If there is one thing I have been certain of, and it has been my experience to be true, that you are going to have some sort of breakdown along the road. Some you can deal with and limp home without too much difficulty. Some will leave you stranded by the road and unable to go any farther. Others will make you scratch your head, and think before coming to the realization that “I can fix this!” With the tools you carry in your bags, and a little ingenuity you can ride home without too big of a hassle.
This past weekend, a group of us went camping way up in the mountains, about thirty miles from the nearest map dot of a little town. Three of us suffered one of the three types of breakdowns I mentioned earlier. I broke a shock absorber mounting bolt on a hard pothole in the shade, but was able to deal with it and ride the rest of the way home. Just being very careful and ginger with the bike. My friend Chris experienced the second type of breakdown. His final drive belt snapped, and he had to be hauled back out of the mountains. Then there was my old friend and riding brother T. He experienced that third type of breakdown. The type where a little ingenuity and some basic items in the tool bag will keep you on the road.
We were up at a viewpoint southeast of Mt St Helens, enjoying the beautiful sun shine and spectacular scenery alongside a truly wonderful twisty mountains road. The road was such a departure from the old, decrepit narrow roads we had been riding on, that we were deciding to follow it to the other end in the Columbia River Gorge town of Carson. Once there, we’d refuel, both the bikes and ourselves, and ride back down this same road before heading back to camp. Instead, as we were about to get rolling, T’s clutch cable snapped at the lever and his bike stalled.
Within a couple of minutes, a plan had been conceived to at least limp it back to camp. Using zip-ties and a small pair of vice grips to operate the clutch so T could at least shift easier on the nearly 30 minute run back to camp where a ore permanent solution could be thought of. The zip-ties held the cable in place, and the vice grips held on to the end of the cable tightly. When he needed to shift, T just had to pull back on the vice grips to actuate the clutch. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked, so off we rode. Luckily we were able to pull a California stop at the intersection so T didn’t have to come to a dead stop and start again. With no traffic coming I just signaled everyone to just roll through and away we went.
Once back at camp, we gathered around T’s old Wide Glide, and assessed the situation. The set-up that he had kluged together worked. It just looked like total shit. So now it was a question of making it not look like an example of hillbilly engineering. The plan was to try and run the cable back up to where it attached to the clutch lever, but with the vice grips in place of the lever.
T had to remove the circlip that held the lever in place, and remove the lever. Then he had to get all the available slack in the cable, and then replace the cable housing back on the cable so it would fit into the lever bracket. That left only about a quarter inch of cable coming out of the end of the housing. But that was enough for the vice grips to clamp down on. Then it left the need to pull on the cable enough to fit the vice grips into the lever mount snugly. Once it was in place, all T needed to do was to reach out with his fingers and pull the vice grips back towards the handlebar grip.
It worked, but the difficult part was starting or coming to a complete stop without stalling the bike. To make it just a bit easier, T would get the bike rolling before using the clutch to shift into 1st at take off. When it came time to stop, he’d let off on his throttle and reduce rpm until he could slide the tranny into neutral.
When we broke camp and headed out, he was looking at about a 100 mile trip over rough twisting, steep mountain roads before he got home. Taking it easy, and not shifting unless he had to, T made it home in a bit over two and a half hours.
It just goes to show what you can do if you don’t panic. If you think about the situation you find yourself in, and what your options are for getting out of it. That is also why I carry a saddlebag full of tools and zip-ties. You never know what a person may need out there in the middle of nowhere alongside the road. I hope this gives you something to think about in case you ever find yourself in a similar situation.
Catch ya on the road sometime…