A famous Russian poet, Igor Pistov, once wrote to the Czar, “Winter is the night of seasons,” then he threw himself under a train before the proletariat ripped him apart. It isn’t known if the crowd turned on him for merely expressing what everyone else was thinking, or for the saltine he had hidden in his shoe. But the poet may have been on to something. With the twice monthly snowstorms on schedule, the nearly daily sanding of the roads, and the gray atmosphere hanging over this house like the wedding blessing of my first mother-in-law, I have a great desire to close my eyes and wake up on Wednesday... Sometime in April.
Above: Igor Pistov, poet, optomist, and male cosmetics model in Czarist Russia, threw himself under a train after he stepped outside the station and saw his shadow, indicating six more months of winter.
I have spent the first month of this cursed season with my face pressed against the frosted glass of the front door, sobbing over the memory of perfect riding days past. Yet even as winter’s routine shows no sign of abating, time is running out for that most crucial of rituals: the spring tune-up or annual maintenance. Many Twisted Roads readers prefer to do their own work on their bikes, just as Dominican friars of the Middle Ages would hit themselves in the head with two-by-fours for spiritual release. Personally, I can think of nothing less appealing than lying on the freezing cold garage floor, with three manuals (BMW, Clymer, and the Necronomicon) spread open to the curse of the clutch splines.
It’s not that I have no confidence in my mechanical abilities, it’s just that I suck at doing anything mechanical. When replacing the last rhombohedran screw in the universe, I will drop it onto the floor and watch it roll into the sewer grate, eventually settling in the coils of a deadly pit viper. Or I will brush up against something connected to a red wire, creating a path for an electrical current between the flux capacitor and the Motronic brain, frying the later, which is now only available from the Vatican for $126,932 (USD). Or I will leave one air bubble, no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence, in the whale oil line lubing the steering head bearings. This will undoubtedly generate the kind of friction that can only be eliminated through massive applications of wallet grease.
Above: It is rumored that the "Motronic" brain in the BMW K75 is fashioned from real human brains harvested from US politicians, who seem to have no need of them once assuming office.
People like myself — and there are millions of us — are compelled to take their bikes to a motorcycle mechanic. There are 2,381,491 motorcycle mechanics in the United States. Seventeen of them work on BMWs. Five can actually fix one. (I know three of those guys.) Thank God BMWs never break. While this number may seem slightly out of proportion, the horror stories of questionable shop performance abound within each marque. I have heard Harley riders curse their mechanics. And I have seen Honda riders take their bikes back to the local Chevy dealer time and time again. In some cases, a shop (and you know the one I'm talking about) may have one guy who can actually do anything, and five dopey high school kids whose eyes cross when they concentrate on taking a piss.
That’s why gifted mechanics (and we all know at least one) are cherished like semi-precious heirlooms. My own visits to a certain shop are always enjoyable, educational interludes into the world of mechanical perfection. My mechanic is a god among men; a healer of wounded motorcycles; and a magnet for the blessings that come only from the great motorcycle spirit in the sky. I am not allowed to mention my mechanic’s name as he is shy to the point of being a shrinking violet, and because he has threatened to cast me out among “the mechanicless damned” if I ever “mention his name in one of my bullshit blog stories again.” I think that is what he said. So in the interest of preserving his anonymity, we will call him Betty Lou Johnson.
I was terrified when I first arrived at Betty Lou's shop. I thought I was on the original set of the Wizard of Oz. My mechanic initially appeared as a vapory presence, hovering 20 feet above the ground. A boomingly loud voice demanded, “Why art thou here?”
“For service, my lord,” I replied.
“Then kneel in supplication and obeisance, like the worm thou art,” said the voice.
“But my lord,” I said, “There is dog shit here in the driveway.”
“Then kneel in that,” said the voice. “And be happy it is nearly frozen. It was soft and warm when Bregstein was here earlier today.” (Dick Bregstein is my riding partner.)
The voice further demanded the nature of the service I sought. I explained some fluids needed changing, that I wanted the timing looked after, and that perhaps the cooling fan mechanism needed replacing...
“Silence,” boomed the presence. “I will tell you what needs replacing. I am the mechanic."
“Yes, my lord,” I squeaked.
“Hast thou touched this bike in any way?”
I was afraid to utter a sound.
“Hast thou attempted to do anything on this bike yourself, thereby making a simple job far more complicated than it needs to be?”
I nodded, and lightning flashed through the shop. Distant cattle lowed and a baby cried somewhere down the street.
“Are all the parts there at least?” asked the voice dripping with malevolence.
“I think so,” I said. “There was this one little black screw, in the shape of a rhombohedron, that fell into the sewer grate...
“Aaaaaaarrrrgh,” screamed the voice. “And did you think that I would come across the missing central rhombohedran master adjustment screw blessed by Pope John Paul II thnking I’d lost it?”
I am not ashamed to tell the gentle Twisted Roads reader that I pissed myself standing right there, because that was my scam to the letter.
“Leave the bike, yet slink thee away like the vermin ye are.”
And then I opened my mouth one more time, nearly consigning myself to hell. “When will my bike be ready?" I asked.
“Return thee to thy hovel and sit by the phone,” said the voice. “It will be ready before the hyena, who was probably thine father, can shriek in night three times. Wait until my call, then sell all your possessions. Put the proceeds in a brown paper bag and bring it hence.”
That was the first time I ever showed up at Betty Lou Johnson’s garage door with my helmet in my hands. I go back pretty much every year, for several reasons:
a) I have one of the best running bikes around and I doubt it is a coincidence.
b) I never get a line of bullshit, just straight information.
c) Betty Lou Johnson is an intuitive mechanic who understands his role in my life. He will service everything on my list, and then check out the whole bike. He won’t change the tires and give me the bike back needing brakes.
d) His thoroughness saves me money. By using OEM parts and keeping the bike to factory specs, I avoid excessive wear and unpleasant surprises.
e) Betty Lou is factory trained. The kid with the least experience in the shop is the one usually entrusted with changing the oil, brakes, and tires, working on a range of bikes. At Betty Lou’s shop, the top guy looks at everything.
f) I have never waited longer than two days to get my bike back.
g) Betty Lou gives me good advice for free. He told me “to shut the fuck up” just the other day, and that turned out okay.
h) Out of all the people who make fun of me for being inept, fat, or just a trifle odd, he does it better, with true élan.
Nevertheless, I feel compelled to make certain recommendations to the impressionable Twisted Roads reader, who is undoubtedly interested in improving their relationship with a mechanic.
1) If you are planning on getting your bike serviced this spring anyway, why not do it now? The mechanic can probably use the business and this is one time of the year when the bay is less crowded.
2) In reporting a problem to the mechanic on the phone, in which you are doing your best to imitate a short in the wiring harness, do not expect a pinpoint analysis — including cost parameters. The mechanic is going to have to look at the bike.
3) Don’t bother calling the shop on April 3rd, with temperatures in the 60‘s, to ask if they are busy.
4) In a shop with a great reputation for service, calling for a service date in April will usually get you one in June.
5) Calling the shop every day to ask “Is it ready yet,” will not endear you to the service manager nor the mechanic. Getting the bike in for service during a lull in activity can’t hurt.
Winter is the night of all seasons... Sweet dreams. There are 59 days until spring.
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)