How to fix a 1968 BMW R60 with roadside trash

To think we would casually ride 50-year-old motorcycles around all day without a single issue was optimistic, but hey, the roadside headache was ultimately for a good cause.

I always enjoy a good motorcycle ride, and with classic bikes all the better. So when a friend offered to loan me his 1967 Moto Guzzi V7 for a so-called Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride (DGR), I cleared my Sunday. DGR is a stylish approach to raising funds for men’s health, mainly supporting prostate checks and suicide prevention. Riders raise money for the cause and then come out and enjoy a group outing on vintage or vintage-styled motorcycles while encouraged to “Ride Dapper.” Imagine as much tweed and wool as you can wear tastefully.

I’ve been interested in the DGR for a few years, but until now never got around to taking part. Either I didn’t own a motorcycle, was out of town, or plain ol’ forgot. But then my friend James mentioned he had an extra Moto Guzzi in the barn for this year’s ride, and I should take it because he would be using his 1968 BMW. Another friend jumped on a modern Yamaha SR400 to complete our trio.

Distinguished Gentlemen Ride side of road tractor
Kyle Smith
Distinguished Gentlemen Ride group shot of all bikes
Kyle Smithq

The Guzzi’s right-foot GP-style (one up/three down) shifter was a delight. I recently sold a vintage Italian motorcycle with the same layout, so it felt natural by the time I hit the end of the driveway. The big twin-cylinder had torque everywhere and cruised happily at 60 mph—right up until it mysteriously lost half its power. Earlier James had casually mentioned after I topped off the tank that it sometimes drops one cylinder, so I can’t say I was surprised, but when on a borrowed motorcycle the last thing I want to do is break it.

We pulled over and fiddled with the petcocks and got fuel flowing again. An easy fix, but in hindsight it foreshadowed how we were going to spend our afternoon and some of the evening. With a warm cup of coffee in hand, we watched the other bikes arrive at the start and briefly discussed how the 40-degree morning chill could have avoided the by loading up the bikes in my pickup and driving into town. The entire group scoffed off the idea.

Our trio of bikes fit right in with the collection of 33 others that descended upon downtown Traverse City, Michigan. Suit jackets, wingtips, and mustaches galore. The whole group embraced the theme and image in earnest.  

Distinguished Gentlemen Ride BMW Moto Guzzi parked
Kyle Smith

The route covered roughly 40 miles of 45-mph cruising, with a few stops peppered in for warming up and photos. Traversing the Old Mission Peninsula shoreline with this many vintage two-wheelers was a sight to behold. The motorcycle gods smiled upon us all, as no mechanicals or accidents got in the way of enjoying the crisp late-September air. Following the bayside cruise, a few cruising laps of downtown led to Workshop Brewing for lunch and an early afternoon brew.

As the group started to dissolve, our trio became a quad when a modern Kawasaki Z900RS decided to ride north with us to return the bikes to their storage barn. We traded seats so we all had the chance to experience the different bikes.

The Moto Guzzi started running on one cylinder almost immediately, but some under-tank fiddling brought it back to life again. It then dropped the cylinder on a every-other-mile basis. And it was getting worse. We could pull the fuel hoses off the carburetors to check fuel flow only to see a faint trickle. With the tank still holding at least half its capacity, we weren’t running out, so we tried other solutions.

Distinguished Gentlemen Ride Moto Guzzi roadside repair
Distinguished Gentlemen Ride Kyle Smith
Distinguished Gentlemen Ride fuel lines moto guzzi
Kyle Smith

Riding with the gas cap open didn’t help, so that meant no vacuum being created causing flow to stop. The petcocks could be set to regular or reserve with no change, likely showing the petcock was good. Possibly a screen or filter above the petcock in the tank was clogged. Not something we could roadside fix, so were reduced to tipping the bike side to side so just enough fuel could trickle and fill the float bowls. Then just ride until it ran out again.

Then things got worse. The Guzzi wouldn’t flow fuel, but the BMW R60 decided to dump gas on the ground with impunity. The bottom of the float bowl on the right-side Bing carburetor worked itself loose and ejected at 60 mph. After a slow walk down the shoulder, we concluded the threaded metal cap would likely have taken a good bounce in the tall grass along the roadside.

Rather than send one of the modern bikes up the road to grab the pickup truck, we banded together with an unspoken pact that we would be getting all four motorcycles into the barn under their own power.

Distinguished Gentlemen Ride gas leak
Kyle Smith
Distinguished Gentlemen Ride bmw carburetor plug
Kyle Smith

Distinguished Gentlemen Ride BMW Carb plug repair
Kyle Smith

We found a scrap rubber bumper in the dirt on the side of the road, along with some plastic package strapping. The diameter happened to be perfect diameter to replace the lost carburetor parts. Score! We wedged the bumper in place and tied the strapping to keep it from vibrating loose, turned on the gas, and the engine kicked over. Now to see how bad the leak would be. But alas, no fluids hit the pavement. We marched triumphant in our caravan about a mile and a half up the road until the Guzzi ran dry again. Lather, rinse, repeat until we were back in the barn.

Was the ride about awareness and raising money? Yes. Did it turn into an adventure of roadside repairs and testing positive attitudes? Also yes. That is what made it so great. We shouldn’t have needed an excuse to get together and ride vintage bikes, but the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride was a great excuse to do just that.  It even came with a built-in excuse to hang out in the garage and fix out roadside repairs properly. That’s what it is all about, getting like-minded folks together to have fun. We certainly did.

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