So many ways to get home to the Indianapolis area from Front Royal, VA. I had decided to slab it to get home hopefully later this day. The GPS and the maps I had showed numerous possibilities, with all kinds of combinations from two-lane state highways to interstate slabs. Looking at the maps, I saw that one route would take me through a couple more states…states that I could put on my “rode through that state” completed list. The route chosen would take me from Virginia, through West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, back through West Virgina, Ohio, and then back to the Hoosier state. Not too much longer than the quickest way I had found, and the estimated time still showed an arrival in less than twelve hours from where I currently was.
The road path wasn’t too spectacular once I got on the interstate out of Front Royal. The miles flew by quickly, and breaks were taken as needed at rest areas. Once I got into Maryland, the worst problems on the road started.
On the interstate, I was cruising along at a steady 80 MPH, following the faster traffic in the passing lane. Day dreaming about the trip, the bike suddenly lost all power and a very loud explosion (back fire? Broken gear?), bringing me back to reality quickly. With no power, the bike lost speed quickly, and I was able to get off to the breakdown lane without freaking out any other drivers. There was no throttle, the speedometer and tach had dropped to 0 each immediately at the power loss, and I was at a loss of what may have just occurred. Turning the bike’s electrical system off, I sat on the bike contemplating my next move.
Turn the bike on, and try to start it is always the best first choice. Doing this, the bike sprang to life, and getting good throttle responding as I gun the engine in neutral, I decided perhaps this was a fluke and felt comfortable entering traffic again.
Around 15 minutes later, same situation…cruising along at a high rate of speed in my bike’s sixth gear, an immediate loss of power again. Once more, I went into the break down lane. Time to do a quick inspection on the side of the road. Fuses and battery connections checked, no leaks found, shift through the gears, all smooth. However, the best I can guess is that there is a problem with the transmission in sixth gear since both times I was in this gear when power failed to the bike. Easy enough fix…limp home in fifth gear, which I can comfortably do at about 70 MPH with no problems. Would take me longer to get home, but it was a tolerable solution. Too bad this wasn’t the problem, and it almost cost me more than just a little lost time.
On the road again, cruising along at a steady speed in fifth gear, everything was running normally for about twenty minutes or so. I had just gotten comfortable with the situation, and was in an area where traffic had picked up heavily. Both cars and tractor-trailers were passing me like I was standing still, even though I was following the speed limit for the area. Behind me, a tractor-trailer had grown comfortable following me at a not a very far distance, and I was thinking about the distance to go until I pulled into my own driveway.
Suddenly, like before, power disappears as the loud noise I had heard previously returned with a loud report. Immediately with no power, the bike slowed down faster than I could react…causing the semi driver behind me to slam on his brakes. Thankfully he was paying attention, with the small distance between us when things were normal, it left almost no room for avoiding a problem. I could hear his brakes locking up behind me, his tires sticking in one spot to the road surface…all I could think of was getting into the breakdown lane…now.
I swerved hard into the breakdown lane still coasting quickly down the road, to avoid the tons of weight that surely would have taken me out had I not blindly gotten out of the way of the semi. The breakdown lane was full of exploded retreaded tire, debris, and stones. Hitting many of these, I fought to maintain the control of the bike as I went into an emergency braking stop of my own. Years of riding had brought about experiences avoiding the idiots in vehicles around me that didn’t pay attention, and this experience brought about a natural response on how to handle the bike.
Stopped, and alive, I simply put the kick stand down on the bike, which was pulled over almost into the grass next to the interstate. I got off the bike, not hearing anything…even the wind, walked into the grass, and just stood there looking at the bike wondering how I had managed to leave Murphy finally behind me, and live to see at least another minute of life. I stood there for an unknown time, completely devoid of thought, and I don’t recall anything but just staring at the bike. What brought me back to reality was the voice.
Coming in my direction, I could see a very ticked off person…who turned out to be the semi driver that was behind me before. He was yelling as he walked quickly towards me…not totally in anger, but more of a confused question that he kept repeating…”What the hell happened back there?” he kept asking as he got closer.
I found out that he had been looking through his maps as he was riding, looking for his own distance to his next rest location, and as he would tell it, “I just got a weird feeling, and put it down and paid full attention to the road”. Seconds later, I had lost power in front of him, and his quick response probably saved my life…and caused him to nearly jackknife as he slid around me as I went into the breakdown lane. We talked for minutes…and I explained the loss of power to him. He mentioned he shouldn’t have been following me so closely…and I mentioned I should have figured out my original problem a little better. We shook hands…knowing we both had an impact on each other’s lives…and together, we just created a story that we will be able to tell over beers many years later with other people would meet.
I saw two miles ahead an exit off the interstate. The bike restarted, and going no faster than second gear, I stayed in the breakdown lane…flashers going, in an attempt to find some place to do a more thorough inspection of the bike without getting ran over. I took the off-ramp, pulled into a local-chain gas station, and pulled off near the back of their lot. Going inside and discussing the situation with the manager, he was fine with me doing whatever work I needed to…as long as I bought something. Needing a jolt of caffeine, a cold Mountain Dew went outside with me and was my assistant for the next ninety minutes as I inspected everything that I could, make a call to the HD dealer 90 miles away, and tried to troubleshoot the repeat issue.
The HD service personnel was extremely helpful on the phone. Through troubleshooting, being put on hold on numerous times for him to gather feedback from other techs, and from trying different things and providing results back over the phone, we limited the offending part down to the V&H Fuelpak.
The Fuelpak is a device that was installed two years previous. It is a fuel management system for motorcycles, basically a small computer that connects to the ECM (primary computer module) of the bike and help control the fuel flow properly to help with power, gas mileage, and helps eliminate the bike from running too rich or too lean. The Fuelpak must have been tripping itself off, causing immediate loss of power, and forcing the bike, which had electrical power, to not receive fuel. There is a safety mechanism inside the ECM and the Feulpak that allows the bike to limp along at 20 MPH when the either computer malfunctions…something that wouldn’t have helped me based under the prior circumstances.
The final offered advice from the HD service department was to disconnect the FuelPak entirely, and put the configuration back to stock. I did this, put everything back together, thanked the tech profusely, and told him I’d be calling shortly for a tow if it the problem happened one more time. I restarted the bike, and got back onto the interstate, making sure to stay in the slow lanes, and getting out of the way of those behind me that were too close. I created the riding buffer that would keep me safe should the problem happen again…which for the next 500 miles, did not.
Long story shortened…the bike made it home fine in sixth gear from that point on…around five hundred miles from last incident area to driveway. No other problems since the FuelPak was removed, and I’ve ridden it a couple of times since getting home.
So, that’s my trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway. I may just do one more posting regarding the BRP…a epilogue of sorts of things learned, an overview of the bike’s performance and what was found out on arrival back home, and some other tidbits for the curious.
If you’ve wanted to do the BRP and surrounding area on a motorcycle, do it. It’s an amazing area, with tons of hills, mountains, curves, switchbacks, and beauty. You won’t regret going there, and I liked it so much, I need at least one more long trip there next year before I continue down the bucket list and visit other areas of this fine country.
Thanks for reading all the way through this. Feel free to drop me an email if you have any questions, and I’ll help my fellow riders anyway that I can. Enjoy your weekend…we will…going for a whole day ride tomorrow with the wife…