Article by: Scooter Tramp Scotty
Originally Published In The January 2019 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
Sturgis was over and Seny and I had been riding west together for the better part of a week. The night’s camp had been set up just outside of Idaho Falls and, over coffee, the morning’s talk centered on what to do next. My Electra Glide had developed a bad transmission leak, and Seny’s Sportster ran so poorly I sometimes wondered if it would start at all. It had been like that for as long as he’d owned it, so Seny just figured this was normal. I knew better. We contemplated the options: keep riding towards Oregon while filling my transmission twice daily (with 20-ounce capacity, it drained fast) and listening to Seny’s bike die at almost every stop or seek a solution in Idaho Falls. Knowing no one there, the repairs would require an act of providence. Of course, it could happen, because I’d been living by little else for many years.
This land was mostly prairie. And although the late August nights were already chilly, as we started into town the day was warm. There’s always a certain anxiety when entering an unknown town where you know neither the lay of the land or anybody there. It’s a certain gnawing at the stomach familiar to travelers. After so many years, this minor discomfort seemed like an old friend. Traffic was heavier, and businesses lined the roadside as hwy-26 led into the heart of this small urban community. Spotted something, I quickly pulled into a parking lot as Seny followed. A look back revealed a big drive-in movie theater. With its blocked entrance, weeds growing through the gravel driveway, and obvious neglect, I guessed rightly that this place was abandoned. We set off on foot in a mission of exploration. Although the pay-booth, big screen, and snack bar appeared in good condition, tall weeds encompassed the entire speaker-pole lot. A thick group of tall trees quickly became the center of my interest. With Seny following, I found a hidden space between the trees. It was almost perfect. After fetching a folding hand-saw from my saddlebag, we both set to clearing the area. When finished, the place was perfect. The theater’s blocked entrance left just enough room for motorcycles to pass through. Now that we had a beautiful new home, it was time to find easy access to showers. I called a gym that offered a week free trial. This would work and although, my unorthodox methods had at first seemed alien to Seny, because they’d worked so well, he’d acclimated quickly. After showers, tacos, and hanging at the HD dealership for coffee and bullshit with staff and customers, we went home.
The next day began with a beautiful morning and we were delighted with the comfort and privacy of this new place. After coffee, Seny a yoga instructor, practiced every day and I’d been joining in. A personal yoga instructor seemed too good to miss out on. After breakfast, camp was struck, and we headed to the little gym. In the afternoon we watched a Shovelhead back up to the little coffee shop’s curb. The rider’s full beard, old levies, and t-shirt told of a long-term rider who complimented his aging motorcycle well. He’d ambled over, and eventually, we got to talking. He told us about a little motorcycle event that was happening the next day and gave us the location. Our mechanical needs were laying heavily on my mind and I decided to tell our new friend, Jeff, about it. It turns out that Jeff had a garage, lift, and tools that we could use if we wanted. What a break! However, I suspected the leak was coming from the transmission’s left main seal, which would require a special pulley removal tool. Jeff didn’t have one. We talked for a while longer before our new friend offered his phone number.
I figured there were only two places this leak could be coming from: one’s in front of the pulley, and the other behind it. The latter requires a special tool, the first doesn’t. Before searching for the tool, I needed to determine for sure if it was actually necessary. But the entire front pulley was covered in oil making it impossible to pinpoint the exact location of the leak. I purchased a can of brake cleaner that afternoon. Next morning, after coffee and yoga, my bike was laid on its side just beyond our tree-lined home, and I emptied the brake cleaner into that pulley area, then wiped everything with a rag. Now everything was sparkly clean. This task completed, we packed camp, and rode to the bike event. Although bikes littered the parking lot of Bonneville Customs, its far end had been blocked off with caution tape. Beyond the barricade there was a colorful array of vendors, participants, food, and music. The custom bikes were also sitting out there on display for the judges.
