MC Dispatch
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The Aermacchi Project Part 4: Cleaning Up — and/or Shopping

Manual and notes
The factory manual exposes the inner workings of the Aermacchi’s 30mm VHB Dell’Orto carburetor.

It is a not-often-discussed fact that motorcycle restoration involves a lot of cleaning of parts. Unfortunately, the elves and pixies who turn up at 2 a.m. and move tools around in my garage so I can't find them the next day don't seem to want to clean parts. A while back, someone wrote The I Hate to Housekeep Book. It was a best-seller. I once asked Dave Kafton, my volunteer mentor, why he didn't have an apprentice or two. He said that most of his apprentices quit after several days of parts cleaning.

I am sitting here with a carburetor, which I have finally put back together. I am so glad that the Sprint has only ONE carburetor. Carburetors seemingly have several hundred tiny parts, all of which need to be squeaky clean, and many of which are easily damaged by too aggressive scrubbing. If you restore a Honda Four or a GS Suzuki, you have FOUR carburetors, and at some point may be tempted to run screaming into the night. There are tiny holes in various parts of the Sprint's carb, which have a tendency to gum up, and which have to be reamed out with tiny bits of soft wire. Too stiff wire will damage the holes. Argh.

Carburetor before cleaning
The Sprint’s Dell’Orto before cleaning.

The Sprint, being Italian, has a 30mm Dell'Orto, similar to the carburetors that were used on Ducati singles. A friend who used to collect Ducati singles came over and spent a couple of hours helping out. It became obvious that doing the job right was going to take at least a week. However, most of the work could be done sitting down, and when I got tired or pissed off I could stop.

I could also do what any other red-blooded American girl would do when presented with a tedious task: take a break and GO SHOPPING. Unfortunately, parts for old motorcycles are not for sale at the mall. My choices are: 1) Go to a swap meet and paw through boxes; 2) Call or email a store that specializes in parts for Sprints and see if they have my part; 3) If it's something generic — oil, tires, drive chains, chain lube — take a trip to my friendly local motorcycle dealer. (It's always a good idea to make friends with a local dealer. You never know when you will need their services.); 4) Check eBay or Craigslist; 5) Make friends with fellow enthusiasts. There are listservs, Yahoo Groups, Facebook groups and bulletin boards run by some of the larger vintage bike interest groups.

Surprisingly, there are enough Aermacchi enthusiasts around the country to support several parts specialists. There is also a very active Yahoo group. I know I need a new exhaust system, stock mufflers and the left side reflector on the headlight. I start posting my needs and calling around. The parts do exist and can be purchased without cleaning out my bank account. Feeling more positive, I return to scrubbing parts.

Carburetor after cleaning
The Sprint’s Dell’Orto after cleaning, ready for another round of service.

Finally, finally, I have a collection of clean carb parts. I also have a carburetor rebuild kit and a new needle, courtesy of Leslie from Moto Italia. Call him at (707) 763-1982. The next task was to carefully reassemble the Dell'Orto, replacing gaskets and other expendables with the items in the kit. Success! Now I get to — clean parts on the rest of the bike. I WILL get through this!

Stay tuned for the next episode of as the wrenches turn …

The Aermacchi Project, Part 3: Moving a Head and Making Tools 101

Bench grinder and wrenches
Wrenches modified on the bench grinder to aid in removing the Aermacchi’s cylinder head nuts. Photos by Margie Siegal.

I looked at the nuts holding the Aermacchi head down. They looked back at me. The two on the right side were recessed into little caves in the fins. There was no way a normal wrench was going to fit here, let alone a socket wrench.

I re-read the service manual. It said to take the four nuts off, and then the head was supposed to slide right off the head bolts, unimpeded by a head gasket. It also said that you needed a “thin bladed wrench” to get the right side nuts off. Off to find the right wrench. It doesn’t exist. Next step: MAKE the right wrench by grinding down an existing wrench to fit. This will be A Learning Experience. I do have a grinder, but have never used it.

A visit to a swap meet resulted in three open-end wrenches that had originally been part of a Honda tool kit, for the sum of $5. A visit to O’Reilly’s garnered a nice long wrench with both open and closed ends for $10. My volunteer mentor, Dave Kafton, suggested that the closed-end wrench might be the best solution. He also said that if I was going to grind the wrenches down to fit, I needed to have a pot of water near the grinder so I could dunk the wrench I was working on every so often. “That way, you maintain the temper.”

I found a nice, heavy-duty shop apron and a pair of work gloves. Home Depot has face shields that will guard against flying metal and not fog up. I turned on the shop fan, put on my safety gear and went to it. The old grinder went through my cheap wrenches quickly. I tried to round off rough edges as I went, dousing the wrench in water every five minutes. When a reasonable amount of metal had been taken off, I started checking the wrench against the bolt caves.

Rust on cylinder head studs
Rust on one of the four cylinder head studs made removing the head a bit harder than it should have been.

It took less than a half-hour per wrench for this newbie to modify two 17mm wrenches — one open end, one closed — to fit into the space with the nut. Interestingly, I didn’t have to take off any metal from the perimeter of the closed end wrench — just the top and bottom. I squirted the nuts with WD-40, tapped them and started in.

One nut off. Two nuts loose. More WD-40. Some Liquid Wrench. Tap tap with a copper hammer. Try a different angle. Third nut loose. Fourth nut loose. Success! Nuts and special thick washers off and stored in labeled baggie. Now to get the head off ...

