No, not for us… Just plop us in a sidecar and shuttle us from the Wisconsin Guzzi Rally to Naples Airhead Tech Day and similar environs and we’ll be happily pass on to that great rally in the sky. No, I mean our bikes, which are gettin’ kinda elderly.

Amazing how this pops up on you… Back in ’04 when the R100GS was acting up, I bought a nice R80ST with 67k mostly documented miles on the clock to take over the sidecar tuggin’ duties. Proved to be an excellent tug, combining near the R100GS’s power with the R65LS’s durability. Ran it 34k hard miles and over a hundred parades with nary a repair- a valve grind at 88k and a trasnmission bearing at 100k or so. So at 111k miles in the winter of ’10 I decide it’s time for a rebuild, ‘specially since the valves were running out of adjuster thread and you could feel the slop in the rings just turning the engine over by hand.

So in went new rings, and the heads went off for a $700 valve job with improved exhaust seats. Even though it wasn’t leaking that much oil, I bravely replaced the rear main and oil pump seals, but chickened out when I looked at the timing chain, despite the quivering timing image in the strobe light. This all dragged out from around thanksgiving through mayday. Over that time I either drained the final drive and forgot to fill it or it got laid on it side and drained itself… My first 50 mile test ride was thus accented with a baked final drive and slipping clutch. 

After recovering from the ensuing depression, I filled then drained then refilled the final drive, finding no little metal bits and everything tight as can be. I had less luck with the clutch, and despite multiple adjustment attempts and in situ spray degreasings, the slip only got worse… Heck, anything over a third throttle and I had an “undocumented feature”, an airhead slipper clutch! Took off the transmission and clutch, even ran the engine with just the flywheel on the back, and couldn’t make it leak. Even replaced a suspect PCV hose just to be on the safe side, made no difference. Took it apart again last winter, checked everything, and gave it a new “oil proof” clutch and replaced the admittedly tired clutch diaphram spring. Took the final drive to Florida, and at Naples Tech Day Roger and the assorted gurus helped me replace all the bearings, found one bad one. And acting on a hunch from a couple gurus upon finding oil between the flywheel and crank, I put thread tape on the flywheel bolts and gooped up the remaining gaps with silicone gasket maker in hopes of stopping the flow.

So I put the errant ST back together and make a few test rides… Still leaks some oil, but less. And, is that clutch slip?. Granted, I’d picked miserable weather for a test ride, 30 to 35 MPH headwinds that had the 50 HP hack down to 60 MPH, tops. And yes, the clutch is still slipping, but that now requires two thirds throttle to provoke. So while the bikes suffering has been eased, it’s still not returned to it’s youthful vim and vigor.

So adding it all up, I’ve poured a couple thousand in parts and I don’t want to add up how many hours on a 31 year old bike that still isn’t right, and even if it was right It’s worth not much more than I spent on it. I could have retired the ST, fixed the GS’s maladies, or bought a new sidecar tug. And after blowing a couple thousand on the ST, I ended up doing both of the other options- the GS was fixed and has covered 6k miles with only a chronic transmission leak, and I bought a 2000 Moto Guzzi Quota to pull the big sidecar. 

I spent most of my life in the trucking business, and saw similar expensive results from failing to timely retire trucks. Back when UPS was trying to get 20 years out of big trucks, I remember driving late 70s GMC cabovers that were functionally obsolete and in some applications downright dangerous, and often UPS had spent several times the trucks value repairing and rebuilding them. UPS wised up and decided to retire their big trucks after 9 years, although the Macks are lasting longer. But 20 years? UPS bought cabovers into the early 90s, and I last saw one on the road in 2006. While UPS was getting smarter, Hostess went crazy, first increasing expected lives for big trucks from 10 to 12 years and 15 to 18 years for the step vans. That alone paid the mechanics a fortune in overtime, and Hostess’ bankruptcies pretty much put a halt to new truck purchases after 2004. By the time Hostess shut down in 2012, the average fleet age was 18 years… Despite a surplus of “donor” trucks as the company shrunk to half it’s former size, they were running up 6 figure monthly truck rental bills by the time the Hostess trucks made their last runs.

They say our organs and bodies are like “time bombs”, geneticly programmed to fail at around 80 or so. Seems to be the same with our vehicles, as countless gaskets and seals give up and seemingly everything corrodes… Explains why my ’98 Ford Ranger has suffered multiple failures in the last year. Back in the 80s when I started riding BMWs, I remember an article in the MOA news suggesting that the then barely couple decades old /2 BMWs should be completely rebuilt if one intended to ride them much… Not sure, maybe Oak wrote that sage advice. Most of the airheads were built in the 70s, and the last ’95 models are pushing two decades old… So following that sage advice, our airheads deserve a full restoration or are gettin’ to that point if we want to enjoy them reliably. But unlike the scarce/2s, BMW built up an installed base of over 100,000 airheads in America alone. That’s enough to create a whole aftermarket of parts and considerable knowledge base, and also enough bikes that all but the rarest airheads can be bought for $2-4k in good condition. Start tearing into one, and it’s easy to spend more than that. 

So what’s the answer? For me, after making a financial fool of myself on a few rebuilds of old and not all that valuable vehicles, I replace a vehicle after 8-12 years and keep the old one as a spare, keeping it within a day’s ride of home. After 16-24 years the vehicle is retired, and even if it runs doesn’t venture much farther than walking distance, unless it’s totally restored. So in my Minnesota cycle fleet the ’07 F800S get’s ridden most, the hack’d Guzzi Quota next, the GS is a spare, and the ST is retired… Unless I get bored and restore it. When the weather or load requires 4 wheels, the 2013 VW Sportswagon TDI goes first, the ’03 Golf TDI is a spare, and I’ve about had it with the Ranger!

But the ST may have to wait for it’s rebuild, the ’66 Cooper S in the back of the garage is first in line!