By Vince Ursini
I’m writing about my recent experience at the MR2 Michigan ride event down in Waynesville, NC. Keith Danielson a fellow MSTA member and I trailered down our bikes for part of the weeks activities. Leaving on Mothers day was a nonstarter for either of us so we joined the group in the middle of the week. The first day out, we went for the ultimate Route 4 journey hitting Deal’s gap (twice), The Cherohala Skyway and part of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was a glorious day without a lot of traffic and we had the run of the roads for the most part. After 310 miles it was time to call it good for the day having hit the (3) majors I wanted to accomplish on this ride.
The following day, we both joined another group (5) of us this time on another route. The day started out a little gloomy and the first hour was filled with some gravel strewn roads. But then things brightened up and the road conditions improved and things were moving along at a fun (not super fast) clip. And that was when it happened. A lapse in concentration and apexing a left turn too soon, resulted in the wide way around a sharp, downhill, off camber turn. There simply was not enough pavement to recover from this mistake and down I went bouncing off the Armco railing. It all happened so quickly, the noise of motorcycle parts scrapping along the road surface, my left arm getting pinned under my body and the thud of coming to a quiet stop. You can take 999 turns the previous day and into the morning just fine, but the one corner you screw up will hurt you. It’s not a numbers game; you’ve got to get it right 100% of the time.
I immediately got up and looked around while holding my shoulder. The bike was in a bad location and I was hoping no one was following my crash too closely (car or bike) before I could get the bike out of the way and clean up the road surface a small bit. Several cars asked whether I was ok. But one local in a pickup stopped and got out of his car to help me right the bike. After telling him I was okay, he went on his way.
That’s when I noticed the shift linkage was broken off. “Now what” I said to myself not sure if I could get on the bike and ride it anyway. So I waited, I was sure the rider just ahead of me would notice me missing and circle back, which she did. “are you OK ?” said Jacqueline. “Yup, my shoulder is sore but I’ll be all right. Not sure how we’re getting this beast back though, shifter is broke.” “Don’t worry” she said, “we’ll work it out, we (the MSTA) always does. We watch out for each other.” That was comforting for sure, but I felt bad for having altered all (4) other riders day and riding plans.
Shortly thereafter, Keith who was next in line ahead of Jacqueline, showed up and was able to get the bike into neutral by pulling on the broken linkage. The bike started which was a relief, no issue there. Once we jammed the bike into 1st, Keith rode it off the curb and down the hill to sort out whether the bike was still rideable. Later he admitted to me that ‘key fob out of range’ light showed up on the dash. For those of you who now the Connie 14, it doesn’t have a key and relies on the key fob for getting the bike started. That would have been yet another embarrassment as I had the key fob in my pocket. We answered a question I had but never tried out. Even though out of range the bike didn’t shut off down the hill. It was good to see Keith motoring back up the hill and then watch him park the bike in a safe spot well off the curb. We sat there looking at the bike and especially the broken linkage. “Let’s just jam it in second and I’ll ride it slowly back to the hotel”, I said and Keith replied “I’ve got a better idea”. And that’s when he came back with his vise grips locking pliers which he attached to the shift throw lever. “That’s never gonna work” I said, “or stay on for that matter”. Keith just nodded, smiled and said “just try it, that there tool has saved many a ride”.
Jacqueline mentioned that she was cutting off her day to escort me back to the hotel. Even though I tried to talk her out of it and continue on with her ride, she wouldn’t hear of it. “Nope, I’m not leaving your side till we get to the hotel.” It was nice to have someone who barely knew me, so concerned about my welfare.
