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How Not to Load a Bike on a Trailer

April 11, 2012

I've been riding a while now and although I have never had an accident on the road, I have dropped my bike. You don't have to be riding to have a catastrophe. Below is a story from the days when I was still trying to get Old Faithful on the road. I can laugh now—kinda.

 

How Not to Load a Bike on a Trailer

 

I had thought I had finally gotten the bike running correctly. This time we thought it might have been the float level, and the float might have been cutting off the gas too early and causing the cylinders to starve after the initial load of fuel in the bowls ran out. My brother and I messed with it on a Saturday morning, bending the little tab so the bowl would fill higher. We were getting together at his place that evening for some BBQ and it was about five miles away—the perfect distance to ride and check out our “fix.”

 

I sped along pretty well, got past the double curves just past Mountain Lake, which I had never been able to pass before without the bike cutting out. Alas, I was awoken from my dream when I got about as far as “Fuzzy's,” the local biker bar about midway between Tim's place and our house, and the bike started to sputter. Oh well, I had gotten farther than I had ever gotten, so that was a sign we might be on the right track.

 

A little break at Fuzzy's and off I went again, now with a carburetor full of fuel. I got all the way to Tim's with no more incidents and parked in the perpetually open garage, beside his big Kawasaki Nomad 1500—a bike which actually ran and kept on running, something that was amazing to me at the time.

 

Because of the better distance I had ridden, I once again, for about the hundredth time, closed off the petcock, pulled off the fuel line, poured gas all over myself, and got out a Phillips screwdriver, and proceeded to remove the left carburetor and the float bowl. The left one seemed to be the only infected with this fuel supply problem.

 

This time that tang got bent and bent some more. I refitted the bowl, turned on the fuel, only to have it pour out the overflow. I then repeated the whole process with the same results. Finally, I got the tang bent just so it would turn the valve off at the last possible second, just before overflowing the bowl—no leak. On went the carb, the air cleaner, and covers. I fired her up and move out onto the road, with Tim following me on the Nomad. I took it for a fairly long ride, and when we returned we reversed it, and I rode the Nomad and Tim rode the Honda, again for a decent run, maybe five or six miles. That day, on a long straight stretch I watched the speedometer reach close to 80 mph.

 

Aha! The bike refused to die or sputter. We had found the sweet spot, or so we thought, and I sat back in my chair in the garage and downed a cold one in celebration, while waiting for the Boston butt to finish smoking. Cheers! All around!

 

I was there a bit early, but soon my wife, Andrea, along with our daughter, Tess, arrived and the butt was carved and more beer opened. After a nice long evening of BBQ, and after having taken long a break from the beer drinking to be safe for riding, I got ready to head home; now on a trouble-free bike. Andrea loaded up our five-year old and fired up the car. I started the CB350, donned my helmet and gear, and put 'er in gear. Andrea followed me down the now dark back road and on toward home.

 

Things were going swimmingly, with the 41 year old bike now humming along under me and the road passing quickly under my headlight. I passed Fuzzy's, then onto the first of the double curves, then the second, and then whizzing past Mountain Lake entrance, and then only a couple miles to go. Then it happens; there goes the left cylinder, again. So, I guess it is still not right. I was not too worried; the bike had usually gotten me home running like that before, and I only had a couple miles to go. Then the right side went, with only the sound of compression and dwindling revolutions coming from below me. There was no traffic, other than Andrea, behind me, and I pull it over off the road. Andrea stopped behind me.

 

Here the shoulder was very narrow and sloped; it was hard for me to get the bike to balance on its side stand, but I managed. We were in ankle, to knee-deep, grass. The shoulder went about three feet from the pavement where it sloped suddenly into a ditch, filled with deeper grasses and weeds. Directly below us, was a drainage pipe coming out of the side of the hill and emptying into the ditch.

