The Brit Butt 1000
by Lee Bruns
Its dark, it’s raining, and the inside of my helmet smells like dog urine. Why am I here?
The whole thing started in the winter of 2004. There was a discussion among friends about which would make a better custom bike, a XS-650 Yamaha or an old British twin such as a BSA or Triumph. My position was that the XS-650 was a better choice since, as everyone knows, old British twins are simply too unreliable to be ridden daily.
This fact is so well known that multiple searches of the Iron Butt Association’s logs could show no record of anyone finishing a Saddlesore 1000 on an old Triumph. The Saddlesore 1000 is a 1,000 mile ride in 24 hours. It can be run anywhere, anytime, but must be certified by the IBA. Sure there was that fellow in Finland who did it in 2004 on a BSA and there were several Norton twins, but no old Triumphs. Well one thing led to another and John, a friend of mine, offered up his ‘74 T120 Bonneville for me to ride a Saddlesore 1000 to prove how reliable they could be.
Normally I wouldn’t leave on a 1000-mile ride on a bike that I was convinced would leave me stranded along a lonely Minnesota road but this was a special case. A couple of friends had never ridden a 1000-mile day either, so we set a date for the folly. I mounted a windshield on the Triumph and updated the charging system with a solid-state regulator rectifier and a new Lucas-brand stator and rotor. The original charging system left me stranded the day I rode the Triumph up from Iowa. Other than that, the bike was stock right down to its Amal carbs.
I fired up the Brit at 3:30 am and headed out, only to sputter to a stop a mile short of the starting point. Out of fuel before I even got started. This was not a good sign as I only saw 115 miles on that tank of fuel. Stopping every 100 miles for fuel would add over two hours to the voyage. My companions, Jayd, Verne and Nels were waiting at the station when I finally arrived. Once fueled up, we were on the road by 4:15 am.
We rolled south on Interstate 29 directly into a wave of camera flashbulbs capturing this momentous ride. Only the light pops weren’t flash bulbs, they were lightning strikes and we were headed right at them. The rain lasted till we got to Sioux Falls, 100 miles and two fuel stops into the day. Nels was kind enough to ride next to me to augment the Triumph’s rumored lighting system so I was able to avoid running over any alligators in the dark.
Fuel stops were a demonstration of efficiency. Get in, get fueled, and get going, no dawdling. Gas cards make for great receipts right at the pumps.
After slip-sliding up a diesel fuel-soaked onramp in Sioux Falls, we headed east into the morning sun as it peeked through the rain clouds. The ride was easy towards Tomah, Wisconsin, highlighted the best of fall in Minnesota; golden fields ready for harvest, a convoy of thousand-pound pumpkins rolling down the interstate, Amish buggies on the side roads, and cool fall air to ride in. The Triumph responded by purring along in its 69mph sweet spot, running in a very un-British manner. The handlebars were vibrating a bit, but the throttle lock allowed me to shake the numbness out of my paw every now and then.
Just east of Albert Lea, the bike abruptly died. I coasted to a stop along the side of the interstate and flipped up the seat to try to find the trouble. No broken or loose wires were seen, and the fuses all looked good. Then Nels pointed out that the key switch was in the OFF position. The windshield had been pushed back from the wind and turned the key off. BLIMEY!! I wedged a piece of paper towel behind the windshield to hold it away from the key and off we rode.
We turned the corner off of I-90 onto I-94 and stopped to fuel up in Tomah. As I fueled up the Triumph the convenience store clerk abandoned her post to come speak to me.
“Sir, you’ll have to pay for that.”
“Huh?” I said.
“Sir, you will have to come inside and pay for your fuel.” She repeated, noticeably annoyed.
“Yes ma’am, I’m not prone to driving off without paying for things.”
I still have no clue why she thought me prone to theft. However, once inside the store they had a great display of freshly harvested cranberries, so I loaded my map pouch with them before heading out.
Back on the road, the rearview mirror was out of adjustment. When I tried to adjust it, it came off in my hand, stem and all. I stuffed it in the tank bag and resigned myself to full-shoulder turns before lane changes.
Then things began to go wrong. When we reached St Cloud, Minnesota, the Bonnie was stalling at intersections and becoming difficult to restart. Once up to highway speed it ran fine. By keeping the RPMs up over 2500 and slipping the clutch I managed to make it through St Cloud with the Brit still running under its own power. By the time we reached Fergus Falls, there was no avoiding it, the Triumph needed attention. I parked the bike away from the pumps and pulled the soaking wet tool pouch from the tank bag. It didn’t seem odd that the tool pouch was wet since we had ridden in so much rain. I dumped the tools out and stuffed the wet tool pouch into my upturned helmet. The point gap checked out, so I checked the battery. It tested at 8 volts with the bike off, and 11.5 with the bike running. The charging system was fine, but evil lurked in the battery. I stuffed the tools directly into the tank bag and went to throw the wet tool pouch away. Only then did I get a good nose-full of the stink emanating from it. It seems my dog had gotten into my garage and urinated into the tank bag as it lay on the floor. So now the inside of my helmet reeked of dog pee. I could hear the Brit-bike Gods laughing at me.
I limped the Bonnie into Fargo, North Dakota with the lights off as the sun set. The lightning show started up again in the west as the Triumph was fueled for the final leg down I-29 back to Watertown, South Dakota. After thirty or so kicks the Triumph fired and off we motored as the skies opened up again. While bright enough to be legal, my lights weren’t bright enough to be useful. Verne pulled his Concours next to me to light the way.
We rolled into Watertown just after 10 pm. I let the bike stall and congratulated the other riders. Final mileage as per the Smith’s odometer was 998 miles. I kicked mercilessly at the Triumph but it steadfastly refused to fire to ride the additional two miles. Technically I was proven right as the Triumph failed to achieve the magic 1000 mile day, but to be honest I was really hoping to be wrong. Maybe it’s just as well that I came up two miles short. It gives me all the reason to restore an old Brit of my own and try again.
Ed—Want to learn more about Long Distance Riding and the Iron Butt Association? Visit www.ironbutt.com and find out why they’re known as the “World’s Toughest Riders”.