We’ve all been waiting for disaster to strike, and it finally happened, July 1st, on a Friday night, at 6pm, at the start of the 3 day holiday week-end.
I had just enjoyed 4 days of R&R in tiny Rockwood PA, and had spent the morning visiting Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright’s wonderful futuristic house south of Pittsburgh. I was staying at an AirB&B just east of Zanesville, Ohio, so I had a 200 mile ride. Of course I was late from taking too long to pack in the morning then staying too long enjoying Wright’s amazing home. So I was really making up time as the clock ticked past 5, then 5:30 and 6.
While zooming east on I-70 just outside “the middle of nowhere, Ohio”, I experienced a loud “THUMP”, and the bike seat fell about 2 inches out from under me and started to make a loud, low frequency, rumbly whirring sound. I immediately braked, slowed and pulled off. It sounded exactly like a blown tire (on the Friday before the holiday, *sigh*). To my surprise, the tire was full. and everything seemed in order. After staring at the bike for 5 minutes, I simply could not see anything wrong, so I got back on (the seat was still low) and started up. I barely moved when the whirring started again.
Something was definitely wrong, so I pulled off, took off my helmet, gloves, jacket, etc, put her up on the U-shaped center stand and SAT DOWN ON THE SHOULDER OF THE ROAD, near the grass. I asked the scooter “What are you doing to me?” and then she told me. Look at the picture, it is not for the squeamish.
The main bolt that attaches the strut / shock to the frame just above the back wheel had worked itself loose, had detached, and was jettisoned, now sitting somewhere in the middle of the freeway half-a-mile or so behind me. The bike frame had slammed down onto the speeding tire and my weight plus the luggage had rubbed the bike frame against the top of the fast moving tire. Two days later I would learn that the tire had actually worn a “crescent moon” shaped hole in the fiberboard lining that forms the compartment under the seat. Oh.
In a panic, I took the picture you see and msg’d it to everybody: My shop in Safety Harbor, the kid at home, and the B&B (telling them I’ll at least be late, and I may not even arrive). Then I started to think. I might need a tow, since the bike was now immobile, but the tow in Detroit was a disaster with the guy busting my dash & dash mounted charger and keeping my bike an extra day. PLUS it was already after 6pm on Friday of the July 4th weekend, and I was in the middle of nowhere. How long would it take a tow to arrive? Where would I take the bike? How would I get to someplace to spend the night … I mean … three nights?
Adam wrote back from PMA in Safety Harbor (he was at dinner with his fiancee). What you do is align the shock with the frame, then shove something solid temporarily into that spot to hold the bike in place. You limp to the garage, buy a replacement bolt, and fix it in the parking lot. He would text me the measurements before I got to the store and yes, it would be metric and would be a very weird size.
I had kinda figured out his solution, but Adam’s message confirmed my hunch. We had been talking generically about “a screwdriver”, but it turns out that’s impractical. A screwdriver cannot be wedged in so it doesn’t fall out, or so it doesn’t overreach and jam the blade into the moving spokes. A screwdriver won’t do.
I opened my tool bag and dumped out everything onto the freeway shoulder, and started sifting though the items. I had already been on google looking for an “Ace Hardware”, “Home Depot”, or “NAPA auto parts” store (somebody sophisticated enough to stock a odd sized metric bolt). Of course … nuthin was around “the middle of nowhere”.
Then, to my delight, a big pickup truck pulled over and young guy in dirty clothes and a ball cap jumped out. Take a guess? He’s a biker, and no biker ever passes a fellow biker broke down on the side of the rode. Its just not done. I still get misty just typing that out.
We both had a laugh at the severity of my problem, then he rolled his eyes up toward the bill of his cap as the skies darkened and thought out loud: “lets see, nuthin at that exit … no, nuthin that way … well, if you double back, ah, no nuthin there … You know, there used to be a parts store, but it went out of business.” Then, my favorite. “Oh man, if I had a bolt I give it to you.” But the first open store is in Zanesville”. Yep, we’d need a field fix.
When I got the flat tire two weeks ago, and the plug, and the second plug and finally the new tire, I acquired a tire plugging kit. The kit includes a weird tool of shoving the waxy rubbery yarn-like plugs into through the tire surface. It looks like a giant sewing needle, mounted on a screwdriver handle. THIS would be my fix.
The screwdriver body would support the bike, but the eye at the front would allow me to tie off a locking key, or pin, or nut or something. I lined it up, and it was the right length, sufficiently long but not into the spokes.
Now: the joke about cable ties. Turns out all motorcycles are held together with cable ties. I teased them when I first saw these zip ties used. Then I thought about it. Zip ties are permanent, small to store, inexpensive (about a penny each), easy to work with, and tiny when you trim off the long excess “tail”. If you need access to the original part, just snip them off and throw them out, then put on new ones when reattaching your part. When in Detroit getting my flat tire replaced, I watched their tech using cable ties just as liberally as my friends in Florida. Needless to say, in my tool box are two bags of cable ties, one short one long.
I hoisted the bike frame and aligned the two parts. I inserted the tire repair driver and tied off the end with a cable tie. It would not pull out of the slot. However, it was still loose and might fall forward into the spokes. To lock it in place, I put a cable tie on the other side of the tools neck, which immediately slid. Hmmm. So I put a second, a third, a fourth, until the entire neck was filled, shoulder to shoulder with cable ties, preventing the screwdriver from falling forward, into the moving spokes.
So now it was in place, not moving, and it could support the bike’s weight. I sent this new picture to Adam, and packed up my stuff, put on my helmet, etc. Of course, my good samaritan friend took off, confident the fix would work and knowing I had a cell phone with internet. I decided to head straight to the B&B tonight (at 8pm) and just get up in the morning and buy the new bolt.
I drove slowly, just 40 mph for the first 5 miles then pulled over. On inspection, the rigging was tight and the driver was in solid. I repeated this after another 5 more miles. Again perfect. So I allowed myself to go 50 mph and checked once more, then I ran 10 miles before checking and with no problems at all. At that point I just limped all the way to the AirBnb at 50 mph. I checked and there was a NAPA parts store literally a block down the street that would open at 9am on Saturday. Lucky once again. And by now, Adam had sent me the technical specs that I needed for the bolt (length, width, pitch).
So I checked in, unpacked went to bed and nervously woke up early (the first time for the entire trip). Yes, NAPA had the bolt. I purchased a longer one, figuring if it turned out to loosen regularly, this extra length would give me more warning next time, plus I could later add a locking washer of some kind plus a nut. I also needed to buy a small crescent wrench, being completely unprepared for problems. I walked back and it took less than 5 minutes to install the nut and be ready to roll.
When I sent Adam the picture, he called back an hour later to make a confession. When I first sent the note the night before, they sorta started a bet about how much trouble I was in, one of those “dead pool” type of morbid betting games. But he complimented me on staying positive, showing imagination, and using the same tools and same ideas, as he said, “that I would have used if it was me sitting out on that highway”.
In then end, that was really really high praise, and it was part of the reason I went on this summer long adventure. You don’t know what you can do, until you do it. You can guess, and estimate, and predict with swagger, but you can’t be sure. Well, now I’m sure. If something happens on the rest of the trip, I can handle it. It may be ugly, or expensive, or it may be as easy as pie. But I know I can handle it.
How very very cool.