Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dealing With The Winter Maintenance Ritual...

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)


Anonymous said...

There was a time when fathers would pass information like this onto their sons. We should be grateful that Twisted Roads has stepped up to the plate to make sure that every biker understands the proper protocols in communicating with a valued mechanic.

Chester Heaver
The Amish Conspiracy
Intercourse, Pennsylvania

Unknown said...


Like yourself I like to keep the independant mechanics in business. I have no problem to make an appointment and have my bike serviced while I wait.

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

John said...

I was a lucky person to have a father that blessed me with mechanical knowledge, talent and the ability to look at a job and know that I am over my head. I have done much work on my beloved K1100RS (Mystic Red, like your bike) but I know a guy who owns his own independent shop, much like Betty Lou. He does great work as well.

CommanderKewl said...

I had to admit.. I thoust had touched it and he banished me from the shit into hell.

I was tormented by the hellhole of past wife rants screaming a s medusa until I gave all my possessions..not many since wife number 7 took what was left..

Thanks so much for the laughs and truisms.

Keith - Circle Blue said...

Gifted mechanics are indeed gold.

I'm grateful to have one. It wasn't pretty when I didn't.

I do my best to not be a pain in the ass to my mechanic and so far it has worked out pretty well.

Good post,

Stacy said...

Sage advice.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Bobscoot:

It is not uncommon to discover that there is a three or a four week week at both the independent shops and the dealers for service. The local Honda shop has a deal that service for things like bulbs, batteries, tires and oil changes, plus other small items of maintenance are performed on a first come, first served basis — on Saturday morning.

Leslie's Shadow was due for an oil change and I took it in at 6:45am on Saturday morning. The shop didn't open for another 90 minutes, and I was number 3 on line. By 8:30am, there were more than 30 people waiting to talk to mechanics.

The bike got rolled into a bay at 9:15am, and I was done at 11am. I make my appointments for my bike 2 months in advance. Yet it is not uncommin to hear of bikes in the shop at least a week.

Let's hope we have a breakdown free season in 2011.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear John (Claus):

I am over my head just taking out the tool kit. The K75 is so damn complicated, and its one of BMW simpler machines, that I feel no embarrassment about taking it to the shop for everything.

Fondest regards,
Jasck • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Commander Kewl (Mike):

Glad you got a laugh out of this. Wife number 7? Damn you are optimistic.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Circle Blue (Keith):

Like I said, I know at least two guys capable of doing heavy lifting and a couple of others who can guide me through easier stuff. I just learned how to navigate my way around the battery, the motronic brain (removing both), and learned the basics of changing the oil (both transmission and engine lubricant). I also learned how to pop the tank up if ever a loose relay is suspect of shutting down the mill.

But when it comes to the regular maintenance and anything requiring real work, it goes straight into the shop.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Stacy:

I live well within the parameters of my limitations.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Cy-clops said...

I like to spin the wrench myself as much as possible. It keeps me fluent in the salty sailor languages that my father passed on to me when I was a wee lad. Besides, with a Harbor Freight and a liquor store within close proximity of my workshop, what could possibly go wrong?

Rhonda said...

Jack, I just can't keep quiet anymore. I've been silently following your blog, I have a confession to make. LOVE it! Thanks for always being entertaining and poignant at the same time.

Conchscooter said...

I was in the shop yesterday buying oil and a filter. "My wife will be proud" I said as I walked away with the loot even after Jiri offered to do the nasty smelly slimy job for me. A dollar saved is a dollar spent on something else.
Of course we ride year round in Flatistan. Bet it's looking pretty good about now, eh, you heathen...

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Cy-Clops:

The last time I tried to do sometrhing myself on this K75, it entailed checking the transmission fluid. I blew it and ended up overfilling the trans by a quart. I know when an job is best left to the professionals.

