Monday, July 11, 2011

Jump Start

Portland, OR

So I learned two new things about my motorcycle today: 1) When you use jumper cables to start a motorcycle from a car, you're not supposed to have the car running. 2) It's possible to push-start my bike.

One of the things about a motorcycle is that there's a few ways to turn off the engine.  You can turn the key off, you can hit the engine kill switch, or you can put the kickstand down while it's still in gear.  Usually when I park on a hill, I use the last one of those, because leaving it in gear means it won't slide down the hill - sometimes the kickstand isn't enough to keep it in place.

So when I pulled into my friend Emily's place on Saturday afternoon, the parking spot was not only on a steep incline, but covered in loose gravel.  Loose gravel is my mortal enemy on the bike, so I was pretty focused on not tipping the bike over as I pulled in, and popped the kickstand down as soon as I could to hold the bike in place.

I also wasn't sure if I was at the right place, or what apartment I was going to, so I sat on the bike and pulled out my phone and called her, and she popped her head out on the balcony and yelled down, so I grabbed my backpack and headed up to her place.  Since I had turned the engine off by putting the kickstand down, I hadn't turned the key off yet... and I apparently walked away without doing that.

Yes, that means that not only was the key right there so that anyone could steal it if they walked up to it, but my headlight was on as well.

We went out to a house party Saturday night, came back, went out to lunch on Sunday and later went out for dinner, and I never noticed.  A few times I felt in my pocket, didn't find the motorcycle key, and assumed that I had left it in my motorcycle jacket back at Emily's apartment, but other than that had no idea what had happened until I got out to the bike this morning.  And found my key in it.  In the on position.

And my headlight wasn't on any more.

Once I figured out what happened, I started taking the bike apart to get to the battery.  You have to remove the seat and pull off a cover, which requires a socket wrench, a hex wrench, and a phillips screwdriver - fortunately I had all of those on the bike.  Once I got it disassembled, I went and got Emily (who fortunately was still at the apartment), and we got some jumper cables from her car and pulled it over by my bike.

I've jumped cars before.  Quite a bit in fact, because a few summers ago when I had a beat up 1989 Honda Accord (R.I.P. Pete), I probably killed the battery 4 or 5 times.  It didn't hold charge well, and it didn't beep if you got out of the car with the lights on like every other car I'd driven.  So I've got the procedure for jumping a car pretty well down, what order to hook up the cables, etc.  However, I didn't discover until later research online that a car battery has a much higher amperage rating than a motorcycle battery, and therefore you should not turn the car on while jumping the motorcycle.  Which we did.  Not that it's a big deal, it would only result in completely frying my battery charging circuit or starting a fire.

Once we got the bike running, I got the seat put back on, tightened everything down and put away the tools, and headed out.  I rode around on the highway for a bit to charge up the battery, and then stopped for a bit near Burnside skate park to check it out.  When I came back out to the bike... it wouldn't start.  Apparently I hadn't ridden around enough to charge the battery sufficiently... or I really had fried the charging circuit.  The lights on the dash were lit up and the headlight was on, but the starter wouldn't turn the engine over, just make a clicking noise. I sat around wondering what to do for a while, and ended up looking up some stuff on starting a dead bike on my phone - this is when I discovered my previous error when jumping the bike.

One of the recommendations was to try pushstarting it, so I decided to give it a go, since there wasn't anyone nearby who could jump my bike.  Fortunately, I was parked on a mostly flat, mostly empty street, so I got the bike out into the middle of the street, put it in second gear, held down the clutch, and started walking it forward as fast as I could.

Let me tell you, that is damn hard work.  I was already a little sore from playing some pickup ultimate the day before, but even if I hadn't been, it would have been rough.  The bike is pretty heavy - probably about 550lbs with a full tank of gas and all my stuff on it, plus me.  And it's kinda awkward trying to run while pushing on the handlebars and straddling the bike.  But eventually I got it moving at a halfway decent speed, pulled up my feet, and let out the clutch... no dice.  It sputtered a little, so it seemed like I could probably do it, but after doing it the first time, the lights on the dash were dim.  So this time I turned the bike off and put it in neutral, gave it another run, pulled my feet up, turned the bike on, pulled the clutch in, popped it into gear, and let the  clutch out... no dice again.  Almost, but not quite.

At this point, I was next to a road with a pretty steep downhill... but I decided it wouldn't be a good idea to do that, because if it didn't start that time, I wouldn't be able to get it back up the hill, and I didn't know how much flat ground was down there.  I looked over to the left, and two homeless guys were sitting watching me, so I yelled over that my battery was dead and I was trying to push start it, just to explain the odd stop and go they had just seen.  So, one of the guys got up and came over to help me push.

Between the two of us we got some pretty good speed, and this time when I popped the bike into gear it sputtered to life and started running.  I yelled a thank you back to the guy who had helped push, and then proceeded to ride in a circle on the highways around downtown Portland for about an hour to charge up the battery.  Fortunately, the next time I stopped the bike, it started right back up, and I haven't had any trouble since.

Crisis averted (hopefully... we'll see if the charging circuit keeps up), and one more story to add to the list.

1 comment:

  1. I think my favorite entries are these ones of yours where things don't work out perfectly. The cool adventure ones are super fun, but there's something about overcoming mini-obstacles that is refreshing and fun.

    Me likey.