the value I obtained. If I had issues with something they sold, rather than view it as an opportunity to make things right, they regarded it as an opportunity to double down and charge me again.

I don’t want anyone like this having anything to do with my motorcycles — these machines on which my life depends.

You might. But count me out.

 

***

 

Postscript – 

During my five plus months of unemployment, I made a promise to myself that with my first paycheck, I’d remedy the insult that had been done to my R90S. 

Fortunately, Toaster Tan – a well-known supplier of CNC and custom parts for BMW airheads, has had a correct reproduction of these badges made, and at a reasonable price. You can find them here — http://toastertan.com/38-5mm-fork-tubes/

Post-install, the S is happier and more fulfilled.

 

Much Better

So much better, I got another one for the rear cowl.

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Billy Joel, The Barn Job and the Long Highway — Part Ten

When the opportunity to fully test my work came at Monday lunchtime, I geared up in leathers and a full face and headed for the road.

Again, I tiptoed around my neighborhood, stopping for a brief roadside ‘has-anything-fallen-off-or-caught-fire’ roadside inspection. Having cleared pre-flight, I turned right on Maryland Route 180, and headed for my favorite set of near-the-house twisties. The first thing I noticed was a strange absence of noise from the cockpit, which had formerly been a rattling mess. Apparently, the rubber fairing seal provided a great deal more support and vibration isolation than one would suppose any mere rubber band was capable of. The cockpit now seemed far more solid and finished than it ever had previously.

With everything in the transmission newly installed, and no doubt requiring some bedding in, I was very judicious on my use of the throttle – smooth openings and no full honk for a least a few miles. Shifting the box at 5000 rpms instead of 3500 confirmed by initial impression – Mark Delaney had somehow built the best BMW gearbox I’d ever experienced from a collection of bits of questionable provenance. Shifts were positive, sliding into place with a firm, Teutonic thonk – thonk – thonk – thonk – right through the entire gearset. I was nearly ecstatic.

Ecstasy, though, was exceedingly short lived.

One of the characteristically wonderful things about a properly setup carbureted motorcycle – and a defining characteristic of the R90S – is the perfectly tractable bottom to top response curve that opening the throttle anywhere in the rev range provides. It has taken the designers of Fuel Injection systems a very, very long time to even get digital systems in the same game with as properly setup carburetors when looked at in terms of flexibility and tractability. If Fuel Injection tends to be digital — on/off — then a bike like the S is determinedly analog — a smooth continuum from less to more.

How this works is plainly evident on any tight, technical backroad. On my R90, one can begin opening the throttle slides just before the apex of a corner, and even if the engine speeds are somewhat below the engine’s torque peak, the exhaust note will go hard, the bike will set the rear tire, and will slingshot out the corner exit and up the next straight. Corner entries that are properly anticipated can be managed in a similar way through a judicious roll out of the throttle at the right point on entry. On rollercoaster roads with rises and falls on straights and corner exits the S bike will unload its forks, you’ll hear the ‘thunk’ of top out stops, and the bars will go light in your hands as the R90 power wheelies in any of its bottom three gears.  The broad torque of the S motor and its DellOrto PHM 38 Accelerator Pump carburetors make backroad dancing pure bike jazz.

This was that feeling that led me down the road of ministering to a tired, nearly 40 year old motorcycle. This was what sustained me while aching hips and knees were getting bashed around the concrete slab of my garage floor, and while my hands were getting bruised from wrenches and being knocked off frame tubes, and while my skin was absorbing enough grease and my own blood from manifold cuts and scrapes for me to despair of ever looking clean again.

And when, on that test ride, when I finally set up for a corner exit at about 3400 rpm, and firmly rolled the throttle open, that peak nearly moto-erotic experience was exactly what wasn’t there.

At the point where the S would normally dig in, grunt out a hard edged “WHaaaaaaah…”, and do that intoxicating slingshot thing, the tach needle snapped up, the clutch skipped out, and basically nothing happened.

I knew instinctively what mistake I’d made, what was wrong, and what I was looking at to set it right.

I felt as about small as I’ve ever felt. My disappointment knew no bounds.

