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On the Tools

From the Travels with Guido series, circa October 2011

by Guy 'Guido' Allen

Suzuki Katana 1100


A bit of sun, a good claret and an oil change – what more could you want? Talent…

One of the penalties of owning old motorcycles is paranoia. There we were, me and Kate the Katana, cruising down the freeway, enjoying the sun. Then, as we slowed for a block in the traffic, there was a gentle and rhythmic ‘clunk’. Eh?


Having lost a conrod out of another bike recently (and no, Winston ’47 Sunbeam is still not quite together – we’re currently eyeing each-other off from opposite ends of the shed…), I’m more than usually attentive to these little mechanical warnings.


After several minutes of rooting about trying different things, muggins suspected it was something to do with the clutch. Now I’ll admit that these days I’ll walk a long way to avoid digging into a toolbox, mostly because I’m (a) lazy, (b) not very good at it and (c) much prefer to pay extra for the privilege of being able to blame someone else when it all goes grenade-shaped.


So I rang the folk at my nearest mechanical port of call, but they were flat out and, of course, I couldn’t wait.


What the hell, the bike needed an oil change and getting in under the clutch cover to have a look around doesn’t take much. There are times when I actually enjoy a good spanner-twirling session, but years of bitter experience have made me a little wary.


In theory, if you’re methodical, patient and properly equipped, you really shouldn’t have a problem. But there are two circumstances that really mess with the amateur mechanic’s head and send that little theory scurrying home with its proverbial tail between its legs.


One is The Big Rebuild. I’ve done a couple of successful ones, and had some unmitigated disasters, and they scare the crap out of me. Because I’m a mug punter and know it, I live in fear of the awful moment when you thumb the starter for first time. As it wheezes into life, you flinch at every real or imagined clang or rattle. “What was that? What did I leave out? Did I tighten that tensioner bolt right?” And it takes months before I actually relax enough to enjoy riding it.


The second is the classic “how hard can it be?” job. The one where you’re just going in to top up the battery fluid and walk away two hours later with a bent ring spanner, three stripped threads, lacerated hands and motorcycle that’s been tuned to a standstill. It happens.


With that background in mind, I park Kate in the back yard and sidle up to it with a toolbox. As we manage to remove the sump plug without catastrophic consequences, I decide to celebrate with a mug of good fighting claret and go searching for a bottle. A friend recently chuckled in surprise when he saw my in-shed wine bar, commenting in a voice dripping with sarcasm, “Yep I always have a red when I’m on the tools!”


Ah, well, yes. From where I’m standing, it’s not something you want to do sober.


Anyway, I dropped the oil, peeled off the clutch cover and discovered everything was just fine in there. So I‘m buggered if I know where that noise came from.


The bike’s back together, with no casualties among the tools, threads or knuckles, and all’s more or less right with the world. Best of all, I had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon, pottering round in the sun, red in hand, playing with a nice toy. Of course I achieved next to nothing (and possibly less), but that’s not the point. We all walked away unharmed and that, these days, is as much as I’m game to hope for…

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