We were out of gas 10 miles outside of Columbus, Ohio. My dad and I were two hours from home along the shoulder of the Interstate highway, circa 1976. I was 15, he 45. No phone. No friends. No plan. From across the median another biker stopped, then ran over to our side of the highway to see how he could help. He left, took the gas tank off his bike and came back with it under his arm to share enough of his gas with us so we could get to the next gas station. That’s when I learned how easily a rubber-mounted tank came off a Honda, but it was also the first time I’d felt genuinely helped by a stranger. He didn’t lecture us on checking our fuel level more frequently or stopping before we actually needed gas. He just helped.
Thirty years later I was finishing up a scenic ride at a regional rally, taking my time enjoying the warmth of the sun and the rhythm of the road. I was suddenly overtaken by a straight-piped Harley rider with three rocket-bike brothers in tow going at least 15 mph faster than my leisurely pace. As they breezed by I couldn’t help but notice they weren’t exactly prepared for impact as far as dress was concerned. Gym shorts, tank tops and not a helmet among them. I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that affected my opinion of them as they went by, but hey, it’s a free country.
Not two miles later, the rocket-bike rider bringing up the rear of that pack began to frantically flail his left arm, trying to get the attention of his hell-bent for leather riding buddies who never noticed him fading in their rear views. He struggled to move over to the shoulder of the road and I dutifully clicked on my four-ways and helped keep traffic off his back until he got over then I pulled up behind him to see how I could help.
He was flustered. The bike, which was a damn sharp jet-black vintage Kawasaki had just given up without notice and refused to refire. He’d ridden nearly four hours to get to the rally. If you give them a little time, practically every rider in this situation will eventually check to be sure they have gas in the tank and the fuel valve switched to the right position. Most don’t need to be asked and this guy was no different. It had plenty of gas. I suspected the age-old vapor lock since it was about 85 degrees this particular day and suggested we let it cool off for a few minutes. He agreed and while we were sitting there he shared that his buddies and he were headed to the local Harley shop, but since they were now long gone, he had no idea how to get there. He also had no idea how to get back to his hotel, nor did he have a phone. The more things change, the more they stay the same!
If you’re still diagnosing the problem at home, I’ll acknowledge here that the issue could have also been a plugged vent on the fuel cap and that opening the cap released the pressure if the vent was plugged. That’s not really the point here, but I know at least a few of you are thinking that.
After a few minutes he cranked over the starter and the bike came back to life but sounded a little anemic. Since we were equidistant from his hotel, which I was familiar with, and the Harley dealership, I offered to stick with him and ride to either. He chose the hotel and the bike died out once more on the way, but refired fairly quickly. Eventually we got there. We never got off the bikes. He shouted thanks and we went our separate ways
I’ll probably never know for sure what was wrong with his bike that day and that isn’t really important. Bikes break all the time. It’s their nature. What is important is that I helped him out because one day 30 years ago somebody helped my Dad and me out. And hopefully, the next time I break down, someone else will stop again.
Later that day, I pulled off to take a couple of pictures and nearly had to fight off well-meaning riders slowing to check on my wellbeing. I responded with a thumbs up and an apologetic shrug while holding up the camera and we all lived happily ever after. But it’s good to know they’re out there.
Conversely, I’ve stopped to help a driver who crossed the centerline and went off my side of the road. I thought the guy had a stroke or something. As I approached the car he bailed, the cops rolled up a minute later and the car was stolen, but I’m still here and I’m not afraid to lend a hand.