Newsletter: When gremlins hit

Shame, shame! Zac stands next to his incapacitated motorcycle after a front tire repair during D2D scouting. Photo: Rob Harris

Most of us have been let down by our motorcycles at one time or another. Often, it’s our own fault from poor maintenance, or unavoidable from a nail in the road, but sometimes it’s just bad timing, and sometimes it’s just weird. Bikes are like that.

I own a couple of bikes and believe it or not, the Harley Low Rider has never let me down, even 50,000 km in. My old Suzuki DR 600, however, has a chequered past. Perhaps the most bizarre incident was when I was riding her on a long road trip and crossed the international border from BC down into Washington State. It was a tiny border post, very quiet on an empty two-lane highway, and I was the only person crossing the line. The bike was fully loaded with panniers stuffed and camping equipment piled high on the back seat. The guard grilled me more than usual but eventually let me go through; I thanked him, put my papers away, and kicked down on the kick starter. And the splines on the kickstarter shaft finally wore off and the lever swung uselessly around.

The kickstarter shaft from Mark’s other DR600 – yes, he has more than one. Three, in fact. Don’t ask.

There was no way the bike could start – I’ve never managed to bump her, with that big single cylinder that needs decompressing each time – and I was stuck there for a few hours trying to jury rig a solution. I stripped her down and tried bump-starting her anyway, but no go. I tried tightening the clamp or wrapping foil in there, but no go. I tried clamping on Vice-Grips and kicking on them, but no go. I sat there and sweated and tried to look busy in my frustration as the U.S. customs guy watched on. In the end, I borrowed a drill from him, created a tiny bore next to the shaft and rammed a screw in there to give some kind of extra grab. The shaft held, the bike started, then we laughed about it, shook hands and I rode away into the sunset.

Ah, the good old days from that road trip, checking the map. Remember paper maps?

Finding a mechanical solution to a basic engineering dilemma can be very rewarding and you don’t need any special training, just a keen eye and an understanding of the dilemma. All very MacGyver. These days, though, it’s a challenge to fix your own bike because of the computerization that’s involved, and cars are even worse, of course. If something goes wrong, there’s nothing you can do except plug in a diagnostic tool and let its software tell you the problem.

This is what BMW did when the CMG long-term Scrambler cut out on Sabrina in downtown Toronto, but we never did figure out the problem. The bike stuttered and overheated in traffic so it shut itself down; later, it started with no issues and BMW’s technicians were never able to figure out the problem.

Sabrina tells us the story this week in our penultimate account of the long-term Scrambler. Jacob rode it after her with no similar problems and we’ll run his wrap of the bike next month. For now, though, we’re left just shaking our heads. It makes no sense, but then, motorcycles can be like that sometimes. It’s one of the reasons why we love them.


  1. Oh the irony! My scooter just broke down on me this morning on the way to work after 3 years (and 2 rallys) of flawless performance. Looking forward to the problem solving step next.

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