Last week I wrote about the marvel of the Brough Superior, and I can’t help but feel that I might have been a little bit irresponsible. So this week, instead of following up to that story, I want to put a PSA out there. We’re all looking out for each other, right?
Owning a classic motorcycle is a lot like an unplanned pregnancy: the best part is the event in the beginning that got you into trouble in the first place, you’re going to eventually be covered in fluids most of the time, and many who have done it will tell you it’s the best thing that ever happened while secretly wishing otherwise.
And since it all starts once you reach into your pants, here’s hoping I can be the prevention that common sense couldn’t.
You’re probably sitting there, skeptical, imagining the day you’ll pound the kick starter and hear the pleasant burble of beneath you before you rocket out of your driveway. Disdain will be on your face as you watch the other riders with the pedestrian trappings of electric starts and fuel injection. They’re coddled. They’re one in a dozen. They and their machines they ride have no…character.
So you want a unique bike. A classic bike. Probably a British bike.
You probably saw Steve McQueen jumping a Triumph in a movie about Nazis that wasn’t Indiana Jones. You gazed in awe at the spoked wheels glistening and fell in love with the sound of that 650cc TR6.
The thing your mind isn’t considering is when – not if – that thing is going to break down. And you better believe it will break down (Xenu help you if you decide to buy a ‘barn find’) Stevie had the advantage of living in a time when that bike was in production; meaning that there were people around with parts, time, and experience able to fix it if it should decide to return to its natural state of ‘not working’. An old joke about Jaguar/Harley/random thing is: “If you want one, you’ll need two – one to use while the other is in the shop”. You will grow to hate this phrase. Don’t believe me? How about an experiment?
Imagine you need to get your classic Bonneville fixed. Odds are you don’t know anyone able to fix a 60 year old British Motorcycle. And if you do, when you wheel the rolling paperweight (but it’s so pretty!) over there you may notice a suspicious lack of British motorcycles and parts. The reason for this simple: as the philosopher B.I.G intoned, you don’t get high on your own supply.
Someone who ‘knows how to fix’ a bike like that most likely doesn’t own one any longer. They, at one point, looked at the mass of skills and spare parts they had accumulated and suddenly realized that more time was spent with the bike in pieces than on the road. Sure, they could help, but the thing is, this model has the piston rings on the outside, and they’re notorious for breaking down like that. I mean, you could order the parts for it, but it would cost more than the bike is worth. Yeah, they know the bike’s worth it, but they….the excuses will just keep coming. Why should they help you? They got out with their sanity mostly intact. And here you come rolling in, pushing the same vice they just kicked? How dare you. So, with your broken Bonneville you’ll head home, left to hit the Internet to figure out if you can fix whatever is wrong yourself. “Car guys do this all the time – how hard would it be to wrench on your own bike?” you’ll ask, no doubt anticipating the irony of that statement. You won’t be disappointed.
Here’s the kicker to owning a classic motorcycle. It isn’t hard to wrench on it. It is so, so easy. That’s the problem. It’s too easy. You can disassemble a motorcycle in an afternoon with nothing but the tools you get for free inside the IKEA box.
A car has a natural barrier to keep you from getting into too much trouble; it being a fucking car. There’s plenty of body work, bolts, welded frames, all kinds of metal and material keeping you from pulling the sucker apart and seeing what a crankshaft looks like. They’re inherently idiot-resistent. To change out the clutch plate you’d need to lift the entire car off of the ground, get a transmission jack, 3 friends, and spend a few hours wrestling the damn thing out. Want to take out the engine? Hope you have a week and someone within 5 miles how is 1) a paramedic and 2) a professional mechanic. The amount of tools, knowledge, and room you’d need to make sure you can remove an engine successfully is far outside what an average idiot is capable of. And that keeps us safe. Most can’t climb Mount Everest because it’s huge and on the other side of the god damn planet. If you had it in your backyard you’d be trying every day to get up there and throw things off of it. Why? Because…hell. Shut up and hold the camera steady.
You know how much a 600cc motorcycle engine weighs? About 150 lbs. That’s it. You can have that thing out of your bike and on a table in ‘puzzle mode’ looooong before the sane part of your brain comes back from whatever vacation it was on and flips the hell out. That’s not all – unlike a car, you can walk around a classic bike and see 90% of all the bolts holding it together. They’re all looking out at you, pink and naked, wondering if you’re going to be stupid enough to slap a socket wrench to them. Think of it this way: ‘project car hell’ is heroin, and ‘project bike hell’ is alcoholism. Heroin hits harder, but it’s a hell of a lot easier to get beer.
But what about when it does work? Imagine what it will be like, pulling up next to all the “custom” Harleys and crotch rockets, seeing the looks of envy on the faces of the owners. You have something unique, something artistic and classic. A bike with meaning beyond 0-60 times and what kind of frilly leather streamers you put on it. That brings us to the last part of our little bubble-bursting escapade. Your bike will be unique, and will be rare. So rare, in fact, that the questions you’ll answer from 99% of the people out there will be, “What kind of bike is that?” Other than the looks, no one is going to give a rats ass about the heritage and prestige of your classic motorcycle. But that 1% – that tiny sliver will come up to you with eyes wide and a knowing smirk. And you will share a moment together. You’ll both step away and do that lean-back/look-down thing we all do at your bike and will just mumble about it. It’ll be magnificent and life affirming. And like an orgasm from a prostitute – hollow.
Because inside a small voice is going to look at the face of this person and wonder, in a very dark corner of your mind, why didn’t they have the same reaction you did when you first saw your bike? Where was the yearning? The lust? As they walk away that small voice will quickly be silenced to protect your moronic Id from having to face the truth; convicts don’t look at prison with a desire to visit.
Still though, that TR6 was pretty as hell, wasn’t it? And Steve McQueen owned one, guys. Steve Mc-fucking-Queen…