Saturday, November 14, 2009

It's Hard, Wiring

Motorcycling is always an adventure. Sometimes the biggest adventures occur while the bike is still in the garage. Or at least they do if you have me assisting in the repairs.

How did it escape my notice, after living in this universe for so very many years, that everything is so damn connected? Take the insides of my motorcycle, for example. Even a regular old carbureted bike, such as I am used to, is intricate beyond my wildest imaginings; throw in a fuel pump, and I get lost in the maze.

It all began with my desire for higher visibility to those whose sport it is to turn in to the path of oncoming motorcycles. I wanted Motolights
so I could paralyze them into inaction, or at least be able to accurately gauge my speed because the wattage is triangulated.

Seems simple, right? Install some auxiliary lights, under the tutelage of my Enabler (or is that Procurer?), the man who above all is responsible for getting me back on a bike. A knowledgeable fixer of K75s, because he is a prodigious rider of them (not to mention others). He would come to my house and, for a paltry fee as that is the only kind of fee I can rustle up, wire the lights, and that would be that.

That is rarely that, however, when you start disassembling a machine that was put together for maximum sensation in a minimum package.

All was going quite well at first. (This is the wrenching-tale analog to "Once upon a time . . . " and is usually followed by the appearance of wolves in the woods.) I wasn't altogether crazy about suspending the gas tank a few inches above the frame--the wires needed to be laid underneath it--by means of straps around the garage-door runners, but I had to trust in the guide who knew much, to my little. His belief that it is unwise to disconnect fuel line that has probably never been off the bike in its entire life did follow my previous experience--nothing ever wants to go back on as easy as it comes off. That's axiomatic.

By six in the evening, cold and dark, and especially so in my cold and dark garage, we had amassed a short list of items needed from the auto parts store, as well as a hunger for dinner. We could satisfy both in one trip, then get back and continue in the cold and dark. So that when the sun rose in its warm and accustomed way, I would be ready to ride. There hasn't been half enough of that lately, and I was keenly aware that the waning days of autumn would be offering fewer and fewer opportunities (without personal wiring, to full heated gear that is). I felt anxious to be back on the bike, and the National Weather Service for once was smiling broadly on the coming weekend.

That must have been what did it, then. Or too much logic in my brain, with its well-worn pathways that continuously ran this message every time I left home: "Better close the garage door, because you don't necessarily need passersby to know you have a nice ride and a few good tools in here."

You know that moment? The "oh shit" moment that follows so closely behind an instinctual action that it's all over before you can reach out and pull it back from the past and into the present? --Into the present where you can stop a calamity.

The door was halfway down when I heard it and realized what I'd done in the same instant. I wanted to turn away, not see. Or turn into someone else. Or . . . Oh, I don't know what I wanted. It was a million things at once.

The tank was upside down on the concrete floor. The fuel-return tap--the one we had been carefully protecting by not taking the line from it--was sheared off and still seated at the end of the line, staring at us in blank innocence. As it in fact was. Machine parts do not have emotions. They have no intentions. Although at times it is impossible not to think of them as trying to teach you hard lessons indeed.

Now the adventure began. It took us to Kingston; to many points on the United States map by way of cell phone call to the voices of disembodied people who might, but did not, have the part that was a hoped-for solution; to the car wash on 28 to slop out the rest of the gas--what gas, that is, that hadn't already splashed out on the driveway, on our hands, on our clothes; and to western New Jersey in the car, tank lashed to the roof. It took my seer and guide into his basement in the small hours of the night, attempting to drill out the tap in preparation for a new something to be installed in its place, while I slept the sleep of the damned in my clothes on top of a guest bed. It took us to a specialty hardware store in the morning; it took us to the parking lot of a welder, closed on Saturday. And it took us to the near edge of despair, as the possibility of a fix being eventuated either before the end of the month or the end of the bank account looked increasingly grim.

And that was the moment where the crossed wires in my mind uncrossed for a second, and I remembered the friend who was a metal fabricator. A quick call ascertained that he did indeed weld aluminum. Another two and a half hours north ensued.

