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Southern Rail: Tired out

By Robert Filla

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It was the end of a long Memorial Day weekend and I was speeding down Interstate 10 in West Houston, fully loaded with camping gear and a gal perched on the back after a stay at the beach. Traffic was heavily congested, but still moving along at a steady 75 mph, the Shovelhead purring soundly under two weary riders as we jammed the express lane. And that’s when all hell broke loose, the worn rear tire going flat in a nanosecond causing the bike to start to go down on its left side and crossing from the fast lane across the middle lane to the slow lane before I got it to stand back up. And then it started to go down on the right side. And promptly proceeded to repeat its path back across to the fast lane. And then it did it again like some kinda two-wheeled pinball bouncing between breakdown lanes while dodging some of Detroit’s finest. We finally came to a stop in the center of the freeway along the dividing wall separating eastbound and westbound traffic. Since this was before the advent of cell phones, I had to scurry across three lanes to a nearby business on the feeder road to use a pay phone (anyone other than me remember those?) to call an associate with a truck. I returned to find someone had already stopped and was trying to load the bike into the back of their truck. Not good Samaritans, though, but gnarly scumbag bike thieves instead. My feisty gal was keeping them at bay with a tent pole. I was still trying to catch my breath after my gallop across the Interstate and was in no mood for fisticuffs when a patrol car pulled up behind us, lights a-flashing. The culprits made a hasty retreat.

Several years later and I’ve upgraded to a much better set of tires, a pair of 16″ Continental K112s. My reasoning for this selection was simple. This particular tire could be run on either the front or rear, with opposing directional arrows depending on which location they were installed. So being the budget-minded tight ass that I am, I would run the tire on the front for a year and then, each spring, take it off, turn it around the other direction and install it on the rear for another year, putting a new one on the front. Seemed perfectly logical to me. (Our tech editor, Kip Woodring, had only one comment when he learned of my practice, “Are you out of your freakin’ mind?!”)

At a party a few years later, a few of my riding partners got in an altercation with some college kid. He mumbled something about dim-witted scooter jocks and dog excrement and stormed outside. A little later, someone informed us that there had been an accident out front. There we discovered our four bikes leaning on one another like a line of toppled dominoes. Two bikes had cut spark plug wires and another had its fuel line sliced in half. My Shovel appeared to be the only one that was operational. And then we spotted the punk across the street. As he jumped into his car, I hoisted my bike upright and fired it up to give chase. I made it about 15 feet before damn near dumping my sled. The bastard had actually taken the time to remove the core from the valve stem on my back tire.

Rolling out of Big Bend National Park, many years later, I noticed that my riding buddy’s back tire was mighty slick. That didn’t sit well and I could see the worry in her face while riding down the road. We passed a motorcycle shop in Del Rio that just so happened to be open on a Sunday. They even had the proper-sized replacement. So we retired to a nearby cantina to fatten up on tacos and a few frosty beverages while the new skin was being installed. When we returned, we checked to see that the balance mark was in the proper place, that the directional arrow was spinning the correct direction and that the pressure was accurate. Then we reloaded all her gear and took off for the final 300 miles to the house. One hundred miles down the road the new rear tire went flat while riding through a tiny burg. With no other alternative, I located a rental truck, loaded up both bikes and we carried them home. Upon inspection at the shop, we discovered a huge bubble on the sidewall of the tire. The distortion was right next to the warning, “FOR FRONT PLACEMENT ONLY.” Never thought about checking for that.

Hell, just a few weeks ago I received a call from a friend asking what would cause a severe wobble at speeds above 60 mph. It had first occurred while he was riding down some rain-wet mountain road in Tennessee, almost causing him to high-side. I told him to check both the neck and wheel bearings and to check the tire pressure on both tires. All good. Then I asked what last bit of maintenance had been performed on the bike. A new rear tire had been installed less than 100 miles earlier. Turns out the shop had mounted it on the rim backwards, running the wrong direction and causing near loss of life.

Up until recently I had no idea that shops will no longer patch a tire—nope; full replacement only due to liability issues. Which is probably a good thing considering that even in this modern age, we still screw up one of the most vital parts of safe motorcycling.

 

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