October 17, 2011
Motorcycle Kickstart Classic Ride – A 1200 Mile Harley Panhead Adventure
Wednesday, October 5, 2011…D-Day. Weeks of preparation (an procrastination) had come down to this. Sitting in my driveway were my two entries into the first Motorcycle Kickstart Classic, a 1972 BMW R75/5 and a 1964 Harley-Davidson Duo-Glide. My good friend Tim volunteered to pilot the BMW and I rode the Harley-Davidson. We left on a clear cool morning in central North Carolina, so I donned my full set of leathers before kicking the panhead to life. We let the bikes slowly warm up as my wife took a few parting photos. By 8:30 we were fueled and on the road, headed west on I-40. Our destination was Maggie Valley and the Wheels Through Time museum. Maggie Valley is a straight shot down I-40 from my home and at only 250 miles, we had high hopes of making it to Wheels Through Time by early afternoon.
About 80 miles into the trip, I hit reserve and we pulled off for gas. Trying to maximize my minimal range, I filled both tanks to the top, assuming that the bike would be upright for the next couple hours. The bikes were running great and Tim commented that if we’ve made it this far without issue, we’ll probably make the entire trip without any problems. Well, Murphy’s Law kicked in right after that and within ten minutes of the comment, I was pulling out the tool roll. I had kicked the bike over about a dozen times without even sputter, so I started going through the standard troubleshooting procedure, checking for gas, air and spark. Off came the air cleaner assembly, oil lines and float bowl. Everything looked ok on the gas and air side, so I reassembled and tried starting the bike again hoping that maybe the float had gotten stuck. Twenty or so kicks later, I pulled the plugs to check for spark. They seemed fine, but I went ahead and replaced them just to be sure. Now it was back to kicking, with the same results as before. Also, you’ll recall that I filled both gas tanks to the top, which meant that while on the kickstand, gas was leaking out of the left side cap at a steady rate, making a nice slippery mess all around the bike. Finally, when I was about out of ideas, I noticed a melted wire on the side of the engine which connected the battery to the voltage regulator. I fixed the connection and we were able to push start the bike fairly easily, figuring that the battery had probably gotten pretty low over the last two hours.
At the next stop the battery still wasn’t charged back up and we push started the bike again. I was starting to think that maybe the battery had been damaged when it grounded out on the motor, which posed a bit of a problem since it was a special size to fit inside the oil tank. Thanks to the invention of smart phones, a Batteries Plus store was located not far off our route in Asheville, NC and it seemed likely that they would have something that could get me through the weekend. In route to Batteries Plus, we passed a Ducati dealership and pulled in to check their batteries. The parking lot had a nice slope, so I parked at the top in case I needed to push start the bike again. The dealership did not have the correct replacement battery, but they did have a multimeter which allowed me to verify that the battery and coils were both working properly. During my testing, I moved the bike closer to front of the dealership, which turned out to be a mistake as I left my helmet sitting at the top of the parking lot. While working on the bike, someone drove by, opened their passenger side door and grabbed my helmet! So now I was stuck buying a helmet at the Ducati dealership which is not a good thing. As anyone who knows anything about bikes will tell you, Ducatis are expensive and when you carry expensive bikes, you don’t carry cheap helmets.
After cleaning the stickers off my new helmet, we packed up and rode the last 30 miles to Wheels Through Time. As soon as we parked the bikes, the tools came back out and I started working on the bike again. Before long, several fellow riders were gathered around, offering advice on what to check next. Dale Walksler suggested cleaning and lubing the mounting posts on the points and checking the gap. He also provided the emery cloth and hi-temp grease needed to complete the task. Again, the bike wouldn’t start. We push started it and Dale discovered an intake leak at the cylinder heads. I had never changed the intake o-rings before, but luckily, fellow caimag member hdstm volunteered to help me with the job. Dale also donated a new set of o-rings and spark plugs to the effort and more importantly had provided a free dinner for all the riders. Once my stomach was full, I was off to the hotel parking lot with a pocket full of new parts.
Thanks to hdstm, the o-ring replacement went smoothly. Soon the bike was starting and running normally. Glad to have my engine issues resolved, I unpacked the bike and got some much needed sleep.
After dragging myself out of bed and getting dressed, I walked outside for a firsthand look at the weather. Unlike most mountain mornings, the air was clear of fog and it looked like the start of a good day. The bikes were quickly loaded and breakfast was found at the local diner attached to the hotel. I had a hearty meal of eggs, bacon, grits and toast before heading back to Wheels Through Time for group photos and general tire kicking. About 15 minutes before departure, I realized I needed gas, so I made a quick trip up to the gas station. As I returned to Wheels Through Time, I saw the first bikes pulling onto the road. A quick u-turn and I was headed west with a group of about 75 vintage bikes. The panhead ran great and I was starting to enjoy the twisty mountain roads, when we made our first gas stop. Again the bike wouldn’t start. At least this time I had a good idea of the problem and resolved myself to push starting for the remainder of the day.
