Written on Day Four Without Sleep...
Conditions have to be perfect to drop a bouncing motorcycle and not sustain any damage to the bike or rider. On this day, the temperature was a moderate 58º and the sun was making a cameo appearance on what would have been the first really good riding weather of the 2006 season. I had stolen odd hours during the week to wipe the garage dust and the odd spiderweb guy line off my 1986 BMW K75, known as “Blueballs,” and it was almost ready to go. Last minute flailing at the body work with a rag soaked in polishing liquid, I buffed the paint into a surrealistic dimension of deep blue. It was hard to imagine the paint was 18-years-old.
The bike had received its winter service two months prior (in February) and started on the lightest touch of the button. This was prior to my days as a member of the Mac-Pac (southeastern Pennsylvania’s chartered BMW riding club) and I headed out strictly solo. I tried a few tentative swerves and stops, which the machine executed with as much precision as my stiff, rusted-over joints would allow, then struck out to explore a handful of Amish farm roads. Those accustomed to neck-snapping acceleration would be disappointed with the K75. It’s performance can best be described as “predictably reliable.” Keeping the speedometer between 55 and 60 mph, I shakily began to take in the sights. The first ride of the season is a highly tentative occasion for me.
The roads around Lancaster were initially designed for horses and buggies, which could leisurely pass each other at a brisk 15 mile-per-hour clip, with the wave of a hat and a smile. Coming around a tight rural turn, I was confronted with an Amish buggy, whose horse was rearing up and dancing. The guy at the reins looked like a 25-year-old wearing a false beard. I don’t know how to say, “This fucking horse,” in ancient high-German, but this kid was muttering something to that effect. I dropped down a gear and went around this guy on the right, as the horse kept dragging the hack into the opposing left lane — and oncoming traffic.
“So far, so good,” I thought.
The next curve lay between two fields under cultivation. A gate pierced each fence not far from the apex of the turn, through which a team of six Clydesdales (pulling a plow) had recently traversed the road, depositing a layer of muddy dirt and and horse-shit on the pavement. While the exact proportion of mud and horse-shit required to create the adhesion potential of wet glass has yet to be published, these Clydesdales were pretty much on the mark. I felt the rear wheel slide to the right and rode it out with my heart in my mouth. The rear tire found its bite a milli-second (20 feet) later and the curve was executed with nothing more than a pleasant drop in blood pressure.
A friend of mine, Chris Jaccarino, once said, “If you ain’t slidin’ then you ain’t ridin’.”
Approaching a traffic light, I made a classic beginner’s mistake and brought the bike to a halt on the crown of the road (in the center), between two furrows in the pavement, worn deep by thousands of daily milk tankers grinding to a stop at that intersection. My saddle was over 30-inches tall and I could just about flat-foot the machine on a level surface. But with a furrowed pavement under each foot, the bike would lean another two inches, just enough to precipitate a drop. I felt it starting to go over on the right in the same instant I realized I was about to stand in a hole. Yet the light changed at that moment, and letting out the clutch in first kept the bike upright.
Now I had about reached the point where numerous heart-pounding distractions were growing somewhat monotonous, and noticed there was something odd about the windshield. It appeared to have a line running across the top of it. I had never noticed this before, and this took a second or two to study as I was pushing along at 45 miles-per-hour. In total horror, I realized I was looking at the top edge of the plexiglas, as it was sliding downward in its frame. I commenced a very gradual braking, and had almost stopped when the windscreen popped out, and hit the ground.
There are times in a man’s life when yelling, “Oh Fuck,” is not only appropriate, but soothing. The bike was equipped with a unique “Sprint” fairing, and the windscreen, which had a slight tint, trimmed with black paint, resembled the bubble on a Bell Helicopter in the 1950’s. This fairly sizable concave piece of plexiglas landed on its backside, sliding along on its edges.
There was no place to decently stop on the side of the road. The pavement had a pitch like an aluminum siding salesman, that ended in loose gravel and raked-over horse shit. I held the bike on a right tip-toe, while I got the side-stand down, then went to collect my windscreen. There was not a crack nor a scratch on it. On one hand, I was elated. Yet on the other, what was I going to do now? My mechanical abilities are well-know in my current riding circles and openly discussed as a case study for men who should never be given tools. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but desperation is the illegitimate child.
The windscreen was held in place solely by the friction of a channelled *gasket — like that of a 1965 Volkswagen Beetle. Unbeknown to me, that gasket was wearing out, and the flexing of the fairing could pop that windscreen right out (which it just had). I acted the part of a BMW rider by flicking on the flashers (standard), popping up the seat, and whipping out the 65-piece tool kit (standard), by which a man of normal skills can rebuild the entire machine. Grasping the appropriate screwdriver (one of three), I opened the channel in the gasket and started jammed the windscreen back into it. I had less than three inches to go when I observed the “roving gap” phenomena. I chased that gap all around the entire windscreen. Twenty-five minutes later, I used about six inches of duct tape to compensate as a “roving gap arrestor” and reseated the windscreen. It would fall out again (and get run over by a car) but not today.
The run back was fun, even spiritual in that way that the first ride of the season can be. Each mile brought that rare combination of banked curves, the growl of the engine, and that electrifying sensation of power that surges through the handgrips. There are three traffic lights in the last two miles between the highway and the house, and I zipped through them all. The driveway is on a slope that curves to the left, then the right. I pulled in the clutch and chopped the power to bump over the lip. My response time may have been off by a hair... Or I may have cut the power a bit too dramatically... Or the polarity of the earth’s gravity may be stronger in the driveway here than any other place else...
The engine lugged like a Congressional subcommittee and I missed the split second to knock it into a lower gear. So I locked it up with both feet flat to sort things out. The sudden absence of all forward momentum caused “Blueballs” to dive on the forks, and to bounce back, with the front wheel coming off the ground. This sudden development caught me by surprise and the K75 rolled over on its left side, making a perfect impression on the flower bed. The garden yielded to the mirrors and the turn signals, but had muscle enough to knock the wind out of me. Fortunately the street was deserted. Leslie (Stiffie) came to the door, smiled, and said, “So that’s what the bottom of a K75 looks like.”
Then she helped me pick it up. She’s quite a woman.
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2010
* I bought a new gasket and a replacement windscreen from Sprint the following summer. With new rubber, it would take bat to knock that windscreen free.... Or a mini van.