Not My Last Ride After All

Our friend Chris Bednas posted this story on some Chicago motorcycle lists this week, it’s a great story, and he’s given us permission to reprint it here:

I’ll start with some back-story that, for about 48 hours, I thought was really the story. A few days ago, I sold my restored 1967 Ducati Monza Jr. on ebay. Somewhat sad to see it go, I decided (against my better judgment) to take it on one last ride. A mile to my buddy’s house and a mile home laterOe no problem, right? Well, as I arrived home, the clutch went out completely. I couldn’t believe it. How could this happen? I guess I learned the hard way that this is what happens when you don’t listen to your better judgment.

So, I spent the next day figuring out and fixing what turned out to be a loose nut that was supposed to be holding the clutch housing in place. No biggie in the grand scheme of things. And as I was bolting everything back together, Elliott, the buyer, called to see if he could pick it up in a couple of hours. I was heading out, so we set it up for the next morning. He arrived in the morning, handed me a stack of money and rode off on the bike, perhaps never to be seen again. That was yesterday.

Today, I was on my way to deliver a Yamaha RD350 that I also recently sold on ebay. Cruising down Western Ave. towards the intersection with Diversey and Elston, I spotted someone on an interesting-looking old motorcycle in the entrance to the Citgo gas station. I slowed down to get a better look and, to my amazement, it was the Ducati. And, to my confusion, it was not Elliott who was sitting on it. It was some teenager and he was talking to some other teenagers and trying to kick-start the bike. This did not seem right.

I pulled the Ghetto Van to the side of the road, just beyond the entrance, and watched them over my shoulder for a minute. It looked as though the kid was trying to sell it. This definitely did not seem right. My adrenaline began to flow, big time. I flipped though the notebook in which I jot down important information, hoping to find Elliott’s number. I couldn’t remember if I had written his number down since he had called me every time we had spoken on the phone. But there it was: “ElliotoDucati.”

The other kids dispersed and the presumed thief pushed the bike to the back corner of the parking lot and sat there. I got out of the van, walked to the pay phone that was strategically placed just out of view, and began to give my calling card a serious workout (note to self: it’s time to get one of those cell phone thingies).

I called Elliott but got his voicemail, so I left a message explaining what I was looking at and told him I’d try him again in a few minutes. I then dialed 311, the non-emergency direct line to the police in Chicago, but the stupid pay phone wouldn’t do it for free, the coin slot was blocked and my calling card didn’t recognize 311 as a valid number. Honestly. I got an operator and she told me that I wanted 411. After explaining to her that I didn’t want information but the police, she connected me with 911. As no one’s life was in jeopardy, I didn’t know if that was necessary but it sure as hell would do the trick.

The cops were on the way, so I called Elliott again and he picked up.

“Hey Elliott, it’s Chris.”


“I sold you the Ducati yesterdayOe”

“What’s going on?”

“I don’t know. Did the bike get stolen?”

“Yes, this morning!”

“Well, I’m looking right at it.”

Elliott was on his way, so I called Jake. Who the hell is Jake? He’s the guy I was on my way to see about the RD350 sitting inside the Ghetto Van. While explaining to him the incredible circumstances causing my tardiness, the now-confirmed thief got into it with the person operating the gas station and promptly left. Pushing the bike right past me, down the sidewalk he went.

Shit! I couldn’t follow him because none of my reinforcements had yet arrived. So I called 911, this time direct. The operator told me that a car had been dispatched and should arrive any minute. As I turned to look, in he came. I ran over and told him the kid just took off, and he told me to hop in the back. Cool!

Down Western we sped; he even turned his lights on for a second to get around some stopped traffic! We caught up with the guy in front of the AMC theater and the cop jumped out to approach him. I thought for sure the kid was going to drop the pristine bike on the ground and take off running. Fortunately, he had the good sense to deploy the kickstand and take what was coming to him. He was in handcuffs within seconds. I got out of the car and stood in an alcove, as I didn’t really want this scumbag to know what I look like. As three other cop cars arrived, Elliott ran up, gave me a hearty handshake and went to claim his new/stolen/recovered motorcycle.

The cops asked us to meet them at the station to file a report, and Elliott asked me to ride the bike there for him. Sure thing! As I went to kick it over, I noticed the throttle was binding and I wondered what kind of mischief that moron had been up to in an effort to start the thing without a key (if only he knew that he probably could have used something he found on the ground instead). It fired right up but it sounded nothing like it had the morning before and it was running poorly. Fiddling with the mixture screw didn’t seem to help, so off I went to see how it would behave under load. No better.

Halfway to the police station, it quit. Opening the top of the carburetor revealed the slide in backwards and the choke and throttle cables twisted around each other within the bore. That should take care of the problem. Nope. Elliott suggested maybe the kid had been yanking on some wires, too. I pulled the points cover and, sure enough, the wire from the coil was just barely hanging onto the points arm. Mini Leatherman to the rescueOe it started first kick and was now running properly.

Off to the police station and almost everyone involved lives happily ever after.

So, here are some things I’ve learned:

  • If you ride a motorcycle that is as good as sold, it will try to find a way to spoil the deal.
  • Adrenaline gives you a real nice rush.
  • Cell phones are way more convenient than pay phones.
  • Calling 911 and riding in cop cars can be quite a lot of fun.
  • Even morons who know nothing about vintage motorcycles will steal your vintage motorcycleOe even in Wrigleyville.
  • It’s a good idea to keep your eyes open; you never know what you’ll see.
  • Some motorcycles can actually tell you when and where they’d like that last ride to take place.

Chris Bednas, 6/29/03