Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Was it the heat or a confluence of bad luck which made Tuesday so chaotic and destructive. By the end of the day, fully 20% of the motorcycles had taken a free ride on the back of a truck or trailer, (at least for a short while), and 5 motorcycles had shaken hands with the pavement, with two bone breakages as the struck bargain. Four flat tires, two total compression failures, four clutch teardowns and rebuilds, a mysterious graunching transmission, horrible rich running, etc... by lunch, some of us wondered if this were indeed the Terminator Rally.

The day began innocently, clear and warm at 8am as usual, and the route promised to be fairly straightforward, with a pig-roast feast in a vineyard as our pot of gold at the end. My 'posse' of the morning consisted of me riding the Endurance (which I had happily escorted home the prior afternoon), Dai on the 'Zumac' (a bored-out Velo MAC at 430cc) which had gone spare as its eponymous owner wasn't feeling at all well, and Uncle Brian on a borrowed Moto Guzzi V65, surely the most reliable machine of the bunch. Which of course proved the folly of assumptions, when the u-joints on the drive shaft disintegrated 20 miles from the start.

It seemed prudent to let Brian wait for a Chase Truck to snatch the Guzzi, while I rode Dai back to camp to grab my Norton Atlas, which suddenly needed a rear tire after 240 miles at 100 degrees.

Dai thus took posession of the incredibly leaky and bits-falling-off Endurance, which was poetic justice, as Dai's machines are always immaculate; a wayward drop of oil merits a rise of blood pressure and hasty investigation. Thus, to be saddled on a machine purported to shed 2 quarts per day over itself, the rider, and the greater world, held a sweetly smirking irony. He would simply have to Cope.

I blasted into town on the Norton, and rode back out again wearing a new rubber sash over my shoulder - it took a visit to 3 motorcycle dealers to find an 18" tire narrow enough to suit an old bike, but who's complaining? I bought a spare innertube, Just In Case. Thinking I might have missed my ride-mates at Dead Guzzi junction, judicious throttle application had me at that lonesome spot in a jiffy - only to find... Uncle Brian slumped against a concrete barrier, with no Dai or Chase Truck in sight, 1.5 hours later. This was double-plus ungood (in Newspeak), as the temperature was now hitting the Ton, and Brian is nearly 70. Luckily, the Truck appeared soon, and the Guzzi was loaded up.

Now we had to sort out if Brian's artificial leg would shift the Zumac! Uncle Brian, (whose photo you may have seen here) you see, has a very long history of motoring miscreantism, and around 1960 he lost a leg on a Triumph Thunderbird very late at night, post-pub, taking a favorite bend quite a bit faster than his usual hot pace, just after passing a local in a car... 'I'll either make it or be dead' he thought, before waking up in hospital. In truth, he hasn't slowed much since then.
Finding he could in fact shift gears, we set off, wondering where on earth Dai had got to.

We had all agreed to have lunch at the Quilchina Hotel, a Victorian anomaly in dead flat sagebrush plain, and as I arrived first, goal #1 was to get out of the Heat and into the Kitchen for lunch. As I relaxed at my table, I saw Uncle Brian pass by, flat-out on the MAC, with nary a sideward glance for the big pink hotel. That was the last I saw of him until the end of the day...and I admit to a moment of concern, as Brian couldn't kick-start the bike with his lack of leg. I reflected that we all attend Rallies looking for a bit of adventure, but the adventure we get is usually not the adventure we've chosen! So, Brian's day would clearly be a little different than he might have imagined...

Within a few minutes, Dai appeared on the Leaker, and lamented both oiliness and a general looseness to every nut and bolt on his mount. Dai's disconcerting habit is to go over a borrowed motorcycle with sockets and spanners, tightening Every nut and bolt on the machine, prior to riding it. Having watched him do thus to two of my motorcycles in the past, I chuckled inside that our morning game of musical bikes hadn't allowed him time to spanner-tune his machine, and Things were Falling Off. Not 3 miles from lunch in fact, he motioned me to the side of the road for a navigational query, not realizing that the rear mudguard was swaying from side to side like a happy tail. Every nut holding it fast had jumped ship... luckily a stash of stray bolts on the Chase Truck made everything secure, except for the taillamp assembly, which required a veritable prosthesis of electrical tape to hold in place.

Thus we continued through the Country-music-star-mural bedecked town of Merritt, heading north towards smaller and more interesting roads. Which luckily included the wonderful Otter Lake road, which while unpaved, varied in terrain from snaking baked volcanic boulders to sweet floral lakeside grasses. The only real hazard was a succession of massive logging trucks, truly hauling ass down this firm dirt track, leaving just enough room for a motorcycle to squeeze alongside without damage, but giving no quarter otherwise. See the film!

And, something Happened for me along this 40-mile stretch... I've described the experience previously as near-sexual, when road and rider and machine find a harmony of movement and sensation. Suffice it to say it was a kind of two-wheeled Bliss, and I literally could not have been happier during that extended moment. If I could bottle the feeling, I'd be a very rich man. Perhaps I am already, simply having felt thus for so many hours. I was astonished when I asked Dai at the end of this road, full of energetic happiness, how his ride had been, and he answered, 'Tiring!'.

As we neared our destination of Keremeous and the Crow's Nest Vineyard, the temperature climbed further, and we heard tales of two flattened rear tires - one of which caused a dramatic wipeout, resulting in the rider's leg being broken in 3 places... That's the kind of event which sets every motorcyclist to wondering. Still, by the end of the day, the mechanical carnage seemed to have stabilized, and once again those with afflicted machinery set to work after a relaxing hour on the patio with German beer, and a meal of whole roast pig with spaetzle and kartoffeln salat - the winery is owned by Deutsche expats, in a river plain surrounded by high mountains. Sleeping on the grass next to the vines was just about nice.


pete the old bike guy said...

Before everybody gets the wrong idea, not all the bikes broke down. In fact, most of them did very well. And the 5 oldest bikes on the rally (pre WWII) rode all week without needing a wrench.

If anything, there was a disproportionate amount of newer bikes that had issues. 2X modern Guzzis, Commando, new repop sidecar, etc.

But it doesn't matter. The bikes are made to be ridden. Get out there and enjoy yours!

The best way to make your bike reliable is to ride it. A lot.


Anonymous said...

Hey Paul,

I came across your blog a while back and really appreciate your work. Very well written.

I am planing on putting a link to your blog on my page in the hopes that you might do the same someday.

Thanks again,


p.s. we are in the early transformational stages of our site

R.Dress said...

Hi Paul,

Wonderful photos, clips, and descriptions of your latest excursion. It's unfortunate that there where so many casualties along the way. I wish you all the best. I'm wondering if there are any folks in your posse that carrie sketch books, or written journals besides you. If So I'm interested to have a look and see. Happy trails!!!


Elizabeth said...

hey! that's kim! keep the rubber side down, y'all!

Anonymous said...


A friend who recently relocated himself and his vintage car business to Oregon sent me a link to your blog, which I enjoyed immensely.

Perhaps you know there's a photo of you (I think) on Phantom Oiler, shown w. Charlie Taylor, at

OMG, that's NINE years ago... sigh.

Anyway, I'll put a link to your closely similarly named blog on PO when time allows. I'm delighted to see what you've been doing and look forward to seeing you on one of the rides again.

Best regards,

Tom Davenport
perpetrator of Phantom Oiler

Anonymous said...

what happened on day 3?