Road Karma

A group of guys traveling cross country from New Jersey made an emergency pit stop at the house over the weekend.  I saw a post on a Facebook page from the previous day that Marco’s BMW R90 had a wheel bearing go out in Gallup and gave him a call to see if they still needed help. He thought it was a loose axle and fixed it by tightening the nut but by the time they rolled through Albuquerque it turns out it actually was the bearing and it had grenaded on the way here.

I swear these old Beemers are very reliable bikes once you go through and fix all their weak points. I read the blog they have been keeping of their trip, , and sadly it seems like the BMW has been having every textbook failure in the book,  charging system, ignition system, starting system, front and rear wheel bearings..  Good thing his bike has a beefy reinforced subframe carrying all that weight so he shouldn’t experience the broken frame problem as well.   Just think, by the time you get home you’ll have a well sorted rebuilt bike that can go anywhere.

The bearing on Marco’s bike must have gotten super hot as it was destroying itself and part of it was seized on the axle making it impossible to remove to get the rear wheel off.  Unfortunately my Dremel tool, and also my grandfathers hammer, were stolen in a breakin and both would have come in real handy.  I had to call in some help from my neighbor to cut the bearing off.

Originally I had planned on just swapping out the bearing from my wheel to his and calling it a day but since it took an hour and a half just to get his wheel off so we decided to just swap the whole wheel instead and deal with getting parts back to the right owners later.  It is only fitting since he’s already changed out the front wheel along the way too.

I was very impressed that little Robert who had been sick and fussy for several days thought all of this was fascinating and amazingly watched the whole thing for a couple of hours which was the longest he’d gone without crying all weekend. Even when he is not sick he won’t sit still for that amount of time. We’ll make a motorcycle mechanic out of him yet.

I thought I’d write this post after a friend asked Why? the next day after explaining how I’d smashed my thumb with a roofing hammer helping some motorcyclists that I’d never met before they rolled up in my driveway.

I’m not sure why I do what I do, even before I got into motorcycles I’d helped over 100 stranded motorists.  At the time living out in the country and frequently traveling dirt back roads with a less than reliable Jeep I had to become proficient in fixing my own stuff to keep going and had to carry a full set of necessary tools with me at all times.  As you experience new problems that you weren’t prepared for your tool kit grows, like after the time I overheated and had to hike back and forth to a windmill for water with only an empty soda can to carry it in I started carrying a gallon of water and antifreeze with me at all times.  With a rolling mechanics shop in the back I knew I could fix most common issues and get people to their destination so why not?  Helping those in need makes you feel good after doing your good deed for the day.

When I drove my Jeep pickup I did everything from countless jump starts to replacing a thermostat in the grocery store parking lot and more than once more than once having to do CPR on a crash victim before emergency responders arrived. Back then cell phones were a rare item and even after they became more common there was no coverage outside of the bigger towns so if you broke down between towns you were screwed. Learning to be self sufficient and prepared was a necessity.

I am a firm believer that what goes around comes around.  You shouldn’t expect it but many of those that I have helped have returned the favor later on, I got invited to a wedding reception for fixing a thermostat and even got out of a speeding ticket when the officer remembered my truck as the one that had helped a family member a few months earlier and occasionally had a few 20’s forced on me here and there. One rider gave me $100 for fixing an oil leak her bike, when I refused payment I found she had stuffed the money in my saddlebag.

After I got the V Star and used that as my primary vehicle and really couldn’t carry all the tools I had before I got a little bummed that I couldn’t help people like I used to, I had to pass by all those cars with hoods up in parking lots waiting for a jump start.  It was then that we started going on motorcycle trips that I discovered a whole new level of Road Karma, helping fellow cross country travelers.  When you give a soccer mom a jump start in the grocery store parking lot her day has just been slightly inconvenienced, when you help out someone on a cross country bike trip 2000 miles from home who’s already been on the road for several weeks you can be a god send!

Unless you have broken down thousands of miles away on a road trip without knowing anyone to call for help for several time zones you really don’t know what it is like. You are stuck, there is no going anywhere until you solve the problem and most of the time you’ve already gone way over budget by then too so a really expensive repair could be the end of the trip. Those that have been there will usually drop everything to help a fellow rider in need and bend over backwards to help someone in the middle of a trip. It is also a neat way to meet fellow travelers and hear about where they’ve been and in a small way become part of their trip.

I’ve also found that you are far more likely to run into road trippers that you’ve helped again. After you’ve saved their butt in the past they are happy to be able to return the favor and fellow road trippers like to travel a lot so you are more likely to meet them on the road and at gatherings.

Who knows, that random person you helped field strip and repair their bike in your girl friend’s mother’s driveway …

may offer you a bed to sleep on in Texas.

Or the guy who gave you a free stay at a nice hotel they’d won at a poker run in Arizona

you may run into at a meet up in Texas where you can give them an inflatable mattress you didn’t need.

If you decide to go on road trips eventually you will need the kindness of strangers so it is good to have lots of Road Karma points in the bank. Even if you don’t break down you’ll need a new tire or maintenance item along the way and getting your bike in for a quick thing without an appointment can still be a problem.  More than once we’ve been told by dealerships that their schedule was booked and we’d have to come back a few days or a week later and have had techs sneak us in under their foreman’s nose to do a quick tire change and get us back on the road.  Thanks guys at Adventure Motorsports !

