I Don't Wanna Pickle

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by kstache, May 31, 2017.

  1. kstache

    kstache Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2016
    Oddometer:
    12
    Welcome to the party, pal (6/7/17): Santeetlah Lake to Etowah, 167 miles (~75 miles dirt)

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    We left our determined hero resting on the edge of a lovely lake after battling it out with two-or-ists in the Great Smoky Mountain Parking Lot. We pick up again 30 miles away at the start of the Sam Correro TAT in Andrews, NC.

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    I don’t remember if this mural is part of the many hosts of legendary TAT ride reports, but the first TN track starts in the nearby parking lot, so it seems likely that this was a mandatory photo opportunity.

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    The tracks start up some windy pavement headed into the mountains. Then they pump fake along the Cherohala Skyway. So you roll the camera and immediately turn around. Turns out there’s a USFS access road under the ridge where this photo was taken. My disappointment quickly turned to delight when I realized I was headed back to the dirt.

    You’ll wind your way along under the Skyway, and then pop out to finish the last 5 miles on the Skyway on your way to Tellico Plains. This is where the adventure began in earnest.

    I was slowing down to hit the first gas station on the way into Tellico Plains when the engine died without warning. I sat a minute right across from the gas station and then it started right up without a complaint. I was concerned and confused, but pulled in, filled up, and without knowing what else to look for, checked the oil. The oil on the dipstick read low, but the engine had been cooling for 5 minutes while I filled up and made log notes and I was on a slight incline. I wasn’t sure what else to check, so I chocked it up to a rolling stall (I may have been going about 10 mph too slow for third when I slowed down for the gas station) and went looking for lunch. If you’re in Tellico Plains, look for the bakery “Tellico Grains”. It was a delightful lunch.

    Now, if you think you know where this is headed, you’re probably right. I said this is where the real adventure started, but I think the real problem came later.

    A few miles outside of Tellico Plains the track jumps back onto old logging roads. Several miles after that, you hit the first water crossing. The first was relatively shallow, with an easy entrance and exit. Video pending.

    The second crossing has two entrances. The first one you approach is almost completely carved out into a vertical face and dumps into what looks to be the deepest part of the stream. The second also has a flat face in the middle, but the wheel tracks are quite wide and provide a good entrance that allows you to jog back into the shallowest track through the stream. The exit is a pretty shallow slope, so picking your entrance is the real key. Again, video pending.

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    I made it through both without issue, and immediately had to turn around. I suppose a really good rider could have crossed the log on the left, but there was little chance of self-recovery if (when) I messed up. This left me with two options: 1) break out the hatchet and handsaw 2) tackle the steep, slick creek entrance turned exit.

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    I opted for option two and proceeded to properly christen the ride. The engine bogged right before the climb out, and between the slippery hard pack and revving to keep the engine rolling I slipped sideways into the cutout between the wheel tracks.

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    It really shouldn’t be difficult to climb out, but I missed my footing when the rear wheel stepped out and the luggage dragged me right over.

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    Normally I can pick up the bike with all the luggage on less the duffel. With the downhill fall, it took ten minutes to haul the luggage off, take a breather and water break, drag the bike’s rear wheel around, and haul it upright. Then I rode it up no problem, but with a lot of wheel spinning.

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    Now that I had properly burned off lunch, I sat around a bit deciding on a re-route. It was an easy job backtracking to a parallel country road that eventually linked back up with the tracks.

    Now, maybe you’re thinking, “You dropped it and recovered, but you were hinting at Big Problems.” And right you are.

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    No more than 15 miles after dropping the motorcycle and re-routing, the engine developed a new rattle and started stalling. It was now definitely NOT a rolling stall. Concerned, I stopped to check the oil again and found… nothing on the dipstick. I was 15 miles from anywhere and had no backup oil.

    I had been checking the oil at least once a day, and twice a day through all the highway miles when XRL’s are supposedly most likely to burn oil. I checked for leaks after every stop. Everything had seemed fine up to this point.

