Friday, December 5, 2014

As the winter sets in, let's look back at a Vintage Bike Night adventure

The second-to-last Vintage Bike Night seemed like a good idea in theory. There was one major problem — I didn’t have a running bike. A few weeks prior, my gold CL350 had started sputtering, backfiring and sporadically dying. I limped it to the parking garage down the street to avoid a major thunderstorm, which would certainly kill the thing. It sat quietly for a while as schoolwork took precedence. But when Nick and I decided to ride to the last warm weather VBN, the pressure was on.

After a Sunday afternoon with the manual, fresh gas, plugs and points adjustment, the CL350 roared back to life. I loaded it up that night and set my sights on St. Louis.

Showing this bike at Vintage Bike Night has always been one of my goals. For all my hours I spent converting the title-less relic into a 1970s café racer, I had never brought it out to any sort of motorcycle show. This was my chance.

As soon as I arrived in St. Louis, I found the nearest knoll to unload the bike. The skies were clear and the machine kicked to life right away. I zipped around the surrounding neighborhood and met up with Nick and Meg.

Nick planned a route with some St. Louis scenery to start the night off right. He warned me that it involved a short highway stretch, and although I had never taken my 350 on the Interstate, I figured it couldn’t do too much damage. Note: CL350s are geared to top out around 85 mph at redline.

We weaved our way onto the on-ramp and Nick’s BMW had no problem building speed. My grasp tightened on the Honda’s worn grip as I eased on the throttle. I watched the tach needle rise as I started building speed. Cars whipped by as we moved along at 60 mph. This isn’t going to be a problem, I thought to myself. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a school bus merging on my right. With a twist of the throttle, I pushed the bike harder to give the bus space. Suddenly the Honda started shaking and cut out. In a split second, I was able to maneuver safely onto the shoulder. Nick brought his bike to a stop a few hundred yards ahead.

I turned the key to see if the electrics worked. Click. Nothing. Instinctually, I removed the seat to look at the battery connections. Nope, all good. Please be a fuse. Please be a fuse. I said to myself, knowing I had six extras in my backpack. I popped open the casing: the fuse was blown. After a bit of troubleshooting, I discovered the battery box was missing a bolt, causing it to rattle loose at highway speeds and short the circuit.

No more than twelve minutes after the breakdown, Nick and I were back on the road. With a slight change of route, he and I carved through some of St. Louis’ older neighborhoods to get to our first stop — The Blackthorn Pub.

The Blackthorn Pub has been a staple of pizza conversations ever since I was turned away at the door last winter. According to their handwritten signage, you have to be 21 years old (or accompanied by a parent) to enter the bar/restaurant their basement digs. 

This time, I slid my bike into a parking space out front and strolled in with confidence (look at my I.D., please). Meg and our good friend Steve were already waiting, warning us that they ordered pizza with all the veggies (sic). Cue:

Chicago Style pie. Laser Discs. Rap cartoons. Beer. Twenty-three minute songs based on only industrial machinery. Early MTV. Hearty laughs and full stomachs.

Steve and Meg parted ways as Nick and I headed for VBN. By this time, my 350 howled as I ripped through the gears. The Airhead countered with its smooth staccato. Historical buildings and midcentury signage blurred on the wayside as we jammed up side streets and carved through the city.

It was dark by the time we rolled into VBN. Although we only looked around for a little bit, we were able to catch a handful of St. Louis’ sharpest bikes and chat with their owners. Oh and don’t worry, we shot a few photos.

On the last leg of the trip, it started to rain. Luckily Nick and I had planned for this about five minutes prior by ducking back into the bar and gathering some supplies. With a T-shirt, two business cards, a flyer and a dinner napkin, we were able to build a makeshift front fender for my Honda.

Miraculously, the setup held together, which created the perfect ending to our last Vintage Bike Night of 2014.

Note: I didn’t know this at the time, but this would be the last VBN for my CL350. I sold it soon after to fund the next project.

Photos by Nick and I. 

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