Tropic of Cancer: Paleolithic Repair

As Kevin picks up the rock and I secure the rim for another round of hammering, neither of us want to admit it outright, but we’re in deep trouble. The video will show a certain amount of Survivor Man bravado, but off camera things are more worrying. This morning we confirmed a suspicion with our host David, we’ve the only two Honda Varadero’s to reach Mike’s Sky Ranch, a Baja adventure and dirt rider Mecca. Today we’ll be lucky to get both bikes out again.

The day starts well, the water crossing out of Mike’s Sky Ranch is executed with mucho gusto, mucho momentum and mucho splash. Next up a technical ascent and descent, and in comparison to our night time crawl, the Varadero’s are pounding their way through the water with vigorous defiance of their heft. Here inertia is your friend, and the engine’s ample torque rises to the occasion. Crawling through ruts and rocks, let out the clutch and the bike will literally walk you up the hill in first or second gear.

Charging downhill the first gear is tall, turning you into a runaway train, but the ABS lets you dab-dab-stomp on the rear brake with impunity. Before accessories the Varadero has a 610lb wet curb weight and matching inertia. The ABS has only really come to life unexpectedly on chattering washboard on a steep descent, but the solution (as always) was to add gas and plow onwards.

The Combined Braking System, likewise, isn’t a huge issue. When you use the rear brake, the one most dirt riders like to lock up for controlled slides, the system applies a single pot of braking force to the front rotor. Overall, the application of the front brake is subtle enough not to interfere, except in deep sand where the front end pushes near instantly. Better then to simply ease off the throttle, and let the bike slowly sink it’s way down from speed.

Adventure, sand, technical terrain, this is the part of the Varadero’s nature you’ve like never heard about in press launch coverage and short term reviews where it’s come shod in Bridgestone’s pretend adventure Deathwings (a term for the company’s Battlewings or Trailwings faux adventure tires), rather that a set of Continental TCK80s which imbue dirt-ability and road feel to the bike. The tires make this terrain do-able with a judicious choice of lines, so your ride doesn’t need to end with the pavement.

Indeed, perhaps we’ve become too confident in the Conti’s transformation of the Varadero, because halfway between Mike’s Sky Ranch and Highway 3, Kevin pulls over as I set up the video camera for a ride by shot, and then he doesn’t ride by. Instead he pulls off his helmet, and stares at the front tire. It’s flat.

Kevin’s hit a rock in the sand at about 40kph and the Varadero’s front rim has bent upwards and outwards enough you can stick a finger into the wheel’s interior. We try the quick fix, plugging the pump into the electrified tank bag, but the tire’s bead won’t come near the rim and won’t hold air.

This demonstrates the risk of using alloy or cast rims on an adventure bike rather than spoked rims and tubes. Metal spoked wheels tend to be better at absorbing a blow, and when the rims do bend the tube continues to hold the air inside, also metal is more easily bent back to shape if needed. This is an important note for savvy consumers considering bikes that have “Adventure” or “Enduro” modes and monikers attached, tubless tires paired with solid wheels may not stay inflated after a bend or crack, which is a problem when there’s no repair infrastructure handy.

Here, halfway between Mike’s Sky Ranch and the junction with Highway 3, the nowhere midway point between two nowheres, it is a worst case scenerio.

Contemplating our options. None are good.

We could pull the front wheel off and ride two-up off road back to Mike’s and try ship a replacement in from there, but that would mean leaving the bike and about half our gear on the edge of the road in the northern Baja. We can try wedging tire plugs between the tire and rim to try get it to hold air, which seems unlikely. We could stuff the tire with jeans or cloths, then zap-strap (with our stainless steel zap straps) it into place to get us out (maybe). We even jest about leaving the bike, and hoping for mythical banditos, but the thought of riding the rest of the Baja two-up in sand is less appealing.

The day heats up, the night chill of the Sierra san Pedro Martir a distant memory, and the sun pounds home that we’ve broken another rule. We don’t have enough water to stay put too much longer without risking dehydration.

There is only one real option, we need to bang the rim back into shape.

Your Honda tool kit is not equipped for this.

No bike tool kit is equipped for this.

A big field full of rocks and small boulders however is equipped for this, and we’ve no choice but to go Neanderthal on this problem. In the Flintstones you’d simply tie a big rock to a pterodactyl and make an over-chatty sledgehammer, but we’re forced to take a more Captain Caveman approach.

First we try bashing the rim into shape without taking it off the bike, but the brake rotor is blocking a good clean strike and the blows are just reverberating through the bike’s suspension and chassis with little effect. Which means we need to take the front wheel off, and that’s a problem because the dealership didn’t have time to install the centre stand in the rush to get the bikes out the door for our departure.

So another adventure tip then; if you’ve the option of a center-stand take it.

The other option is using the natural resources at hand, and faking it. In our case we ride the Varadero into the ditch, balance it on the side stand and rear tire, with the front wheel in the air, and stack rocks under the engine casing and use a Teva sandal to distribute the pressure across the surface. It’s precarious, but our ‘cairn’ motorcycle stand balances the bike, while the rear tire and side-stand take the weight.

As a side note when overturning rocks around here, keep an eye out for scorpions or snakes underneath.

Wheel off, we wrap the rim in a couple of old pieces of belt leather to minimize the damage. Prop the opposite side of the rim on a suitably rounded rock, and wail on it for the next four hours. At one point, we look up from our desperation.

We are in a valley. Cactus are scattered across the floor. Thin cows graze the steep hills, bells clanging. Between two peaks, a faded while daytime moon watermarks the clear blue sky. We make time for the truly important things; Kevin and I pull out our respective cameras and get some shots. If it were a matter of choice it would be an idyllic place to camp.

At least the steaks are handy, if mobile.

But it’s not a matter of choice, our efforts are leaving us low on water, and at 3:00 PM we’re looking at the possibility of spending the night. We find a larger rock.

It’s the final blow that does it. A magic boulder, that perfect blend of weight, tapered point and manageable size, that hitting the rim just right puts the rim back into near factory specified tolerance.

The Varadero, then was laid low by a rock, then more amazingly repaired with one. One of Honda’s points about the Varadero is that the bike can be repaired in the field, in this case it was repaired by the field or the rocks in it. Score one for a 2.7 million year old Paleolithic tool, and the desperation to use it.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Wow! You guys are having a real adventure! A rock creates and resolves the problem. I have heard you can stick a tube inside a tubeless tire to resolve a problem similar to yours.

    PS: My Ural toolkit has a hammer 😉


    1. If I had a hammer… I’d hammer all day… There are worse ideas for a toolkit, other than the weight.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.