It won’t budge. Damn. Tap tap. Drown the thing in Liquid Wrench. Tap tap. Nothing. Swearing doesn’t help. It’s time for me to stop for the day before I break off a fin. I complain to friends. One suggests I try squirting WD-40 down the spark plug hole and pushing on the kickstarter, so a few days later I try it. A crack opens! Squirt Liquid Wrench down the crack. Tap tap. It’s moving! I am moving a head!

Once I get the head off, I see the problem: one of the bolts had a rust spot and welded itself to the bolt channel. Next step is to see how deep the rust goes while the Norman Racing machine shop is doing the valve job. Stay tuned for the next episode of “as the wrenches turn ...”

The Aermacchi Project, Part 2: The Tank Follies and How to Apply Red-Kote

Inside of the gas tank

It’s a bit hard to see, but a close look inside the Aermacchi's gas tank shows the red-colored Red-Kote tank sealer. Photo by Margie Siegal.

“I've got bad news for you,” said Dave Kafton. Dave is a longtime engine builder, with a specialty in prepping Harley engines for Cannonball contestants. He had volunteered to mentor me through my Harley-Davidson Sprint project. The first item for his ment-ee (me, that is) was to get the tank and side covers off and bring them to him so he could get these items, all needing some touchup painting, to the painter, Steve Turnbeaugh. Dave sends all his sheet metal to Steve, as do a lot of other people in the Antique Motorcycle Club.

The bad news was a rusty seam in the bottom of the tank. Ouch. A major reason I had bought the bike was the really nice robin’s egg-blue custom paint job, complete with silver pinstriping. The work had been done in the 1970s by a Rhode Island pinstriper. Was this lovely paint now history? Much angst.

Lengthy discussions with Aermacchi specialists Dave and Ross Puleo, owners of Sonny's Motorcycle Repair, resulted in a possible fix: a careful interior coating with Red-Kote tank sealer. All agreed it was worth a try, especially me — I wanted to save that paint job!

Red-Kote is the tank sealer most often recommended by motorcycle restorers. It is available from a variety of sources, including Dime City Cycles. A 1-quart can is enough for one large or two small tanks. I bought a can and brought it over to Dave’s, along with duct tape and a lot of clear plastic. The first step was to carefully cover the tank with a double layer of plastic: Red-Kote is very hard on paint. I carefully scraped off the paint on the gas spout so that the tape would stick. Dave inspected. “It needs to be down to bare metal, like this, see?” More scraping, then two layers of plastic. The fuel valve was packed with rolled duct tape and secured with more duct tape.

Once the tank was mummified, the next step was to carefully clean out the tank. Kreem tank cleaner chemically bonds to rust and keeps it from chipping out. We poured some in the tank and carefully tipped the tank to cover all the rust spots. You watch and the red rust turns gray before your eyes. After using paper towels on a stick to clean out all the extra cleaner, we were ready to rock and roll with the Red-Kote — literally. We poured in about a pint. Dave had an oldies tape on, and I rolled the tank around to the music. The point was to coat all surfaces, with a thicker coat on the bottom. After a half-hour, the Red-Kote was thickening and the tank was coated to Dave's satisfaction. We poured out the extra and I went home. Dave called me the next day. “The Red-Kote looks like it worked.” Big sigh of relief.

Stay tuned for the next episode of as the wrenches turn …

The Aermacchi Project, Part 1: Lift On!

Margie Siegal's Harley-Davidson 350 Sprint
Margie Siegal’s new-to-her 1973 Harley-Davidson 350 Sprint. Made by Aermacchi in Italy, the single-cylinder Sprints are simple, reliable machines.

As some of you might have noticed, I write about bikes for this magazine. Talking to people about their restoration projects got me inspired to get a restoration project of my own. I wanted to find a simple, relatively light machine that was a nice balance between being a little unusual and having good parts availability. I also wanted a bike that would be fun to ride once I got it sorted out.

Russ Puleo of Sonny's Motorcycle Repair in Massachusetts sent me photos of a 1973 Harley-Davidson Sprint. Sprints are peppy machines that are fun to ride, they have only one cylinder, a reasonably low seat height (important for the inseam challenged), and the nice lines of almost all Italian bikes. Parts are reasonably available, and the 1973-1974 Sprints have an electric start. This Sprint had a period custom baby blue paint job in restorable condition with silver pinstriping. The paint job sold me. I bought it and had it shipped to my garage.

The next step was to ask questions and locate suppliers. Women like to ask directions before we get lost. Leslie from Moto Italia (call him at 707-763-1982) sent me a repro Harley-Davidson Sprint repair manual. “It's really detailed and clearly written. Harley had GREAT repair manuals at the time!”

“Don't look for a used lift,” said several people from the Classic Japanese Motorcycle Club. “What you need is this lift from Harbor Freight. It works really well and it is the same cost as a used lift.” I ordered the lift and laid in a supply of WD-40. I figured I would need it.

Margie Siegal's Harley-Davidson 350 Sprint odometer
The odometer shows a low 10,742 miles.

A FedEx truck pulled up outside my house and the driver trundled out this odd-shaped object wrapped in cardboard and clear tape. In fact, it was mummified in clear tape. Whoever packaged my lift was way too heavily enamored of his tape dispenser. Getting the tape off took almost as much time as assembling the thing. I finally gave up on getting the last pieces of tape off and started in on the assembly instructions, which were actually written in clear English, but didn't explain how to install the wheels. I figured it out anyway.

