July 11, 2008

1600 miles, 33 hours, 49 cubic centimetres
The idea for an Iron Butt Certified Ride on a small bike has been with me for quite some time. About 3 years ago I was looking into importing one of those lightening fast 150cc Hondas from the far east. During the research however I found that long rides have been done on 150 and 250cc bikes. Even the basic 1000 mile in 24 hours has been done on a 50cc bike at least 3 times that I could document. The project again went on hold.
I had been mentioning to a friend that I was looking for a real small bike to do an Iron Butt ride on and to my surprise he said he had a little bike that was old but still had very few miles on it. Everyone seriously into motorcycling has been offered one of these "barn fresh" - "it ran when I put it away" bikes. This was a little different. Well......actually it wasn’t. The bike hadn’t run in some time and wouldn’t start, had no key, no battery and the fuel had not been drained. On the plus side however it was a most unusual little bike. So I adopted it - "for free". It didn’t take too much and the little bike ran not too bad and I did a little research on it. Turns out it has a genuine Honda racing engine in it. A water cooled two stroke of a grand capacity of 49cc size. 49cc for the uninitiated is somewhat larger than a weed whacker but smaller than a decent lawn mower. Normally expected to do about 30 mph flat out, down hill, crouching down, with a tail wind. Honda in their wisdom put this little gem in a street legal bike only for 1 year - 1990. Thus the bike was 16 years old with less than 2000 kilometres (1250 miles) on the odometer. The ever friendly Google allowed me to contact people who regularly race this engine in the factory and privateer racing bikes in both the orient and in Europe. There are even a few in the U.S. that have done well with them.
Thus the quest began. Bigger carb, tuned expansion chamber exhaust, carbon fibre reed valves, new and more powerful ignition etc.etc.etc. Then redesigning mounts to take a real racing fairing modified to accommodate a more long distance posture. One entire winter worth of one or two nights a week and two marathon weekends it was ready to go. Everything possible to break had been replaced and it was now a 70mph screamer (courtesy of the new, loud exhaust) My neighbours went from calling it the "Barbie Bike" to calling it the "Barbie Bike from Hell" Eventually we even painted it red.
A route was planned out starting in Billings, Montana to go east and take advantage of the usual westerly winds. About a week before the trek out there to start the wind pattern shifted due to the stormy weather in the south west. Remember all those floods in Texas in the summer of 2007? So we rethought the route to take advantage of the strong southerly winds flowing up from Texas. Off we went to the little town of Ardmore, Oklahoma. Myself, my wife Lynn and two friends for crew were to see me off then go to a predetermined point to await the completion of the ride somewhere around western North Dakota or Montana. Things started to go wrong right off. The fancy expensive HID high intensity headlight for some reason decided to quit. No amount of tinkering or rewiring could make it light up. Off to find a replacement. The only place that sold anything useful was at the farmer’s co-op (we are in Ardmore, OK after all). We purchased a tractor light and spent the rest of the day fabricating a new mount and wiring it in. Ready to go, I decided to give it a quick spin just to check for last minute glitches. On the way out of the parking lot something happened and the sound was a little different. On the road the performance was definitely different. No power and a top speed of about 30mph. Definitely not condusive to freeway travel. Postmortem back at the hotel revealed the back of the bike covered in oil. Not a good sign and preliminary guesses were the engine crankcase seals had blown. Time to give up to try again some other day. We decided to take a small vacation with what was left of the week.
