The more stuff you know how to fix, the more things fall apart. Before I started keeping not one but two flat tire repair kits on hand and a shiny new air compressor, I never got flats. Now I seem to pick up about one nail per vehicle per week. I took the old Ranger truck in to have a tire patched the other day when I couldn’t make a plug work. The next morning, the same tire was flat again. Oh, said the dude at Pep Boys upon my return, after a little investigating – there were two nails in there. Sorry.

You couldn’t just have a two-speed fan over your stove and a toggle switch, oh no… you need a six-speed pair of fans and an array of lights controlled by this Chinese thing, which went south about a decade after manufacture.

You couldn’t just have a two-speed fan over your stove and a toggle switch, oh no… you need a six-speed pair of fans and an array of lights controlled by this Chinese thing, which went south about a decade after manufacture.

Another very cool part of the digital revolution and Google and YouTube is the ability to repair all kinds of weird things around the house you formerly needed to call in a professional to fix. I’ve now fixed two (2!) refrigerator ice makers by replacing the solenoid valves on back that let the water in, along with two in-door water dispensers that suddenly became incontinent. (The latest fridge retaliated by refusing to keep things cold; an expert had to be called in to replace the compressor). Vacuum cleaner belts are like qualifying tires around here. Clothes dryer and BBQ grill igniters give up their spark too soon, computerized hood fans above the stove refuse to spin. I can break down and clean my lawnmower carburetor in the dark while returning enemy fire. The XR400 still won’t start.

To fill the time we get from increased productivity, we engineer more complicated products to keep us busy. I remember thinking what a great thing it was when the plastic ice cube tray replaced the old aluminum ones.

082615-whatever-entropy-retro-ice-tray-ad

My ’97 Jaguar XJ6 is by far the nicest $5000 car I’ve ever owned despite the slow leak in its right rear tire – $5k pretty much being the upper limit for any vehicle I’ve ever bought since I started driving, regardless of the consumer price index. (I’ve got a great tagline in case you know any Jag marketing people: Nothing depreciates like a Jaguar!)

I didn’t really need or want a six-way adjustable power seat with memory, but that’s how they’re able to charge $55K for a car, I suppose. When the thing stopped working a couple months ago, I was glad it at least froze where it fits me. I remember a friend’s old 7 Series BMW a few years ago; when its passenger seat started losing its mind, it tried to swallow me like a giant clam as we were rolling down the 405. German engineering tends to err on the aggressive side.

My 6-foot tall kid could barely squeeze into the Jaguar though, and he complained enough that it made it difficult to wait the traditional grace period for the thing to fix itself. (Just think how much Jaguar could charge for a car that has manual back-up seat adjusters!) The wiring diagram for this automobile might as well be for an Airbus 380 far as I can tell, but it was the good old Jaguarforums to the rescue once again: To see if it’s the controller that’s at fault or not, swap in the one from the passenger seat. Why didn’t I think of that? Well I did, but the forum had pictures showing where the thing was located and how to remove it. In the video age, I need things spelled out. And photos.

Yup, there’s your problem. The only replacement I could find is a year older than this one. Unless I wanted to pay $250 for a new old one…

Yup, there’s your problem. The only replacement I could find is a year older than this one. Unless I wanted to pay $250 for a new old one…

Anyway, what worries me is, what happens to all our stuff when the number of replacement parts exceeds the capacity of the world’s storehouses to contain them? People loved to restore Hondas for years because you could still get parts for any one ever made. I don’t know if that’s still the case, but my Jaguar’s only 18 years old and the power seat control module is already out of production. Judging from the number of people on forums who’ve replaced them (a lot), I won’t be surprised when my new used one (which is older than my old dead one) gives up the ghost. What then? Will you just have to junk the whole automobile at that point, or will the hundred other electrical subsystems also gone haywire by then have caused you to junk it years ago? Should I buy back-up modules now, guaranteeing the crankshaft will snap next week?

