The Last Lap: Back to L.A.

It was a lot of fun, but it had to end. The test bike was due back in L.A. Monday, April 3rd. I wanted to take as long as possible getting there, and started out Saturday morning on the scenic route: Vegas, Death Valley, and the Sierra were on the itinerary before dropping the Blast back off in the big city. As it turned out, the first day of the ride was 500 miles of hard traveling, and the bike wasn't its usual happy self at times on this run. Can a machine have moods?

Our first hassle was a 40 mph headwind on the straight 55-mile run up the Eldorado Valley to Las Vegas. Added to the 65 mph speed limit, the wind made the Blast's relaxed riding position a struggle. Sitting up I was as aerodynamic as a drag chute; leaning forward enough to cut through the wind had me bent almost double. It was a predicament, and there was really nothing to do but tough it out. I rode much of it in 4th - a lot of the engine's power was wasted driving my upright body through the 100 mph wind.

We turned west at Vegas and the north wind was no more a problem. Over the mountains, across the desert on back roads, we dropped into Death Valley late in the afternoon, motoring north toward Badwater with the sun throwing long shadows at us across the salt flats. Time for another problem: detonation.

I think the speed limit on Badwater Road might be 55; I was going too fast to notice. But I did notice the engine was starting to "ping" when I called for more power to accelerate or climb. Detonation tends to feed back on itself, and indeed it got worse. I had to back off the throttle and drop down to 4th to maintain a 65 mph speed.

I pulled into Badwater for a 30-minute break. I needed to stretch, and I wanted to see if giving the engine a cool-down might reduce the pinging. Air temperature was only about 80, and the sun was going down behind the Panamints, so I thought riding in the cooler evening air might help also. It didn't. In fact it got a little worse.

We rode on, and I couldn't get past 65 without heavy detonation. The bike only got 44 mpg on the run up the valley. I put in another half-gallon of regular at Stovepipe Wells, and started up the grade to Towne Pass. Altitude semed to have some effect on the two previous incidents, so I kept checking the ping limit by opening the throttle, and backing off when I heard knocks. The problem was noticeably reduced at 2,000 feet, and entirely gone at 4,000.

For 99% of the riding the Blast ran perfectly. So why detonation then and there? I guess it was not one but a combination of things that, separately, were no problem. I'd skipped two scheduled ignition timing checks, at 1,000 and 2500 miles, so it's possible the timing was slightly off. Maybe also fuel; maybe carburetion. Little things that might add up. Since I could recognize "knocking" and ride around it, it was just a passing annoyance; but unrecognized or ignored, detonation can destroy an engine quickly. For those unfamiliar with it, there's a side page on what it is and what to do about it here.

I was relieved when the ping problem was over up at the Pass, and got back to riding through the night without worrying about the engine. But my next problem was sneaking up on me - too much time in the saddle. 12 hours into the ride I was sure the seat foam had broken down, and checked it at my next stop, poking and pushing. It was fine - it was me that had enough - but I still had 50 miles of mountain road to cover. Here again the bike's riding position came up short for hard riding. Standing up on the pegs is a quick, easy stretch for a rider spending long hours in the saddle, but the Blast's forward footpegs make standing at speed a clumsy maneuver. Again there was nothing to do but tough it out. To be fair, 12-plus hours on any motorcycle is pushing it. That night was the only time I was happy to get off the bike.

I was back on it the next day, though, and I rode it the way it was intended to be ridden. I spent the day exploring country roads, taking it easy and enjoying a relaxing ride on a classic Single. It was pure pleasure.

The next day I rode it back to L.A. and parked it in the barn. I had to give it a pat on the tank before I left. It's a good hoss.

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