Friend Mike came over to help move bikes around to make room to get the Sprint on the lift. Mike has worked at different dealerships and repair facilities all his life and can move bikes in his sleep. He was a little skeptical of the Harbor Freight lift at first, but decided it would do the job. We looked at the bike. We looked at the lift. We realized that the exhaust system would have to go before we could get the bike on the lift. I started looking for the metric wrenches and WD-40. I took a peek at the manual. Despite having 10 pages on fork removal, adjustment and repair, it didn't have word one about the exhaust system. Mike and I figured it would be pretty straightforward — if we could get the bolts off.

Surprise! None of the exhaust system bolts were frozen! However, one bracket cracked. “It's an easy weld job,” Mike said. Easy for Mike to say — I have no welding experience whatsoever. Mike and I maneuvered the Sprint onto the lift and strapped it down. I now have lift on!

Stay tuned for the next episode of as the wrenches turn ...

Riding an MZ Across the US: Foreword

1970 MZ and PAV trailer

The teardrop-shaped PAV trailer was designed to match 1960s Jawa motorcycles, but still works visually OK with the more angular MZ.

Early retirement has a number of advantages, one of which being extra time to go traveling. Which is what I'll do the early summer of 2018, across the USA, on my 1970 MZ ES250/2. For the uninitiated, this is a 250cc single cylinder, two stroke motorcycle, built in the former East Germany. More about that bike later.

In 1982 I went coast-to-coast on a 1950s Nimbus, a Danish, hardtail 750cc inline four. Started out in New York City, and when three months later I reached Portland, Oregon, I was filled up with impressions and pretty much broke. So after a quick ride down Highway 1 to Los Angeles, the Nimbus was put in consignment there, and I flew back home. Didn't get to see Yosemite, Death Valley, Las Vegas or the Grand Canyon.

This time I'll start in L.A., see the above sights — to mention but those few — and travel in better comfort and slightly faster than first time around. Not necessarily in better style, though, as far as the motorcycle is concerned: The Nimbus is originally a 1934 design; it looks good, has eight exposed rocker arms sure to thrill audiences, and is clearly an old bike — charming, yet a bit slow and not all that comfortable.

The MZ, on the other hand, will win no beauty contests. But being decades younger, it has soft suspension at both ends, handles well and keeps up with traffic better (see In addition, this particular example has been modified with a later 5-speed gearbox, a Mikuni carb, modern electrics and some chassis improvements.

Being a GoldWing rider trapped in Nimbus rider's body, I like to carry a lot of stuff when on the road, so supplementing the topbox and sidebags, the MZ has a Czechoslovakian PAV 41 trailer in tow.

The MZ has been shipped to Los Angeles, where Kaj Pedersen of the Nimbus Club of America keeps it until I show up in mid-April. And a back-up Nimbus has been sent to Travis Scott, up near Pike's Peak in The Rockies in Colorado. This is in case the MZ croaks somewhere along the way, so I can continue traveling on a bike I know well, without the bother of having to find another oldish bike locally. The plan is to sell both bikes when the trip ends in late June.

Originally posted on Kim Scholer's blog.

The Quest: 1983 Suzuki GS750E

1983 Suzuki GS750E

1983 Suzuki GS750E. Photos by Mark Rooyakkers.

Many years ago I owned a 1980 Suzuki GS1100ET that I rode everywhere, in all kinds of weather, and anywhere I needed to go. At the time I did not own a car, and once even carried a pony keg of beer to a party, that bike was truly one of those UJM “do-it-all” motorcycles and it was used as such. My feeling was without a car I could own whatever bike I wanted, and at the time, that big Suzuki was an alpha dog. I truly felt like I was king of the road on it and happily went everywhere on my big Suzuki.

Due to my fondness for that Suzuki, awhile back I started looking for a Suzuki from that era, 1980 to 1983, spending a good bit of time trolling eBay, Cycle Trader and Craigslist, to see if I could find a suitable one in hopes that it could magically transport me back to those heady times 30 years ago when I'd enjoyed some of my fondest motorcycle riding. I managed to eventually find the perfect bike and bid on it, only to lose it by $50 at the last second. I am admittedly a novice when it comes to playing the eBay game.

Fueled by frustration, I started looking for other GS models from that era in different sizes. The ten years from 1978 to 1988 saw an unprecedented array of new machines come into the market, making this period one filled with many very interesting motorcycles. In the course of looking, I stumbled upon a 1983 Suzuki GS750E that was available. It appeared to be in nice shape, and had fairly low miles, but it was over 1,000 miles away.

I had to ask myself, “What do I really need a 33-year-old motorcycle for when I have a number of perfectly good bikes?” It was a logical question, but this quest was not logical, nor is my love for bikes. So, I called the seller, asked the questions, made an offer and struck a deal! Entirely fitting when one's motto is “You can't have too many bikes.”

The bike

The 1983 Suzuki GS750E was a bit overlooked when introduced, as that same year Honda launched their V45 Interceptor (VF750F) with its liquid-cooled V4 motor, square tube perimeter frame and one very talented Freddie Spencer riding it in AMA Racing. Honda enjoyed the lion’s share of press for its VF750F, with the Suzuki largely relegated to also-ran status. This model GS750 is notable in Suzuki history as it bridges the gap between the GS series, both the 8-valve and 16-valve versions with roller bearing crankshafts, and the then in development landmark GSX-R series that launched as a 1986 model. Development was steadfast in those days, with wholly new models every few years and little carry over from what went before. In the course of ten years Suzuki remade their 750 model four times going from GT750 2-stroke triple to the revolutionary GSX-R750 (1986 model launched in 1985).

