Somewhere outside of Jerome, Arizona, I realized the starter was failing on my motorcycle. After our last stop, the engine had fired right up — then the starter disengaged and spun freely, albeit only for a second. Obviously, a sign of impending failure; probably some vital and hard-to-find spring that engages the flywheel.
Various scenarios popped into my head and all of them were bad: we’d stop to take a picture at a remote canyon overlook and when I tried to get going again, I’d hear something important break and I’d be stranded. It occurred to me that I should start parking the bike on a downhill slope in case I needed to try to roll it to a start. But it’s a big v-twin motor, so maybe that wouldn’t work and I’d be stranded at the bottom of the hill, easy prey for mountain lions or wayward semi trucks with homicidal or texting (same thing) drivers.
The evidence for this pending mechanical issue was slim. I’d never had a problem with the starter (or anything else) on the bike. Perhaps the starter had disengaged and spun exactly the way it’s supposed to if you hold down the button a little too long after the engine fires. Come to think of it, I didn’t release that button as quickly as I usually do. Still, I’d be anxious the next few times I started the engine until I was sure there was no problem.
Thus goes the terrible affliction of bikeochondria, the disorder where you regularly think there’s something wrong with your bike when it’s actually perfectly fine. Each of the last three summers, I’ve gone on long motorcycle tours and I’ve spent a significant amount of this time analyzing various – and apparently phantom – noises, shimmies, vibrations, odd lever and pedal movements and miscellaneous other sensations that have turned out to be products of my compulsive imagination.
On this year’s tour, I had illusory problems with the brakes, the drive belt and (of all things) the air filter, which is symptomatic of some fairly severe bikeochondria. Last year it was the front wheel bearings, an engine valve and, again, the brakes – which are a well-known imaginary problem on my type of bike.
I can’t recall the problems of two years ago, but I do remember wondering how I would get help while stranded by the side of road at night in North Dakota with no cell phone signal. I checked into a motel at the next exit. The bike was fine, of course.
The biggest mistake you can make if you suffer from bikeochondria is to read forums about your model of motorcycle. This is worse than Googling your own symptoms when you don’t feel well. It’s more like Googling about all sorts of random ailments that happen to people your age and gender even though you feel fine.
Thanks to what I like to consider “preparation,” I’ve researched these forums to identify the most common problems for my bike and I thus travel with extra fuses, light bulbs, an electronic jump-starter, a spare clutch cable, and various other parts and pieces.
This is in addition to a portable air compressor, duct tape, fix-a-flat, a tire repair kit, WD40, cable ties, a flashlight and a full toolkit – which is particularly pointless given that I am personally unable to repair almost anything on a motorcycle. It has occurred to me, though, that some mechanically-gifted good Samaritan might someday stop to help me out but then drive off and leave me stranded if I don’t have the right tools for the job. You can’t be too careful.
And yet that’s the problem: you really can be too careful. If you worry all the time about your motorcycle, are you really having fun when you ride it? Are you actually safer if you add 30 pounds of gear to the bike, thus slowing down acceleration while extending braking distances?
When the Allies invaded Normandy in WWII, one of the generals was flown in on a glider. In an effort to improve his personal exposure to ground fire, he had a big steel plate installed under where he sat on the aircraft. That plate overloaded the glider and it crashed, killing everyone on board. Sometimes overengineering your safety precautions backfires on you.
Speaking of backfires, my bike produced a few of those on this last trip and I’m beginning to wonder if there’s a fueling problem. I might want to see what tools I need to fix this, just in case somebody who knows how do it stops by to help me. I sure hope the starter works after he’s done.
I was recently researching a motorcycle forum to see what other motorcyclists take on their bikes when they go touring. I was surprised that many other riders also have bikeochondria, at least based on the descriptions of the parts and toolkits they pack.
But one person caught my attention with this post: “I bring spare underwear and a credit card.”
If there’s a drug that could turn me into that kind of motorcyclist, I’d get a prescription for it tomorrow. And then I’d leave the tools and parts at home and pack some bottles of that drug into my saddlebags for my next tour.
I’d be sure bring a six-month supply. The ride is only going to last 10 days, but you can’t be too careful when you’re a bikeochondriac.