We’ve also had to deal with asshole managers at oil change places and had techs step in to save the day.

Sometimes it is nice just to get out of the tent and have a couch or bed to sleep on without paying for a motel.

So don’t think that you’ll never need help along the your trip with your super reliable bike.

Whether you’re packing light and traveling by sweet Excelsior-Henderson …

or petal power …

or taking everything with you …

including the kitchen sink …

or traveling by well used and abused classics …

or brand new rides for a father/son cross country trip, eventually you’ll need help from someone.

So what can you do to earn some good road karma?

  • Offer your trade skills:  If your frame breaks you aren’t going anywhere until you find a welder …

  • Being able to fabricate new parts from scrap metal instead of having to wait for an overnight or a back ordered piece is great!

  • If you are mechanically inclined or just have a good set of tools to borrow that may be enough to get someone back on the road.

  • Write a repair article. If you don’t want to host your own blog other sites will welcome guest posts for your content and you may even get paid for it.

  • If you don’t know how to work a screw driver you can still carry a set of jumper cables, if you don’t know how to use them chances are the other guy does and sooner or later you’ll need them yourself, it’ll save you an hour wait for AAA to show up.  Any basic set will do, I have the heavy duty extra long 25 foot kind after my truck had a dead battery in a downhill space in the corner of a lot and we had to find 3 pairs of cables to daisy chain together to reach.  With these ones I can park behind someone and still give them a jump, the downside is they are heavy and bulky and don’t fit in my car I drive now.

What if you have no mechanical ability at all?

  • You can still offer your garage, spare bedroom or couch as a place to stay:

  • Recommend some amazing hole in the wall eateries you think they might like, like this sadly now out of business Greatful Dead themed pizza joint that had wall to wall memorabilia of the band and played the Greatful Dead channel on a big screen TV up front, my friend who was passing through on a Greatful Dead themed bike thought it was great!

  • Do a tour of the local sights around your town.

  • Or do a longer tour and show off some of the best motorcycle roads.  I have taken days off work to lead travelers through the best back roads to the Colorado border.

  • Throw an epic BBQ and get together to welcome a fellow forum member on a long trip. This is how some annual meet and greets got started and now people come from several states away to attend.

  • Or arrange a behind the scenes tour of a gator farm.

  • Or a behind the scenes tour of an aquarium to show how dolphins are cared for.


I am thankful that we have not had a major breakdown on any of our trips that I was not able to fix on our own.  Not to say we haven’t had a few scrapes to get through, there was the time that my auxiliary light broke off and destroyed my fender in the process on the Texas coast …

Or the frustrating time in Washington state that it took me over an hour to figure out that a mosquito had gotten into the carbs while I was changing jets and caused us to loose one cylinder a while later.

Or overheating issues in Utah.

Or the time a lady backed into the bike in Oregon

Or an Excursion crashed into us in Albuquerque.


It is practically impossible to plan every detail of an epic road trip ahead of time, you may want to spend longer in one place or less in another and lets face it, shit happens.  You may not make your motel reservation due to a wind storm that shut down the interstate, or it may take 3 days to ride the 101 across Oregon instead of 1 because you didn’t plan on being there on the 4th of July and getting stuck in 6 hours worth of parade speed traffic.  You have to be flexible and roll with the punches.

I’ve always said if everything went according to plan life would be too boring. Getting through those obstacles and deviations from the plan is what life is all about, you will always remember the time your engine exploded on the way to Grandma’s on Christmas Eve and you and your future wife nearly froze to death waiting for help, you probably won’t remember the same routine trip when nothing happened.

When you break down and things are looking dim just remember someone will be along to help you out of the jam and think of it as another opportunity to meet more interesting people.  When things are at their lowest it can only get better right?

Look forward to what you’ll see over the horizon when you get back on the road and what a great story this will be when you get home.

Ride Safe.

4 comments to Road Karma

  • Hi Tim,

    I’m Brook Reams, the guy who got Marco’s problem posted on the FB page. I live in Denver. I read your blog on your encounter with he, Gomes and Bruno, and wanted to say thank you for helping him out. And I wanted to tell you that you are spot on in your comments about why helping folks makes for good times.

    In that light, although it sounds like you have a lot of hands on experience, I have been posting a lot of technical content on rebuilding airheads; 1973 R75/5, 1975 R75/6 and currently, 1983 R100RS. Some of this maybe helpful to you. Feel free to wander over to my blog at:


    • Lynx

      Hi Brook,

      I’m already familiar with your site, its in my bookmarks. I was also putting together a resources page that I never finished for good Airhead related stuff and yours was on there.

  • barrosba

    Wow! Great write up Tim. And thanks again for your hospitality. You really were a god send. You saved Marco some scratch and the 3 of us a great amount of time.

  • Not a comment, but the only place that I could find to ask a question.

    What do you know about replacing the oil seal for the clutch “push lever axle” found on page 4-71 of the Yamaha maintenance manual? According to my local shop and what one online poster stated another manual says, the engine and rear cylinder have to be removed to replace this $5.00 seal.

    Surely there is another way.

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