I had a bizarre dream yesterday about riding a horse down the central motorway. I can’t remember if in the dream it was also a bike, or if it turned into a bike (or if a bike had turned into it) but it was a horse – And of course, this got me thinking about the eternal horse-bike comparisons. You care for them. You spend long hours with them, travelling, otherwise alone (I powerfully suspect that a modern Aslög, invited to meet Ragnar “Neither alone nor accompanied, either fasting nor eating, neither dressed nor undressed” would arrive with a motorcycle, a cup of tea, and wearing full leathers but no helmet). You feel like they have a lot of personality but, as with a horse, a lot of that personality is what you project onto them, or expect, or is a non-human behaviour given a human motivation (I insist that my beloved GZ, which hasn’t been able to be moved due to an electrical fault since the day that I passed my full test, is sulking). They’re valuable, beloved companions to their riders even if to a total stranger they’re “Just a means of transport”. They range from barely-clinging-to-life and worked to the bone, to pampered near-pets, to the core of their owner’s livelihood.
The big place where the comparison breaks though, is maintenance. Obviously, you have to keep both of them in their favoured environments (Actually, warm and dry with low salinity and not too much ambient dust or spores is ideal for both, as is giving the option to take the weight off their heels, in the form of soft straw or artificial bedding for a horse or a paddock stand for a bike, and a fleece blanket to prevent scrapes and surface chill and moisture for both of them… Hm) and you need to fuel or feed both of them commensurate to how much work they do (With the horse obviously doing work just to keep respiring – A horse’s engine basically constantly idles – and the bike should either be left with a full tank or winterised so that it doesn’t rust up) but actual maintenance – Vet med or service and repairs – is totally different. On a horse, leaving it with a problem is cruel. On a bike, as long as you don’t try to ride it, and it’s kept in those ideal conditions, it won’t get worse.
I’m not saying that every part of a bike has already reached the minimum of molecular complexity and thus the heat death of the universe – You can, literally, make matters worse – but you probably can’t do it casually, if you’ve taken the time to read ahead in your Haynes manual and apply a bit of common sense. Bikes may have diaphragms that can perforate and crush washers that can deform and fuses that can pop, but most parts of the machine, once taken off and cleaned and bent back into shape, are pretty durable and as long as they’re not either deliberately broken or corroded beyond use by time on the road, they can be fixed. If the worst comes to the worst, they can be replaced, piece by piece, either from the factory as a legacy part, or as parts from a donor bike. If you (and I know people who have found this) tighten up the mixture screw in a carburettor the whole way, you’ll only have to replace that screw. If you go off half-cocked and try to ride it after you’ve done this, you will literally blow the carbs off the engine and probably destroy either the carbs or the engine or both.
Effectively, if you have a problem, you notice the problem, and you fix the problem, you can’t go wrong. If you need to stop in the middle of disassembling the entire machine, you can just throw a sheet over it at night and leave it for weeks at a time, provided you’re in a relatively clean, dry, temperate environment.
Working on a bike, the worst that can happen is that you have to replace a component. Blow a fuse, shear a screw – You’ll be able to buy new ones. Strip the thread out of a socket – You can do amazing things with blobs of hot metal and the appropriate tap. Even go as far as fouling up the inside of a cylinder – It’ll take skill and money, but you can re-bore it and keep the engine block. My own EN was condemned in 2002 with a structurally corroded frame – Fifteen years later, given a strip-back, structural welding, a few new support bars, and a nice glossy black powdercoat, it’s thriving. It sat SORNed for at least two years at some point. You can’t SORN a horse. At worst, the component will be a large one – Like an engine, or an entire wiring harness. There are people who’ve brought bikes back to life from nothing more than an empty frame, a photograph, and a collection of classified ads in their local bike magazine. There are bikes where every component has been changed enough times that they’ve been handed a Single Vehicle Assessment form and told to re-register as a new vehicle.
As one of my machines is currently sitting awaiting a cure for carb icing (The effect of the venturi and the resulting vacuum, along with rapid heat transfer, in producing ice crystals under certain atmospheric conditions would be fascinating if it didn’t also cause my bike to drop to one cylinder at high speed and make a noise like tinsel being used as a carwash) and the other is awaiting a pickup so that I can work on it in the warm and dry, it is extremely reassuring to me.
Somewhat relatedly; It irks the shit out of me that in British English we only have one word which can in various dialects be used to mean bikehouse, bikehospital, bikegreengrocer, bikepetshop and bikehotel (That’d be a garage, a mechanic’s workshop, a petrol station, a showroom or a used bike dealer, and an underground multi-storey car park, in the dialects that differentiate). So basically, I can get my bike out of the garage and go to the garage on the way to the garage, then garage it there whilst I go to the garage to look at new bikes, then ride it to a garage in the city centre for a cup of coffee before going home and putting it back in the garage.
Totally unrelatedly – I’ve not slept for fifty-odd hours. Bugger insomnia.