Thanks for reading my blog and for writing in.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Rhonda:

Thank you for finally writing in and sharing one of your deepest secrets with me. Many women read Twisted Roads, not only for its keen technical advice, but for its penetrating insight into the male psyche.

Our editorial staff, generally chosen by their proximity to the gutter in front of the Betty Ford Clinic, really work hard at being sensitive individuals. Please let me know if there is a special topic you'd like us to address.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Conch:

Changing the oil in a motorcycle is the most basic functions and (from what people tell me) one of the most satisfying tasks one can perform on a bike. I go about it by putting out a bottle of rum, ordering a pizza, and piling some cigars on a table in the garage. Then I ask someone who actually knows how to do this to come over for lunch and a few drinks.

Once again, the ground is covered by three to five inches of the white stuff with another storm coming next Tuesday. I would love to be riding with you in Flatistan.

Thank you for reading Twisted Roads and for choosing me as your role model.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

BMW-Dick said...

Dear Jack:
That wasn't dog shit in Betty Lou Johnson's driveway. When he asked me to make a deposit before he'd look at my motorcycle, I put it where I knew you'd be kneeling.

This was an entertaining tale. Your storytelling is a bright spot in this otherwisse snow- and salt-covered winter.

I can't wait for the weather to improve. As you often say optimistically, "With snow on the ground, June can't be far away."

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Dick:

I thnk we should meet for lunch down at Jumbo Jimmy's Crabs soon. Maybe we can pokle Clyde, Pete, and Gerry in the ass and get together nest week.

I haven't heard from Betty Lou. That can't be a good sign.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twiasted Roads

redlegsrides said...

Hi Jack,

A very accurate representation of one's introduction to a true mechanic....mine was similar to yours but no booming voice, just an almost completely disguised tone of disgust from "the mechanic" as he learned what I'd attempted or done on my own to my Beemers.

Just got my R80 from it's spline lube operation and I am sad to say, it's probably the last time he'll be touching my motorcycles.

He's proven himself biased, in the extreme, against sidecar rigs and I cannot consort with such.

Though I will miss his expertise and usual working on the bike while I waited nearby (not near the shop mind you, but a mile away awaiting his call, wallet in hand)....I will instead entrust my beemers to a local airhead guru who works for the Beemer dealer.

Yes, wait times will be longer I guess but at least I'll be able to talk freely of sidecars and not worry about the mechanic's reactions. Costs will undoubtedly go up as the dealer has this shiny showroom to pay for.

However, the dealer has a comfortable lounge with wifi so I can wait there in comfort while my motorcycles are serviced.

I really need to try and do my own "transmission spline lube" service one of these days....

Oh well, such is life.

Thanks for another great posting.


Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

Redleg's Rides

Allen Madding said...

All hail the wizard with a dyno and computer tuning magic. I am venturing to visit the wizard this weekend. I will endevour to ignore what is behind the curtain.


Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom):

One of the most competent and knowledgeable BMW mechanics around (and we are speaking on the national level) said there was a reason why BMW itself did not sanction the sidecar application... Basically, he was of the opinion that a motorcycle must be designed from the ground up to work with a sidecar, as anything else entails stresses and wear outside the machine's operating parameters.

Your mechanic's bias is not an exclusive thing. Now there are enough sidecar rigs out there on venerable BMW models to prove that it can and is being done. My point is that your Beemer is in such great shape that Id be reluctant to alter it. It would be easier to get something like a mid-mileage K75 and play with that.

Thanks for reading and for writing in.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Allen:

I am always amazed when a competent wrench reaches into an engine, starts ripping things out, and puts it together again with his eyes closed. Put that's what you pay for, hopefully.

I wish it was a skill I had. I had a major service done on Fireballs last year, and will only need to get the oil changed this year. I didn't put enough miles on it last summer to scuff the tires.

Thanks for reading and for writing in...
Fondest regards
Jack • reep • Toad

Nikos said...

