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BROKEN DOWN – on The Jersey Turnpike

May 24, 2011

March 24, 2011.  There is a reason the opening scenes of The Sopranos are set along the same stretch of highway that I found myself stranded on yesterday.  It’s dangerous, dirty, violent and terrifying.  Yesterday was the start of my 2011 ride to finish what I began two years ago.  In 2008, my trip eventually covered 70% of the United States (some places more than once!). 

On this ride, I’m going to cover the top section of the USA – North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Utah, etc.  How long are you going Eric?  Well, it depends on a couple of things.  Job prospects, how long my savings hold out, the bike (which until yesterday has been completely reliable) and how long I can stand to be away from home.

Back to the New Jersey Turnpike.

I was riding through heavy traffic when the Caponord suddenly began to lose power and stumble under acceleration.  I dialed back the throttle and noticed the speedometer needle was jumping up to 90 and back down to 50.  This is usually indicative of an electrical problem.  I glanced at the voltmeter and saw a reading of 8.0 volts – just as the bike died. I hit the right turn signal and headed towards the shoulder of the road.  Hopefully, I thought, the battery cable is loose and I can fix it quickly. 

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I coasted to the side of the road and got as far over as possible.  I was inches from screaming semi-trucks, crazed taxi drivers and mush heads in BMW’s, Audi’s and Porsches – all of which were seemingly doing their best to win the “how close can we get to the motorcycle” contest.  I pulled off the Moto Fizz luggage and the saddle to check the battery terminals.  Both were perfectly tight.  CRAP!  Now I have no idea what the problem is but one thing is certain, I’m in serious trouble here. 

I took stock of my situation.  I’m stuck on the New Jersey Turnpike.  I can’t fix the problem myself.  I’m unable to coast or push the bike to an exit as it’s about a mile away and there is no shoulder.  That means I’d be even more exposed to cages going escape velocity.  To make things even better, where I stopped was a bridge, and above me was another bridge.  Below me was a three story drop into – more traffic.  Perfect.  I’m hamburger no matter what If someone hits my bike.  Assuming I had time to watch someone plow into my motorcycle and the presence of mind to leap over the guardrail, I’d still fall far enough to meet my maker.

So I did what I do best – Light an excellent Perdomo Habano Gordo, wave at the speeding cars and trucks, put on a baseball cap and sunglasses and check my  e-mail.  Screwed is screwed.  Might as well accept it and get on with things. 

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A quick call to my brother and he was on his way just as soon as he could pickup a trailer.  All I had to do now was just stay alive until he could arrive.  To make things even more unpleasant the bridge I was standing on would bounce and sway violently with the passing of every semi.  The bridge above dribbled chunks of rust, and every train that passed by seemed intent on bursting my ear drums with the horn.  This is truly a New Jersey experience.  The noise of the traffic, bridge, trains, and environment was deafening.  No chance of escape if a car or truck got off line.  Just wonderful. If the world had ended last Saturday, as predicted, this situation would have been much more relaxing. 

In a situation like this, there is not much to do except accept your fate and hope for the best.  Don’t however, hope for the kindness of the authorities.  The single contact I had with a State Trooper was when one pulled up (at this point I had been sitting in the same spot for over three hours) and sat in the car.  Behind his fingerprint smudged, grime encrusted and scratched mirrored sunglasses,  I imagine a tiny set of pupils so dilated as to be invisible.  Clearly he was unwilling to leave the comfort of his vehicle to assist the likes of me. 

I walked up to thank him for stopping and he merely looked at me, his head wobbling like a bobblehead and said I’d be seeing a tow truck soon.  With that he immediately rolled up the window and sped off into the traffic.  No, “what’s the problem”  or “are you ok” or “I love doughnuts, don’t you”  Nothing, thanks for nothing.  Now had to deal with the Mafia like NJTP towing companies.  When you are stranded on the NJTP you are at the mercy of the rag tag assortment of state sponsored towing companies.  AAA?  Forget it.  Geico towing assistance?  Fuggadet about it.  These criminals want credit or cash, and can and do name their price.  Luckily, my brother was two exits away going 90 MPH with the trailer in tow.  Now it was a race to see who would arrive first.

The Tow Truck Mafia got there first.  I tried the “I’m all set, they are coming” speech.  Immune to any discussion, and having fresh meat in his grasp the driver eagerly surveyed me, the motorcycle and began calculating charges.  He seemed intent on hooking a greasy cable to the bike and dragging it in a shower of sparks, and shattering bodywork,  on it’s side, onto the tow truck.  At this point I walked up to him and said “that bike is NOT going on that trailer, have a good day, good bye”  Seconds later my brother pulled in front, parked, dropped the ramp on the trailer and I got a running start on the bike and rode it up into the trailer. 30 seconds later we had the tie downs on the bike and 30 seconds after that we were hurtling down the highway.  A narrow escape from the New Jersey Fascist regime.

What amazes me is after riding across a huge segment of the country, is the absolute and complete lack of human kindness, concern, and perhaps most important – interest in anything other than completing a maximum dollar financial transaction.  That experience was unlike any other I’ve had and is a sad commentary on the NJ State Police, the State of New Jersey (the authorities, not it’s inhabitants)  and their state sponsored towing mafia. 

Right now I’m having a beverage while the bike sits in the garage.  It appears that the stater/voltage regulator died.  I called AF1 Racing in New Braunfels, TX this morning and they are shipping the repair parts to me.  I hope to be back on the road shortly.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Roger permalink
    May 24, 2011 3:52 pm

    My money is on the regulator – rectifier

    • May 24, 2011 5:06 pm

      Roger,

      You are almost certainly right. The bike is not charging at idle anymore and the brown connector is long gone. I’ve ordered a new aftermarket one from AF1 and am relaxing poolside until it arrives. Can’t wait to get out there again.

    • S.G. permalink
      May 26, 2011 8:50 am

      That’s what I was thinking also. The only question I had — is it possible to disconnect the alternator and bypass the regulator / rectifier to the battery? You wouldn’t charge, but you might get far enough to get someplace safe. Although I don’t know that I would have enough piece of mind, or tools to perform that sort of hack on the Jersey Turnpike.

      • May 26, 2011 9:58 am

        I was running my Gerbings too at the time. The battery was so spanked the bike would not start. With a slipper clutch and no battery power there is no way the bike would have started – you can’t bump start modern bikes.

  2. May 25, 2011 12:24 am

    Eric… safe travels and I look forward to following your adventure/road-trip via your blog. Great stuff!!!

  3. Frank Gorshin permalink
    May 26, 2011 7:23 am

    Incredible luck your mishap occurred so close to your brother! It could have been worse—you could have been stuck in Elizabeth, NJ. Meanwhile, I am totally down with your ‘tude—light up a great cigar and kick back. Makes me think I better start packing cigars, and maybe a flask of ancient single malt. Safe travels Yohe, and I look forward to hearing of your adventures…

  4. Alan Spencer permalink
    May 29, 2011 12:35 am

    Hi, Checking into this blog from the UK. It would scare the living daylights out of me to be in that situation. Luckily I have done the reg/rec mod on my Capo, but that doesn’t mean that something else won’t go in the future. Great bike when they’re running, bastards when they break down. Best of luck for the rest of your tour!!!.

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