We were riding along minding our own business heading towards route 12 through Idaho and on to points East, when suddenly over the intercom I hear, "Something's wrong with my bike. It won't engage. Somethings wrong with the clutch."
We stopped on the side of the road and did some investigation hoping that maybe it was something that could be easily addressed. It wouldn't be the first time. Unfortunately, when the clutch is pulled in there is an ugly grinding sound. Letting the clutch lever out produces no forward motion, but more noise. At first we thought it might be the clutch throwout bearing but then realized that much more likely it was the infamous input shaft spline failure that BMW's are somewhat prone to, unfortunately. It was definitely internal and it was definitely a catastrophic failure.
This happened 23 miles outside of Spokane, Washington on a country road in the middle of the gorgeous wheat fields far away from just about nothing as the sun was setting.
On Google Maps we noticed that there was a BMW dealer about 23 miles away. After contemplating other options, we decided our best bet was to try to get there.
A woman on a Harley, Gillian, stopped to see if she could help us. She mentioned there was a hotel right next to the dealer. She also said, if we couldn't find a place to stay she could put us up in her guest room. Very nice!
Another Harley rider also stopped shortly thereafter to see if he could lend a hand.
If we could get to the hotel, we could then get up early and tow the bike over to the dealer and have them take a look at it. If it needed to be shipped, we figured it could be shipped from there.
We thought about attempting to get a flatbed towtruck but I figured it would take quite a few hours before they would show up. Then I remembered, I have been carrying a bike tow strap for some years fearing that it would eventually come in handy. At this particular moment, I was especially grateful to my former self for carrying it all these years. We decided to give it a try. It's only 23 miles after all, not 230.
The buddy-tow is nothing more than a long thin nylon strap in a little carrying bag. There aren't many good places to tie the strap on either bike. We figured if we were very careful, it wouldn't cause too much strain so we tied it to the rear rack on my bike and on the front A-arm on his suspension. This worked reasonably well but I was concerned about the fiberglass/plastic cowling that my rear rack is mounted to breaking from the tension.
Then again, my Beloved Blue Oil Burner has the mass of your basic Mac truck, so I had confidence it would hold."I told you it doubles as a tow-truck." I joked in the intercom.
(Notice the strap between the bikes.)
Getting started was a little iffy but by doing it carefully and coordinating our efforts through the intercom, we got underway with no drama. Flat surfaces and inclines were also no problem, however downhill sections proved to be very challenging since the two bikes roll at different speeds so Yun's bike would start rolling forward causing the strap to become loose. It gets dangerous when the dangling strap starts getting close to the wheels. Modulating the brakes to smoothly compensate for this proved to be very difficult. More than once we didn't match speeds evenly resulting in a destabilizing jerk.
After a few quite stressful near mishaps, we decided that the long steep downhill sections were too risky. We stopped and untied the bikes. Yun rolled his bike down the hill. Then we would reattach the strap and repeat the process.
This took some time but we did safely make it all the way to the the dealer when I noticed the name. WestSide Motorsports. Ian and I had been here. "The Denny's next to the Best Western serves wine. Ian and I were here in 2010." I told Yun on the intercom. Sure enough, it was the same hotel.
We rolled to a stop. I confess, towing was remarkably stressful. I would not want to do it for extended periods. My bike also got quite hot and the fuel pump once again started making some disturbing sounds. "Foreshadowing?" I asked myself as I considered that my bike has just passed the 90,000 mile mark and it's still on the original clutch.
I walked in to see about rooms. I asked the nice woman, whose named turned out to be Megan, about vacancies. "I'm sorry. We're booked solid." she replied. It was again as it had been for most of our time in Washington State. All rooms everywhere were booked. While contemplating my options, I sadly looked her way and jokingly said, "We're broken down. How about a basement? Could we rent a basement? A corner? Maybe a closet? How about that bucket?"
"Maybe I can find you a room." she said laughing.
She then proceeded to call around. It was looking pretty bleak when she apologetically said all she could get us a room at an Econolodge. It was a single but the motel was willing to rollin a cot for us. "Beats a night at Denny's" I said enthusiastically.
I mentioned that we wouldn't have a way of getting Yun and his gear to the econolodge. "No problem. I'll drive you." she said. "I was not looking forward to a long night hanging out at Denny's." I replied.
Success! 24 hour stay over at Denny's avoided.
It was pretty clear that we would be here for another day so Yun suggested that we book a room at the Best Western for the next day before it fills up. So I got the last available room and we were all set to have a place to stay the following day.
And true to her word, she drove Yun over while I followed on my bike being hyper aware of every little noise it was making. I have suddenly become paranoid. My bike has never left me stranded but there is always a first time. Being stranded in some seriously remote place would be a much bigger deal. The Bad Lands come to mind.
