I've never been a mechanically inclined person, but always wished I was. I am envious of those that have a way with machines, engines, and mechanical components. Perhaps one of the reasons why I studied engineering was because I (mistakenly) thought it would make me a more proficient tinkerer.
When I bought my motorcycle last year, one of my goals was to learn how to work on it. It has been wonderfully interesting so far. Sometimes I wonder, though, if my old 2001 KLR 650 has been inoperable more than not. An important question, given that it's been my only motorized transportation since April.
So far, I've changed the oil (laugh if you must, it was a big win at the time), replaced the rear brake line and bled it, changed the fuses, had the cooling fan rewired, replaced the solenoid and the battery, and probably done a few other miscellaneous things to it.
Like most things, this has been a blessing and a curse: I've learned through that most effective of teachers (experience), and I have experienced quite the emotional roller coaster ride. I have the perfect example of this from this past week.
The drive chain started slipping, and upon investigation the rear sprocket was missing about half its teeth. I decided to replace the drive chain myself. It seemed like a smart move. New front and rear sprockets, plus a new chain and lube, cost about $110. I figured it would be double that, with labor, to have it replaced at the shop.
What I wasn't expecting: A 14 hour job requiring 7 helpers and 1 tow truck. But by the end of it, I had replaced the rear sprocket and the chain. The front sprocket was in good enough shape that it didn't need replacing- and thank the heavens, because the nut holding it in place wouldn't budge. After a motorcycle mechanic hit it with his impact tool, and it didn't move a bit, the mechanic told me that the only way to get the nut out would be to "burn it out". Not sure what that meant exactly, but it sounded invasive to say the least. I decided to hold off on that operation.
What took so long, you ask? Everything.
First, I had to assemble my motorcycle lift. It took me a shameful amount of time to figure out how it worked and went together, which I'll shamelessly blame on the terrible instructions that came with the lift.
There was probably an hour or so after that of trying, and failing, to get the front sprocket off.
We could, however, replace the rear sprocket- success here!
Until we tried to move the bike.
The motorcycle won't budge. And the bike is literally stuck 3 feet in front of the front door of autozone, right on the sidewalk. The wheels are stuck like a tick. At this point, it is 11pm, so we call it a night. I show up the next morning at 7:30am when autozone opens to explain myself. Turns out, we left out a spacer on the axle when we put the rear wheel back on.
I reinstall the spacer, but the brake pads now scrub on the brake disc. I decide not to worry about it until I get the rest of the drive chain replaced. The bike shop about 3 miles away offered to zap the nut on the front sprocket off with an impact tool if I can get the bike up there. We know how that turns out.
There is of course a complication in getting to the bike shop: the old chain is worn out enough that it slips off when the motorcycle rolls. I mistakenly think that I can't replace the drive chain with the new one I bought without removing the front sprocket. It's actually really easy to change with the front sprocket still on- embarrassingly easy. Live and learn. But after another 30 minutes of trying to remove the sprocket myself, and hitching a ride with my roommate to the bike shop to talk to them in person (thanks, Matt!) I give up and call a tow truck. Thankfully, tows are covered by my insurance policy! Along the way, I get some colorful commentary from Larry, the tow-truck driver. Let me tell you, I've never had a dull ride in a tow truck. I lost count of how many red lights we ran en-route to the mechanic.
Anyway, we know how this story ends: I get to the bike shop, and they can't do anything to help. So I walk my bike 30 feet away under the shade of an oak tree to try and replace the chain through trial and error, with the front sprocket still on.
Sometimes, you just have to trust yourself to figure it out. I get the new chain on, and I disassemble the rear brake caliper. Both work great. I roll away, and am amazed at how smooth my ride feels.
Looking back, it seems like the part in The Alchemist when the Englishman travels all the way to the Sahara desert to meet (go figure) the Alchemist. He wants the Alchemist to teach him how to make the Philosopher's Stone. The Alchemist asks him if he's tried, even once, to make it himself. He hasn't. Guess what the Alchemist tells him to go do?
There's something fantastically empowering about knowing you can take at least part of your bike apart, troubleshoot it, repair it, put it back together, and have it work better than it did before. You feel like you know your bike, like you've developed a special rapport with it. Like she's your accomplice, in on a secret that only the two of you know. All the rest of that day, I was riding on cloud nine.
The next morning, I went out to ride my motorcycle to the gym. I strap my gym bag down to the back, toss my leg over, stick the key in and... nothing. The key physically won't turn the cylinder.
This one, I'm outsourcing. The locksmith is coming today at 2pm.
I haven't been totally scared away though- my next project? Changing the tires! My current pair are street tires, and are almost bald. I will be replacing them with new 50/50 tires so that I can enjoy my bike more off-road! We'll see how it goes. Until then,
Dillon Dakota Carroll
...sees much and knows much