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50cc Ride - ABORTED!


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Ever since I got involved with the Iron Butt Association (www.ironbutt.com) by doing several “Saddlesore 1000” rides I had been intrigued by the IBA “50cc Quest”. 50 hours coast-to-coast has a nice ring to it! The 50cc is typically done from Jacksonville to San Diego, in either direction as this route is the shortest distance from one coast to the other. The rider must obtain a witness at each end, log all gas receipts, and has 50 hours to complete the ride, including all stops and sleeping time. The much longer route from New York to San Francisco earns the rider a “50cc Gold” certificate. A few riders go on to complete a “100ccc”: coast-to-coast-to-coast in under 100 hours. I had the honor of witnessing the arrival of Don Catterton (Sonar) as he arrived in St. Augustine, FL, completing his 100ccc ride in 90 hours and a few minutes! Don began his ride in Myrtle Beach, SC, rode out to San Diego, and back to Florida.


My opportunity to do a 50cc ride presented itself when I scheduled a machine installation visit at a plant in Los Angeles. I was able to combine this work with 2 brief business visits at plants in Wisconsin. I researched my route out to LA, and worked on the details of my 50cc return route. I chose to ride north from Long Beach to Barstow, the western terminus of Interstate I-40. Taking I-40 across the country to its eastern end near Wilmington, NC would be a few hundred extra miles, but this route would avoid the dreaded deer threat in western Texas, and likely afford cooler temperatures and less humidity than the I-10 southern route.


My ride out to WI was uneventful, I had my two visits on successive days, and continued west thru MN, IA, NE, CO, UT, NV, and on the fourth day out, into CA near Barstow. The cool and moderate temperatures across the country ended abruptly as I crossed southern Utah into Nevada – as if someone had turned on the oven. After my LA appointment I checked into a hotel in Long Beach near the Queen Mary. The following day I was able to sleep a few hours in the afternoon and then head over to the downtown area to meet my witness, check my tires and oil, and get my starting gas receipt. Now “on the clock” my witness led me up the 710 freeway and introduced me to lane splitting. Holding my breath we threaded our path between lines of slower moving cars. As my witness veered off towards his home I continued up to Barstow and headed east on I-40. Within a mile of I-40’s start is a single sign which announces the distance to Wilmington, NC of about 2500 miles. I chose to start my ride at 7PM to avoid the extreme heat of this Barstow-Needles-Flagstaff leg. It was still well in the 90’s through this area in the evening. By 3 am the temps had dripped enough that I needed to stop to add some layers under my aerostich riding suit. By 9 am I had cleared Albuquerque and was heading for the TX border and Amarillo. My hope was to ride into Oklahoma before stopping for a 4-5 hour rest. Suddenly my bike felt as if it shifted into neutral, but I was in 6th gear going about 85. I shifted down to 5th but the motor was no longer connected to the rear wheel. I coasted over to the shoulder, shifted down to neutral, then into 1st gear, let out the clutch and there was only a strange whirring noise as if the driveshaft were broken. This was clearly NOT a roadside repair.


A sign just ahead said that Tucumcari was just 30 miles further, and my GPS told me that I was exactly half-way between Albuquerque and Amarillo, 135 miles from each. On a Sunday morning, and most BMW dealers are closed on Monday. Fortunately there was good cell reception and I immediately called BMW Roadside Assistance. As my bike is out of warranty they would only provide (minimal) towing costs, but at least they would connect me with the closest tow service equipped to handle motorcycles. Forty minutes later my hero appeared with a small van and a motorcycle trailer with all the proper tie-down straps and years of experience. He assured me that they could keep my bike at their shop in Tucumcari and deliver it on Monday (or Tuesday) to the BMW dealer in Albuquerque. No reason for me to stick around here in EBF, I contacted AMEX travel to get myself back home. They assured me there were no rental cars to be had anywhere near Tucumcari, NM on Sunday afternoon. No problem said my new friend, they would take me to Amarillo after we had unloaded my bike. The towing service owner is a savvy woman named Linda “Pinky” and all the tow trucks are painted pink. They seem to have a great business towing everything from 2 wheels up to tractor trailers. They would solve all my problems, get the bike to the shop, get me to the airport. I figured I better sit down when her fingers started dancing on the calculator keys. Just picking my bike up and bringing it back to the shop would be $240, less the 100 from BMW. My airport dropoff charge was another $278. And taking the bike back to Alb would be about 700! Flight home: $368 for the one-way ticket; hotel, only about $60. Then there would be the repair costs, I’m hoping maybe $1000, but who knows? Then I would need to fly back down to ride the bike home. All of a sudden my little adventure was costing an extra $3000, if I’m lucky! Thinking rationally, I am looking into shipping the bike back home after the repairs are made. Better yet, why not get it shipped directly from the towing shop back to my local dealer, save the $700, and have it repaired at the shop where I already have a good relationship. And increase the chances that BMW NA might cover some of the repair costs. Although the bike is a few years out of warranty, it is well below the 36K mile warranty limit, having just turned 20,000 that morning.


Thanks again to my LA witness Mike, and standing-by witnesses in AR and NC. Another try? I doubt it. I think I’ll satisfy my riding adventures on the east coast, New England, etc. With 5 documented 1000 mile rides I have my Iron Butt plate back which I display very proudly. And I’ll experience these “big rides” vicariously by reading about them on the IBA website and talking to these riders at the annual Iron Butt dinner party in Florida each March.

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That sucks...

Glad it was just the bike and not you.

Hope your repairs don't turn out to be as expensive as you are estimating.

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Very sad that the bike let you down like that, but needless to say it could be worse. I'm afraid that repair of a stripped input shaft spline (likely problem) is probably going to run more than a grand, though... but the upside is if that is the problem then BMW should certainly help you out. And BTW dump BMW Roadside Assistance and get on the KOA/Allstate plan!


Sorry to hear the news.

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