Dear Cardinal Biggles

Panic over, I located Betty Lou Johnson on Facebook with some deft finger work - Tubbyballs is now booked in for a manicure, pedicure and colonic irrigation.

You must know that I hang on your every word - with all Papal blessings, yours ever, N aka Cardinal Fang

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Nikos:

I have a strong suspicion that you are a closet shade-tree mechanic, determined to try most fixes yourself. I wish you luck. I prefer to roll my bike into the shop, present my grocery list of potential fixes, and come back two days later to find a K75 restored to factory perfection.

Of course, it helps that the K75 is the kind of bike that goes into the shop at my discretion, and not out of necessity.

Thank you for being a dedicated Twisted Roads Reader and a constant source of encouragement.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad said...

Ya, a good mechanic is beautiful to behold. I may have found one in La Crosse. Not an official BMW dealer (that's 120 miles away) but he reportedly has "BMW Experience". Hasn't blown it up yet so...
I'd kneel in poo while he works on it if necessary....

Now back to sulking at the -20 weather.

Dan (2003 R1150GS "Martha", named after Martha MacCallum, mmmmm...)

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Dan:

Thank you for reading Twisted Roads and for taking the time to drop me a note. I rank my motorcycle mechanic right up there with my cardiologist, my accountant, my lawyer, and almost with my lover, for personal significance. And I don't mind paying for his expertise. I never have to to worry about a loose nut, a bad connection, or missed problem when Betty Lou works on my bike. You cannot put a price on that kind of freedom or security.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Cantwell said...

Dear Jack,
I was going to ask you if you could bring your trailer up so I could get my bike to my beloved BMW mechanic. I am going to reconsider that in light of your reply to Dick's post..."...Maybe we can pokle Clyde, Pete, and Gerry in the ass and get together nest week."
I feel that the winter is having ill effects on your libido and will avoid any actual contact with you until you have been healed by a good run in the spring weather.

Until then,

PS: not a good omen when your WORD VERIFICATION IS "scrotomm".

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Cantwell:

Why is it getting any correspondence from the Adirondacks is like finding yourself between athlete's foot and clap? I can't tell if I should just scratch or go blind.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Classic Velocity said...

Dear Jack,

As you know, I do a fair amount of my own work precisely because there are few truly knowledgeable mechanics, and long lines ending in lighter wallets (mostly well worth it)to get their services. We are fortunate in this area to live close to some true wizards of the clan of the blue and white propeller. We should all support them lest they switch to servicing Espresso machines or something even more lucrative. Cheers

Erik (the Dutchman) said...

"Igor Pistov" must be a second cousin to Rasputin! That dude is yugly!

Thanks for the entertainment, as always.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Classic Velocity Blog (Wayne);

You are so right. Within a 60 mile range I have access to the Rubber Chicken Racing Garage, Hermy's, and Brian Curry. I have relied on all three in the past and have nothing but good things to say about all of them.

Therre is also the Montgomeryviller Cycle Center, but I have not gone in there for service yet. Since they are BMW dealers, I should at least go in and buy a tee shirt or something. Hermy's is more than an hour away, but they treat me like I'm something special there.

It pays to support the experts who always have the answers. And by the way, thanks for supporting Twisted Roads, the motorcycle blod committed to raw adventure and romance like broken glass.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Erik (The Dutchman):

How you love to taunt me! Be advised that the AUTBD (Americans United To Beat The Dutch) grows stronger every day, and we have your number.

It was rumored that Igor Pistov was killed in place opf Rasputin and that the great Russian holy man con-artist went on to serve a long career in the US Congress.

Thank you for writing in and for continuing to read Twisted Roads.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

The Armed Christian said...


Unfortunately, you passed you lack of mechanical skills on to me (that will cost you more in back child support by the way).

