A Motorcycle Trip Cut Short : 2020 Strikes again.

About a week ago I left on a motorcycle trip/adventure as I talked about in previous posts (Post 1 – Planning, Post 2 – Packing) on this blog. The trip started as good and as weird as any travel during the pandemic can be. It had its awesome aspects, and some frustrating ones, and some trip ending ones.

Here is a short recap of how it went.

Day 1: Silverton – 340miles

The ride to Silverton was interesting, and a bit anxious as this was the first time really traveling since the start of the pandemic. I stopped for some food at one of my favorite places in Buena Vista, CO, then kept going all the way to Silverton, CO down the stellar Hwy 550. The views, and scenery the entire way was awesome. Silverton itself was pretty busy, and loud with others on motorcycle trips and just adventure seekers in general.

The bike worked well, but I did notice an odd vibration on some high speed stretches.

It was my first night trying to figure out how to hotel in a time of COVID, and realizing certain services are just not as available as I would have been used to in the past.

Day 2: Petrified Forest National Park and Flagstaff, AZ – 442 Miles

This was one of the longest rides of the trip, and was about 10 hours of high speed, freeway and highway riding. I cut through the north west New Mexico regions under Farmington that go through areas of the Navajo reservation to get down to Gallup, NM. Then went on I40 to get to the Petrified Forest National Park. It was a very cool 20+ mile ride through the park with some stunning views. This, it would turn out, would be the last day on the trip before all the smoke from the wildfires cover AZ and NM.

After the park I made my way to Flagstaff, AZ about 2 hours away. On the I40 stretches, I noticed the vibration I saw on day 1 getting more and more noticeable. I made the call in Winslow, AZ to call a local Yamaha shop in Flagstaff to get in first thing in the morning to get the wheels/tires checked for balance. This turned out to be a great call, and leveraged the “day by day” aspect of planning for this ride as I was able to change my plans to stay in Flagstaff another day on the fly.

I made the call that since I am going to spend a few hours in the morning getting the bike checked over, I might as well wander up to the Grand Canyon only about 80 miles to the north of Flagstaff.

Day 3: Grand Canyon National Park, Flagstaff – 180 Miles

Turns out the company that mounted the new tires on the bike never actually balanced them! The front tire/wheel was 60gm out of balance, and the rear was 40gm. This is a huge balance issue and caused a lot of the vibrations I was feeling. After this, I immediately rode the bike up to the Grand Canyon and it was smooth as silk, it was a massive change. The guys at GO AZ got me in and taken care of ASAP in the morning.

On the way out of Flagstaff going over the mountains between me and the Grand Canyon, I noticed the horizon was very smoky… this was not what I was hoping for, when I got toward the Grand Canyon I could see it was full of smoke.

Overall it was a fun day, and the Grand Canyon is always such a mind blowing thing to see in person. Even riding past it on the road you catch it out of the corner of your eye and its something that causes you to just want to stare. I sat on a bench in the south village just watching the canyon for a good 30 minutes between walking around the Rim Trail.

This short day of riding was good, as it let me recover a bit after 2 big days, shake down the rebalanced bike, and get ready for a long 450 mile day coming up. I also needed to spend a good amount of time researching the next day’s ride to Los Alamos for fuel stops as I was taking all off-highway riding after Meteor Crater. This was challenging, and in the end could have been an issue.

Day 4: Meteor Crater, Navajo Reservation, and… ~405 Miles (340 Miles on the motorcycle)

Fresh and rested after a short day, and ready to check out some areas of AZ and NM I have never made it to in the past. This includes Meteor Crater which is just about 45 minutes from Flagstaff. I woke up fairly early to get on the road as I knew this would potentially be a 9-10 hour day on the bike as the plan was for 450 miles of pretty desolate and remote riding.

Meteor Crater has been a goal for a year to ride the motorcycle to. There are few natural craters like this on earth that haven’t eroded away, filled with water, or are under the sea.