Suzuki 750 Model Evolution — 1972 to 1987

Years Model Engine Type
Two-stroke liquid cooled three cylinder
GS750 Four-stroke air-cooled inline four w/ roller bearing crankshaft
GS750E Four-stroke air-cooled inline four with 4-valve TSCC head and roller bearing crank
Four-stroke four with 4-valve TSCC head and plain bearing crankshaft
GS700E/ES* As above but 700cc v. 750cc to avoid tariff fees
GSX-R750 Four-stroke four with air and oil cooling, totally new engine design using thin finning and substantial oil cooling

* Tariff models — Reagan administration had a tariff on Japanese motorcyles over 700cc, and all the Japanese-made tariff-compliant 700cc models during this time frame.

Compared to Suzuki’s 1982 750 offering, the 1983 GS750E engine had a simpler and more modern plain bearing crankshaft, mated to Suzuki's TSCC 16-valve cylinder head, still used air cooling with a supplemental oil cooler, and was rated at 83 horsepower (72 dyno tested), in a smaller overall package with the engine weighing 28 pounds less than Suzuki's last 750 mill. The rest of the bike was considerably lighter and smaller than its 750 predecessors too, weighing in at around 520 pounds, with a wheelbase of 58.9 inches, a little shorter than the 1982 GS750. The chassis was updated as well, using a single rear shock design that Suzuki labeled “Full Floater” and it had the then in vogue 16-inch front wheel for quicker steering. The Suzuki's frame used some square tubing and welded brace plates for greater rigidity, three disc brakes, an anti-dive system for the front forks, and a dash enclosing the "clocks" in a single housing. Styling borrowed cues from the Hans Muth-designed Katana model that Suzuki rolled out in 1980, creating an integrated overall look with the fuel tank blending into the side panels and seat. All in all a more modern take on the UJM in classic 750cc size.

The trip

Anytime I travel by bike I do my best to avoid the interstate system, and try to plan my travels in such a way that I see new things and ride roads I've never been on before. It ends up being more of an adventure that way, and the trip seems to go faster when you're taking in new sights, looking at new things, and not clocking down the mile markers as much. Time seems to slow a bit as well, making the trip shorter in perceived time as your senses take in the surroundings and you bond with the bike while taking new roads together. Make it about the journey, not about the destination, and you'll enjoy the trip a lot more. An old adage I suppose, but also one that holds true. A motorcycle is indeed a time machine.

More than a thousand miles on a machine “new” to me over a few days provides real orientation by immersion. Whatever foibles, quirks and character traits a bike has will come to light during such a journey. Control feel, handling, ride quality, seat comfort, engine response and braking feedback all gradually become familiar as the bike becomes mine. Bearing in mind this is a 33-year-old machine, whatever flaws are lurking will also tend to surface, as I was soon to discover.

So the trip was loosely planned, no interstates to the degree I could avoid them, smaller U.S. and state highways, and no GPS. Just a kitchen table and a good atlas and then written directions to take along on the trip. I've come to learn that the best routes are the ones marked “Alt., Alternate, or Business” as these are usually the older pre-bypass, or pre-upgrade sections of a given route. Take only what you need, a sweatshirt, jacket, gloves, neck warmer, a change of clothes, sunglasses, ear plugs, zip ties and helmet. It all fit in one medium backpack, making it easy for the airline flights and easy to take on any bike.

Many rivers to cross

The trip began from Bettendorf, Iowa, and would end in Apex, North Carolina. Getting on the road in Bettendorf, I took US 67 South across the mighty Mississippi and into Illinois for a crossing of the “Land of Lincoln” the short way from west to east. Shortly after crossing the Mississippi it was over the Rock which parallels “Big Muddy” at the Quad Cities before joining it just to the south. Continuing south on US 67 it was up and down gently rolling hills, farm fields being planted in every direction, with the smell of freshly tilled soil filling the air. The rich, dark soils of the upper mid-west being readied for another season of crops as they have year after year for generations of Illinois farmers. Tractors were out working the land, with the Suzuki humming happily along at 5,000 rpm and about 60mph with me looking for a non-existent sixth gear. Speaking of gears, I was impressed by just how smoothly the bike shifted with nice direct action and a crisp snick, snick, snick, both up and down the gearbox. I was pleased with my purchase and enjoying my “new” bike.

The riding position on this bike is good, a slight forward lean without having to crouch, and a long seat with a modest step, giving ample room to move forward or back for some occasional backside relief. Within reason I find these old bikes to be more comfortable than many modern ones, especially when it comes to their seats and riding positions. Miles roll by easily as temps in the high 60s make for a pleasant ride in the afternoon sunshine with gloves and a jacket.

With the bike fully warmed now, I come to my first stop and the engine races at 2,500 to 3,000rpm while at a standstill for a red light. Uh oh. As I try to reach under and adjust the idle, I find the spring is just spinning and turning with the adjuster screw and I keep burning my hand on the engine cases as I try in vain to bring down the idle speed. Oh well, for now I'll just live with it and minimize the time I idle and shut it off if I'll be sitting extensively. I'll work on it when I stop for the night. It’s not a big deal. Problems were expected and hopefully this one is not major.

Aggravated, but content to ignore the problem for now, I continue onward picking up the first road to head east across Illinois. IL 116 is the quiet two lane I joined to first begin my traverse of Illinois, and like many of the roads in this part of the world, much of it is arrow straight. I stayed on IL 116 to meet US 24 and on across the Illinois River just outside of Peoria. A short ride on the US highway and I was able to join IL 9 for the remainder of my ride across Illinois.

