So it was decided. I would take the rat bike. I had enough mileage on this bike to trust it for what would be a 3000 mile week. It had enough room to haul plenty of stuff. The only down side was the small displacement. This little motor was gonna be screaming on the interstate.
In the early years of making this trek to Maggie Valley, NC I would eat up the whole 950 mile ride in one day. In later years I would make plans to meet friends halfway down and do it in two days. This year was different because I had no plan. No advance hotel reservations and no route plan.
It was early saturday morning when I fired up the little kawasaki and started motoring south. I figured I'd get on the interstate and get as far south as I could on day one. The first half of the day the weather was ok. The only thing bothering me was looking at the tach. Its a little digital gizmo with small numbers. The difference between 6,000 rpm and 8,000 rpm is less than a quarter inch. Its hard to read but it was obvious the reading was high. On local rides this didn't matter much but I've been running it this way for hours.
I'd stop for gas and someone would make a comment about the tractor seat. It is a real conversation starter.
When you ride a motorcycle on a mind numbing interstate like the ones in Illinois, you better have something to think about. Sometimes when in deer avoidance mode I have to be careful. If I think about "deer" I may accidentally start singing that stupid kids song. "Doe, a deer, a female deer." I have to stop there or I'll hate myself the rest of the day. You have fun with it though. Why not listen to music while riding? Well I've done that. Its relaxing but I feel it takes something away from the connection between me, the bike and the environment. The other issue with me listening to music on the bike is that I found my pace was controlled by the beat. If the music was mellow, I'd slow down. If it was angry metal then I'd be hauling ass. So, a good portion of time was spent trying to figure out why this bike ran different depending on where my feet were placed. With my feet on the hiway bars the bike ran great. On the stock pegs it ran just a bit noticeably worse. I was sure it had to do with air flow around the carb pods but I just couldn't quite nail down why it was happening.
As the afternoon wore on the weather turned wet. I don't mind riding in the rain as long as I can stay warm enough. I was happily scooting along in the rain when the motor started feeling weak. I was loosing power on the interstate and was pretty sure I'd have to pull over.
A lot of things go through your mind in these situations. Why? I had plenty of fuel in the tank. Is the traffic behind me heavy or light? I should have made more of a front fender to keep the water off the motor. I wonder if my pods are too wet? Where is the next exit? Good thing I don't have to be back to work for another 8 days.
I rode the shoulder for a mile or so and got off at the first exit. I made it to a parking lot and started troubleshooting. I figured the easiest thing to check was the air filter pods. I dug out a screwdriver from my saddlebag and removed the pods. When I fired the bike up it seemed to run ok.
Some dude in a pickup truck gave me a thumbs up and said "I like the seat!"
The rain was letting up so I hopped back on the interstate and continued eating up miles. Just about the time I was drying out, it started raining again. I watched as the water ran across my tank and dripped down in front of the carbs. The bike was drinking some rain water but running fine...until all of the sudden it started loosing power again. Huh, I guess the pods weren't the problem. I immediately exited and found a gas station. This time the plan was to find a can of wd40. I took my time spraying down every part of the ignition wiring and coil.
While I did this some lady told me about her great grandpa the farmer who sat on an old seat just like that.
|I know nobodys great grampa sat on a seat just like this. I used a cut-off wheel to modify the front outer sections. Before I did that I couldn't reach the ground with my feet.|
The bike fired right up and I continued south. Things were going fine until it started raining again. Once again I nursed the bike to somewhere safe I could work on it. Once again I hosed it down with wd40 and once again someone commented on the seat. "Did you ride that thing all the way from Wisconsin?"
Back on the road the bike was buzzing along. I don't know how happy the motor was about being wound out all day but I know it was driving me crazy. The motor felt fine but I couldn't stand looking at that tach. I tried not to look but the more I tried to forget about it, the more I thought about it. Ya know how sometimes you know you're in top gear but make that attempt to upshift anyway? I was getting sick of looking for seventh gear. Luckily it started raining again and I forgot about the tach. I found myself anticipating the power loss I was sure would come. Man it was raining hard. It was getting dark and I was approaching Paducah, Kentucky so I decided this would be a good time to call it a day. Besides, I knew Raffertys served up some delicious cheeseburgers.
