Breakin’ Down…

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Little things, big problems…

Yesterday, I was out on the Silverwing; ran into town (about 15 miles away) dropped off a Fed Ex and gassed up. Decided to take the long way home because it was a really nice day; sun shining and free time to enjoy it… .

The “long way” is a semi-circular route (instead of a straight shot 15 miles back home) roughly double the distance. About halfway through, the bike started to spit a little when I rolled off the throttle. I made a mental note to check this out once I got home….

Well, I almost didn’t get home!

Maybe a mile or so after the spitting began, the bike began to lose power. Then it died altogether.

As luck would have it, I had just rolled up to the T intersection where I usually make a right to head the rest of the way home. To the left of the T is a Post Office. I walked the bike into the parking lot and pondered… .

That’s when I realized I had no tools at all – not even a screwdriver. All my other bikes have their factory tool kits. This bike – which I bought over the winter – doesn’t. And I – stupidly – hadn’t gotten around to making one up. So I could not even check the fuse box, the cover of which is held in place with two Phillips screws.

And of course, I have no sail fawn.

I did have plenty of change, but the Post Office has no public phones because everyone bee’s on dey sail fawns nowadays… gnomesayin’?

Except me.

So, the wife (and my truck and my tools) are about 18 miles up the road and I am already considering whether I should just hoof it. At a medium jog I figure I could be home in three hours or so… and the good part is I wouldn’t need to get up early the next day to go to the gym.

As I was considering this a deputy sheriff rolls into the Post Office parking lot. It’s a chick cop and she sees I am SOL. She asks if I want to use her sail fawn and I say yes but can she dial it for me as I have no clue how to use one of these twittering, chirping, blinking boxes.

Well, the nice lady cop does the deed, the phone rings… and I hear my answering machine, but not my wife.

Strike Two!

I thank the cop and tell her I’ll figure it out. As she is leaving, just for the hell of it, I hit the starter again … and it starts!

I jump on and tear out of there, on the assumption that my good luck might not last long enough to get me home. I was right. About 3 miles later, same spitting… followed shortly by me coasting to a stop by the side of the road about 12 miles from nowhere or anything except those cows on the ridge.

Now I’m really unhappy because there’s no place to leave the bike or even park it. I’m on a country road with no real shoulders and cattle fields on either side… .

One last time I pull off the side covers – the only things I can pull off without tools – and look around in there… and that’s when I see it.


The little vacuum hose that slides onto the tiny nipple on the backside of the fuel petcock. The one that applies negative pressure to keep the fuel flowing… it had slipped off the fitting somehow. Hence, no gas. Hence, no go.

This was not my first guess. When the bike died and I got no action at all trying to crank it – not even trying to start – the thought that came into my head was – electrical problem. My least favorite thing – and the thing that often as not involves lots of money and forget about making it home without a truck. But this time, the Motor Gods smiled upon me. The fix was simple, if a little bit painful.

Once I got my hand back there – which involved something not unlike that scene in Kung Fu when Grasshopper grabs the hot cast iron pot to burn the Shao Lin dragons onto his wrists – because the engine was hot and my hands didn’t quite clear the space – I was able to reinstall the hateful little &*%$#!! hose. Life returned, the bike fired right up and I was on my way back home.

Memo to self: Make sure the %^#@!! hoses are secure. Make sure you have tools with the bike. I lucked out this time. But if I’d needed a wrench or even a screwdriver to get going again, well, I wouldn’t have gotten going. Never, ever ride a bike without the essential toolkit – the items you need to do basic but potentially critical roadside repairs. It can be the difference between a humiliating call to the wife, your buddy with a truck or AAA – and the empowering fixed-it-myself! rush you get when you… fix it yourself!

And: Remember to first check the obvious things – like are the fuel hoses all connected? Is the petcock handle not on “res” orĀ  “off”? You didn’t accidentally thumb the engine kill switch, right? Stuff like that. It happens. It just happened to me.

But no, I’m still not buying a sail fawn!


  1. Oops. Your article here reminded me of something. The same kind of intermittent stalling happened to my ZRX after I first got it. When I’d fill the tank, I’d get about 40 or 50 miles and it would sometimes sputter and die. After a few minutes it’d start up again just fine. Turns out the gas cap had a minor venting defect. There was a factory fix for it, but for whatever reason it seemed to resolve itself on my bike with no intervention at all.

    • Good to know! My ZRX (an ’03) hasn’t had that problem – or any other problem. I bought it brand-new, right off the showroom floor. My first and so far only new new bike!

      What year is your ZRX?

  2. Greetings! I came across your website and first scrolled through the page discussing driving in the snow. Good stuff! Then I saw the link for motorcycles, and read through some of your articles about restoring the Kawasaki Triple. I LOVE those bikes, although I’ve never owned one.
    I was a sophomore in high school when the H1 came out. I remember staring at the photo of one in a motorcycle magazine for hours. It was a beautiful metallic brown color and I wanted it BAD. If I had the bucks, I’d have a big, climate-controlled garage and I’d have one of every one of the Kawasaki Triples in it, along with the 750 Turbo and one of the early Z1’s.

