Honda XR400R, Escape Pod and Albatross

That bastard bike.

Zach Bowman
Zach Bowman/TheDrive.com

Zach Bowman has sold everything he owns, slapped a camper to his high-mileage 2003 Dodge Ram and has taken his family on the road. His clan numbers three, counting wife, Beth, and their infant daughter. They are touring America, working and discovering, and are sending The Drive periodic dispatches from the road.

Part 10
Bowman's Odyssey

It was Christmas Eve and irrationally warm. I’d just spent four hours tearing around a local wildlife refuge, shaking out our tagged and titled Honda XR400R. Enjoying being alone in my helmet for a spell, a wide nation away from the ceaseless tide of decisions that accompany moving your family into a truck. The joker in front of me was putting along at a ripe 30 mph in a 45 zone. I checked for traffic, dropped a gear, and swung into the oncoming lane. Cranked on the throttle and let that hilarious little cylinder spin its brains out.  

Man, this thing pulls.

Pulled. The bike stuttered and popped as I came alongside the driver’s door. The gentleman behind the wheel gave me a look first of bewilderment, then amusement as I lost speed and drifted back in my lane, desperately fumbling to make sure I hadn’t forgotten to turn the fuel on at the last stop.  

All the ingredients were there. Fuel. Spark. Air. Time. The thing should have been baking a cake of single-cylinder internal combustion. It was not. No matter how furiously I thrashed at the kick starter or tried bump starting the bastard, it would not fire.

So I engaged in a little-loved but well-worn tradition: I pushed that fucker the half mile to the closest driveway.

The bike doesn’t weigh much. Maybe 280 pounds, fully fueled and ready to disappoint. The road was flat. A creek ran swiftly by its side, long grasses sweeping in the current. The grey sky shimmered on its surface. The flow of curses and jeers from passing traffic was barely a torrent. It was half way to pleasant.

I threw the kickstand down in the gravel, pulled off my gear, and got to prodding with some seriousness. Still couldn’t find anything wrong. In the great volume of sins a machine can commit, there’s only one that’s truly unforgivable: Not getting me home. If I had to call the wife to come fetch me from Maynardville, the XR would be in pieces the next day. Or for sale on Craigslist.

Of course, when I decided to give it one last kick, it fired. Idled. I threw on my gear and set off again before it had the chance to change its mind. You never really appreciate internal combustion like you do after covering ground on foot.

When it got me home, I pulled the carb and cleaned it. Drained the fuel, replaced it with fresh. Replaced the spark plug, coil, and wire. All the usual culprits. The bastard still wouldn’t fire. I went through it again. Fuel? Puddle on the floor said so. Air? Hickey on my palm said yes. Spark? The electro-shock kiss that runs my arm to stutter my heart said, you guessed it, yes. Finally, in a fit of rage, I rolled the thing off and, sure enough, it lit up. Man, it’s loud without a helmet on. A proper delinquent. And when it’s screaming its fool head off, it’s a good thing. I love it. I want more of it. But it worries me.

We’re taking the bike as an insurance policy. So when the Dodge lays down one of us can ride for parts or help or both. As an escape pod for when my wife can no longer stand to share 63 square-feet with her idiot husband and screaming daughter. All of that hinges on this motorcycle starting on command. If it won’t, it’s just dead weight on the back of the truck.

Now I’m out time to sort the thing. To chase its gremlins off. And I don’t know whether to shuck it and find something that starts or stick with the bastard bike. Or, maybe, abandon the idea of lugging a bike around all together. Excise those precious 300 pounds and be happier without the worry of whether or not someone’s going to walk off with it while we’re parked and sleeping.

Damned if I know.