One of the reasons I don't own a BMW (outside of the fact that I don't like latte, want to mortgage the old homestead for matching aerostich gear, not to mention my general lack of douchiness) is that I don't believe there are any good BMW shops in Houston that can perform warranty repairs. All the BMW shops around here are also dealers of the brand that cannot be named so I have experience with all of them. I sold the bike rather than return to their dungeons of ignorance and rapine...

I have a good guy that I trust with my bike and recommend him to friends. I would rather have to wait a little longer because he has plenty of business that have him go out of business and be stuck taking the bike to the stealership.

With that said, now that I own a bike without body work, that is simple and straightforward (right) I plan to start doing more of my own maintenance tasks. It will save money (are you reading this Wonderful Wife?) and gives me a good excuse to get out of the house and hang out in the garage (I hope she's not actually reading this).

Hang in there

Backroads Buddha

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Shannon:

On Twisted Roads, there is no "Brand that Cannot Be Named." However, we do routinely exploit cheap shots whenever possible. It cannot be denied that the BMW motorcycle (generally speaking, we mean the "K" bikes) are mehanical and electronic marvels requiring gifted hands and intuitive minds to keep running. Thank God they break down so infrequently.

The BMW motorcycle is not for everyone. Specifically, it is designed for the individual who generally prefers to ride alone, at speeds that burn out lesser motorcycles, over distances that destroy the souls of shallow men.

And then again, there is the way the machine looks. Not everyone in the office is attracted to the girl in accounting, the one with the heavy-framed glasses, nor would they recognize her when she puts on the skimpy black dress and dances in the moonlight.

It is my goal to some day own a lightly used 2004 BMW K1200GT, in that dark mysterious blue. That is the best looking "K" bike Beemer ever built. But then again, I live in the Baravian Triangle, between three sources of excellent maintenance.

You and I will ride together, hopefully in this year.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

BeemerGirl said...

I bring offerings of locally brewed beer to my mechanical messiahs. But only have they have finished my bike.


The Armed Christian said...

The brand that cannot be named is my own personal hang up. After my adventures with the maintenance nightmares of that brand in my (not so small hometown) I can not say or type the word without making the sign of devil horns, spitting upon the sole of my boot, spinning three times and sacrificing at least one feathered creature.

This is not (really) to curse the unnamed manufacturer but also to ward away the gremlins and demons that haunt said brand. Three months of shop time to replace a tachometer (under warranty) is a riding experience I hope never to repeat. Nor the gremlin-infested brake system that would lock the rear and sometime the front if you merely brushed the brake lever. This was particularly enjoyable in the rain and gas stations. Another favorite was the battery that failed completely the day after the warranty expired...100 miles from home.

Despite the reputation to the contrary my Harley, knock wood, has been one of the most reliable bikes I have ever owned and the warranty service has been top notch (if not always friendly).

Hang in there...


MCMXLV said...

Very entertaing Jack! My sides hurt from laughing and I had to make a quick trip to the store to get more tissue for wiping the tears from my eyes.
I gotta say that I did have a BMW that did break not once but twice. My long gone K100 developed an oil leak in the rear area of the engine. Brought it to the best shop in the area and lo and behold the engine had to be removed and cracked open like an egg to replace the gasket that lay between the halves of the motor. Oh did I mention the mechanic (one of many in the shop) had to take time off to care for his sick mother? My bike was now put on the back burner waiting for the "wrench" to return. No other "wrench" in the shop would touch it or was allowed to touch it. Six weeks went by.....finally got it back! Never took it back to that dealer ever again. Next breakdown was in the motor again. I did an oil change myself one day and found some metal chunks in the oil pan. Took chunks to another shop (not as high on the list of famous BMW shops).The wrench looked at the chunks, looked at the shop owner and said "I have no idea". Whereupon they faxed a photo of the part to BMW mfg. Those wizards said it was a piece of the balancer (?) that connects the crankshaft to the output shaft. Well, long story short...I got shafted AGAIN. Sold that Beemer a few years later after compiling 104,000 miles on it.