When A Good Helmet Goes Bad

I was happy with my Scorpion EXO-700 for about two years. That changed recently when I was 70 miles into a 500 mile road trip and my trusty Scorpion crapped out. In hindsight, maybe I should have seen this epic fail coming before the helmet literally fell apart.

I was riding south on a narrow two lane, facing a lot of north bound semi traffic. Suddenly, the wind behind one these monsters ripped opened my face shield. My sunglasses deflected most of the 70mph wind and I pulled the shield down again. Weird, that's never happened before, I thought. But, it would happen again.

After the third incident, I was pretty unhappy with the helmet. I pulled off the highway and into a parking lot to see what was wrong. I removed my helmet and flipped up the face shield which promptly fell off, along with the shield pivots on each side of the helmet. Now, the problem was obvious.

The face shield pivots are mounted on each side of the helmet with two plastic screws. The heads of all four screws had broken off. Not good news since I was not in a place to fix it. So, I picked up the scattered pieces and parts, put on my sunglasses, and rode on without a face shield.

Back at home, I had replacement screws, but the broken screws were stuck in the helmet. The longer I messed with them, the less I cared about fixing it. Frustrated, I pulled out a spare helmet and chucked the broken one into the closet. I may mess with it again, later.

Here are a couple pics of an unbroken EXO-700 highlighting these plastic screws. The pic below shows the helmet with the shield installed.

When these screws break, the entire pivot assembly shown below (circled in red) falls off. On my helmet, all four failed and that is odd. This helmet was never abused and had little wear, since I use a couple of other helmets, as well. There is no reason the helmet should have fallen apart like this.

For those wearing the Scorpion EXO-700, pay attention to those plastic mount screws on the face shield pivots. Be sure to carry the spare screws with you and stash a pair of sunglasses or goggles on your bike. They can get you home again when a good helmet goes bad.

Adventures on the Streets of Butte

On the second day of the Evel Knievel festival, uptown Butte was alive with the sights, sounds, and smells of a carnival. Street vendors offered everything from hotdogs, hamburgers, and tacos to ice cream, lemonade and cold beer. I wandered down the street soaking up the atmosphere, as people of all ages shopped, ate, drank and enjoyed the beautiful day.

Along with the food, were t-shirts, riding gear, hand bags, and new tattoos. Something for everyone. Dwight Yoakam's Guitars, Cadillacs blared on one street, while on the next block over, the Scorpions' Rock You Like A Hurricane blasted the crowd that bustled in the street. In case you forgot the occasion for this revelry, giant images of Evel Knievel gazed down from various buildings.

There was also plenty of free entertainment on the street. A group of motocross riders performed a stunt show and risked their lives in true Evel Knievel fashion. The large crowd was very impressed when three of them raced side-by-side up the ramps and back-flipped their bikes in unison. Click the picture below to see a video of these guys in action.

Later in the afternoon, a couple of  Harley riders put on another stunt exhibition. These bikes were really loud which was good since "loud pipes save lives" and both of these riders risked serious injury to entertain the crowd. Click the picture below for a short video of them showing their stuff.

That evening, I joined the parade of bikes to cruise the Evel Knievel Loop around Butte. The Harleys dominated this event with a smattering of other bikes including one KLR, a Kawi dirt bike, and a modified Honda scooter. Click the picture below to see the ride video.

The procession of bikes moved through Butte as police cars and fire trucks guarded the intersections, so the parade had no interruptions. Most memorable, were the crowds along the streets that waved and cheered as we passed. It was great to be treated like a hero for just showing up to ride! This experience alone would have made the trip to Butte worthwhile, but I had one other stop to make.

Mountain View Cemetery is on Harrison Avenue, just south of I-90 in Butte. When you enter the cemetery,  a couple of signs point the way down a tree lined drive to Evel's final resting place. I stopped Sally in front of the head stone and killed the motor. Nobody else was around and I think it worked out better that way.

I took a few pictures and sat down in the grass nearby. I had followed the memory of my boyhood hero for several hundred miles to reach this place and I was in no hurry to leave. It just seemed right to sit alone under the trees and enjoy the solitude.

First Day in Butte - Evel Knievel Museum

I reached Butte, Montana on Thursday evening ready to hit Evel Knievel Days the next morning. Friday was day two of the event and over breakfast I scanned the local paper for the day's agenda.

Everything was happening in historic uptown Butte where I found about a million Harleys lining the streets. I wondered if I could be on the only KLR in town. Never afraid to stand out from the crowd, I parked just down the street from the Evel Knievel museum.

Late in life Evel had expressed his hope that all of his memorabilia could be displayed in a single Evel Knievel Museum. But that never happened. Instead, collectibles from his daredevil career are scattered among various private museums and private collections all over the U.S.

Evel Knievel Enterprises is one of these small museums with a respectable collection and some nice displays. Admittance was free, which was an unexpected surprise. So, I contributed to the museum's donation box and was happy to see many other folks doing the same. 

The place was packed with a lot of middle age or older men who were patiently followed by bored looking wives, girl friends, or daughters. These were the people who remember Knievel's glory days and were part of the Evel Knievel mania that effected kids of the 1970s. 

