Subject: Thumper Summary: Retrospective Tale Keywords: BMW, sidecar Date: Tue, 24 Sep 1991 13:51:18 GMT
"I'VE GOT A BMW MOTORCYCLE, TOO! AND I KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE!," he shouted with his body hanging halfway out the window of a Volvo as we were stopped at the corner of 16th Avenue South and Edgehill in Nashville (Music Row in Music City). "Oh, GREAT," I thought, "a nut case knows where I live." And so began my association with one of the more colorful figures in my life, Hunter Harvey. The Bear (my girlfriend) and I had moved to Nashville in October of '74 after touring the US for seven months on my R75/5. We hadn't made any real friends in the eight or so months we'd been there... then we met Hunter. Years later, I was known to say that everyone I knew, I knew because of BMW motorcycles. This was really an extension of the fact that all my friends were met directly or indirectly through Hunter.
Hunter lived two blocks away in a little house located on an alley. The house had once been a garage. The entire back wall could open up and he could ride his bike inside. Hunter was flamboyant. Hunter had LOTS of friends. Hunter LOVED BMW motorcycles. Through him, I became educated about the "lore." He was in the Vintage BMW Motorcycle Owners, Ltd. He gave me stuff to read. One day I said to him, "Wow, I didn't know BMW made singles!" About a week later he called me up and told me to come down to his house. There I met Somer Hooker. At that time, Somer had a "real" job. But his heart was in being an itinerant motorcycle/parts salesman/broker. (Now he wheels & deals bikes full time.) It seems that Somer had found a fellow that had an R69S and an R26 (single) for sale who only wanted to sell both. Somer only wanted the twin. And so a deal was struck.
The first time the R26 was to be delivered, I was to meet the owner in downtown Nashville. He was coming from East Tennessee to some show at the Municipal Auditorium. It was snowing in-between and he never showed. I froze my ass for a couple of hours waiting. The next time, I balked at meeting him anywhere except my house. Eventually, a van pulled up and we opened the door... "It's WHITE," I exclaimed. "Is that a problem?" "No, I just thought it would be black." We carried the bike and attendant boxes of stuff into my house and put them in the living room. It wasn't running. But it was "all there"... and THEN some. Included were many new parts... a gleaming complete exhaust system, fresh wiring harnesses, little factory parts bags of assorted bits and pieces. You see, the little white bike was in need of attention, lots of attention.
That night it snowed. The next day I walked down to the Village and bought a roll of film. After shooting the entire roll of 36 exposures in an effort to capture every angle and every detail... I took the bike completely apart. Well, not COMPLETELY. One of the swing-arm bolts broke my special wrench. That meant that I couldn't remove the swing-arm so I couldn't remove the transmission so I couldn't remove the engine.
The next day I yanked the passenger seat out of my '68 VW Beetle and put it on the porch. Then I wrestled the R26 frame/engine/trans/swing-arm down the steps and shoe-horned it into the bug. At the local dealer (who rightfully went out of business) they wanted to charge me to put a pipe wrench on the special swing-arm bolt. I told them, "Hell, I have a pipe wrench," and stuffed the whole thing back in the car for a reverse trip back to my living room.
Over the intervening months, the evolving assortment of motorcycle parts in my living room was quite a topic of conversation. Eventually, after several trips to the chrome shop, a visit to an upholstorer, LOTS of boxes arriving U.P.S., and the use of Hunter's paint gun... I had some friends come by to help carry the finished product down the steps. I knew it would run (and so did the folks that lived upstairs) because I had started it in the house a couple of times. And so I finally got to ride it.
Road report of 1960 BMW R26 250cc single (white with black pin stripes): Runs fairly smoothly, brakes adequate for level of engine performance, no power to speak of, BUT DAMN IT LOOKS NICE! At this point, I sure was glad that it had a solo seat. No way would this little puppy haul much more than me.
