Lifestyles of the Poor and Unknown

Thirteen miles out on New Hampshire’s Leon Dube Trail Ride was an unlucky number of miles to be. I was floundering across a creek, over rocks the size and shape of old portable TVs, when I noticed my left foot was under the skid plate of my big 600. It occurred to me that I should be feeling some pain, either right away or sometime in the near future.

Luckily, there was such a thick layer of clay on my boot that it just skidded over the rocks.

(Remember the World War II surplus combat boots all dirt riders used to wear? They were cheap, often blood stained, and the jangling sound from the metal rollers on the buckles made you wonder just how successful a night combat patrol would be.)

About 2.45 miles later—yes, they route the Dube run in hundredths of miles—the bike kicked itself to death on a rocky uphill and slow-mo’d 180 degrees, landing against a tree I recalled passing a few seconds before (but certainly never expected to see again quite so soon).

After a thorough inspection, I found that the front fender had an expensive looking kink in it, but when I jerked it free, it snapped back straighter than it was before.

Motorcycles used to have steel fenders whose life expectancy was a week to ten days, tops. The usual replacement was to lineate a Model A Ford tire (19 inch) which could be found hanging from nails along the walls of most garages.

Aluminum fenders were a joke—they would fatigue-crack on motorcycles parked in breezeways. First, they’d crack around the washers under their bolts, so you replaced these with larger washers, up to saucer size. When these also cracked, you moved the fender forward. However, if you rode on muddy trails, you had to lean to one side, away from the slop squirting out of the holes.

Artwork by Mr. Jensen

Some more technically-minded dirt riders mounted their fenders on stacks of rubber washers, which didn’t fatigue-crack around the bolt holes.

They fatigue-cracked on the rolled edges of the fender instead.

When this happened, these techno-wizards drilled a hole at the end of each crack. While this stopped the crack, it also left the fender looking like a connect-the-dots puzzle. Not only that, but the razor-sharp edges could do some serious bodily harm.

Regardless of the excellent equipment available today, there are still some riders who prefer to roll their own.

I once listened to one such fellow bench racing at an enduro awards banquet in Atlanta. It’s rumored that he travels to enduros on a Triumph 750, towing a Husky dirt bike on a trailer. The records show 13 consecutive events entered and 13 finished. This fellow is serious. 

When it was time for him to re-bore his old Husky, he utilized a World War II technique used to keep automobiles on the road. There were damn few new parts stores around so pistons were knurlized to expand them to fit the re-bored cylinder. The process, done on a lathe, dimpled the piston like a golf ball.

To make a long story short, this fellow knurlized his Husky piston with an icepick and hammer on his kitchen table. Not quite as shabby as making a rear sprocket from the bottom of an old fry pan, but high on my list of The Way We Usta Do It.

One dummy I knew (me) once relined a Bultaco’s rear brake shoes—with pop rivets—using brake lining designed for warehouse forklift trucks.

Understand now that warehouse forklift trucks very rarely cross creeks that are three to four feet deep. Consequently, the very first creek crossing I encountered caused my forklift-sourced brake linings to swell up so much that I couldn’t take the wheel apart. I had to pick up the rear of my bike and wheelbarrow the thing two miles back to my station wagon.

The fellow who later purchased that motorcycle called me one evening after he decided to replace the crank bearings. “Ed, I don’t know who you bought this motorcycle from but there are holes drilled in the case behind the crank bearings!”

I told him I had gotten it from Mel Downes, which was as tall a lie as I’d ever told.

The truth was that I was too ashamed to tell him that I never did have a bearing puller so I just drilled holes in the case and punched them out with ten-penny nails from the back side.

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