***

I’ll admit I rode the bike this way for more than a little while. I’d experienced a few airhead clutches that were slightly subpar after this kind of service, and most of the time they ran through it. After a few miles, whatever contamination was present was worn off, friction surfaces remated, and all was right with the world. You can be forgiven, if this ever happens to you, for thinking that things might improve. You can be forgiven, but take it from me, things will never go back to being perfect. Over more than 1000 miles, things did improve slightly, and the rpm range where power could be used widened, but at root, this bike had been essentially gelded – the very bottom and very top of the usable rev range had been removed, and the essential spirit of this motorcycle had been exiled.

There was going to be more dollars and more quality garage floor concrete slab time required if everything was going to be set aright.

***

There were a few other things that required my attention in addition to the results of my own stupidity.

I had a set of factory BMW touring cases that – while they were cosmetically rough – were functionally far better that the Krausers that came with the bike. With the exception of one of the frame latches, which was visibly cracked and could be expected to expire sometime in the next 12 minutes or so, they were all there and would be perfectly serviceable after some care and attention. I ordered up a case latch – which had to come from Germany – and a rivet gun.

I’ve broken more airhead case latches than I care to recall. Every time it’s happened before, I would take the case to a dealer, who would sell me the latch and then charge me to rivet it on. I was determined to be as self-sufficient as possible here, and the $10 that a Stanley Works rivet gun cost me at my local Wally World seemed like a good investment.  A few minutes of practice and few minutes of attention repaired the frame latch on this case.

These cases, as mechanically sound as they might be, were distinctly not pretty. They’d been painted a highly metallic grey to match my /5, and then been subjected to roughly 15 years of boot scrapes, being banged off of bright yellow-painted parking lot divider pipes, having their front corners ground off by being touched down in corners, and at least one major crash where the /5 had taken a 20-30 foot slide resting on top of the left case.

After completing the latch repair, I rode back and forth to work with them for a few days, just to make sure they were going to survive in daily use. At that point, I finally smacked to the ugly limiter – hard – and went searching for a solution. The Adventure Riders came through again, as they had a whole thread about painting hard cases with pickup truck bedliner paint – complete with good quality pictures that convinced me these were going to look better than new ones when I was done.

And so we had another trip to Wally World. Their automobile department had Rust-Oleum brand aerosol bedliner paint in two colors – matt sand and matt black. I went with the black. Their hardware department had 3M Blue Painters tape. Total budget – $9.

Upon arrival home, I unbolted the case lids and lightly sanded them with a palm sander and some fine sandpaper. I washed them with a damp rag to remove the sanding dust and then spent a few minutes masking off the badges, reflectors, latches and trim on the cases. I took a large piece of cardboard and laid it outside on my lawn, and laid the saddlebag lids down on it. I coated the lids once, waited 20 minutes and coated them again. An hour later, they were ready to put back on the bike. I was absolutely stunned. They looked nothing less than great – Imagine what a brand new Krauser case looked like in 1975 and you get close, only the pebble effect on the surface was somewhat finer.  Even the spots where there were substantial gouges were essentially filled – one could only see them if you knew where they were beforehand. Best $10 fix ever, bar none.

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I mentioned Ham Pugnus’ attachment to bad 80s vintage adhesive BMW Roundels. This is a head scratcher, because the R90S is one of two 1970s vintage motorcycles that still had actual cloisonné enamel tank badges. Lord only knows, and I will not speculate as to what happened to the original ones from this motorcycle. BMW does still sell the OEM ones, but they retail for over $50 a badge. While I may think, in my purely biased way, that my motorcycle is attractive, it certainly is never going to be entered in, much less win, any vintage motorcycle shows. A certain regional enthusiast BMW dealer has commissioned some reproductions of the original cloisonné badges, and they are visually indistinguishable from the originals.  At $24 a side, I could rationalize it.

Installing them was straightforward. I loosened the adhesive on the yellowed badges with a blow drier. I passed a few strands of dental floss behind the roundels to serve as an improvised flexible hacksaw – it was quite effective at removing the old badges. After removing the old adhesive residue with rubbing alcohol, I used 3M automotive trim double sided tape to position and affix the new badges.

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It’s amazing how something as small as a tank badge can have an almost talismanic effect on the whole presence of a motorcycle. Whereas – with the yellowed, cheap badges in place, the bike looked sad, neglected – it now somehow had acquired a presence, an aura. This simple touch had taken us all the way from donkey to thoroughbred.

 

***

To continue reading, Part Eleven of the story can be found here…

The previous part of the story can be found here….