Billings to Billings MT – 23rd July 2021
I am up very early to get everything set up for work. I am going to be working in Walt’s den as that is the most convenient place both for privacy and less disturbance for Terra who works from home.
After I finish I get everything ready. Unfortunately Walt had already left for work before I finished my job so I don’t get a chance to say a proper goodbye and thank them both for their hospitality. I do of course thank Terra and say a fond farewell to the lovely Olaf and Dixie.
I am heading towards Strugis and a stay with another Bunka, Linda and Adam. I’m riding along and then I hear that terrible noise coming from the rear again… OMG what can it be??? I pull over as soon as it’s safe and take another look at the rear end, I can’t see anything wrong, but the rear of the bike seems to have moved. What I mean is there seems to be a larger gap than before between the engine and the gearbox where the shaft drive exits, (it’s really difficult to explain), it’s almost as if the shaft drive is coming adrift. Well that is a major worry, if I am right. I have looked best I can at the rear brake calliper, it looks fine; the brake pads seem to be ok, they have plenty of ‘meat’ left on them and there isn’t anything stuck in there that I can see. The rear wheel seems tight and stable, no sideways movement, but it’s difficult to assess that without lifting the rear of the bike off the ground. So what to do… I really need petrol so I carry on to the next town, Hardin, which is just 10 miles away where I might also be able to find a motorcycle shop and ask them to take a look at it.
I arrive at Hardin and fill up. This is a very small town, there is nothing here really and I suspect there are definitely no motorcycle shops. I text Walt and ask him if he knows of anything here. I don’t get any reply, of course Walt is at work and probably very busy so I need to make a decision. Well I have no choice, I’m going to have to return to Billings as the next place is Sheridan which is another 80 miles away. I decide to text Walt and ask if he knows any motorcycle shops in Billings that I can take the bike to, or anyone who can recover my bike for me if necessary. I also ask, reluctantly, if it would be ok to stay again.
I gingerly start making my way back to Billings, I am trying to keep the bike at 45 mph max in case something happens then I might have a better chance of staying in control and getting the bike stopped safely. Then I get a message from Walt, so I pull over to the hard shoulder. He suggests I try Magic City Customs and gives me their phone number. I try it but it is just ringing so I decide to carry on limping back to Billings. I now decide it would probably be safer to ride on the hard shoulder as I am going slow and the other vehicles are having to overtake me. As I’m going along a biker rides up along side me and asks if I’m ok.. I say no, I think there is something wrong at the back. He pulls in front of me and then stops so I pull up too. He gets off and I explain what has happened and say I don’t think it’s an easy fix so am making my way to Billings and have the number of a shop who I hope is going to be able to look at it for me. He realises there isn’t anything he can do so wishes me a safe journey. I thank him for taking the trouble to stop and wish him a safe ride.
After about another half an hour a couple of bikers with Veteran MC back patches come along and give me a thumbs up meaning is everything ok.. I nod as there isn’t any point in them stopping, but again another example of how great the biker community is here in the States.. they are all on Harleys and the fact that I’m on a Honda doesn’t matter in the slightest.
A little further on there is a rest stop so I pull off there and try calling Magic Customs again, no reply. I think I’ll just have to get myself there and see what they say. I have had another message from Walt saying they have another Bunka arriving tonight, but he will see what he can do. I have a look at bookings.com to see if I can get a motel, but the cost is so expensive, there is actually only one place available at $400 for one night, I just can’t afford it. I try looking for a campsite but I don’t really know where to look. Well, I’ll just have to sort it out when I get there. I google the address for Magic Customs and put it into my GPS.
At last I arrive at Magic City Customs in Billings, Walt has told me to ask for Stu so this is what I do. Stu is great, but unfortunately this isn’t the sort of problem they work on so he tries to call another place for me, no answer. He suggests I try the Honda dealership and gives me the address. Off I go again and eventually arrive at the Honda place.
Inside the service department I talk to a guy called Dave, he says they can’t even look at my bike until the middle of next week.. FFS what am I going to do? I can’t possibly pay $400 a night for the next 5 nights, it is only now that I remember it’s Friday today so I am looking at 3-4 nights at least. Dave suggests I go along to another shop just up the road, so back on the bike I go.
