Where we would sleep the night after the start of the great flat tire adventure depended on who had a Michelin 170/60 ZR17 Road Pilot 4 GT. After about a half hour of calling shops located in ever longer ridges from Fort Bragg, California, it seemed that we weren’t going anywhere because their answers to my question were all the same: Nope. We don’t have on of those.
Then I called Ozzie’s BMW in Chico, California. Chris answered the phone and said, “How can we help you?” On my 15th phone call of the morning, I told him “I have a sad story to tell you. I’m a BMW rider from Wisconsin,” and while taking a breath to speak my next phrase, he interjected, “That is a sad story!”
His humor and our shared laugh burst the cyst of anxiety that had been growing in my mind all morning. After explaining what I needed, he asked me to hold on for a second. When he returned to the phone, he said, “Yup, we got one.” Worried about covering the distance between here than there, he said his tech made the run to Fort Bragg often, and that it took him 4 hours. It was 11 a.m., and they closed at 5 p.m. You’ll make it in plenty of time. This was reassuring, because like most motorcycle shops, Ozzie’s is closed in Sundays and Mondays.
My cyst of anxiety started building earlier that morning when I couldn’t get a hold of anyone at Street, Track & Trail, when I made a local call from our room at the Pine Beach Inn. That was all that was available in the Twilight Zone of no cell coverage. If you want to know where it is, look at Verizon’s coverage map, and the pinpoint of no-coverage white is were we spent the night.
On my fourth call, the mechanic answered the phone at 9:30 a.m. and said that they didn’t open until 10 a.m. He also said that he patched my rear tire the night before, “when I was working on a motor; I sprayed it this morning, and it’s still bubbling.” I told him to tube it, and he said someone would come and get me shortly after they opened. My ride, Casey, showed up shortly after 10 and took me to the shop, where the mech was tightening the wheel bolts with a pneumatic impact wrench.
The kind and helpful people at Street, Track & Trail,, who serve the backcountry bike community, mitigated what could have been an anguishing trial of patience and finances. For all their good work, picking up Blue, and then me, and patching and then tubing the tire, they charged me just $127. And it was the nice innkeeper on the desk at the Pine Beach Inn that made the initial phone call, calling the owner by her first name. It’s just another example of the nice people you find in small towns.
Speaking of which, on this journey so far we have met an endless succession of nice, friendly, pleasant, helpful people of all ages, races, and ethnic origins. It has been an alternate universe from the social media cesspool of narcissistic outrage and zero-sum ideology I wade through every morning for my online clients. My face-to-face meetings with diverse Americans has planted a seed of hope for our shared future.
But I digress. Ed rolled in just after I talked to Chris at Ozzie’s, and we hit the road for Chico without breakfast or coffee. All that mattered was getting there safely before the shop closed. All of the service people I talked to had experience with tubing tubeless tires to get riders to new rubber, and they all agreed that it was safe, “If I didn’t get crazy.” They didn’t define crazy. The thought of it sent my pucker factor into the yellow zone.
Naturally, the shortest connection between the two cities was CA 20, a twisty turny road through the mountains. I did my best not to be crazy. I can’t say the same for the people we saw parked by the roadside to watch a baby brush fire mature. A few, most of them driving pickups, grabbed shovels from the beds and went to work. The fire department wasn’t on the scene yet, but a bit farther east a fire truck, decorated with flashing red lights dancing to the siren’s wail, roared past us on its way west. “I know where he’s going,” Ed said.
At a gas stop, Ed stayed to suck down some Gatorade and suck up some air conditioning. For me it was a NASCAR pit stop, and I continued my race through the 100-degree heat. I walked in the door of Ozzie’s BMW at 3:15, and it like coming home. After introduction, Chris asked if the key was in the bike, and said that they’d get to work on it. I hauled my saddle bags and trunk into the showroom and proceeded to drain their water cooler.
Ozzie’s BMW has been serving riders since 1977, and the crew there taught me an important lesson. Family businesses don’t have customers, they have friends, even those, like us, that they have just met for the first time. Ed arrived about 20 minutes after me, and he started talking to Mike, a burly guy with working man’s hands, about a buzzing vibration in his throttle that has been annoying him since we left Wisconsin two weeks ago.
Discussing the possible causes, Mike told Ed to pull his bike into the shop and they’d put it on the analyzer. Ed demurred, not wanting to take Mike away from his work. Mike wouldn’t hear of it. “It’s what we do here.” And in minutes Ed’s 1150R was wired up and running through the tests. Mike spent about a half hour diagnosing the possible causes. They didn’t find the source of the vibration, but the cut the number of possible causes in half. He didn’t ask for any money, and he didn’t try to sell him anything. Later, we found out that Mike was Ozzie’s son, and that Ozzie had passed a few years ago.
While Mike worked on Ed’s bike, I saw Blue up on the stand, and asked it I could watch the technician reinstall the rear wheel with its brand new Michelin Road Pilot 4 GT tire. I’d never seen this process before, because my home shop, another family business, doesn’t allow customers in the shop, for insurance reasons, their sign says. Not a problem, the said. And when it came time to tighten the wheel bolts, the tech reached not for an impact wrench, but a torque wrench, and set it to the BMW specs. And without asking, the tech gave Blue a quick physical, from tire pressures and fluid levels to the pertinent fasteners.
Settling up with Chris, I snagged an Ozzie’s key fob from the BMW coffee mug on the counter. It replaced the Hondo National Bank fob I got in 2006, when my original fob broke on my first long trip with Blue. It was in the goodie bag given to media covering the Texas Fly-In. It was on that trip that I had my first ever flat tire, also the rear. I didn’t realize it until I got home to Wisconsin, however. I should have listened to Bruce Bohannon, who noticed that it was low when I stopped at his field outside Houston for an interview. Suffering from an intestinal bug I’d caught at the fly-in, I was distracted. Needless to say, it was an interesting ride home, but not as interesting as discovering the ruined rear tire the morning after I got home.
When Chris returned my credit card, I thanked him for their excellent service and for a delightful, memorable afternoon. He was gob smacked. “I’ve never had a customer spend $300 and then thank me for a delightful afternoon,” he said. As we were getting ready to leave, he came outside and asked our t-shirt sizes, popped back inside, and returned with an Ozzie’s BMW t-shirt for both of us. “There are on me,” he said. Rest assured that we’re wearing them with pride.
No one in their right mind plans to suffer a flat tire when 2,000 miles from home, but in the serendiculous series events of this trip, I appreciate it because it introduced us to some truly fine and nice people who treat people not with obsequious “customer service” but as friends and fellow riders. If I have one regret from our visit, it is that I didn’t think about getting a photo or two of Chris, Mike, and the tech who reshowed my mount. I grabbed a quick one of Ed with he t-shirt just before we hit the road, but the idea of capturing our new friends didn’t dawn on me until we were bedded down in the Best Western, which has a special rate for Ozzie’s customers who need a place to stay while the shop is working on their bikes. We walked by the shop on our way to dinner at the Pour House (an excellent recommendation, Chris!). I won’t forget the next time I’m traveling this way.