There are different kinds of adventures. Yes, all right, of course you know that. But I’m thinking of occurrences that share little with the accepted type of adventure except that they are difficult, or dangerous, or – as adventures occasionally are – ridiculous.
I give you Charlie and me, rolling along the E70 (which it wasn’t, yet, but it was already a motorway) somewhere not far from… Redipuglia, was it? in north-eastern Italy. The rear wheel of Charlie’s Honda XL250 had been wobbling alarmingly for some time. We knew exactly what the problem was; this was not the first time it had happened. The steel washer spacing the wheel had simply worn out. The first time it happened, in Malaysia, Charlie had very sensibly got the mechanic to make him not only the required replacement, but a couple of spares as well. But they had been used up, possibly because they were not originally made from, you know, steel but Malaysian ‘steel’.
We pulled into one of those amazing motorway stops they have in Italy, a fat bridge across the road holding a restaurant, a souvenir shop and all sorts of other amenities as well as being flanked by petrol stations. What to do, what to do.
Well, the first thing we did was buy a couple of the wonderful sandwiches they sell at these stops. Having consumed those, we were in a better mood to address the problem. Take my advice: this is by far the best way to deal with problems. Not necessarily with prosciutto and salad sandwiches and chinotto, but with a break to allow you to place the trouble at its proper level of importance.
Charlie had found a discarded tube from a truck tyre at the disposal bin, and we proceeded to cut out rings of thick rubber with the hope that they would keep the wheel true, at least for a little while. When I say ‘we’, I actually mean Charlie. As I pointed out to him, if rubber would do, Soichiro would not have used steel for the spacer. Yes, I am a bit of a defeatist where these things are concerned.
Charlie saw my point, and we switched to cutting circles out of the tops of discarded oil cans instead, using our can opener. When there were no more easily available oil cans to be found, we fitted the results of our labours to his rear wheel hub, alternating tin and rubber. Out onto the motorway again, and it didn’t take long to discover that my pessimism had been correct.
We found a small pullout by the side of the motorway, the kind of thing provided for highway patrol vehicles, and weighed up our options. Oh, I see I have forgotten to mention that this was the middle of the night. The only sensible thing was to call it a day, or a night, and get some sleep. I have never before slept with my head a matter of a few feet from the multiple wheels of giant trans-European truck wheels, but sleep I did.
In the morning we discovered that there was an exit not far away, and a small town whose name I have forgotten not far from said exit. We rolled – or wobbled — in there and found a mechanical workshop where the padrone happily made a new spacer for Charlie, of excellent Italian steel, before referring us to the café just up the road owned by his cousin. A grim night’s adventure turned into a pleasant half hour in the sun with excellent coffee and various pastries.
Why were we on the motorway in the first place? We had tried the back roads for a few kilometres after crossing the border into Italy, but we found that not only was navigation nearly impossible, but other road users seemed to be determined to wipe us off the face of their otherwise lovely country. We might just have been anxious. I have not found this to be quite as bad subsequently, although if I still had the boots I was wearing a few years later while road testing a Moto Guzzi, they would retain the red scrape they acquired from a Ferrari F40 which I encountered on a back road. Being a Ferrari, the road belonged to it, of course, and to the mustachioed gentleman who was driving in the middle of a very narrow roadway. And yes, I still recall his face. Impending death is even less forgettable if you can pin a face to it.
A couple of years later, I was making my way down into Denver from the west on a road whose name I do not recall. Perhaps one of you can help me out. It was a steady downhill run on, I think, a four-lane blacktop, not a freeway, when one of my throttle cables snapped.
Many Hondas have, or had in the ‘seventies, two throttle cables. But with either cunning or lack of interest, the fittings at their ends were not identical. I could not just swap the broken cable out with the operational return cable. What I could do, and did, was to swap over the upper end of the cable, which did fit. This meant that I was turning the throttle forward to accelerate, and back towards me to slow down.
I leave it to your imagination how I managed to get through peak hour Denver traffic to a Honda shop, where they happily sold me another cable. There are two lessons from this. Adventure? It can happen right there on a highway in Colorado. And the best response is to throw yourself on the capabilities of the locals. Mostly.
There was the occasion in Greece when a mechanic promised Charlie he would helicoil the XL’s head for a leaking head bolt, and instead tapped it out. Not happy, Dimitrios… but it did work and unlike the wheel spacers, it did not wear out.
(Photos The Bear)