04 February 2007

Axle nuts should not fall off

Last October my friend Paul and I took our motorcycles from Texas to North Carolina. My father rode his motorcycle down from Pennsylvania to meet us. After several days of riding with my father, Paul and I started back for Texas.

Armed with Paul's pre-ride planning, his excellent GPS skills, and a healthy fascination with squiggly roads we had a hell of a nice day riding back and forth through the Tennessee hills. As it turned four o'clock, we realized we'd not made much westward progress. We decided to hop on a four lane highway and burn a hundred miles or so through Memphis and into Arkansas before stopping for the night.

About 25 miles later on the four lane we pulled over for cheap, rural gas before hitting Memphis beltway stuff. An SUV driver we'd passed two miles back pulled up, expressed concern that something had bounced off one of the bikes a mile back, wished us well, and left. He said it looked like a nut. Because Paul takes care of his bike, we immediately scoured mine looking for missing pieces.

It didn't take long to figure out what fell off. I'd lost the rear axle nut and spacer on my '94 Honda VFR750F. Because we'd only travelled a mile or two in a straight line since it'd happened, the axle hadn't backed out too far yet. Thankfully. I can't imagine how much it hurts to have the real wheel fall off at highway speed. At 5 PM on a Friday we called AMA MoTow, and then we watched some weird goings on at a mostly-rural-but-somehow-eeriely-urban corner store.

At 7:30 PM the tow truck came. The truck cab ride featured following a seriously drunk driver as he nearly hit a bridge abutment and basically drove down the center of a highway (tow truck driver in training riding along: "He's snorting that center white line right up his nose!"). Once we had stopped the towing guys released all of the tie downs before being sure my VFRs kickstand was down. It wasn't down. The bike's Givi hard luggage saved me from hundreds of dollars of plastic damage to the left side (truck driver went flying backwards off the flatbed and onto the asphalt). Forty minutes after the towing adventure began, I chained the bike to a post outside Honda-Yamaha of Memphis on Mount Moriah Extension, called their service department to explain why the bike was there, and gave up for the night.

Memphis has three separate Honda dealerships within a 15 mile radius, and all of them were humming on that Saturday morning. After spending the entire morning on the phone, Paul and I had learned that--

  1. The nut was about 45mm from flat to flat, and better than 30mm in inner diameter. Much more than just slightly nonstandard.
  2. None of the three Honda dealerships could obtain the nut from a warehouse in fewer than four days.
  3. No fastener supply store in Memphis carried anything similar, and we couldn't attempt to special order a machined replacement until Monday at best.
I posted a plea for help on VFRDiscussion to see if anyone would loan me the parts. Only Honda VFRs use that particular nut so we couldn't borrow one from any other type of bike. In Memphis, VFRs don't sell well so there was only one in stock among the three dealers. Unlikely enough, some bloke had recently laid down cash on the only in-stock bike and so we couldn't pull the part from it.

Then Michael Hall, the hero of the story, called a Honda dealership 100 miles west in Searcy, Arkansas where he used to work. Searcy had a used VFR on the floor, and Michael called in a favor to let us use that bike's rear axle nut, order a replacement from the warehouse, and be on our way. Paul took me two up to the Memphis airport to pick up an F150. We loaded the crippled bike up and headed to Searcy's Sunrise Honda at about 2 PM on Saturday.

It took no time, once in Searcy, to forcibly migrate the nut from their VFR to mine. The mechanic who did the work pointed out that the nut required over 100 foot pounds of torque to install and was staked to prevent the nut from ever backing off. I checked the VFR Discussion forum and got only a single response saying that the responder had never, ever heard of this particular puppy falling off.

There wasn't anywhere to return the rental truck in Searcy, so we drove the bike-on-truck onward into Little Rock. After unloading the bike at a construction site near the airport, we drove on for about 50 miles that night. Somehow we missed the nasty weather blanketting the entire state of Texas as we arrived home in Austin on Sunday.

The old meet-the-nicest-people-on-a-Honda line still applies. I lost a critical part at 5 PM on a Friday night and was underway in less than 30 hours against all odds. I spoke to four separate dealers on a busy Saturday morning, and they all helped like crazy. Every service and parts department returned phone calls even when flooded with walk-in business. Several people called me multiple times after brainstorming with other employees.

I now check that damned axle nut every time I walk past my VFR.

01 February 2007

The Return of Agent Zlerich

After eight months of smelling like bacon after work, the local restaurant/hotel consortium took over the reputable 1950's-esque establishment where I worked. Or, mostly reputable. Save for our inability to wear proper pants in the eyes of the consortium. Management decided that the guys on line had to wear checkered pants instead of the mishmash of individualistic expression present pre-buyout.

I dutifully paid my $15/pair and ordered two pairs for work. We paid extra (management mandated) for our names to be added, figuring that it'd prevent mixups. Two weeks later my two pairs arrived. They fit well and stank much less of bacon than the newly retired ones. That no one answered to "Zlerich" made the company's interpretive interpretation of my last name forgivable. I put in my notice at work shortly thereafter.

It's been years. One pair of pants went to Goodwill during some closet consolidation. The remaining pair serves primarily as pajamas these days. My lady invented "Agent Zlerich" as a joke alter ego for when I tool around the house sporting them.

After much foot dragging on my part, it feels like the right time to begin posting inane things. I suppose that's motivation enough once it's married to a not-completely-psuedonym. As far as the Internet can tell me, no one uses "Zlerich". I call dibs.

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