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Two Bikes Down

Whenever I get back from one of my road trips, a funk settles in as the contrast of the excitement of the open road and new places is replaced by the day to day monotony of everyday life. As I slowly adjust back to sedentary life, I usually do local rides on one of my bikes as relief and help in the transition. I got one ride in on the CB since my return as was looking forward to more riding.

Before leaving for the Motorcycle Kickstart Classic ride and the Barber Vintage Festival, the Virgin Whore, my ratted out 1986 Savage, had been reluctant to start, requiring way too much throttle and turns of the starter. I had dutifully cleaned the carb and replaced a slide and diaphragm unit that had developed a hole and figured that would solve the problem.

I was asked my my son's fifth grade teacher to come in to class and help the kids carve a pumpkin for a class competition the school was holding. The school is less than a half mile from home, so I thought I would hop on the the Savage and see how she did, and perhaps take a spirited ride after my school duties. The old girl fired right up and I thought the problem had been solved as I parked her and walked into school.

Two by two, I cut and carved with sharp tools, being the responsible adult, while the kids glued a wild assortment of things onto their entry—antlers, an alligator head, palmetto leaf "ears," goofy buckeye eyes—it was…um…eccentric, but imaginative.

I stayed a bit past lunch so all the children would have a chance to participate and then walked out side to the waiting Savage. I pulled the choke, flicked the key to "start," made sure the bike was in gear and the clutch was pulled in, and hit the starter button. The Virgin Whore roared to life…for about thirty seconds. Try as I might, the bike would not start again and eventually I gave up, put up the kickstand, and coasted down the hill in front of the school and around the corner at the bottom, hoping to get as much distance as I could toward home. I made it almost a block after the corner, then after a couple more attempts at starting her, I dismounted and started the push back to the garage.

The Savage had played this trick on me before, and the culprit had been a loose connection on the coil. Once back in the garage, I pulled the wires to the secondaries and made sure to reattach them firmly. I rolled the bike out side and hit the start button. She flew to life. "As always," I thought, "it is something simple." and I rode off. Thinking my ride was saved, I headed up US 17.

My hopes were soon dashed as I was rounding the large sweepers just south of Fuzzy's, the local biker bar, when the bike died, restarted, popped, and snorted. I rolled into the parking area at Fuzzy's disheartened, but knowing that if I could not get the Savage running, I could leave her here safely until I could retrieve her with my trailer. "Might as well have a cold one," I thought, as I went in to get in the cool air conditioning and think about alternative solutions, hoping the bike would start when I left. Coming up empty of brilliant ideas for repairing the Virgin Whore, I went outside to fire her up and coax her the three miles home. The Savage fired right up, but I hadn't gotten 200 yards before it started cutting out, popping and groaning, and rolled to a quiet stop. I tried starting it again, but this time I got nothing, just the whir of the starting motor. I rolled the bike back to Fuzzy's and went inside to leave my jacket, helmet, and gloves before walking home in the now hot Florida afternoon. Luckily, a friend offered me a ride and took me home, where I would have to wait for Andrea to come home from work so I could haul the trailer up to get the bike. I called my brother, securing some help for the loading and by evening the Savage was back in her spot just above the oil stain in the garage.

With the Savage down for the time being, I figured I could always count on Old Faithful, my 1968 Honda CB350, for my second attempt at a therapeutic ride. I had taken her on one ride since I had been back, over to Plant City to meet up with some folks I knew from Born to Ride magazine and had no trouble on that ride. However, now upon kicking her awake, my ears were greeted by a strange and unhealthy grating and rattling sound I swear had not been there during the 1,700 mile ride from which I had just returned. Other than the sound, the bike ran as well as ever—no hesitation and no loss of power. I returned immediately to the house and started my investigations.