Two hours after arrival, the tank, now miraculously repaired (there was danger, there, in the thin place on the skin of aluminum where a torch was to play), was riding pillion with my Enabler on its way back to the, uh, cold and semi-dark garage.

Twenty-four hours of mechanical adventure now put us twenty-four hours behind, and to a necessary caesura where the knowledgeable half of this duo had to return home to attend to business. The bike would wait, patient, for days. Days in which its blood supply was drained, the tank quiet and unheeding on a blanket. I would wait, too, for another chance to ride, because it sure as shooting wasn't going to be that weekend.

Frustration is a part of this game, the part where you pay for the intermittent joys. Something that delicious has to be expensive. I pay for my rides with scheduling mishaps, weather delays, and the occasional smash-up of well-laid plans by trying to make a long line of dominoes all standing on edge, but instead brushing the first one with a sleeve and watching the whole line topple in a flash. We all have to pay the happy-ride bill sometime, somehow.

Flash forward four days. The work resumes. The pieces go back into the tank, one by one. (And I hadn't even known there were pieces in this tank; the collateral benefit of this small disaster is that now I know. Sort of.) They don't go back in precisely as they were: long exposure to gas additives has crumbled the pump's rubber sleeve so that it leaves black flecks behind--"That's what that filter is for," I'm told, though I still don't like anything in there, including the two hairs, one from Nelly and one from me, that I fish out from the bottom in disgust--and the plastic fitting that should click into place never really does. But finally, finally, we are ready to pour back in what gas we had managed to capture in a red plastic can as it spurted wildly out from the broken tank nearly a week before.

The bike had not expended all its adventuresome spirit yet, though. Because soon this gas was spreading out again from under the tank; now it was dripping from one of the four bolts on the plate that hold the wiring for the pump. Again, it was getting late at night; how much more can go wrong? I thought. "Unfair" came to mind, but of course only the bike determines the moral laws of its own universe. And in that universe, gaskets that have been continually wet don't want to be dried out for four days, and that's that.

Yet another emergency phone call; thank goodness for the people like Paul Glaves, who not only know everything there is to know about the K75, but who will pick up the phone at all hours and patiently answer breathless questions. "Put something under to catch the gas, and I predict it will stop by morning." The self-healing break: such things are rare in motorcycles. We both had our doubts. But in the morning, the adventure had run its course. The leak had stopped. My bike was back.

There was only time for a twenty-five-mile shakedown run: I could barely hope that it was indeed fixed, and that something so infinitesimal we could not conceive of it had not been forgotten, now laying in wait to halt the proceedings. But no. The Valiant K started right up. She was restored, her old self, the one who beneath me always said quietly, in the sound of her fuel pump that is sometimes louder than her engine, Run and run and run and run . . . That is what I imagine she's saying, anyway.

I had almost forgotten how to ride, it had felt like that much time. But suddenly I remembered again. It never takes long. I remembered, oh yes.


Steve said...

Motorcycling gives us so many unexpected experiences, doesn’t it? Many of them the sort of encounter that we would never wish for, but after we’ve survived it the memory is cherished far more than if all had gone as planned. And then frequently there is that little scar that reminds us of that moment when a simple conditioned action started an adventure; I’ll bet that the K75 tank has one that will jump out at you every time you wash her.

I’m sure that there are plenty of references to building character that could be applied to a situation like this, but when in the middle of some calamity I wonder to myself “How much character do I really need?” :-)


ren said...

You know the adage: Measure twice, cut once. Well, this week, I did just that At the end of the cut, however, I had that "Oh, shit." moment because, although I had measured twice, the measurement, twice, was the wrong one. Cripes. Sigh.

Glad to hear, though, that the K is going and so are you. Will you post a picture of the real thing for us to worship? Sweetness and light to you.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

As with our wrinkles, every one of which tells a story, the scratches and dents on the BMW's tank simply say, "This bike has lived." That's what my dents and scratches say, too.

So all's well that ends well.

