By Thomas Day
To start off my morning, I unloaded the washing machine and dumped the wet clothes into the dryer. When I cleaned out the dryer filter, I noticed a lot of lint and dog hair had slipped by the filter into the airway leading to the condenser. So, I pulled the condenser and cleaned everything before I started up the dryer. It took about ten minutes to do the whole procedure. We’ve had this ventless dryer for about six months and it has needed a good cleaning no more than three times in that period. My wife, of course, has yet to read the dryer’s manual and has no idea that the dryer needs anything more than loading and unloading. She is, apparently, like a lot of motorcyclists in that way. When I test rode the Honda VT1300CT Interstate for MMM a few years ago I wrote, “Honda skipped the usual crappy Japanese tool kit altogether. I’m not fond of this thinking, but their theory is probably that the kind of rider the VTX attracts will be unlikely to do his or her own maintenance.” Or, for that matter, any maintenance until absolutely necessary. At that point, the work is no longer properly called “maintenance.” It can often be emergency roadside repairs or a tow to a shop followed by expensive work that might even result in the rider having to abandon the bike and/or make plans to get back home on more than two wheels.
When I do a Basic Rider course for the state, I always stick a little basic maintenance instruction into the class. Safe riding requires a well-maintained motorcycle and pretending that motorcycles don’t need maintenance is silly. Repair and maintenance is a sore subject for a lot of riders, drivers, and laundry machine owners. A lot of today’s products are designed to be “maintenance free,” which you should read to mean “designed to last no longer than the manufacturer’s warranty.” When Honda makes the decision to forego even the slightest tool expense because the company thinks we’re too lazy to do anything to prevent a breakdown, that is a big, scary statement.
There is no such thing as a maintenance-free motorcycle; or any other mechanical device. Expecting a machine to labor indefinitely without cleaning, lubrication, and the occasional part replacement is foolish. You might as well hope for a perpetual motion machine while you’re at it. High performance requires a lot of engineering sacrifices, including a conservative intolerance for contaminated lubrication, fasteners selected for lightness rather than redundancy, and lightweight vs. heavy-duty driveline parts. In fact, the more performance demanded from the machine, the closer every part will come to the engineering safety margins. That means more, not less, maintenance will be required if you want and expect something resembling reliability from the machine. If you don’t want reliability from your machine, why the hell are you reading this column? I’ve been beating this dead horse, and a couple others, for almost two decades. Modern manufacturers have performed near-miracles with the products we enjoy, but they do expect us to make some sort of contribution especially if we’re going to be riding on the outer edges of civilization. As Charlie and Ewan discovered, even BMWs break.
While manufacturers have been trying to convince consumers that modern products are supposed to have a two or three year lifetime, some consumers are taking a different path. “Hipsters” take a lot of unearned crap from old farts who are jealous of kids who can still fit into skinny jeans. However, I know a few kids you might call “hipsters” who have salvaged 1960’s, 1970’s, and 1980’s iron and rebuilt those machines into motorcycles that any sensible person would be proud to ride. Not only are these kids unafraid of maintenance, they are practically throwbacks to an age when riders knew how to tear down a motor or transmission and how to field repair leaking fork seals, busted shifter and brake levers, and who actually ride their motorcycles places more remote than a Hudson bar. They haven’t bought into the delusion that drive shafts, belt drives, electronic-everything, and unrepairable black-box design equals mindless reliability and I love them for that. They give me a smidge of hope that humans might survive our self-made “Sixth Extinction” and that Americans might continue to make stuff, fix stuff, and invent stuff in the future.
As for the rest of the motorcycle market, the growing crowd who don’t want to get their hands dirty, learn anything more complicated than video game rules and mastering the next iDevice and who are happy being consumers in a throw-away society, I’d be lying if I wished you “good luck with that.” I hope you go broke buying all that crap, burying yourself in credit card debt, and stuffing landfills with the remains of your poor decisions. You folks are lousy citizens, terrible neighbors, and you will be recognized as miserable ancestors by the generations who will get stuck with the job of bailing out our economy, cleaning up our environment, and rebuilding the world we carelessly trashed. You can’t escape maintenance, you can only avoid it until something major breaks; something you could have avoided with routine maintenance.