A Little Therapy . . .

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Owning a motorcycle is about more than just riding it. Caring for it is a big part of it.

There are sound practical reasons for caring about that, of course. A motorcycle isn’t a car, being the primary reason. Within a car, if something goes wrong with the car, you are protected agains the consequences of something going wrong. If you hit something, it’s actually the car that will be hitting it.

On a bike, it’ll be you.

That’s a pretty good reason to take care of your bike, especially before you ride it.

But there are other reasons, too. And forms of care that aren’t functional, per se. I refer here to the spiritual aspects of caring for a motorcycle, which in their way are just as important to the experience of owning a bike as the actual riding.

I had neglected this aspect of caring for my almost-50-years-old-Kawasaki, which I am the custodian of as much as I am the owner of. It is my job – my duty – to preserve this machine in good working order so that, in time, another custodian will be able to assume the duty.

And so on down the line.

A flat tire recalled me to duty. This is something that’s pretty uncommon – the last time it happened to me was at least 20 years ago. But perhaps the old Kaw knew it was the way to get my attention. It did. I almost heard the plea.

Pay attention to me!

And so I did.

Got out my tools – which I hadn’t used much lately, in favor of the other tool I use (probably too much) every day, these days. That “tool” being my keyboard, which I set aside for a change. Got the bike up on my home-made lift-rig so as to be able to pull the front wheel off the bike. Determined the source of the leak was a bad air nipple, which meant replacing the tube (old bikes often have these). Dropped the rim – with the flat – off at my buddy’s shop to get it fixed – and balanced (important with spoked wheels, which many olds bikes have).

While I was doing this I could see what I had not been doing – which was keeping the engine clean. There was grime on the fins – and stains on the pipes. Which, if you’re a person in custody of an old bike, is like discovering someone’s kid examined the Magna Carta and spilled ketchup on it.

The header lacked luster. The fork lowers were dulled. All intolerable.

And so began the care.

Yes, one could claim that it is necessary to keep the cooling fins of an air-cooled bike engine clean, so as to keep the engine from running hot. It is not a false claim. But there is a deeper, more profound necessity involved.

And it goes beyond the bike’s needs.

I needed to get back in touch with my machine and there is no better way to do this than to spend some quality time with Q tips and paper towels and a gentle cleaner, methodically cleaning each crevice between all those fins, until they are all returned to their cast-aluminum magnificence. To bring back the shine of the chrome, the reflective luster of polished forks and cases.

It takes time to do this, one thing at a time. It is not a thing that can be hurried-up and even if it could be hurried-up it would be contrary to the point of the thing. That being to spend time with the bike, away from the world. You can lose yourself in this time – which is by no means a bad thing, given the times. It is necessary, arguably essential, to spend time forgetting about these times – by remembering something else.

The old Kaw is not an EeeeeeeeeeeeVeeeeeee. It has moving parts you can see and touch and thereby get in touch with. It is almost a living thing, in a way that only machinery can be and electronic things can never be. Old machinery is even more alive in this sense because it has been “alive” for so long. My Kaw almost transcends my own life – I was just a boy and too small to ride when it was born, all those years ago.

And it will endure, beyond my life, if I take care of it as a proper custodian ought to do.

I think such thoughts as I ferret out the grime and bring back the shine and that makes me smile.

And that is how the old Kaw takes care of me.

. . .

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  1. I agree Eric, I live on my Yamaha all summer, even take insurance off everything but the bike to save some dough, I do my best to keep it nice for a 35 year old bike but it’s hard sometimes when it’s ridden 100miles a day 6 days a week. Was pretty funny though, a couple weeks ago was helping a friend fix his truck and we weren’t able to finish it that night, so I let him take the old yamaha home for the night, he came back the next day all grins, and tried to talk me into selling it to him, keep in mind he owns no less then 10 Harley Davidsons from 1918 to 2018. Said riding my bike made him never want to ride a Harley again, between the crazy loud stereo smooth ride, excellent handling, and 100+hp he was kind of in love with the ol girl.

  2. I have so many bikes it’s almost impossible to keep up with them.
    I do my best to keep them safe (tires, psi, brakes, chains, etc..) first, and reliable (early changeout of worn parts, etc….). Aesthetics are last, if ever. Don’t really care how they look as long as they function the way I want.
    I can certainly understand wanting to keep an older bike fresh looking, or they may go downhill fast though.
    Learned something a couple weeks ago. A bud and I were pounding our middle-weight adventure bikes through the woods, and we stopped for a breather. We met some others on the trail and I thought it would be nice to hook up with them. My bud says, let’s go, see ya.
    Yo Joe, why didn’t you want to ride with those guys, they seemed pretty cool?
    Did ya see their bikes? The one was 15 years old and looked brandy new, ours are 3 years old and look 15 years old. The other 2 were brand new with so much bling on them, they will never ride them hard. Their sightseer’s on bikes. Nothing wrong with that, and they might be nice but they will hold us up big time, and we’ve got 40 miles to go before it gets dark. He was right.

