On Memorial Day I was signed up for a track day at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville Connecticut. Registration and tech inspection start at 8 AM, and I didn’t want to drive the 2.5 hours directly from home, so I fiugred I’d impose on a Maggot who lived closer to the event. It was either Thinker in Stamford CT or BOTA in Scarsdale NY who would get the honor of hosting me, and it turns out that Scarsdale is significantly closer to Lime Rock than Stamford, so he drew the short straw.
I arrived at the BOTAhome around 7 PM, maybe an hour and a half before sunset, with no real plans as to what we would be doing. The fact that the BOTAmobile and The Red Baron (2000 Electra Glide Ultra) were parked out on the street, and the chugging, grinding noises coming from his garage told me that BOTA had a plan… and that plan involved me riding Lucifer.
Lucifer… the 1980’s-vintage Harley FXR that gets loaned out to unsuspecting randoms who visit and need a spare bike. Forget that BOTA also owns TWO perfect recent-model Electra Glide Ultra Classics (they’re like potato chips or tattoos… once you have one, you can’t stop yourself from having more). Nope. ‘Glide #2 (Barashakushu – 2011 version of The Red Baron, but otherwise pretty much identical) was in the shop for 10,000 mile maintenance, and the choice was either Lucifer or CTD’s Suzuki Savage 650 which had not been started in over two years and which no American male with more than 12 months of riding experience would be caught dead on. Lucifer himself doesn’t get ridden all that often either, but an FXR is a real piece of Harley history. Lucifer also has a reputation for being grouchy and having breather valve gremlins that often puke oil out of the crankcase and into dangerous proximity to the rear wheel. On the plus side, he has gobs of street cred and nobody can accuse you of being a RUB when you ride in on that old iron.
Through no foresight of my own, I pretty much had a full set of riding gear. Of course I had a helmet to use in the car at Lime Rock, but I also had a set of Held summer riding gloves that I hadn’t bothered to remove from the inside of the helmet out of sheer laziness. And miraculously, I had also packed a leather jacket because I had checked the weather report and seen that it was going to be brisk. The jacket I grabbed happened to be a Vanson Ike which, while not a technical riding jacket is at least serviceable for around town on a Harley. And thus I had no excuses.
Excuses? Why would I need excuses? A True Biker is always ready to ride, no? Yeah, well… this is a weekend evening at BOTA’s house, and I know how these things usually end. Very, very late with a ride of questionable sanity and safety with a borderline BAC, if you’re lucky. Then comes the serious drinking after the kickstand is down at home followed by the massive hangover which was going to be a problem with me blasting around a classic motorsports road course the following day. Plus I was going to have to get up at 5:30 AM to make tech and registration with a decent buffer time. So I swore an oath to myself to be a Good Boy and not do antything that MADD would get upset at.
Annie B (on pillion) and Thynk3r (on K1200LT) would be part of the Maggot entourage. The plan was to go to David Byrn’s for a beer, then Ruby’s for food, followed by a walk to The Pub for a few more beers. All in Port Chester NY, about 10 miles from Scarsdale. As we rode off, I marvelled at how nice of a ride Lucifer could actually be. I was never fond of the look of those buckhorn handlebars, but it turns out they are pretty much ergonomically correct for the natural position of your hands held out in a relaxed position in front of you. Nice! The rest of Lucifer’s running gear seemed surprisingly good too. His engine was torquey and good for some easy loping, and his brakes were as good as any new harley, which is to say good enough and easy to modulate.
As we got onto the Merritt Parkway, I let too many cars get between me and BOTA as I waited for a gap in traffic. Had to zoom ahead to catch up and I made a bit of a blunder. I saw what I thought was BOTA’s ‘Glide take an exit up ahead, and I followed him. Turned out not to be him, so Thinker and I were now hopelessly far behind. And I had no idea where David Byrn’s was. Luckily, Thinker did so I followed him. I was a bit worried as we got back on the Merritt, then hit 287, then 95 in Connecticute. I had a feeling that he was going to take me to New Haven “just because.” But those fears were unfounded and we exited 95 into Port Chester and were in David Byrn’s parking lot in short order.
