Episode 18:  Motorcycle Maintenance -  What does Shop Class have to do with it?

 It was the cover of the book that caught my attention. This beautiful old BMW motorcycle. In front of a barn. It’s title almost scared me away though.  “Shop class as Soulcraft. An inquiry into the value of work.”  Yikes!  That sounds deep. And indeed it was, but it reminded me of many truths. Could that be related to this Mindfulness thing, that everyone keeps talking about?  It was about 14 years ago when that book was written, but as I reflect on it now I think it has even deeper and deeper meaning into the importance of working with our hands. It is most certainly the computer age and the internet age and now we're entering the age of artificial intelligence. Maybe now more than ever, we should consider the importance of working with our hands, maintaining our own motorcycles, then going out for a ride in the real world that’s all around us.   Hum…. Thank you for joining me today!

Question for you. Do you do your own maintenance on your motorcycle? Now when I answer that question, I have to say “well yes or no. It depends.“. Do I change the oil and filter myself? Yes. Do I change the air filter myself? That depends on which bike I’m working on. Some are easy and others are very difficult to get to.  Do I replace my own tires? Nope. When it comes to tires those need to be installed perfectly and balanced well. I don't have the expertise or the equipment here at home for that. So I turned it over to a professional. One thing is for sure though when I work on my bike, whether it’s lubricating the chain, changing the oil and filter or just washing it, I feel a lot of pride and doing that. It’s almost like I’m telling my bike that I care.  

Then again, maybe it’s not so much that I’m doing this work for my bike as I’m doing it for myself. I’m doing it for my brain. When I work on my bike, time doesn’t matter. As time passes, I don’t feel tired, I don’t feel thirsty I don’t feel hungry. I’m not sure that I feel anything. 

"Shop Class as Soulcraft” was written by Matthew B. Crawford. Published in 2009, the book explores the author's personal experiences and philosophy on the nature of work, the value of manual labor, and the importance of craftsmanship in today's world.  

The premise of the book was the fact that not too many years ago schools offered what they called shop class. and maybe a foreign term to many of us now, but that was working with wood typically.  Learning how to work with your hands. learning to produce something that was real that you could feel. 

Another premises behind the book is that maybe we, as a society, made a very large mistake when the computer industry started to roll around and we thought it was a good idea to stop teaching her kids how to work with their hands.  We encouraged them, maybe forced them, to work only with their brain, and fingers on the keyboard. Staring at a screen typing on a keyboard. We thought that was a good idea. Besides, that was the future, right? We have to prepare our kids for the future. And we if we want them to be “successful“, surely we can’t have them spend their time working with their hands in shop class.  What Matthew Crawford argues in compelling detail is that that was a large, large mistake.

As my wife will attest, I am not a neat freak. I don’t wash my bike after every ride. But I do check the tire pressure and change the oil and oil filter on a regular basis. I keep my tires in good shape and replace them before they’re worn out. Like you, I know the dangers of running on worn out tires and I also know the satisfaction and the feel of riding on new tires. It rides just like a new bike!  It makes a world of difference.

A guy that I used to ride with drove me crazy. Over and over again I would notice that his tires way low on pressure. I would pester him by asking “When was the last time he checked the oil. Notice I didn’t say “changed“, I said “checked“. He didn’t know but made a comment that “ I’ll take it into the shop someday and let them change the oil for me“. That drove me crazy.  Maybe it shouldn’t have, but that’s just me.

So, why should we work on our own bikes? Well, because I don’t like to spend money unless I really need to.  Yeah, I’m cheap when it comes to some things.  BUT, I will not go cheap on essential things, such as the quality of the motor oil and filter.  Remember, NOT maintaining your bike, not THAT’S expensive.  

Another reason I like to work on my bikes is to observe up close the craftsmanship that went into designing and assembling the bike.  I mentioned in an earlier episode that, if you remove the seat and look at the base of the gas tank of my Triumph Bonneville t120 there are the initials of the person at the factory in England, who painted the stripes on the tank.  That person cared about quality.  That’s so cool!  

Maybe it’s a bonding thing.  For some motorcycle owners, working on their bikes is a way to establish a closer bond and connection with their machines. Yeah, that’s a beautiful thing. Bonding with the machine.  I can hear my adult son and daughter saying right now, “Hey dad, why didn’t you bond with us like that???  Sorry kids''.  

So maybe, we maintain our bikes for a sense of accomplishment.  I worked in the computer industry for many years. still do. sometimes I look back and think about what I accomplished and all of those hours in front of the computer and in meetings. I mean I do enjoy the work but it's not exactly like a carpenter who's building a chair with the hope that someone will sit in it for many years to come and really enjoy their time and comfort with it.

As we know Automation and now artificial intelligence is changing the world. I'm still trying to get my head around what that may mean in the long term. We haven't even begun to talk about Electric motorcycles in this podcast.  Coming soon perhaps.  

Well, finally this. With regard to the sport or hobby that we love called motorcycling I think one thing will remain true. That being out on a two-wheel device, out in the wind, out in nature, meeting people along the way, will be a reward in and of itself.  So take care of your bike and most importantly, take care of YOU.  Go on out there.  Go for a ride. Be happy.  Thank you for listening.  I wish you peace, I wish you love.