    I had the choice to ride out or call for a tow. It was roughly 7 miles to the nearest general store in Reliance, TN. So as soon as I saw houses again, I started asking the locals for any spare oil they might have. The second house had some spare SAE 30. I put in about 20 oz before getting the oil above the low level. For reference, the XRL650L holds 2.1 qts, or 67 oz. The engine was dry.

    When I stopped at Reliance Fly and Tackle. I put in another quart of 10w30. The engine was DRY. It was while topping up again that I noticed that the top end was louder than it used to be. *sad trombone*

    While trying to decide my next move, I chatted with Dan, who owns the shop. He’s interested in becoming a drop point for TAT riders, and had already seen 10 or so come through before me. This surprised me because it’s quite early for riding the full trail, but I suppose some of those people may have been riding the eastern sections or were just planning on bumming around Denver until the passes opened, like me!

    After our chat, I limped my way into Etowah, the nearest town big enough to have an auto-parts store, and performed an emergency oil change in the Auto Zone parking lot. Given my concern about the engine, it didn’t make sense to head back out of town late at night looking for a campsite, so I nabbed a room at the Red Roof Inn and started considering my predicament.

    It wasn’t looking good.
    #21
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  2. kstache

    kstache Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2016
    Oddometer:
    12
    I’m not dead yet (6/8/17): Etowah, 91 miles (0 miles dirt)

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    The Beautiful Cade's Cove (Don't go there)

    I spent the entire day trying to diagnose any problems without tearing the engine apart. First, I went to Ritchie Powersports in nearby Athens. They did a compression check on the engine, and it came back good! 99 psi with the auto decomp lever and the manual calls for 92 psi. Both the mechanic and I could still smell oil in the exhaust, though.

    I spent a long time talking with Tim, who helped me think through my options, possible things that caused the oil starvation, and possible replacement parts lists.

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    Smoky Mountain Selfie

    I also spent a lot of time on the phone with my dad and his gear head buddies. The general consensus was that if the compression was good, if it wasn’t burning too much oil, and if I wasn’t seeing metal in the oil, I may have gotten away with something. Regardless, you wouldn’t be able to tell without pulling the top end off, and I needed to be somewhere other than a motel to afford the time to have someone do that.

    I ran the motorcycle up the highway, then partway back up the forest road I had come down the previous day. I checked the oil every 30 miles, and didn’t burn a drop.

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    Bridge over not yet Troubled Waters

    I spent the rest of the afternoon writing blogs, trying to figure out what I might have done wrong, and trying to come up with a plan for the next day. So far, there are two plausible theories:
    1. I overheated the engine in Cade’s Cove.
    2. I lost a bunch of oil when I dropped the motorcycle.
    Theory 1 seemed more likely at the outset, but the compression was good and it had oil in Tellico Plains. Theory 2 didn’t make much sense until my dad read up on possible oil starvation issues and started asking me questions about the oil separator. That’s when I discovered mine was missing and the crank case breather hose connected directly to the air box.

    Now, I had done a lot of research on XRL mods prior to purchasing one, but missed this tidbit. Apparently, the most popular smog block off kit includes instructions to remove the “charcoal filter”, but actually points to the removal of the oil separator (in addition to the actual charcoal filter and smog kit).

    So I checked the air box and there was the oil sludge. Not as much as you might expect if you dumped a quart of oil through the air box, but I was definitely losing oil through the air box.

    Whatever happened, I lost dang near 2 quarts of oil in less than 100 miles.

    My bail out city was Atlanta, and if I followed the track I would hit the closest point to Atlanta on a half day’s ride. So I settled into writing blog posts and planned to do one more oil change (this time with filter) in the morning. I would keep tabs on my oil consumption, top off if/as necessary, and then bail out if I wasn’t comfortable with the engine.
    #22
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  3. kstache

    kstache Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2016
    Oddometer:
    12
    Keep movin’, movin’, movin’; Though they’re disapprovin’ (6/9/17): Etowah to Emery Creek, 142 miles (~110 miles dirt)

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    The day started with another oil change, only this time I wasn’t in such a rush that I forgot to change the filter. The oil came out amber with no flecks of metal in the drip pan.

