Pit stop in Wasilla

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July 29-30, 2010

I left the UAF dorms in the morning and headed south on highway 3 to Wasilla, AK. It was further than I had realized, and I wouldn't get there until later in the afternoon. The highway passes through some mountain ranges, and skirts the edge of Denali State Park. It was a nice ride, and a welcome respite from the dirt and gravel roads I had traveled the past two days. At a gas stop, I noticed the GPS indicated I had done over 6000 miles on the trip so far. When I got to Wasilla, I checked out a couple motorcycle shops and called James to let him know I was in town. We decided to meet up at WalMart and from there I'd follow him back to his house.

It was cool to meet another KR member so far from home. It's not often you find someone who would invite a stranger into their house having never met them. We talked a lot about the trip so far and about life in Alaska while walking around WalMart before heading to his house to get started on my bike. I needed to change the oil in the bike and have some welding done on the broken luggage rack so it would hold together better. His friend Larry was a welder, so after I removed my cases, we got on our bikes and rode over to Larry's house.

Larry had no problem welding the rack to workable condition. He also put a screw in to hold the case to the rack solidly since the latching mechanism was damaged. The rack was too damaged to fully repair, but between the straightening and welding, it was functional. My experience with this rack being damaged and repaired has given me better ideas on how to build a rack in the future. I had used angle iron to attach the rack to the bike to stiffen it, but I think flat bar would have been a better choice. It would bend easier, but it could be bent back. The angle iron and square tubing components don't bend easily, transmitting stresses to the subframe. When they do bend, they kink, which is difficult to straighten.

After getting back, we then changed the oil and filter in the bike. I had picked up an oil filter at a shop when I first arrived in Wasilla, and some Rotella T6 from WalMart. After a little more riding, we went back to his house and talked all evening.

The inside of James's house is like a museum of mounted animals. Hunting and fishing seem to be a big part of the appeal of Alaska, and helps make up for the very cold weather they have to tolerate for most of the year. It was the middle of summer, so fishing was in full swing. Before long, the freezing weather would return, so you made the most of the time you had. James had a lot of hunting stories, and a story for all the skulls and mounted animals throughout the living area. We talked at length about the trade-offs made to live in Alaska, the beauty of the region balanced against a very lengthy winter.

I woke up late the next morning and got ready to go for a ride around the area with James. After breakfast, I went to the garage to find that my rear tire had gone flat. The Pilot Road 2 I had on the rear (damn good tire) still had some tread on it after over 6000 miles, but it was squaring off, and I knew it had a leak that had apparently become worse overnight. James convinced me to look into getting a new tire while it was convenient, rather than risking more problems down the road.

The leak was slow, so I aired the tire back up and we rode to his friend Jay's shop, Phantom Choppers, to see if he had anything available. As it turned out, he had an Avon sport tire that just happened to be the right size. I knew the sport tire wouldn't hold up over the distance I had yet to go, but he offered it to me at a bargain, so I bought it figuring I could always put a sport-touring tire on later when this one wore out. It would definitely stick to the pavement while it lasted.

As I was backing the bike out of his shop, Jay stopped me and asked me to move the handlebars back and forth. He had noticed that the wheel didn't move quite right with the handlebars. After checking it out a bit, he quickly narrowed it to the front wheel bearings. It made sense to me, as I had been having problems with the front end shaking when I braked.

I was happy he had spotted the problem, but now we had to find a place that stocked my wheel bearings. None of the main shops had anything in stock. While trying to figure out what to do, we took the rear wheel off so we could take it somewhere to get the new tire mounted, and then took off the front wheel so we could get the bearings out and have a look at them. One seemed pretty solid, but the other was definitely shot.

Airing up my flat tire in James's garage Possible source of the leak Phantom Choppers
Wide front tire Another bike with a wide front tire Both wheels off the VFR

James remembered a shop he had heard of, Alaska Moto Sport. He called the guy up and asked if he has front bearings for a VFR750. Rather than the usual shop approach of looking up the part by bike, he asked for the part number written on the bearing, "6004DU". After a quick check, he said he had those bearings and to come on down!

We dropped the rear wheel and tire off at a shop and then drove to Chuck's shop. His backyard and shop were filled with motorcycles everywhere you looked. We compared the old bearings to the new ones, and indeed they matched! We looked around the shop and talked about motorcycles for a little while before leaving to go pick up the rear wheel.

After picking up the rear wheel, we went back to the house and installed the bearings and put the bike back together. Most of the day was gone, but we still rode around some more, checking that everything was working right. The headshake during braking was gone. We cruised around for a while and hit some curves before heading back to his house. Since it was getting late, I was going to stay a second night and leave the following morning.

Chuck, owner of Alaska Moto Sport James looking over Chuck's bike yard Chuck Front brake pads getting thin, but none available in town
Wheels back on the VFR Riding with James Another shot of James Mostly packed up

Again we stayed up late and bullshitted. It had been a good day for both me and the bike. The bike had a fresh change of oil and new filter, a new rear tire, and new front bearings. Working on the bike was a nice change of pace for me after a week on the road, and it was good to have company, especially company as hospitable as James. Stopping at his house to work on the bike was a tremendous help, and saved me from a lot of potential problems down the road.

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