The one business I found online that claimed to be able to repair the seat’s black box never returned my email. How would all the TV shows that find and restore old cars even get off the ground if Wayne Carini couldn’t even adjust the driver’s seat enough to be able to climb in and roll the thing onto the flatbed? Will electronic black boxes of the future found in desert junk yards plug into ancient wiring harnesses and work after a little beadblasting and powdercoating? Can you powdercoat plastic?

Then again, when Earth is called Bezosville® 20 years from now, it might be super-easy to get one-hour delivery on a controller for the Aprilia Dynamic Damping unit on your ’15 Caponord Rally. Maybe there’ll be an aerosol spray that restores dead black boxes instantly?

Then again, when Earth is called Bezosville® 20 years from now, it might be super-easy to get one-hour delivery on a controller for the Aprilia Dynamic Damping unit on your ’15 Caponord Rally. Maybe there’ll be an aerosol spray that restores dead black boxes instantly?

I know you know where I’m going with all this: I dig all the electronics on the new motorcycles, especially Traction Control(!) and ABS, but I can’t help worry who’s going to keep all this stuff in stock as it changes from year to year, when it goes the way of all electrons. Which it will, as everything electronic sealed in a black plastic box eventually, inevitably does. Jaguar is not a big seller of cars, but I’m going to bet they sold more XJ6s than Ducati will sell Multistrada S’s. I am worried that little Billy might someday master the fork seal driver and the eternal mysteries of the cartridge fork, only to have it all come to naught when he can’t find the right Skyhook control module for his 2014 Multistrada 20 years from now. Will there be a work-around? Will a cottage industry spring up to repair or manufacture new modules?

For now, I am thankful I don’t know how to weld: You know important structural things would start cracking all around me if I did. Sometimes I can relate to the old Bob Seger lyric: Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.

Any old business? Only this. A column or two ago, I went off a little about how widely divergent different people’s opinions of the same motorcycle can be, specifically after the Yamaha R1M won both big U.S. print magazines’ superbike comparos. We MOrons tested the non-M R1, minus the electronic suspension and some other things, and ranked it mid-pack overall in our six-superbike shootout. Anyway, it got me curious, and I checked with our Yamaha PR person as to how many R1Ms will be imported to the USA? The official word is “less than 500 for the U.S. market,” which are already sold out.

One big magazine named the base R1 its “Motorcycle of the Year,” while the other picked the R1M as one of its Ten Best. Well, they’re great motorcycles, and congratulations to Yamaha and to the fewer than 500 Americans who snagged one of the $21,990 “M”s. But I think we’re all proud of our Motorcycle of the Year pick here at MO, where we’ve been attempting to keep it somewhat real since 1994: The Indian Scout. Rock on.

Photo by Evans Brasfield

Photo by Evans Brasfield

  • Old MOron

    So knowing that a John Burns article can often times be a learning experience, I googled up entropy after reading the title and before reading the article. The first wikipedia entry was too technical, so I went with the introductory article instead.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Introduction_to_entropy

    While reading the intro wiki, I came across the calculation that involves Boltzmann’s constant. I did my best to give the wiki entry more than a cursory read, but I was eager to get to John’s article.

    So I’m reading along with John, and he mentions Bezosville® 20 years from know. In my mind, I connected Bezosville with Boltzmann, and thought, “Ah-ha, my pre-research is paying off.”

    Well, not exactly. But I did learn who Jeff Bezos is, and also how out-of-touch I am with certain aspects of modern society. But at least I was right that JB’s article would be a learning experience.

    And I didn’t just learn something about myself and the world I live in. I was also entertained: “traditional grace period for the thing to fix itself,” ha ha ha, perfect description!

    • panthalassa

      the earth as bezosville in 20 years is a possibility … but maybe in an alternate ‘verse, little billy will download the 999 terrabyte file for the ’14 skyhook control module in five seconds, and use his multi-material 3d printer to replicate one in five minutes, all the while impatiently cursing his hand-me-down epson …

    • john burns

      dang OM, my definition of entropy is “stuff falls apart”. Let’s not pull a brain muscle man.

