Commutus Interruptus

29 January, 2006 Temperature: 32 degrees (0°C)

So there we were, tooling along down Shephard Road on a sunny Friday afternoon. The work week was over, and the Baron was singing his turbine song, running close to redline at almost sixty miles-per-hour.

I know I said we were going to slow down on this road, but the combination of clear, dry pavement and the beautiful blue sky had a sort of narcotic influence on my state-of-mind. Since my mind controls my throttle hand, there was nothing else to do but twist it to the stop.

The only warning I had that something was amiss was when we began to slow down, and then the drivetrain started to jerk a bit. Suddenly there was no drive at all, and the engine screamed for a moment before I shut everything down. We coasted to the side of the road, and I pulled off my helmet and gloves to inspect the damage. I knew what it was, as I have read about this happening, but I never expected it to happen so soon. We changed the drive belt back at 3,600 kilometers, and the previous belt showed only a little wear. At 6,400 kilometers, this belt failure was premature. Then I found out why: the rear tire was flat again.

A flat rear tire causes lots more stress on the drive belt. It is a great tribute to Kenda that I hadn’t noticed the tire losing pressure. I had hit a few sharp bumps at speed, and one of them had caused the patch to come loose. That’s my best guess, anyway.

There are a series of nice corners on East River Road before you enter Shephard, and there was no feeling of “squishiness” in the suspension this time. So I figure this had to have happened when we hit the Big Dip or one of the many little frost heaves on Shephard Road. Either way, my carefree commute was over, and I faced a mile or so of pushing before I could reach the first place with a phone.

Cars, trucks, and SUVs passed us by, with nobody even slowing down. Had someone stopped, I could have used a cell-phone to call AAA for a tow truck. I wouldn’t have taken any more of their time, but they didn’t know that. If they got off work early, they sure as hell didn’t want to spend any of that stolen time helping some dork on a scooter. Had I broken down on a Harley, I’m betting somebody would have stopped in very short order. Especially if they had the H-D Bar and Shield sticker on their vehicle. That’s part of the Biker’s Code, don’t ya know?

I don’t own a cellphone anymore. I got tired of carrying an electronic leash, and I don’t like paying for something that I use so rarely. But these days, with payphones disappearing, I have to accept the fact that I will inevitably face these situations. Everyone is expected to have one, and if I don’t, then this is my own damn fault. What did people do before cellphones?

I peeled off my jacket and piled it on top of the milk crate as I pushed the Baron up the hill. Then there was a downhill portion and I was able to sit there and coast for awhile. Eventually, we covered that mile and came to the intersection of Shephard and Randolph. There’s a business there called Bonfe’s Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning. I parked the scooter in their lot, and walked right in the front door.

The nice lady at the desk directed me to the phone in the breakroom, and I called Triple-A. We keep AAA coverage mostly for my wife’s car, but last year we added motorcycle coverage when I was taking ever longer trips for my “Backroads Diary” column. I didn’t know at the time that I would be riding a scooter through the winter. Serendipitous, no?

The flatbed arrived in about an hour, and Dennis the driver took me back to Baron HQ in Plymouth. There, crew chief Lorne and I worked together to re-patch the tire, with a plug this time. Then he changed out the drive belt while I gave the final drive cover a good scrubbing in the parts washer. We were back on the road again within the hour. It was still sunny and warm, and now I could enjoy my ride home all over again. Now there’s a happy ending for you.

21 Responses to “Commutus Interruptus”

  1. Steve Williams Says:

    Gary,

    You touch on a few key themes/fears in my life. Can I survive without a cellphone? What if I break down? I have broken down four times in my truck–twice where I had cellphone coverage and could call the tow truck, and twice in remote areas where I had to rely on the kindness of strangers. both times I had someone send a tow truck. I have decided to carry one, and not many people have the number, no one at work, so the leash feeling is minimal.

    Scooter breakdowns are another thing. I have a dim fear somewhere in the back of my mind. I had one breakdown early—before owning my own Vespa and riding a friends. Racing down the road a bee hits me in the face and goes into the helmet. I screech to a halt on the side of the road to get the thing out. I realize that the engine has stopped but I don’t remember shutting it off. I can’t get the thing started, figure it is flooded or something but nothing. End up pushing it uphill about a half mile to my house. But I do fear being 50 miles from home with a flat tire or broken belt. Chance we take I guess.

    I do relate to the narcotic influence on your state of mind. Without that, I would be pursuing something other than riding a scooter.

    steve

  2. Dan Jones Says:

    About the phone thing. I don’t like the idea of being leashed to a cell phone but I did want a means to call for help if needed because I do a lot of solo biking, hiking, and kayaking and often in remote areas.

