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Your motorcycle broke down – now what?

Guest Contributor August 13, 2014
Close up of a motorcycle broken down on a road with a warning triangle placed behind it.
One bright and sunny day, I decided to take my vintage BSA motorcycle out for a ride to enjoy the sights and smells of fall. It was one of those rare autumn days where the temperatures rise into the mid-twenties during the day – perfect for a nice cruise on one of my favorite routes along the twisty roads on the Lake Erie north shore. I was fairly confident that my 40-year-old motorcycle would take me there and back as it had been running flawlessly for the whole season. This is rare for that breed of motorcycle, but thanks to the tuning help of a good friend of mine, the bike had been tuned into a good state of reliability. I set off alone after having filled up with gas, checking the bike over and suiting up with the appropriate protective riding gear. Following some of my favourite roads, I made my way to Southwestern Ontario’s motorcycle mecca of Port Dover, via Port Burwell and Turkey Point, enjoying the views of Lake Erie and the nice twisty roads along the way.

The ride went well until I set out to return home. While riding along a secondary road, I noticed the engine starting to sputter and misfire. After pulling over into a parking lot, checking things out and letting the bike cool down a bit, I was able to restart it with difficulty. I rode it for about a kilometre until it stalled again and left me on the side of the road.

Towing is never a fun experience for anyone, least of all motorcyclists. A motorcycle breakdown leaves the rider vulnerable to more dangers than in the case of a car breakdown. Depending on the circumstances, the rider has no access to shelter from the elements or the protection offered by a motor vehicle while waiting for the tow to arrive. In my case, I was somewhat fortunate as I was able to push my (small) bike a few hundred metres to a small country market where I could wait for CAA.

I was hot and sweaty from pushing the bike to a safe place. Not everyone is able to do this depending on the size of the bike and the nature of the road that they are stranded on. Also, the weather was pleasant, albeit a bit hot while fully dressed in my riding gear and pushing a small motorcycle down the road. It could have been much worse – a few years earlier I had the misfortune of breaking down on a busy country road at around the same time of year except it was cold and snowy.

Upon arriving at the country store and parking my broken-down BSA safely in a corner of the parking lot, I called CAA for assistance. My CAA Plus Membership includes towing for motorcycles. Without coverage, motorcycle towing can cost upwards of $80, depending on where you are, how far you need to go and the size of your motorcycle. CAA was a great help and provided me with updates and an ETA for the tow vehicle. After a reasonable wait, the CAA towing provider arrived, smartly loaded my bike up for me and gave me a ride home.

Later on while looking over the bike to find out what might have gone wrong, I noticed that a battery cable had broken off from where it joins the terminal connecting to the battery. This was what caused my breakdown! Had I taken the time to check things over properly, I would have noticed this before it happened and prevented the breakdown in the first place.

Things to keep in mind if you’re involved with a breakdown on your motorcycle:

  • Engage your 4-way flashers if your bike is equipped with them. If not, try to leave the parking lights on to alert other motorists.
  • Pull off the road safely if possible.
  • Be aware of your surroundings and location (a GPS and/or map can help). You will need to know this when calling for help.
  • Keep yourself and any passengers as far as possible from roadway and traffic.
  • Understand that motorcycle towing is specialized and may take longer to arrive than a standard tow truck.

How to avoid being involved in a roadside motorcycle breakdown:

  • Keep your motorcycle in good condition by cleaning and maintaining it properly.
  • Ensure that regularly-scheduled maintenance is performed (see the owner’s manual for maintenance schedule). This goes beyond oil and filter changes and often encompasses checking drive chains, critical fasteners, bearings, bushings and other wear items that are not always visible to the untrained eye.
  • Get in the habit of doing a walk-around on your bike before starting or riding on it. Look and feel for anything unusual. Be careful not to touch any parts that might be hot such as brakes, engine or exhaust.
  • Check fluids such as engine/transmission oil, coolant and brake fluid before riding.
  • Check tire pressures before every ride. The consequences of improper tire pressure are more serious on a motorcycle than in a car.
  • Avoid listening to music while riding so that you will be able to hear anything that might be going wrong. Machines’ mechanical noises will often change when they start to deteriorate and/or break down.
Experiencing a breakdown is never fun, but taking the time to check things over and making sure that you have roadside assistance can help alleviate the possibility of a very unpleasant experience. What’s your CAA story? Feel free to share it with us in the comments section below!