by Mark DesCartes
We rolled down the hill to the boat landing on the Mississippi River near Cassville, Wisconsin; the two dual-sport bikes laden with everything we needed for a four-day trip on the Trans-Wisconsin Trail. Chet and I killed our motors to take in the fog roiling over the Mississippi and to double-check our GPS tracks. It wasn’t yet 7am, our bikes were fueled, our bellies full, and the waypoint pointed northwest.
“What’s with your tire?” Chet asked.
I looked down at the bike and my stomach dropped. Several knobs on the rear Dunlop 606 had been ripped back, revealing the cords below.
“Whut thuh?!?” I exclaimed.
A thorough once-over revealed that while the front appeared fine, many of the knobs on the rear could be pulled away from the carcass, like some demented rolling advent calendar.
Chet is good in a clutch and suggested I check the tire pressure. Bingo. The front was at 15 psi and the rear at 18 psi. Off-road riding pressure. A busy workweek had prevented the most basic pre-flight check. The previous day’s 250 freeway miles had taken their toll; the overloaded knobby didn’t have a chance.
Chet extracted his electric tire pump and we filled the tires to street pressure. We decided to limp to the next town and see if we could find a tire on a Saturday morning.
With a paltry 35 miles under our belt, we spent the next hour making calls from a gas station, looking for a tire for my KTM. After a dozen calls we finally sourced one, but it was in Dubuque, Iowa, 40 miles in the wrong direction.
A friendly local suggested a garage in Boscobel. Amazingly, Terry had a hoop that would fit. He said while it was used, it was serviceable. Excellent! Back on track, Chet plotted a work-around route up to Boscobel, keeping us on paved, tertiary roads. With Chet leading, I nursed the KTM up to Terry’s garage. While I had assumed it to be a motorcycle shop, Terry’s serviced cars and trucks. The tire in question was an 18” front Dunlop Elite II. Off a cruiser. Did I mention that it was a whitewall?
“Well now what do we do?” I wondered.
“We?” said Chet. “This is your bike.”
Terry suggested that the Elite II could either get me to a proper motorcycle shop or back home. In any case, it was a better option than the mortally wounded 606 knobby. He said to go get a late breakfast and that he’d have me all set by the time we were done eating.
Chet and I worked the phones over superior plates of pancakes and struck pay dirt. Keytime Motorsports in Warren, Wisconsin had a couple of proper knobbies to fit my rim. Feeling better with full bellies and a plan, we went to pick up my bike. Wearing that ridiculous whitewall, my KTM looked like a dog wearing one of those “cones of shame” from the vet.
We settled up with Terry and picked our way north toward Warren, twenty miles east of Black River Falls. Keytime is a real shop, the kind that can fix anything. After giving my rear wheel the once over, Craig, the proprietor, turned from my bike and sized up the two idiots that had rolled in just minutes before closing.
“You realize this is a front, don’t you?” he asked with a straight face.
I was never more grateful to purchase a tire. The Pirelli didn’t match the front Dunlop, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t get that hideous whitewall off my bike fast enough. While I removed the rear wheel for the second time that day, Chet smoothed things over, telling our rescuer of his misfortune of having to chaperone me as I bounded about the countryside.
“He tends to hurt himself without adult supervision”
Thirty minutes later, we were out the door, backtracking to pick up the Trans-Wisconsin Trail. With daily tire checks, Chet and I followed the trail to the south shore of Lake Superior, then found our way home without further incident.
Dual-Sport riding requires flexibility in planning, routing, riding and thinking. You have to be able to react as things change. That, and remember to check your tires every morning.