My nice day in the mountains is sadly interrupted.

My Rear Tire is a Disaster Magnet

Almost everybody who rides motorcycles cross country will eventually have a flat tire on the road far from home. I had endured this challenge a mere two weeks ago and had no idea that I was due to deal with it again.

The “Oh Crap” Moment

My day started nice enough. My campsite was well shaded from the morning sun so I languished in my tent until about 8:30am. After breaking camp and getting a shower I was back on US2 headed west by 10:20am. The plan was to stay on US2 until about just past the Washington state line and then switching onto WA20, otherwise known as the North Cascades Highway) for the rest of the day. With luck, I would end the day up in the mountains and away from the scorching heat that is so common in eastern Washington in August.

Luck, as it turns out, is a capricious bitch.

My optimistic plans were shot to hell about 30 miles (48km) into the day. The little red hazard symbol on the Nightowl’s dashboard started flashing red, accompanied by the tire pressure light.

Not again

The pressure was at 38psi, down from the normal 42psi, and falling slowly. I was able to push on for another two miles without the pressure getting too low, which gave me time to find a shady spot along the shoulder where I could attempt to fix the problem.

My nice day in the mountains is sadly interrupted.
My nice day in the mountains is sadly interrupted.

The problem was readily obvious in the form of a hex head screw that was nestled in one of the tread grooves on the rear tire. Out came the toolkit and I started to work on removing the screw. It was in too tight to pull out so I used a pliers to literally unscrew it from my precious, and fairly new, rear tire. I kept unscrewing and the screw just kept coming. When I finally got it fully extracted, the screw was a good 2 inches (5cm) long.

How does a screw this long find it's way into a groove of a motorcycle tire?
How does a screw this long find it’s way into a groove of a motorcycle tire?

How does something this big dig its way into something with a small contact patch like a motorcycle tire? It’s a mystery of the universe right up there with the magical force that makes one sock disappear from every load of laundry.

After my multiple-tire-plug fiasco getting home from the recent MISFIT run, I remembered my friend Bob Pearson’s words of wisdom: when plugging a steel belted radial with the Stop-n-Go kits, you have to “ream the crap out of tire” before installing the plug. The reaming breaks down the steel belts a bit in hopes that they don’t cut through the plug, which is exactly what had happened to me. Consequently, I spent some extra time to thoroughly ream out the hole. The plug installed easily and just barely protruded from the tire, so I didn’t even bother to trim it off.

Next, out came the brand new Motorpumps Air Shot pump to fill up the tire. It’s a small pump to it takes a while to fill a tire from nothing, but it did the job quite nicely.

Available Solutions?

While the pump was filling the rear tire, I picked up my iPhone and browsed to the BMW Motorrad dealer locator. The two closest options were in Missoula, MT and Spokane, WA. If I backtracked the 30 miles (48km) towards Kalispell and then headed south, the Missoula dealer was probably the closest. Unfortunately, it was in the opposite direction from the one I needed to travel. The Spokane dealer was 231 miles (372 km) away but only about 40 miles (64km) off from my original route.

Since this plug repair was further from the center line of the tire than the last one, and the angle of the puncture meant that the hole was longer and (I hoped) would seal better, I decided to push for Spokane. For similar reasons, I didn’t reduce my speed very much, hoping that the plug would hold better this time around.

By the time I got to Libby, MT, I had traveled about 60 miles (97 km) at an average of 70 mph (113kph) and the plug was still holding. The bad news was that it was leaking slowly, down four psi over that stretch. I figured that I had a pump on board and could deal with topping-off the tire if needed. I overfilled the rear tire by 6 psi in Libby and would press on. In the meantime, I called the dealer in Spokane and got connected to the service department. They were busy and I got their voicemail. I left them a message describing my predicament and instructed them to call me back.

The next time the tire needed air was south of Sandpoint, ID. I stopped under the canopy at a gas station and got out the pump to add some more air. While the pump did it’s job, I called the dealer again, a bit worried that they had not returned my call. I had not been able to find any listing for “BMW Motorcycles of Spokane” in my maps app and was worried that they no longer existed. This time, I explained my situation to the operator, who directed me to the parts desk to check on the tire I needed while she walked over to service to crack the whip on them with regard to my request.

Josh at the parts desk took my information, found the tire in the system, and had me wait a minute or two while he verified that he could physically find the tire in the warehouse. He was successful. The tire would run me $331 (gulp). That was the full list price; the one I had ordered online was a mere $164… for the same tire. Oh, well. What was I going to do? It’s not like I could say I didn’t want it.

Meanwhile, the operator reported back through Josh that the service department was apprised of my situation and would be waiting for me. If I didn’t have any other mishaps, I should be there by 3:30pm, which should be enough time for them to get to it today. The message from service also indicated that my wait time would be much shorter if I could get the wheel off the bike myself. No worries.

Westside Motorsports

Aside from the ever rising thermometer and the fact that I ran out of on-board water about 30 miles (48km) away from the dealer, my trip to Westside Motorsports concluded without adding further insult to injury. I found a shady spot in the middle of the brightly painted “No Parking” area in front of the entrance and went about the task of removing the rear wheel. Within 10 minutes, I was walking into the service department, wheel in hand.

Kevin, the service writer, knew who I was the moment I walked in. He went about getting my information into their system when his eyebrows raised at my city of residence. “Ann Arbor?”, he asked. “Are you a wolverine fan?” I explained that I was and even had season tickets to the football games and women’s basketball games.

We immediately has much to talk about. I had found the one University of Michigan fan in all of Spokane.

Eventually, we handed my wheel off to Corbin (service tech) for the tire change. As I made my way to the door, I mentioned that I was saddened that I would be paying full list price for a tire I could readily obtain online for half. Kevin smiled at me and said he would do something about that; he called it a “Go Blue” discount.

While I waited, I refilled my water carrier, replenished my own internal fluid levels, and updated Karen and my Facebook friends on my progress. Not long thereafter, the tire was ready and I was back in the parking lot getting it installed.

When it was all done, I was out:

  1. My desired route for the day.
  2. About two hours of total delay.
  3. $275 (Kevin got me $93 off the tire — YES!)

Given that the delay could have been multiple days and at least another $180 in service cost and lodging, this was a major victory.

Finishing the Day

Leaving Westside, I got back on US2 headed west. I was still determined to take at least the most scenic portion of WA20 across the state, so I headed for the Okanogan valley.

It was now just after 5pm and the sun had no cloud cover to prevent it from blasting me in the face as I rode west. It just made the 95º F day (35ºC) feel that much hotter.

I got a bit of a respite when I turned north towards the Grand Coolee dam. The dam is a fairly impressive site that usually warrants stops for photos, but I was hot, harried, and on a mission to get to my destination before the roadsides turned into a Bambi festival.

WA20 turns west off of US97 at Okanogan, WA. The bad news is there isn’t very much in terms of lodging and eateries in Okanogan. The good news is that there is another town, Omak, just a few miles north. With all the delay and route destruction that had happened today, another few miles (few more kilometers) of travel out of my way didn’t seem very daunting.

I was able to locate the same motel in Omak where I had stayed back in 2007. The name is different and it is under different management (perhaps many changes in management), but the price is still right.

In a total sell out from my usual eat-with-the-locals strategy for dining, I indulged in some pizza at a Pizza Hut.

I’ve got just over 330 miles (531km) to travel tomorrow to arrive at my friend’s house. Let’s see if I can manage to get there without some other wayward sharp object finding its way into my rear tire.

Posted from Omak, Washington, United States.

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