Disaster Strikes: When Good Tigers Go Bad

Disaster Strikes: When Good Tigers Go Bad

So – why were we 2-up in this photo?

2-up on Route 1 in California

Well, I’ll tell you. But, let me preface this by saying I am not trying to bad-mouth anyone and not recommending a company be avoided. I am just telling the story from my point of view. It was a crap situation. Shit happens.


When Kenny and I rolled out of Shelter Cove, I felt a little melancholy because it was our last full day of riding our rental Triumph Tigers before they were due to be returned.

No surprise, the day started out beautifully. The weather was gorgeous, the sun was shining. You know, it was northern California.

Cape Mendocino Lighthouse - Shelter Cove

The day’s route would have us following the coast towards Timber Cove where we would be staying for the night. We decided on a nice leasurely ride with plenty of time to stop and look at things throughout the day. I wanted to stop at the Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, zip inland to see a Muffler Man in Willits and to try to catch lighting in a bottle twice by having a lovely lunch in Mendocino. We did all of those things.

all one - choose loveKenny and I saddled up after having lunch in Mendocino and started to make our way south along Route 1 toward Timber Cove. About 10 miles south of town, I blew the right turn that follows Route 1 at the intersection of Routes 128 and 1. I slowed down and pulled a quick U-ey and started heading back for it. I looked in the mirror to see Kenny on the side of the road. He hadn’t made a u-turn yet. I slowed and waited… and he still didn’t move. Weird. I rode back to him and heard that his bike was not running.

“What’s up?”

“The bike just cut out. It won’t start.”

He hit the starter button and the bike just made a whirrrrrr-chrp. It was a disengaged sound that made the little man who quietly pads around in your brain drinking coffee until there is an emergency hit the big red alarm button with gusto. ::whooooop::whooooop:::

Kenny pushed the bike down and across the road into a small turn out. He took off his helmet and began the process of trying to rationalize what could possibly be the problem. It seemed like the bike wasn’t getting any compression to turn over.

The time was about 2:30pm.

What did we know?

The bike had full electrics, lights, dashboard – check. The bike cut out when Kenny was on the gas going about 50mph. There hadn’t been any visible smoke at any time during the trip. Nothing was leaking. There hadn’t been any idiot lights on. The bike never had any trouble with hard starting or lazy cranking like a weakening battery.

When we left the rental shop, the agent made sure to go through the trouble of circling the telephone number to call should we need roadside assistance on our contract. So, that’s what we would do.

Unfortunately, we were in a spot that had no cell service. Kenny made the executive decision to have me ride back to Mendocino to call the rental place. He didn’t want me to stand on the side of the road alone with a dead bike to surely be eaten by a mountain lion. I’m far more meaty than he is. That boy is always thinkin’.

I tried to get as much information about what happened from Kenny to relay to the company and off I went. I watched Kenny fade in my mirror as I rode back to town to go about the business of calling in the trouble.

I parked across from a gas station, sat on the curb and called the rental desk. I did my best to explain the troubles we were having with as much detail as possible. I described how the bike cut out while Kenny was doing about 50mph, there was no smoke, all lights and the dash are working fine. When you hit the starter button, it made a whirrrrr-chrp sound like nothing is engaging to start the bike.

“Sounds like the battery.”

Now, I openly admit that don’t know much about mechanics – but I felt very strongly that it wasn’t the battery and said as much. The bike was lit up like a Christmas tree, died under power and there was that sound…

I know that it is difficult at best to make heads or tails of what is really happening to a motorcycle based on what someone is telling you over the telephone. So, I tried to be open to what they were suggesting.

Their First Suggestion:

Ride back to Kenny, take the battery out of my bike and try it in his bike. Then take the battery back out, button up my bike and ride 20 minutes back to Mendocino where I could get a cell signal and call them back to tell them if it worked. Then if that worked they would call someplace local to find a battery for me. Based on the time and my gut feeling that it really wasn’t a battery problem, I let them know that I wasn’t doing that.

I again pressed that it didn’t seem like a battery issue. The rental agent pressed back, based on my description of the events. They were going to talk more to their tech and asked if they could call me back.

