Recently we have had a spate of rather serious columns about tedious but fun-loving affairs like horsepower limits, helmet laws, novelty helmets, and ethanol fuel. That’s all well and fine, but I’d like to change things up a bit here in the interest of you, the reader (because that is why we are here in the first place), and share with you a small glimpse into a lifetime of moto-stupid. I’d like to think in a way that I pushed the boundaries of dumb so you don’t have to.

Chuck Yeager was a world-class test pilot; think of me as a world-class test dummy. Consider it a cautionary tale. With that in mind let’s move on.

The Cost Of Being Sloppy and Lazy

I lived on a farm in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. I lived in a chicken shack turned outboard shed that metamorphosed into the humble abode of myself and my girlfriend, now my wife. I had an old friend I knew since grade school; he wanted to flee the Washington D.C. area and flee he did down to the farm. He stayed initially on my girlfriend’s boat, and then moved into an old cinderblock building that was once used to process oysters.

During all this tumult and change, he managed to turn up in his F-150 with an old Penton dirtbike in the back; a beautiful, if beat up, green and white beast with goodies on it that indicated its previous owner – sometime back during the Bronze Age – knew a thing or two about going through the woods smartly. This thing was Steve McQueen ISDT cool. It had a Lectron carb, aftermarket shocks, but more than anything, it went like stink. The one thing it did not do was stop. But stopping is overrated – we’re on a farm, we have plenty of run-out room.

I pieced together something of an ad hoc track consisting of the dirt driveway which is about 3/4s of a mile long, to the barn road which is a short straight, maybe an 1/8th mile, to a circuitous path along the woodline and the fields leading back to our shed and the oyster house. Nothing too demanding. And that old Penton could haul – we weren’t going to load up any plugs, that’s for sure. To get the thing to stop, or at least slow, the only thing that seemed to work was standing on the rear brake pedal, but no matter.

This turned out to be a great deal of fun, the bike’s suspension worked remarkably well, blown fork seals and all, and the engine was surprisingly strong. Okay, so maybe the lights didn’t work, maybe the brakes were nonexistent, who cares?

And then we had reason to care.

My friend decided one day to ride the Penton up toward the head of the creek, so off he went in typical scalded-dog fashion. What he was not aware of was we had recently moved the cows, so the gate to the barn road was up. The gate was in about as good a shape as the Penton’s brakes, which was fortuitous for my friend as he rounded the corner WFO and found himself staring at a face full of gate getting closer at a considerable rate of speed. He went for the brakes. Oh yeah, there are no brakes, this thing slows like a Panamanian freighter. BOOM! Right through the old gate. The gate was blown into tinder, my bud hit the ground, the Penton was just fine, of course.

Lesson Learned: Preventive maintenance counts, fix your stuff, particularly brakes.

The Cost of Being Cheap

My girlfriend wanted to get a bike of her own but we didn’t have a lot of money to spend. I found the perfect bike up around the D.C. area, a used Yamaha XS360 that had sat in a Navy property yard in Norfolk for an eternity. The pipes were all rusted up and the tires were shot, but these things can be dealt with. I ordered an inexpensive MAC Ceramacote pipe to replace the stock pipes and mounted up some fine Cheng Shin tires, ribbed for her pleasure. They cost about as much as a Budweiser 12-pack back then. Hey, it was her first bike right? She’s not going to be doing her Eddie Lawson imitation on the thing, she’s just learning how to ride. They should be fine for those purposes.

The venerable XS360, a.k.a. the Widowmaker in its pre-modification phase. Moto-dwarf perfecting her kickstarting technique.

The venerable XS360, a.k.a. the Widowmaker in its pre-modification phase. Moto-dwarf perfecting her kickstarting technique.

I was all pleased with my handiwork and fired the thing up. Might as well give it a test spin to scrub those tires in, right? It sounded good, and up the road I went. I had a loop I knew well, and I knew how fast I could get through those corners, so why not let this little thing eat, eh? So, I get into it a bit and it’s still sounding great and I hit the first corner, that’s fine, and here comes the left-hand sweeper, we’re moving at a pretty good clip, and I toss it in. Suddenly I’m pushing the front end like Wayne Gardner. Maybe she wasn’t going to drag knees on the thing, but I damn sure was. They have a stall warning alarm that goes off on airplanes, I have a voice that goes off in my head when I am on my left knee and the front end goes away, it pleads, “Please hook up, please hook up, please hook up.”

