Travel & Adventure The Blessings Of A Busted BikeMechanical problems are a pain in the ass…but that's not always a bad thing.
- Words & Images Owen Clarke
It was a foul July day in Las Vegas. The temps were in the 110s, the sun was glaring down like the Eye of Sauron, and the whole city wallowed in a haze of auto exhaust blended with ripe sweat (or maybe that was just me).
I’d pulled my Triumph out of my storage unit in town, where I stash it while working abroad, and immediately realized I’d left the drain screws on the float bowls open. As soon as I opened the petcock, a steady stream of gas began dripping from both nipples. F***.
I’d flown into town with only a small bag for a short climbing trip to the Sierra Nevada, and had no tools at the storage unit. So I found myself in the idiotic position of being unable to simply turn the 4mm hex head screws closed.
Too cheap to call an Uber, I hopped on the bike and blitzed a few miles across the I-15 to AutoZone to buy an Allen wrench, cycling the petcock off and on, hoping to minimize the gas spilling out, but keeping enough in the line so the bike wouldn’t die. It was a futile effort, gas still spewed from the nipples, turning into a misty spray at 70 mph.
Surprisingly, AutoZone didn’t have any Allen wrenches. Instead, I snagged a screwdriver with a hex head. This got one of the drain screws tightened, but the left carb’s screw was stuck. I needed a bit more torque. I ran back inside, returned the screwdriver, and borrowed a ratchet from the guy behind the counter.
Back at the bike, I promptly made the situation a zillion times worse.
I’m sure you’re thinking, 'Dude, you’re an idiot.' And yes, there were several smarter choices I could’ve made at any given point in this nightmare.
Less than half a turn with the ratchet was overkill. The screw shot back into the bowl, cracking the back open. Gas flooded out uncontrollably. I raced over to Home Depot for some JB Weld to seal the bowl, gas still pouring out, and the battery died en route.
I had no tools, so couldn’t unscrew the seat to check for a loose terminal (which ended up being the problem). Instead, I pushed the bike nearly a mile to a shop to borrow their screwdriver.
I’m sure you’re thinking, “Dude, you’re an idiot.” And yes, there were several smarter choices I could’ve made at any given point in this nightmare. But it was 110 degrees, I was sweating like a brute, and I charged into every blind mistake full-on. At the end of it all, it felt like I’d run the 100-meter hurdles, except I hadn’t cleared a single one and they were all covered with nails.
Most people think of a broken bike as a problem. And it is, in a sense.
But what we often fail to realize in the moment is that every mechanical problem, no matter how large or small, is a chance to learn how to fix said problem and the related components of your bike. Busted float bowls give you a chance to learn about carbs. Stuck clutch plates, about your transmission. Battery problems, about your bike’s electrical system.
I certainly wasn’t thinking about silver linings at the moment, scouring the Internet for days to find bowls that matched my carb. The JB Weld held, but there was still a pool of gas below the bowl when I came out each morning. Worse, I could no longer back the screw out to drain the bowl. I needed a permanent fix.
So, I spent a few days roaming around Vegas, stopping in at all the bike shops to query, which mostly resulted in a bunch of Duck Dynasty-looking fellows elbowing each other and chuckling at my idiocy (“Hey Larry, I got a kid here who over-tightened the drain screw on his float bowl, har har har”). Unable to find any matching bowls for sale that would fit, I almost resigned myself to buying a used set of dual carbs on eBay for several hundred dollars.
I couldn’t believe that a single idiotic half-turn of a ratchet would end up costing me hundreds of dollars. It was an awful feeling. Most of my writing is in the outdoor recreation realm, and outdoor enthusiasts talk about different “types” of fun.
Type I Fun is enjoyable while it’s happening. Stuff like having sex, riding a roller coaster, and eating cotton candy. Type II Fun is awful while it’s happening, but fun in retrospect. Stuff like hiking a few thousand miles on the Appalachian Trail, climbing a hard route on a remote peak, or paddling around in a choppy storm surge for eight hours just to catch one perfect wave.
Busted bikes are Type II Fun. You always come out of the situation with more knowledge and confidence than you did going in. Maybe you’re a bit shorter on cash, or you’ve spent more than a few hours slaving away in the garage, but hell… that’s just part and parcel to owning a motorcycle.
Think about it like this. Every time you ride, you’re becoming a better rider, yeah? Well, every time your bike breaks, you’re becoming a better mechanic. Screwing with faulty carbs on roadside pullouts, fixing broken clutch cables in McDonald’s parking lots, peering around like a moto-Sherlock Holmes to find a pesky oil leak, mixing and matching old parts on eBay to see which one you can jam onto your ride.
It’s all a pain in the ass while it’s going on, but you always come out of it long on knowledge, if a bit short on patience, sweat, and cash.
A few days after my bumbling float bowl escapade, my buddy and I were stranded in Boundary Peak Wilderness, in the White Mountains on the California-Nevada border. We’d floundered our truck in a sand pit trying to ascend to a high ridgeline.
It was blazing hot, there was no cell service, and we were 20-odd miles from the nearest house, a shipping container home that looked straight out of Deliverance. We’d just hiked the 13,000-foot Boundary Peak that morning, so our water reserves were almost nil and we were already exhausted. In short, we were about to embark on a heinous escape from the wilderness.
After spending several hours trying to dig the car out, it was a foot deeper in the sand and smashed into the side of a nearby pine tree. Luckily, we scrambled up to a nearby ridgeline on a whim, and found a scrap of service, scoring a 4×4 tow. After the tow truck guy had hooked our truck and pulled it free, I thought back to my busted float bowl. “You wouldn’t happen to know any scrap yards around here, would you?” I queried at random. “Mate, you’ve any idea what I do when I’m not doing this?” he asked, grinning and tugging his ear. “I’m a f***in’ bike mechanic.”
Two days later, this guy sent me a text with a picture of the exact float bowl I needed. He’d pulled it off a KLR 650, and gave it to me for free. A week after I was back in Vegas, with a float bowl that was as good as new. Sure, my busted bike woes ended up resolving themselves almost magically, and most problems aren’t that painless of a fix. But I still learned something (albeit chiefly from making a mistake I’ll never make again).
The long and short… Busting your ride isn’t always a bad thing. You just might not realize it til after the wrenching is done.