  3. Excellent article as usual! Feeling a few pangs of guilt though, as you reminded me that I have been criminally negligent toward the old Bultaco. Haven’t even kicked it over in almost a year, and now that the weather has gotten to be a few degrees below sweltering, I think it is time for some maintenance and some time in the desert.

  4. I don’t have a bike, but get the concept.

    I grow a vegetable garden. We always had one as a kid, it gives back, and time spent outdoors creating is better than time spent on electronics.

  5. The zen of motorcycle maintenance eventually becomes an art.

    Some people need a new brain. The one they have doesn’t work.

    Was behind a car in a left turn lane, the car was not up to the stop line, the left turn signal turned to yellow, the a full green light for all traffic going east and west. When the light turned yellow, the car didn’t make the move to turn left when the driver had the chance to turn. Stayed stopped, didn’t move. The north south light turned green then red. The car in front was not far enough forward for the sensor to detect a vehicle in the left turn lane, no green arrow to turn left. The driver was not driving the automobile. I turned into the through lane and crossed the intersection on the green.

    How can that be? No brains, no headaches, I suppose.

    Road raged the entire drive home just in time to drink.

    Replaced the crankshaft position sensor, that scanned, got a new one. I hope it goes farther on down the road.

  6. Oh I need that therapy so bad! Potholes and winter weather be damned!

    I rode for a few years. Had my crash, like most motorcycle riders I had The Crash, the one that really is the big one, like the Big One earthquake California is waiting for.

    Would love that therapy again. I would love the tapestry of sight, sound, feelings, and perspective that all combine to make art. The thrill of danger. The confidence and swagger to my male ego from being a member of the club. I want that again.

    Spring of 2023 is my target date. Got to endure another Nebraska winter (no giggling, northerners, its all relative) got to get in better physical condition, but this coming spring I will make some other guy jealous when he hears the whine of my engine far off in the distance; the call of the wild waking up his primal soul. Woke indeed.

  7. Leftist car guy “Biden” — Eric’s dark-side bête noire — is at the Detroit Auto Show today to tout EeeVees and the War on Carbon.

    Like the US fedgov’s War on Drugs, War on Poverty, and War on Terrorism, “Biden’s” War on Carbon has but slight chance of success.

    Let us collectively hurl feces at this superannuated, demented charlatan. His beloved V8-engined, rear-drive vintage Corvette is no longer made — thanks to his own tyrannical diktats.

    • Mike,
      I don’t think driving a Vanderhall would be anything like riding a motorcycle. I’d love to have one, but it wouldn’t replace my dual sport by a long shot. I really think they should work on a proper roof and roll-up windows and it would be a great alternative to the bloated safety cage on rainy days.

  8. I don’t listen to the radio when I drive. I LIKE the sound of machinery running. It pleases me. If an EV has it, its an audio effect created in the digital radio. Not the same. Your passion for bikes reflects my passion for guns. To constantly try to achieve maximum performance from one, by modification and handloading. Which is far from the same as reloading. One will acquire one that will not shoot well, regardless of what you do. I called them expensive tent poles.

    • John,

      I also like the sound of machinery running. It sounds like life. It sounds like human genius. It is mechanical music. I can listen to the lovely symphony of a gasoline engine progressing in speed up to the point of it’s limits, and then restart its beautiful progression again, over and over again, like I would a song I like.

      I mean, some engines sound like shit… but when it sounds good, it’s one of the few things that, in the moment, makes you happy to be alive. Grateful to experience such beauty.

  9. ‘The old Kaw is not an EeeeeeeeeeeeVeeeeeee.’ — eric

    Speaking of EeeVees, here is the key point in an article detailing why Toyota is not “all in” on EeeeVeeeeeeees like GM and Ford:

    ‘Toyota executives, while increasing investments in all-electric vehicles, [say that] not all areas of the world will adopt EVs at the same pace due to the high cost of the vehicles as well as a lack of infrastructure.

    “For as much as people want to talk about EVs, the marketplace isn’t mature enough and ready enough … at the level we would need to have mass movement,” said Jack Hollis, EVP of sales at Toyota Motor North America.’


    Bingo. Japanese makers of cars and motorcycles export them worldwide. Developing countries do not share the luxury of North American and European wokeness. Most of their citizens aren’t rich and don’t live in suburban houses with garages. No funding is available to build out EeeVeee infrastructure. These countries will use hydrocarbon-fueled transport for decades to come.

    Toyota gets that. And deserves our respect for doing so.

    Meanwhile, America’s nihilistic climate crazies amp up the pitch of their rabid hysteria (from the same article):

    “The fact is: a hybrid today is not green technology. The Prius hybrid runs on a pollution-emitting combustion engine found in any gas-powered car,” writes Katherine García, director of the Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All campaign.’ [Her blog post probably inspired the CNBC article; leftists run in packs.]

    Now a Prius hybrid is as climatically evil as a great honking V8, says Sierra Club’s eco-girl in Washington DeeCeeee. Makes me want to hurl.


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