That little turd pushed its front end right to the edge of the road but it did hook. I could only collect it up and shake my head. What an idiot. I almost pitched my girlfriend’s new-to-her bike all for saving a few bucks on tires. Brilliant. A set of Dunlops went on soon thereafter.

Lesson Learned: Do not half step on stuff that matters, you know, like tires… and leathers.

Amazing what a bike that wants to go around corners, decent rubber, that you can start with a button rather than kicking it like a bad habit can produce. All smiles, and sunshine, and unicorns, and rainbows, and stuff.

Amazing what a bike that wants to go around corners, decent rubber, that you can start with a button rather than kicking it like a bad habit can produce. All smiles, and sunshine, and unicorns, and rainbows, and stuff.

Only the Shadow Knows

In another lifetime an old boss of mine and I flew out to Denver, Colorado. We had arranged with American Honda to borrow some bikes for the week; two quads, two dirt bikes, and two streetbikes, which we did. The streetbikes were something of a mixed bag, a VTR1000 and a big Honda Shadow with an aftermarket fairing on it. I grabbed the VTR and would not let go. I managed to maintain custody of the VTR until we rode down to Colorado Springs to interview a fella, at which point my boss suggested we switch bikes. Well, okay, I guess, if I have to. He is, after all, the boss.

I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of forward controls and buckhorn bars and all that, but what the heck, right? It’ll be fun. The interview concluded and we headed back north towards Denver. And then the weirdest thing started happening. My boss was moving out smartly on the VTR and I had plenty of throttle left, but I get this thing up to something resembling serious speed and it is weaving and bobbing like Muhammad Ali. What the hell is causing this? I ensure I’m making no inputs to the bars, I’m not doing pull-ups on the thing. Insofar as I could, I tried to move around on the bike. Nothing worked. Finally I just went into a full tuck to see what would happen. The thing tracked straight. You ever go into a full tuck with buckhorn bars and forward controls behind a Plexiglas window? Not only do you look full on moto-dork but it is uncomfortable as hell. I proceeded to Denver in such a fashion.

My boss, who was a tall guy, did not have any such problems, he could also see over the handlebar-mounted fairing. I, on the other hand, who towers a whopping 5’9”, was looking through the fairing and the only thing I can figure is that the interaction between my fat Arai head and that tall bar-mounted fairing didn’t want to play nice. The buffeting was something, and I’d ridden Shadows before sans fairing that didn’t act that way. Riding around folded up like a cheap lawn chair is not what I would call pleasurable.

Lesson Learned: Aftermarket stuff can mess a perfectly good bike up, and one size does not fit all. Either modify it – in this case cut the windscreen down – or lose it.

I have more, much more, a veritable cornucopia of stupid – a horn o’ plenty as it were – but that will have to do for now. I do dearly hope you go forth, have fun, and avoid the stupids. Oh, and stupid does happen. Buy good protective gear.

Ride hard, be safe, have fun.


About the Author: Chris Kallfelz is an orphaned Irish Catholic German Jew from a broken home with distinctly Buddhist tendencies. He hasn’t got the sense God gave seafood. Nice women seem to like him on occasion, for which he is eternally thankful, and he wrecks cars, badly, which is why bikes make sense. He doesn’t wreck bikes, unless they are on a track in closed course competition, and then all bets are off. He can hold a reasonable dinner conversation, eats with his mouth closed, and quotes Blaise Pascal when he’s not trying to high-side something for a five-dollar trophy. He’s been educated everywhere, and can ride bikes, commercial airliners and main battle tanks.

  • azi

    Dare I propose a more common stupid: buying a cheap-ass hack like your aforementioned XS360, but then somehow the simple fix turns into a misguided restoration into concours with priceless OEM parts because all the articles and forum posts you found in your Google search for tech info have brainwashed you into thinking it is a golden collectible of global cultural significance. By this time you have spent enough to have purchased a three year old bike that would have worked from the beginning.

    Guilty as charged, your honour.

  • pcontiman

    Thanks for the reminder especially on brakes and tires. fun article.

  • JMDGT

    As a young man I was solely responsible for my bike maintenance. I had no money while attending school but kept my old CB350 as get around transportation for the summer months. The tires were bare, it started to run a little rough and the brakes were thin. I remember thinking I hope I can make it there and back without it breaking down. I should have been thinking I hope I don’t crash. As soon as my summer job kicked in I bit the bullit and had everything fixed. When I have the maintenance done on my bikes today I think about those old days with a greater appreciation of keeping my machines in good nick. I am lucky.