There is never a dull moment when you are counting on 45 year old motorcycles to carry you hundreds upon hundreds of miles on a road trip.
Its not that the bikes are unreliable, it’s just that things back in the day required a bit more tinkering to maintain than some people are used to.
There is no electronic fuel injection, there are carburetors which require careful cleaning and tuning. There are no check engine lights and computerized diagnostics, there is only what you can see, smell, hear and feel. Things like brakes and clutch cables can work their way out of adjustment and need to be reset. There are components that should be checked for wear, for enough grease or oil, and for signs of leaks or cracks.
Aside from requiring regular routine maintenance, when you own a vintage motorcycle there is a pretty good chance you have had all (or at least some) of that bike apart before. Which, in turn, means that you put it back together yourself as well. I don’t know about you, but I’m actually not quite perfect, and I do make mistakes from time to time… do you see where this is going?
I remember a welding instructor I had telling the class, “9 times out of 10 when you are welding, and you smell something burning, its you!”
I think the same type of statement could be made about things going wrong on your vintage motorcycle. I think just about 9 times out of 10 if there is something wrong with your vintage motorcycle, its probably something you’ve already worked on. When something needs adjustment, comes loose, starts to leak, or falls off, there is a damn good chance its because you’ve already been aware of some type of issue and have been messing with it.
I am frequently someone who encourages others to pursue mechanical hobbies and to teach themselves how to work on their own vehicles and projects. So, obviously I dont want to discourage anyone from attempting this kind of thing. I’m not suggesting anything other than the fact that when things go wrong on your old vintage motorcycle, and you’ve been working on that bike, there is usually some intuition of a problem before it comes up.
Well on day just the second day of my summer long road trip I had a moment where this was the case for me, only to an extreme.
I single handedly, in a matter of seconds, was able to cripple my motorcycle to the point where it was not safe to ride.
Thats right… It worked fine, I started messing with something and the whole thing went to hell in a hand basket before I knew what had even happened.
Well for the sake of full disclosure, it wasn’t all single handed. Dirk was right there with me making the same incorrect assumptions about the same problem that I really didn’t actually have in the first place.
Allow me to explain. We had stopped for gas and some coffee after leaving a campground in eastern PA and we were stopped not too far Lancaster. Amish country, if you are not familiar (I wasn’t.)
I noticed that it looked like my fork tubes had moved a little bit in the triple clamp and wanted to investigate.
Not something you want moving around on you. I noticed that one bolt was a little loose and could be tightened up. But then Daryl noticed a washer in the clamp that seemed out of place.
We both agreed that this washer looked out of place and was clearly put there by a previous owner. I assumed that the clamp couldn’t tighten all the way with that washer there and thats what made the fork tubes slip.
Yeah, go ahead and take that washer on out of there and clamp it up good, right?
Wrong. That washer is there from the factory, because it needs to be there. That washer was doing its job since November of 1970, until I came along and pulled it out…
When that bolt in the clamp got maybe half a turn on it, the clamp cracked all the way though. It’s made of cast aluminum and it broke off like it was made of ceramic.
Well, sh*t. Thats a pretty important piece. Our first thought was to try and get a replacement. I looked on eBay and craigslist to see what I could find somewhat close by.
There’s one for a ’77… here’s one for an ’82… there’s a ’71, but it’s in Maine…
This went on for a bit, until we decided to change our approach and look for a welder instead and repair the one I have.
It was a pretty clean break and aside from being cast, and being aluminum, it seemed like an easy enough fix to me. I checked google maps and we called a welder who was 6 miles away who said he would take a look at it.
I tightened the remaining 3 clamps up good and rode the bike a very slow, cautious 6 miles and we arrived at his welding shop.
This was an amish metal shop, and the small children were staring at us from the windows and scattered when we looked at them. A guy around my age came out the back door and introduced himself as Ivan.
Ivan politely told us that he didn’t want to work on my bike.
He said it was because he wasn’t comfortable with it being on a motorcycle and it being steering related. Both of which he was told on the phone. I don’t know, I think Ivan wasn’t too excited about us being there… but like I said, very polite guy.
We saw another place, just a few doors up the street on the way there, that also said it did welding. So, we went there after Ivan told us he didn’t know of any other welders at all in the area.
Well, unfortunately this second place (also Amish run) only welded steel. However, they were very helpful and friendly. They got us in touch with another gentleman, not far away, who has an aluminum shop.
We talked to him and he said that he would do the job and to come by the shop. So off we went, as carefully as I could. We pulled into the aluminum shop about 15 minutes later. We spoke to the young guy who was running the joint, and he was willing to help us out.
He couldn’t have been 30 years old yet. Tall, skinny and he had his right hand in a bright orange plaster cast. He was MIG welding some truck beds together when we arrived, jumping in and out and swinging around them like a monkey!
He greeted us with a smile, still wearing his brimless welders cap and we discussed how to fix the part.
We needed to remove it from the bike to be welded because there is a rubber seal at the top of the fork tube, cable housings and wires would get hot, and brake fluid and fork oil would get heated as well.
Daryl and I tore down the front end with our own tools in the dirt lot while the guys in the shop continued about their day. Behind the shop was a pasture with several miniature horses in it, and beyond that was field after field to the horizon.
Once the part came off the Amish aluminum welder worked his magic.
Daryl asked him to add some material at the weld and I think that worked out great. They used a small amount of aluminum rod across the crack after welding the crack its self.
The part was air cooled to keep its strength and then we reinstalled it on the bike. The fit-up is perfect. Im very impressed. The piece has got to be stronger than when it was made.
I happily put the bike back together smiling the whole time. To top it off, we thought it was going to rain and the sun was starting to come out.
Once my bike was together, I went back into the shop to track down the dude with the cast on his hand. I asked him what I owed him for his work and he kind of thought for a moment…
“Oh, I think ten dollars should cover it. Glad I could help”
This man’s honesty and integrity was obvious and it was very refreshing to see someone so humbly helpful.
He even asked me about my trip a little bit and I could see the curiosity in his facial expression. I assume the young man was not yet married, as he was clean shaven. I believe a beard is grown after marriage, but don’t quote me on that. I did know enough not to ask for a photo with him though.
I didn’t even realize the Amish had businesses like metal fabrication shops. I guess I always figured that they farm and do woodwork. So, it was an eye opener for me too, which is always good.
All said and done, I’m able to keep riding and I wouldn’t have been able to do so without the help I received. We will stay vigilant and keep tightening up the loose bolts and keeping things lubed and in good repair, but I am sure this isn’t the last mechanical bump in the road for us.
We are happy to be back on the road, and happy that you are following along. Don’t forget to find us on Facebook and Instagram if you haven’t already!