Up the road is a Suzuki dealer, I stop and go in.. they can’t do anything but suggest I try next door. Ok so I take the bike there, the guy says sorry they only deal with dirt bikes so it’s not something they can touch. My only alternative is to go back to the Honda place and see if they can look at it first thing Monday morning, hopefully I can find a camp site until then. I arrive back and Dave says he will book it in for Monday, well that’s a bit of an improvement at least. I ask Dave about campsites and he says he will look some up for me that he knows about on the outskirts of Billings. I am getting desperate now so I text Walt again, I really feel terrible about bothering him again, but I need to know whether he has been able to find something for me, maybe someone will let me pitch my tent on their property or something in case these campsites don’t work out.
A few minutes later I get a text from Walt asking which Honda as Terra will come and pick me up…. oh the relief.. and what a fantastic pair of humans Walt and Terra are, I am so, so grateful.
While I’m waiting I have a chat with the sales person about them buying the bike off me, I mean I have no idea what the problem is and indeed how much it is going to cost to fix, it could be thousands so am now thinking this is the end of the trip and that I should probably cut my losses and just fly home. Just as I am having this conversation Terra arrives and am I very glad to see her.
I also think about maybe swapping it in for another bike, then I can just get back on the road tomorrow. They don’t have much in the way of used stock, in fact most of it is either heavier than Clíodhna, (I would really prefer something lighter), or too small. Brandon, the sales guy, says why don’t I take a Honda 750 out for a test ride, well I don’t like the look of it and I think it’s too under powered for me; I also don’t want to have Terra waiting around for me, I’ve put her to enough bother as it is. She says it’s fine and that I should take it out and see how I feel. Ok so I get on it and know instantly it’s not for me, but I ride it up the road to the Harley dealers and go in there for a quick look. Of course they don’t have anything I can afford, but it was worth looking.. I was surprised to find they sell Himalayans, well I could get one of those of course, but I know I won’t be happy with it unless it’s lowered and I’ll need luggage etc. so no way.
Back at Honda I say it’s not for me. Now I ask Dave if I can leave the bike with them and they say yes that’s fine. Then a couple of their mechanics come out and start looking at my bike, they ask me some questions about what the problem seems to be. I show them what I mean about the gap and one of them says it might be the swing arm bearings, that could be the problem.. ahh yes never thought of that and now it seems to me that could very well be what’s wrong so hopefully it’s an easyish and cheap fix.. fingers crossed. One of the guys jumps on it to take it into the workshop and I can see he is battling with the front end wobble.. of course they make some comments about it being the weight of the luggage, but I say the luggage weighs less than 150lbs so that’s less than a person and all bikes are designed to carry two people plus luggage so it can’t be that.
I unpack the luggage that I need to take with me and we put it in the car, then I go back to find out from Brandon what they can offer me for my bike either as a part exchange or direct purchase. He says the best he can do is $1500, not quite as much as I was hoping but better than nothing. I ask if they have any other bikes that might be suitable and the only thing they have is a brand new Kawasaki Vulcan 900 that he can let me have for $8500 so that’s about $2000 for mine in part ex. I can’t really afford it, but I tell him I’ll give it some thought. He persuades me to take if for a test ride, so I say I’ll come back tomorrow and do that.
When we get back to the house I am very pleased to see Walt again and can’t thank them both enough for saving me. Apparently the other Bunka has also had a mechanical problem and is stuck in Billings waiting for Harley to sort it out, but might not need to stay. Anyway, they have a pull out in Terras office that he can stay on if needed so I am back in the spare room again… words fail me.
In the end, he does need the stay and when he arrives we order in pizza. Walt and Dave, (another one), take theirs into the den to play pool while Terra and I watch TV.
What a bloody nightmare of a day, but thanks to these guys I am ok, until Monday that is when I’ll find out what the problem is and how much it is going to cost.
P.S. I did immediately let Linda in Sturgis know the bike problem and my forced change of plan of course.