I assumed that one of two thoughts went through passing motorists’ heads when they saw me.
1. “Well that has to suck.” Or 2. “Watch out! Don’t hit him!”
The day was gorgeous; sunny, comfortable but not hot and clear enough to see Catalina Island from the beach. It was, in other words, the perfect day for going for a ride.
I had seen scores of motorcycles on the roads already that Sunday. True, my bike was acting up a little bit the last time I rode it, but I figured that it was a result of a sticky throttle cable and that surely wasn’t enough to prevent me from getting out and enjoying the last hour and a half of sunlight before dusk.
I donned my leather track pants with reflective red pucks in the knees for safety, steel-toed engineer-style riding boots, ABS under armor for my spine, elbows, shoulders, forearms and chest as well as a leather riding jacket. I pulled my red Suzuki GS500 out of the garage, set the petcock for prime, yanked the choke down and fired up the little parallel twin engine. Before I even had time to get my helmet on, the bike roared up to 6000 rpm. It was warming up really quickly today! Right on! I hurried to protect my fingers with Kevlar-armored gloves, winked at Kat who sat on the back porch and tossed my leg over the bike before kicking the gearshift down once and twisting the throttle. I was off to enjoy the day!
The GS was running smoothly and happily. I took a turn down to the Pike and hung a right. At the light, I held in the clutch as I waited for cars to line up behind me. As the light went green, I twisted the throttle and felt the bike lurch and kick. She was not happy. I tried to power through it, dropping a gear and turning on the throttle, only to have the bike buck and sputter.
I needed to get back home immediately!
I saw a sign for an exit back onto Ocean Ave. GREAT! I can just take that the mile back home. If the bike dies, I can push it. It will be embarrassing, but I can push it. There’s something that you should know about California highway signs. If you don’t know exactly where they go, they aren’t going to make any effort to tell you. What I assumed to be Ocean Ave. was actually an onramp to the freeway that stretches onto Terminal Island and the Port of LA.
I verbally cursed that sign as I saw the bridge onto Terminal Island rise in front of me.
Alright, all I need to do is to make it across the bridge to Navy Way, turn around, go back across the bridge and I’ll be OK. The bike heard my plan and would have none of it.
I was fairly confident the bike would make it. It had less than 300 miles on it since it was serviced at Superbike Nation for a carburetor rebuild and valve job. I began to lose my confidence as the bike sputtered going up the bridge before ultimately lurching forward and dying. There I sat, on a motorcycle, on a bridge, on a freeway with no shoulder and no place to turn around. I couldn’t go back down toward oncoming traffic. I would have to push.
The GS500 is not a heavy bike; 400lbs wet, maybe. Uphill while wearing full leathers with the sun beating down, it seems to weigh a lot more. The heat was only part of the reason my old, beaten Easton baseball shirt was becoming drenched in sweat. The passing motorists to my left were the other. With no shoulder to shelter me, I was literally in the right lane of traffic pushing a 400 lb vehicle that lacks stability or the will to live. It is amazing the sense of abandon that occurs once you realize that you have no control over your fate. I kept all my gear on in the hope that, should I be struck by a car, it would hurt less when I was thrown skidding across the pavement looking like some strange S&M rag doll.
As I crested the hill, I hopped back onto the seat and pushed it forward, allowing gravity to take hold. I figured I could pop start it. I could! As the bike careened downhill at 30 mph, I turned the key, held in the clutch and pressed the ignition. Lo and behold it started! I put it into gear, ready to ride back home. Then it died. I rolled right to the shoulder that thankfully appeared just as a police officer came over the hill.
I calmly explained what was wrong and why I was hanging out on the side of the freeway.
“I can’t let you stay out here,” he said.
“Oh!” I thought. “I was just going to set out the checkered cloth and break out the picnic basket because the side of the 47 is where I spend all my free time!”
Instead, I said, “Trust me. I don’t want to be out here. If I can just push my bike up to that turnaround, I’ll be able to get on the walkway over there and get back to Long Beach.” A few hundred more yards and I knew I wasn’t getting the bike to Navy Way, much less back over the bridge and another mile into LBC. I was spent.
The officer called a tow truck for me and Ramon hooked my bike up on his flat bed. I rode home and found out that he was a big Steelers fan. He wasn’t happy that my distress call interrupted him while the game was on, but I think he’s OK with the result. I thanked him as we parted ways.
I’m still not sure what went wrong with the bike, but I’m glad to be safe and in one piece.