Home arrow VMCA Newsletters arrow Volume 5, Number 2 - April 1, 2009 arrow Your Stories: Slashing to and from Sturgis
Your Stories: Slashing to and from Sturgis PDF Print E-mail
Written by BMWVMCA NEWS   
Friday, 26 June 2009

By Jim Johnson

I pulled the 1964 R60/2 out of the weeds and from behind a shed in Wichita, Kansas in 1985. A few hundred dollars bought it due to its neglected state. My wife was appalled and named the bike “Uuuugly”. To be precise, she said it was, “so ugly the word needed to be spelt with four ‘U’s!”  It was the /2 bike I’d wanted since I last rode one in Europe 20 years earlier.

Time passed and other projects took my attention while the bike remained covered in the back of the garage. Finally, in 2001, I made room in the garage, stripped it completely and started the restoration. It was pretty much finished by fall of 2008 and I began to think about my future with this marvelous old beauty. Seeing the completed bike Carolyn changed her name for it. She now calls it “Glance” because everyone who sees it pass finds it worth a “glance”.

April of 2009 offered the opportunity I’d been waiting for. Now retired, I could substantiate making the trek to the Benchmark Works rally in Sturgis, Mississippi on this now 45 year old beauty. Being 64 years of age I decided to allow a lot of extra time and decided that if I could physically handle riding a naked bike for 300 miles a day after all these years, I could make it the 900 miles to Sturgis from my home in west Kansas. Then a few days at the rally and the return trip home.

My concern for the reliability of the bike turned out to be largely unfounded. In spite of a differential timing problem on the way to Sturgis the bike ran like a watch. Well, at least there were no problems on the trip down to Mississippi other than the bike becoming very hard to start because of the differential timing problem.

While I had originally planned to meet up with fellow VMCA member Bill Venable in Fort Scott, Kansas the first night, the weather conditions changed all of that! As a retired meteorologist I realized that the weather was not going to be our friend along the planned route across southern Missouri and northwest Arkansas. A cold front brought rain and very chilly temperatures to Kansas the night before leaving with worst conditions in Bill’s area. I was determined not to have to trailer the bike, however.

I wanted to relive the early days of my motorcycling life by riding an old bike without benefit of modern windshields, luggage, etc. though I did compromise by wearing a full helmet and modern riding clothing. I determined to head due south and then east to avoid the rain and have the warmest possible temperatures.

On Monday morning, April 13th, I piled onto the bike, having shipped my camping gear and clothing to Sturgis, wearing every stitch of warm clothing I could and nothing more than a small tank bag for luggage. I stayed away from interstate highways as I was concerned about my possible top speed on the old bike. 65 to 75mph was about all I could manage so it was south out of Dodge City, across the Oklahoma Panhandle and western Oklahoma all the way to Paul’s Valley by evening.

The bike ran beautifully and I was in high spirits. Better yet, I found the Denfeld solo seat on the bike to be even more comfortable than the plush Corbin Dual Canyon seat I have on my K100LT!!  I had the wind with me most of the day which helped a lot. A cheap motel in Paul’s Valley, a Chinese Buffet dinner, and I slept like a stone until 6:00 am wake up.

Leaving Paul’s Valley the bike was a bit difficult to get started but it finally fired up. Then it was off to the east and southeast across southeast Oklahoma passing through Atoka, Antlers and Broken Bow and thence across into southern Arkansas. I didn’t stop in Hope but went on across the southern part of the state on US 278 which is a really beautiful ride aside from the logging trucks. I wasn’t going fast enough to worry about them. I let them go on well ahead of me. I doubt I could have passed any of them with a 45 year old 600cc bike on those twisty roads anyway!

On the Arkansas leg the bike began to become more and more difficult to start when hot as I stopped for fuel or pit stops. At last, I decided that if it was going to die on me I wanted to be as close to Benchmark Works as possible that night so I continued on across the Mississippi at Greenville and then east on US 82. I finally was worn out in Greenwood and found a room after stopping to procure some extra spark plugs. In case that might help start the bike in the morning. After a nice hot shower and a meal at the restaurant next door I collapsed for the night, only 80 some miles from my destination.

In the morning, I changed the plugs and finally got the bike started after flooding it once. Shortly before lunch I rolled into Benchmark Works to find that I was the first bike there and had my pick of the campsites!  I visited a little with Richard and John while the bike cooled off. It started fairly easily and I went into Starkville for lunch and then over to Ackerman to a car wash where I cleaned the bike from the accumulation of road grime and bugs.

By the time I returned bikes and trailers were starting to arrive from all over and it was nice to resume old acquaintances, kick tires and swap lies with one of the best groups of old BMW people in the world. I’ve been to this rally 3 times now out of the five that Vech and Elaine have sponsored and every time I go I swear that it is the best rally in the country. I’m just not up to the crowds at the MOA and RA national events. I haven’t been for many years.