    A few years ago I tried out the SOS cell phone service. This is a call out only phone for 911, towing, and a few preprogrammed numbers. Unfortunately, as more demand developed for digital cell service there was less need for analog service. Cell providers reduced the number of analog receivers to the point that I could only get a signal about 40% of the time–not very good when one’s life could depend on connecting while far from home.

    I finally canceled the service and did without. Eventually I stumbled upon a national provider with the kind of plan I could afford and live with. I won’t throw the name in here as I don’t know how you feel about plugs.

    Anyway, with this service I received a basic digital phone and 300 minutes of air time for $90. Unlike many pay as you go services, this one lets me buy only one card per year and it always reminds me of the remaining time.

    Only my wife and a few others have the number and I only use it for emergencies. This way I don’t feel tethered. I take the phone when I need to and leave it home when I don’t. So far I have always gotten a signal.

    It’s a good plan for my needs. Those with big communications needs would be better off with a standard type cell plan.

    I’ll gladly pass the info along if you are interested.

    P.S. Next time you suspect a flat just run the bike up to about 300 mph. At that speed, centrifugal force should keep the tire round long enough to get home.

  3. mnscooter Says:

    Steve, we understand each other, as usual.

    Dan, when it’s a public service, I don’t mind a plug or two. I have not heard of the plan you describe, so I don’t see any harm in you posting it here in the comments section. It might save someone a lot of trouble.

    300 mph, huh? What scooter have YOU been riding?

    Ride well,
    =gc=

  4. SaltyDog Says:

    Hi

    I have the same sort of worries, so I bought one of those cell phones with a prepaid plan for minutes of airtime. I limit spreading the number around, so I only get calls from the family on an emergency basis. But it’s nice to have just for peace of mind when I’m 30 miles away from home on the scooter. Or to check in with home base about what to bring home for supper.

    So far I haven’t had anything break down, just lucky I guess. But with the
    amount of construction going on in my neighborhood, it’s just a matter of time before I pick up a nail or worse.

    Wally World had a prepaid phone for only about twelve bucks, and even though minutes are expensive, and I have to buy at least 10 dollars worth a month, it goes with me in the glove box at all times.

    Best of luck with the continued riding. Your fortitude inspires us all! Personally, I’m not at the stage where I feel confident riding when it’s icy out, so I wimp out and take the car.

    Salty

  5. mnscooter Says:

    Hey Salty,

    That prepaid thing may be an option I will consider in the future.

    Regarding yours or anyone’s reluctance to ride in these conditions, that’s not wimping out. It’s just common sense. It’s all about knowing what you are capable of, and riding within your limits. I know there’s nothing romantic about that, but we all have to live in the real world.

    I was just lucky enough to have survived a lifetime of constantly pushing my limits on two wheels, to the point where I can do this with confidence. For what it’s worth, I don’t push as hard today as I used to. Age, injuries, and responsibility all take their toll.

    Ride well,
    =gc=

  6. Jeff Says:

    Gary,

    I use a cellphone extremely rarely too. I quit paying the monthly fees for something I so rarely used. Now I have a pre-pay phone where you pay say $100 and that give you 1000 minutes that are valid for 1 year.

    Thanks for sharing your blog with us. I used to ride year-round too - but that was in England where the weather is less extreme. I take my hat-off to you.

    Cheers,
    Jeff

  7. Mad Says:

    I too loathe carrying a phone around with me, in fact I think I’m phone phobic. But I’ve been very glad of having one every time I’ve got stranded or binned a bike in the last year and a half. I think someone needs to set up a bikers phone service; some kind of prepaid phone clipped to the underside of the seat or something. Then we could live our lives with mobile phones but still crash/breakdown with impunity. :D

  8. Dan Jones Says:

    Here’s the info on the prepaid cell phone service I mentioned.

    This service is offered by Tracfone. I have the Nokia 1100 but there are other choices. The 1100 is quite basic but seem to work very well. Before you consider doing this, check out this fellows website for a wealth of information:

    http://www.fone-review.com/index.html

    Tracfone has a variety of special offers that change on a regular basis. The idea is to get as many minutes as possible for your money AND only have to plug in air time once per year. If I were buying today and planned to only use the phone for emergencies, I would probably take the Nokia 1100 for $19.95 and a one year prepaid minutes card for $89.99.

    At the time you close the deal for the card you will be offered an opportunity to enter a Promo code. Enter 59647 and 200 minutes will be added to the 150 minute value of the card.

    There are many other possibilities. Be sure to study to find the best plan for your needs. Always check for the special offers and also check the coupon book that comes with the phone BEFORE you plug in any minutes.

    Anyone else got a better deal? I know that some of the other prepaids are starting to compete with Tracfone. Please let us know.

    Yours for safer scooting.