The main attractions in this museum were several Harley Davidsons that Evel rode in various performances. To me, these bikes were "the survivors." I imagined the forgotten wrecks from his failed jumps rusting in pieces in some scrap yard.

I also learned that Evel's son, Robbie is testing a new Canyon Sky Cycle and may attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon on September 8th, 2014. That date will be the 40th anniversary of his dad's failed Snake River Canyon jump.  

Also on display were many of Evel's leathers, helmets, and autographed photos. There were also other "odd ball" memorabilia, such as x-rays of some of his injuries. I was not overly interested in the x-rays, because something else had already captured my attention. 

One of my favorite pieces was this Evel Knievel pinball machine that was originally released by Bally in 1977. I would've loved to have dropped in a quarter and played some pinball. But, it was my first day in town and I didn't want to get thrown out of any establishment, just yet. 

Evel Knievel Ride Day 2: Pompey's Pillar

My second day on the road through Montana, I stopped at Pompey's Pillar National Monument. The large rock butte sets beside the Yellowstone River, just outside of Billings. There is a lot of history here and it is worth the stop if you pass this way on I-94.

Pompey's Pillar is noteworthy because it holds the only existing physical evidence of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. During the explorers' return journey, William Clark carved his name into the rock here, and mentioned this place in his journal. By dumb luck, I just happened to visit on the 207th anniversary of the day Clark carved his name in history.

From his journal we know William Clark gave this place its name. The expedition's Native American guide Sakakawea, carried her infant son with her on the journey. Clark took a liking to the infant and nicknamed the child "Pompey." From that, he named this butte "Pompey's Pillar."

There are approximately 200 stairs that lead to a viewing platform at the top of the pillar. The view of the Yellowstone River and Montana country side is really amazing. It occurred to me that William Clark saw this same view (almost the same) 207 years ago.

Another historical tidbit, in 1873 Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and his men were camped across the Yellowstone from Pompey's Pillar when they were attacked by the Sioux Indians who were firing from the base of the pillar.

Today, Pompey's Pillar is more civilized than when Clark or Custer were here, thanks to the efforts of the National Park Service. There is an air conditioned visitor's center with a gift shop. I appreciated that air conditioning since it was nearly 100 degrees that day.

Outside, I braved the heat and wondered down the cement path that led to the Yellowstone River. A gentle breeze stirred the leaves of the giant cottonwood trees and it was noticeably cooler near the water. I lingered a few minutes in the shade and watched the fast moving Yellowstone flow northeast toward North Dakota. A few minutes of peace, then it was time to go. 

Back in the parking lot, the burning sun bore down and I dreaded getting back into my riding gear. But, refilled my Camel Bak with cool water from the visitor's center and got ready to ride. I hated to admit it, but there was a schedule to keep regardless of the temperature. Butte, Montana was about 250 miles to the west and I needed to be there by evening.

Waves of heat radiated up from the black parking lot as I rolled away from Pompey's Pillar. I would have liked to spent a couple more hours soaking up the history and air conditioning on this stop. These is just never enough time for everything on the road, but this shortened visit it gives me a reason to come this way again.

Evel Knievel Ride Day 1: A Close Call

A few miles outside of Glendive, Montana, I raced west on Interstate 94 trying to outrun a thunderstorm coming from the north. A cold, gusty, wind pushed from the right, but the bike handled it just fine. The storm had changed direction and moved out ahead me as I rode on.

Suddenly, a sharp wind gust pushed me into the left lane. With no traffic around, I simply steered back to the right side of the road. Then a "sledgehammer" gust slammed me from the right and the bike swerved sharply to the left. There was no correcting this time, I was being blown off the road. What happened next seemed in slow motion.

The bike leaned sharply toward the wind and I knew it would dump on the loose gravel shoulder. To avoid this, I steered sharply to the left, straightened up the bike and rode it off the pavement and into the median at over 60mph. As the front wheel dropped off the pavement I had two very clear thoughts. The first was "This is it, I'm going to die right here."  Then, as I plowed down into the deep grass between the east and west lanes of the interstate, I thought, "Dump it here."

But, instead of dumping, I hit the brakes. The back wheel locked and fish tailed slightly, but was very controlled. I was on the front brake, but did not lock it. As I crossed the median, my eyes were glued on two semi trucks barreling side-by-side toward me on the east side of the interstate. They were gonna smear me all over the road.

Then suddenly, the front tire slammed into the raised edge of the east side pavement and the bike jolted to a stop. Two seconds later the trucks blasted past me. I had both feet down, the bike was upright, and I was still alive. Suddenly, my heart felt like it would pound out of my chest and I was breathing very hard. I slowly released the front brake and turned the key off. I don't know how long I sat there waiting to calm down, but several cars passed before I turned the bike around, restarted it and rode back on to the west side of the interstate. I needed to move before the worst of the storm hit.