The moral of the story is that everyone makes mistakes. Except you, Ren: I thought you were somehow exempt!

John Leffler said...

How good of you to admit to the world actions the rest of us would rather remained unnoticed in our garages or basements. So we can nod in agreement, chuckle, and think "I'm not the only one."

Did you ever get the lights installed?

John L

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Yes, what does it say about me that I so willingly broadcast my embarrassments to the public?

The lights are indeed on, and they are *bright*. If they don't do the trick of alerting drivers to the presence of a motorcycle in their midst, then nothing will.

I'll be having a more or less professional picture taken soon of the bike underway (for Motolights testimonial purposes) and will post it here so you can see the effect.

Charles said...

is your alternator putting out enough wattage to power the lights, recharge the battery, AND run electric vest?


Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Never be sorry for injecting reality into my dreamworld, Charles.

Yes, I thought about the power drain. If I'm ever sitting in traffic long--which I hope never to do, of course--I switch one or the other off. Hope that will do the trick.

The next thing was going to be heated grips, but I will have to ascertain that I have the juice before I go there. Was wishing I had them today . . .

Steve said...

I would think that you will have enough power.

The alternator is rated at 460 watts (assuming that it is fully functional). Gerbing states that a full jacket liner draws 77 watts, a vest 54. Hot Grips quotes 3 amps, so 36 watts there (Aerostitch rounds it up to 40 watts). I'd guess that the lights might be 55 watts each (did it say on the package?).

So about 225 watts of additional load on top of whatever the original lights, fuel pump and ECM draw (I couldn't find that quickly). Definately worth checking to be sure that there is enough power available, but I think you can do it.

Heated gear! Is my envy starting to show? :-)

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Wow, thanks for the info, Steve--you now get to ride this bike whenever you want.

The only thing that should stop you from buying a heated vest or jacket (apart from lack of power) is lack of $$$. Otherwise, get it *now*. It changes everything. Want to feel like you can ride forever? Be warm while doing it.

mike laatsch said...

What? No Moto Guzzi available as backup?

As for your gas tank trials and tribulations, the quote that comes to mind is, "if it ain't broke, futz with it until it is...."

Warm in Cincinnati and the ride is on.....

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

The Guzzi is still, uh, "in process."

The best things are worth waiting for.

I joked with my assistant/mentor that I was working hard on my proficiency at breaking things. That was a stellar day for my education!

While not as warm here as it is there, my ride is on, too. Vive le weekend.

Steve said...

If I'd been paying attention to the link I'd have known that the Motolights have 35 watt (each) standard bulbs and 50 watt optional bulbs. So the reserve of electrical power is greater still than I was thinking.

I had an electric jacket liner and electric gloves in my former motorcycle life, but they have been stored away (for 12 years and 2 moves) and I haven't dug down to that level in Tut's Tomb. The budget is pretty tight, so there is motivation to keep looking for now. My envy is well founded :-)

Maybe one day we will be on a ride together, Melissa, and then I'll take you up on your offer! Probably no ride for me this weekend, cold and wet on Saturday, and then air travel late Saturday evening. Enjoy your rides!

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Hey, Steve, that's weird: I had a former motorcycle life, and it too was stored for 12 years and two moves. (Cue eerie music.)

When I finally unpacked that big box marked "motorcycle," there at the bottom was my Widder vest. And though I get razzed about it now, you know what? It works, and it keeps me warm.

I don't have the money to buy anything new other than the essentials. New rear tire soon, for instance.

My little brain works overtime often, and its feverish musings lately have to do with how to overcome the daunting logistics of a cross-country ride this summer. So maybe this as-yet fictive route could indeed provide an opportunity to trade bikes for a few miles.

Steve said...

That would be marvelous! I have a few favorite roads that I would love to share with you. One or two are probably worth the trip by themselves! :-)

I have had 2 coast to coast trips, both of which were when I was younger and better able to just throw a couple things on the back of the bike and leave. I now need to plan it out more, probably a sign of responsibilities. Great memories! I hope that you are able to put it together!