After parking beside an old Flathead, I knelt to check the trany leak. Sure enough, oil was coming from behind the pulley. I would need that damn tool!!! At this point there was nothing left for us to do so Seny and I strolled inside the building. This was mostly a fabrication shop, with a handful of professionally made custom machines littered the place. In one corner, a pinstripe vendor offered his equipment, so amateurs could practice. Seny was caught up in that activity for hours. For me, the search for a pulley tool went on. I asked the shop owners…they didn’t have one. Next came a man who thought he could get one. I took his number. With the warm sunshine and interesting participants, the afternoon passed in a blur. A few days passed as we settled around town and began meeting new folks. I called the guy about that special tool, but it was a dead end. Then we began visiting local shops to ask about borrowing the tool. Strangely enough, most didn’t have one.
The next day we sat in the lot of Bonneville Country Choppers waiting for the place to open. Although the sign said 9 am, we’d been there two hours and still nothing. This was the last house on the block. If it didn’t pan out, I’d grab a quart of oil from the auto parts store across the street, and we’d start for Oregon. Two minutes after our decision was made to leave, a pickup pulled in, and one big guy stepped out and opened the door to the shop. Jim, the owner, seemed to know his shit and, had two tools I needed. He offered to loan one…no deposit necessary. The show was on. After calling Jeff for his address, we rode over to meet him. His was an apartment building with a long row of tiny garages. Jeff lifted one garage door to reveal an impressive collection of tools gathered around one manual motorcycle lift. It was a great place, but very tight. Jeff led us to his second little closet and lifted that door. I gazed with interest at his other bike. It was an older Evo Softail with full on blower. That’s something you don’t see every day. As we talked, I realized this guy was an old school rider with extensive experience and mechanical knowledge. For me, it was good to talk with another gear-head. Jeff also showed us his camping vehicle—a converted ambulance. Amazed, I looked it over thoroughly. This guy was obviously a bit eccentric. After shoving my bike on the rack, and with the convenient use of air tools, I had the primary apart in no time. Just as I’d thought, the rubber seal was pressed into the transmission’s left side and had worn two deep grooves into the steal spacer that fits over the mainshaft and into it. Weird that rubber can wear grooves into steal, but I’d experienced this twice before.
I had a Baker 6-speed in this thing, with its top gear a bit too high for my taste, I’d been contemplating reducing the ratio by installing a front pulley with one tooth less next time I was in there. Well, I was in there. I returned to Bonneville on Seny’s Sportster: Jim was amazed to see that my diagnosis about the worn spacer was correct. After looking up the parts, he said they’d take days to ship, and I was better trying the dealership. Their wait-time turned out to be longer. Instead, Seny found my parts on the internet. BAKER claims they make a case hardened steel spacer that wouldn’t wear grooves like the stock job. Eighteen bucks. Andrews had my front pulley. I paid extra to have the parts shipped overnight. Jeff had offered me a garage key, and that night, in a thick air of claustrophobia, we crammed sleeping-bags on the floor in the middle of all those tools and bikes. While waiting for parts, we looked at Seny’s bike. I suspected intake manifold leaks. A quick check revealed that all three manifold seals were shot. After a ride to the dealership for new parts, I instructed Seny on the installation procedure. Once he’d got the gist of it, Seny stuck his hands in there and didn’t really want my help. What a relief. Although necessary, I get pretty sick of working on these things.
When we finished, and although much better, I still wasn’t quite happy with how the Sportster ran. Producing a bag of carburetor parts from my saddlebag, I offered Seny a larger pilot jet. Although that helped dramatically and it did run like a different bike, I was still not happy. On old motorcycles, all there is for tuning is carburetor and ignition. Carb all good now, so we pulled the points-cover and noticed that one plastic part of the Dyna-S ignition was slightly worn. Seny called the company, and they offered to send a new one free of charge. Seny gave the address of a friend we’d be visiting in Boise Idaho. Now the bike ran dramatically better than Seny had ever known it to. Amazingly enough, my parts showed up on Jeff’s doorstep at 1 pm that same day. Tearing into the job immediately, the bike was running by evening, and we packed up. It was good to be back home at our movie theater. Jeff told us about a campout that was to be held that weekend at a hot spring/campground in the not too distant mountains. This was not a motorcycle event. We decided to attend anyway. Both bikes were running exceptionally well (with a grin, Seny complained the added power scared him). It was a beautiful day as we rode into the country and toward the sparsely populated mountain…