"I can pick you up in the morning." she said offering to drive Yun back to the Best Western.
At the hotel there was a lot of discussion, research and exploration of possibilities during the remainder of the evening.
We had a few problems.
- We didn't know exactly what was wrong. We figured it was either the clutch plates, the throwout bearing or the input splines.
- Regardless of what the problem was, it would require disassembly of half the bike. It's an expensive and time consuming job.
- Fixing it, even if we could find a place that we trusted, that had the parts, would likely take days.
- Once we have it opened up we would be committed. What happens if there's more damage and parts need to be ordered from Germany?
- Yun needs to be back at work by August 5th.
- Shipping the bike back was no less problematic since today is a Saturday. Some that Yun called were saying it could be many days before they would be able to come by and pick it up. All were closed until Monday.
- Maybe we could leave it at the dealer for a week or two while waiting for the shipper, but this would likely mean a week or two of storage fees which could become substantial.
Needless to say, we were facing a great deal of uncertainty, but at least we had options. We had a place to stay with food nearby. We had a BMW dealer at our disposal. We had connectivity. It could easily have been so much worse.
I slept poorly once again and morning crept up on me unawares. "I gain power from the Yellow Sun." Yun would often say. "But I have observed that you, you come alive in the darkness." Mornings and I don't get along.
Yun called the Best Western. Megan was not there but they called her. She was on her way to work and stopped by the Econolodge to pick Yun up in her own vehicle. Above and beyond professional well into the realm of the personal.
I followed shortly thereafter on my bike. They allowed us to eat breakfast at the Hotel. Very nice. We rehashed our options and for a moment Yun considered trying to get the bike repaired. "We could have it brought to Seattle." Yun said, "That place is very highly regarded online."
"Yes, but it still doesn't solve the 'what if they get in there and have to order parts that take four weeks to arrive' problem.". He agreed and said, "Let's go over to Westside and see what they say so we have good information." It sounded like something I would say.
So two up we rode the 1/2 mile to Westside. Yun walked in to talk them while I was fumbling with my gear when I noticed a man unloading some motorcycles from a big trailer with "ClassicMotorcycleRides.com BMW Motorcycle Rentals & Tours" written on the side.
"I bet he knows something about shipping bikes." I thought as I walked over and said good morning. His name was RJ and once I mentioned what our problem was he began telling me about the schedule of the trucker that typically picks up his bikes. "He's doing a big shipment out East and I bet he could fit your friends bike on the trailer. He's going to be here later today and I bet he could probably take the bike." he said. RJ gave Yun the number and the wheels were set in motion to solve a host of problems.
Yun talked to the trucker who was a wealth of information and before long we had all the information we needed.
Yun mentioned, "We should ship it. I talked to them here. They can't get to it for 5 days and even then they said they might get in there and find it needs more parts that they don't have."
Decision made. Yun called the trucker back and it was agreed up. The trucker should come to the hotel later today to pick up the bike. Then it gets hauled to a depot in Seattle where it will be crated and then shipped cross country. As it turns out, later we would find out the bike can be delivered straight to Bobs BMW instead of another depot. That simplifies things greatly. "He doesn't have a ramp with him, so we'll have to help him with the bike." Yun informed me. "No problem." I said.
Once the trucker arrives and takes the bike, Yun will buy a plane ticket and I'll take him to the airport which is also nearby tomorrow.
"There's no way we would ever have been able to talk to an actual trucker without his help." I mentioned to Yun. "Yea, apparently they don't do this. The place is closed until Monday."
In the meantime, I noticed on Twitter that Rania, who we met up in Philadelphia, who works at RevZilla, had tweeted out our situation to some friends she knows in the area. Awesome.
We went back to the hotel and were sitting outside. "I wonder what time check-in is?" I asked as I pondered my bags on the bike for all these hours in a busy parking lot. I walked in and talked to the clerk. "Check in is at 3 but we might be able to get you in a little before that." she replied as Megan walked up. "I know these guys. I've been dealing with them since last night." She said feigning annoyance but smiling brightly. "Troublemakers that we are." I replied. "I know, right?" she laughed. "Let me see what I can do. I might already have a room for you." she said. It was 10AM.
She returned and said our room was ready. I'm now sitting in an an executive looking suite sitting in a comfy chair sippy coffee and about to get some lunch while pondering how fortunate I am not to be out in the blaring sun. I thanked her and explained how huge a help she was to us. "If you needed to leave the bike for longer you could have just put it in my garage." she said, meaning her garage at home.
When you are far from home, alone, afraid of what you might have to endure, confronted with problems for which there are no ready or easy answers, the kindness of strangers can touch you in those soft spots in your soul that are rarely left unguarded.