Harvest the wind

Clean energy is a holy grail these days and one source that is catching on across the upper mid-west is wind turbines. Along IL 9 there are miles and miles of them as the farm fields share space with these giant three-bladed fans harvesting the steady energy of the prairie winds. These modern windmills, spanning to the far horizon, towering over the fields and farms, are silently turning the wind into electricity without using a whiff of fossil fuel.

Wind turbines in Iowa

Harvest the wind.

As I continue across IL 9 I see many large farms dotting the landscape, but the amazing thing is how neat, clean and organized most of them are kept. Older tractors out there working the fields and looking younger than the 30 or 40 years old that they are, not unlike the motorcycle I’m riding I thought. The thing about mid-west farmers that has always impressed me is that they are people who take pride in what they have and how they keep it, and it shows when you see it. Pride in their land, pride in their equipment, pride in being caretakers of the land they live on and earn a living from. Gives you warm fuzzies about the strength of America.

IL 9 runs pretty straight as well, occasionally zig-zagging for a county border, or farm field that forced a turn. Large farms connected to small towns all across rural Illinois, places where the highway runs right through them as the main drag in each one. Banks, churches, county courthouses, police and fire stations, beer halls, farm stores and restaurants, and usually a fast food chain restaurant of some kind. Small towns, different in name, yet strikingly similar in overall appearance and make up, yet without the same pace of change you find in more metropolitan areas.

Riding through Paxton, Illinois, I am struck by the sheer majesty of an old Victorian style house on the eastern edge of town. I circle back to take a picture of it as it is one of the more stunning I've ever seen. Later research reveals it was designed by George F. Barber (no connection to the Barber Museum founder that I'm aware of) and built in 1896. Even more amazing was that in 2013 it was on the market for $159,900, reminding me that in real estate it is still location, location, location.

Stopping for gas in Hoopeston, I had hit reserve for the first time. It took a little more than four gallons to fill it, covering 187 miles for about 47 miles to the gallon.

Victorian home in Illinois

A Victorian home built in 1896 in Paxton, Illinois.

Into the night

Twilight begins as I make it across the featureless border with only a sign indicating that I'd crossed into Indiana. The road ends in a T at US 41 and so I turn right and head south toward Terre Haute, Indiana where I plan to stop for the night. Crossing the Wabash River north of Terre Haute, I am now riding in darkness and depending on the headlights to see. The low beam is mostly useless, illuminating only a small swatch right in front of the bike and so high beam it is and few cars flash me so I guess it will do for now. Add headlight adjustments as something else to address on the growing “to do” list for this bike. With the coming of darkness the temperature drops and I find myself a bit chilled in my sweatshirt and windbreaker combo, so I tuck my knees in a bit tighter and the warm air coming off the cylinders provides some comfort.

Vigo County Courthouse in Terre Haute, Indiana

The Vigo County Courthouse in Terre Haute, Indiana.

The clouds are low and ominous, with occasional spires of lightning and I can smell recent rain and ozone, and it smells good. Here and there the roads are wet, but I am not riding in the rain, at least not yet. Despite the new front tire, these older bias-ply tires are not modern radials and the difference in traction between wet and dry is quite noticeable. Whether that’s due to construction or compound, I just know I’m nervous on these tires. I stay in the right lane once the highway is divided and keep pace with the slower traffic, opposite of my usual preference, and stay in the left track where the road is somewhat dry. Just as I reach the Terre Haute city limits luck runs out and it starts to rain steadily, not a downpour, but a steady rain that quickly has me wet. Destination reached, I traveled 372 miles in a half day of riding and it was time to call it quits for day one.

Once checked in and out of the wet layers it was time to address some of the issues with the bike and get the chain lubed while it was still warm. The motel said I could work under the covered entrance awning and was good enough to provide some old towels I could use as rags, so I used those rags as a barrier between my hand and the engine cases to keep from burning my hand while I worked. As it turns out nothing was broken, and once I’d loosened the adjuster I was able to reseat the spring tensioner and readjust the idle stop screw. After some fiddling I managed to get the idle to settle in at about 1,200rpm. In the morning when I started it from cold I’d find out if all was well, but for now it was time for a bite and some shut eye.

Day two

The next morning everything was wet as it had rained steadily overnight, but the sky was somewhat clear and it wasn’t raining anymore. My gloves and wet clothes had dried pretty well and whatever dampness remained would evaporate from body heat or the sun as I rode again. I wiped the bike off and was pleased at how clean the bike was for a 33-year-old survivor. Now it was time to start it from cold and see how the idle setting would work out. Full choke and it fired right up, but required considerable choke to stay running and a light touch on the throttle to maintain idle even with the choke on. Once it was a bit warmer, it was able to hold normal idle with about 1/3 choke and that seemed to work fine. In continuing to wipe the bike while it warmed there was a noticeable amount of oil seeping from the o-ring seals atop the valve covers and the valve cover gasket itself, but not enough to be of real concern. I’d noticed it the first day more from the smell of oil cooking off the heads when you came to a stop, but not enough to really smoke, just another item for the “to do” list once home. I had the bike on the center stand and so checked the oil level carefully to reveal it was in the limits. I had one carry quart of Shell Rotella 15W-40 with me that I purchased at my first gas stop, so I added a few ounces to bring the oil level to the top of the range. I wanted to see if the bike was using any significant oil, or leaking enough to be concerned, as I hadn’t really looked when I started the trip to have a gauge of sorts.