After the crater, I rode to top off on gas, picked up some McDonalds and coffee, and prep for being in the seat for 140-150 mile segments. I also queued up an audio book I stated listening to the day before when I was going to the Grand Canyon. The book is Yellow Dirt , it chronicles the exploitation of the Navajo lands and people for Uranium mining from the 40’s to today. The areas I was riding through on this day are some of the same areas the mining and people were impacted. It as a very interactive ride in that way, and stunningly beautiful. The total book audio time was 10 hours so I figured I would finish it on this ride or the next day.

The ride through the Navajo reservation territory, and on Navajo service roads was a beautiful example of high desert openness. It’s hostile, yet really lets your imagination run wild. I couldn’t stop everywhere I wanted to take pictures, but these are a few that I thought illustrated what it was like on this ride.

Closing in in San Ysidro, NM, I was low on water (because I skipped stopping for water once on the ride cause I had 2L with me at that point… ) well I was below 1L at this point and was looking forward to getting to my next stop just 30 miles down the road. I was traveling on a segment of road that isn’t on many maps. (Garmin/Navtec has ZERO indication of this road on any of their map sets.) Google calls the road “Power Line Road”, Bing calls it “Torreon Road”. When I got to the turn off at Torreon for this road, there was a construction sign saying it was completed in 2013.

The road was nice newer asphalt, smooth, flowing, and perfect, and I was pushing to get to the next stop just 20-30 miles down the road. Then this came up. (the rock hit is in the first 10ft or so of the dirt section, its a small 3-4″ rock right off the centerline of the path I was on- Right around Second 13 in the video)

That didn’t seem too bad, but it was definitely a rough patch of road. But the suspension seemed to handle it pretty well and the bike was super stable through the rough road. A 15-30 seconds later I noticed when I went to upshift my boot was wet. I rode for another 30 seconds or so and then pulled over as I could not think of what would have gotten my foot wet and started to fear the worst. All while behind I was leaving a trail of oil: (you can see the rear camera getting covered in oil spray as well, and what kind of looks like some smoke at one point)

Update: Because Youtube compressed the snot out of the video and the rock is hard to see here is the rock before I hit it, and being ejected out the back about 15ft later (it seems to have dragged under the bike for 10-15ft. I figure the rock was ~ 3-4″ in diameter at the most. You can see the oil tread marks of the rear tire starting in the after image from the point where the rock hit the bike and was then dragged under it for a bit.

In the end… a rock you can see in the rut I rode in, nailed the base of the bike when the bike compressed down. The sump guard was folded like a piece of paper and let the rock still punch a 1″ hole into the oil pan. What was on my boot was hot Motul 7100 10W40, flowing freely onto the desert road. When I turned the motor off there was still ~ 1L or so of oil in it, and the oil level light/pressure light never came on. So the engine should be intact. But… Now I am in the desert, on a road that barely exists, its 4:00pm, and I have under 1L of water on hand.

The Blue line is where i was riding on the bike, the red line is the route to get to Rio Rancho. I was supposed to turn up and go up Hwy 4 off of 550 there as the planned ride. Needless to say, nothing that happened from here was planned.

Roadside Assistance or Roadside Abandonment?

So I am stranded 60 miles from Rio Rancho which is the closest real city to me. I have some 3G cell coverage, and I immediately went to work calling my wife and getting her fired up on the Insurance/Roadside Assistance side, and I started calling motorcycle tow companies. We were both in for some crazy disappointment.

Motorcycle specific taxi/towing services are useless if you don’t breakdown in front of their yard/shop and if you dont have a model of motorcycle they prefer. I had one place say they could come get me ASAP, but when they found out I didn’t have a Harley, they told me they wouldn’t help me. I explained to all of these, that I am low on water, and its getting dark… didn’t matter, No HD chromed out shit box, no help.

I switched to general tow/wrecker companies, most would not come an hour – 1.5 hours out of ABQ to come get me. One said they would, but wanted close to $1000 to do it. In fact our insurance company called them tried to work with them, and because they wanted to charge such an insane amount our insurance company threw their hands up and also told me I was fucked.