So, I sat on the curb waiting for their call and wondering if Kenny had been abducted by Bigfoot. I kept the tiniest particle of hope in my heart that he would  come wheeling in to town like Prince Charming but, he didn’t. Instead the clock just ticked… ticked… ticked… When you’re waiting for something, the time slows to to a glacial pace.

Their Second Suggestion:

When the shop called back, they again pushed that it sounded like a battery issue. They told me that they’d found a battery 10 miles north in Fort Bragg and  asked me if I wanted to ride there, pick it up and bring it to Kenny to try it out.  I reiterated that it didn’t seem like a battery problem and if I ride back to Fort Bragg, get this battery and it doesn’t fix the problem – the rental place will have closed and we’ll be futzing around in the quickly approaching dark on the side of the road. I wasn’t doing that.

Now, I wasn’t trying to be difficult but my gut was telling me it wasn’t the battery. I really just wanted them to come and get their dead bike. Unfortunately I got the distinct feeling that coming to get their dead bike was the last thing they wanted to do.

I suppose one of the things that really rubbed me wrong about the whole exchange is that it was just a matter of circumstance that we were two travelers together. If he was alone and had gotten a lift into town from a stranger, would they have asked him to thumb a ride to pick up a frickin’ battery in Fort Bragg to try out?

Third Suggestion – Mine:

I am all for trying to get yourself out of trouble but it was apparent to both Kenny and myself that we weren’t fixing whatever was wrong with his bike on the side of the road. I asked them to send someone to pick the bike up. I knew they were absolutely saving this as a last resort and I suppose I can’t blame them. But the reality was that it wasn’t our fault that the bike shit the bed.

They agreed to come and get the bike. I described where we were since I had a good indicator as I had just blown the turn for Route 1 at the intersection of 128 & 1.

They asked if they could call me back again. ..tick..tick..tick…

Based on where we were the rental agent said it would be about 5 hours before a flatbed would reach us. They mentioned that it would be ideal if we could wait with the bike but they would understand if we didn’t. If we were going to leave it, that we should lock it up and roll it to a safe place.

There was no way that we were going to be waiting 5 hours for a flatbed to pick it up. I told them we’d be putting all the luggage on my bike and continuing on 2-up and that we’d see them the following day when our rental time was up.


When I got back to Kenny, a little more than 2 hours had passed since I’d left him. He was on the side of the road, jacket off, luggage off the bike, pacing like a caged tiger. I relayed what went down on the phone and his first words were – “it isn’t the fucking battery.”

He then looked at me and said – you were gone so long, I started to wonder if something happened to you. I have no way of calling your phone, you couldn’t call me,  I’m stuck here wondering. I hadn’t considered that angle but I could see his point. How romantic.

Do You Believe in Small Miracles?

In the grand scheme of things if we were going to run in to trouble, we really lucked out. When I thought about some of the remote northern areas we’d been in that also had no cell service, we really could’ve been a lot more “stuck” than we were there near Mendocino.

Not only that, but we were due to return the bikes the following day. We’d gotten nearly our full week completed.

And as it turned out because Kenny and I chose different luggage options, we were able to put all 3 Givi cases on my bike. We didn’t have to leave anything behind. He had chosen 2 sidebags and I opted for only the top box. Whew!

Now Comes the Terror – I am a Terrible Passenger

Kenny sat astride my Tiger. I was supposed to somehow get myself onto the back of it. Hmm. The Givi sidecases rendered the passenger pegs almost unusable. A graceful ballerina-like pivot up onto the pillion seat landing as softly as a butterfly would not be possible.

So long old Tiger

I made a few herky-jerky dance step motions trying to figure out just how I was going to hoist my elephantine self up there. Visions of me knocking us and the bike ass over tea kettle came flooding in. I can only assume that it was a swift fleet of invisible roadside ninjas that must’ve aided in my mount because I was up and we were still rubber-side down.

With one last glance back at the lame bike on the side of the road, off we went. We two on one Tiger. Poor Kenny had to put up with my nervous cringing and thigh tightening all the way.

In what could only be described as a colossal feat of strength, I managed to not shit my pants during the terrifying 65 mile ride to the Timber Cove Inn.

We made it in time to watch the sun set from our room’s patio.

