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Backroad Ramblings September 2010

Tuesday, September 28, 2010
The calendar indicates the annual transition from summer to fall as do big diesel-burning yellow school buses. But in a rare feat for Western NY, it’s the thermometer that seems fit to disagree. Indeed, we’ve been experiencing a late-season warm up with temperatures rivaling even the hottest days of summer with humidity to boot. Suffice to say, riders in the area - both street and dirt alike - aren’t waiting around for Mother Nature to recognize the error of her ways. The crisp zing of well-tuned inline fours and the thumping rumble of big V-Twins has been the melody to wake up to for the past few weeks.

However, and perhaps just to assure onlookers they haven’t fallen through a time-warp back to early July, the lights have been on late in my workshop again. This stands as a telltale sign of fall’s arrival even when long standing staples such as calendars, the school year or the color of the leaves can no longer be trusted. You see, a little over a decade ago a most disturbing tradition began in which I would purchase a vehicle on a whim about the third week of August. This machine, whether not running or on the border of meltdown, will function right up until early September before
Honda ATC200X
After two days of literally creating a homemade master link, the machine was back in running condition. But the work was just beginning...  
collapsing in a cloud of mechanical malady. Sometimes it happens in my own driveway, other times miles from home base. Sometimes I’m in the saddle when it happens, other times not. Sometimes I cuss and others I sort of smirk to myself thinking - “I knew that was coming.” The only common denominator is that it happens. Hence, I spend each September out in the workshop making repairs while the rest of society enjoys the new season of their favorite sitcoms from the comfort of their couches.

What’s really weird is that even though I recognize the pattern, I am powerless to stop it. I will avoid Craigslist, eBay, the local paper and the Swap Sheet all summer long and yet an irresistible deal will search me out like a private investigator. I’ve purchased brand new bikes and quads at the end of July only to immediately ride past some basket case in a farmer’s field that calls out to me like a starving kitten in a blizzard. I’m convinced that, if I were to blockade myself indoors and close all the windows, some flatbed on its way to the scrap yard would have a 1978 Suzuki parallel twin dislodge itself from the junk pile and tumble wildly right to my doorstep. Sometimes it’s just easier to stop resisting.

This year the machine in question was one 1984 Honda ATC 200X that my cousin unloaded on me (in case you missed last month’s column). Since the three-wheeler came into my stable with a boatload of minor issues in need of resolve, I figured restoring it to riding condition in mid-August could somehow count toward my mandatory September maintenance. But alas! It just doesn’t work that way.

After repairing some cracked fenders, adjusting some noisy valves and bleeding ceased brakes into spongy life, I took the old machine for a quick cruise to celebrate a job half-done only to have the master link on the drive train snap four miles away from civilization. A cell phone at home charging meant a nice hike in brand new riding boots no less. I still have blisters, but the good news is the boots are broken in.

Anyway, long story short - it took two days and the construction (literally) of a homemade link because none of the local dealers had one in stock. Afterward the 200X was good to go and I secretly hoped that this incident here made up for the mandatory September maintenance that was sure to follow. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way.

The following weekend my cousin Mike (yes the same one who convinced me to buy the antique ATV) and I planned a fairly large group ride and, as fate would have it, my sister-in-law insisted her boyfriend Adam come along despite the minor snag of not currently owning an ATV. Suggestions of him jogging the paths while making motor noises were immediately voted down. With a cringe, I volunteered the 200X for duty. He gingerly accepted and we were off to carve some perfect trails on a Saturday in late August.

Nearly on the home stretch, I stopped at one of the trail junctions under the setting sun and realized that Adam and my 200X were no longer bringing up the rear. I signaled the group to circle back, and sure enough we found both ATC and rider immobilized on one of the long straightaways lined with grapes.

“It made a loud pop and that was that,” Adam explained as I pulled up to assess the situation. “Now the kickstarter seems to just fall to the peg.”

And that, my friends, is how it works.

After pulling the engine from the frame then opening up the top-end for diagnostics, it appears a little slack in the timing chain must have been enough to obliterate the cam-sprocket, sending bits and pieces of metal raining into the bottom-end; clearly that pop Adam described so accurately. With a laundry list of parts already ordered including a new timing chain, cam sprocket, chain tensioner arm and upper and lower gasket kits it looks like - with a steady regimen of nights spent out in the workshop - we just may have the 200X back in action by October.

It’s probably for the best that I don’t really watch much TV.
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