Back in Windsor after a complete teardown the parts were ordered only to be told they were on the dreaded "back-order" list and would be at least 30 days. Thus so much for that year. It gave me more time to correct all of the things I’d really not had time to do. I wanted the next try to be a complete "non adventure" where there would be no surprises. Another year of Wednesday nights at the Arrow Racing workshop. Here I have the unimaginable luxury of a complete machine shop and the advice of the folks who currently hold several world records at Bonnieville on a streamliner motorcycle. These guys are really crazy - they’re trying for 300 mph from a 500 cc bike!! Without their help and advice I doubt this project would ever have gotten past the wishful thinking stage. While waiting for the new parts (which turned out to be a two month wait). A nice (?) red paint job was applied and a new HID headlight installed. There was also lots of little details that were cleaned up. A big thanks is also due to Power Cycle in Windsor for all the help and the little "extras" that have ultimately made most of my rides successful. Once the parts were installed and the engine back in the frame the rest of the bike was reinstalled around it and testing was commenced. To make a long story short we just couldn’t get high speeds. The bike had great performance through the gears, but only at 3/4 throttle. It would go 60 mph at 3/4 throttle but only 52 at full throttle, with a great surge as you backed it off. Various and sundry experts were consulted and the addition of a digital EGT (exhaust temperature gauge ) was installed to enable accurate carburettor jetting. Even with all this we still weren’t getting any higher maximum speeds. Just stronger mid range. Decided 60 mph would be have to be sufficient as only a 42+ mph average would be required for 1500 miles in 36 hours. Besides that, higher speeds could be achieved in a "racing crouch". This turned out to be a painful option as the ride progressed.
Before committing myself to another very expensive plan for out west it was decided to try the flat area just to the south of us in the mid west U.S.A. This has several advantages. First, it is cheaper to get to as I can ride to the start location. Actually it is right next door, so to speak. Second, it is relatively flat if you stay in a rather restrained area and are willing to retrace some portions or endure a somewhat convoluted route. Thirdly, the states involved (Ohio, Illinois and Indiana) have generally lower speed limits on the freeways and this area is not plagued by the sometimes strong winds of the far west. The main drawback is to make sure any route was able to be documented at the turning points and to avoid the really extreme weather that can plague the area during the summertime. Severe thunderstorms (and even worse) are a frequent occurrence here. Not something you want to try riding through on an ultra light weight bike with a full fairing. It generally feels like you are riding a styrofoam toy bike in heavy winds. Some reconnaissance was in order. My ever suffering wife Lynn and I spent a long weekend driving around potential routes and found out several things. No route would be possible off of freeways as I was unable to average 43 mph in the car if I limited myself to only 50 to 55 mph. There is just too many stops in the small towns and villages in the area to maintain a high enough speed. Driving fast is one thing - averaging a high speed is something entirely different and much more difficult. I also wanted to be able to factor in some rest stops as I was unsure if my poor old body was up to 36 hours in a "racer’s crouch", not to mention the need for a nap now and then. Abandoning the secondary roads, we tried the freeways. What a surprise. I’ve never driven slow in the "slow" lanes before. It turns out that 55 mph or even a little less is perfectly safe. People just pass and you even get to pass the odd slower vehicle. The important factor however is that you can just drone out the miles which really helps to up the average. A freeway route also provides you with 24 hour gas stations at most exits and turning points. Thus verification receipts were assured. Upon returning home a 300 mile test ride was undertaken around southwestern Ontario on generally high speed secondary roads. After all, even I’m not crazy enough to try the infamous 401 highway on a 49cc bike. Complete success, average speed about 50mph and the bike ran smooth (sic) and strong so long as only 3/4 throttle was used.
A route was planned through Ohio, Illinois and Indiana to obtain the necessary 1500 miles with an interim 1000 mile cut off just in case of having to bail out on the longer ride for whatever reason. In general the route was to start at the Detroit Ambassador Bridge Toll booth after clearing U.S. Customs & Immigration and go to Toledo, OH, to Cleveland, OH, backtrack to I-75 past Toledo then south to Findlay, OH then on east again to Mansfield, OH. From Mansfield retrace back across U.S. 30 all the way west to Fort Wayne, IN. then south to Indianapolis, IN. At Indy we would head west again to the Bloomington/Normal area of IL. From there retrace the route to Indy again and on eastward all the way to Dayton, OH which would give us well over the requisite 1000 miles (hopefully in under 24 hours) required for an Iron Butt Association "Saddle Sore 1000" certificate. Should we decided to abandon the attempt here it wouldn’t be such a disgrace as even that would be a relatively rare accomplishment on a 49cc bike. We were after "virgin territory" however and the plan was to backtrack from Dayton to Indy once again and on through to the north east to Gary, IN (just south east of Chicago) and bask in the luxury of a tail wind back to just past Toledo then back to Detroit to finish again at the Ambassador Bridge toll booth. Looked to me that just trying to keep track of the route might be a major bother once we got a little fatigued, so detailed instructions were written up and used in the tank bag instead of a map. The old "go here, turn there, get a receipt here" style of ride.
