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I'll be in the Shed

(Travels with Guido series #226, October 2020)

Triumph T160

by Guy ‘Guido’ Allen

From desperation to spanner-free, to self-inflicted pain – such is the lot of a motorcyclist

Is it possible we go through phases when it comes to twirling spanners? Much like we do with many other aspects of our lives? I suspect so.

There was a time when I felt a real sense of achievement in doing an oil change. Though it was some years ago, I distinctly remember the first stumbling attempts at laying a spanner on my very own motorcycle, secretly terrified that some mysterious force would intervene and break it.

Having not been brought up with much in the way of taught mechanical skills, the whole thing was an adventure into the unknown. (And still is, some days.) Over the years I progressed from taking a whole afternoon to change oil and filter, to a whole week investigating the murky depths of rejetting a bike for an aftermarket exhaust, through to hotting up an engine. And failing miserably – assuming the comprehensive blow-up was a fair indication.

The blow-up led to decision time. Either pay someone else a fortune to rebuild the motor, or buy the tools and parts and learn how to do it myself. I took the latter, less sensible and probably ultimately more expensive, road and finally completed the job. It took months.

The powerplant was a Honda 750-Four, circa 1974, with a Yoshimura 812 kit and assorted other mods. Through a mix of hard work, bloody-minded determination (despite some expensive set-backs) and sheer luck, it ended up as a decent job. The bike went like stink. However it still didn’t stop or handle, something a near-miss on the way back from Bathurst amply demonstrated.

As the finances looked a little healthier, I abandoned the spanners and got to the stage where the idea of touching one seemed downright silly. Why do it, when I could ride modern bikes and pay an expert to better complete the few jobs required in a fraction of the time? This got to the point where I resented doing even a simple oil change. It was a lot more fun just to ride the toys and pay someone else to agonise over their health.

There are limits, however, and it’s the older bikes in the shed which are finding them. The trouble is two-fold. One is it can be difficult to find anyone to take on some jobs, and the other is that older machinery tends to be demanding, and it’s no longer economical to go whining down to the local workshop every time it needs some TLC.

By far the biggest challenge recently has been the rebuild of Dr Gange, the 1980 Suzuki GS1000G sidecar outfit. Finding anyone prepared to work on nearly 30-year-old Japanese stuff is becoming increasingly difficult, and you can forget it completely if there’s a chair fitted. Fortunately, Spannerman, our mechanical agony aunt, happens to be a mate, though this job may have stretched the friendship. He pitched in to do a top-end rebuild for me, basically replacing all the seals, which had suffered a comprehensive meltdown thanks to some dodgy work done many years ago – by an allegedly professional workshop.

The engine’s back together, but there’s some fine-tuning needed, so I’m back on the spanners to sort that one out.

And, of course, let’s not forget the older Brit gents in the shed: Winston the 1947 Sunbeam and Trevor the 1975 Trident. Their needs are simply constant attention rather than anything dramatic. Pros have so far done the hard yards, but now it’s down to muggins to watch oil changes, new points, that sort of thing.

(Thank heaven for machines like Hannibal the Hayabusa, which I can just get on and ride.)

Somehow I’ve gone from working on bikes through poverty, to not touching them, then back to working on them again through a self-inflicted need. It backs up my theory that the human race is, in fact, incapable of learning.

So, as the fleet ages, more often than not you’ll find me in the shed…

See more Travels with Guido here




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