Once I was on the bike and got adjusted to the location of the vise grip shifter, I found that not only could I hit 2nd and 3rd gear, but when I needed to 4th and 5th as well. So I shook off some apprehension and started back up the route and as I did the remaining two in our group came by us and re-formed. A quick stop for gas and some lunch and we parted for the hotel and let the others get on with their newly adjusted route. Gregg, the point rider made mention that whenever they modified a route in the past, he ended up getting a speeding ticket – “It was like clockwork”. So I had that to think of on the ride back to the hotel. Once back I thanked Jackie for the support, got my gear off and went downtown to find the 24 hour emergency care facility. The pain of taking the jacket off made me think it might be worth having it looked at. Once found the place, I had second thoughts of going in until I noticed there was no one else in the waiting lobby. “How long could this take?”, I said to myself and as it turned out, I got in and out within the hour. I told the nurse practitioner “I fell awkwardly on my shoulder”. She looked at me skeptically, but checked me out anyway and after looking at some x-rays gave me a pretty good prognosis that things look normal. A prescription for some super strength ibuprofen (which I can’t seem to get enough of these days) was all I left with.
At the end of the day, everyone in the MSTA group came up to me to ask me how I was doing. All were very sympathetic and all trying to find a way to help out. The local motorcycle dealership didn’t have the shift linkage part but quickly noted the Grand Rapids, Michigan dealership had it. Not helpful. It was Keith that came up with the suggestion to run up to Wheelers in the morning. “He helped out with a set of pegs last time I crashed, maybe he’s got a shift lever for your bike.” The next morning, we got up to take a look at the weather forecast. I hadn’t slept much and my shoulder had swollen up. But the morning looked awesome and I just had to give it the college try. The hard part was putting on my jacket. Once suited up though, the shoulder felt just fine on the bike. We motored out to Wheelers and when we got there they appeared to be closed. But just as we were thinking of riding away, the door swung open and the old man himself popped out. “What can I do for you boys” he said. A finger point to the shift linkage was all it took. He went into his shop and a couple minutes later came back with the factory part and installed it himself. “No charge for the labor” he said. Even though I was getting used to the vise grips, that new shift lever was a welcome sight. “Ok buddy, where do you want to go today?” Keith and I went about planning a route down to Franklin and by the water falls, basically the back half of the route they started on the day before prior to the crash. It was a gorgeous day and Keith set a great 7/10th’s pace to help restore my confidence in riding the big Connie. After 220 miles or so we packed up the bikes for the trip home the next day. Later that evening, we finished up the week with a satisfying beer and pizza with some other MSTA friends and shared some stories of the day’s rides. Needless to say the week was salvaged.
The ride home was uneventful and mercifully quick. After riding through 4 rain drenching hours of roadway, we were happy with the decision to trailer the bikes this time round. When close, a call to my
son to give us a hand unloading the bike met with a “I’m busy, but you know what, I do want to see what damage you did to the bike so, Yeah I’ll meet you at your house to unload”. “Great, the word was out”, I told Keith.
As we got to the house, we were greeted by my wife, Andrea and my son Joe. Upon seeing me my wife immediately asked “what did you do to my baby?” (Referring to the bike, of course). I looked at Keith and he looked at me and immediately realized why he’s not married . . . just a joke, honey, honest . . .
We pulled the bike out and I got the “look of love” when she saw the scratched up left side. But no time to chit chat as I proceeded back to Keith’s place to help him unload his bike. When I got back to my house, the wife was gone to a church function, but the lawn mower was sitting in the middle of the back yard. “Hmmm” having been married for 35 years, I may not be able to hustle a Connie through the mountains, but I knew what that sign meant. So I took another ibuprofen and wrapped up the shoulder and got to work cutting the grass. As I did so, I recalled having crashed 10 years ago, and then again 10 years before that. So, I’ll plan on doing so again 10 years from now and try to pick out a softer place to land.
The overall experience of the MR2 ride was one I’ll remember for a very long time. Great destination, great roads, great routes and great people. The Michigan squadron of the MSTA is like an extended family and I cherish the opportunity to do more rides with this fun and caring group. Special thanks to my buddy Keith and Jacqueline for helping out in the clutch.
And always remember . . . Carry a pair of vise grips in your bike bag!