VIDEO: How to fix a motorcycle with a beer can and not hit a moose

We rolled to a stop on the gravel track. Our dust cloud caught up with us and swept passed. I raised my helmet shield and tasted the grit in my mouth. It savored it. The dust told me I wasn’t on pavement, I was in the woods, right where I wanted to be.

The other six riders in our mini convoy of Russian motorcycles took off their helmets and commenced to shoot the breeze. Some lit up smokes. The day was gray but the colors still sang on the trees. Nobody was in a hurry.

This year, for our annual fall campout and ride, we were in the woods west of Oquossoc, near Big Falls in Upper Cupsuptic. I arrived after dark the night before after narrowly missing a moose on Route 17, south of the Height of Land. I came so close I could have reached out and grabbed a tuft of fur on his rump. Luckily, I was fully loaded for camping and going uphill. My underpowered soviet steed was only making 35 mph in third gear. Still, I left skid marks. I won’t say exactly where, though.

That had been the only drama of the trip, so far.

My Soviet Steed sits trailside overlooking Flagstaff Lake from the north. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

My Soviet Steed sits trailside overlooking Flagstaff Lake from the north. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Back on the trailside, I removed my helmet and grabbed a water bottle from my sidecar while the others joked around. Taking a swig, I looked down between the bike and the tub. That’s when I saw it. The u-joint on my main drive shaft was a hurting unit. One of the caps had disintegrated and all the needle bearings had been flung to the breeze. That meant I had just one of two knuckles on that side of the connection. Not good.

That’s like saying one out of two of your bicycle tires is working. Sure, you can pull a wheelie and get home on one wheel, but there’s not much room for error. Plus, I was 12 or 15 miles in the woods.

Luckily, I wasn’t riding alone and I wasn’t riding with ordinary men. I was with a bunch of fellow Ruski sidecar nuts. We’re known for carrying tools and spare parts. It’s a necessity. Sure enough, Mike had a spare u-joint. I limped back to camp and commenced to tear the bike apart. It was a race against darkness.

My friends gathered round as I lay on the ground getting greasy. They walked me through the parts I’d never done. Thermos made me a taco. We didn’t have the proper tools for the job but Mike produced a c-clamp. Once I got the pieces apart, Scott played a tune on the u-joints with a big, red hammer provided by Keith. We all took turns adding colorful metaphors for encouragement.

After some accidental hammer damage inflicted on the picnic table and a few more choice words, Scott squeezed the final cap into place on the yoke. With a barely audible snap, the cap cracked and turned to metallic powder.

That left me nearly where I started, three knuckles intact, one broken. But there was a significant difference this time: the needle bearings were where they were supposed to be. All we needed to do was keep them in place. I decided a beer can would do nicely. I drained my Miller High Life and cut out the little lady dangling on the moon. She fit perfectly, like she’d been waiting for this call to duty her whole life. I thanked her, slathered some grease on her backside, snuggled her in place over the bearings and secured the aluminum disc with a snap ring. John and Pete held flashlights for me as I reassembled the my bike in the dark.

\The cap on the spare u-joint, provided by Mike, cracked in half as we tried to squeeze it back together with a c-clamp. I cut up a beer can and sealed the needle bearings behind a Miller High Life logo. It held for most of the next day. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

The cap on the spare u-joint, provided by Mike, cracked in half as we tried to squeeze it back together with a c-clamp. I cut up a beer can and sealed the needle bearings behind a Miller High Life logo. It held for most of the next day. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

My odd Russian sidecar bike might be slow. It might be hard to steer. It might be less reliable than a modern bike. But it keeps me from hitting moose and it’s led me to the best riding buddies I’ve had since I was a kid.

The next day, I was back on the trail, in the woods, right where I wanted to be.

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Troy R. Bennett

About Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.