Saturday, May 9, 2009

A Little Trouble Enroute To Moab

Oy, what a day!!

Last night I made it into Amarillo after riding all afternoon in 95+ degree temps through the TX panhandle. Getting off the interstate to go to my hotel, I couldn't shift down from 6th gear. With some effort, I finally got it to start shifting down, and just chalked it up to rider error.

So this morning I thought nothing of it as I headed back to I-40 to head west. The bike shifted just fine. It was very cool and cloudy this morning so I had my jacket liner on underneath my Olympia Airglide jacket. The further west I got, as the altitude increased, it started to get even cooler and the cloud cover began spitting rain.

My next gas stop was Santa Rosa NM where I determined that I would add another layer - a fleece pullover - for warmth. But as I started down the exit ramp, again the bike would not shift down at first. Double-clutching seemed to help get things going and it would then shift down through the remaining gears. I began to think about what the problem could be. My first thought was shift linkage problems...maybe something out of alignment or something.

I saw two Harley riders at the gas station...both wearing chaps and leather jackets, no helmets...and I wondered how they were handling the cold - it was 46 degrees at this point. Gassed up and ready to go, I headed back onto the interstate. Upshifts now seemed a little jerky so I knew something was definitely amiss but thought that once in Moab I'd be surrounded by other riders, many of whom are quite knowledgeable about BMW's, and maybe one of them could take a look at the problem. At this point, it didn't seem too serious.

My plans were to take NM-3 north to I-25 to Pecos National Park. As I exited the interstate, downshifting was extremely hard and the clutch action seemed softer than usual. Now I was starting to worry a little. As I turned onto NM-3 I saw the rickety cattle-guard and a little further on, the sign that said " Narrow, steep road with sharp curves. Not recommended for trucks or trailers." Now I'm really starting to worry.

The road was indeed very narrow and didn't look to be in very good condition. My immediate thought given the shift and clutch problems was, "This is a mistake!" I should have taken the safe but oh-so-boring US-84 up to Las Vegas NM. According to S&T it would be the same distance, but probably faster and safer. But I'm committed now, so I pressed forward.

At first the road was straight with few surprises, just some radical dips across dry low water crossings. But then the road started to climb and I was forced to start using the shifter as I slowed for the sharp turns and to manage the steep grades. But shifting at this point was extremely difficult and I very soon figured out what was wrong. I determined that there was something wrong with the clutch. The action seemed lighter than normal, and pulling the clutch lever in didn't seem to be releasing the clutch, as there would be no change to engine RPM. I figured out that if I pumped the clutch a couple of times, I could then work the shifter smoothly, but this wasn't going to work well on this road. I would need to shift quickly to adjust to the rapidly changing road conditions. So I put the bike in second gear and left it there. Posted speeds on this road were anywhere from 10 mph to 55 mph so 2nd seemed to be working just fine. But it was still a nerve-wrackinig experience.

I made it to I-25 where I turned south and rode a short ways to my exit for the Pecos national park. Once at the visitor center the bike nearly stalled as I came to a stop. There was something really wrong with the clutch! I could move the bike forward with the throttle even as I held the clutch all the way in. I played with a bit and confirmed that pumping the clutch a few times brought it back. It was just like when there's air in the brake lines and pumping the brake brings them back. So there has to be a clutch fluid leak somewhere.

I knew there was a BMW dealer in Santa Fe so pulled out my BMW MOA Anonymous book and looked for the address, then entered it into the GPS. It was only 17 miles away and looked to be very close to the interstate. This was good. I could get up on the freeway and not have to shift until I got near the dealer. And if I got off the interstate and the bike broke down completely, I'd only be a mile or so away from the dealer at that point.

Once in Santa Fe and off the highway, shifting was nearly impossible. I had to negotiate three red lights before making the turn into the dealer's and it was all I could do to keep the bike from stalling as I came to a stop at each light. I left it in 1st gear between each of the lights and hoped I made it.

Finally! I pulled into the dealer's and into the really cool service drive and as I came to to a stop the bike stalled as I expected it would. I wasn't even off the bike when the service manager was out the door and standing next to me. I explained the problem and a technician, who had followed the service manager out the door, quickly confirmed it by reaching down and sticking his hand under the bike, only to come back up with clutch fluid on his hand.

I was very lucky! They had ordered a clutch slave cylinder for another customer but never used it and were getting ready to send it back. Wow! About that time, the sales manager came out and, listening to this, said he'd have been willing to remove one from a new bike just to get me back on the road. By now I was getting really impressed with the folks at this dealership!

Fortunately, I had planned a fairly easy day today, and only had about 150 more miles to my next night's destination. So I wasn't worried. But even if I had to wait for parts, I had resigned myself to spending a few days in Santa Fe. But with all the needed parts in stock, I wouldn't need to fulfill that plan.

The dealership offered me the use of a bike while waiting, but with no need to get anywhere, I chose to just stay and wait. The parts manager offered to drive me to a nearby C-store to buy some food and I kindly accepted his offer. Every step of the way, the mechanic kept me apprised of the status. At one point, after he had the whole rear-end of the bike disassembled, he came and got me and showed me what the problem was. The San Diego BMW dealer did the same thing when they fixed my paralever bushing a year ago. I appreciate that, and like knowing what's wrong and how it will get fixed.

In chatting with the service manager, he mentioned that he had a couple of other riders in earlier today who were also heading to Moab. Surely a coincidence, he said, since it's a popular destination. He said one of the riders needed a new coil. I asked him if their names happened to be Fletcher and Don by any chance. I mentioned this since I knew from their SPOT locations, that their route was very similar to mine and that they were just a few hours ahead of me. In fact, it was Fletcher and Don! He said Fletcher was from Mississippi ...how many Fletchers are there who live in Mississippi and ride a BMW?! Tonight, looking at Don's SPOT, I see that we missed each other at the dealership by no more than 30 minutes!

The treatment and service I got from Santa Fe BMW today was exemplary! I will nominate them for a Gold Dealer at the MTF forum.

I was finally back on the road at 4:30 PM, with 150 miles to go to Farmington NM. A quick stop for gas in Bernalillo and I was headed north on US-550. What a fabulous road! Four-lane, high speed sweepers, I made quick time to Farmington and had great scenery along the way! Red bluffs and buttes lined the highway for the first half of those 150 miles. These began to give way to lower, buff-colored buttes and eventually the terrain settled into flat high desert. Much of the way was at 7,000 ft, according to the elevation signs posted along the way. I made it to the hotel by 7:00 PM with daylight fading and walked across the street to Village Inn restaurant for a late dinner.

Tomorrow: I may or may not back-track to Aztec Ruins National park before heading north to Moab.

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