Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Crossroads...

It was the kind of night made for sitting around an outdoor fire with your arm around someone who’d bring that heat to the sheets when the flames were reduced to embers. Yet here I was standing in the driveway alone... With a cigar the size of a bus muffler in my mouth and a glass of Irish whiskey in my hand. On the first night of the Columbus Day weekend I was still home, leaning on a cane. This was the best I had felt all week, with the razor-edged pain of arthritis dulled to butter knife status.

I had planned to ride my motorcycle in the morning with Clyde Jacobs. It would be the first time in 5 weeks that I had attempted to throw my leg over “Fire Balls.” Earlier in the week, an orthopedic specialist had drained 200ccs of fluid from my right knee, and given it a shot of cortisone . My left one had just received my fourth shot of Supartz. I was standing more or less upright and moving around without the cane from time to time. All I wanted to do now was ride.

My 1995 K75 was a mess in the garage behind me. The tail piece had been taken apart to receive a new running light -- a month earlier. The seat was on a shelf. Tools still littered the floor where I had last dropped them and the topcase squatted on the seat of a chair. I’d had a few of the guys over to show me how to do a simple bulb change on this rig, and I’d walked away from the work as soon as they left.

“Did you have an trouble getting that bulb in,” asked Mac-Pac member Dave Case recently?

“No,” I lied. “It only took a few seconds.”

“Did you really pop it in,” asked Case in amazement?

“Absolutely,” I lied again, more easily. “It only took a second.”

“Well I’d have lost that bet,”laughed Dave. “A bunch of us were thinking that bike would still be apart two months from now.”

Mac-Pac member Dave Case was one of many who graciously offered to change a running
light on my bike. The joke would have been, "How many riders does it take to change a light
bulb on Riepe's bike?" The answer: 50! One to change the bulb and 49 to pick his ass out of the seat.
(Photo supplied by Dave Case -- Click to Enlarge)

I flashed my best boyish smile and thought,
Fuck you and all those other smug, thin, uber-mechanic BMW-riding S.O.B.s.” (Any one of them would have been happy to do this for me, and about 2 dozen offered. Do you think I could find the damn replacement bulbs when these guys were there? I have lost two packages of #89 running lights on my desk in the past two weeks.)

My desk looks like a 450-pound hamster works here.
Coffee cups, news clippings, crumbs, and ideas pile up and fall to the floor.
Somewhere, are two packages of #89 running lights.
(Photo by the author -- Click to enlarge)

Arthritis is like being married to both of my former wives at the same time. The sensation starts in your joints and goes right to your balls with every movement. My zest for life has become tampered with a desire for numbness. When I find a position that doesn’t hurt, I tend to freeze in it. This is generally at my desk. Since I work at home, there is something of a payoff here. Yet there is a negative side too: I get sick of typing and talking on the phone. And by the end of the day it is guaranteed that I will have neglected to respond to some friendly e-mail or have failed to return a call. This is not out of contempt. It’s because I want to do justice to the situation and the effort is beyond me.

There are two people I have been trying to find the time to write a detailed e-mail to. They are Dave Campbell and Steve Asson. I just checked my last correspondence from these folks. I have been meaning to write Dave since March. I have been meaning to call Steve since June. (This is how people lose friends.) I’ve been looking for something I promised Harold Gantz for four months. I found it. It was under the thing I promised Rick Torpey at the same time.

Now here it was -- 10pm -- the night before a good friend of mine offered to ride with me, and nothing would be ready for the morning. Clyde Jacobs would be in the driveway in 12 hours. I sipped the Irish confidence, looked up into a sky as clear as miso soup filled with stars, and thought, “If I go to bed now, I can get up at 6am and still have everything put together in time.” And as I thought this, I realized it had the consistency of pure bullshit --even to me.

Leslie poked her head into the garage to make sure I hadn’t destroyed the maple tree in the driveway by hanging myself from it and said, “Is Clyde coming to fix your motorcycle tomorrow?”

