by Shawn Downey
“Well, it ain’t over till it’s over,” mused my neighbor. “I didn’t hear no fat lady singing so I guess it ain’t
done,” he hisses while prodding my genuine non-imitation Irish motorcycle. It is about 6:00 in the morning and I am on my third Guinness before breakfast.
“How old are you Harry?” I smile.
“Well sir, lessee, my driver’s license says I’m eighty six.”
“Is that right? You want to see eighty seven? Then you better get your saggy ass outta my basement before I open a can of fat lady whoop-ass on you, Mr. Green Jeans!” Grabbing the nearest broom, I chase him up the basement stairs while prodding him at each landing.
Mr. Green Jeans had been pushing my buttons for the better part of an hour as I attempted to complete the final two phases of my genuine non-imitation Irish motorcycle: the rear wheel and the wiring. I had just spent countless hours of fitting and re-fitting the rear wheel, scouring wheel diagrams and sending waves of emails to the Brit-Iron mailing list, yet the rear axle or spindle as the English call it (sounds like the thing that holds the toilet paper) would still lock after fastening the axle nuts. A staid rear wheel may be an acceptable condition for those wussies doing concourse restorations but is a highly ill advised condition for those wishing to actually ride their motorcycles. My sixteen-month-old son offered a suitable solution by grabbing a hammer and beating on the rear brake drum incessantly. Of course when I took over, I managed to break the damn hammer into two pieces – one of which made an immediate trajectory to the brand new basement window. Dammit.
It was about this time that my retired neighbor with the golf-course lawn happened to mosey on down into my den of inequity and offer his swarthy remarks. After I chased his ass out of the house, damn I am going to miss those cookies around Christmas time, I did what all good purveyors of Irish ancestry do, I had another Guinness. While sweeping up the remnants of my basement window, I grabbed the telephone and roasted the guy who skimmed the brake drum and installed the brake shoes. The clearances between the brake drum and the swing-arm were obviously too narrow and since nothing else changed within the rear wheel except the rear brake, it had to be his fault, right? NOT. After informing him of the wayward ways of his mother and a drunken sailor, I contacted a Brit-Bike guru who has been in the industry since the early 1970’s. The conversation went something like this:
“Dude, my rear wheel is totally #$@%@#.”
“What do you mean it’s totally #$@%@#?”
“I have all the correct spacers in place and everything lines up perfectly but when I crank down on the nuts she freezes up like Hillary when Bill jumps into bed.”
“You need another spacer.”
“But the parts book doesn’t list another spacer and the exploded diagram doesn’t show a spacer either.”
“So how the hell was I supposed to figure that out?”
“Shaddup and give me some money.”
After installing the spacer that does not have a name or a part number, the rear wheel spun like a Tilt-A-Whirl gone mad. Eeee-hah. Dancing around the basement like a bear in his underwear, I step on a metal burr and begin bleeding profusely from my big toe. Hours later, after I return from the hospital where I received several tetnus shots in the big toe, I am ready to begin addressing the electrical gremlins.
To run with a battery or without a battery, that is the question. I posed this question to the collective wisdom of the Brit-Iron mailing list and after surveying the various arguments for and against the battery, I decided to install a battery for the initial shakedown period. The most compelling argument came from a guy in the Catskills. “You want a battery because when you stop along side of the road to take a whiz, you want to see what the hell you are whizzing on.” Truer words were never spoken.
The center mount oil tank rendered the original battery box useless therefore I needed to find an alternative covert location. Hmmmmm. How about behind the gearbox? Oh yes, Zelda you mighty carb cleaner-induced apparition, I believe we have identified the perfect location for a battery holder. And look, our favorite accessory house actually makes a carrier to hold a gel type battery in that precise location! Oh, happy days! Several hours and boxes of Band-Aids later, I discover why the maker recommends installing a maintenance-free gel battery. If you got that sucker in the battery carrier, you ain’t never gonna get that sucker outta the battery carrier.
