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Spare Parts: Triumphant return

By Ernie Copper

It’s been awhile since I found myself pushing a bike because it was out of gas, yet here I was inching closer to the gas station one step at a time. The gas station was conveniently located uphill from my current location. They always are.

Unlike many of life’s lesson-learning moments, this one was not of my doing, unless you go back to when I was 7 or 8 years old, which is when Rich and I chose to be friends. In May of 2015, my friend Rich broke a hip. I know, I know, it’s a sign of the times. The resultant rehab snatched a year from our riding calendar. Honestly, there were times when we both wondered if he would make it back on the road this time. He’d already bounced back from two knee replacements.

Last summer, while Rich was laid up I bought him an “Aged Adults Riding Proud” shirt at a rally and had the artist, Tim Heir, autograph it. I told Rich he couldn’t wear it until he got back up on two wheels again. I was incentivizing him.

We’d decided to ride to West Virginia’s Mountainfest as our return trip. In preparation, Rich had his bike inspected and serviced by Shira’s Custom Auto. Because Rich was crunched for time and Shira is also a friend, he rode the bike back to Rich’s house for him when it was ready.

Packed and ready to roll we agreed to stop for gas before leaving town. This is a good place to note that there is a gas station at the foot of the hill upon which Rich lives. If the traffic was right, you might be able to coast there. But, alas, their fuel contains a higher percentage of ethanol than is preferred by our hero so we find ourselves heading east, to the second station.

The sun was shining, the birds were singing and all was right with the world as we headed towards the station, fully packed for the weekend. I decide to fall in behind Rich as we rode until he got his sea legs back. That way if some difficulty befell him, at least I’d know about it instead of unwittingly leaving him on the side of the road. Good call.

As we throttled toward the ethanol-free oasis on the horizon of the three lane, Rich began to fidget. And weave. And fidget some more. Something was wrong and you can probably guess what that something was. We would have to use the turning lane to turn left into the station. The bike had fallen silent. He was coasting now and trying to turn left. We caught a break in traffic and he made it to the side of the road, facing traffic, but it was a straight push to the station now and we wouldn’t have to navigate a left turn pushing a bike across traffic.

I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t laughing as I pulled up behind him and hopped off to offer help in case his hip acted up. He explained, through the noise of the semi’s humming by, what I already knew. He thought he was out of gas. I flipped my kickstand down and offered to push the bike to the station. He stayed behind with my bike and as I inched close to the station, I could hear him trying to explain to me which pump was ethanol free!

I didn’t say it out loud. I didn’t have the breath for it, but in my head, I said, “I’ll get it to the station; you can get it to the pump of your choice.” The uphill walk to the gas station proved enough of a workout that he decided this tank didn’t need to be ethanol-free after all. If he’d have made this decision sooner, we’d have been riding now instead of wheezing.

This entire incident was undeniably avoidable. Rich could have filled the bike before he took it to Shira’s. Shira could have checked the gas before he brought it back and Rich could have checked to see if the fuel tap was in the “on” position or the “reserve” position. Before it looks like I’m taking the “holier than thou” position here, I’ve run out of gas plenty of times myself and have jumped on others’ bikes without checking the gas or the position of the petcock almost routinely. Another lesson that should be learned here is that gas with ethanol, while the source of plenty of problems, is in fact better than no gas at all.

After our fill-up, we went on to enjoy a weekend of music and riding at Mountainfest. My speedo cable snapped, which also caused my turn signals not to self-cancel anymore and we got pounded with rain a time or two, but we never ran out of gas again.

It’s good to be back, right, Rich?

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