Cha Cha at "Pit Toilet"
Copyright © Erik Pennebaker, All rights reserved

Cha Cha scanned the map and wondered "What's 'pit toilet'?"

"Hmmm....perhaps some sort of rock formation resembling a latrine?" I smirked.

"I want to see it!"

We pointed the rental jeep toward 'Pit Toilet', which happened to be in the direction of the only paved road through Arches National Park. The bike remained back at the hotel, up on its centerstand, a slow drip of gear oil spotting the ground. It was monday, labor day, nowhere to tow it. Maybe I'll back up a bit....

I picked up Cha Cha from the airport and we got on the bike and pointed out of Albuquerque. We were heading to Mesa Verde, with reservations at the Farview Lodge. The ride started hot and ended in the rain, some amazing Colorado storms. In my trips in the southwest I haven't seen many storms, so this was a great treat. Unfortunately at the point that we should have put on our fleeces, we didn't - "too much trouble" - and then spent an hour getting colder and colder so that when we arrived at the hotel it took a while to thaw.

We visited a few of the Mesa Verde sites the next morning before pushing off toward Moab. It was then that I heard The Sound. A soft rubbing, in time with the rear wheel turning. I couldn't see a tire rub or find any play in the wheel, but the noise remained. Eventually I decided to press on - knowing it could be The Thing, and that pressing on could make it worse. However it was Sunday, with Monday being a holiday, so to not press on would mean spending 2 days in the middle of nowhere. I hoped if I got to Moab and The Thing got worse I'd at least be somewhere with some things to do.

The Thing is the BMW final drive. Instead of a chain, most BMWs have a shaft drive. The end of the shaft drive, the point where it connects to the rear wheel, is called the final drive, and it's a weak point in the design.

The ride to Moab from Cortez (we took the boring way, in case things got worse) is mainly 65 mph, light traffic, a fair amount of trucks. Our way degraded to the point that we were going 35 or 40 and trying to get out of the way of traffic. By the time we reached Moab you could clearly feel it through the pegs, and the noise was heinous.

Subsequently, an oil change of the final drive revealed lots of metal flakes and it started leaking, so it became pretty clear the final drive had failed. We prepared for a Tuesday morning tow, and spent Monday in a Jeep. Rentals are pricey but we couldn't stay at the hotel when Cha Cha hadn't seen Arches.

[ tags: 1150GS BMW colorado dmc-lx3 motorcycle travel utah ]

Getting Towed
Copyright © Erik Pennebaker, All rights reserved

This is about the last thing you ever want to see on a trip - unfortunately it's my third time.

The first was a flat tire. It sounds basic but my f650 uses tubes, so if you get a flat you need to be both capable of swapping the tube, and have all the tools to do it. I might have found the skill given enough time on the side of the road, but not having the tools was a deal-breaker.

The second time was also on the f650, this time with an oil pump failure leading to a total engine failure. I'd maintained the bike well and as far as I know there was nothing I could have done to avoid it.

And this last tow - although having all the weight of a passenger with luggage put it over the top, the bearings were probably just spent. Perhaps light use might have gotten a few more miles of it, but apparently these things are time bombs, perhaps at 30k and perhaps at 150k miles. Although the shaft drive is far cheaper and easier to run than a chain/sprocket, it's hard to predict when it will fail - which is troubling.

Amazingly, Grand Junction BMW had the bike working in less than 24 hours. Progressive roadside assistance covered the tow.

Motorcycles are not like cars. For a car, 10,000 miles is nothing. A little tire wear, maybe an oil change. In that time a motorcycle will go through a set of tires (maybe two rear tires), one or two services (oil change, valve adjustment, etc). What you save on gas is lost quickly in maintenance, and that savings can be small anyway; at highway speeds most bikes will do 40 - 60 mpg. Worse, although BMWs can go 100k and beyond without serious engine work, normally 50k motorcycle miles is like 150k on a car.

The skills and preparation you bring to the ride go a long way. I don't have a lot of mechanical skills but I maintain my bikes. I think I ride well, I've learned to ride in lots of terrain, maybe I'm less likely than most to need a tow because of an accident. I now carry tire changing tools. Still, only one of my tows was preventable, and I think I would have needed a lot more mechanical skill to have fixed this last one by myself.

So if you want to ride across the country, you have to deal this with. I'm left to hope I've gotten a few of these out of the way, so maybe I'll have some clear sailing for a while.

[ tags: 1150GS BMW colorado dmc-lx3 motorcycle tow travel utah ]

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