Our patio at Timber Cove


Fast forward to the following morning when we pulled into the rental office. The dead Tiger was just being unloaded off of the flatbed and was wheeled into the garage when we rolled in. I got the distinct feeling that our arrival into the office was not nearly as friendly as it was when we’d arrived to head off on our journey a week prior.

Kenny again went over what happened with the bike when it died. The rental agent turned on the key and pressed the starter button. Whirrrrrr-chrp

“Yeah, that sounds like the battery. I’ve seen a dead battery do some strange things,” the rental agent said. Kenny just dropped the subject and we gathered our things  and got ready to leave.

At this point, we were pretty much much left alone. We watched the tech wheel the bike back and take a few preliminary jabs at it and then plug it in to a diagnostic tool. And we two… just sat.

Finally, someone else said – “Do you need something else?”
Kenny said that he didn’t realize we were done and asked if we needed to sign anything to which we were told “Nope,” and they offered to call us a cab.

When we got in the cab, Kenny looked at me and said, “What the fuck was that? They sure weren’t as friendly as when we picked the bikes up. They made it seem like we did something wrong.” I quickly said, “Yea! I thought the same thing.” I guess it wasn’t my imagination.

I don’t know if they were pissed off that they had to go pick up the bike and eat the cost of that towing, were worried we were going to freak out or what – but it was a cold shoulder.

Whatever. We still managed 6 days of beautiful riding memories. They far outweighed the few bad hours.


Oh, right. For those of you still playing along at home – the bike lost it’s CCT and grenaded 2 valves.

22 Replies to “Disaster Strikes: When Good Tigers Go Bad”

  1. What an incredible post! It had drama, suspense, humor….afternoon coffee breaks are never exciting but today’s while reading that was f’kn awesome!

    You’ve set the bar high once again for us motorcycling bloggers to aspire to literary greatness!

    1. Agreed, but I gave up trying to live up to Fuzzy-standards a while ago. Gotta do what I can to preserve what little sanity’s left here!

      Fuzz, right there with ya on front seat hooligan, back seat scaredy-cat. Stupid coincidence: my cam chain tensioner came loose and screwed the hell out of my poor 250’s guts two weeks ago. Got me a piston for a desk ornament. Can’t buy that at IKEA now can ya?

      Glad the holiday was overall a success at least!

      1. You’re going to give me a complex! 😆

        Yea, I don’t know how people surrender to riding pillion all the time. It’s awful!

        I’m sorry to hear that this is similar trouble to what you’re going through. What a complete drag.

  2. Bugger! A shame for your trip to end that way.

    Also, very interesting that the “techs” thought that the starter motor could turn over with a dead battery…

    1. Hi Andrew-

      Overall, we felt okay about it because we ended up with more ticks in the “To Be Thankful For” column. Sure, I wish it didn’t happen at all but things really could have been a lot worse, more remote and far more inconvenient for a breakdown.

      I know the chips were stacked against them having any idea what was really wrong with the bike. There was also the disadvantage of me having to call them (3rd party info – i didn’t experience the failure) and not being near the bike when calling. In hindsight – I almost feel like they shouldn’t have bothered trying to talk a person through what their thoughts were. Just dispatch someone to help!

      The misplaced confidence in knowing what the trouble was, was irritating.

  3. good story. my wife found your pillion story funny. I think she’s done 5k or 6k back there. she says she likes it because she can relax and enjoy the view. lol. such different perspectives

  4. That is one heck of a story, I can see Kenny saying “It isn’t the fucking battery” LOL. Glad you still managed to get in a lot of fun in the day and as you said it could have been a lot worse!

  5. Lunch in Mendocino is always great with my sweet <3

    My thoughts, for what they are worth: I knew it wasn't the battery – my gut immediately told me "Either the cam chain just jumped a tooth or it snapped". Odd that the battery could have gone but the bike would continue to crank over 🙂 When they took the bike in, their tech hooked it up to a jumper system plugged into the wall and it was cranking, making the same labored cranking/chirping sound, and they were still telling me it was probably the battery 🙂

    The reality is that even if I was a master mechanic and had a roller filled with tools on the side of the road, it's not my responsibility to fix it there. If I rented a car and it broke down, the car rental company wouldn't have me under the hood pulling parts off the motor because they new I owned a few cars at home.

