Seized & Shafted In Robbinsville

After another night of camping on the Blue Ridge Parkway, I made my way down the final stretch of the 469 mile run that goes from Northern Virginia to Western North Carolina. It’s hard to ride this parkway without stopping at every pull off to gaze at the limitless vistas deep into the Shenandoah Valley, across to the Appalachian Mountains and into gaps, hollows and small towns seemingly stuck in a time warp.

The last stretch of The Blue Ridge Parkway through North Carolina crosses the tallest mountains on the route up to just over 6,000 feet. With brisk nippy air and clear skies the long tunnels that cut through the mountains along the parkway add to the dramatic setting. I came across several stops where a group of people in beach chairs and sporting binoculars or powerful monoculars so they would watch birds of prey sail high above the valley and the mountains below. One such stop was an official “Hawk Counting” station. Though I can’t remember who they were officially counting for — but it was an impressive display of unity and passion among the group.

Winding through beautiful sweeping turns, zooming up quick inclines resolving to nicely banked decreasing radius turns and then gliding down and up and over again. It’s the near perfect road for riding a motorcycle. Speed limits notwithstanding. But it too must end and end it did at the small town of Cherokee near the Cherokee Indian Reservation at the North Carolina and Tennessee border. Here I needed to make a decision. Do I continue North into Smokey Mountains National Park and then into Gatlinburg? Or do I take the shorter but still very scenic Charahala Skyway which crosses from North Carolina into Tennessee.


Looking for birds.


The majesty of the Blue Ridge Mountains.


The last section of the highway winded through nearly a dozen dark tunnels.


Bryson City, North Carolina Town Hall/ Courthouse. A sweet slice of Americana.

A quick poll and I decided to go for the Charahala. Everybody I talked to was concerned about fuel: gas. Thankfully, at about 70/mpg, my range on just under four gallons of fuel is greater than most four-wheeled machines. So while there is potentially a greater chance for finding fuel north, I decide to avoid, this time and from this direction, the Smokies. You see Gatlinburg and points North are nothing more than a tourist trap featuring “Dollywood,” the resort named after our favorite big breasted country singer Dolly Pardon. No thank you. I’ll head to Robbinsville and then over the mountains into Tennessee.

So I took the back roads to Robbinsville where I had to stop because of a nasty headache. The second one this week. I guess I once again became dependent on coffee while at my brother’s place and on the road, especially when camping, I’m not motivated nor equipped to brew a GOOD cup of coffee. My memories still swirl around those great coffee ceremonies and sessions in Ethiopia. But this nagging headache? Maybe a caffeine fix type of headache? I don’t know. But I needed Ibuprofen. That’s when i realized I had mobile phone coverage. So over a chicken sandwich at the local Wendy’s in Robbinsville I satisfied my hunger and made a few important phone calls. This financial crises is killing me!

Getting back on the bike I immediately feel something wrong. It’s bizarre. Feels like a flat tire. I stop at a local one-man motorcycle shop, Mountain Motors, run by John, a calm, easy going, mechanic with long hair fitting of the type of guy you’d find on a Harley-Davidson. His shop was littered with an eclectic collection of odd parts, Harley kitsch and memorabilia and posters touting the “Tail of the Dragon” at Deals Gap. A one-time quiet back road that over its 11 miles winds away through the mountains through 318 curves. Do the math? That’s close to 30 curves every mile. It’s now become a haven and an odd mecca for sports bike riders. According to John, when he first moved here from Pennsylvania he was instrumental creating awareness for the windy and often dangerous road to the motorcycle community.

  We checked the tire pressure and then noticed that my rear axle was loose. Strange. Just a few weeks back the folks at Bob’s BMW in Jessup had fitted new sprockets and chain. Could they not have torqued it enough? We tightened it up, took the ubiquitous photos and I headed toward the Charahala Skyway.

But I didn’t get too far. Even above the excellent attenuation provided by my custom molded Westone ear plugs I could hear the squeak like grinding. I made a U-Turn and soon John and I were removing the rear tire because we realized that while it might look cool, the axle bolt shouldn’t move at the same rate as the rear wheel. In fact, it shouldn’t move at all.

Seems that the rear wheel bearings, actually the bearings in the sprocket assembly had worn and melted – rather nearly welded – to the chase. After pulling the axle and assembly apart, it was difficult to make sense of what parts were separate and what were together. They were all melted together. It was already past FedEx time on the east coast, and calls to the west coast resulted in no parts available. But thankfully the parts guy at Bob’s BMW explained over the phone the seven parts that made up the sprocket assembly:

1) Spacer – sleeve exterior
2) Shaft seal (dust seal)
3) bearing (a)
4) circlet locking ring
5) stopper (washer)
6) bearing (b)
7) Spacer – sleeve interior

Most of these parts could be reused if we could separate them. The bearings would need replacing, but Bob’s once again went over and above and gave me the standard bearing part numbers: For the sprocket carrier 6204 (double seal); and for the wheel itself: 6203 (17 x 40 x 12). All these parts could be found here in Robbinsville. But it mean staying the night.

John let me leave most of my stuff locked in his showroom and then took me to a local motel. Later I made my way to Ruby’s for a home cooked spaghetti dinner ($5.99 complete with salad and Texas toast). But when I tried to order beer I learned I got stuck in a dry county. Imagine that.


John owner and mechanic extraordinaire outside his shop, Mountain Motors in Robbinsville, North Carolina.


It didn’t take long to figure out what was wrong with Doc.


Things were a bit tight and seized and it took quite a bit to get the sleeve and bearings free.



John’s shop was an eclectic mix of motorcycle kitsch and just the parts and supplies you’d need before and after riding Deal’s Gap or the Charahala Highway.



By early the next afternoon Doc was ready to go. Together we sailed over the Charahala Skyway and into Tennessee.

2 replies
  1. Chessie
    Chessie says:

    Excellent commentary. Pictures are spectacular and crystalline. Excellent.
    I live north of that area, near Bristol TN.
    On SR 421 in the county of Sullivan, you will find a twisty section of road, often compared to The Dragon, known locally as The Snake. I like this ride much better than the world famous Snake. You can take it easy and have a beautiful ride from Mountain City to Bristol on SR 421, and really enjoy the moment.
    Thank you for posting, this is a wonderful blog.

  2. WorldRider
    WorldRider says:

    Chessie –
    Thanks for your note and tip on SR421 North of Sullivan. I hope to do more riding in your area this summer and will keep The Snake in mind.
    Thanks for the kind words and for riding along. More to follow!


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