    The day was full of really fun dirt roads that I alternately enjoyed and ignored while stressing out about the engine. It helped a little that I had ridden many of these roads on my TAT shake-down trip. I saw a couple of wild pigs that came shooting out of the underbrush right in front of me and a black bear that was just small enough to keep my neck on a swivel for momma.

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    There were some great views towards the end of the ride, but I was too stressed out to stop unless the view was spectacular. The spectacular views didn’t ease my stress, though, because the engine was making new noises and, after a half day of riding, I realized that the extra loud top end was definitely not in my head.

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    I was still stopping every 30 miles or sooner to check the oil, and it read full all day. In fact, I was stopping so often I was starting to wonder how the oil level hadn’t dropped just a little from all the oil checks.

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    By the time I was reaching the end of the track through the N. Georgia mountains, I was super excited to hit familiar roads and started looking forward to the chance to get out of the woods, if only to ease my troubled mind since the engine seemed loud but otherwise fine.

    That’s when I hit a road closed sign on my favorite route into this section of the National Forest. The sun was getting low, but the good news was that I was in my backyard and knew all the best campsites. So I backtracked a few miles and called it quit for the night.

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    I had the place to myself and used the earlier-than-usual setup time to try to relax after stressing out all day. I was happy to setup a little early, because I had seen the black bear less than 15 miles from this site. I made sure to cook away from my tent and hang the bear bag a good ways out. I know black bear aren’t a huge threat, but I figured it was a good habit to build for grizzly bear country and wasn’t to keen on getting any free bear hugs while out by myself.

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    After dinner, I relaxed by finishing up “The King in Yellow” while sipping from my flask. Watching the slowly setting sun and local wildlife helped my mood immensely.

    I managed just enough cell reception to talk with my favorite “make sure your head’s on straight” experts, namely, my parents. I needed to make the go/no go decision the next day, because my next best bail out spot for a long break to get the bike looked at would be Denver. I took a walk around the bike poking and prodding looking for anything loose that might be causing the new rattle, which was my biggest concern. Much to everyone’s amusement, I found a rather large rock stuck on the bash plate.

    Maybe everything would sound alright in the morning.
    #23
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  4. Max Wedge

    Max Wedge ADVenture mowing

    Joined:
    May 16, 2008
    Oddometer:
    1,113
    Location:
    Lwr Mi
    If only its that simple. Hope so!
    #24
  5. Ken0312

    Ken0312 Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 30, 2015
    Oddometer:
    39
    Location:
    McKinney, Texas
    Gee, I hope you were able to block out the disconcerting engine noises while you slept. I'm waiting in anticipation and look forward to your next post. Cheers!
    #25
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  6. insomnia

    insomnia Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Nov 26, 2015
    Oddometer:
    573
    Location:
    wide awake in my kitchen
    good thread I went to see Arlo In 88 hes a cool cat . he makes an appearance in the movie roadside prophets anyone who has never seen it needs to if you like bikes you will love it your reading this I have no doubt you will . nice xr and set up you have there . enjoy the trip .
    #26
  7. kstache

    kstache Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2016
    Oddometer:
    12
    He’s dead, Jim (6/10/17 – 6/16/17): Emery Creek to Atlanta, 139 miles (~15 miles dirt)

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    Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, NC

    I slept in on Saturday, 6/10, to put off having to start up the bike and listen for telltale signs of top end trouble. When I finally started it up, all the concerning rattles and clatter were still there.

    I resigned myself to bailing out to Atlanta where I could stay with friends while getting the bike checked out. After a long ride down the pavement, I picked up my 4runner and hauled the bike to Mountain Motorsports in Lithia Springs.