 

Andrea and I discussed what to do; me thinking it was best for her to head home while I stay with the bike, and for her to retrieve my trailer and come back. Andrea, however, was sure she would not be able to hitch up the trailer properly and decided she would stay with the bike while Tess and I went to get the trailer. It would not be long, and she would stay well off the road while waiting she promised. With no other options, I agreed, and Tess and I rode off in the car watching the orange glow from Andrea's cigarette fade in the rear view mirror as we headed for home. I made it there as quickly as I could and when we returned, Andrea was still there, alive and unharmed. I made a U-turn and pulled off as far as I could directly in front of the bike.

 

The worst was over I thought, and I was more concerned with what to do with the motor next rather than the work of loading the trailer. After all, I had done this plenty of times when this or that experiment had failed with the bike, sometimes with help and even by myself. I had one of those four foot by seven foot little flatbed tilt trailers that Lowe's used to sell for $400. I had had hauled countless loads of hardwoods on it to the wood shop I had in our back yard, and countless cabinets or pieces of furniture were hauled back out on it. I had even gotten smart when the trailer had been designated my official motorcycle carrier and had built a stop at the forward end of the deck to keep from pushing the bike on and over the front. I had even made a little “chock” in which the front wheel could rest while I strapped the bike down with four ratchet straps that I always kept handy.

 

The procedure was simple. Release the pin at the front of the deck which held the deck to the tongue, put some weight on the rear of the deck, and the back would tilt to the ground, making a ramp out of the entire deck. You simply roll the bike up to the ramp, getting the tire on far enough to hold the rear down, gather up all your strength, and push and pull the bike up the slope until the weight was over the wheels, then push just a bit farther and the deck would level out, and you could push the bike forward in to its “chock.” Then in the proper position, someone holds the bike upright, while the other pins the deck to the tongue again and then attaches the straps. That's it, pretty simple, and then off you go, bike in tow. That's how it is supposed to go.

 

Unfortunately I had not taken into account a couple things. First, that it was night and pitch dark, and I had forgotten the importance of picking up a flashlight when I went to get the trailer. Second, it now being well into the night, the wooden deck had been covered by a nice slick covering of evening dew. On top of that, my state of mind of being frustrated once again with my efforts to restore this bike were not aiding in my clear thinking and neither was having a young child in the car screaming at the top of her lungs. “I'm cold!” “Turn off the air conditioning!” “I'm cold!” “Turn off the air …" well, you get the idea.

 

Still it should be a snap, but I failed to take into account that the bike was possessed, proven earlier in my botched tank lining incident.

 

I managed in the dark to get the pin out of the trailer while working in an invisible cloud of exhaust from the car's pipe blowing right into my face. The tail end of the deck went down. I walked back to the bike, and cursing under my breath, moved it forward and managed to get the wheel onto the back of the titled trailer. I was on the left, the road side, and Andrea was on the right, the ditch side, and we each took hold and heaved the Honda up the ramp, and just as planned, the deck tilted down and we rolled it to the front wheel chock. Andrea held the bike while I re-pinned the deck to the tongue. Nothing to it; I felt a bit better knowing we would all be home in a few minutes, and tomorrow I could take my time and see what could be done about the motor.

 

I reached into the back of the car for the straps, the volume of Tess's entreaties going up with the opening of the tailgate and down again when I slammed it shut. I started the job of strapping the bike down at the front left side, while Andrea stood at the right front side, on the wet deck holding the bike upright. I hadn't gotten the strap up to the fork when I heard Andrea squeal and I felt the bike leaning toward her. The deck had become a slippery, algae-covered platform and Andrea was going down. I recall telling her to jump, not wanting the bike to fall on her, but from then on everything went in slow motion, like a bad movie effect, even the sound: Ooooooooooohhhhhhhhhh, nnnnnooooooooooooooo! “IIIIIIIIIII'''''''''''mmmmmmmm ccccccooooooooolllllllldddddddd!!!!” Sssssshhhhhhhhhhhhh*************tttttttttt! Ttttthhhhhhuuuuummmmppp! “IIIIIIII'mmmmmm cccccooooolllllldddd!!!! Dddddaaaaaaddddyyy!” Ccccrrrraaasssshhhh!

