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Indian motorcycle on tow truck

End of the Road

(Travels with Guido series #358, by Guy 'Guido' Allen, June 2020)

How a minor design decision can bugger your day, two decades later

It’s an event to look forward to. Andy (of Strapz fame) and his partner Ms J have an annual barbecue timed with the Tyabb Air Show. Why? Because their back deck overlooks the northern end of the runway, so you get the best seats in the house, complete with lunch and a glass of something interesting.

All that in addition to their company, which all up makes it an event you’d crawl over hot coals to get to. As luck would have it, my criminally underused Indian was long overdue for a gallop, so the 80 kay bolt down the freeway was perfect.

This is one of those (perhaps rare) occasions when having a bunch of different bikes in the shed actually makes sense. A sunny day plus a road littered with government cash registers (speed cams), so there was good reason just to amble along. Exactly what cruisers are made for. Select the machine for the job and rumble down the driveway.

I’m a bit of a fan of small airshows. Though I don’t fly anywhere near as much as I used to – bikes and classic cars pretty much have my full attention these days – it’s fun to watch people playing with assorted warbirds and nut-jobs trying to turn their Pitts Special stuntbirds inside out.

Someone asked me if top-echelon aerobatic pilots might be a special breed, and the answer to that is a comprehensive yes. They’re like stunt riders – clearly they have not even the most tenuous grasp of physics, while working with a brain that is most likely wired backwards.

So when you see some lunatic in a Pitts drop out of the sky backwards, then flip it a few times without actually smacking the ground, you can rest assured you’re dealing with someone who isn’t quite the same as the rest of us.

Still, they’re clearly petrolheads, which is why we like them. And it’s a well-established fact that a huge percentage of pilots ride motorcycles. Which is a round-about way of saying that inviting a bunch of riders to watch an airshow makes all the sense in the world. Most of them don’t fly, but they appreciate what they’re seeing.

Even the more gently-used warbirds give pause for thought. Most of the ones we saw were World War II vintage, which these days makes them around 80 years old. It’s hard to imagine the people who screwed these things together had any idea that what they were assembling would still be in the air well into the next century. Hell, many of them may well have been wondering if they were going to live through next week.

It was a good day. We eventually make tearful farewells and muggins rides off into the sunset, pointed towards home. Barely a few kay from Chateau Despair, I make a quick supermarket detour to pick up a few essentials – claret and cat food.

Get the goods, switch on the bike and the starter momentarily fires without me going anywhere near the button, then silence. That’s not good. Sure enough, switch it all off and on again and there’s no fuel pump or starter. Just a stony silence.

Out with the tools and we discover the positive battery lead has come loose and may have tapped the monoshock, which in turn has tipped the starter relay into a major and terminal sulk. Running a positive lead much too close to the rear shock is a feature that dates back to the Gilroy machines of 1999 and it was never fixed with the later Kings Mountains. It was my prime suspect until I got it home.

In reality it turned out the first batch of body control modules (BCMs - unique to the Kings Mountain machines) on these things was faulty and had to be replaced. Mine may well have missed the recall back in the USA, since it was hidden away unused in a shed for a decade or so.

We were going nowhere, at least not under our own power. So, while waiting for the tow truck, I’m left pondering whether whoever made some relatively minor design decisions had any idea how much chaos they’d be causing a couple of decades down the road…

(Post script: we did in fact get it running again, with a replacement BCM sourced through Megazip.)



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