Third Time’s Not Such a Charm
Really? Three moto issues in one week? Is this even possible?
Except for one flat tire while riding with Paul Guillen during the 2012 Touratech Rally West, I’ve had zero mechanical issues since. This doesn’t include a few off-bike incidents—crashing my Ducati 1198 in 2013, and washing out at the front end of my Suzuki V-Strom DL1000 on the top of Michaux Faux forest—the latter causing the third of seven bent rims.
The ongoing reliability streak changed this past month when I experienced not one or two motorcycle issues, but three. And all three problems occurred during a one-week period on three different motorcycles: Ducati Multistrada 1200, KTM 1190 Adventure R, and Ducati Monster 900 S i.e.
The first one was the most frustrating. I had a weekend trip planned with a friend/business associate in Washington D.C. My goal was to rip some desolate Pennsylvania backroads that Friday aboard the Multistrada, a bike that I have nearly 50,000 miles on, and never had an issue with except one small one—lost bolts from an aftermarket timing belt cover (my bad—forgot to use Loctite).
This time it wasn’t a simple fix, though. Luckily, I was close to my usual gas stop off Interstate 81 in the Pine Grove area when traveling south. The bike was running slightly rough when on the throttle, and I was hoping it was something simple.
After I filled up, the Multistrada wouldn’t turn on. I spent a half hour checking things when I realized it was a dead battery in the key fob for the keyless ignition. Yes, this had happened once in New Jersey while trekking to New Jersey Motorsports Park for some vintage racing a few years back with my buddy Jay, and it was a quick fix.
This time I forgot about the simple fix, until I looked in the plastic tube hidden beneath my Sargent seat. Besides insurance/registration papers, there was a pack of watch-style batteries.
Problem solved. But not really. The mechanical issue was still there. It felt like a slipping clutch, and I was even more annoyed now. I had never changed the clutch, and I knew the fluid was old, and I had recently had too much fun doing wheelies and treating the Multi like a superbike.
Okay. I wasn’t dealing with any more issues because it was getting late. I called my friend, and replanned, hoping to head to D.C. early that Saturday. I couldn’t leave the broken bike alone, of course.
When I got home, I changed the fluid and suddenly noticed the aftermarket levers I put on over the winter—I won’t talk about the company, and I would never recommend them. They never felt quite as good as the stock levers, and now the lever was slightly sticking due to some weird wear, and slipping the clutch under hard throttle.
The feeling drove me nuts. I found a stock lever from my crashed 1198, which only had a bit of rash, and put it on. With that and the new fluid, my Multistrada was back in shape. But it was nearly 10 p.m., and my evening turned into one of wine and wrenching on other motorcycles.
I never got out to D.C., all because of an aftermarket lever. Weird.
Three days later, I took the rims off the KTM 1190 and brought them to a local dealership to have my new Pirelli Scorpion Rally SRT tires installed. I rode the tires while testing the Multistrada 1260 Enduro in Italy and couldn’t believe their performance both on- and off-road. The energy was high for some adventure trekking I had planned for mid-week.
I got the rims back on the bike and, within five minutes of the initial test ride, my gauge notified me of low tire pressure. First in the front tire, which dropped from 35 psi to 14, then the rear, which slowly fell to 20. I never had an issue with the spoked rims that use tubeless tires, but have had trouble with this particular dealership in the past. They once installed a rear tire on a Ducati rim backward—three different times (don’t ask!).
Luckily, I had a MotoPump with me when the KTM’s tires starting going flat. I filled them, and had my wife follow me to the dealership. I was not taking the rims off again, and not paying for a thing. It turns out the rubber insert that keeps the spoked rims from leaking air was damaged, so the dealership was fixing it. Unfortunately, it took a week to get the rubber parts in from KTM, then another day to get them installed.
I was without the KTM for eight days, and two of those days included a short and treacherous ADV trip. The KTM is back to normal now, and I’m packing tubes just in case I’m off the grid and experience a leaking tire, something I never want to deal with again.
On Friday I had issues with the Multistrada, and then problems Monday with the KTM. The glitches weren’t over yet. This time, my Ducati Monster 900 S i.e. I’ve been building from the frame up for two years was the concern. I’d expect this bike to have some problems, and, just like on the Multi, it wasn’t a Ducati issue, but rather an aftermarket part issue.
After searching for what seemed like forever, I found a carbon-fiber gas tank last spring. I checked it for leaks before installing. I found two, and had it repaired. The tank held fuel until another small leak began, one I tried fixing with some Flex Seal tape.
Come on. If it can hold a boat together, it can keep a pinhole gas leak out, right? I’m joking, of course. That stuff actually lasted for nearly 200 miles.
That is until the week my Multistrada and KTM had their issues. While on a beautiful backcountry ride just miles from my Northeastern Pennsylvania residence, I vaguely smelled some gas. It got worse until fuel was streaming out of the right side of the tank. I had to keep my leg out in a triangle, like those racer wannabes do on the street—the types who never rubbed a knee before.
I was close to home, and I wasn’t stopping. I was going to make it home, or the Monster was going in a ditch on the side of the road. I made it—to my development, that is. The bike finally ran out of fuel about a block from my house. I had to push it to my house and then up my driveway, which has what seems like a 50 percent or more grade for about 80 feet, might I add.
I was flustered and sweaty, and like the Multi’s clutch, I again needed to resolve the issue. Off came the carbon-fiber tank. In its place a stock yellow one that took me a year to find on eBay. This is my second Monster build, and parts were always hard to find–good parts, anyway. I had been proactive, knowing that the carbon-fiber tank wouldn’t last—I just didn’t expect the tank to cause trouble the same week as my Multi and Adventure R.
As the late Kurt Vonnegut said, “So it goes,” right? People say things happen in threes, and I always called B.S. But in a single week, my thoughts on this superstition have changed.
Since these were the first breakdowns I have had in seven years, I guess I’m pretty lucky. One more, though, and I may take up golfing or baseball. Just kidding. A broken-down bike is still cooler and more stress relieving than hitting any type of ball with a stick, even if it’s three in one week. But my three was definitely not a charm.