Monday, 15 February 2016

The Machine As Narrative

Eighteen months ago I found a 1994 Kawasaki ZG1000 sitting in a field.  It was in pretty rough shape, unused with grass growing up through it.  I was immediately drawn to it, though I was worried about transitioning from my relatively modern, fuel injected, first bike (an '07 Ninja) to this twenty year old, carbureted machine that clearly needed TLC to be roadworthy.  

One of the reasons I got into motorcycling was to re-spark my dormant love of mechanics, which had been prompted by Matt Crawford's brilliant little book, Shopclass As Soulcraft.  I briefly battled with worries about my abilities and working on motorcycles (of which I had no previous experience).  When you get a car repair wrong you tend to roll to a stop surrounded by a big cage.  If you get a bike part wrong it can throw you down the road.  I'd been away from mechanics so long that I was afraid I'd lost the touch.

Once I got my hands moving again they quickly remembered what they once knew.  My ability to repair machines hadn't been unused, it had simply been focused elsewhere, on IT.  Those years of rebuilding cars and working in the industry quickly came back to me.

The Concours was stripped down, old gauges were fixed, oil lines repaired and it sailed through safety.  The old dog immediately rewarded me with a ride up to Blue Mountain though a snow storm, and a ride around Georgian Bay.  The only mechanical failure as the bike began to rack up miles was Canadian Tire's fault.

By the end of the summer the old Kawasaki had ridden down the back straight of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and clocked up over thirty thousand miles on the odometer.

This winter I've been deeper into the bike than ever before.  Besides maintenance items like spark plugs, I also had a close look at the tires, and elected to retire the mis-matched, old tires.  With the tires off and the wheels naked, I looked into industrial coating options.  Fireball Performance Coatings is only about half an hour away in Erin.  After meeting with the owner Mark, I went with a candy coated gold that'll gel nicely with the red/gold trim look the bike is developing.  The rims are done and are currently at Two Wheel Motorsport getting Michelined up.  Future bike projects are definitely going to make use of Fireball's coatings.

This week things start to go back together in a big way.  With the tires and rims back I'll be popping in the new bearings, putting the balancing beads in (first time trying them), and installing the wheels back on the bike.  With the wheels (and disk brake rotors) back on I'll be able to finally finish the rear brake lines and reinstall the rebuilt calipers.  It's a lot of bits and pieces that need to come back together, fortunately I've been taking photos as I go (a good way to keep track of what goes where).  Between that and the Clymer shop manual, everything should come back together nicely.

A big part of taking things apart is cleaning them up, even if parts don't get replaced.  I've been into many dark places that haven't seen anyone since 1994.

The clean and shiny drive disk in the rear hub - it's what the shaft drive feeds into.

A cleaned up shaft drive housing on the back of the bike.
The rear suspension is cleaned up, but it needs a good greasing.
Owning an older motorcycle can be frustrating, but it's also very rewarding.  The operation of the machine is only one part of your relationship with it.  By laying hands on the mechanicals you become familiar with your motorbike in a new way.  That mechanical relationship integrates with the riding relationship, creating something richer.

It might be nice to have a newer machine that always works, but even if I could afford that, I don't know that I'd sell off the Concours.  It's nice to have a machine I'm this intimate with.

As I finished writing this Triumph emailed me with a link to the new Street Twin configurator.  That'd be a lovely machine to start another story with...