With a reflex action that could trace its roots back to primal man, I started to say, “Eat shit and die;” but what came out was, “Yes, Dear. I think he is.”

There was no doubt as to who was going to put this fucking motorcycle back together.

Bathed in fluorescent light, the K75 looked like a battered lover in a third world emergency room. Replacing the rear running light on a K75 is the only thoroughly simple task on the whole bike. You don’t even need tools. I had the bulb secured in under two seconds, and the lens installed in under a minute. (It attaches through knurled thumbscrews.) 

I now systematically went through the machine’s documentation and discovered I had the wrong stamp on the plate. The correct stamp was in the manual. I inventoried the tool kit, and the ancillary tools I carry in a cloth bag, noting the two sizes of extra crush washers and the spare fuses. I tried out the LED MiniMag Light. It worked perfectly.

Next came the plugging kit for possible flats. I went through this to make sure the plugs hadn’t dried out and that the CO2 cartridges were intact. I couldn’t help but notice that there were fine holes worn through the tool kit bag and the cloth bag with my other tools from vibration... Vibration I cannot feel at the seat nor handlebars. The Airman Sparrow pump also had vibration bruises. Over the winter, I will line the tail piece with thin neoprene.

I opened the first aid kit for the first time ever, and took stock of the contents. It is perfect for dealing with the bare essentials, like a bee sting, a minor cut, or an even more minor hangover. All of this stuff went back into the tail piece, with room to spare. I keep it from moving around (to a degree) with shop rags. The seat slipped on like a prom dress and “Fire Balls” regained her dignity.

No one will ever call the BMW K75 "Sexy." But "Fire Balls" (left) had a look and spirit all her
own, parked among the heavy weights, dreadnaughts, and "Judge Dread" bikes up at
Hermy's open house this weekend. Lots of folks looked her over with lust in their hearts.
(Photo by the author -- Click to enlarge)

I switched on the bike and the rear running light glowed brightly, but the right MotoLight was out. This fix would be easy. If the running light was a cinch, replacing a MotoLight bulb (with the knurled lens rings) would take less time than lighting a cigar. This is the kind of hubris that takes down windbags like me every time.

Naturally, I couldn’t find the replacement 52-watt bulbs for the MotoLights. But I did locate a 32-watt bulb. This popped in like shit going through a goose. Power on, and nothing. The left one lit, but nothing from the right. I pulled out the spare and compared it with the original. Both were clear. I tried the “burned out bulb” in the left socket, and it worked just fine. Clearly this became a job for someone with a voltmeter and desire to trace wires under the gas tank. I reassembled the lights and resolved not to turn them on -- exposing my shortcomings -- during the ride the next day.

I mounted the top case and took stock of it’s contents, which included jumping cables, a camera (fully charged), a cell phone (fully charged) light riding glovers (perforated), and a folding cane. I then proceeded to go through my riding junk in the garage. When I was finished, it was 2am. But I felt like I had earned the right to ride this bike in the morning.

The last thing I did was to plug the machine into an Accumate battery tender. The battery tender generally indicates the battery needs a jolt even when I have come in from a long ride. I don’t know why. This is just part of the BMW mystery. This time, just the green “on” light indicated everything was “okay” with the tender. By this time, I was limping badly again. I winked at the whiskey bottle as I passed it and said to Leslie, “Screw Clyde and his mechanical abilities.”

I went through my riding gear in the morning. I chose the vented Joe Rocket Meteor 5 jacket over the mesh, as it was in the low 60’s. I cleaned the dead bugs from my Nolan helmet and wiped off the Parabellum Scout windshield on the bike. After a cup of coffee with Clyde, I mounted “Fire Balls” like a retired acrobat falling down a flight of stairs.

Clyde Jacobs is one of life’s true gentlemen and a great friend. He casually stepped up to the bike (to catch it if it started to fall) but looked away, laughing, so I wouldn’t feel like a cripple. I backed it out of the garage and hit the starter.

The bike demurely farted.

