Steamboat and setbacks

July 26, 2014 : Rock Springs, Wyoming : [ Day 60 ]

After getting my fill of the Alaska vibes in southwestern Colorado, I headed north to Steamboat Springs, to visit my friend Peter from college. He ended up out here several years ago, and has made a good life for himself in the mountains. He and his girlfriend Jackie hosted me for almost a week, showing me around and giving me garage space to do some maintenance on the Tiger.

Peter's house

This is Peter’s house, at least for another week or so, as they are moving back into town. This place is in the sticks about 30 minutes outside of Steamboat Springs, on 40 acres at the top of a hill. The view from here of the mountains, and the stars (my God, the stars!) are absolutely incredible.

Cattle grate

The day after I showed up, we piled into Peter’s truck and went off into the Routt National Forest. It’s full of roads just like this.

High camp

We settled on this campsite, at 9,923′ elevation – my highest camp yet! That’s me in the center, Peter took this with my camera. I forgot to get a good photo of the three of us before I left town.

Colorado sunset

It turned out to be a perfect vantage point for drinking box wine and watching the sunset. It was a bit hazy all week, I think from the fires burning in central and eastern Washington.

Elk steaks

Peter hunts elk, and is a fantastic cook. He grilled these elk steaks over the campfire coals, after marinating them in some kind of spicy mustard. It was delicious! I might have to start hunting elk now…

Dirty air filter

Back at the house, I got to work on the Tiger. Look at that nasty air filter! I changed it out and installed a Uni pre-filter, that replaces the factory intake snorkel. The airbox can only be accessed with the fuel tank removed (not exactly a trailside job), so the pre-filter helps by collecting dust and dirt before it reaches the main air filter. The pre-filter is oiled foam like a dirt bike, so it can be washed and re-used as needed. But the real benefit is that it can be accessed from under the seat, without taking the tank off. So it is a big help, eliminating the need to remove the tank to swap the main air filter every few thousand dirt miles.

Stepper motor

But down in Silverton, the Tiger had developed an irritating stalling issue, where it would not idle properly. The cause of this, apparently common to these bikes, is what’s called a stepper motor, located in front of the throttle bodies. The stepper motor arm controls the idle. It is a lubricated part that isn’t sealed off, so the lube attracts dirt and dust that prevents it from actuating properly. When this happens, the bike stalls and won’t idle, until you get in there and clean it. The photo above shows the stepper motor and arm, on the right with the bellows-looking ribber shroud. To reach it, you have to remove the fuel tank and airbox – a lousy design for a bike intended for off-road use.

Water dog

With the bike cleaned, a new air filter and pre-filter installed, the oil changed, the stepper motor cleaned, and the chain lubed and adjusted, I was all set to go, or so I thought. I felt pretty good about the state of the bike, so I spent the rest of the day with Banjo, Pete and Jackie’s dog. He loves to help, and is always there to make sure the water coming from the hose is safe.


Because he was such a good helper, I took him up to Steamboat. We rode the gondola up the mountain to go for an afternoon hike.


Selfy with Banjo on the gondola.

Porcupine hunter

The hike was going well until Banjo went tear-assin’ after a porcupine. We headed to the vet, who removed the quills and looked him over. He’s such a dumb, tough, happy dog – within an hour he was sniffing butts in the park and swimming in the Yampa River.

Anyways, I left Steamboat promising to return in the winter for some snowboarding. Given the 115-degree heat in the southwest, I put Utah and Arizona on hold and headed north into Wyoming. But something was wrong – a check engine light had tripped, giving a P0108 error code, something about manifold pressure. I made it to Rock Springs, where I tore apart the bike in a motel parking lot to see what was wrong. Apparently I had neglected to plug in a vent line and some sensor when I put things back together in Steamboat. No big deal, right? I plugged them back in and started the bike, so I could have the light cleared at the local auto parts store.

But then it wouldn’t run at all. Wouldn’t idle, to be specific. The problem? That goddam stepper motor! I was swearing and cursing the Queen trying to sort out what exactly the problem was… I cleaned it, so everything should work, right? Being dirty was the problem before. Well, as it turns out, when you clean it, you have to remember to lube it again, or it will again fail to actuate properly and cause the same stalling issue. So I’ve been using a dry graphite lube, with a can of WD-40 for roadside cleaning and lubing. Kind of a pain in the ass, but still, the Tiger is an amazing machine. I don’t want to ride anything else.

I spent two days in Rock Springs sorting out this issue, not wanting to ride into more empty desert until things were working exactly as they should. When I got to a point where I was happy with the bike’s condition, I started to head for Lander, to meet an oilfield buddy for fishing in Sinks Canyon. But I never made it out of town.

I was turning right at an intersection, maybe a tad fast but nothing crazy or squiddly, and lowsided in traffic. The road surface was smooth concrete, and there was an obscene amount of crosswalk paint. I say that only for context, not to place the blame outside of my riding. I screwed up, and paid for it with my first “down” on pavement.

Sidecase lowside

My cheapo side case took a lot of the impact, and help up surprisingly well. The plastic was ground a bit, I damaged some stickers, and burned through the bungee cord that I added as a fail-safe (the lock was damaged in my fall on Ophir Pass). All things considered, I’m still impressed by these cases.

Engine guards lowside

These factory engine guards have more than paid for themselves, several times over, since I put them on last summer.

Handguard lowside

The handguard didn’t *quite* do its job here. But it did its job on Ophir Pass, and I didn’t check to see if that impact had loosened it some. So I place more blame on me for that. When it hit the pavement, it moved just enough to expose the brake lever, which broke off, leaving me without a way to actuate the front brake.

My pants and jacket did their job well; they are a bit scuffed and slightly torn, but surely still usable. My head or helmet ever touched the ground, and really, it was more embarrassing than anything. I learned a lesson that I already knew but failed to see – crosswalk paint is shit.

Without a front brake lever, I couldn’t go anywhere. I limped the Tiger to a shop and ordered an aftermarket replacement with overnight shipping and Saturday delivery. Probably the most expensive brake lever in history! But paying for shipping is better than staying in Rock Springs over the weekend, or riding 120 miles to Lander with only a rear brake.

I went to the bar last night to kill time, and after a few beers I reflected on how this ride has allowed me to change, to better myself and my attitude. I was a little pissed-off at the lowside and further delay, but I never lost my cool. I just accepted it and dealt with the problem at hand. I don’t think I would have reacted that well had this happened at the start of the ride, or elsewhere had I not taken this chance at all.

With that observation, I finally feel like I’ve gotten what I needed out of this journey. I feel confident handling any situation, weather, or delay that might come up, and more importantly, the future isn’t blank anymore. I’ve learned a lot about myself and the why’s that led up to this. I’m still having trouble putting it to words, but when I find a way to say what I mean to say, I’ll post it here.

But there’s a lot left to see, so I’m not heading for home just yet, wherever that might be.

Ride safe out there!


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