We last left our hero relaxing in the high country of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on the banks of beautiful Morphy Lake trying to forget the possible motorcycle failures looming on the horizon. That was back on the Fourth of July. Yes, Joo-ly. It’s past time to finish up this chapter of the summer of 2017.
I woke up late and made a lazy breakfast while enjoying the view of Morphy Lake. I packed up slowly, following the sage wisdom of two year olds everywhere: if you can’t see the problem, it doesn’t exist. I was in no hurry to start up the bike, even after a long, uneventful day across Oklahoma and Texas. However, I had to pack eventually and the possibility of some twisty roads in the Sangre de Cristo and Jemez mountains was pretty exciting after the last few days of interstate and straight farm roads.
The bike fired up on the second try. That was the first bad sign.
I let it idle under choke for a minute while I fiddled with my riding gear and tried to load up the days route on my phone unsuccesfully. The 1998 VFR is one of the few fuel injected motorcycles that retains a manual choke and it runs best if you let it come partway up to temperature before turning the choke off and dropping it into gear.
Without my LCD display, I couldn’t actually see when the temperature came up, so I let it sit a bit before dropping it into gear and rolling off. I rolled maybe six inches before it stalled. That was the second bad sign.
The third bad sign was when I stalled three more times just putting it in gear. I couldn’t keep it running without choke. This is a classic side effect of slow stator failure and a fun element of the story of how I rode off of Pike’s Peak the first time a stator failed on me. But that’s another story you’ll have to ask me to tell you sometime.
I decided to try to ride off the mountain under full choke and head back to Las Vegas, NM where I would at least have a data signal and could look for the nearest U-haul or call AAA.
The fourth bad sign came when I stalled the bike under power in first gear with full choke. I made it up the hill out of the state park by revving the engine hard enough to keep the electricity flowing and slipping the clutch the whole way up the hill. By this point, my head was spinning through the possible problems I would have just getting back to Las Vegas and my next steps to recovering the summer.
Should I park it in a cheap Las Vegas motel and wait for spare parts? It would be a minimum of 7 days and more probably the full 12 or 14 days for a new stator. I also needed a new regulator and there was a chance I would have to replace the stator cover gasket.
It wasn’t likely AAA would get me far enough to find a town big enough to have a Honda dealer or motorcycle shop. Sante Fe was closest, but it was on the wrong side of the mountains. Once I got there, I’d probably still be sitting around waiting for spare parts.
I could U-haul across the country. I have friends in Denver or I could back track all the way to Atlanta. Previous research said the difference in cost between those destinations was minimal. Denver would leave me sitting, but at least I could forgo the motel fees. My biggest problem at this point, though, wasn’t cash. It was time. I was running out of summer and I still wanted to make it to Alaska. In Atlanta I could bail on the motorcycle road trip and pickup the 4Runner.
My mind was spinning faster and faster the further I rode. I was trying to run through my options and monitor the engine all while riding down switchbacks with occasional gravel sections.
The day climaxed at 9 am in a blind, decreasing radius, gravel corner. I was too preoccupied to notice how much tighter the corner became, and by the time I realized it, I was already transitioning from pavement to gravel. Despite that, it never actually occurred to me that I might drop the bike until I was already rolling on my back. I’ve ridden close to 10 miles of twisty, gravel mountain roads on this very bike loaded up with luggage on street tires.
I was already going slowly, so I braked smoothly with the front brake and just barely kept the rear on the edge of locking up. I could tell I would stop short of the edge of the road and patiently and calmly watched it get slowly closer. I was probably going 10 mph or less when the front tire locked up and sent me hard to the ground.
Now, In 40k+ miles, the only damage I’ve done to this machine happened in the first week of owning it when I dropped it at a stop light. They were small scratches on the right side that were too small to show up in photos and most people couldn’t see them until I pointed them out.
I was heart-broken, angry, surprised, disappointed, stunned, and just generally pissed off with the summer. After a lot of cursing, yelling, and just an embarrassing amount of self-pity, I picked my bike up to survey the damage. It took even longer for me to calm down enough to perform a safety check and verify that all the controls still worked.
I worked my way off the mountain and into town without any more problems and parked myself in front of an auto shop. I always figure the best place to be if you break down is next to the local parts store.
At this point, I didn’t really trust myself to work through my options without someone to talk to and make sure my head was on straight, so I called my dad. My options weren’t much different than they were a few days ago in Oklahoma. There was a local U-haul a couple of miles away and a few cheap-ish motels where I could park it while I waited for parts. The local shop even had some generic gasket material I could cut to size if I needed to.
After a lot of talking and some more self pity, I decided to pack it up and can the motorcycle trip. I was just losing too much summer.
I threw my gear in the passenger seat of a 15 foot U-haul box truck and made tracks for Atlanta.
When I made it back to what was rapidly becoming the summer base of operations, I pulled apart the stator to confirm my diagnosis. What you see is a stator that is slowly burning itself up. The bottom windings of the stator are cream colored and pretty close to the original color. The upper windings are a couple shades short of a properly burnt out stator.
At the time of this writing, the old stator still works intermittently and enough to get it on and off trailers. I’ll put the new one in when I have a free weekend and think I have time to start riding again. That pesky stator lasted roughly 20k miles. I’m probably going to make some major re-wires that are common to 5th gen VFRs. I avoided that last time with the hope that a non-OEM stator and modern regulator would fix my electrical gremlins. I’m definitely adding a stator, R/R, and gasket cover to my road tripping kit, regardless.
This ends the motorcycle chapter(s) of my summer, but the summer didn’t end here. Stay tuned for more adventures from my “Summer of Attrition”.
P.s. Thanks for your patience with the blog updates. Even now in the new year, this update was a little hard to write. I had some wittier prose planned to try to keep the blog closer to the bouncy optimistic style I like to write in, but I forgot it all when I sat down to write. My journal entries from July 5th through the 7th are all empty and the log book entries for the U-haul miles manage to look pretty sour, despite simply recording the miles added to the odometer.
The real kicker to this story, though, is that I found a job I’m really excited about and I now live less than 100 miles from where my motorcycle trip ended.
The depressing end to my motorcycle journey(s) aside, there are some fantastic stories yet to come. I thought about holding out on you and not giving too much away. You got lucky. I decided a depressing post deserved a some happy (and extremely obvious) foreshadowing. Bonus points to anyone who can pick out the two unlabeled national landmarks. I might even make cookies.
Here’s a small taste: