It has not been a good week.

by Berck

Spring is sluggish where I live, but I’ve been checking the weather every day, trying to scope out when I might get to ride a motorcycle to work. Given that I live at 9,200 feet in Colorado and my work is 45 miles away, the opportunities are not as plentiful as they might be for some folks. A couple of weeks ago, I aired up the tires in both motorcycles, started them up and rode them around the neighborhood. I’ve gotten in a couple of rides to work on the CB1100 this month, both days where the temperature was 33F when I left. 32 is my arbitrary cutoff, and 33 is still pretty cold. I’m okay, except for my hands. Even with my warmest gloves, my hands are pretty much frozen by the time I get down the mountain. I can lean over and rest my left hand on cam cover, but the right hand is simply out of luck. I need hand guards or heated gloves or a windshield or something.

Monday was not a motorcycle day. 26F, and the foot of snow from Sunday was still melting. Tuesday was similarly cold, but Wednesday would be the day.

On Wednesday, Jonah apparently thought that I was joking on Tuesday about riding the motorcycle, so she wasn’t prepared. A perfect excuse to ride Yoshiko. Even though I’d ridden around the neighborhood earlier in the month, the battery was still mostly dead. Not a problem though, she kicked to life pretty quickly, so I headed to work. I figured the 45 mile journey would get the battery nicely charged. As long as the cops didn’t care about the headlight and I used hand signals, I figured I’d be okay. The ride was fine, but sadly, the battery wasn’t showing any improvement by the time I got to work. Turn signals still refused to flash below 5,000 rpm, and even the neutral light looked a bit dim. I figured I’d order a new battery.

I noticed when I got to work there were quite a few fresh drops of oil almost immediately after parking. Not a good sign. I checked the oil, and it was still full. Leak was coming from the left side. Either the crank seal or the clutch seal, I figured. I decided that after I got her home, I would park her until I figured out which seal was leaking and fixed it.

When I left work, it was a bit hard to get her started (took a dozen kicks, which seemed a bit unusual, but I chalked it up to the low battery voltage and poor technique from too much time on the shiny new fancy fuel-injected computer-controlled vixen that needed nothing more than a tap of the starter switch every time. I pulled out of the parking lot, and waited at the stop sign for traffic to clear to take a left. Had to hold the throttle open a little to keep it idling, but that’s not terribly unusual in cold weather since she’s got the coldest plugs I could find. While turning left, she died, in the middle of a four lane road. I rolled backwards to the side of the road to kick her started again. Which is when I noticed the neutral light wasn’t even on. Something in the battery have gone boom, and I realized that I just wasn’t going to make it home on that battery.

Fortunately, it was downhill back to work. I got up to about 3,000 rpm rolling downhill, but that’s apparently not enough to get any juice out of the alternator. It may not even be a self-exciting alternator–I have no idea.

I had been thinking of getting a fancy lithium battery, or at least an AGM battery, but now I was stuck at work. Fortunately, Jonah was able to come get me. We went to Walmart, a thing I’ve managed to avoid for 10 years, but I knew they had the right battery in stock, and it was next door.

What I didn’t realize is that I had to buy the battery separate from the acid. Which meant that it wasn’t going to do me much good until I took it home and charged it. So that’s what I did, leaving the bike at work over night.

This morning, I got work, popped the new battery in, and the bike started immediately. I rode around the parking lot, satisfied that all was good, and played fun car games with a coworker to get Joanna the car so I could ride home.

And the ride home started fine. Yoshiko started on the first kick, the neutral light was bright, and she idled fine. I got on the interstate and was pleased to discover the unusual afternoon tailwind, which only happens when there’s a thunderstorm afoot. Still, I’ll take it, as the CB350 isn’t known for its abundance of power. This means I can cruise at 75mph easily, and not worry about being run over.

As I neared the exit for the road up the mountain, I noticed a loss of power. Still firing on both cylinders, but a sudden, noticeable, loss of power. I slowed to about 65mph, downshifted, and everything seemed smooth, but I was worried about having enough power to make it back up the mountain. I decided to check things out after I exited. I was curious if it would idle, and as I slowed down on the exit ramp, I pulled in the clutch. It died instantly, so I let out the clutch to get it started again. It did, and I tried again. Clutch in, engine dead, clutch out–whoa, it really didn’t want to start there…. but it did. I was able to keep it running with the clutch in if I revved it to about 3,000rpm. What’s going on? That’s when I started to wonder how much oil was left. So I let the clutch back in and let it die, and pulled off on the side of the road.

As soon as I hopped off, my worst fears were confirmed. The back of the bike was covered in oil. This was no leak, this was an empty crankcase. The dipstick confirmed. I hoped wasn’t seized, so less than a minute after starting, I tried to kick it, and was able to stand on the kick starter without it budging. Not good.

I had to call 7 tow companies before I found a tow company able and willing to get me off the side of the road. I was stuck on this stupid triangle between a right turn lane and the main flow of traffic. There was no where for me to go, and I could barely hear anything on my phone with the noise of traffic. With no better ideas, I had her towed to a friend’s house in town, where can she drip the last few drops of oil in piece.

I hope to rebuild her, but I have no idea if I’ll be able to find parts, or how hard this might be, or how much such a project might get in the way of aircraft construction. To top it all off, my newest pair of BDUs have a hole in them. I must have spilled some battery acid.

As unfortunate as all of this has been, I can’t help but feel lucky. Had this happened in the middle of Missouri, I’d be really screwed. Had this happened a few years ago, I wouldn’t have had another motorcycle to ride in the meantime, and probably wouldn’t have had the resources to buy parts to rebuild her. Things could be a lot worse, and if this had to happen, it probably happened in the best way it could.

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