Zen and the Art of Cursing at Motorcycles, Pt. 1

Here’s the thing: I am not good at working with my hands.

It’s taken me a long time to come to grips with this simple truth. I’ve created a graveyard of examples of my lack of skill, talent, and craftsmanship. Shelves that just aren’t quite level. My patented “Drill and see what comes out” maneuver leading to a few more holes than really needed to hang a picture. My “eh, just mow over it, it’ll be fine I swear” that’s led to more than a few mower blade replacements.

You see, my problem is I’m impatient and have no eye for detail. Despite many attempts from school teachers over the years, I rush headlong into things and burrow my way through until I’ve managed to bungle something together resembling completion, then move onto the next task.

About two years ago, I decided to embark on A Project. Not just any project mind you, a proper extensive Project.

I would rebuild a vintage motorcycle.

Like many men before me and more after me, I’ve long been fascinated with motorcycles. Machines built for speed, built to ride on twisty roads through hilly countrysides, built to put wind in your face powerful enough to blow away the clutter of the everyday world. After slow-playing Cara and riding a scooter for a few years, I bought my first motorcycle, which has since been deemed “Frankenbike”.

Spotted on Craigslist, Frankenbike was a homebrew creation of a garage tinkerer, a Honda CB500 frame with a Honda CB650 engine crammed into it. Picture a Russian contortionist shoehorned into a tiny breadbox and you’ll start to have an idea of this motorcycle. The previous owner had customized it a bit, going for a cafe racer look. At the time, I knew next to nothing about motorcycles, so I took a buddy along to buy it. He took a spin around the block, deemed it proper, money was exchanged, and home we went.

I was in love.


Problems soon developed. It seems the garage tinkerer I purchased it from was similarly skilled to myself when it came to working with his hands. The exhaust fell off. The rear axle was one good bump away from dislodging. The throttle cable worked half of the time. The seat was held on by two tabs that looked like they were cut by a blind one-armed 3 year old. The gas tank rattled because it wasn’t mounted properly. The bike refused to start some mornings. The list went on and on and on.

At the time, we were living in a small 1,000 sq/ft two bedroom townhome with no garage. My tools consisted of the Homeowners All-In-One Kit we bought so we could have a hammer and a level to hang pictures. Any repairs I felt brave enough to attempt had to be done before it got too dark outside to keep laying on the asphalt, cursing my crescent wrench and rounded off flat-tip screwdriver. I knew next to nothing about the inner workings of motorcycles and spent endless hours trying to search The Internet for answers to questions I didn’t know how to ask.

It was a frustrating year of riding the bike for a week, then it being in the shop for a week, riding the bike for a week, taking it back to the shop for a week. Rinse and repeat as necessary.

As necessary in this case added up to dollars with many zeros and many quality sunny days spent looking longingly out the window. The final straw came when I was riding home from work one day and the bike just stopped running. I coasted to a stop on a sidestreet and attempted to fire it up. No dice. In my fit of frustration and impatience, it occurred to me that I was mere blocks away from my mechanic, Keith. I called him, relayed my plight, and he kindly took pity on me for the umpteenth time and showed up a few minutes later with his truck and trailer.

While once more taking part in the ritual that is the Trailer Loading Of Shame, my Keith shook his head knowingly. He called not 20 minutes later with a successful diagnosis. Turns out, the engine was so wedged into the frame, it was actually taller than the fuel tap on the bottom of the tank. The fuel line looked like a section of roller coaster. The bike would never be able to get enough gasoline to run 100% properly, and I’d never be able to ride with less than half a tank on a bike with no gas gauge.

When I went to pick up the bike, Keith gave relayed the prognosis, then paused and looked me straight in the eye with a sly smile on his face. This was a look I knew well by now, so I braced myself for the inevitable wit that surely would follow.

“I was thinking about it, I know this bike has more of a cafe racer look going on, but you know what would look really good on it?”

I took the bait. “What’s that?” I asked, thinking it’d be some fancy new piece of gear I’d never heard of and couldn’t wait to blow money I didn’t have on.

“A For Sale sign.”


Check out Keith’s shop, Geezer’s Garage¬†where old motorcycles come to be revived. Sometimes pretty, mostly functional. Specializing in old British Iron, and vintage Asian bikes.

One thought on “Zen and the Art of Cursing at Motorcycles, Pt. 1

Leave a Reply