Cross Country on a $50 bike: NY-SF and back

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by XS500RUS, Jul 24, 2008.

  1. XS500RUS

    XS500RUS Been here awhile

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    This trip has been a long time in the making. Ever since my brother and I started riding (about 4 years ago) we knew that sooner or later we'd do this trip. This summer, he and 3 of his good friends all graduated from Cornell University, and had a summer to kill before some went off to grad school, others to jobs. I'm still in college, also at Cornell, and I blew off having a summer job for this trip (Although I'm back on the grind now).

    We planned months in advance, buying everything we'd need from spare parts to camping equipment to helmet walkie-talkie sets. The bikes were tested and retested by way of shorter tours that took only several days (Catskills, Pennsylvania). The plan was to leave on June 1st and to arrive back home sometime near the beginning to middle of July.

    Now, onto some technical bits about the motorcycles:

    Me (Grisha): 1976 Yamaha XS500C, just broke 40k miles before the trip. Brandon and I bought our bikes together for the sum of $100, with a spare engine included. Mine needed a new cam chain and valvetrain put back together (some idiot removed all of the tappets and threw them all over the inside of the head, some got into the crankcase)

    Brandon: 1973 Yamaha TX500, we're not sure of the true mileage of the bike, the cluster was around 20k but we had replaced the engine with the spare (new rings, gaskets, etc). Before the trip we replaced the ehad again after the old one cracked on a trip to the Adirondacks.

    Vanya (my brother): 1982 Yamaha Seca 750, he bought it for $1000 with 1800 miles on it. All it needed was fork seals and the carbs cleaned.

    Anton: 1979 Kawasaki SR650 (like KZ650), bought for $600, it needed some electrical work and the carbs cleaned.

    Tom: 1981 Honda CX500C, bought for $800, it needed a new alternator, CDI box and a waterseal somewhere in the engine.

    All in all, pretty cheap bikes. We knew well in advance that we would have mechanical issues along the way, there was no way around it. Thankfully, my brother who did most of the mechanical work on all of the aforementioned bikes to get them running, was ready to tackle any problem up to and including a roadside engine rebuild. We were particularly worried about the engines on the 500 Yamahas, since they have somewhat of a reputation for cracking heads :huh.

    The planned route, to give you a rough idea, was to head South from New York, make it to the Blue Ridge Parkway, ride that all the way down to Tenessee, then cut West across the Mississippi, across the Rockies, then South from Utah into Arizone to see the Grand Canyon. After that it would be Las Vegas, Death Valley, the Sierra Nevada, Northern California up to Oregon, then East by way of Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, stop in Chicago, then a straight shot back to Ithaca.

    I won't be doing a precise day by day sort of post, more of an arbitrary division that comes up in my head as I see it. I'll post the first leg of the trip tomorrow, this photo will have to hold you over until then (heading out at 8am on June 1st):

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    #1
  2. scarysharkface

    scarysharkface Imbecile

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    :lurk
    #2
  3. jamesbrown

    jamesbrown Lefty tighty.

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    #3
  4. RichBeBe

    RichBeBe All Hail Seitan!!!

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    Love it i am liking the idea of simple bikes more and more.
    #4
  5. funhouse

    funhouse Overdue

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    ......was expecting to see you all in Aerostich suits!:rofl looking forward to the rest of this report.......you'll all remember this forever.......Bruce
    #5
  6. Klay

    Klay dreaming adventurer

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    #6
  7. Clarkman

    Clarkman Don't taze me bro.

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    This is really kick ass. Funhouse is right -- you guys are gonna remember it forever. I read your original post -- then said "shit yeah!" Doing it on older bikes shows character. Actually, I think the word that fits what I'm thinking is moxie. You ff's have got some moxie.
    #7
  8. Shustrik

    Shustrik Been here awhile

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    Old bikes can be pretty good for travels, man. Especially if you ride such bike a long time and know everything inside :-))
    Say hello to Tom, my first bike was Honda GL400 Wing. CX/GL 400/500 has a good engine, but be cause of age it's usually need some change of CDI-unit, electric cables or so.
    #8
  9. XS500RUS

    XS500RUS Been here awhile

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    Like I said earlier, we set out at 8am. We filled up our bikes just out of town. We all put money on one credit card, so fill ups went very quick: everyone uses the same pump in one go. This is also very convenient in retaurants so the bill doesn't have to be split 5 ways :deal

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    Our next stop was the PA border.

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    We went a ways and then stopped at a dealership in Rome, Pa because we saw a pretty big rally going on. I think it was some kind of charity event, 'big brothers big sisters' ? Mostly Harleys, a couple of Beemers, pretty much all new bikes. We felt a little out of place :lol3 The people at the dealership were very nice and gave us a bunch of cookies and brownies for the road.

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    We stopped for lunch in Bloomington PA near a gas station. The TX500 was having a lot of trouble starting, it took a lot of kicking. We knew in advance what the culprit probably was: a valve that kept getting tight and needed adjustment pretty often. We decided it wasn't a big deal yet and that we'd just deal with the hard starting and poor fuel economy for the time being.

    Sometime after lunch we stopped by the Susquehanna to cool off.