At the second gas stop, I was wondering around the parking lot checking out some of the bikes when I noticed two screws sitting on top of the cases of caimag member Pigpen’s bike. Closer inspection revealed them to be the two rear lifter block screws for the front cylinder. It was real lucky that they hadn’t fallen off on the road, as oil was already starting to puddle around the lifter block. The fix was easy enough using a mini-ratchet tool that Pigpen carries in his saddlebag and I only received minor burns trying to work on a hot motor. With Pigpen’s bike back together, it was time for another push start and on we pressed through the mountains.
Matt Walksler did an excellent job planning our roughly 250 mile route to Rome, GA. He lead us over some of the best roads in the region, Highways 28, 315, 30 and the Cherohala Skyway. The scenery was perfect, a nice combination of fall colors and vintage bikes. At the higher altitudes, my old Linkert was starting to run a little too rich, but with a leaky intake I was glad to not be running lean. We also made plenty of gas stops, roughly every 50 miles, so my lower fuel economy posed no problems.
We rolled into Panhead City in the late afternoon and it was well worth the trip. There was a hot dinner waiting for us as well as plenty of cold beer. Panhead City is part vintage bike shop and part museum, so it made the perfect stopping point for our first night on the road. As soon as my feet hit the ground, I was off to look for parts. New plugs, intake o-rings and wider clamps were on my list. The mechanics let me search the walls and drawers for the parts I needed and then let me put my bike up on the lift to make my repairs. On the lift behind me, hdstm was having a new tube put in the rear tire of his girlfriend’s Shovelhead and I heard many others asking for spark plugs and other parts. You couldn’t ask for a better place to bring a group a vintage bikes.
For my second attempt at intake manifold leak repair, I decided to try the old redneck engineering standby, high temp permatex… I changed the intake o-rings as I had done the night before, but this time I applied liberal amounts of permatex around the outside of the o-rings. I followed this up by wrapping strips of inner tube around the o-rings and clamping everything together with the wider shovelhead style clamps. If you look at the picture below, I am sure you will agree that there is no way that this set up could leak…
I woke up to another perfect day for riding and after a quick bite to eat at the hotel, it was back to Panhead City. The ride to Barber Motorsports Park was only about 130 miles making it the shortest day (mileage wise) of the trip. We pulled out from Panhead City and headed west around 9:00 AM. Our route was carefully chosen to avoid as many of the small towns as possible and we made it to Barber Motorsports Park with little mishap. Of course my intake was leaking again by the time we reached our first gas stop, so it was back to push starting for me. Not to be discouraged, I was already thinking of my next attempt at repairing the intake. Dale Walksler had mentioned that some people use the wide Shovelhead rubber bands on top of the o-rings and I thought this technique, plus upgrading to aircraft style clamps, would be a good set up. While stopped for lunch, I met a fellow rider with a spare set of Shovelhead rubber bands that he freely gave me to help with my repairs. All that was left now was to find a set of aircraft style clamps at the swap meet and I would be good to go.
Now the first mistake we made once we arrived at Barber Motorsports Park was with the tickets. Event tickets are not the same as museum tickets and we ended up buying a three day pass for each. Looking back, I probably could have gotten away with a one day pass to the museum and maybe just a one day pass to the event, since the swap meet and auction did not seem to require tickets. Regardless, once the bikes were secure, Tim, Pigpen and I headed for the swapmeet to search for clamps.
The swapmeet was laid out in a very orderly fashion with paved lanes between the rows of vendors, not at all like the typical swapmeet set in the middle of a muddy field. There were parts for all makes and models of bikes, albeit mostly Japanese. There was some Harley stuff to be found and the guys from Panhead City were there with their own collection of used parts. After searching through a few boxes of random items, I scored two aircraft style clamps for just $5. Once that was out of the way, I was able to enjoy the rest of the swap meet at a more laid back pace.
In planning for this run, I had put all my time into the bikes and little thought into lodging. So far, we had been pretty lucky finding hotels as we got to our final destination each day. Once we hit Alabama, it seemed like our luck was running out. The hotel that most of the other riders were using was all booked up and by lunch time it was not looking good. During our lunch stop, we sat with a couple who was in the same predicament and had just found some rooms at a Comfort Inn that was 15 miles from Barber Motorsports Park on Colonnade Parkway. Sounded like a good deal, so I made reservations, just glad to have a place to stay for the night. At the end of the day, I found out just how lucky we were. Our hotel was located in the opposite direction of the main highway, which meant we rolled right past the longs lines of traffic leaving Barber Motorsports Park and took a nice back road straight to the hotel. It probably saved us 30 minutes of stop and go traffic and a burnt clutch.
