The Day You Are “That Guy”
In any group adventure activity, there always seems to be “that guy,” the person who has a mechanical or equipment issue. One of the aspects of motorcycling that I most enjoy is everyone falls to and works together to solve the issue. It usually works out well, unless you are “that guy” and feel badly that you have wasted the time and efforts of others. Ironically, these situations usually make everyone else feel better, as they have solved a problem, and as a big bonus, it was not theirs.
In leading customer motorcycle rides for 14 years, and in a few decades of riding beyond that, these things have occurred every once in a while. I recall a group customer ride of about ten riders, and one of them was a nice young man on his first motorcycle. It was a lightly used Bonneville and it was his first experience with a group. At the lunch stop, he miscalculated a turn into a parking lot, hit a small curb, and dumped the bike. No damage to the bike other than a scratch or two, but the destruction of his ego was near-total. He was crushed. And embarrassed.
Over lunch, everyone assured him we had all done similar things, and then it turned into a contest. “You think that was dumb? Here’s what I did!” It got to be quite hilarious, and by the end of the meal his confidence had been restored and I think he felt he had just been welcomed into the fold. Which he had.
Usually I was not “that guy,” because when I was working I was on a new or nearly new motorcycle with very few miles. Mechanical issues were probably going to be someone else’s.
This harkened back to years ago, when I rode many times a year with a friend who rode an elderly Norton. Mechanical issues were a near constant companion, especially on multi-day trips. It always worked out, because he was a skilled mechanic and I enjoyed standing by the side of the road and smoking my pipe while he fixed whatever problem had arisen.
Of course, there were other times. At the breakfast meet for a three day ride I was to lead we came out of the restaurant to find a completely flat tire on my bike, with a nail head showing the location of the problem. About five people worked on installing a tire repair kit, which I did not have, and using a portable compressor, which I did not have, to get the bike operable again. Riding on a plugged tire is not to be recommended, but I was not about to send a large group off for three days without me. So I simply forgot about it, rode a thousand miles, and had the tire replaced the following week. I now carry a tire repair kit and a portable air compressor with me at all times. And a first aid kit, which has never been opened.
But last Saturday, I was “the guy.” Three of us met for coffee at the ferry terminal at 6:30am. We were joined by two others for the 8am sailing, and met up with our friend Deb on the other side. This was to be the “ABTOR” ride minus the AB and the TOR I wrote about last week. Deb knew a more fun back way for the first few miles, so we followed her on some great roads. When we were close to the original route she pulled into a Safeway and stopped. She wanted to tell me how to get back on the route. Bill had the route on his GPS but does not like to lead. OK. We mount up and my bike is dead. The starter will click, but the battery has died. This seemed odd, as the battery was only a year old. It had been dead two weeks ago, but I had assumed I’d left the ignition on. A few hours on the charger and it was good. Not so this time.
Fortunately, Eric carries a set of jumper cables, and Robert has a BMW GS Adventure with a mega-battery, so we fired it up and off we went again. Deb did not actually know precisely how to get back on the planned route, so there were a few minutes of hilarity with a couple of U-turns, which Bill really enjoyed because he knew where we should be!
The best part of the route is “DeWatto Road,” which is an extremely scenic deserted back road that arcs through the forest. It is full of corners of all descriptions and a lot of bumps and uneven pavement. And it was wet. And it had recently been chip-sealed, leaving random strands of small gravel here and there. There is a link at the end of this to my YouTube channel, where you can find three videos covering this ride.
An hour later we stopped for a break in Belfair, and I assumed the battery would have been recharged by then. Um –no. Obviously there was a problem in the charging system. So every time we stopped from then on we would do a small drill with Eric taking out the jumper cables and Bob providing the juice. Nobody seemed to mind this, but I felt the social pressure of being the person with the problem.
Over lunch in Seabeck it was suggested that I might be able to purchase a new battery. A couple of smart phones (yes, they do have uses) and two phone calls and we were off to Bremerton to “The Brothers” for a new battery. Tony left me in the parking lot with my bike idling while he went it to check that all was ready. As I sat there, the bike died. Out of juice. Fortunately, $115 later I was set, and was assuming the problem had been a bad battery.
We arrived back at the ferry boat dock and almost were able to ride on to the ferry boat without shutting off the engines, but no. And to my horror, the bike was dead again. Once again the drill, and on to the ferry boat.
By now the mechanical adepts I ride with had calculated that the bike was running solely off the battery. There was some concern about the ability of the bike to make it to my home, so the plan was to follow Tony, as his house is just a couple of miles from mine. As the ferry neared Edmonds, we once again did the drill. Engine running, bikes ready, and the crew member motioned for us to go. Everyone took off and I put the bike in gear. With the side stand still down! Oh no! On a Triumph, this kills the engine. Bob saw this and stopped, but the others were gone, and had no way of getting back, as 500 cars would be streaming behind them. Worse, the jumper cables had also departed.
Fortunately, a ferry crew member brought out a starter battery box with cables and Bob and I were off. He peeled off for home and then… I was alone. Up the hill. Through Lynnwood. A traffic jam. Long waits at every stop light. Would the bike die again? What would I do when it did? I debated options, like turning off onto I-5 North and then I-405 South. Would higher speeds help or make the problem worse? There looked to be a traffic jam getting on to the freeway, but I could use the commuter lane. But what if I died when I was out to the left of the freeway? So I continued the slower and back way, sweating profusely in my helmet.
I eventually made it home, and spent a moment in my garage sitting on the bike, emotionally exhausted and relieved that I’d made it. A day on the charger and the battery is all set again, and I should be able to ride it to the dealership later this week, with Susan following me in the car with jumper cables and the other battery, also now charged. As long as I don’t kill the engine or have the side stand down in gear, (!) I should be OK.
First thing I did was to go on Facebook and let my friends know what had happened. They felt terrible for abandoning me, but they had done no such thing. Stuff happens. Then I got a lot of offers of help and some good ideas from them, and even others who had not been on the ride. One friend offered to come to my house and analyze the issue, but I need to have other stuff done at the dealer anyway. Another good idea was to pull the headlight fuse to save electrics.
The support and friendship of the people I ride with is inspiring. I look forward to the next ride, and I hope I will not be “that guy.”
DeWatto Road ride in three parts. They are a bit repetitive, but fun to watch.
Copyright 2016 David Preston