As I listened to the idling motor, I swore the sound was coming from the left side exhaust, and sure enough, the joint between header and muffler were loose, and if I tapped on the muffler I could distinctly hear rattling inside. (Every CB350 parts diagram I have ever seen shows a solid pipe here from header to tip of the muffler, just like the one on the right side, but mine was in two parts, and obviously not a homemade concoction. I am still wondering why that is. The muffler is stamped clearly CB250/350.) I also noticed that my chain guard, which had recently been repaired, was once again broken at the rear mounting ear. That could have been contributing to the rattle, too. Happy to have found the problem, I dismantled the exhaust. I tapped the muffler end on the ground, but the expected rust didn't come out and holding it out and shaking it, now free of the bike, I could hear no rattle. I removed the chain guard and reassembled the exhaust, this time assuring the joint was tight by cutting some additional shim out of a soda can. The exhaust back on, I kick started the CB and now I could not hear the scraping sound I had heard before, although listening over the clackity clack sewing machine sounds of the valves and points was difficult to do. Always an optimist (OK, notalways) I thought I was set.

I have had my heart set for a long while on picking up, if not a new, at least a newish Triumph Bonneville. As much as I like vintage bikes, they take a lot of care. It would be nice, I thought, to have a bike to just jump on and ride, while I took all the time I needed to do a proper frame up restoration on Old Faithful. I have made a few trips Hap's in Sarasota, a local dealership, to sit on bikes, dream, and plan. My hopes were high for finally being able to make this happen toward the end of the year or early 2012, and when I learned from a fellow VJMC member that Hap's was having an open house, I figured that would be a great opportunity to get out and ride, make a final check of my intended next bike, and perhaps pick up some new riding gloves, as mine were becoming threadbare from use.

A friend of mine from Fuzzy's, a new rider with a new-to-her H-D Sportster 883 Anniversary Edition, had been wanting to do a ride together so she could gain a little more experience. I thought the ride to Hap's would give her some useful saddle time, and the rural route I had planned was a par above the straight-line, flat roads usually found in Florida, and I thought she would enjoy the ride off major highways.

Saturday morning came and I was looking forward to the ride to Hap's, although my friend had canceled at the last minute because she had to work. I hopped on the CB and started out alone in a soft drizzle, but knew that the rain would soon be gone and the rest of the day would be nice. The route was via back roads starting out running through the groves between Lake Wales and Ft. Meade. This stretch had a couple wide sweepers and a few nice hard turns that kept it interesting. As I neared Ft. Meade, though, the grating sound returned and grew worse, although the bike, like before, still ran flawlessly. By the time I had descended the hill in the groves and got to the last corner at the road that would take me into town, I thought it wise to turn around and abandon the ride. Back through the empty groves I rode, worrying all the time at the increasing scraping noise of the engine. I made it home, the engine still running smoothly, in spite of the sound. I rolled her back into the garage, next to her wounded companion.

Next on the list of things to check will be the starter chain and starter clutch. I've had starter trouble on the CB for a long time now, and have been kick-starting it for two years. I had rebuild the starter clutch, but upon reassembly, it behaved the same as before, spinning but only occasionally catching. The starter itself had looked good when I had taken it apart to clean it, with still substantial copper on the brushes. The starter system has mystified me and now I wondered if the clutch was totally messed up and perhaps turning the starter chain all the time and causing my sound. Checking that will entail draining the oil (1,500 mile early), pulling the crankcase cover, and removing the rotor. The CB will be down for a while. If it proves not to be the chain/clutch, then the motor will have to come out and be disassembled. Either way, it is off the road for a considerable time.

The Savage, after more investigation, may have a coil and/or igniter problem. A spark tester I used showed inconsistent firing of the plug. The seat and tank have come off and the next step will be to find another coil and then testing once again. If that doesn't do the trick, I will try the much more expensive igniter.

So, for the time being, I am stuck. No riding therapy for me. I will just have to do my best to dispel the after-ride blues on my own. But you never know, my truck is for sale and if it sells soon I might have the down payment for a Bonnie. At least I can dream.


Road Dog

"Ride Your Own Ride."

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