Since the motto for the ride was “Ride, Wrench, Repeat”, I started Saturday working on my third attempt at sealing my manifold. Installing the rubberbands, o-rings and aircraft clamps all at the same time was a little tricky and involved a lot of trial and error. In the end, I rolled the o-rings onto the heads, held the rubber bands on the manifold with a zip tie and then let Tim install the clamps from the right side of the bike while I held everything in place. After completing my third intake repair, I was optimistic that this would be the last attempt for the weekend.
With my bike repairs complete, the first item on the agenda was a tour of the museum. If you are into motorcycles (any kind of motorcycles) then Barber Motorsports Park needs to be on your bucket list. I heard rumor that the total collection is over 1200 bikes, which cover everything from early steam powered bikes to modern racers. It was great to have a chance to look at some correctly restored panheads and get an idea of what parts I’m missing and how the wiring should be laid out. I took a lot of closeups shots of these bikes to save for future inspection. Also the displays are simply amazing. Bikes stacked over multiple floors, rising all the way to the ceiling.
The Century Race was taking place while we were inside the museum, and we were able to watch it through the windows. As you might guess, this race is for bikes that are 100 years or older. Dale Walksler owner of Wheels Through Time and fellow Kickstart rider took first place in his class and second place overall on his 1911 Indian Single. Just prior to the race, there was also an excellent airshow, performed by 4 stunt pilots flying T-6 Texans.
After the race was over, it was on to the vendor booths and AMCA bike show. I was given a ballot for the “People’s Choice” division and somehow managed to only vote for Harley Davidsons in every class… Next came the auction, which kept us busy the rest of the afternoon. There were some great deals to be had on classic bikes that day. There were even a number of rare bikes, including a super charged Triumph Trident. Since the exposed pulley for the supercharger was mounted a couple inches in front of the left knee of the rider, I could see why it only had 21 miles…
Days 5 and 6
This was the last day of Barber Vintage Days, so we spent the morning finishing up the museum and checking out the remainder of booths around the track. Ducati had a special event area called Ducstock and there was also a cafe racer inspired section that centered around the Ace Cafe of London. Another pass through the swap meet yielded a set of saddlebag guard rails that I needed for my panhead. Even though they need a little work, the price was too good to pass up. By lunch time we had seen it all and had met back up with Pigpen and Mike from Kreater Custom Motorcycles out of Canada. After a good lunch and a couple hours of swapping lies and talking about bikes, it was time to hit the road.
Our route home was much less scenic, straight highway all the way. We reached Atlanta around dark and turned north onto I-85. Just as we were getting close to the South Carolina border, my generator light turned on. I had successfully fixed my intake leak, only to run into another set of problems within 24 hours. We pressed on, but once we arrived at the hotel, I decided to pull the battery and charge it overnight.
On the morning of the 6th day, I reinstalled the battery and we headed for North Carolina. As the day wore on, I watched the lights grow dimmer and dimmer. I already was not running a headlight to conserve power, but still the battery was slowly draining. Luckily my tail light also decided to die around this same time, another power savings… I turned off the bike one time during that 300 mile trek back to home, but otherwise just idled at the gas stops. Even with the battery issues, the bike made it all the way home without missing a beat. The battery was completely dead, but the trip had been a success. Looks like a Cycle Electric generator and new wiring harness are going on my Christmas list this year.
I’ve been on a lot of bike runs and to dozens of bike rallies, but this event by far was the best I have ever attended. Even with up to 75 bikes in our group, everyone road together without issue. Maybe it’s something about having an old bike with poor brakes or just that the vintage crowd is more laid back, but the typical jockeying to be in the front or running wide open between lights was almost nonexistent. Best of all was the sense of camaraderie between all the riders, which I experienced first hand while trying to resolve my intake issues. I think this is part of the “lifestyle” that Harley is trying to sell, but it has long since left the dealerships.
I’d like to thank all the people who made this trip possible: Buzz Kanter and American Iron Magazine for putting all this together, Burt Baker of BAKER Drivetrain for sponsoring the event, Dale Walksler and hdstm for all their help in troubleshooting, providing parts and repairing my panhead, the folks at Panhead City for providing additional parts and use of their lift, Pigpen for taking time to further my vintage bike education, Tim for pushing my bike all week without complaint and most importantly my beautiful wife for taking care of our three children while I was out riding motorcycles for 6 days.