Improper Maintenance

It’s not often that I come up behind a rider who is slower than I am. Usually their engine is sputtering, and the rider is pointing to his tank or fuel petcock on its reserve setting as I squeeze past.

Last weekend I came up behind a rider who was so out of shape that he looked like he was planning a do-it- yourself appendectomy. The trail was lined with “punji sticks” left by someone who had cleared the face slappers with a machete.

If he fell off, he wouldn’t slide far, but he would certainly get some new ventilating holes in his magenta and orchid enduro jacket, the kind designed by a dry-cleaning franchise.

Just as I looked down and saw his rear axle nut was backed off, hanging on the last thread, the chain came off the rear sprocket, jammed the wheel to a stop and he went into a lovely all-crossed-up slide as he hung out over the front fender, all the time wondering if he was going to die in the punjis, get tenderized by the thumper that had been tailgating him for the last mile, or get tenderized by the thumper as he died on the punjis.

I got off to help him because he’d stopped with his front wheel up on a ridge of dirt, had his left toe on the ground and the bike balanced under his right knee which was stretched two feet higher than humanly possible and slowly losing its grip on the motorcycle seat.

In these situations I would normally pull out my little Olympus camera, but I didn’t do it this time because the bike could very well fall over and break the guy’s ankle.

Artwork by Mr. Jensen

Plus I was out of film.

I got between him and his motorcycle and he sort of shinnied up my back as I held the machine. First thing he did was rearrange his twisted pants and shorts. Second thing he did was rearrange his pants and shorts again because the splits had pulled his inner thigh muscles really bad.

After I let him rest for 20 or 30 seconds, I got him to steady his bike and hold the front brake on while I grabbed under the front tire to lift it off the ridge. This didn’t work too well, however, because the wheel spun. He was holding the front brake lever but the only effect it had was squeezing bubbles of brake fluid from a crack in a hose fitting that looked like it had been chewed by a large, angry carnivore.

I told him to lift one fork leg as I lifted the other. As we set the thing down on level ground I noticed the fork on my side was bent like a hockey stick for a tall center.

Someone must have suggested he turn the legs around and hit the same tree at the same speed to straighten the tubes again, so I didn’t bother.

As I pushed his bike backwards off the trail, he duck-walked along digging the chain from between the sprocket bolts and swingarm. The handlebar felt sloppy, and I noticed a distinct wobble in the steering head bearings, a missing allen head bolt on a clamp and maybe four missing spokes in the front wheel. It felt like there were between two and two-and-a-quarter pounds of air in the front tire. When I shook the handlebar the bike felt like a foam-rubber imitation of a motorcycle.

Just out of curiosity, I hung around to watch him adjust his rear wheel and tighten the axle nut. He had just one tool, a 19” pair of Vise Grips with an unusual modification: he’d once used them to clamp something on to a three-rail trailer he was arc welding together and some stray amperage had gotten to the Vise Grips, welding them solid. So he slid the immovable jaws onto that axle nut, slid a nickel and a dime under one jaw to take up the slack and cranked the nut until it scrunched tight, then he stomped it tighter with his boot. “To give it foot-pounds,” he explained.

He had to back off the rear brake adjustment because the wheel’s new position had pulled the brake full on and the wheel wouldn’t turn. He adjusted the wing nut, which only had one wing remaining, with two pennies, a quarter and a flat washer jammed in the Vise Grips.

When I asked how the rear brake shoes were holding up he said they were just fine, just fine, he only had to shim out the cam twice, once with a strip cut from a Pennsylvania license plate, and once with two strips cut from a Pennsylvania license plate.

One glance at the original paint on the oil filter screws convinced me that this motorcycle should be laid to rest ASAP. So I stuck my foot so far into my mouth I deep throated the whole boot by saying, “Guess you’ll be trading this old baby in soon, huh?”

“Are you crazy, baldy?!?!” he screamed back. “I’ve still got three more payments to make on this one.”

This story originally appeared in our October 2017 issue, which you can read in all its original high-res glory here.

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