And so after a while the time came to "show it off." There was a BMW motorcycle rally about 175 miles away (near Shiloh where the Civil War battle was fought). So, I loaded up some camping supplies and headed on down there. It took a while. It was a beautiful multi-colored fall weekend with mild weather. The roads were curvey. And life was GOOD. Many people at the rally took pictures and expressed admiration. I was HAPPY. Unfortunately, some fellow showed up on a 1959 R51/3, so I didn't get the plaque for the oldest bike. But I knew that mine was the nicest old bike there.
I kept it in a "shed" in my back yard made out of an old pickup truck "topper." It was a fun little bike on which to run over to a buddie's house when there was a gathering of motorcyclists (or ladies). I felt that "Thumper," as I began to call her, was a sort of a jewel that was to be taken out and "worn" on special occasions. After all, I had another bike for "serious" riding.
Just after Halloween, I put her in an unused closet in the machine shop where I worked. I ran the fuel out of the carb and removed the battery. The next spring, I took her out again. After re-installing the (properly maintained) battery and turning on the petcock, I was ready for the starting drill. One of my co-workers asked if it would start. I confidently replied, "Five kicks or less." Knowing that it would be two or three. I tickled the carb until JUST BEFORE it overflowed (which is the REAL trick to tickling any carb). Then I kicked it over twice with the key off to loosen it up and get some fuel into the cylinder. "That's two," said Gerry (who I had met through Hunter). "No," I said, "I haven't turned on the key yet." I mashed down the "nail" key and lit up the red & green lights on the "dash". Clutch-in, I engaged the trans and clutch-out positioned the crank until it was coming up on compression... KICK! And she purred like a kitten.
That summer, I had an opportunity to go to Europe. I went. I had a rail pass. I wanted my motorcycle(s) the whole time. When I got home, I looked in the shed and Thumper was all dusty. So, I got out all the proper potions and elixirs to clean and polish her. That was when I noticed that the oil stain on the frame near where the kick lever comes down was not JUST an oil stain... the frame loop was cracked nearly all the way through. BUMMER.
Membership has it's privileges, the saying goes. Being a member in the Vintage BMW Motorcycle Owners, Ltd., I advertised for an R26 frame. Shortly after the bimonthly Bulletin came out, I got a phone call from a fellow that had a frame to sell. And, oh, by the way, might I be interested in a small sidecar? Photos danced through the mail, a deal was struck, and snatching victory from the jaws of defeat... I had a frame AND a sidecar.
Another winter saw Thumper in the house again. Changing frames was a good time to get a color match on the sidecar. Having learned that I don't paint as well as I would like, I had a professional do it. The timing chest needed a new gasket, so the engine had needed to come out anyway. The trans had a bit of a problem, so I swapped that for one from an R25 (another story) that had both a foot and a hand shifter, but fit exactly and had the same gear ratios. The hand shifter was on the same shaft as the foot shifter, but was located on the right side. More on this later...
Sidecars, in this country, go on the right side of the machine. For some people it is counter-intuitive how that effects the handling. For left turns you generally no longer lean left, you broadslide. For right turns, the chair tries to lift. Furthermore, twisting the throttle open has a tendency to make the outfit turn toward the right and shutting it (or braking) has a tendency to make the outfit turn toward the left.
On the inaugural run, I managed to discover a LOT about sidecars and sidecar handling... Sidecar outfits are NOT motorcycles. About 1/2 mile from home I went into a right hand sweeper at about 40 mph that's good for 60mph solo. SURPRISE! The sidecar came off the ground. This caused a major pucker and in an effort to put it back on the ground I went so wide that I nearly ran off the LEFT side of the road. It was a good thing that no one was oncoming. Moments after putting away the pucker hammer, I dispatched myself to a LARGE vacant parking lot for a "training session." I discovered some wonderful things... By wrenching the handlebars I could either initiate a broadslide which was controllable with the brakes and bars OR I could lift the chair into the air at will. Once the chair was airborne, I had a two wheeled vehicle again. Although cornering clearance was significantly limited on the righthand side because of the sidecar, and on the left side the exhaust pipe would drag. It was pretty bizarre to lean WAY over to the left and get the sidecar WAY high in the air and go around a left turn that way. With some more practice, I got fairly adept at both flying the chair and broadsliding. I also found that I could fly the chair with a passenger because it didn't take horsepower to do that, it took leverage.
