01 July 2008

How to diagnose an electrical problem by adjusting the clutch, Part 2

First, of course, you must read Part 1. Or just scroll down a little. Or start by selecting May 2004 in the left sidebar and be dazzled until you get here.

So there I was (well, it is sort of a war story, after all) tootling happily along on my way to the Post Office. I had just crossed the four sets of railroad tracks that bisect our town, call it bumpity-bumpity4, when the bike quit. No warning, no sputtering, no nuthin', just instant flameout. Being a champion multitasker I simultaneously thought 'uh-oh', whipped in the clutch, and veered into a (very) handy gas station/convenience store.

I sat there for a second wonderin' WTF and letting it all sink in. Then I noticed that the key was still turned on but there were no dash lights. Normally, all the little lights in the speedo are lit up like a Christmas tree until the engine starts.

Total lack of system power. I turned the key a coupla times, and since I'm a professional motorcycle mechanic, flipped all the switches and pushed all the buttons. Nuttin', honey. I pushed the thing out behind the station, lit the one cigarette I had in my pocket, and started looking for the problem, which, since I had no tools with me, consisted of pulling all the fuses out of the fuse block and holding them up to the light, and looking for any wires that might have fallen off. All OK visually.

This was not exactly the first time in my life & career that a motorcycle, even a brand new one, had broken down under me, so I knew what to do. I went into the food mart and bought a pack of Camels and a bottle of water and headed for the pay phone.

An observation: Being all legal with a new driver's license saved my ass. Up until a coupla weeks ago, I wouldn'ta bothered sticking my wallet in my pocket just to go a mile to the P.O. I had money on me as a result. Whew!

Called AAA. Even with gravel trucks going by to the right of me and a freight train going by to the left of me, I managed to discern that my $130-a-year 100-mile-towing membership wouldn't tow a motorcycle. Thank you very much, California State Automobile Association, you pricks. Next time my bike breaks, it's going to magically morph into a '92 Dakota. Once the tow truck driver gets there, I'll at least get the chance to try and talk him into it. I used to know them all, but they're all new guys now. They used to be pretty good about giving locals a break and maybe that still holds. Live and learn. Honesty isn't always the best policy when dealing with bureaucracies.

I had to get the bike home somehow. I've pushed motorcycles before, but there was no way I was going to push it from here. A mile, yes, 200 or so vertical feet at my age, well, maybe if I had to but I didn't have to yet, so hell no. It was just about the time Mrs. G would be getting home from work, so I called her. Not home yet.

While waiting, I smoked Camels and drank water and thought a little. I suspected an open circuit as opposed to a short because even though there was plenty of smoke in the air that day (last Tuesday), none of it was coming from under the seat. A very few possible places - the battery I knew to be OK unless it had instantaneously self-destructed and somehow taken out the power from the charging system. Not likely. Main circuit breaker, not too likely either. Ignition switch? More likely, but not much. Associated wiring, connectors, etc? Most likely. The thought occurred to me that I somehow caused the problem myself during the clutch adjustment process, but I couldn't see how. Gotta get 'er home and find out.

Finally got ahold of Mrs. G. Our pickups both have caps on 'em, so I directed her to go two doors down, see if my pal Jeff was home, ask him to pick up my ramp and tiedowns and please go bail numbnuts' ass out with his open bed Mitsubishi. Luck held and fifteen minutes later me'n the bike were home safe and sound.

Of course Jeff, a rider himself, had to yank my chain a little. When he pulled up to me at the gas station, this exchange:

J: "I thought you wuz a motorcycle mechanic."

G: "I can fix 'em just fine. If I could keep 'em from breakin' in the first place, I'd be so rich ya think I'd be livin' on our block?"

J (shit eatin' grin): "No shit!"

Total time elapsed from breakdown to home, a little over an hour. Total cost, $6.90. $5.35 for smokes (goddam, them things have gotten expensive!), a 20¢ bottle of water for $1.05, and 50¢ for a phone call. No real harm done.

I have two final thoughts on this phase of the adventure. First, the Buell Motor Co. should thank its lucky stars that this happened to me instead of a customer in their target demographic, an inseam-challenged beginner woman rider with no knowledge of motorcycles other than she thinks they're fun. It would have been considerably more expensive and inconvenient for someone like that than it was for me.

Second, I thank my lucky stars that it happened to me instead of to Mrs. G.! Say 'no shit!'.

I'm tired of typing now, but I will give you a hint: this turned out to be a warranteeable manufacturing defect, aka a 'factory fuck-up' that was installed on the assembly line by perhaps as many as three people with their heads solidly up their asses and involved the absolutely smallest, least expensive part on the whole motorcycle. It was going to happen. Period. I hope this was the only bike it happened to and it very well may be.

Your armchair diagnoses (that's where I figured it out) and wild ass guesses are most welcome in 'comments'. A prize to him/her that comes up with the correct answer.

Stay tuned.

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