Thursday, July 5, 2007

Broken Lever Pt. 2

Finn pulled out his cell phone, and started making 411 calls. The first operator connected him to a tow company's fax machine, which didn't do any good. On the second call he got through to a live person, who told him it would cost $150 to get the bike towed to Santa Rosa (apparently Windsor doesn't have any bike repair garages). $150 is a lot of cash, but Finn felt like there weren't many alternatives, so he asked them to send a truck out. They said to expect the truck in a half hour to 45 minutes.

Next Finn went through 411 for repair shops in Santa Rosa. He had to get connected to a few different places (I was adding up the 411 charges in my head and inwardly grimacing, but I guess he felt like it wouldn't mean shit compared to the tow cost, and subsequent repairs) before he found one that was open. They wouldn't be able to work on the bike until Monday, but he made plans to have it taken there.

While Finn tried to sort things out via cell phone, I started looking over his bike. The clutch lever was the immediate problem. It'd busted off so close-in that the nub didn't allow enough leverage to take the bike out of gear. What remained of the lever was held in place by a bolt dropped through the top, cinched against a nut on the bottom. Top of said bolt had a flat-head-screwdriver slot. We didn't have any flat head screwdrivers, but the edge of my keychain fit in well enough. I pulled the supplied tool kit out of my bike, and found a wrench that fit the nut on the bottom. In a few minutes, I had the busted lever off the bike. Still, without a good lever to replace it with, we weren't really any better off.

Right about then two junky old bikes came around the first turn. Each bike was driven by a clean-cut younger dude, and each dude had a preppie-looking girl sitting behind him. As they passed by us on the second turn, the dude in the lead called out "All right?" I shrugged my shoulders. About a hundred yards past us, they turned around and came back.

Finn was still on his cell, but I stuck out my hand and met the dudes. Alan and Mitch, they were brothers from Jersey who lived in Salt Lake with their wives--the preppie-looking chicks (whose names I don't remember). Two clean-cut younger dudes, in polo shirts and slacks, with their wives, on vacation from Salt Lake--I put it all together and figured they were Mormons. Later on Alan confirmed my suspicions by admitting he worked as a youth spirituality counseler.

Mitch drove an old Yamaha, maybe a Seca or something like it, and Alan's bike was the same year and model Nighthawk as Finn's. "If you guys had nice bikes," Alan told me, "we wouldn't even have pulled over."

After the introductions they were all over Finn's bike with so much fervor I felt like I had to force my way into the conversation to let them know what the problem was. A veritable swarm of energy. "Either of you guys got a spare clutch lever?" I asked. Neither did. They did have a pair of vice grips, though, and they figured that if we put the lever nub back on the bike, they might be able to fasten the vice grips to it, creating a makeshift lever. I got the nub and the bolt and nut, and we started working at getting it back on the bike.

Right about then the tow truck pulled up. "He's going to be so pissed if we can get this working," Mitch said. The driver, to his credit, seemed like an ultra-laid-back guy. He said hello and sat down on the guardrail, waiting to see how things turned out.

First Mitch put the vice grips on facing the rear of the bike, but that didn't leave enough room for the makeshift lever to pull tight enough to take the engine out of gear. Mitch flipped the grips around, and lo and behold, it actually worked.

I whispered to Finn, "If we can get the bike back into Windsor, I can cruise to the nearest bike shop and get a new clutch lever. With a new lever you could make it back to the city, and save yourself $150 for the tow."

Finn pulled the makeshift lever a few times, trying to judge if it was solid enough to stay in place for the ride to Windsor. He was already on the phone with 411, trying to find the nearest parts shop. After a few tugs on the vice grips, he looked at me and said "Let's do it."

Turned out the nearest parts shop was also in Santa Rosa, and once Finn got connected to them, he learned they were just minutes from closing. He negotiated with them to sell him a lever over the phone, charging it to his credit card. They said they'd leave the lever in their mail box.

That left breaking the news to the tow truck driver. He'd been following the events closely enough to know what the score was, and he didn't seem too bothered to have been called out for nothing. I'm guessing he even felt amused by the novelty of some strangers coming together to jerry-rig a bike back into action. "I didn't want to do any work today, anyway," he said, smiling.

We thanked the driver for coming out, and we thanked the Jersey Mormons for helping with the bike, and giving us their vice grips. Before they got back on their bikes and rode off, Alan turned to us, laughing, and said "So don't be saying us East Coasters are all a bunch of pricks. I know all you Californians think the East Coast people are a bunch of assholes."

"I'm an East Coaster too," said the truck driver. "I was born and raised in Philly."

"I'm from Pennslyvania," Finn said, "and I lived in New York for years."