 

In time-suspended horror I watched the bike go over. That would have been bad enough, but that little trailer is not wide enough for the bike to simply plop down on its side and land on the deck--Nooo! The center of gravity of the bike was far enough out, and the top of the bike on its side was far enough over the side of the deck, that the bike did a sickly elegant side somersault off the right side of the trailer. It was like something alive, and when the handlebars and all their attachments and the saddle hit the ground three feet below, it bounced effortlessly over again to do yet another flip. The bike stopped exhausted in the grass-filled ditch, on its side.

 

When it had fallen, the Honda had caught Andrea at the shin, and a huge bruise was forming. I had gotten cut on the shin by something right through my jeans, which were miraculously unscathed; in spite of the blood, evidence of the scrape, coming out of my leg. At least were were lucky enough to still be standing, Andrea doubly so in her more dangerous location.

I quickly unpinned the trailer bed again and with invective spewing lips I walked down into the ditch. I tilted the bike back upright and muttered, “That's it! This is the end of my motorcycling days!” I took a quick look at the stuff dangling off the handlebars and then with adrenaline strength I yanked the bike back out of the ditch. Meanwhile, Andrea was standing beside me, where unknown to her, she was standing in a nest of fire ants. These ants are insidious in Florida and you usually don't know you are in them until your legs are covered, and they seemingly all decide to bite at once. I, too, can feel them crawling and biting under my pants' legs. Andrea fled for her life, and I kept hauling the bike until it was behind the trailer once more.

 

I was at the point of tears with discouragement by then. I got this bike for free, and I had hoped with some perseverance and hard work I would be able to ride. I definitely was not in a financial position then to simply buy a bike and ride. If I could not get this bike going, I was not going to be a motorcyclist for the foreseeable future. And now, having gotten to the point with the engine that it actually ran, I had, it seemed, innumerable new things to repair before I would even get back to where I was, which was still not a place that allowed me to ride, other than on an occasional, futile, road test.

 

In spite of my frustration, I couldn't leave the bike there, and I didn't know where to find an exorcist. We both got beside the bike again and pushed it up the hill of the deck. The bed tilted down, and this time Andrea was careful to keep her feet off the deck and held the bike, while I pinned the deck to the tongue once more. I stooped down into the exhaust again, still hearing Tess complaining about her fate inside the car, and fumbled in the pitch black under the front of the trailer deck to pin it level. I called out to Andrea, “I got it!” and at that instant, the back of the deck tipped backwards and threw the bike once more over the side, at least this time landing beside the wheels and not ten feet away in the ant-infested ditch. Andrea was unscathed this time, except for the assault on her ears by the expletives exploding out of my mouth, not aimed at her because I knew damn well I had been the cause of yet another catastrophe.

 

Once more, I hauled the bike back around, and this time we got it on the trailer and tied it down without incident. I got back in the driver's seat, seething with self contempt and discouragement, and drove slowly away toward our house.

 

At home, Andrea and Tess left me to my misery while I unhitched the trailer from the car and then re-parked in the driveway. Things were quiet in the house when I get in and stayed that way until sleep overtook us.

 

The next day, I went out sheepishly by myself to survey the damage in the daylight. Mirrors and clutch and brake levers were dangling from the handlebars like garish Christmas ornaments. I was surprised, however, that no major damage was done. There was a new small dent in the left fork cover to match the original one on the right, but it was cosmetic. Both the wheels and the fork were undamaged. The handlebar was unbent and all the turn signals were intact and working, except that the headlight and front turn signals were now aiming in a new direction. The mounting ears were not kinked or creased, though, and a simple pull back to alignment is all that would be required to fix it. In the end, all that was needed was new handlebar switches, the levers still were unharmed because the attachment tabs for the levers sheared off, instead of the levers themselves. Still discouraged, it took me a couple days to decide it was still worth the effort and to pick up the phone and start calling salvage yards.

 

Within a week I had procured the switches, and the work began anew, with me swearing that I would neverload that bike onto a trailer again.

 

Cheers,

 

Road Dog

"Ride Your Own Ride"

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