For those who have never ridden a BMW K75, it starts the second you breathe on the button. Rarely, do you have to do this twice. This is because you cannot do it a third time without frying the starter relay. That’s right. A low battery will cook the starter relay.

Clyde and I exchanged that apprehensive, “Well this sucks,” look common to WWII bomber pilots who smell smoke in the cockpit.

“Want to try jumping it,” asked Clyde?

I certainly knew where the cables were.

“How about rolling it down the driveway,” I suggested?

Did you ever find yourself in one of those situations where you knew exactly what the other person was thinking? The driveway has a slope to it and I knew Clyde was thinking, “How will me and 'the gimp' push this bike back up the hill if it doesn’t start?” And Clyde knew that I was thinking, “He and Leslie will have a bitch of a time pushing this thing back up the driveway.”

Clyde Jacobs (with his 2003 BMW GT -- "Red Molly") is a great friend and a 
pisser of a riding partner. He and Matt Piechota extended a good deal of 
patience on my behalf this weekend -- right up until the time they ditched me.

The bike had barely rolled three feet when it started as I popped the clutch in third gear. I let it idle at 2k for 5 minutes before we pushed off.

There are few things to compare with riding a motorcycle on a perfect fall afternoon. The sky was utterly cloudless and the kind of penetrating blue that mocks the most precious stained glass. There wasn’t a trace of humidity in the air, which was warm enough to ride with your face shield up three quarters of an inch.

Our destination was Hermy’s, the BMW dealer in Point Clinton, about 60 miles away. The route spanned some highway, a bit of which could qualify as slab. But most of it is two-lane country back roads through rural Pennsylvania. The terrain was heavily wooded in some places, where the cool scent of fall gathered under the shadow of leaves that would be green for one last week this year. I think each season has its own scent. Fall is the aroma of the spiced warm drinks, game dishes, and the bite of cooler weather.

Hermy's Tire and Cycle is the epitome of a what a dealership should be. 
Friendly people who give a damn,support local BMW chapters, and do whatever 
they can to make leave the customer smiling. If this place had a bar and 
slightly better entertainment, it could be mistaken for heaven.
(Photograph lifted from the internet so the author could plug the hell out of the place)

In several places, wood smoke curled from chimneys with a heady aroma far out of proportion to its thin blue tint. This is the season that best compliments the old stone houses that dot the Pennsylvania countryside. The harvest is pending. And the true strength of the nation is evident in the fields, the standing rows of feed corn, and the people who lure it from the soil.

There are at least two Harley dealerships between here and Hermy’s. Consequently, the road was thick with chrome cruisers and their volcanic growls. Yet the closer we got, German unicorn sightings became slightly more common. A GS here... A GT there... An “R” bike coming around a corner... And then there was Hermy’s. The entire block was a mad carnival of Euro-bikes. Perhaps 400 machines clogged the pavement.

By far the most popular sported roundels, but the Triumph crowd ran a close second. Speed Triples, Bonnevilles, and Thruxtons were everywhere. Quite of few had classic paint jobs. A Thruxton started and blew over an elderly woman who’d arrived on a Ducati. She picked herself up from the pavement, lifted up her shirt, and yelled “Yahooooo. I want one of those.”

The crowd was lined up to see the new models. Dick Bregstein, who had been previously committed to replacing his F800 with a Honda “Hobbit,” delighted in the geometry of the new F650 GS, and was told to stop drooling on the tank. There’s been nothing definite said, but it seems like Dick will be passing on the sushi in 2009.

The Honda Hobbit -- 30 years ahead of its time.
(Photo from internet archives)

Mac-Pac riders were in evidence everywhere! Cory Lyba, Ken Bruce, Scott Royer, Marge and Jack Busch, Dick Bregstein, and Matt Piechota were just a few that I saw. I rode my bike right up to the buffet table and helped myself to the pierogies. A dozen people said “hello” to me by name, and I couldn’t remember who they were. I apologize. Several commented on my work. One called me an “asshole,” but I think he meant Clyde.