    In the end, it was a great trip and I am thankful that it imploded on our last day and later on in the day at that – if we had crapped out while we were on Hot Springs Drive, where it was 115 degrees, we would've been in real trouble. I'd still rent from them, if they'd rent to us 🙂 I just wish the whole situation had gone a little more "favorable".

  6. I think you handled the situation incredibly well. It is so frustrating when people tell you what is wrong and you know damn well and good that isn’t the problem. I am glad you found out the real culprit. I bet being wrong really ‘stuck in their craw’, ha ha.

    It is unfortunate that the rental company treated you that way, but me thinks you won’t be using them next time you are out that way.

    I am glad that it came at the end of the trip.

    And yes, getting on a fully loaded Tiger as a pillion rider is an art form. And thanks for agreeing those passenger pegs are almost useless with side cases. I tell Troubadour if we go two up for any reason if he wants to go fast, he has to take the side cases off so I have some grip with something other than my heel.

    1. My stints of getting on the back of a bike are pretty far apart, so I couldn’t figure out if it’s best to try to get on with the toe on the peg or the heel. It just seemed so awkward!

      You’re a far braver woman than I am, T. I don’t think I’d be volunteering to hop back up there any time soon!

  7. Sorry to learn of your hardship, but glad that you shared it as it made wonderful reading. (I’m guessing that’s not a big consolation). I do wish you’d have named the rental co., though. It deserves to be called out for such customer “service”. Nothing against Kenny, who I’m sure is an excellent pilot, but you’re brave. I haven’t ridden as a passenger since about 1972 (rode a lot on back of Dad’s bikes); not sure I could do it now. Put me in that situation on the roads you were on and I’d probably walk, or hitch-hike and take my chances on getting picked up by Charles Manson’s crazier brother.

    1. I hear you, Doug – But my intention isn’t to “hurt” them. I just want to air my story out. It’s been sitting on the back burner for months as I waffled over whether I should say anything.

      I don’t wish them to lose business – i just wish more than anything that we didn’t get the brush off when we returned to the garage. Well, I wish it didn’t take more than an hour for them to agree to pick their bike up, too. But the cold shoulder – that was insult to injury.

  8. “Oh, right. For those of you still playing along at home – the bike lost it’s CCT and grenaded 2 valves”

    Did the rental company volunteer this information to you or did you have to harass them some more?

  9. Doesn’t speak well of Triumph, does it? Yet it’s the first negative thing I’ve heard about the Tiger’s power plant.

    A rental company that would give you two so much grief deserves to be outed to the riding community, I hope you’ll consider telling us who treated you so poorly.
    I feel your annoyance at having your mechanical knowledge taken so lightly. Battery indeed.

    An excellent story, thank you!

    1. I don’t know if i point to Triumph directly. With over 40K miles on the clock of a rental bike, could it have been chalked up to failed maintenance of a problem that showed signs of potential long before the 6 days we had the bike? Maybe. I really have no idea. I have no answers.

      I don’t want to “hurt” them as a company. I really don’t. That just isn’t my way and I would get nothing out of it, not even satisfaction.

      I just wanted to get this story off my chest. I’ve held it in for months wondering if I was in the wrong for being irritated – If i was being unreasonable at not wanting us to fix their problem. Even if it WAS the battery – is it the renters obligation to fix it?

      Thanks for reading & for the feedback, Jenn. I appreciate it 🙂

  10. Whenever anything goes wrong on a motorised vehicle the first assumption is the battery. With all vehicles getting more complex with their electrical systems, it stands to reason that there are more things that may malfunction.
    It’s always annoying when something like this happens, we know from experience, but the thing is you found a solution to your problem and you can store this experience for future reference.
    If ever we get the treatment from a business like you did, they never get our custom again. I’m sure there will be other motorcycle hire firms around the area if/when you return.
    As you say, at least it was near the end of your holiday, unlike what happened to us last September. Bl**dy electrics, on the Guzzi 1100 injection!

  11. Surprise, surprise another Tiger rental wont start. Sounds like the Tiger we hired for our trip around New Zealand. It was a real piece of junk.

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