Because Breaking Down With Your Riding Buddies Can Be Fun Too! | MEGAPHONE

The Unofficial SCH/TT Beater Bike Tour – Yes, that’s how you say it! And the “Snowball’s Chance in Hell” ride is as fun as it sounds!

"Even though we spent as much time on the side of the road turning wrenches as in the saddle twisting wrists, it proved one of the most memorable weekends any of us had ever spent on two wheels."

Most riders spend hours on preventative maintenance before a big ride, refreshing fluids, lubing cables, and checking valve clearances all in an effort to specifically avoid roadside breakdowns. But what would happen if you turned this conventional wisdom upside down? What if you actively courted mechanical failure? What adventures would ensue when setting off on bikes purposely chosen for their likelihood of breaking down?

Roadside repairs were expected. Fortunately, there are few places prettier to breakdown than Wisconsin’s Driftless region.

These were the questions asked last year when a core group of my motorcycle buddies concocted the “Snowball’s Chance in Hell TT” (or SCH/TT, pronounced “sh—ty”), a two-day, 600-mile backroad tour on the least reliable motorcycles we could muster. Like any proper adventure, the SCH/TT was born of equal parts boredom, bravado, and bulls—t, all fueled by the realization that the most memorable rides are not those where everything goes right but, rather, those where everything goes wrong instead.

This particular group, a shambles of (mostly) expert riders—and, not coincidentally, ace mechanics—know this lesson better than most. These are guys who have been lost at the bottom of the Copper Canyon after dark and have broken down on Argentina’s Altiplano, guys who have un-wadded roadracers between red flags and rebuilt blown-up flat trackers in time to make the main. Guys you can count on to get you there—and bring you back.

Like Justice Stewart’s famously obtuse definition of pornography (“I just know it when I see it”), SCH/TT eligibility is nebulous. Any bike can qualify, provided it has a history of breaking down or, better yet, no known history at all. Dirty Dave’s Honda Dream prequalified for this year’s ride by being the first bike to break last year, when a ground wire severed. Same with my ’72 Moto Guzzi V7 Sport, a legendarily unreliable bike that busted twice last year (exhaust bracket and shift linkage). After failing to get his vintage Sportster started, Baker awakened his RZ350 for the first time in 10 years, riding on rock-hard rubber with a backpack full of extra plugs. Slo scared up a horrendously rusted ’80s Ascot single that spent the past decade under an apartment stairway, doused with de-icing salt each winter, for $50. The newest bike was a Buell Ulysses, a last-second sub when Craig’s 1980-ish Gold Wing refused to start. You know the ride is a real s—tshow when an air-cooled Buell is the cheater bike.

This year’s ride began on a perfectly sunny, 70-degree September Saturday. The first stretch from Milwaukee to Madison passed slowly, limited by the 60-mph top speed of the little Dream and Altmann’s tired Triumph Tiger 100. Unbelievably, we made it to the far side of Blue Mound, about 125 miles, before the first mechanical. No one was surprised it was the vintage Harley-Davidson Pan/Shovel mashup, another SCH/TT veteran that broke owner Scott Johnson’s leg last year when it suffered a freak front-tire blowout. Scott couldn’t make this year’s ride so Ronny Z., who recently relocated to California and thus was without a bike in the Midwest, borrowed it. First it jettisoned a footpeg. A few miles later, the steampunk-looking external fuel line sprung a leak, necessitating a stop at a nearby Farm & Fleet to buy copper plumbing bits. The third strike, a broken exhaust stud that ejected the rear header, proved fatal.

Our spare SCH/TT bike, a mid-’80s Yamaha Radian, transported Ronny to our overnight in Cassville on the Mississippi, where he was awarded a special trophy—a home-taxidermy dead mouse flask full of bottom-shelf whiskey—for suffering the first (and second, and third) breakdown.

The next day’s ride home was a race of attrition, the most drama coming from WFO’s cosmetically perfect but mechanically corrupt VF500F Interceptor that slowly lost all the spring from its air-sprung rear shock then carbureted less and less with each additional mile. I’m embarrassed to admit the Guzzi made it home without incident—grounds for permanent disqualification from future SCH/TTs. An unsprung throttle assembly kept Dirty Dave’s Dream in the running for at least another year though.

Even though we spent as much time on the side of the road turning wrenches as in the saddle twisting wrists, it proved one of the most memorable weekends any of us had ever spent on two wheels. Here’s to making the best of the worst-laid plans.

Roadside repairs were expected. Fortunately, there are few places prettier to breakdown than Wisconsin’s Driftless region.