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    We burned miles, riding into the wind. This isn't too bad if you tuck down, but sitting straight up in my bike totally killed power and fuel economy. We stopped at some gravel parking lot to look at a map and see where we wanted to camp out.

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    After much searching and indecision (and being to cheap to pay for a $18 site), we found a dirt road into the forest that was on state land. We set up camp and made dinner (spam burritos).

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    I can remember this first day VERY well, after that, a lot of them get blurred together. Luckily Brandon was keeping a journal and has everything written down in detail, so if I forget I will simply reference his writing.
    #9
  10. XS500RUS

    XS500RUS Been here awhile

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    We weren't very efficient getting up and getting packed in the morning, plus we needed to fill up our 6 gallon water container, so we only got on the road by 9:30. We'd be riding through the remainder of PA and into VA.

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    We got on the Blue Ridge Parkway and rode through part of the Shenandoah National Park. The speed limit is 35, and the road is pretty twisty with a lot of overlooks from which the cagers love to pull out of unexpectedly. Wanting to keep on schedule, we decided that 50mph is a reasonable speed. We slowed down for the more populated areas though. We also had 2 close calls with deer near the road.

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    At lunch we decided that our initial goal of 250 miles would be unrealistic, especially if we stayed on the BRP. Luckily, Brandon had a friend who had invited us to stop by her place in Harrisonburg VA. We all agreed that this was reasonable, especially because this friend is a girl and has a bunch of female roommates :evil . We ate at Chick-fil-a, then had some champagne back at the house. Hoping to make up some mileage that we lost, we tried not to stay up too late.
    #10
  11. ChurnDog

    ChurnDog Adventurer

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    This has the makings of a great report! :lurk I'm in!
    #11
  12. a1fa

    a1fa Throttle Jockey™

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    Thanks for the info. I'll be riding there next week. I think I am just going to ride it for a few miles, and get back on the interstate.
    #12
  13. RyanIsMyName

    RyanIsMyName Been here awhile

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    This is awesome. I want to see more reports with bikes from the 80's ridden by guys in their 20's and less 20k BMW's. I love how you guys KNOW the bikes have mechanical problems but are still riding them anyway.
    #13
  14. Foot dragger

    Foot dragger singletracker

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    I have heard of a few TX500's with exploding innards,Hence the short production run. Thats great your heading out on them regardless,tightening valve and all. Thats why they call em adventures! Good Luck!:clap
    #14
  15. Kayakgk

    Kayakgk Long timer

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    #15
  16. samato

    samato Adventurer

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    I'd love to know what kind of gas mileage those bikes get, if you have that information. I really like those older bikes, especially Hondas, but I hear they're not too good on gas.
    #16
  17. XS500RUS

    XS500RUS Been here awhile

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    Good call :lol3 . My dad is a physicist at the particle accelerator, my mom is a geneticist, both have their Ph.Ds in their respective fields. I'm working on a Biological engineering degree, my brother is going to grad school at Penn State for electrical materials (he has a degree in Applied Engineering Physics). The other guys in the group are also engineers.

    Both my brother and I were born in Russia, but left at an early age. We still visit our relatives in Moscow, Novosibirsk, and Biiysk. I can speak, read, and write pretty well in Russian. We try to keep the Russian heritage alive. We even built a Russian "banya" sauna in our backyard :D
    #17
  18. XS500RUS

    XS500RUS Been here awhile

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    Actually, the Honda, along with my XS500 were the mileage champs on the trip. Both averaged lower-mid 50s. My personal best was 65mpg, the Honda got 61 as its best. With strong winds and E10 gas, mileage plummeted into the 40s:cry . All the bikes ran fine on low grade gas, 87, 85, whatever. Also, mileage depended a lot on where you rode in the formation. The two bikes in front broke the wind :rofl and thus got worse fuel economy. The very last bike got the best mileage. As an example, when I rode in front through most of Arizona, my mileage rarely went above 50, mostly high 40s. However, after switching to the rear (riding on Route 66) I got right around 60 mpg. The more powerful the bike, the less affected it was by the wind and vice versa.

    The gearing on the CX500 is pretty low: 70mph is 7000rpm. The XS500 is a little more relaxed: 70mph is 6000rpm.
    #18
  19. Kayakgk

    Kayakgk Long timer

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    'My dad is a physicist at the particle accelerator, my mom is a geneticist, both have their Ph.Ds in their respective fields. I'm working on a Biological engineering degree, my brother is going to grad school at Penn State for electrical materials (he has a degree in Applied Engineering Physics)'. WOW!

    No pressure but guys like you are the future of energy independance for this country and the world. I have wondered if there would be a way to use a analog of the Krebs cycle and Mitochondria for generating electricity or for charging fuel cells using Sugar as a fuel and ATP as the energry carrier. Or if a analog of cholorphyll could be used for something akin to a solar cell.

    Have a safe trip out there, I have a feeling that the trials and tribulations you face will on this trip will in part prepare you for solving the engineering problems you will be dealing with in the future. Congrats on working your ass off to get into Cornell, it could not have been easy with the competition for entrance into elite universities. :clap
    #19
  20. Roboter

    Roboter Vagabond

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    Really cool! That is a great way to tour. You find those bikes for a dime-a-dozen. Do you have a total cost for the trip yet?
    #20