All that was needed now was a favourable weather forecast as the little bike just doesn’t have much in reserve and really likes a tail wind. Since this is a predominantly westerly wind area the best I could hope for was light winds for most of the ride with perhaps a tail wind for the last west to east portion. Ideally a south west wind for the final stretch would have been perfect. As it turned out the very next week showed a two day window of clear weather and light winds between two weather systems. Time to "fish and quit cutting bait" as the fishermen say.
So far I’ve made reference to "We" which quite often refers to myself and the bike. In this case however I had the good fortune to entice a friend along. Not just any motorcycle rider would do however and Charles Fider is definitely not just any rider. Anyone who rides an elderly BMW 1000 with over 300,000 miles on it with stickers from all over North America and Europe is an ideal person to have along. He knows what is involved and is not a quitter in any sense of the word. Already an Iron Butt Association member he was happy to be a part of the attempt. I did not envy him having to "coast" along at my proposed leisurely speed. What would to me seem a frenzied, crouched down, race against time, would be a long boring ride oh his bike. Neither one of us envied the other.
Early morning at about 5:15 am on July 1st, 2008, (the Canada Day Holiday) Lynn signed my log book as an additional witness, the other being my neighbour the previous evening. He is a lawyer so thought it might be better when time comes for certification. I met Charles at the Canadian side of the bridge, off loaded some supplies and warm weather clothing to his bike and off we went across the Detroit River to the U.S. A. and adventure! My first adventure was trying to explain why I was sitting on a tiny, smelly, noisey bike and babbling on about long rides and times and such to a very stoic Customs officer. He finally shook his head in disbelief but said "OK, go ahead" with a look of "I don’t really want to know" on his face. I dutifully informed him that the guy behind me was with me and doing the same thing. We must have really freaked him out as he just looked at Charles’ passport, asked only one or two questions and passed him on also. Quick receipt from the Bridge Toll Booth, enter it in the logbook and off we go.
It was just getting light on what looked like an ideal day as we negotiated the construction detours onto I-75 southbound. A beautiful day, bike buzzing like a kitten on steroids and I’m not tired or sore yet. It just doesn’t get any better! Ahead lay 1500 miles of open road and who knew what would transpire along all of those miles before we were to return to this location. Time to settle down and start concentrating.
One thing about a little (minuscule) bike on a freeway is that you are always trying to go faster. You will never get a speeding ticket. If I ever did I would never pay it - I’d never take it out of the frame on the wall. You fiddle with the throttle setting, crouch down to minimise wind resistance, try drafting any faster vehicles for a little "lift" and generally play "Go Faster" all the time. Every time your concentration lags you look down at the speedometer and find you are not as fast as you should be. Just a note here. When I refer to the speed I am using the Global Positioning System unit or the auxiliary speedometer. The original equipment speedometer was "pegged" at maximum speed for almost the entire ride.
The turn south of Toledo onto the I-80/90 toll road went smoothly with no receipt necessary as we would get a receipt showing on and off at the exit near Cleveland. Light traffic and the turn around went smoothly to put us back onto the same road only going back west. On the way west we noticed that since our passage coming out there had been construction set up in the eastbound lanes and traffic was backed up for miles. Looks like our first "luck" of the trip. The only other thing of note was sighting a herd of (domestic) buffalo in a farm along the road side. The thought crossed my mind that I wasn’t going to miss out on "western" scenery after all. No further incidents and only stopping for receipts and log book entries took us all the way to Mansfield Ohio. Even the trucks on the infamous I-75 seemed to give us a wide berth.
