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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