    In reading this article, I see that you have a ZRX! I posted for a long time on, a message board for Rex owners. Have you been to that site?

    I have a 2001 ZRX myself, although I don’t ride it all that much. Matter of fact, I just turned over 15,000 miles on it yesterday! I love the power, but I find that the suspension is a little too rigid for me and I kind of wish the handlebars were higher and closer. I got a set of risers for the bars, but they’re still a little low and far away.

    I really like your site here. Keep up the good work!

    • Yes! (know about I used to post there a lot.

      Mine (’03) is mostly stock. It has the Muzzy stainless exhaust and Ivan’s jet kit, along with “emissions defeat.” Aside from the looks, one of the things I like about this bike is that it fits me. Being 6ft 3 and over 200 lbs., most sport/hypersport bikes are not for me – outside of 15-30 minute track day sessions. But I can ride (and have ridden) the ZRX for several hundred miles/hours at a stretch. It’s also good around town, due to the ample torque.

      I agree the suspension could be better; I’ve heard Traxxion Dynamics forks and Ohlins rear shocks make a big difference. But right now, I’m pouring all my spare change into the S1 resto, so it’ll have to wait!

      Great to have you with us here, by the way –

  3. I’m a little confused here. If your vacuum line had worked itself off, you would not have had any fuel getting past the petcock until you reconnected it and had vacuum applied to it from the intake. Maybe a slightly cracked vacuum hose, but a disconnected one makes no sense.

    • Hi. I think the hose was barely on and wiggled its way completely loose (from vibration) as he was riding. The fuel bowls went dry and the unit died. He diagnosed the issue and reconnected the line. Vacuum was then generated as he cranked the bike over and the carbs filled back up. He rode home happily ever after.

      • That might explain the 2nd half of the saga, where it died on the country road. But it doesn’t explain why the bike died in the first place, and mysteriously started again in the Post Office parking lot. The carbs would have been bone dry if the bike had died, and it takes quite a bit of cranking to get the fuel flowing enough to empty carbs to re-start the bike. With the engine off, no fuel flows at all, add a broken or loose vacuum hose to the mix, and it makes no sense. FWIW, I have an ’82 GL500I, and have run the carbs dry once by pushing it on reserve, took a good 30 seconds of cranking to get enough flow to restart the bike.

        • Shoot. I was just commenting on the last part of the write-up. I didn’t reread the entire article. We’ll have to wait for Captain E-roc to clear it up. You might be right.. I don’t know.

        • Well, that’s what happened!

          I understand what you’re saying, but, I promise, true story. And it was just the little suction/vacuum hose that had slipped off the pipe.

          It’s run perfectly ever since.

  4. Great advice. Glad you made it home without hoofing it.

    Having just recently (finally) getting my motorcycle endorsement on my driver’s license and halfway looking into purchasing my first motorcycle (paying the bills before these fiat bills are worthless, ya know), you’ve got me wondering. What sort of essential tools do you like to have with you for such emergencies.

    Motorcycles don’t have much storage space at all, unless you’re willing to buy some panniers or your particular one has a nice storage area. Are we talking about a multitool sort of thing or do you have a preferred list of items to have on hand.

    All my vehicles have at least a basic toolkit in them, but none of them would fit in the space provided by your typical motorcycle. This is a question I have considered but haven’t tackled since I don’t yet own a motorcycle to apply specifics (metric vs. standard, for example) to.

    • Hi SM!

      Most new bikes come with a tool kit that covers the essential items but if you buy a used bike it may no longer have its tool kit, in which case you’ll need to make your own. My bikes are all Japanese and so have Metric fasteners; mine seem to use a lot of 10 mm and 17 mm bolts, so I include open end wrenches in those sizes, plus an adjustable wrench for the others. That plus one each Phillips and standard flat blade screwdriver, spare fuses and maybe a small roll of electric tape are the items I toss into my kit.

      This is small enough to fit under the seat (or even in the “trunk”) of some sport bikes, like my ZRX1200R. With the touring bike, of course, storage space is much less an issue.

      What kind of bike are you thinking about getting?

      • I’m mostly looking at dual-sport models in the 650cc or so range. Hoping to find something bullet proof and simple for my first bike. I’ve heard that dual-sports are good bikes to start out on for new riders, and I’m also wanting the flexibility to bug out if need be, what with the way things are going.

        If I come across a good deal on a Kawasaki KLR650 I’d probably take it. I’ve seen brand new ones for under $5k, but I’m not interested in new. As I mentioned, I’m also trying to pay off debt rather than get more “stuff,” so I’m probably going to hold off for now unless it’s a deal of a lifetime sort of thing.

        The one good thing about inflation is that the value of the paper dollars I owe is depreciating faster than the interest rate on those loans. Ha!

        • The KLR is probably your best bet. These are great bikes; been around forever and proved to be excellent all-arounders and very reliable. You should be able to find yourself a nice used one for under $4,000.


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