The third Brokebike Mountain Ride was to be the charm, the previous two leaving Beemer Jim and his 1995 BMW R100 GSPD Classic broke down on the road back to Seattle. The first brokebike adventure was with a dead battery. The second was a broken wire. With a new battery and wiring reconnected, he met me this year in Wyoming, after two uneventful motoring days.
His only complaint was a small oil leak that had been letting droplets from the head gasket. It had been leaking the year before. I had stopped it by wedging a bit of cloth from a shop rag tightly between two of the cylinder fins.
Over the winter he’d forgotten about the leak until he was back on the road to meet me and the cotton wedge had disappeared. Noticing it was gone and droplets of oil on his boots, he attempted a flimsy roadside fix the first night. It was such a feeble bodge that the cotton wedge disappeared shortly after starting the next day.
When we met, he said the motorcycle was running fine but he was not happy about the oil drip. I looked at his 25 year-old boots, soles re-glued and bits of stitching missing, and said, “Hey, that little bit of oil on that shitty old boot is nothing compared to what it will take to replace the leaking head gasket. I’ll wedge another cotton rag in the spot where it’s leaking and likely you won’t lose more than a pint of oil over the next 4,000 to 5,000 miles.”
I explained what and how long it would take to replace the head gasket and that at 65,000 miles he might as well do the rings, valve guides and a valve job while everything was apart. That would mean two or three days downtime if I could schmooze legendary BMW airhead Guru Bob Clement in Montana to fit the job in his very busy summer schedule.
To me, the oil leak was winter work. The summer days we had left were for riding days with a minor oil drip, nothing compared to some of the American-made oil leakers I’d owned in the past. We could just keep changing the oil tampon each day, and over the winter Beemer Jim could not only have the head gasket and valve job done, but could also purchase a decent set of new boots.
But replacing the gasket prevailed and Guru Clement agreed to slide the two-to- three hour job in between his other work. We’d lose two days of riding around, up and over the Rocky Mountains, but the problem would be solved. Off to Clement’s shop in Roberts, Montana we went.
As Clement was removing two of the long head bolts he said, “These were both loose, and why the gasket was not tight, thus leaking. I don’t know why they were loose, but I have a dark premonition that I can’t wash away with the fine wine you guys brought for dinner tonight. We’ll button things back up in the morning and do a 50-mile break in, then check the valves and see if the long bolts are at the 25 ft. lbs. after the engine cools down.”
Fifty miles later the valve check was done and two of the head bolts were not within spec. A meeting was held, a decision was made to pull the cylinder head off again and Heli-Coil the two bad bolts, requiring another four to five hours.
Beemer Jim could not wait, had power meetings, so left the motorcycle with Guru Bob to fix, and while at it, do the valve guides and valve job. The plan was for him to fly back a week later and ride to Seattle. Guru Bob got his side done and did a 60-mile ride, then checked torques and clearances. All seemed OK. He handed the Ultimate Riding Machine over to me and I did another 300 miles, some in the snow, to meet the second check mileage.
Not good. The two long bolts, even with expertly installed Heli-Coils, had loosened started to pull loose. The ultimate fix would be steel inserts made specifically for Guru Bob to compensate for the soft engine case metal. It also meant more time and work to get the old BMW to quit dripping oil.
The telephone call to Beemer Jim was a sad one. With snow in the Rockies he was not going to attempt the 1,200 mile ride back to Seattle until warmer spring or summer weather, or maybe beg or rent a trailer slot on some trailer going from Billings, Montana to Seattle.
So the Brokebike Mountain Ride Saga continued for the third year in a row. Beemer Jim left Seattle each year with a solid running BMW, only to have it fail him on returning to Seattle, where it would sit in cold storage until the following July or August.
I suggested our tentative plans for Brokebike Mountain Ride 2018 might be circling Lake Washington for five or six days. With three BMW local service centers we would never be far away from a parts depot and service bay, plus we could sleep at his house each night, drink beer and talk about the “When wees,” as in “when we used to meet, bond, explore and adventure for a week and your machine would always make it home.”
Not a giver-upper, Beemer Jim has suggested a run down his place in Cabo San Lucas for 2018. I agreed, but only if we take a chase truck and trailer with a spare motorcycle. Beemer Jim asked, “Why, when mine will be all fixed up by then?”
My reply was, “These adventures are supposed to be fun. There’s no Guru Bob down there in Baja and AAA won’t collect you like they did in Spokane. When your 30 year-old Ultimate Riding Machine breaks down there, our best option is to trade it with the one on the trailer, or get one of the locals with a coyote gun to put it out of its misery. The biggest risk element of our adventures has not been crashing on boulders, being chased by bears or blown off the sand track by high dusty winds, but rather whether or not you make it home. The Brokebike Mountain Ride can easily become The Baja Beach Busted Beemer Adventure Ride.”
This story originally appeared in our January 2018 issue, which you can read in all its original high-res glory here.