I’m at a crossroads with this arthritis. I could barely get off the bike when I got home. Then again, who would willingly opt to get off a bike on a day like last Saturday?

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2008
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)


Charlie6 said...


five weeks without riding? wow, either myself or my wife would have shot me by then....she calls my motorcycling "prozac on wheels" as I get a bit cranky when I can't ride due to snow or whatever.

I won't be riding next 2-3 days, having a "procedure" done to prevent more rugrats from further delaying what is nowadays a far off retirement date. I hope be up and riding by the weekend though.

Hope your arthritis gets less painful, the doc told me I'd have it on my right shoulder due to the damage it incurred during the June accident...oh well.



Steel said...


I don't think your phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from Oregon. I'm as negligent as you are in that regard.

Life imposes. I don't suffer from any physical maladies but I haven't ridden in weeks, and summer is now over.

We've come to expect a certain degree of polish in your blog entries and forum posts, but I for one would rather get an unsophisticated note via email than the most beautifully crafted expose that is never written.

Still your friend,

Steve Asson

rob h said...

Great description of fall riding; I wish I could be as articulate. The smell of fall is a joy that can only be felt riding a motorcycle. It's my favorite time to ride.

Rob Haut

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom)

I have made up my mind to explore every avenue in defeating this arthritis. Nothing makes my feel so alive as riding this motorcycle.

Good luck with your procedure. I had one done by the second former Mrs. Riepe. She used a broken beer bottle.

Arthritis is God's way of saying, "How about a little hell today."

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Steel (Steve):

You wrote:

"We've come to expect a certain degree of polish in your blog entries and forum posts, but I for one would rather get an unsophisticated note via email than the most beautifully crafted expose that is never written."

What a nice thing to say! I wish you lived next door. Expect a call from me soon. When it comes to "unsophisticated," that calls for direct conversation on my part.

By the way, you are entered in the free meal contest.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Rob:

Thanks for your kind comment. If I had been feeling better, I could have ridden 400 more miles, and spent the night out on the road someplace.

God, do I love riding somewhere on a fall weekend.
Hey Rob, you're entered into the October meals contest.

Fondest regards,

David Campbell - PS - Distingished Fellow (with a shrug) said...

Jack Riepe... I seem to remember someone of that name from my past, but nothing really comes to mind. I wonder how this guy made up my name to include in his blog? As if I would be friends with someone who rides a BMW!

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Vindak8r, I'm so happy to read that everything worked out for you. A fall ride is wonderful--particulary to those of us where we must ride 1,000 miles to find fall.

I do have one question for you though, and it's not rhetorical:

Do you know the difference between Scotch Whiskey and Irish Whiskey?

It's technically possible to drink cheap Irish Whiskey!

IanA3 said...

Not sure why I'm showing up as "Anonymous," perhaps it's due to a temporary condition wherein the Mother's Milk of the Highlands has caused minor and temporary disruptions in the fabric of the space/time continuum.

Nothing against John Powers and Sons, but Talisker.....ah, now laddie.....

John said...


I lamented having to miss the Open House at Hermy's. But my Mother was celebrating her birthday, and so that had to take priority. Hope the arthritis eases up for a while so you can do some more fall riding.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Anonymous:

The primary difference between Scotch Whisky and Irish Whiskey is in the malting process. Barley used for Scotch is dried using smoke, which gives it a distinctive "tastes like shit" quality. Malt used for Irish Whiskey is touched by the hand of God.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Dave:

Nothing gave me greater pleasure than to find replies from you and "Steel" Steve in my comments yesterday. You'll hear from me more directly soon. Actualy, both of you will.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear John:

The ride up to Hermy's was glorious last week. But I have made up my mind that a dramatic lifestyle change must take place if I am going t be able to ride at all. I have to lose about 700 pounds immediately.

Thanks for writing in.

Your name has been added to the readers' montly free meal contest.

Fondest regards,

SoloBear said...

