Bumps in the Night

by bj max

Returning from a recent trip to Florida, Sugar Booger and I made our usual right turn onto Hacks Crossroad. This road skirts the city and takes us directly into the suburbs avoiding I-240, the super high-speed loop around Memphis that I steer clear of whenever possible. But Hacks Crossroad has some issues. Namely a three mile section that, for some reason, is always cratered with potholes. The highway department does its best to keep them patched but heavy traffic pounds them out faster than they can fill ‘em up.

After twelve hours on the road we were tired, just trying to make it home and I wasn’t paying attention like I should have been. It was just gettin’ dark, you know, that time of day when it’s hard to see anything no matter how young your eyes or how bright your headlights. Then suddenly, from out of the twilight this pothole of Biblical proportions emerges and faster than you can say bulls-eye, BAM! We hit it dead center. Godfrey Daniels! The impact was so violent that it simultaneously popped the right speaker grill out of the dash, re-arranged several of my cervical vertebrae, and caused poor Sugar Booger to swaller’ her chewin’ tobacco.

The motorcycle seemed to have taken the hit in stride. Well, at first anyway. We continued on towards home but at the next traffic light, when accelerating away, I felt, no that’s not the right word, I sensed a slight tremor. Just my imagination I thought. But no; at every light I feel something. There it is again. Just a slight shimmy. I still hadn’t mentioned it to Sugar Booger, but as we made the last turn towards home she spoke up and said the bike felt like it was wiggling.

Ah ha! So she feels it, too. When Sugar Booger feels anything out of the ordinary going on with the bike then it’s big. She seldom notices the various peculiarities particular to our motorcycle. You know, the little things that make up its personality and soul. No, her interest lies more in where the motorcycle will take her, the view from the saddle and what’s over the next hill. That’s why her awareness of that slight shudder was noteworthy.

Two minutes later we rolled into our garage, thanked the Old Master for another safe trip, disconnected the various umbilicals and powered down. We had just completed 2,497.7 miles according to my GPS and what a trip it was. We managed to pull off a ride to Key West during the peak of hurricane season without being threatened by tropical uprisings. And, since hurricane season is the off season too, we had the place virtually to ourselves.

The next day, after unpacking and putting our gear away, I finally got around to examining the bike. I went over it with a fine tooth comb checking everything. Honda, for some reason, decided to use caged bearings instead of tapered bearings in the steering head of the 1800 and this caused a stir within the Gold Wing faithful. It was said that the caged bearings couldn’t bear the load and triggered the tank slappers some riders claimed to have experienced. So I paid particular attention to the steering head but I found no slack or play. I even checked the frame for cracks and faulty welds because Honda, to their eternal shame, shipped a few thousand Gold Wings out with flawed welding, and there had been instances of cracked frames within certain VIN numbers. Honda actually crated my friend, Buck’s ‘04 Wing up and shipped it back to the factory where it was completely disassembled and everything reattached to a new frame. But mine checked out OK and besides, according to Buck, there were no symptoms. He actually discovered the flaw after being alerted to the possibility by a popular 1800 tech board thread.

As you can probably imagine, when word got around I got all kinds of suggestions as to the source of my problem. But one in particular kept cropping up. The local Honda dealer and several of my friends thought that I might have broken a cord in the front tire. So, as a last resort, I took the brand new tire that I had mounted for the Florida trip off, and re-mounted the tire I had removed just ten days earlier then took the bike out for a spin. At the time, I thought maybe the problem had been solved. But in retrospect, I think it was simply wishful thinking. We had a ride coming up to the Ozark’s; location of some of the most awesome roads in the world, and I couldn’t miss that. Could I? So, despite the negative signals, I turned my brain off and started packing.

The next day, we saddled up and made the trip to Gaston’s White River Resort near Mountain Home, Arkansas. The three hundred mile ride was fantastic. The leaves were showing some color and Push Mountain Road, new to us, was a motorcyclist dream come true. It has been compared to the Dragon, but in actuality the only semblance to that famed piece of asphalt was an enterprising photographer shooting speed shots at about the half-way mark. If I had known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have enjoyed that road quite so fast.

Later that afternoon, as we rolled through Mountain Home, Sugar Booger and I noticed that the bike was once again shaking back and forth at low speeds only, it seemed to be more pronounced now. Buck, riding directly behind us, noted that he could actually see the bike doing the hula as we cruised through town. Since we were within a few miles of our destination we continued on and I made a mental note to do a perfunctory check on arrival.

While the crew was checking in at the lodge, I was wallowing around in the dirt checking my rear tire and something just didn’t look right. The tread seemed deformed and stretched, but I couldn’t be sure. So I asked Lou, who just happens to be one of FedEx’s higher up muckety muck experts on tire wear and failure, if he would mind taking a look. He didn’t and got down in the dirt with me, ran his hand over the tire, poked and prodded, then declared that the polyamide belts were separating from the carcass. Looked pretty bad, according to him, and that was enough for me. I turned my brain back on, parked the bike and the next day Sugar Booger and I hitched a ride home with the support team.

Later, after trailering the bike home, I took the wheel off and shoved it across my glass smooth garage floor and it was so out of round that it made only a couple of revolutions before falling over. I’ve been running this brand of tire for several years and never had a problem, but now I was a little bit concerned about buying another one. However, according to Lou, there is less than a two percent failure rate on all tires and the odds of this happening again were even, no matter the manufacturer. He said if I liked the tire, by all means buy another one. So I did.

When I think about how hard we rode Push Mountain that day on a tire that was literally coming apart at the seams, it gives me the willies. I actually risked our lives because I was too hard headed to admit there was a problem. I dared to be a fool and that’s a dangerous thing on a motorcycle. But to paraphrase an old proverb, it’s also the first step towards wisdom. Lesson learned.

Merry Christmas from Dixie


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