I pulled under the motel marquee and was greeted by some fellow bikers seeking refuge from the weather. We exchanged stories of the road for a few minutes as I started peeling off a few wet layers of gear. One of them commented on how nice it was that the rain doesn't puddle up on my tractor seat full of holes. I agreed.
The cheeseburger was good but not "the best cheeseburger ever" as I remembered them. I think the quality of the meal is directly related to the company you keep while dining. The company I'm referring to is the group I rode with a few years ago on this same run.
Day two offered much dryer weather. I had to eat up a little bit more interstate before getting into hill country and it didn't take long for my mind to slip back into obsessing over the tach. Its really not much of a vacation if you are slowly driving yourself nuts. I decided I like the speed I was traveling so the only way to change the reading on the tach was to make it read zero. I pulled into a wayside, removed the fuel tank and snipped the wire. Ahh, relief.
An old timer asked "Did that seat come off a hay rake?"
The rest of the day included some enjoyable riding through the Smokey mountain national park followed by dinner with friends in Maggie Valley, NC.
Monday I decided I wanted to investigate the "loss of power in the rain" issue a little closer. I purchased a tube of dielectric grease, pulled the fuel tank and began insulating all the connections under there. I also attached a temporary fender to help control water spray off the front tire. I did a bunch of riding that day and tuesday without any problems but then it didn't rain much either.
|Scene from behind the motel on monday.|
On Wednesday I rode with a small group up on the Blue Ridge Parkway when it began to rain. To my dismay the little Kaw started running like crap again. So much so that it died and wouldn't restart. I was headed downhill so I coasted into a scenic overlook where I began tearing the bike apart looking for a problem. The battery was old. It was in the bike when I bought it a few years ago. Testing and cranking and...oh, oh it might start...but no. This went on for a long time. We all figured it was only a matter of minutes before a dead battery was gonna be the end of this ride. This looked like it may be a repeat of last year when the new battery in my Aprilia went south, but thats another story. A couple guys in the group decided to head back to the motel and get a trailer. A couple others stayed back with me. I decided as long as I had the bike ripped apart this far and the battery wasn't dead yet, I would keep troubleshooting. I started tracing wires and then it caught my eye. Just for a second but I saw it. It was a color I shouldn't have seen. It was the shiny metal prong on the end of a wire that should have been hidden inside a plastic connector. I examined the connector, snapped the wire back in place and attempted to start the bike. It fired right up!
Enough time had passed that we figured our rescuers would be back to the motel and we wanted to stop them. It was funny watching everyone including myself do the "lost signal shuffle". You know the scene where everyone is holding their phone up and moving about reporting how many, if any, bars they had and who their cellular carrier is. We couldn't make a call but we all sent a text message and I guess one of them got through. The rescuers were just about to hook up the trailer so the timing was perfect.
|Back at the motel and ready to settle into an evening with friends.|
The bike hasn't missed a beat since that day. I had long ago decided the problem with my foot placement was an air flow problem around the pods. I was close. Moving my legs changed the air flow around the electrical connector located a few inches behind them. I guess at highway speeds the force of air was pushing on that wiring harness just enough to affect that loose connection. So many changes were made to the bike at once that it was difficult to narrow down the problem. After I ruled out the pods it seemed obvious that water was creating a short. I think this may have been one of the first long rides without a front fender so I was looking at wiring under the tank, not all the way back under the seat. I think if I would have made the connection between the two problems I could have figured this out the first time the bike gave me grief. A lesson I should have known because multiple symptoms can often be traced to a single issue. I've also decided its possible the bike fired back up after engine heat dried out the wet wiring during my repair efforts. I had never sprayed the bad connector with wd40.
|The bike developed a drip on the return trip. It turned into a major leak a few days after getting home. You can see my temporary fender made from a license plate I bought from "Crazy Bobs Biker Stuff" store.|
Heres the thing. I love this shit. When there is a problem on the road that can be fixed without a trailer, then it becomes an adventure. This was a good vacation.