Then I called Tow Daddy in Rio Rancho. Shawn there was incredible, first telling me to explore all my other options to avoid spending more than I need on this, asking if I had any friends who wanted to use a trailer, etc… In the end I told him I needed to get the fuck out of the desert (this is now around 7:45pm) and was tired of fighting with insurance and useless tow companies. He sent his guy to get me ASAP and I was back into Rio Rancho with the bike on a trailer at ~9:30pm. Tow Daddy also charged ~ half what the other company wanted.

Day 5 – Getting The Bike.

After some borderline panic about what the next steps were, I came up with a plan while I was standing in the desert waiting for help. Rent a truck, drive the bike back home, and do the repairs myself. Easier said than done, and would take another day in Rio Rancho to sort out the details. After some work we found Budget Truck Rentals had a 12″ truck that I could rent one way (also close to $500). But there were other logistics that needed to be resolved:

  • Ramps to get he bike in and out of this truck
  • Straps to secure the bike
  • A lock for the truck box
  • I found I needed some tools to build the ramps!

So on the way back from the truck rental place I picked up some cheap ramps, and a cheap lock from Harbor Freight. Then I went to Home Depot and picked up some cleaning supplies I will need and to keep oil off the bottom of the truck. At the hotel I found out I needed some tools to build the ramps and some screws/nuts so I went to an Ace Hardware and built the ramps in their parking lot.

Once that was done I drove to the tow yard and loaded up the bike. That night I had a relaxing time with some local beers and a calzone while skype chatting with friends.

Day 6: Getting Home. 450 Miles

Early on Day 6, with a little bit of a headache from those 3 Crowlers the night before, I headed out back to Denver from Rio Rancho. The drive was uneventful, I had a killer burrito with green chilies @ Lottaburger. I also finished my audio book I started during the ride, and really want to go back to that area again to see/experience more of the Navajo and Hopi reservation areas.

Once I got home and got the bike unloaded with the help of a friend I was able to pull the bottom plate off the bike and see the real damage. A nice 1+” hole in the center of the sump. And the sump guard plate completely mangled.

Cleaning the bike up

One of the first things I did in the morning was to clean the bike top to bottom with some Simple Green HD degreaser as the entire back half of the bike and the bags were covered in motor oil. I scrubbed the tires heavily in concentrated simple green and then with brake cleaner to pull as much of the now 48 hour old oil off the tire rubber to try and save them. In the end I am pretty happy with the result. Besides for a small dent on the exhaust lunchbox no other damage is on the bike.

I already ordered the replacement oil pan, gaskets, oil, new filter, and everything I need to get the bike repaired. It should be good to go by the weekend!

Update: Here are the pics of the damaged oil pan once it was removed. No damage to the siphon/strainer in the tank other than a small nick on the edge.

I will have more posts about what this whole ordeal made me consider, and how this ride went overall and stuff I learned, I am still processing what I did that almost made this worse, things I did that made this not as bad, and how to plan better in the future for these kind of issues. With that… I’ll post more when I have time 🙂

Update: I repaired the bike and finished the trip! You can see the full video and overview here.

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3 Responses

  1. Chris Brown

    Wow, I’ve watched that video10 times looking for a BIG rock and don’t see one. It’s scary how easily the Tracer oil pan can be whacked and how minor the obstacle can be.

    I remember reading a Motorcyclist Mag review of the FJ-09 where the review popped over a small curb into the office parking lot which he’d done before on lots of other road tests. Oil all over the place!

    I have hit bottom three times with my FJ in three years and stopped each time expecting the worst. So far just exhaust system or center stand impacts. Whew!

    Great blog and thanks for all the work to share it.

    • Joe Kelly

      Yeah! The fact I barely saw it before I was on it also shows how small it actually was. I just updated the blog post with 2 still pics showing the rock and showing it getting ejected out behind the bike at the same time the oil tread marks started!

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