As I rode down a dark, wet I-95 getting blown past by buses and tractor-trailers Sunday night, I just kept thinking how I didn’t want to die in a hoodie with “Clickbait” written across it in varsity letters, covered by an Alpinestars jacket.
I mean, can you imagine the headlines?
I was a little over halfway through the first part of my trip Saturday morning when I first noticed a small amount of gear oil splattered on my rear wheel.
At that point, I had ridden my 2013 Moto Guzzi V7 over 209km from my apartment in New York toward my destination, Washington D.C. I was stopped at a rest stop for a fuel and Panda Express break, and to let my body temporarily relieve itself from the long ride.
This also made for a good opportunity to question myself internally about why I didn’t just take my trusty, enclosed, and warm 2017 Subaru WRX STI for the trip, instead.
The drips were minimal and didn’t appear to be making any contact with the tire. In fact, I could barely tell if it was even an active drip, or if it splattered up from something I rode through. From the looks of things though, it looked like there might’ve been a slight leak from around the drain plug that accumulated some grime over time.
“Well, I’m not going turn back now. Especially not for a small drip. Would it even be Italian if it didn’t have some sort of leak?” I thought to myself, before I hopped back on my bike.
Thankfully, the rest of my ride to D.C. was relatively uneventful. Though my throttle hand was a little sore, I made the 360km ride without issue. It was a clear day, the bike seemed to hold up at sustained highway speed just fine, and traffic flowed nicely. But when I got to my destination, it was clear that the leak worsened.
After leaving my bike parked overnight, the next day, I became increasingly concerned about the issue. It was Sunday, and I had to figure out some way to get myself and my leaky Italian motorcycle back up to New York City.
I wasn’t 100 per cent sure what the issue was, but narrowed it down to pretty much two suspects. Either it was leaking from the drain plug, which seemed unlikely, or there was a seal that needed to be replaced on the final drive box.
Let me just say, I am by no means a mechanic or even really mechanically oriented, and I still don’t quite understand how motorcycles work. But! Basically, unlike motorcycles that are chain-driven, the V7 uses a driveshaft that is connected to the bike’s “final drive box,” which puts the power to the rear wheel. Kind of like what a differential would do on a car, but with just one wheel, so it’s not choosing where the power is going. That’s how I understand it, and feel free to tell me how wrong I am in the comments.
Anyways, when I was researching the issue, I learned that having a leaky final drive leak seal is a seriously common issue for Guzzis. I was also relieved to find out that many people who posted about their issues on forums seemed to have it way worse than my bike did, with oil being splattered all over their rear tires.
Unfortunately, my bike wasn’t getting any better and my options were slim. In fact, things actually got worse.
When I was tightening my final drive’s drain plug to confirm it wasn’t loose and leaking, I seemed to strip the threads internally. So now, it was basically spinning freely and barely even finger-tight.
To be clear, I didn’t use a torque wrench or barely any real force with my ratchet. It just tightened a little, and then it was done. No more tightening. Of course, I found out this was also another common issue with Guzzi final drives and transmissions. Fortunately, the plug still seemed to hold its fluid, at least from there, and I was able to confirm that it was the final drive seal that was spewing gear oil.
As it was Sunday, my options to fix the V7 were incredibly slim. During the day, I randomly stumbled upon this motorcycle shop in D.C., Dunn Lewis, that has an absurdly cheap membership program and gives you space to do DIY work on your bike. But without the parts to fix the seal (and without the skills to fix it), the shop time was worthless to me.
My other option was to wait it out until Monday, try and get to the nearest Guzzi dealer, somewhere in Virginia, and hope they would squeeze me in for service the same day. That, obviously, was the safest and smartest option. But as some of you may know, “safe and smart” are not always my strong suit.
So, of course, I decided to ride my bike back to New York City, as it was.
At first, things seemed alright. The drips continued, but not at what I considered to be an alarming rate. It was readily apparent that the leak had worsened, but I assured myself that if I took it easy and routinely stopped to check on the leak, that everything would be OK.
I also had some concern that the drain plug would suddenly fall out and drop all the remaining oil directly onto my rear tire. To curb that thought, I stopped at an AutoZone and applied some RTV sealant to the hardware. This, maybe, wasn’t the smartest thing, and definitely created a problem for another day, but it was the mental assurance I needed in the moment.
At every stop in traffic and at pretty much every other rest stop along I-95, I would stop and take a hard glance at my rear tire to make sure it wasn’t doused in oil.
I probably don’t have to explain to you kind car folk why it’d be bad if one of my motorcycle’s two tires was covered in a slippery fluid, but let me just say this. If all of a sudden I started to randomly lose traction on my rear wheel while going 113km/h on an interstate highway crowded with trucks, busses, and family-packed crossovers, things could go poorly very quickly. That was obviously my fear.
Everything seemed mostly fine until Delaware. The sky went dark abruptly during my ride, and when I reached the Delaware (not-my) Memorial Bridge, a crossing that seems to arch directly into the heavens, it began to rain lightly. My visor became covered with raindrops, and the whole loss-of-traction concern just became a lot more real.
The rain was pretty faint, and I pulled off the road at the first rest stop in Jersey to wipe the oil residue off my tire and to let the roads dry a bit before continuing.
From then on, I decided to bring up my rest stop stopping frequency. I soon learned that was a good call, because my seal leak had apparently gotten a whole bunch worse.
Yeah, that’s oil on the contact patch.
From South Jersey on, on the New Jersey Turnpike, I stopped at almost every rest stop on the highway to monitor the leak and wipe off anything that made it on or near my tire. For the most part, the roadway remained dry, as the rain had stopped, and I didn’t notice any serious loss of traction. The Turnpike is pretty much a completely straight road from the Delaware border up, which also helped my cause.
While on the highway, I kept to the far right lane, and maintained the safest, slow speed you can really do on the Turnpike, which was about 65-110km/h.
Things took another turn once I approached Staten Island. I had made my final stop in New Jersey to clean the wire and fuel up, but as I came up on the Goethals Bridge into New York, rain started to pour again. I dropped my speed even more, but then, something happened that was completely out of my control.
As I turned a tight corner on a two-lane onramp for the bridge, some jerkweed in a new Chevy Silverado came up on me and literally nudged me out of my lane. Since he was behind me and I was navigating the corner, I didn’t see him. You know, since I was trying not to slip off the road with my wet, oily tire, and all. It was like the driver didn’t even see me, a motorcyclist directly in front of him, wearing a high-vis helmet with a red light on it and a white jacket.
I don’t know if my bike made any physical contact with his truck, but my body did. As my left arm and leg briefly touched his truck, I used the shoulder as a temporary escape route, and laid on the horn. Angry arm and hand gestures from me followed. Because we were likely going similar speeds and the truck’s contact with me was somewhat gentle (you know, in the sense of crashing), I was able to keep the bike up, and continued on my way. But, oh man, was I angry.
The good news is, the bike and I made it home, somehow. I’ll probably take it to the dealership soon for the service, and I hope that I haven’t done any terrible damage to the rear drive box after doing such a long trip with it leaking its gear oil.
It was a terrifying trip home, and next time, for a similar ride, I’ll probably just take the car.