The following winter, I had managed to secure the use of a garage near my house. This was a good thing because the chair wouldn't fit in the shed and I had changed jobs. It was also a good thing because a giant tree in the yard that backed up to mine fell over in a storm that winter and squashed my "shed" like a bug. I had a nasty old olive drab tarp that I used to cover Thumper. It was always a rush to take someone (preferably of the female persuasion) down the block and into this funky garage and show them this nasty-funky tarp-covered thing. Then I would yank back the tarp to reveal the "cutest" outfit ever seen, all shiny and sparkly and white and chrome (with tasty black trim).
That spring, I had THE FINEST machine in which to cruise the "fun zone." My favorite trick was to park on the opposite side of the street directly in front of "my" watering hole. What made this a trick was that I would execute a sliding U-turn at full speed and end up stopped, next to the curb, neatly parked, having slid backwards and sidewards for the last several feet. (OK OK, I was young and stupid.) "Hey, Baby, wanna go for a ride in my sidecar?" was a new and different "line" to most of the denizettes of the "Rock Block." The little 250 motor could pull me, the sidecar, and a babe... but barely. A little white bike with black pinstripes pulling a little white sidecar with a black seat and trim was the cutest thing on "The Block." Parking next to Rip's big bad Vincent Black Shadow set the two of them in the ultimate contrast. What a jewel.
Again, the time came to show it off. The Shiloh Rally was happening and we were going. One hundred seventy-five miles through the hills of Tennessee. We went down the hills in fourth gear (top). We went up the hills in third, second, and sometimes even first gear (in a headwind). You KNOW you are slow when a fully loaded, clapped-out log truck passes you at a fast walk going up a looooong grade. Eventually we arrived. Again lots of photos were snapped. Someone's picture made it onto the cover of the BMW Riders of America club organ "On The Level" (Aug '82). Again no plaque. Another picture made it into the Vintage BMW Bulletin (March/April '80)
Something I discovered while relaxing with a beer while seated in the chair was that I could get reach the throttle. This got me to thinking... I realized that if I could reach the throttle, I could also reach the front brake. All this was accomplished with my left hand while sitting a bit forward. As a matter of fact, if I reached across my body with my right arm, I could mash the rear brake pedal. AND, I could reach the hand shifter of the transmission! The only thing I couldn't reach while seated was the clutch. Time to try out the driverless sidecar... I rode across to a vacant parking lot in the "normal" manner. Then I stopped the bike and got into the chair. While standing, I pulled in the clutch with my left hand and reached down with my right hand to snick it into gear. Back up to the throttle and we were rolling. Then I sat down. As long as I didn't need to come to a COMPLETE stop, I could accelerate, brake, steer, and flat-shift (up and down) with ease. I did circles and eights and played in the parking lot for a while. Occasionally, someone would be drawn over to watch the Ichabod Crane of sidehacks, until they figured it out.
Well, we all do stupid things every now and again. After a while, I became somewhat tired of Thumper. Having a fiancee (the future ex-Mrs. Braun) probably had a lot to do with it. One night at my favorite watering hole I had a conversation with a guy about eccentric vehicles... he had an Amphicar and always wanted a sidecar. I had a sidecar and always wanted an Amphicar. (An Amphicar was a British-motored, German-built 2 door "car" with propellers so it's also a "boat.") A deal was struck and a trade was made. What happened with my Amphicar is another story. Thumper is still around town and I get reports from friends every so often that they've seen her somewhere. I guess I can rationalize all sorts of ways, but that was a great little outfit. And I miss her.
(Divorced and remarried and complete with a son, I have another "project." An R75/5/2 with a Ural (WWII looking) sidecar. Not Thumper. But "better.")
Addendum... the "project" has since made it on to the road. It is licensed and insured and with some more time and money will one day be "completed."