More excited than a drug dealer on Bill Clinton’s pardon list, I reached into my rapidly diminishing cache of parts and pulled out the almighty Tympanium unit. A Tympanium unit is a modern day convenience which not only replaces the Zener Diode and the unsightly Rectifier, but lends itself to inconspicuous placement. Okay, let’s pull out those instructions and get ourselves a soldering gun. Big Daddy is ready to play Mr. Electrician! Last time I attempted to act in this capacity, I reduced a circuit box to molten goo. Note to all amateur electricians: never use a penny to bridge a circuit.
Alright then, we have the soldering gun, we have some hieroglyphics intended to be used as instructions, and we have a chainsaw. I always like to keep a chainsaw around for Halloween parties, it really sets the mood.
Instruction Number One: Connect the Yellow to the Red. After turning my index finger into a bleeding pincushion, Yellow was connected to Red.
Instruction Number Two: Connect the second Yellow wire to Red. Hmmmm, do you mean the Yellow wire that just snapped off in my hand? Dammit. Suspicious of the elasticity of the other wires, I begin to test each one with the time-honored elasticity test. I bend the wire back and forth once. What the hell did you think I was going to do? Geez. After three of the five wires broke in my hand, I surmised that I may have an antiquated wiring harness just waiting to strand me in the middle of nowhere kind of like my 1998 Triumph T509 did all the time. Dammit.
In preparation of receiving the wiring harness, I attempt to remove the clutch cover and guess what? That damn thing is stuck on there like a wet tongue to a frozen pole. Dammit. Maybe if I soak it down with the hallowed WD-40 and pray to the carb cleaner-induced apparition, I will return to find a dangling clutch cover.
In the interim, I began to fit the swept-back exhaust system. As is typical with British engineering, the exhaust ports of most British engines are less than precise and have a tendency to allow a great deal of exhaust gases to leak from the manifold. I had the head threads machined to match the new exhaust collars and let me tell you. I was so elated fitting the new pipes that I almost felt dirty. Oh, the seal, the chrome, the bends, this is way better than washing your hair. Then someone dragged a needle across the record as I discovered that the hand fabricated four-inch megaphones were suffering from a major clearance problem. The megaphones were patterned after the Manx – a 500cc single that sported a right hand exhaust exit but my trusty Irish steed is a twin requiring a right hand and a left hand exhaust exit. What to do? What to do? I drank all the damn Guinness, so that option was exhausted. Get it? Exhausted. Hahahaha.
Throwing the pipes and the boy in the car, we lightspeeded on down to the neighborhood Papa John’s and ordered two X-Large everything-on-it pizzas. Then we rocketed on over to the local Midas shop and bribed the counter guy to do a little pipe bending for us. On the surface, pipe bending may appear to be a mundane and simplistic task but I can assure you it is so much more. If you walk into a pipe bender with a couple of pipes and say, “Hey pipe bender guy, bend these pipes a little bit,” you will end up with a catastrophic pile of crap. You may even find yourself in the corner of the basement with a hacksaw and a box of Kleenex crying your eyes out while you hack away at contorted pipes costing more than your house payment. Not that it happened to me or anything.
So, what have we learned today? First of all, always keep lots of Guinness in the BACK of the fridge and lots of crappy domestic beer in the front of the fridge. This will ensure that your friends drink all the cheap crappy beer because they are too damn lazy to bend over and look towards the back.
Second Item of Retention: When working on a project, keep all old people the hell away from your work site.
Third Item of Retention: When purchasing a motorcycle and the seller says something like, “It”s been re-wired to spec,” immediately assume that the entire electrical system is crap.
Fourth Item of Retention: When tinkering in the art of pipe bending, remember that a little bend at one end reflects a huge bend at the other end and it is very important to mark the top dead center of your pipes. You may THINK you know which end is up but just like your father has been telling you for years, you don’t know @#$%.
Be sure to join us next time when you will read things like, “#$%@ was that a piece of my finger?” and “Oh my god, what the hell is that?” and “I thought you had it.” With a little bit of luck and a bushel barrel full of money, you might even read about a tune from some fat lady.