Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fixing the bike

As much as it sucked being stuck in northern Canada with a broken motorcycle and an unclear path home, I couldn't have picked a better place to have it happen.

I really ended up liking Whitehorse as a city. It's a small town that does feel like a small town, but not in the kitschy way that Dawson City or many of the other places I've gone through felt. It's large enough that the businesses exist not primarily to carter to any tourists that pass through, but to serve local residents. While there are some places that are touristed-up a bit, it's not that bad and retains a very real, functional feel. It's big enough that a number of national chains have operations here, and while I know a lot of people might bitch (fairly) about Wal-Mart being everywhere, after a weeks of plodding through tiny towns and trying to find the stuff I needed at absurdly expensive little general stores, that ugly blue sign is a welcome sight. There's also the staples of any small city there, Safeway, NAPA, an REI-type place, and even a Starbucks (Which I avoided in favor of a nicer coffee shop down the street).

The place is a good size; large enough to be convenient with easy access to stuff you need/want, but small enough that traffic isn't worth mentioning and you can walk just about anywhere you need to go. And for getting into the city from the outlying suburbs, there's a surprisingly comprehensive bus system, which was how I got downtown from where I was staying at the Motel/RV Park. The operator had taken pity on me in my situation, and let me pitch my tent in a little wooded clearing area behind a couple of the buildings.

I had damaged the bike on a Friday night, spent most of Saturday taking the side of the engine apart so I could get an idea of the damage, and then Sunday (while the dealer was closed) I mostly rested and searched around online for some ideas of what to do in my situation.

On Monday, when the dealer opened again, I went in to talk to their techs, and showed them the damaged crankcase cover to get their opinion on if it could be repaired, or if I needed a new one.

Unfortunately, they were of the opinion that there wasn't much of a way to repair this, by welding or epoxy, just because of where the cracks were right around a bolt hole. And truth be told, I kind of suspected that the moment I took the cover off.

This left me in need of a left crankcase cover for a 1997 Yamaha Virago 750, which wasn't available through the dealer in any reasonable time frame. They said they could probably get one from Japan, but it would take at least 2-3 weeks and I'd be looking at $350 just for the part. With that in mind, I spend the rest of the day turning to the wide world of the internet for help.

Of the number of motorcycle forums that I'm on, the one that came through for me in this regard was the Virago Owners Group. I posted a thread about my situation and what was broken, and only a few hours later I got an e-mail from a member who happened to have the exact part I needed! Three of them, in fact, laying around his garage. I can't tell you how happy I was to hear from him, and we quickly made arrangements for him to ship one of them ultra-express up to the Yamaha dealer that I had my bike at. I also ordered all of the various seals and gaskets that I was going to need from the Yamaha dealer, which were available on-continent and they said would only take a couple days to get in.

I spent the next few days mostly hanging around the RV Park, taking the bus into town, poking around the internet and generally un-winding. I couldn't have picked a better week to be stuck there: It was warm, almost too warm, getting up to 85 degrees almost every day, and hardly a cloud in the sky. On one of my trips into town, I went to the large sporting-goods store to get a replacement pump for my camp stove, which over the last few weeks had been acting up and not working very well.

Fast-forward to Thursday, and I wandered over to the Yamaha dealer, and look what was waiting for me!

Marty, I owe you one. If you're ever in Chicago, steaks are on me!

Because I was kinda far outside of town (And hadn't thought ahead when I was downtown), I was stuck buying all the stupidly overpriced chemicals that I needed from the dealer's parts counter. Five quarts of oil, brake cleaner, WD-40 clone, liquid gasket and all the various seals and gaskets that I needed totaled up to over a $100 to the Yamaha guys, and just the shipping on the crankcase cover was $100. Ah well, at least I had what I needed. I camped out in the parking lot and got to work.

And I'm not going to lie, at this point I was feeling kinda smug. All day there were people bringing their various bikes into the service department for really minor things, guys coming in for oil changes, brake adjustments, tire swaps, all kinds of little maintenance things that they were dropping the bikes off to have the techs do. And while they were writing checks, I was sitting in the parking lot happily taking apart the left side of my engine.

I felt pretty damn bad-ass :D

But my sense of smug-ness was dampened a bit later in the day, when a guy came in on a big Yamaha dual-sport, in the background here:

As he set about taking off his front wheel to get a new tire mounted, I struck up a conversation and asked him where he'd ridden from.

Now so far on this trip, whenever I asked another rider where they'd come from or how long their trip was, they'd inevitably puff up their chest and say something like "I rode all the way from SEATTLE" or "I've done a whole FOUR THOUSAND MILES!". And I smile and nod politely and probably compliment them on their shiny, clean, farkled up bikes, and then casually mention that I was the better part of 18,000 miles into a 27,000 mile trip. And then I would feel cool because my motorcycle-penis was so much larger then theirs.

So when this guy pulled in on a dirty, well-used bike, I asked him where he'd started his ride from. I wasn't prepared when he pulled off his helmet and said to me, in a thick accent: "Switzerland!"

. . .

Well that put me in my place. He was doing basically the trip I want to do in a few years, only in reverse. Started in Switzerland, went across Austria, Slovakia, the Ukraine, Russia, all around Japan, and now he was heading down to South America. And I thought I was hardcore, I mean goddamn.

Check out his website here (In German, but has a google translator):

I salute you Markus, for being way more badass then I!

Anyway, as the day wore on and I kept working on getting the crankcase cover re-attached (having to re-do it once when I forgot to put part of the clutch assembly in the correct position), the sun moving was quickly depriving me of my shade. I had to keep moving my workspace so as not to get roasted while working.

That evening, I managed to get everything together, started the bike up, and HUZZAH! It all worked! No leaks, everything was holding, and damn did I feel proud of myself. I even cleaned off the old cover just to take another picture of the hole I'd managed to punch in it.

This was the little plug of metal that the rock had so efficiently dislodged. I meant to hang onto it as a token/memento of my trip, but as I dig through all my pockets and containers now, it seems to have vanished. Ah well. : \

I rode the bike around town a little bit more, just making sure everything was holding, when I noticed another problem. Once the engine was running, it ran fine without problems, and there were no leaks best I could tell. But something was up with the starter, or the solenoid, or the starer gears. About 3/4 of the times that I tried start the bike, the starter would spin, but somehow wasn't engaging with the flywheel, it wasn't turning the engine over. I found that if I took off the little solenoid cover on the side, I could pop the gear into position using an allen wrench as a lever, and then the starter would engage and the bike would start just fine. Weird.

At this point, I had no idea what was wrong, but I was ITCHING to get back to riding. I had the Cassiar highway to take me back south, which I was really looking forward to, and I'd been sitting idle for way too long. And because I could at least get the bike started by bump-starting it, or popping the lever manually, I figured I could at least limp back south to where parts might be easier to find.

I was planning on leaving Friday, but ended up delaying another day because the road was closed to the south because of forest fires. When someone mentioned that to me, it finally clicked in my head that all week I'd been seeing these strange red airplanes taking off and landing like clockwork, and only then did I realize they were tankers, refilling from the river to drop more water bombs on the fires.

So that Saturday, exactly a week after I'd rushed into town in a cloud of blue smoke and oil squirting everywhere, I packed up the bike to head south.

If you're ever in Whitehorse, people, stay at this motel. The operator is a sweetheart, the rooms are nice, and every Saturday in the summer they grill out. I don't know what I would have done if it weren't for these people.

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