An overpass was about a quarter mile away and I slowly nursed the KLR under it and off of the highway. Just beyond my shelter, white flower petals were blowing across the road. How strange - then I realized it was hail blowing sideways in the wind. I killed the bike and sat next to a support pillar under the bridge to avoid the blasting wind, rain, and hail.

An hour passed before the storm blew over and I was ready to ride again. Maybe I was in shock from my close call, but the remaining ride to Miles City seems like a dream. I rode slowly with no other traffic around and it was nearly dark when I reached town.

In McDonalds parking lot, an older man approached from the restaurant patio and stuck out his hand, "I am a Gold Wing rider," he said as an introduction, "you're getting in late, aren't you?" I shook his hand and told him about my close call. "You are lucky to be here telling about it." he said. I agreed.

He (I never got his name) told me another severe thunderstorm with high winds and large hail was expected to hit Miles City very shortly - not what I wanted to hear, I planned to tent camp that night. Instead, I checked into the Econolodge and found shelter for the bike before the powerful thunderstorm slammed Miles City with strong winds, pouring rain, and pea sized hail. By 1am the night sky was clear and I was ready for some sleep. This had been a memorable first day on the road. Tomorrow I would head on to Butte.  

Evel Knievel Ride Day 1: Storms Ahead

Evel Knievel was my boyhood hero and like many other boys in the 1970's I jumped my bicycle over many plywood ramps. So, I could not miss the chance to visit Evel's hometown of Butte, Montana for the city's celebration of her favorite son.

I packed my cameras, camping gear, and a few clothes on the KLR and hit the road. The plan for Day 1 was to reach Miles City, Montana and camp for the night. The following day I would finish the run to Butte where Evel Knievel Days would be in progress. I picked up Interstate 94 as it crosses North Dakota and made my first stop at New Salem, ND.

The small town of New Salem is home to New Salem Sue, the world's largest Holstein cow. The giant fiberglass attraction sets high on a butte just outside of town and is visible for several miles in all directions. 

The KLR handled great as I climbed the steep, rutted, gavel road that led to the parking lot below New Salem Sue. The giant Holstein was impressive and as a bonus, the hill provided a sweeping view of the wide, green, North Dakota country side.

Before getting back on the road, I stopped for gas and met a couple from Minneapolis. Jim and Judy were going home after a bike rally in Salem, Oregon. On their way to the rally, Jim rode his BWM R1200 while Judy followed in the car. The BMW broke down in Miles City, Montana and the closest BMW shop was in Minneapolis or Sturgis. Either of these was a long way in the wrong direction. So, they stored the bike in Miles City and drove to the rally. Now, they were going home, with the BMW in a U-Haul van. While Jim washed the windows of the rental truck, Judy told me, "He is really pissed and swears he is going back to Japanese bikes." I asked if he was serious and she replied, "I don't know, he is just mad about putting $91 of gas in that U-Haul van." I could certainly understand that We wished each other safe journeys and I headed west.

A few miles from the Montana state line I stopped at the Painted Canyon Vistor's Center of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This is a popular stop along Interstate 94 and provides a fantastic view of the North Dakota badlands that form a portion of the national park.

At the visitor center, a young couple in a pickup truck with Minnesota plates parked next to me. The woman got out and took off with her camera. The man stood in a nearby grassy area with a small, fluffy, white dog on a pink leash. As he did not look happy as he aimlessly wandered with the dog and he kept stealing quick glances toward where I stood next to the KLR. 

Finally, he led the dog toward me and asked, "Where you headed?" 
I replied, "Miles City today and Butte tomorrow."
He nodded and said, "That's the way to travel - alone. Only need to stop for two reasons." 
I laughed and replied, "Gas and bathrooms." 
He smiled, nodded again and wandered off with the dog. The poor guy was still wandering around with the dog when I fired up my bike and rolled out of the parking lot and back onto I-94.

Entering Montana was a milestone since I had never ridden in this state. My next stop would be Makoshika State Park near Glendive, Montana. But, a few miles outside of Glendive, a line of dark, ragged, clouds appeared in the northwestern sky. Soon, the wind picked up and I could feel it pushing the bike. Down the road ahead were dark streaks of rain with lightening bolts shooting from those clouds. The storm was a few miles ahead and to my right, but was quickly moving across my path. I thought it would reach Glendive before before me.

Dark storm clouds filled the sky as I rolled into town. I wanted to keep riding, but pulled off the interstate and stopped at a gas station for a weather update. The Cenex attendant assured me the storm was moving southeast and only the edge of it would hit Glendive. Most of the storm was already behind me and he thought I could reach Miles City without any trouble from the weather.

Back outside, thunder, lightening, and rain were rapidly approaching. The storm would be here soon. Should I stay and wait out the storm or push on to Miles City? The edge of the storm was clearly visible a few miles to the west. Beyond that, the sky was clear. I guessed that I could easily outrun the storm on the interstate.

As thunder and lighting closed in on Glendive, I decided skip Makoshika State Park and finish my run to Miles City. Missing the park was a disappointment, but could stop here on my return trip. I fired up the KLR and accelerated down the I-94 on-ramp toward Miles City. This was a bad decision that almost killed me.

To be continued...