    They told me they would look at it no later than Thursday of the next week, but would get to it sooner if they could. I shot the breeze with the service department and gave them the full story on my trip so far and the problems with the bike. Turns out one of their mechanics had done the TN to OK sections of the TAT. He started out with a group of 12 riders, and finished with 6. They were plagued with mechanical problems and a couple of crashes.

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    Sympathetic to my problem and hoping to give me good news, they had the first diagnostic back on Monday. The news was not good. The rocker arms were scored and indicated all the problems I feared.

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    I gave them the go ahead to pull the entire top end apart and they found all the classic signs of oil starvation for a XR650L. This wasn’t unexpected, and a full top end rebuild would hurt the wallet, but wouldn’t tank the trip.

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    The piston and cylinder showed all the same scoring associated with oil starvation. In fact, the damage on my top end is identical in location to a forum post detailing the top end rebuild of an oil starved XR650L engine.

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    This wasn’t the end of the engine, though. What really hurt, was the overheated piston rod…

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    This was where the engine rebuild totaled the motorcycle. Replacing the piston rod requires a bottom end rebuild and Honda doesn’t sell just a piston rod, you have to buy the full crank shaft. Buying aftermarket parts wouldn’t help to bring the cost below the cost of the motorcycle either.

    The hunt for a used engine began and ended just that quickly. To illustrate why, I direct your attention to my favorite Count, who will count out the number of available used XR650L engines on the entire interblog.



    There is exactly one (count ’em: 1…) available. It’s from a ’97 XR650L with unknown mileage due to a broken speedo cable. It was running when it got to the shop, but in such bad shape they decided to part out the motorcycle.

    No. Thanks.

    All of the other used motorcycles in the area have the same engine mods I no longer trust, have a similarly questionable heritage, or are priced so closely to a brand new motorcycle that you might as well buy a new one with no miles.

    My parents graciously offered to help me with the cost of a new motorcycles, but I’m not particularly eager to purchase my first brand new vehicle and break it in on a ~4 500 mile (off)road trip with a hopeful extension to 12k miles. It would also extend my vehicle ownership to 4, with no job lined up on the horizon. It could work financially, but it would definitely stretch the budget. Mostly, the thought just gives me a whole lot of anxiety.

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    First Scheduled Dirt in NC

    So, here ends the dual-sport trip of this summer. The summer road trip won’t end here, however. Instead, I’ve put the pieces of the XR650L in my friends’ garage and will be switching back to that other fanatical, high-mileage, road tripping motorcycle community: the VFR riders. I’ll be starting out as soon as the replacement luggage for my old, worn and weary, 40k mile soft saddlebags arrive.

    Thanks for following along, ADVrider! There will definitely be more dual-sport riding in my future, but probably not until I can find a replacement engine for the XRL or another dual-sport motorcycle. I'll just add that to the many reasons why I will be looking hard for jobs in places with mountains and good (off)roads.

    Until next time, this is Dr. kstache saying, "Good Afternoon, Good Evening, and Goodnight".
    #27
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  8. steveo555234

    steveo555234 Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jun 24, 2014
    Oddometer:
    65
    Location:
    Indiana
    Sad end to what I'm sure would have been an epic ride. Hope you get back on 2 wheels soon.

    Sent from my SM-G935V using Tapatalk
    #28
  9. Ken0312

    Ken0312 Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 30, 2015
    Oddometer:
    39
    Location:
    McKinney, Texas
    Bummer about the engine. I hope you get back out there soon.
    #29
  10. BornAgain

    BornAgain Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2008
    Oddometer:
    429
    Location:
    Rosenberg, TX
    Sorry about your troubles. This was starting to have the makings of a really good trip :p3rry
    #30
  11. Max Wedge

    Max Wedge ADVenture mowing

    Joined:
    May 16, 2008
    Oddometer:
    1,113
    Location:
    Lwr Mi
    Any places that specialize in rebuilding lower ends that do the work versus buying new?
    #31