First World Problems – Adventure Rider

The title of this column is “Nick Adams Rides,” but for this month only the name should be changed to “Nick is messing around with bikes and can’t figure out which one to ride west.”

Every year I like to take at least one long ride. There are few perks to being retired, but one of the best is that I have the freedom to be away from home for as long as I want. Taking a month off is never a problem. But my painful, nagging First World problem is ‘which bike’. Three choices: the Guzzi Breva with hard bags and top case, the Colossus of Roads – my 1985 Suzuki Cavalcade with its lockable luggage, oh-so-smooth comfort and huge windshield, or my old and worn traveling companion – the 1972 Moto Guzzi Eldorado, my usually reliable road warrior of many long-distance tours. Decisions decisions.

I give a discount on the Cavalcade. While it’s completely reliable, I know I’ll probably end up on some unpaved roads and it can be a bit tricky on loose surfaces and tight spots. After sitting for most of the winter, the Eldorado has developed an undiagnosed rattle somewhere deep in the clutch or transmission. It’s probably something that can be easily resolved with time, effort and a little money, but I’d like to leave. So the Breva. It doesn’t have an effective windshield, but hey, I’m tough. I can do without it. I pack my camping gear, clothes and cameras, order a new rear tire and wait.

The Cavalcade is too big for many off-road shenanigans. So it’s up to the Guzzis. Photo: Nick Adams

But I keep looking at the Eldorado. We traveled many kilometers together: twice through Labrador, several times in Newfoundland, several times in northern Quebec, the Yukon, Vancouver Island. When we drive, it sometimes feels like the distinction between human and machine is starting to blur. We become Pholus – a centaur, but with two wheels instead of four legs. She has been my most beloved for over a hundred thousand miles. My Italian sweetheart. Her youthful beauty is still visible, even though years of toil have left their mark. Is it heartless of me to abandon her so easily just because she’s starting to show her age? The new tire for the Breva won’t arrive for another two days. I have time.

Until about 1976, the exhaust pipes of Moto Guzzi’s V-twins were held to the cylinder heads with large threaded rings. Over time, the threads in the aluminum heads would wear out, causing the pipes to leak and loosen. It’s a problem I’ve been dealing with for years and it was time for a permanent solution. Over the winter I replaced the cylinder heads with some spares I had from a later model with more normal ‘stud and ring’ mountings. The heads were torqued and the valve clearances were set to specifications. I had even bought a new lawn tractor battery to replace her worn-out, second-hand KLR battery that I had acquired from a friend. I turned the key. She started right away. And there was that mysterious clicking sound. When I last rode her, he wasn’t there yet. How do these things happen?

Last year a new set of cylinder heads for the vintage Guzzi. Photo: Nick Adams

On these shaft-drive Guzzis, operating the clutch and gearbox means starting at the rear wheel and removing just about anything in the way as you work forward. I’ve done it before. It just takes time. Get rid of the seat, side covers and battery. Disengage the rear brake and remove the wheel, then the tool boxes, brake cross lever and gear linkages. The footpegs lie on either side of a through bolt that goes through the gearbox mount. Throw them all in a box on the floor. Get the carbs out of the way, disconnect a few wires, remove the starter motor and disconnect the transmission from the engine. Shake the gearbox off the studs and move it sideways out of the frame. Sounds easy, right? And it is. It’s just time consuming, especially since the tools you need are always out of reach on the other side of the bike where you last used them.

The connection looked fine. Oh well, I only replaced it last year, so that should be the case – although I’m always aware that I’m very capable of doing crazy things that will end up biting me again, so I took it apart to check it. No. Everthing okay.

Well, at least it looks good… Photo: Nick Adams

With the transmission on the floor I played with selecting and deselecting gears to see if I could identify the problem. There was a slight knock when turning the output shaft in neutral. Could that be it? I was just thinking about this mystery when I noticed that an adjustment bolt on the back of the gearbox was loose. This thing allows for some very minor adjustments to the gear selection mechanism. And it was loose! Did I forget to tighten the locknut last time? Had it vibrated freely? Could this be the source of my misery?

To cut short the long and tedious description of reassembling the bike, let’s jump ahead to the first turn of the ignition key. Hallelujah. It has started. And, as far as I could tell, no nasty clicking from below. Helmet, boots and jacket on – let’s take it for a test drive.

I would love to tell you that everything is back to normal and that I’m already packed for the next adventure, but that won’t be the case. The Eldorado drives fine. The gears and clutch work as they should. I can select neutral with ease and the little neutral light on the dash doesn’t even tell its usual lies. But something has changed. I can’t quite put my finger on it. She just doesn’t feel ‘right’. That mystical connection between man and machine has been broken.

In the past I have happily traveled across the continent knowing that the bike wasn’t flawless, but I was willing to make adjustments along the way, never considering the idea that the Eldorado might not take me where I went. . Now I suddenly notice that I have lost that confidence. Is it my age? Am I turning into a safety-conscious, everything-must-be-perfect worrier? Or am I responding, at a subliminal level, to a mechanical problem that arises when I’m out of range and thirty miles from the nearest help?

After the long disassembly and reassembly, the motorcycle ran fine, but Nick still rides the Breva. Photo: Nick Adams

It’s possible those replacement cylinder heads will give a slightly different feel to the old Eldorado. For all I know, she might object to such a radical operation and express her dissatisfaction in subtle ways. No doubt in time I will get used to riding her again and we will once again hit the road as a harmoniously balanced mechanical man-beast thing.

But for now she stays in the garage. I’ll take the Breva.

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