Some things, like love and substance abuse, everybody has to learn for themselves, the hard way. The wise man says, “the only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history,” but if you’re smart you can save yourself a little pain by listening to the wisdom of the ancients. Here are 10 of my pearls. At MO as always, no charge.
They don’t have to be Snap-Ons, but things like 6-point sockets instead of cheap 12-point ones greatly increase your chances of successfully taking crusty old things apart, and when aren’t things crusty and old? The good news is you can buy good tools like Johnny Cash got his Cadillac, one piece at a time. Which is the #1 reason why Sears still exists.
Get some hex keys with ball ends while you’re at it. Who knew how much easier they access fasteners in inaccessible places? And if you have any doubts about where to insert your tool, all kinds of manuals and Youtube videos are a Google search away for almost every moto-mechanical endeavor.
Sliding a hunk o’ pipe over your ratchet handle is tempting when confronting the enemy bolt securing your old GS head pipe or whathaveyou, but when that bolt snaps off with a tiny but expensive tink, you’ll wish you’d been a bit more patient. A little WD-40 spritz the night before the mechanical assault, a little Liquid Wrench, might be all you need to avert what Valentino Rossi calls il disastro. And when that doesn’t work, a blast of hotness from a $17 propane torch can usually take the starch out of the stiffest bolt’s defense – especially if it’s got blue Loctite or something on it, like the bolts that hold your brake discs on. Ex-Cycle magazine editor Phil Schilling used to call me “Bernzomatic,” sniff. Careful not to set yourself on fire.
It might look fine in the garage, but when you get rolling along in the wind, things change. Things vibrate, things rub… and if it’s dark and it’s the wire to the taillight on your custom CB550 tailsection you built yourself from papier mache, you could be in for a truly nasty surprise from behind. Ask me about the time I ran the ignition wire on my SRX-6 between the frame rail and gas tank, which only shorted out and killed the ignition when I got going fast enough around Willow Springs to lay down on top of the tank…
Truly I say unto you, if I had one nickel for every time a thing I thought would take two hours took two days (or two weeks), I would have several dollars. Tuning oneself to a standstill happens all too often. If you don’t have to be anywhere, no problem. But I strongly advise against any unnecessary moto-tampering to your primary transportation the day before the big Postal Exam, the morning of your Bat Mitzvah, or on any day when the zombie apocalypse is likely to occur. Having backup transpo also means you don’t have to rush the job, which can result in all sorts of misadventures.
Did Captain America and Billie pack rainsuits? I don’t think so. It’s romantic to think you’ll just get wet and persevere. The reality is that when you get wet, even when it’s not even cold, the wind chill factor increases with the square of rear tire diameter. I made that up to honor Kevin Cameron, but you can wind up being dangerously numb-fingered cold if the sun sets right after you get doused and there’s no place to get warm for another 50 miles. If you’re setting out very far at all in a place with weather, get a cheap plastic onesie at Walmart if that’s all you can afford, and a bungee net to hold it on your back seat.
People riding around with no gloves was my leading indicator that all is not well in the brains of my fellow Americans. I’ve said this before but I will say it again: You don’t appreciate what amazing appendages your delicate paws are until you jack them up, and they’re the things you’ll stick out to break your fall when you fall. The $280 Racer gloves in the photo provide a graphic example of all the places on your hand where things can go most painfully wrong: On the street, $15 Home Depot gloves are way better than nothing. I can still see the little scars on my fingers from 32 years ago from a not-that-fast, no-gloves street crash.
They don’t call them “sport”bikes for nothing, but riding motorcycles is not like other sports, where you should just jump in and swing for the fences immediately. Just because you have a brand-new Ninja 300 doesn’t mean you should be able to keep up with your pal who got his Ninja 300 last year. Furthermore, even if you’ve been riding a few years it doesn’t mean you should be able to keep up with the AMA’s winningest roadracer through Turn 2 at Circuit Catalunya even if you’re on identical R1s. Don’t ask me how I know. And further furthermore, please don’t insist that you should keep up with that old guy at the Rock Store because he’s a little gray and weighs 280. Oh no.
A rear blowout is not pretty in traffic, a front one is even worse. You might get by on dry pavement for a while, but if it rains or if you need to make a sudden stop or turn or all three at once, good luck. Also, your rusty old chain might last another year, but if it doesn’t they are known to put holes in engine cases, a career-ending injury for many motorcycles. Maybe that leaky fork seal will fix itself, and maybe it will get worse and spritz oil onto your front brake. A motorcycle is not a car, people. You’re not always going to just coast to a bemused stop if something fails. Speaking of which, when you attach things to your rear seat or rack, do it so the thing can’t come off and get stuck in your rear wheel (though it is fun to watch that happen to other people).
We were enjoying a nice Frito Pie at our favorite mountain cafe last week when the owner/chef, who’s a super nice man and motorcycle enthusiast, confessed he’d turned left in front of a motorcycle that morning. He was shaken, ashamed and apologetic: “I just didn’t see him!” His is the typical case. Drivers don’t do it on purpose, but it happens, and it’s the #1 thing that takes us out. Expect cars to do stupid things. Be prepared. Have good tires and brakes and lights. It’s only going to get worse with self-driving cars. Then again, maybe not?
About half-a-second before pavement impact is a bad time to realize that emulating all the cool kids who don’t wear a helmet was a mistake, and very sadly for many people their last one. It’s got to feel like the emotion all the people who’ve survived jumping off the Golden Gate describe: As soon as I stepped off, I greatly regretted it. Now that many states have repealed their helmet laws, the temptation is great not to wear one if you’re a certain kind of rebellious youth. All we can tell you is it’s even better to survive to be a rebellious adult. Wearing a helmet greatly increases your chances of getting here, and anybody who tells you otherwise is a stupid fat bastard.
Courtesy of our friend Brian Catterson: Never, ever say, “I’ve never crashed that fast before.”