One of the reasons for the route to Mansfield is that it is along OH-30. It is a freeway type road and is somewhat off the beaten track and quite new. It thus has very little traffic. In planning I thought this would be a good relief from the hurly burly of the main expressways like I-75. This was a mistake however. The little bike goes faster in traffic as the surrounding vehicles carry along quite a bit of wind. Thus making higher speed possible with the slight "fake tailwind" carrying you along. There was only a slight headwind after we turned around and buzzed our way towards Fort Wayne. Our times were still well within, actually even better than planned, so far - so good.
The only slow downs seemed to be for refuelling. Having practised 6 minute fuel stops encompassing the fuel cell and the main tank on a regular bike, I was dismayed at the time on this bike. The problem is having to mix oil with the gas in the ratio of 2 ounces of oil per U.S. gallon of gas. The oil is kept in a special squeeze bottle so measuring is simple. Just note the amount of gas, look up the required oil on a chart laminated to the top of the gas tank and measure out the oil and add it to the tank. Unfortunately you have to do this for both the main tank and the fuel cell. In order to avoid having to do any difficult calculations I had decided to get two separate orders of gas each time so as to remove mistakes in measurement calculations. This sometimes provoked a rejection of the credit card on the second try. Thus gas stops were slow, to say the least. Sometimes 8 to 10 minutes were consumed. Fortunately it gave Charles some well needed stimulation and rest from the boring task of "cruising along" behind me.
Luck continued on our side. We knew that at one of the three trips along the ring highway (I-465) around Indianapolis we would probably encounter a rush hour and so it was on our first trip through from Ft. Wayne on the way to Bloomington/Normal. Once again however luck was with us. The oncoming traffic was backed up great distances but our side was heavy but fast with no slow-downs. The remainder of the ride to the west and the turnaround in Bloomington was without trouble. The bike still running well. I however was beginning to need exercise about every 10 to 15 minutes. This would be a continuing regimen for the rest of the ride until by the final stages it seemed like I was in constant movement if not down in a racers crouch to wring out more speed.
By now it was getting dark and time for lights on. The HID light worked superbly. It seemed to light up the area in front just like bright white sunlight. Charles’ headlight seemed like a weak yellow candle in comparison. Along about here some strange things started happening which caused some concern. First the electronic speedometer/tachometer/odometer/clock device started going crazy. Random numbers, blank displays and finally just one small meaningless number down in the corner. Oh well, so long as the original equipment odometer continues to function, I can use the GPS for the details such as speed. Shortly afterwards however, the GPS started pulsing in brightness and then went quite dim. At about that time everything went dark. No headlight (Hid or otherwise) and the secondary LED running lights were not on. It was of course pitch dark in the middle of nowhere. This really caught my attention at 60mph on a dark rural freeway. It fortunately caught Charles’ attention as well, as he immediately came up beside me and I was able to continue by the light of the big BMW. It sure looked a darn sight better than weak candle light now, I’ll tell you! So we continued along while I pondered the situation. I turned off everything electrical and tried the headlight again - it came on. It only stayed on for a couple of minutes though, before again flicking off. HID lights don’t dim , they just shut down as if switched off, all or nothing. Around about the next rest area It dawned on me that there was just too much electrical draw upon the electrical system to support everything. Charles and I conferred before settling down to a good solid 15 minute nap and decided to just continue and drive by his headlight when necessary and to switch off mine during areas with other lighting. This proved to work out well as I could shut everything off for sometimes 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Soon I had enough reserve built up in the battery to generally use the headlight whenever necessary. This method proved to work well and allowed us to continue on throughout the night-time hours.
