An oily rear wheel could have ended in disaster

By Paul Duchene

Let’s call this what I didn’t do on my summer vacation.
I didn’t get to spend time with my brother and two friends last weekend, riding the best motorcycle roads in southeastern British Columbia, around Castlegar and Nelson.

On the other hand I didn’t get to watch the world from a hospital bed in Ellensburg, WA – or worse, wind up in a box with no view at all.

On Friday, three of us headed to Omak in Northern Washington to meet my brother Phil, riding in from Victoria, BC. Omak is about 380 miles from Portland. My Moto Guzzi Breva 1100 was brand new, with a recent first service at 725 miles. After 50 years of riding, it was my first bike with hard luggage and the chance to take more than two T-shirts in a tank bag.

For the first 240 miles the bike worked fine. It managed 47 mpg, it was quiet and comfortable, able to squirt around cars and the thundering semis well over speed limits on I-82’s switchback to Ellensburg over the Untanum Ridge.
But headed north from Ellensburg toward Wenatchee I noticed a slight vibration I couldn’t identify, accompanied by an occasional thump. I stood up on the pegs to look at the front tire but it was running smooth.

At the end of a downhill stretch I waited for the others at the junction with Highway 97 between Cle Elum and Wenatchee. I goosed the engine and there were no unusual noises.
When they arrived, I led off uneasily; the bike seemed to flick its tail periodically and after a mile I pulled over and dismounted.

As I watched, about a quart of oil drained out of the shaft drive onto the ground. The rear tire was wet and the shaft drive unit had apparently been leaking for while. (Later I checked the intersection where I waited and there was oil on the road).

My trip was done. No holiday, no seeing my brother after two years, no staying in a friend’s big house and riding great roads.

Then I thought of the consequences of the failure. Fifty yards ahead, the road took a sharp right-hand turn. My tire was soaked on the right side and I’d have undoubtedly skidded across the centerline into heavy oncoming traffic. Or the final drive could have seized at any point after the oil was gone – equally catastrophic.

The sun shone a little brighter.

Paul Duchene has been riding, racing, and writing about motorcycles for 45 years. His work has appeared in the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune.

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