Out of Terre Haute and on toward Bloomington via IN 46, which turned out to be a very nice ride on a scenic two lane. It was 8:30 a.m. and the plan being to stop for gas and breakfast in Bloomington. Heading east, I was catching up to the weather system that had passed through the night before. Weather can change quickly, but at highway speeds you are generally moving faster than the weather is. I dried out fully while riding and was quickly back in the rhythm of the road, though my butt was feeling yesterday’s miles and I was looking forward to a sit-down breakfast and some casual time with a coffee mug. After breakfast near Indiana University and a lingering coffee break, I got back on the bike and headed east on IN 46 to IN 135. While I’d ridden IN 135 a few times before as I’d once lived in Indianapolis, it had been a long time, and it was a road I remembered fondly, so I was hopeful it would not disappoint. It didn’t.

IN 135

IN 135, an old favorite enjoyed again.

IN 135 sweeps and swoops following the flow of several creek beds with miles and miles of twists and turns, ups and downs, and open arcing curves where there was almost no traffic. However, as I was catching up to that weather system, much of the road surface was still wet, curtailing my speed somewhat, particularly where the road was shaded. Still, it’s a great motorcycle road. Along IN 135 I came to the small town of Story, a slice of Americana that the march of time seems to have passed by. Gas pumps and store fronts looked straight out of the 1940’s, or maybe early 1950’s, and the place felt somehow charmed. No time to really stop and explore, but a place that’s very existence made me smile.

Story, Indiana

Story, Indiana — Is it 2016 or 1950?

I was gaining on that weather, yet fortunately I was heading south for a bit and so hopefully it would stay ahead of me. Taking US 50 east for a while put me with some traffic, but still comparatively quiet as I headed toward Madison, Indiana, and my crossing point over the Ohio River. Madison is a neat town and seeing all the Saturday morning tourists at the coffee shops, art houses and antique boutiques made me wish I had more time to meander and look around. US 421 highway is a fairly windy road in many places, so much so that at times you can’t believe it is an actual US highway. It runs from Michigan to Wilmington, North Carolina, and I have ridden its entirety a few times, but for this trip the idea was not too much duplication, and so I would only ride it from Madison across the Ohio River and on to Frankfort, Kentucky.

US 421

US 421 crossing the Ohio River.

Scattered showers were in evidence as I climbed out of the Ohio valley and into Kentucky with wet roads being the norm and clouds looming all around. Despite the wet roads I had yet to be rained on for day two — the weather gods were smiling on me again. The asphalt was smooth and the road a nice blend of sweeping turns with little traffic to deal with as I made my way to Frankfort. Approaching Frankfort you head downhill past the steep limestone cliff faces and descend to the Kentucky River and cross it entering the capital of Kentucky.

Leaving Frankfort the sky showed a few more patches of blue among the clouds and the roads were mostly dry, giving me hope that I’d cover more miles today and have an easy time getting the rest of the way home on day three. Motoring east on US60 I made my way into horse country as I approached Lexington with some magnificent spreads along the highway with their beautifully maintained pastures of blue grass all neatly fenced and gated. I headed straight on into downtown Lexington, seeing little sunshine as the clouds were building with the afternoon heat. Staying on US60, which was locally Winchester Road, I headed out of Lexington on scattered patches of wet roads here and there, but still not riding in the rain. A bit further on and those patches of blue disappeared, giving way to darker skies and brewing afternoon showers. Soon enough the rain began and as I started getting wet the reality of being soaked through again started to sink in just as a sign for a Best Western appeared along the roadside. The thought of staying mostly dry and catching some HBO on cable with an early stop suddenly had tremendous appeal.

So, with only 254 miles logged for the day when I reached the Best Western, I turned left and into their welcoming parking lot. The manager was very accommodating and offered parking under an overhang and provided a bunch of worn towels I could use as rags if I wanted to wipe down my bike. I checked in, changed into dry clothes, lubed the chain, and then wiped off the bike. I couldn’t help but again admire how nice it was for its age, though at the same time the nitpicker in me kept making mental notes of what needed to be tweaked, fixed, adjusted or changed. I guess it must be part of the nature of being a true motorcycle nut as I’ve almost always felt that way about my bikes. It must be a shared trait too, as many of my motorcycle friends keep their bikes in fine fettle regardless of age or miles, always noting something that needs attention. Bike chores tended to it was time to call it an early day, get the cable TV guide and settle in for some chill time.

Day three

I got up early to snag the free breakfast and I was pleased to find sunshine and pleasant temperatures. It was a beautiful day for a longer-than-usual Sunday ride, and even allowing for breakfast I’d be riding by 8 a.m. The bike is gradually becoming “mine” and I now know how much choke and throttle to get a nice start and how long to warm it up so it idles cleanly without choke. Choke off, but needing throttle to stay running, I ease off toward the coal hills of lower Kentucky starting on a parkway road with plans to get onto more quiet state highways shortly. Soon enough I get off and join KY15, which is the old road in these parts. Built to follow the natural terrain and the flow of water, it hugs the hillsides and creeks as you keep crossing the parkway, or the parkway crosses it, and the road flows smoothly with many curves and undulations along the route. It being Sunday morning, there’s not much traffic, but I am ever vigilant for those little old ladies going to church, as well as sheriffs and troopers on morning patrol, mindful of being a potential target for both of those known road hazards.

Kentucky crossroads

Kentucky crossroads.

Speaking of hazards, as a kid I watched the TV show The Dukes of Hazzard and so route planning included seeing Hazard, Kentucky in real life, just to say I did. Hazard, Kentucky, is a small town in the Appalachian coal country of southeast Kentucky. Nestled in a valley it is a small, quiet town with no signs of the TV namesake that I could see. No Duke boys, no Daisy, and no Boss Hogg. I stopped to take a picture of the city sign and then went on my way running south on KY15 to Whitesburg, Kentucky.

