The last couple weeks have been a whirlwind of sorts.

Autumn, my girlfriend, and I arrived back in Tallahassee at the end of July after a week in California. I’d made the decision on that trip to California to set my sights on this motorcycle tour of the US as my next major goal in life. My head was full of ideas while we drove north from San Francisco along Pacific Coast Highway 1. I knew, however, that there would be a lot of work to be done once I got home.

In the final days of July, we got home and I set about dissecting the trip. Figuring out what I need to do to prepare.

There was some debate within my own head of whether or not to invest the time and money in fixing the bike I already own or to invest in a newer bike that would not need significant repairs. Being well aware of the sunk cost fallacy, but also being very aware that the motorcycle I have is the only motorcycle I’d even considered having for 10 years, I made a small list of repairs and upgrades I knew would be needed before the trip began.

  • Replace the battery with a maintenance-free model
  • New tires (probably twice)
  • Replace the drum brakes with disc brakes
  • Replace the charging system
  • Upgrade tail/brake light, blinkers and instrument cluster with LEDs
  • General tuning and maintenance

I imagined (admittedly with no evidence to support it) that all of those things, as well as various miscellaneous repairs which would arise and become apparent, I would need to invest around $6,000 in the bike itself. As I thought about it further, I realized that number is sort of optimistically low. I’ve decided that $10,000 is what I should expect to spend.

I’m willing to invest that much in this particular bike for a couple reasons, which I’ll cover briefly but will go into more detail on them in a post later this week or early next week.

This is, in effect, my dream motorcycle. I’ve seen one driving around town since before I graduated high school and always thought they looked cool as hell.

I bought the bike for about $3800, so spending another $10,000 on fixing it puts me right in the neighborhood of the modern brands I would turn to for a new[er] model.

My mom works with a guy who repairs and restores these old Airheads (the name given to BMW’s classic air-cooled motorcycles). I hope to meet with him this coming week and talk about my plans, see what he thinks of the investment in this particular bike.

He will, I hope, be willing to teach me how to repair the bike on my own, as that will be a crucial ability on the road.

Regardless of how much tutoring I get in repairing the bike there will be some things I’ll be unable to fix on my own, both on the trip and in my preparation for it. Things such as a broken odometer.
My odometer broke a couple of weeks before Autumn and I flew to California. I noticed the mileage one day was somewhere around 88,000. I bought the bike in March with 74,123 miles on it. I’d been riding the bike a lot, but had been wondering if I’d even put 1000 miles on it in the four months I’d been driving it.

My first reaction was to take the instrument cluster apart, see if it was a matter of a loose gear or something

The instrument cluster taken apart. Screws and bulbs not shown.

The instrument cluster taken apart. Screws and bulbs not shown.

easily diagnosable. Indeed, I found the culprit: a loose gear, but only made the problem worse by messing with it. At the end of my tampering, the thousands dial advanced one digit for every tenth-mile I traveled, while my trip-meter advanced only sporadically. Within another week the odometer rolled over twice to show itself back at 80,000 (+2 full revolutions, so 280,000 miles—fancy, huh?).

The bike doesn’t have a gas gauge, or even a gas light, so the trip odometer is the best option I have for knowing when to plan on filling up. The trip odometer is a must-have for even riding around town.

I turned to the internet to find some answers to how to fix it. Not surprisingly, there wasn’t much in the way of instructions for rebuilding an odometer. It seemed my best option was to send the entire unit off to one of two places, Palo Alto Speedometer, or Overseas Speedometer. Both seemed to get great reviews on BMW forums. I picked Overseas Speedometer, essentially for no other reason than they’re based in Austin, Texas and that’s closer to me in Florida.

I gave Rick at Overseas a call and he explained that the smallest gear on the odometer slips on the axle after decades of use. He replaces the gear and lubricates all the parts to ensure reliable operation for as long as possible. The whole ordeal can take two or three weeks, depending on how busy he is.

I rode the bike until the week before our California trip and then shipped the instrument cluster off to Austin.

I tied a plastic bag around the speedo electrical connection to protect it from the inevitable rain.

I tied a plastic bag around the speedo electrical connection to protect it from the inevitable rain.

Rick called me while I was in northern California to verify the work I wanted him to do on the unit. I was running a little tight on money at that point so I asked him to hold off until my paycheck came through on the 31st. He was happy to accommodate me and, at the beginning of the first week of August my account was charged $220.

In the box with my repaired instrument cluster was a hand-written receipt, noting the work performed. The odometer and trip-meter were repaired, gears replaced and lubricated. The speedometer was recalibrated—it had been reading about 2mph low—and the tachometer gears were lubricated.

I happily popped the unit back on the bike. I’d spent the past six days riding without it (quite illegally, I might add), as my car is out of gas and I’m out of money to refuel it.
I’ve got a week to go until my next paycheck and I’ve got roughly $4 to my name. This coming paycheck should be decent, though, I’ll have some overtime on it.


On Sundays I typically have breakfast with the geezers (my dad and a couple of his friends) where we talk, argue and complain about politics and society in general. Autumn comes from time to time, and Joel, my roommate has made an appearance a time or two. Yesterday we rode our motorcycles down to breakfast, Joel riding our friend’s Moto Guzzi V7 Special, Autumn on the back of mine.

On our way there, I made a stupid mistake and hit the front brake a touch too hard with the wheel turned and started to tip the bike over. We were pretty much at a standstill anyway, and Autumn and I both shot our legs out to brace the bike. The bike never fell and we remained upright over it, so there’s no harm done. It just served as a good reminder to always pay attention and encouragement to wear my helmet.

These mistakes are going to happen. I know I’m going to drop the bike or fall off or lock up a brake or something at some point. It may be riding home from work on an empty side street or it could be in the middle of a busy highway. I’ve accepted that and the risk to myself that comes with riding a motorcycle. Aside from feeling embarrassed about doing something dumb in front of my girlfriend and my roommate, I’m apprehensive about being the reason Autumn gets hurt.

We rode out to watch our friend Marlin (the owner of the Guzzi) take his motorcycle license practical. It started to drizzle as we stood out there talking with the instructor, so the three of us decided it was time to head home. We threw on our gear and pulled onto the main street that runs through town and hit a wall of rain.

I haven’t had a lot of time riding in the rain—I’ve gotten caught on my way home from places on a few occassions, but for the most part I’ve managed to avoid the rain and take my car instead. The act of getting wet is somewhat bothersome, though fairly easily ignored when it’s also 90+ degrees outside. What made me nervous yesterday was riding with a passenger, in the rain, in traffic.

It’s just an example of something I need to work on to prepare myself for the trip. There will be days and days on end when I will be riding in heavy, and possibly cold, rains. It also makes me realize I need to begin the practice of always carrying some rain gear with me.

It is the Floridian summer, after all.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s