  9. Gone Away Says:

    Excellently written post. My few experiences of motor bikes (way back in my mis-spent youth) were enough to teach me that they are far too much fun for those who want to live long. Not that I was crazy about living to a grand old age in those days but I did think it would be nice to make it to 40 at least. Still, I can envy those who let more important things dominate their decisions… ;)

  10. mnscooter Says:

    Thanks again, Dan. I’m sure my wife will make me look into that…

    Folks, “Gone Away” is actually our friend Mad’s esteemed father. He emmigrated to the USA to take advantage of our third-world exchange rate. To facilitate this, he apparently seduced one of our women, named Kathy, and they live together in Oklahoma. Good for them!

    Clive, you are my hero. What a fascinating life! I hope we can meet someday, and you can fill me in on everything I have missed by being born at the wrong time.

    Sincerely,
    =gc=

  11. Dick Aal Says:

    I hear you about the cell phone. BUT just last week my battery died and I had to call the cycle shop to come and get me. I knew the battery was on its last legs but ignored it until it was too late. (the usual mode) But it was daytime and I was in town so if I didn’t have a cell phone I could have gone into the store I had just been in and use theirs.
    I also hear that they are taking out the roadside call boxes in California because so many people have cell phones and the usage of the call boxes are going down so much that they are removing them. This means you MUST have a cell phone in the future if you have trouble on the road.

  12. Mad Says:

    Damn, I’ve been tracked down. Go find your own friends Dad! What’s more I didn’t even have to make any introductions?

  13. mnscooter Says:

    Well, he does keep up his blog better than you do, Mad. Fascinating stuff!

    So, on a completely different subject, which bike are you getting to replace the Zed?

    Ride well,
    =gc=

  14. Mad Says:

    I miss the Zed so badly it’s going to have to be… another Zed! It really is just right for me. The other options are maybe the Honda 919 (I think you guys call it, we call it the Hornet 900), Triumph Speed Four and maybe something like a big ol’ Bandit 12. But the Zed’s the likeliest replacement.

  15. irondad Says:

    If mad and “gone away” have blogs I would love to read them. Could we get the links? No offense, gary. :)

    P.S. I am not just a voyeur. I put one out of my own!

    Dan

  16. mnscooter Says:

    By all means, Dan. Here’s a link:

    http://www.madtv.me.uk/

    “Gone Away” is on Mad’s site. It really is fascinating reading.

    Mad, I’m glad you are going with the same bike. It really is a great all-rounder. The Bandit is a bit heavy for my tastes. I haven’t experienced either of the others you mention. Best of luck, and keep us posted.

    Ride well,
    =gc=

  17. Mad Says:

    Yup I know what you’re saying about the Bandit 12, it’s a big lump of a bike but I also feel like it’s one of those bikes that every biker should own for a little while. In an ideal world we’d all get a season with a Hayabusa, a 916, a Bandit 12, one of the mad Ninjas (ZX6R/ZX7R/ZX9R not one of those old commuter bikes that Kawasaki USA likes to stick the Ninja sticker on), a scooter and a ‘blade. You know, the icons. Of course what’s an icon to me probably won’t be to someone else. Oh I nearly forgot the Frogwing, I want a go on a frogwing!

  18. Lee Bruns Says:

    I remember a few years back, I had a breakdown on 494. The ONLY person who would stop was a Pakistani man in his companies heating and AC truck. Sad reflection on natural born US citizens. Feel free to break down in South Dakota though, you’ll have LOTS of folks stop and offer help. Its a prairie thing I guess.

  19. mnscooter Says:

    Nice to see you here, Lee!

    I think the manners you refer to are a rural thing, really. Anytime you get a hundred miles away from a large city, life becomes real again, and people become more human.

    My father has a trailer/cabin up north, where he spends as much of his time as possible. He is retired, and wanted to move up there permanently, but my mother won’t have it. So they keep the house in the city, and Dad always complains about having to “Go back to the Jungle” when his presence is required down here. He has it nice up there in the swamp…

    Mad, all you have to do is come visit, and you can have a go. Simple, no? Frogwing is an easy-going, laid-back sort of chap. Having owned the Zed, you already speak Kawasak-ese… I’m sure you two will get along just fine.

    Ride well,
    =gc=

  20. Lev Says:

    Geez… I feel like a scooter outlaw… I own a scooter dealership and I’m the worst offender. I drive a Ford Excursion and I have a 6000 minute per month cell phone contract. Can we still be friends?

  21. mnscooter Says:

    Of course we can still be friends! You are a businessman, so you need your cellphone, right? Besides, I know that even if you were droning along in your SUV, nattering into your Nokia, you would still hang up long enough to pull over and help a rider broke down on the side of the road, right?

    Unless, of course, he was riding a Stella… (Duck, and cover!)

    Ride well,
    =gc=

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