Hazard, Kentucky

Hazard, Kentucky — but no sign of the Duke boys.

In the Appalachian back country there are no direct routes to anywhere, and so to get where I wanted to go it was another diagonal, this time heading northeast on US119. I was generally headed east, but to do so I was on US119 North, and my destination was Payne Gap. I was on the rugged Kentucky-Virginia border riding on US23, the Orby Cantrell Parkway South to Norton, Virginia. Norton also rests in a valley, clearly a coal town judging by the rail yard filled with both empty and coal-filled rail cars, and a large variety of coal mining equipment on flat cars and in holding yards. Venturing briefly into the town itself there is an old fashioned downtown that looks like it hasn’t changed much in the past 40 years. Most store fronts are well kept, with a theatre, hotel, banks and law firms all lining the main street. Pride is evident in the appearance of Norton’s downtown, a credit to the residents there as many similar size cities in the area look far worse for wear than Norton. Riding down the main street felt like stepping back in time, with only the vintage of the parked autos revealing the truth. After a brief stop to get off the bike and stretch, drink some water and check the map, I confirmed my directions and it was back onto the bike and on with the journey.

The saddle on the Suzuki is soft and comfortable, especially on initial sit, but grows increasingly non-supportive as the day and miles wear on. I have learned why Corbin and Sargent seats are comparatively hard. Five hours into the day, my butt was begging for some relief and so on the divided sections of US 58 East I stand on the pegs to take the pressure off my backside. People in passing cars look at you somewhat askew wondering just what on earth that idiot on the motorcycle is doing, but on bikes with handlebars and “standard” riding positions this is a darn good way to keep on riding, get some cooling air to your rear and get some relief for the ol’ gluteus maximus. I have used this tactic many times over the years and find it a useful trick for long rides.

Back of the Dragon

At Hansonville, Kentucky, I join US 19 North to Tazewell, Virginia, where I plan to ride the “Back of the Dragon,” a very good road that boasts 260 curves in 32 miles of twisties as it rises to 3,500 feet and crosses three ranges. The route is actually VA16 and it goes from Tazewell to Marion, Virginia, and while I’ve ridden it before, I'd never ridden it north to south.


VA16, the “Back of the Dragon.”

Stopping for gas and a pit stop before hitting VA16, I see a group of BMW riders in their day-glo vests, most on adventure style bikes, heading into town from the other direction having just finished the dragon ride. As I pull out I find a group of Harley riders behind me, many two-up on dressers, and the contrast between the groups is striking. Then you have me in jeans on an old Japanese bike and I chuckle at the diversity among us as motorcyclists. At the same time, it's fun to note all of us are out enjoying a ride on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in May on some of the best roads ever made for riding a motorcycle. Good roads make for convergence, regardless of stripe, the bond between us being the ride itself and not what you’re riding — camaraderie found in common interest, one of the best things about motorcycling.

I turn left onto VA16 and the start of the ride, stopping to take pictures of road signs. Back on the bike and I’m pleased with how the Suzuki handles, though 100- and 130-section bias-ply rubber does not instill the confidence modern radials do, but the lightness and ease of turn on the narrower tires makes it fun to maintain a quick pace as the road begins to climb and tighten. About 8 miles in pulled out at an overlook. At the overlook a pair of Suzuki V-Strom 650’s are parked and one of their riders walks over to admire my old steed. He’s about my age and he tells me he used to have a similar bike, and asked how long I’ve had it and how I keep it so nice? I tell him I just got it and I’m riding it home from Iowa and he whistles and says, “That’s a long ride.” His riding buddy already has his helmet on and yells at him to get going so we wish each other safe rides and he wanders off. I take pictures of the view and realize a camera can’t do this justice after I take a few shots, then put it away and get back aboard the bike.

Suzuki V-Stroms

Newer Suzuki V-Stroms, whose riders appreciated an older generation Suzuki family member.

Completing the ride into Marion the road is still great, but more sweeping and so the ride is easier, more relaxing and of a different tone. Often the road dictates the riding style, which is one of the things that make motorcycling so involving and satisfying. Through Marion but still in hilly country I wind my way to Mouth of Wilson on VA16, where I join US58, and from there onto US21 another US highway that is surprisingly windy and a mix of both two lane and divided highway.

Southwest Virginia

The rolling green hills of southwest Virginia.

US21 ends up being a fun ride as I head south toward home crossing from Virginia and into North Carolina on the New River Parkway. On to Twin Oaks and Sparta I stay on this highway until it joins I77 for a short bit running with heavy Sunday evening traffic just as the sun is setting. Storm clouds are making it dark sooner, but apart from some wet patches on the road here and there I have again managed to avoid riding in the rain. Exiting the interstate as soon as possible puts me on NC67, a nice two lane that runs into Winston-Salem. With darkness comes cooler temps and I again am grateful for the warmth pouring off the engine and the light of high beam about right for 60mph travel. The road is mainly straight and as such I am in one position, my butt feeling the effects of a day in the saddle and calling for a stop soon. I continue on through Winston-Salem and decide to stop in Kernersville for gas, food and a break.

Getting off the bike feels good and walking helps move some muscles and get a little blood flow going to the legs and the feet. I generally eat too fast, but now I take my time knowing that it’s only about two hours to home and I’ll be sleeping in my own bed tonight, so there is not any rush. I top off the tank and know I won’t need to stop for gas before home. Climbing back onto the Suzuki it feels smaller somehow, yet after spending the better part of three waking days riding it, it is instantly familiar and I’m pleased with how well the bike has run. I had planned some fun back roads for this last section of the trip, but darkness, threatening weather and growing a bit tired made for a change of plans.