By late afternoon, by previous arrangement with Vech, I rolled my bike into his shop. I had thought that I was screwing up my carb balancing and adjustment and had asked him to tweak them for me.

To my surprise, he couldn’t get them to balance either because the bike simply refused to run on one cylinder! We checked timing and that’s when Vech discovered that my differential timing was just over 5 degrees.

Vech and Richard working together (while not very mechanical me watched and handed tools) carefully tapped on the advance until the differential was less than one degree using a buzz box. Now, we thought as we restarted the bike, the carbs can be balanced. Well, that was the thinking until we pulled a plug wire. Once again neither cylinder would run on its own.

Now, up until now I had pretty much logically followed what was going on. At this point, however, Vech told me to watch the spark gap as we pulled plug wires. Sure enough, no spark was jumping the gap like it should!  Aha!  A coil problem!

A new coil was installed and finally the carbs could be balanced and the bike ran like a top! So good, in fact, that the next day after breakfast I decided to take a little personal add on journey into my family history in far northeast Mississippi.

I left Sturgis by late morning and jumped on Mississippi Route 15 north until I could get on the beautiful Natchez Trace. The Trace is undoubtedly the most relaxed and lovely drive you can have on a vintage bike. The dogwood were in bloom all along the trace and the traffic was very light on a weekday. At times I was gliding through the beautiful forest along the trace all alone and on my wonderful old R60/2 at a very comfortable 50 miles an hour. It was a truly surreal experience. I highly recommend doing this to anyone with an old BMW.  Going with a group is okay, but the solitary experience of riding down this beautiful road along a track that is several hundred years old and basking in the glory of the blooming spring trees and flowers there only for you is unparalleled.

I got off the Natchez Trace at Kirkville and continued a little farther northeast to the tiny little cross roads of Jacinto Courthouse which is well off the beaten path and almost non-existent today.

The town was named after the great Texas battleground of San Jacinto and in the 1800s was a booming community at a major cross roads of the day. It was to this town the 8th Kansas Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Company E under Captain Grelish came on August 1st, 1863. Private John William Johnson, my great, great uncle, was with the Company at that point but was already suffering from disease of some sort.

The regimental records show that he “died of disease” at Jacinto on August 2nd. The very next day, the 8th Kansas received orders from General Rosecrans to march immediately to  Iuka and the Tennessee river. There is no record of Pvt. Johnson’s hasty burial. It was very humbling to know that the remaining historical and restored courthouse that I saw there may well have been the last thing he viewed in his 19 years of life.

The return to Sturgis was uneventful other than the beauty of the Natchez Trace going in the opposite direction and that evening and the next day were spent again enjoying the ambiance of the rally.

Unfortunately, my meteorology background is occasionally a curse as I usually know what’s coming days before it arrives. I say curse because I think it would be easier to be ignorant of approaching bad weather rather than to contemplate for days how miserable riding will be!  At any rate, it was clear by Saturday morning that there would be more than a little rain and possibly some very strong winds Saturday night. The prospect of a miserable, cold and wet night in a tent before heading home was not exciting. As a result, after a delicious dinner at Pap’s in Ackerman Saturday evening, I determined to head for home that evening and get as far as I could before the thunderstorms advancing from Arkansas and Texas hit. I reasoned that when I reached the east edge of these storms I could get a room for the night and let them go on by while I slept. It worked pretty well as I hit the torrential rains just before reaching Winona on US 82 and stopped there for the night.

I awoke Sunday morning to just a little light rain which I easily rode in the rest of the way to the Mississippi River and on to McGehee Arkansas. When I stopped for fuel in McGehee and stepped off the bike, the left passenger foot peg was swinging loose and I had hardly any rear brake and thus no brake light. Inspection of the problem showed that the brake eccentric arm had twisted due to over adjustment and was now hitting the rear swing arm. I went over the bike with the few tools I had and retightened everything including a very loose carb flange nut and the foot peg bolt.

Back on the road, I continued on along US 278 again stopping in Washington, Arkansas which is a restored historic village dating to the 1840s. They have really done a nice job and I wished I had more time to spend there looking through all the period buildings and restorations. I spent that night in DeQueen, Arkansas and had a pleasant ride the next day across Oklahoma. I stopped to take a few pictures of the 45 year old motorcycle against a backdrop of wind turbines in the Oklahoma Panhandle before motoring north and back home to Dodge City that evening.

The bike is now back on the hydraulic table as I go over everything on it in the wake of a 2100 mile journey done the “olden way”, as my grandkids put it. It was more than satisfying for a ride done like we used to way back when. I might just have to try for a few more “retro Rallies” on “Glance”. This could get to be habit forming!  

Jim Johnson
Dodge City, KS  

Editor’s Note: The photo at the bottom of the back cover was taken by Jim during his trip along the Natchez Trace, not far from Sturgis, Mississippi.

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