  • Alexander Pityuk

    I’m all for progress, but personally – neither can I afford new bikes with top notch electronic wizardry, nor can I maintain them. There are two unique characteristics about motorcycles:
    1) They get long in the tooth a lot slower that cars and they are generally simpler, thus more people end up with used bikes. And the average age is high.
    2) Motorcycling is a very niche activity and because of that all the selling-maintaining-repairing infrastructure sucks. Even in very highly-evolved places on Earth. (Not to mention some banana republics like Russia, where i have to service my bikes in uncle Bill’s underground garage box, because there are only 2 official dealerships in a city with 1M people population. Oh, and they are both Yamaha only. Nearest BMW, Ducati? – 500 km. Triumph? – What?!!)
    All that being said, motorcycles ought to be fairly simple. Most people don’t have money, or time, or plain opportunity for complicated and rare electronic spare parts to be purchased, awaited for shipping, and installed on their bikes by a dealer with enough equipment and experience to do that. Even if you have unlimited money, the latter 2 problems still remain.

  • http://www.themotorcycleobsession.com/ Chris Cope

    Presumably 3D printers and the like will make finding parts easier in the not-too-distant future. No storehouse will be needed. What we’ll do when the 3D printer breaks, however…

  • howard kelly

    Perfect JPB…… my refrigerator scares me…. i’ll be inviting you over again when it refuses to refrigerate….

    • john burns

      lemme know if the ice maker craps out, otherwise useless…

      • howard kelly

        fair enough–ice makes drinks worth having

  • Pushr0d

    I’m a ‘fixer’, and with my Scottish heritage, an adherent of the “It’s not good enough to keep, but it’s too good to throw away.” lifestyle. My garage is a nightmare of stuff squirreled away in places barely remembered.
    But, I try to fix everything. Latest success was, coincidentally, the icemaker. It turned out that all it needed (after many removal/installation cycles, impacts, and cusswords) was a squirt of teflon lube (Dupont Chainsaver – I LOVE that stuff!) on the control cam. It was sticking right before it cycled back to “harvest’ position.
    My irrigation system, however…

  • Campisi

    Anyone worried about servicing electronic components in the future should assuage their anxiety in the following fashion: reach deep into your pockets, fish out that smartphone we all know damn well you’re carrying, and smash it as hard as you can on the nearest solid surface. Your nearest handy-dandy Millenial Representative (TM) will know how to have it fixed in forty eight hours for about as much money.

  • John B.

    I once replaced a fuse on my bike when an air compressor overloaded the circuit. Other than adding air to tires, that’s the extent of my wherewithal to repair or maintain anything. As such, I look forward to the day when technology advances to the point where no one else can fix anything either. Lol!!
    I fear artificial intelligence will soon render human beings superfluous with respect to many tasks. Then what will we do?

  • JMDGT

    There are dark forces at work. Gremlins. They seek out certain individuals. Something wrong? That is not enough of an inconvenience so we will need to add to the overall have to fix it experience. Need a replacement. One may be had at a triple original retail price. One may not be available at all. Maybe an Apple genius will find time to fix your IPhone that has magically gone dead for no reason. Need the data? Maybe after we make you wait two hours we will tell you your phone is old technology we will not fix it cannot retrieve the data but you may be able to track down one of the two data retrieval services in North America to do it. At triple the retail price. Electronic control module not available? Tuff titties. You can always buy a new bike. The managerial elite will decide what we need or don’t need. They will control the horizontal. They will control the vertical. Don’t worry about it.

  • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

    ” I remember a friend’s old 7 Series BMW a few years ago; when its passenger seat started losing its mind, it tried to swallow me like a giant clam as we were rolling down the 405. German engineering tends to err on the aggressive side.”

    I almost peed my pants.