Problem is, no sign of BOTA and Annie. Thinker then led me to Annie’s house, about 5 minutes away across the border in Rye NY. There we did what all modern youth do when we can’t find our friends… we texted. And waited. After about 10 minutes I heard a Harley in the distance and proclaimed: “That’s BOTA.” Thinker did not trust my BOTAdar and called bullshit, claiming that there were thousands of Harleys out on a warm Memorial Day Eve in Westchester. But the Harley got closer… and closer. And I was proven correct. My BOTAdar is strong. Note that through this whole wait I had left the key in the “on” position on Lucifer so that we could have Lucifer’s headlight since the sun had set by that time. This, it would turn out, was a mistake. More on that later…
We had a beer at Byrn’s, which was selected because it is a “dive bar” suitable for bikers to hang out in. I would say that it’s a little bit nicer than a true dive, but both the bartender and half the clientele sounded and looked like they were extras from The Boondock Saints. Thick Irish accents and the affect of people looking for an excuse to have a bar fight. Then we drove the 1/4 mile to Ruby’s, only to find out that the kitchen closed early because it was Sunday night. The bastards! no respect for our troops, treating the Sunday before Memorial Day like it was a normal Sunday. So we went around the corner to The Pub, another place that was billed as a dive bar, but again rather a bit too nice to be divey. It was popular though, and we had another beer or two plus the only food they offered… chili from an electric slow cooker sitting at the corner of the bar and served in a styrofoam coffee cup. Damn good chili, and the tiny diced peppers they served with it turned out not to be Jalapenos, but Serranos instead. About an order of magnitud hotter!
Hunger got the best of us, and we decided to head to the old reliable all-night Greek Diner in Rye. As we saddled up, I noticed that Lucifer was getting harder and harder to start with each location we stopped at. Hmmm….
The diner was fine, nothing eventful. Leaving the diner… not so good.
Thumbing Lucifer’s starter for the last leg back to BOTAheim gave only a pathetic groan. Then clicking. Dead battery. I assumed the battery was old and wouldn’t hold a charge, but BOTA assured me that it was under a year old. That left a thought that I’d rather not think: Dead alternator. If that was the case, then Lucifer was now a ticking time bomb of strandedness and it was past 1:00 AM. Best not to worry about what may or may not be inevitable doom until the doom comes knocking on your helmet, so we pointed the bike towards the downhill section of the parking lot and bump started him.
Lucifer was now acting like his namesake, running rough and skipping beats. Electrons were clearly in short supply. Thank God for the massive dumb lump of a Harley motor with it’s huge flywheel full of inertia that kept things turning even when the spark was weak.
The final scare came as we got back onto the Merritt for the last push home. The Merritt Parkway is an old pre-war road unlike antything the rest of the nation would consider a highway. The entrance ramps are laughably short little stubs of road that connect to residential streets out of nowhere. I didn’t see it coming in the dark, so when BOTA hit the brakes and turned left, I was late and had to brake a little hard. With the slightest whiff of rear brake, the rear wheel locked up with a strange greasy feeling. No squeeling, no skidding… it just kicked out sideways like it had zero traction. FECK! Oil? Was the breather valve spitting oil on the rear wheel? At that point I was expecting any kind of failure, so I lost all confidence in the bike. Another test of the rear brake, another sideways slide. From that point on I was tiptoeing, certain that if I took a turn too hard the greasy rear wheel would kick out and I would lowside or highside off onto the pitch black highway at 1:30 AM with BOTA a half mile in front of me. He wouldn’t notice I was down until he got home.
Oh, and the turn signals had stopped working and the horn (a crazy Freightliner-style truck air horn) was getting weak. I caught BOTA at the exit ramp and explained my predicament like so:
“FUCK YOU, YOU FUCKING FUCK! I have oil on my rear wheel and no traction! Go slow or you’ll lose me MOTHERFUCKER!”
…later inspection showed no oil on the rear wheel. I gues the oil was on the road?
But we made it back to his house uneventfully. put the bikes away, had a few drinks and I was put to bed in Room 101. That’s the BOTAdaughter’s room, with her two pet rats. Rats are nocturnal and very active at night. They run, they climb, they fight each other, they squeel. Loudly. Add the fact that I had taken two Red Bulls earlier in the evening and you have a recipe for no sleep. I would pay for that the next day.
At the racetrack I had a blast, as these videos show:
Late in the morning, BOTA, Annie, Thinker, Konrad Urban, and Konrad’s friend and maggot-hanger-on George showed up to cheer me on. By the third run session my lack of sleep was catching up with me along with the hard work and concentration of learning how to drive on a road course. Fatigue took it’s toll and I was starting to zone out on the course. So I called it a day at 3:00 with one more 25-minute run session still on deck. Sorry, I am weak. I followed the bikers home, with the only eventful thing worth reporting being a stop at a random place for dinner. The food was decent, but the name was better. It was called “The Carriage House,” written in a bulbous script that made the “r” and the “i” run together so that to me it read “The Carnage House.” It was decided that if the maggots bought a bar, THAT would be the name.
I made it home by 7:00, and I was in bed exhausted by 8:30.