We continued on our way back across nightime Indiana, through Indy, and on through Ohio to Dayton where we turned around at the junction of I-70 and I-75. While here we took advantage of the fact we had covered well over 1000 miles and got a fellow in the gas station to sign witness forms. I think we made his day. He was returning home from the midnight shift as a computer technician and was glad of the diversion. As usual however we had to cut short any conversations as we were still most definitely "on the clock". This milestone buoyed our spirits quite a bit as we realized we were quite a bit ahead of schedule and had several hours "in the bag" so to speak.
From here on out it was do or die for the little Honda. No one has ever even tried to do a 1500 in 36 hours so this was all about exploring the unknown potential of the little bike and the old rider. Once again (sigh!) we went through Indianapolis. This for the last time as we continued on toward the northwest and Gary, IN. About dawn we took another 15 minute nap in a roadside rest area. Even the concrete sidewalk of the "Iron Butt Motel" felt like a feather bed by this time. I think it was somewhere around this time that Charles began to realize just what we’d bitten off and were attempting to chew. "I don’t know how you guys do it" he said. Referring to the longer more extreme Iron Butt rides. And this one would definitely qualify as extreme for such a small bike. His ride was also proving to be equally difficult. It is much more fun and keeps your interest to ride a small bike as fast as it will go. It is quite another thing to drone along at a vastly reduced pace for hour after hour after hour on a big bike. I don’t think I could have stayed awake and alert doing what Charles was doing. Although it won’t go down in the annals of Iron Butt History as I hope my ride will, Charles’ ride was just as difficult in my opinion. He definitely deserves equal credit.
After the sun came up on another picture perfect day the wind also came up but fortunately it was generally behind us as it came up from the southwest. Woo-hoo - more luck! We even made Gary IN without the usual traffic jam. It seemed like everyone was lining up (for about a mile or more) to get off to go west to Chicago. Luckily we were able to by pass all this and continue on the I-80/90 eastbound exit. As often happens at this point in a long ride time seems to speed up for me. The miles seemed to fly by. Soon I was even hesitantly allowing myself to think that If everything continued without disaster we might actually make it into the record books. We had decided to go one exit past the I-280 interchange to just make sure of getting some "insurance" miles in over the exact 1500 required. Finally up came exit 81 at Elmore OH. The turn around gave us another receipt covering entrance and exit to the toll road. We immediately returned back to I-80/90 westbound and then north on I-280 to Toledo with only one stop for gas to get an "insurance" receipt.
It was now the home stretch, 65 miles to the Detroit/Windsor Ambassador bridge and the final receipt. What a relief to know that even if the bike failed now we had probably enough spare miles to still qualify. Of course the bike ran better than ever for those final miles up I-75. Even though that stretch of road is in terrible shape with potholes and broken pavement and the usual reconstruction zones, nothing could dampen our spirits. There is no high as high as knowing you’ve done something no one else has done and the 2 years of planning and work has paid off. The actual getting of the receipt at the bridge toll booth was somewhat anticlimactic. Charles turned off to visit the duty free shop so I crossed the bridge to do battle with Canadian Customs on my own. Fortunately the Customs fellow wasn’t interested and just waved me through after looking at the bike and my passport. Perhaps we looked just weird enough that he didn’t want to get into further questions. After all I sure didn’t have any room to be storing contraband and any self respecting terrorist wouldn’t dare use this type of transportation.
Fortunately Windsor is a small city so I enjoyed a short ride along the Detroit river waterfront to home and a well deserved (and desperately needed) shower and 15 hours of sleep - glorious sleep. Thus ends the tale of a "Bun Burner 1500" (over 1500 mile ride in under 36 hours) with an actual ride of 1605 miles in an elapsed time of 33 hours and 3 minutes. Damn ...... I know I could shave off three more minutes......hmmm!
Now all that’s left is to send in all the paperwork and keep my fingers crossed that we did everything by the book. Hopefully the IBA certification team will agree and certify the attempt.
Bob Munden
Windsor, Ontario