Home stretch

“Get-home-itis” was setting in and I decided that while I’d still skip the interstate, it was going to be highways the rest of the way home. Another stretch of US 421 would make up most of it and then US 64 east to home. It’s easy to get complacent as the surroundings grow familiar again, though riding with Sunday traffic returning from weekend travels, I am mindful of the need to be wary and not let my guard down. With the darkness it was harder to see the storm clouds build up and with those clouds the threat of more rain. One of the themes of this trip was just missing the rain most of the time, but this time there would be no such luck.

With threatening clouds to my east as I traveled south, lightning filled the skies in the direction I would soon be heading. At this point it was only 35 miles to home. When I reached the exit for US 64 the lightning grew closer, the thunder boomed, and the rain was coming. I got onto US 64 East and rode right into the maw of the storm, with high winds, driving rain, and traffic slowing since the rain was so fierce. Yuk. With only 30-odd miles to go, it was time to grin and bear it, and so headlong into the rain I rode, a hard rain backed by strong winds that had me soaked in a matter of seconds. The rain lasted only about five miles and then abated leaving only wet roads and the spray from cars on the highway, but the Suzuki just kept purring right along seemingly glad for the quenching rain and the additional cooling it provided.

With 20 miles remaining and the road was again drying, I started to dry out as well and knowing that I'd be able to peel out of the wet clothes once at home was certainly comforting. On the last leg and nearly home it felt good to have ridden this bike so far on our inaugural journey together, and as I pulled into the driveway and slowly got off the bike I had to admire what a fine machine Suzuki had built in this 1983 GS750E. I traveled 1,186 miles in three days with no issues of any significance, getting about 45mpg overall, with the odometer now reading 13,248 miles.

Highway with curves

A sign that makes a motorcyclist smile.

Final thoughts

Memory is a flawed thing and this bike is not as good as more modern machines in many respects, proving that the march of progress is indeed unceasing, yet in the way it rides, shifts and runs, it's quite good even in a modern context. But did it take me back to glory days of yore? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that it is a touchstone to those days and it reminds me of my beloved Suzuki from that era, but no, in the sense that you really can't go back because your frame of reference changes, and with that your overall perspective on things as a whole. So I will cherish and enjoy my “new” Suzuki both for what it is and for what it represents, a link to the past that can be ridden and enjoyed today while living in the here and now. Mission accomplished.

On Three Wheels: Learning to Ride a Sidecar Rig

Participants in a sidecar course

Participants practice their sidecar skills at an S/TEP (Sidecar/Trike Education Program) sidecar course. Photos by Margie Siegal.

“It was easier than I expected. It was harder than I expected” — students at Evergreen S/TEP training, Seattle, Washington.

A sidecar rig can be a fun addition to a classic bike collection. You can take friends, relatives, or your dog along for a ride. You can pack your camping gear and go offroad to your favorite fishing hole.

Thing is, riding a sidecar rig is different from riding a solo motorcycle. If you want to learn how to pilot a sidecar but you don’t have a friend who knows how to drive a sidecar (or if you think the friendship might not survive the learning experience), what do you do? You take a sidecar course, of course.

While not as common as two-wheel courses, they do exist. The state of Washington mandates three-wheeler training before licensing a rider to operate vehicles such as a Can-Am Spyder, a sidecar outfit, or a trike, and Washington residents generally take the S/TEP (Sidecar/Trike Education Program) courses offered by the Evergreen Safety Council. Out of staters can sign up too — but since the course is subsidized by the state of Washington for residents, non-Washingtonians pay more, currently $350 versus $125 for residents. But given that trashing your new ride will be a whole lot more expensive than even the out of state price — not to mention embarrassing and painful — it’s definitely worth it.

The 12 students who showed up for the two-day course on an overcast October weekend were typical of the people you see at any motorcycle gathering. Two were from out of state, and four were women. Most had prior experience with motorcycles, and most had made up their mind as to what type of three-wheeler they wanted. Regardless, the instructors insisted that all participants try all three types of three-wheelers, which were made available at the training venue for participants.

Instructor Jeff Jung and trainees

Head instructor Jeff Jung keeps a keen eye on trainees, helping them gain confidence on a three-wheeler.

Theory and practice

The first half of the first day covered theory and mental knowledge. After lunch, it was out on the track to practice the physical skills of rig operation. The instructors cover a lot of ground in a short time and expect participants to practice hard. “They want you to fly the chair — put the chair up in the air. It was hard at first, but after you get the hang of it, you feel like a kid in an amusement park,” said attendee Robert Briscoe.

One attendee dropped out after struggling with clutch and shifter coordination. The remaining students rode around and around the cone course in the South Seattle Community College parking lot, mastering panic stops, maneuvering and braking. “The hardest thing to teach is confidence,” says Jeff Jung, the head instructor. Jeff, a patient person, was able to communicate the needed confidence and enthusiasm, and the remaining 11 students all passed the course with a new appreciation of three-wheel operation. “I learned a lot” was the most common take-away from the course, and one dyed in the wool Harley enthusiast had broadened horizons. “I got to ride a lot of different bikes and the sidecars are interesting,” he said. A woman student went from scared to self-confident. “I learned that it wasn’t the scariest thing in the world if the right tire comes off the ground,” she said. It’s all about confidence, and the only way that happens is by getting out there — with training. To find out more about classes and schedules, go to the Evergreen Safety Council web site.

Evergreen Safety Council
12545 135th St. NE
Kirkland, WA 98034
(425) 814-3930

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