I lost my best riding partner during the last winter, and that made me sad.
By mid-March it was time to get ready to tackle the Iron Butt Association’s March 20 Spring Equinox Ride, however, our 2010 Honda ST1300 looked like an old bike in a museum with a damp spot on the floor near the center stand. Closer inspection revealed the lower right of the engine was quite damp as well. I wiped it off and hopped on for a quick loop of Edmonton on the Anthony Henday Drive after which the engine was very wet. If this was the result of a 115 KM ride there was no way I was going to head out for a 1610 KM ride in a few days.
I called Darren, the service manager at Honda Extreme here in Edmonton, and discovered everyone had beat me to the punch at booking shop time. It would be a month before I could get the bike in which gave me time to strip the bodywork and a bunch of farkles that are easier (and cheaper) for me to remove than having the shop do it. It didn’t take long after the bike was in for Darren to call me back with the bad news. After having a look with a camera they had confirmed my suspicion that the leak was in such a place that they would have to pull the engine in order to get at it. The price estimate meant that it wasn’t worth having them do the job. Maybe someday I’ll pull it myself and have a closer look, but I was now in bike shopping mode, and some might say that, after 9 riding seasons and 371,277 km, it was time.
This had been our second ST1300 and I’d bought it new in Feb 2012 after having been t-boned on our 2008 ST1300 in August of 2011. While a big collision will sometimes make people give up riding, it just motivated me to ride more since there were things I wanted to accomplish, I had done nothing wrong, and you never can tell when another Toyota might blow through a red light.
I’ve maintained for a few years that I had no idea what bike I’d buy to replace the ST when the time came. I’m a little bigger than average size and there aren’t a lot of bikes I fit on comfortably, so I started looking for another ST. There were quite a few on the market with low mileage (50-80,000) but the ones out west seemed to be mostly older (2003-2007) while the ones in eastern Canada were newer (2009-2012). Sadly, COVID meant it wasn’t feasible to do a fly and buy. Eventually I located a 2010 with 69,000 in southern Alberta and my buddy Don offered to hook up his trailer and drive down with me to have a look.
Buying a used bike is always a challenge and throwing COVID and distance into the mix increased that. The seller had left the province and the bike was at a relative’s place so that was an initial red flag. We overcame that by verifying our identities with contact through LinkedIn. With 13 years of seat time on a Honda ST1300 I am very familiar with the bike and most issues it may have. I loaded my tool kit into Don’s vehicle and, armed with a 92 point checklist I’d created, we headed off.
The first item on my list was to circle the bike with my GoPro to video the entire thing and then it was down to business. An early check was fluid levels and it is a bit difficult to check the rad overflow on the ST with all the bodywork on. To make it easier to determine the level I took a set of chopsticks and marked depth lines for the high and low levels using the stripped down 2010 in my garage. This made it easy to determine that this southern bike was quite low. We got to step 40 on the checklist when an issue I had never seen came to light.
Here is where having a great relationship with your local dealer comes into play. I called Darren and described the issue and his immediate response was “Walk away.” He said there were a number of things that could be the cause and none of them would be cheap or simple to diagnose and fix. We packed up our gear and headed home with an empty trailer.
My friend Tim declared that this bike had sounded like a unicorn, even though it didn’t pass muster. The timing on this declaration was very interesting as two weeks later Todd Vallee talked about searching for a unicorn as he related his own search for another bike in an installment of The Vallee Report.
I looked at a couple other ST’s closer to home but they were both older and neither had ABS. Then, a 2012 appeared on Kijiji with only 59,000 km. The nice thing about this one was it was at a dealer that I am familiar with. The potential downside was that it was in BC. I contacted Service BC about travel restrictions and they said there weren’t any coming from Alberta and they were OK if it was business related. Since my business is riding a motorcycle, it most definitely was. Don had had both his shots and was up for another road trip. I already had my first shot and we’d practice all the distancing and masking requirements.
One day to drive to Nelson and then it was like old home week. Rudi Zacsko Jr. met us when we arrived at Mainjet. Of course, Rudi, along with his Dad, Rudi Sr, and sister Kathy had been partners in Scona Cycle in Edmonton before selling the dealership in 2017. Rudi used to race Don’s kids in Motocross back in the day, I had stopped at Mainjet on my Cannonball 5,000 Ride in 2019, and Mainjet had been the local support dealer for the WeSTOC Rally based in Nelson in 2011. As a matter of fact, they still have the poster hanging inside.
Don again held the clipboard, kept me on track, and checked off items as I went over the bike. We got over half the list done before closing time and came back in the morning to finish it off. Then I took it for a half hour spin before finalizing the deal. There was one minor issue that I’d also experienced on our 2010 ST and couldn’t recall the cost to fix it so called Darren again to get an estimate. The service dept at Mainjet confirmed the price so price negotiation was no issue. With the bike strapped on the trailer we drove through a blizzard at Crowsnest Pass and were home the next day after a night in High River. Oh, and Rudi liked my chopstick dip-stick so I left it with him.
Since I hadn’t heard a bike referred to as a unicorn before I asked Don during our trip if he was familiar with the term. He wasn’t sure either, so I emailed Tim and his response came back that Unicorns “are rare, unique and unexpected.” I also contacted Todd Vallee and his response included words and phrases including “mythical bike that falls into my price range”, “looks exactly as described”, “ instant sex appeal”, “ a bunch of service records that show it was meticulously cared for”, “clean even behind fairings and chain guards”, and “I will hear my name whispered.” That last one would have made me wonder about Todd and his relationship with motorcycles if we hadn’t been talking about a fictional creature. My oldest sister thought maybe it had to do with the 120 dB air horn I have installed that could make a bike a “Unique Horn”. Apparently not, but that is one farkle I have to move to the “new” bike to put my personal stamp on what is now our own Unicorn.
Oh, and if you’ve got a good relationship with your dentist, the next time you go, ask if you can have a dental mirror. These come in very handy for looking at hard to get at places including, in one instance, the VIN marked on the steering head and hiding behind cables and hoses.
- From R. Bruce Thomas