Ya gotta hate it when yer bike farts... do BMW farts smell like oil, or sauerkraut?
I really hope you & your physician can find some relief for that arthritis - living with that kind of pain has to suck.
Glad to see you were able to get in a ride, Jack... 5 weeks with no ride would drive me insane!

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Scottski:

If if the bike farts for the third time on a low battery, it smells like $75.00 for another starter relay. I have this unit on the tender again tonight, but I think it may be due for another battery.

I am looking forward to a quiet night of sitting in garage, looking gear over, and having a nice smoke and a drink.

It's always a pleasure to hear from you.

Fondest regards,

BMW-Dick said...

Dear Jack:
Another piece of fine prose; please don't switch to poetry. Your bardisms just aren't up the standard set by Doug Raymond and Rogers George.
I don't know which was worse -- the pain in your knees or the pain I felt driving to Hermy's in my car. I was sooooo jealous when I saw you arrive at Hermy's on your beloved K75, Red Nuts. In fact, I was so envious that I almost bought that powder blue F650GS they had in the showroom. But Macho Pride got the best of me. I'm trying to chase down a Vermacht Silver F650GS mit schlag. I hope I can connect in time to do some riding with you before the snow comes. Being bikeless with such exquisite riding weather reminds me of something that might have happened during the Spanish Inquisition.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Dick:

Take your time. I'm starting to think that the rest of this season may be a wash. I could barely get off the bike when I got home last Saturday. But we are going to knock them dead next season.

By the way, I am planning to ride to breakfast on Sunday. Even if it kills me. Then I'm thinking of that museum deal.

Fondest regards,

Anonymous said...


As usual, I loved reading about your antics! Sorry your arthritis is so bad, hopefully those Supartz shots will work their magic and you will be able to ride a little more frequently.

Sad that it's almost time to make sure the tank is full and the trickle charger is on before you close the garage door at the end of the day because you don't know what the weather will bring.

Take care,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear BikerMom1:

I believe this episode will be the last in which I write about my arthritis. It depresses me and adds nothing to the story. But I am gong to fight this like bloody hell.

We had a mild winter last year, and Dick Bregstein and I rode right through February. Wouldn't it be great if that were the case this year?

Thank you for commenting on my column this month. As ever, your name will go into the Reader's Meal Contest for October.

Fondest regards,

Grandad43 said...

Jack, you have done it once again as to causing your faithful readers to read and comment on your adventures.
Sorry that physical achilles heel continues to cause you suffering.
Appreciated your offer to dine with the "elite crowd" on Sunday am. I will be in the mountains over the weekend in pursuit of one of the ingredients for those game dishes that you eluded to in your writings.
Enjoy the great weekend weather on your ride.

DC said...

Dear Jack,

I KNEW you hadn't changed that bulb when I asked. Glad you finished the job and got out on a ride with Clyde. DO ride to breakfast tomorrow. It will be your kind of temperature. Glacial.

Eating sticky buns this morning while reading your blog, I envisioned Dick on the Hobbit with bolt-upright windscreen and shot a raisin out my nose.

Let me know if, (strike that) when you want help with that neoprene liner this winter.

Dave Case

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Grandad(43) -- Dave:

I'm glad you got a rise out of this piece, Dave. It was the honest truth that my bike's tail section was apart on the floor for over 6 weeks.

I had breakfast with Dave Case today, the gentleman quoted in the story. He does not believe I have much of a future as a mehanic.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear DC (Dave Case):

It was great seeing you this morning in Pottstown. And I didn't mind eating breakfast in an atmosphere of gas fumes, considering the floats stuck on your museum piece's carbs.

Fondest regards,

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you had such a good time and applied your mechanical skills to get to Hermy's. That other light ever get fixed? Your knee rival's Lourdes, nearly 7 ounces of fluid extracted is like dispensing an old style vended Coke. I caught 3 typos this blog, certainly not a record. It was a productive week in the ADK's while you were joy riding, hope you'll make the next trip the 2nd weekend in November. Ihor