That’s my parade fleet, and during even numbered years (elections) it’s a busy fleet indeed. And during leap years, even busier. For the curious, I’ll save you the trouble of blowing up the political signage on the hack so you can read the candidate’s names… Yup, I’m a de facto democrat. I say “de facto” because I’m really an old school moderate independent who believes in fiscal conservatism and civil rights, including the rights of workers to unionize and the whole dang Bill o’ Rights. Including that 2nd amendment that so bothers some liberals, even though I don’t own any guns.

With that out of the way, it’s pretty much immaterial to gearhead conversation anyway- both parties use vehicles in similar ways to advertise themselves and their candidates. In fact, with little goin’ on in the democratic presidential race, I’ve been attending a few republican candidate”s events to see how the do them and what I can learn from them. Some of it boggles the mind- Romney has actually had multiple set up crews each with their own tractor trailer rig doing the theatrical staging for his events.

The sidehack on the left is the latest to emerge from my shop, and the subject of my current consternation. After an all winter rebuild that featured a complete head rebuild, rings, seals, etc. I took it out friday and had a great 5 mile ride round the township. So yesterday, looking to test it further and grab some coffee and internet access, I took off on a 40 mile round trip. Stopped after about 10 miles and found the rear end too warm, so backed off the brake adjustment. Stopped at the Cafe/Convenience Store w/WiFi and noted oil running from what looked to be the rear of the motor. Had coffee, surfed interwebs, and cooled down. Oil level OK, backed off the brake a bit more and limped home at 40-50 MPH. Rear end cooler and not so much oil leaking. Opened the drain plug this morning (had to cool down some more) and 30 cc. of oil where 150 should be.

Now the bike in question, an R80ST, is 29 years old and has covered 111k miles… And here I’m trying to work it practically  every day? No wonder it takes 3 months to get the heads done and sometimes weeks to get simple parts. And yes, during that 3 months it was apart I might have drained the rear drive oil and forgotten about it, or it may have leaked out when I had the whole driveshaft and rear end off, of maybe I’ve just got a leaky seal? And the oil leak from the engine… Well, this was my first try at replacing the rear main and oil pump seals, maybe I should have left well enough alone?

I oughta know better… I remember when UPS tried to run their big trucks for 20 years. They’d spend $5k rebuilding the engine on a 15 year old truck that was worth $3k… Then next month the tranny would go and they’d spend $2k rebuilding that. Then next month it’d get totalled in an accident… These legends are still passed on from old heads to newbies at UPS Center yards everywhere. UPS learned from that mistake and you’ll have a hard time finding a 10 year old big truck at a UPS Center today. Back when I worked for Continental Baking, policy was to replace the big trucks after 10 years and the little step vans after 15. That was about right- keep ’em any longer and they became near permanent residents of the shop. CBC then extended the life cycle to 12 and 18 years, then merged with Interstate Brands that ran ’em into the ground. Then they went bankrupt twice, and now their newest big trucks are ’04 models. I haven’t driven for them for nearly twenty years, and I still see CBC trucks I’ve driven in their yards. Are they saving money? Well, paging through the latest bankruptcy filings I find six figure bills from at least two big truck leasing companies, and the online employee forums note frequent late deliveries due to truck breakdowns. Basicly they’re keeping the fleet running by canabalising dead trucks, and when the poor mechanics can’t keep up they (expensively) call the truck rental companies.

Back to my little fleet, which is about to get very busy with the political convention and parade season approaching. The bike to the right of the ailing ST is a ’92 R100GS… Yup, the newest bike in my hard working parade fleet is 20 years old! I brought it back from the dead with a set of high tech inserts to replace it’s multiple stripped cylinder stud threads and got it back on the road around thanksgiving. Being a paralever airhead GS, it suffers from multiple congenital mechanical maladies- the aformentioned stud threads, driveshaft, starter, etc.. I’ve fixed all of the above, but such is my trust in the bike that I’ve had a folding bicycle in the sidecar for the 500 or so miles since the rebuild. The bicycle’s been unneccessary, but the clutch is slipping intermittently, one fork seal is leaking, and the headlight adjusters are buggered… Not pictured is the spare, an ’84 R65LS that runs fairly well, probably because I haven’t wrenched on it much. In 100k+ miles the only major repair was a flywheel, and I’ve never had the engine or tranny apart. But it’s days are numbered- compression is within wear limits but below new specs at 120 PSI, the rear drive splines are half worn out, and who knows what lurks within the tranny?

So after yesterdays depressing ride I did a soul searching gearhead 4th step inventory of my “fleet”. Well, if I’d had the wisdom to buy a Guzzi instead of the Buell in ’01 or that tempting Triumph twin “Scrambler” in ’08 instead of the F800S I wouldn’t be in this mechanical mess… Just bolt up the sidecar to the barely broken in “tug” and ride on up the campaign trail. But instead I bought a BMW F800S, a great bike that’s been dead reliable but a pain to mount a sidecar on. Damn near did it though- had a local gearhead machinist that could do the job, but the belt drive F800s have been having rear bearing problems, and ‘hacks aren’t gentle with rear bearings.

So last night I gave in to my “fleet manager” alter ego and decided it was time to find a newer “tug” to pull the “hack”. I decided to buy a new “sidecar capable” bike every 8-12 years and “retire” my bikes and cars at 25 years. This being spring and the sidecar makers having backlogs running into months and new bike inventories dwindling, the chances of my finding a suitable new or late model tug and sidecar mounts right now are slim.

So looks like It’ll be a war of mechanical attrition with my aged sidecar “tugs” this year. But they’ve all paid for themselves by now, and as long as one is still running when the polls close  on election day in november, I’ll be happy.