Finn and I got back on our bikes, and headed back the way we'd come. I followed at a pretty good distance, expecting the vice grips to come off the bike at every bump in the road, but they held on well enough that by the time we got to Windsor Finn wanted to shoot straight to Santa Rosa.

"You think they'll stay on on the freeway?" I asked.

"I think so. They feel pretty solid to me."

And they did stay on. We got to Santa Rosa, found the shop, found the new lever in the mailbox, and put it on the bike. It was getting close to six, and I had to meet up with my girlfriend in the City at seven, so we got back on the 101 and headed straight south. Traffic was thick, but moving fast. I kept the speedometer at 65, but Finn kept dropping back, and I had to slow down. Finally, when he was a few hundred yards behind me, and we were still 10 miles from the Golden Gate, I saw him take an exit, pull off the freeway. I took the next exit, pulled over and called him on his cell.

"You all right?"

"I'm fine, just needed to get some gas."

"Bike working all right?"

"Yeah. It doesn't sound the same as before, but it's running fine."

"You probably ought to take it to the shop sometime soon, have it checked out."


"You don't need me to wait for you, do you? I'm still trying to make it to the City before seven."

"No need to wait. I'll catch up with you later."

I pulled back onto the freeway, cranked it up to 75, scooted on home. I made it back to my place by a quarter till.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Broken Lever Pt. 1

On Saturday I went out for a ride with my friend Finnian, who has only recently gotten interested in motorcycles. We headed north on the 101, with Windsor as our destination. Finnian's parents have a house there, and he'd gone up the week before to check in on the place--his parents are doing an extended cruise in the Mediterranean right now. During that little visit he'd accidently left a bag of weed on the kitchen table, and this week he wanted to retrieve it (poor form to leave your drugs out for your parents to find, you know). It also served as a good excuse for Finn to take his bike on the freeway, which he's only done once or twice before.

The freeway part of the trip went without much problem. Finn hadn't ever spent that much time on a bike before, so his ass got pretty saddlesore, and the roaring and pushing of the wind freaked him out a little too. His bike handled fine, though. It's an old Nighthawk 650, made in the year when they changed out the chain for a shaft-drive. He's only had it for a month or so, and hasn't put it through serious use yet. My own bike is also a Nighthawk, a 750 from '92. I've had it for a few years now, and I've covered a few thousand miles with it, so I know it pretty well.

In any case, we got to Finn's parents place without incident, except for a few car wrecks we saw on the way (mangled cars, but no human casualties). The weed bag wasn't where Finn had left it, but he got up the nerve to ask the neighbor (who's coming by daily to feed the cat) to see if she'd taken it. She didn't fess up to doing so, though Finn thought she had a nervous look in her eye when he approached her.

So we were short on weed, but still had plenty of time left (the only constraint being my seven o'clock date with my girlfriend). We decided to drive the backroads to Bodega Head, have a quick hike, and start back toward the city.

I let Finn take the lead, because I didn't know the area. In just a few minutes we were out of the town and cruising on a two-lane with vineyards on either side. The weather was beautiful, the scenery a delight; perfect conditions for a bike ride.

About twenty minutes in we came to a sharp curve to the right that was followed immediately by a sharper left. We were moving about ten miles per hour faster than the posted limit for the curve, which isn't a big deal on a bike (or even most cars), but the turns were sharp enough and close enough together that a little charge of energy sparked in my gut. I breaked a bit in the upright moment between the end of the first turn and the start of the second, because Finn had slowed enough to put me on his heels, but we were carrying enough speed to cause the following to happen very very quickly.

Finn started in on his lean, but didn't seem to be leaning in enough. His break-lights flashed for an instant, and then the bike was on its side, dust and plastic and shards of the rear-view mirror floating in the air around it like a cloud. Finn came off the bike, his left shoulder and hip against the asphalt, his body turning as he slid so that he was facing back toward me when he and the bike made contact with the guardrail. The sun was shining down strong at that particular part of the road, and the whole thing seemed incredibly sharp and vivid in my eyes, like High Definition television when compared with regular TV.

I stopped my bike, leaned on its side stand, and headed in Finn's direction. He was already on his feet by the time I got to him, his eyes wide, saying "Looks like I'll be riding bitch back to the city." A kid who'd been driving a car right behind us stopped and hustled over to help. We got the bike off the road, and started assessing the damage.

Finn hadn't come out of it too bad. His jacket had a few new holes in it, and his left hip sported some fresh scratches, but the only serious casualty seemed to be his pride (during the next half hour he berated himself continuously--I must have heard him call himself "stupid" at least two dozen times). The bike, on the other hand, wasn't ridable. Besides the destroyed left mirror, and the dents and scratches on the tank and body, the clutch lever had busted off completely, so we couldn't put it into gear.

After making sure we were alright, the kid jumped back in his car and took off. We were alone, with an unridable bike, 75 miles from the city...