Classic bikes need mechanic owners

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This weekend, Jason and I went to Buck’s County, Pennsylvania. River Road runs alongside the Delaware River, and we wanted to ride the stretch from Riegelsville to Milford, NJ.

We had to put Molly’s front fender back on, since it was supposed to rain on the way back home. So, unfortunately, we left later than we wanted. (We were also out late the night before, and had a bit too much to drink.) By the time we got to the Holland Tunnel in Manhattan to head out onto Route 78, traffic was backed up for at least a half hour. Though it wasn’t too hot outside, sitting still in traffic caused our engines to heat up quite a bit. Molly’s temp gauge was almost in the red.

We didn’t get to Riegelsville without further problems. In Bloomsbury, NJ, there’s a Pilot Travel Center (my favorite gasoline stop). Jason likes to stop there, because it’s a good place to rest after an hour on the highway. We picked up some sundries and geared up to ride a country road to Riegelsville, but then Molly wouldn’t start. The battery was dead. Thinking about how the battery could have died while on the highway, I thought about possible symptoms. The engine was losing power then surging at high speeds. Before that we were sitting in stopped traffic while waiting to get through the Holland Tunnel. We had also tried to use carb cleaner, since the right side was backfiring when slowing down. I was sure it was because the right carburetor needed some degunking. I thought maybe the surging was a result of gunk getting stuck in the jet.

Maybe the carb cleaner was a bad idea. But that wouldn’t be a reason why the battery would die so fast. Maybe a diode had burned out in the rectifier. In addition to a possible bad rectifier/charging system, we already knew one of the stator coils is bad. I hate being on the road with an old bike without the proper tools to troubleshoot problems.

At the Pilot, I said to Jason, “We need to push start her.”

Just then, an angel at a gas pump yelled out, “You need a push start?”

At first, I didn’t know what to think. I must have had a confused look on my face, because then he walked over with a smile and said, “You need to push start your bike? I had a CX500. They’re great bikes.” I think he was a local. His Jersey license plate said “Veteran,” and he had a calm and stalwart demeanor. And he was a big guy. Well, bigger than Jason.

I put the clutch in 2nd, turned on the ignition, and in one run at about five mph with our veteran hero at the stern, I popped the clutch and pulled the throttle, and Molly started right up.

I didn’t get his name. Wherever you are, Sir, thank you. People like you make me proud to be American. He was truly an angel that day.

We got to Riegelsville where we met up with family, and I put the battery on a trickle charger (which we take with us, because of the bad stator coil). The next morning, we packed up and headed down River Road. Gorgeous. And fun. It was much more fun to ride than Bear Mountain, because the route was much longer.

After some more family meetups, we decided to try to beat the rain. Well, we rode right into it. With the faulty firing, riding in the rain was not exciting. It was cold, we were wet, and Molly’s power was getting worse. We were going so fast, though, I couldn’t really listen to the engine with all the wind noise. I could only feel her lose power at high RPMs.

Several exits passed by, and each time one came up, I thought about getting off and drying off. But I really just wanted to get home. So we kept going.

Halfway there, the rain stopped. But Molly’s ignition was even worse.

Then we reached the Holland Tunnel back toward the city. What a relief. For a minute.

At a traffic light just before reaching the toll booth, Molly stalled and wouldn’t start. The battery was dead again. Jason and I pulled over to a side street and tried to push start her again, but she wouldn’t take. We tried several times until Jason was too wiped out to push more. Fortunately, there was a shopping mall close by, so we took her battery and the trickle charger with us to charge while we got some food and a little rest.

With enough juice, we tried starting Molly again. The starter turned, but the cylinders would not ignite. Then we pulled out the spark plugs. The right side was covered in oil, and fuel had splashed up the sides of the plug. I didn’t have a multimeter on me to check the connections and I forgot about touching the plugs to the cylinder to check for spark.

After replacing the right plug with a new one, we tried again. Nothing. I started thinking again about the symptoms. Obviously the battery wasn’t charging. It could have been the rectifier. But then the ignition wasn’t functioning either. The stator? Oh no.

Since it was getting late, we decided to leave Molly and head home through the tunnel. The parking lot to the Holland Motor Lodge was right there, and the manager was kind enough to let me park her overnight. In fact, he was so kind that later I looked up the hotel online and saw that it received an average of 4 out of 5 stars from hundreds of reviewers. So, side note, great place to stay. It’s AAA and it’s walking distance to public transportation, like the Manhattan Ferry and the New Jersey PATH train. And it has a parking lot, so you don’t have to pay exorbitant Manhattan parking fees to enjoy the city. (Though, it is pretty easy to park a motorcycle in the city.)

The next day I went back to Molly with a fully charged battery, a multi-meter, a wire, electrical tape, penetrating cleaner, a bunch of tools, and a phone number for a motorcycle tow. I didn’t have to look much to find that the phone number was the most important thing to have this time. I noticed that the right spark plug wire was loose. I pulled off the electrical tape that was on it to find out exactly why it was loose. Well, it wasn’t just loose; it was broken. The plug wasn’t getting any spark.

When we bought the bike, the seller mentioned that the carburetors needed cleaning, so we attributed the backfiring to dirty carbs. I never thought that it was the wires. It turns out the ignition system had two faulty connections between the CDI and the right spark plug. And when I checked the spark plug connector, there was no continuity at all.

Now, I did bring a wire along with the tools, so I theoretically could have done something McGyver to get the ignition to work. But unfortunately, that wasn’t the only problem. I checked the stator coils. Another bad one. The engine was so hot that it melted the resin in the alternator. I had ridden Molly all weekend with one functioning stator coil. The ignition system drained the battery. I wasn’t ready to ride with ghetto wiring and a failing alternator. The wire might have melted (shorted) and gotten me stuck inside the tunnel. Instead, I elected to call Tony of TLT Towing to get me home.

He came, and in one swift move, got the bike on his truck and drove us home.

Next step, fix the stator.

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