Posted by: silverback | 2013/02/05

crazy good luck

So I’ve been enjoying my new (to me) KTM 640 LC4 Enduro. I picked the bike up about six weeks ago, and we’ve been learning about each other. I love the BIG thumper’s power delivery. I love that it’ll spin up the rear tire at 943 RPM (or some other absurdly low number of revs) coming off the slimy midwinter corners. I love that I can usually go faster on the gravel forest service roads around here than on their paved counterparts.

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It’s not my first go-round with the Austrian marque. I had a 300cc two-stroke dirt-specific machine for several years. KTM does some strange, funky things, but usually they build a very powerful, uniquely capable piece of machinery. This big 640 is no exception. It will cruise comfortably at 65-70 mph, has no problems overtaking while going uphill with a passenger, is actually capable of carrying a passenger, and handles off-road conditions with aplomb. I’ve been having an absolute blast destroying some of the local roads-less-traveled over the past six weeks.

The bike has some negative points, too – a weirdo right-side drive, and it vibrates. Hard. It is lovingly referred to by some aficionados as a “paint shaker.” There’s a sweet spot in the rev range, but most of the time a big bore single-cylinder bike is going to vibrate much more than any other configuration. The seller told me I should put threadlocker on every fastener when I serviced the machine, and I have been. I haven’t serviced every component yet, though.

So I was out ripping around the nether regions of the border counties this afternoon. I’ve already written that I enjoy getting out on the bike solo – just me and the bike and the roads. This time I was doing it on a very capable dual-sport machine. It occurred to me early in the ride that I might oughta call or text somebody and let them know I was heading out on my own, but I don’t really like to stop much, and I forgot to do it when I stopped for gas. Also, on a ride like this, I never really know where I’m going – in exploring, I often take unplanned turns down all manner of roads and cart-paths. So whatever – I was out riding around on briny post-snowstorm roads, and thought I’d probably not push it too hard anyway.

About an hour & a half out, I was making a run through our best-kept secret, known to many of us as “the road that shall not be named.” It’s a magnificent piece of asphalt, riddled with 2nd gear corners and techy transitions around blind corners. The KTM was feeling good, I was having way too much fun getting all supermoto and putting it just a little slideways off the slower corners, when I came around a corner and saw a stunning wall of icicles hanging next to the road. I checked my 6 and pulled off the road to get a picture or two.

(I guess I don’t really mind stopping that much, after all.)

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After snapping a handful of cool ice shots, I hopped back on the bike and took off down the road. Perhaps 200 yards on, the road went left, so I touched the front brake to check my speed for the corner. Nothing happened – no feel at the lever, no reduction in speed. Oh shit.

This has happened on the track after a big tank slapper or wheel change, so I didn’t really panic at first, but rather pumped the front brake a couple times to get the pads back in contact with the disc. Still nothing. OH FUCK. 

I banged a couple downshifts and applied more rear brake. The midwinter slime bit back, and the rear tire began to skid. So I stood it up as I slid off the asphalt, onto a grassy shoulder.

A drop-off was approaching alarmingly fast, so rather than end up down in somebody’s cow pasture I went ahead and threw the bike on the ground. Nearly simultaneously, I started cussing.

What the FUCK?! How come the brake stopped working? Had I somehow gotten ice on my rotor, or something else stupid from parking the bike in a pile of snow to take pictures? I checked the front caliper as the bike lay on its side and found, to my utter shock, that the brake pads were gone. 

It was inexplicable. I knew they had been there when I took pictures not 200 yards up the damn road. I had nearly dropped the bike when the front tire locked up in a patch of leftover snow on the shoulder. I dusted myself off, picked up the bike, and rode it (undamaged by the fall) back up to the icicle wall, parking it in nearly the same spot. I began looking for brake pads. As near as I could surmise, the retaining pin must have vibrated loose and fallen out – perhaps a little ways back up the road. The pads could easily have been held in place by rotational friction of the disc, as long as I was riding with some speed & using them frequently. But then I had stopped.

After a long, slow walk back and forth, I had recovered both pads, but the pin was nowhere to be found. The proverbial needle in a haystack. You can’t really understand hopelessness until you’re miles back in a rural county on a little-traveled road trying to fix a mechanical problem with no tools and some of the parts gone for good.

2013-02-05 14.25.39I returned to the bike, pondering my options. It was quite difficult to push the caliper pistons back (recall I had frantically pumped the front brake a few times), but I was able to wedge one pad in, then pry with the other while pushing and levering awkwardly on the caliper. But what on Earth am I going to use to take the place of the missing pin? There were numerous little sticks and twigs along the side of the road, but wood does not have great tensile or shear strength, plus it degrades quickly with heat and/or vibration. I looked for a random piece of baling wire, like that may have fallen off a passing farm truck. No luck. Then I spotted it – the Bud Light can, freshly deposited atop the snow, glowing an improbable electric blue  in the afternoon sun.

I thought if I could get the can cut apart, I could possibly roll a pin the right diameter, strong enough to withstand the vibration and abrasion. Perhaps I could even bend the ends to keep it in place. Metal is always better than twigs for such things.

Needing a sharp thing to slice the can, I searched my surroundings and finally found, in the rocks behind the icicle wall, a piece of shale plenty sharp enough to cut through the thin aluminum. I was engaged in some full-on MacGyver shit at this point.

It came out pretty much exactly as I envisioned, after a few minutes of rolling the can & test-fitting the pin until it was a nice, snug fit. Once it was pushed through the caliper and both pads, I used the piece of rock one more time to bend the ends down. I had to ensure my rig would remain in place. I geared back up and began the thirty mile ride back to the house. After a few minutes, I began to gain some confidence that this abomination would get me home.

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As I rode, I thought about all the bad shit that could have happened in this situation, but didn’t because of my ridiculous luck. I was not coming in hot to a 2nd gear corner off a fifth gear straight, like the corner right before the icicle wall. I was not approaching a sheer rock wall (like the icicle wall) when the brakes failed. Thank the Universe and all things good I didn’t have my favorite passenger on the back of the bike to add inertia or get really hurt when I had to throw it on the ground! There was a nice, wide, grassy spot to lay the bike down in, not a rocky drop into a cold creekbed. I had just stopped, so I not only knew about where the brake pads had to be, but was able to actually find them in fairly short order – they had not tumbled into a pile of snow, hidden until spring. It’s more than astounding the number of things that didn’t conspire to horribly kill me or somebody I love, or destroy the bike and strand me in the middle of nowhere with fatal injuries.

I generally have terrible luck when it comes to craps, or poker, or pretty much any other gamble for material things. Raffles. Cake walks. I once lost fifty dollars  at a nickel-dime-quarter poker game. But I walk away from things like this far too often to ignore my fortune. I obviously have crazy good luck, at least at not dying.

Oh, and I will never talk shit about Bud Light again.



  1. This might be one of the best posts I’ve ever read on wordpress. I’m still going to talk shit about Bud Light though.

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