My First Breakdown…


Marlene “Lookin’ for the Breakdown Lane” Smith


As we all know, when beginning any new endeavor or activity, we experience a series of “firsts”.  And depending on the person and their life experiences, these “firsts” could be different, even if the activity is the same.  Well, as motorcyclists, we certainly have experienced a series of “firsts” that we could all relate to, independent of all the other variables.  I’d like to tell you today about one of my many recent “firsts”.  I say recent, as I have been riding for a few years now, but have only recently had a series of new and exciting events as it pertains to motorcycling.

So, what is this “first” experience you ask (OK, so maybe you weren’t asking, but I’m writing the article, so I need to tell you something here).  It’s my “first breakdown” (no, not mental, thank you very much), but my first motorcycle breakdown.

 Dead-Eye Dick, oops, I mean Barbara Z. and I (I’ll explain the nickname later, as it comes from another “first” I’ve recently had…) were starting off on our journey to attend the Women & Motorcycling Conference in Buckhannon, WV.  We were actually planning to meet with the South Jersey group at the NJ Turnpike rest area near I-195 and then continue on and meet up the North Jersey group in Carlisle, PA.

I decided, in what must have been a moment of madness, that it would be a good idea to have my motorcycle serviced just prior to the trip, as it would have been due for service while we were away.  The motorcycle simply needed a standard fluid change, and all else checked out well.  The motorcycle ran well, including my ride to meet up with Barbara near NJ Turnpike entrance 8A (Monroe).  We no sooner get onto the Turnpike and accelerate to Barbara’s traveling speed (somewhere in the vicinity of Warp 10), when BA-WHAM! – the loudest backfire I have ever heard, and it was coming from ME!  (OK, not me personally, but the motorcycle).  I knew it was loud when Barbara could hear it from up ahead, and she had her earplugs in, full-face helmet…you get the drift!

Well, I start making my way to the shoulder and the bike just would not start.  Almost like it was getting all air and no fuel.  Conveniently, we were about ¼ mile from the Clara Barton Rest Area, just ahead.  Barbara goes on ahead to get assistance, and I start pushing my FULLY loaded bike down the shoulder of the Turnpike.  At this point, I am thinking that I should probably remove my chaps, but just don’t feel like it with trucks whizzing by me at about 90mph.  Another few hundred feet, and I am thinking that I am now getting the morning workout that I skipped for the trip.  Getting close to the entrance to the Rest Area, I am now thinking that I really didn’t need all the stuff I’ve packed, and am not liking these travel bags at all, and could generously leave them on the side of the road here for some other biker, who might need the biker essentials, such as scented anti-bacterial wash, vitamin C + wild yam facial treatment, and my toothbrush.  By the time I get into the uphill driveway of the Rest Area (of which I am doing everything but resting), I’m thinking that simply lying down and dying at this point would be a relief and a blessing, and a much better notion than the idea I originally had for having the bike serviced just BEFORE a major trip.

While Barbara was in search of assistance, I was contacting the AMA MO-TOW (AMA Motorcycle Towing) service, for which I had signed up for just two weeks before (thinking, of course, that I probably won’t need it, but just in case…).  Anyway, Barbara located a group of good-looking bikers who just happened (our good, their bad luck) to choose at that very moment, to stop at the Clara Barton Rest Area for a coffee break.  Being the damsels in distress that we were, (OK, maybe damsel is pushing it, but I was hot, tired, and very cranky by that point, and if I wanted to be a damsel, well dammit, I’ll be a damsel!) these fine gentlemen decided to help us diagnose the problem and try and get us back on the road ASAP.  I am not sure if this scene was well orchestrated, or simply chaotic, but all at one time, Barbara was on the phone with Jane, letting the Southern group know to go on ahead, directing traffic around us, I’m on the phone with the MO-TOW people and my dealership, and also telling the guys what the symptoms and problems were, getting them tools, while they’re laying on the ground, taking the motorcycle apart, attempting a repair, and we’re all having a general conversation as to where we’re from and going to, who we are, and at the same time, Barbara is trying to de-layer me out of all of my leather gear!  Whew!

After we determined that a roadside repair was futile, the guys pushed the bike to a safer location, we said our goodbyes, and we called the towing service.  The towing service helped us locate a local Suzuki dealership (Central Jersey Cycle) that was willing to take us in (OK, they felt pity for us) and try to repair the problem.  I have to say that one of the fun parts was that I had to drive the motorcycle (it would start for a few minutes) up onto the flatbed, while it was at a 45-degree angle, and then hold it there while the flatbed was moved into a level position (another first!).

Well, I can’t say enough nice things about Central Jersey Cycle.  Though they had appointments, they took us in, fed us lunch, charged us a portion of what the actual labor should have been, and got us back on the road in no time.  OK, the no time part was a bit of a fib, but they certainly did their best to get us going again.  We were originally supposed to meet the Southern group at 8:30am – Barbara and I finally got on the road and on our way to WV at around 1:30pm.  What was the problem you ask?  Well, it seems that there was a loose carburetor boot (whatever the heck that is), and after everything was tightened down, she ran like a champ.

Yeah – we were delayed and didn’t make it all the way through to WV in one shot.  Hey, it’s tiring doing all that waiting around.  Don’t believe me?  Ever spend any time at the DMV offices – ya feel energized when you leave?  OK then…’nuff said.

There’s always a bright side though.  We had an opportunity to see the sun setting in the mountains, ate at a very cool and very funky 50’s diner, had a chance to visit several cities on my AMA Grand Tour list, saw the sun rising in those same mountains the next morning…isn’t it all about the journey and not the destination?

Hmmm…remind me next time to tell you about one of my other recent “firsts”…the first time I decided it would be more fun to see if my bike travels just as well on its’ side as it does upright…

Until next time…


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