• Whizbang's Spinning Wheels: November 2003

    Of Sea Foam and Nuclear Submarines

    "Hey, thanks for suggesting those Pirelli tires for my YZF, man. They're great. I've put like 2000 miles on them and they're still practically new. Really sticky in the corners, too," I say with a thumbs-up and a smile to the guy behind the counter at Midwest Cycle Supply, my favorite motorcycle accessory shop in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
    "We put Bridgestones on your bike," says the guy behind the counter at Midwest Cycle Supply without looking up from his magazine.

    Pause. "Oh. Right. We just TALKED about the Pirellis. Right."

    "Right. Pirellis are the best you can get for performance. Bridgestones are more of a blend of performance and durability, which is what you said you wanted." He flips a page.

    Sometimes when I walk into a motorcycle shop I feel like a big jack ass. They're stocked with luggage, gloves, jackets, replacement handgrips, bottles of various petroleum-based cleaners and lubrication formulas, stylish flush-mount turn signals and lights, and 4.5 million other little gadgets and parts that defy description or definition. There are usually 2 or 3 other riders around talking about new bearings this or cams that and I'm just standing there with my helmet in my hand wondering which of the 126 brands of chain lube I need with a distinctly dorky feeling. As a 1-year plus Beginnerbiker veteran I may know how to make a bike work, but I sure don't know squat about WHAT makes a bike work. At least not its intricacies. I know some basics. According to the little owner's manual, after a certain number of miles I should clean and lube the chain, change the oil (which by the way, I finally did on my Yamaha YZF600R which required removing the entire left side of the bike. 13 screws. Yay for me), and do things like make sure the tires are properly inflated and keep an eye on the brake pads. Once you start getting into tire size numbers or what makes a bike run lean or rich I'm just a dork in leather pants.

    Well, let's be honest. Even if I knew everything about motorcycles, I'd probably still be a dork in leather pants.

    Coming from the school of Beginnerbikes.com, I believe in my 90+ octane powered heart that there are no stupid questions. Just complicated answers. And everyone usually has different answers for the same questions when it comes to motorcycle maintenance. The other day I went in to buy a Battery Tender Plus for the YZF and had some questions that seemed to have backed up over the last few months. One of those questions concerned a product called "Sea Foam." The now rich commission-junkie dealer who sold me my last few bikes once said, "put Sea Foam in your gas tank every 1000 miles." Seemed reasonable enough, but I wanted to see what the guys at Midwest had to say so I asked them all separately.

    "Put Sea Foam in your crankcase and your gas tank. It's an all-in-one product. Keeps your engine running right"...

    "Use Sea Foam sparingly, but only in your gas tank"…

    "Don't use Sea Foam. It can corrode the inside of your engine. In fact, a few months ago I was doing this carb job on a V-Max and the guy hadn't told me how often he was using Sea Foam. We opened her up and ended up having to replace his carbs completely because they were so trashed!" Then he started laughing, so I laughed, too.

    "Wow. That sucks." Pause. "What do the carbs do again?"

    Yo, here's a fresh new dope analogy for my Beginnerbiker homies, courtesy of Whizbang:

    motorcycle riding : science :: motorcycle maintenance : religion

    With riding, there's science behind the way the bike moves and how you move with it. It's mathematics. Speed is the variable in an equation with gravity and inertia. With motorcycle maintenance, everyone's got an opinion and someone's right. But let's get back to the original point which is that dorky feeling. We've all had it. It's that little piece of you that's still standing in that parking lot with your MSF classmates with your brand new helmet, boots, gloves, and jacket, and a 250cc Nighthawk that may as well be a nuclear submarine as far as its operation is concerned. How do you get to understand all this stuff? I wanna be like those guys in the store saying, "yeah, after I took my rear wheel off and reversed the negative power coupling I readjusted the flux capacitor, but for some reason I couldn't reset the oscillation overthruster."

    "Go get a shop manual. You'll be able to do anything," they say.

    My grandfather used to say, "if man put it together, man can take it apart." So I bought one. It's written in a long forgotten language with numbers and arrows and 3D diagrams. I wouldn't even know where to begin. It's like an anatomy book. It'll tell you where your duodenum is, but doesn't tell you to cut down on your partially hydrogenated oil intake. So now I have a $70 book that sits in the garage.

    What I'm finding is that it's a sloooooooow process of trial and error. You learn a little here and there and apply it when you feel comfortable. You ask questions and use your best judgment to filter through the myriad of answers you get from various sources. You take baby steps. My next step is to learn how to readjust the chain tension. After that, maybe I'll learn how to remove the rear wheel and clean the chain OFF the bike. Right now that's nothin' but crazy talk. But people do it. I'm sure they didn't all go to Fix Your Own Motorcycle school, so it must be information you can just absorb by doing. We Beginnerbikers are usually just happy to get the thing out of the driveway, but as you'll learn there's a lot more to motorcycling than counter-steering and smooth shifting.

    Though it's kind of nice to focus on that 90% of the time, isn't it?

    That's all for now. Oh, wait. Remember all that ballyhoo about "RIDE COLD! GET OUT THERE YOU WIMPS!!" ? My bikes have been in the garage for 4 days now. It's been consistently in the mid-30s for days with drizzle that's been flirting with sleet and snow. I love a cold ride as much as the next guy, but not a dangerous one. If you're a good Beginnerbiker you've been doing some wet riding to build up your skills, but do yourself a favor and never ride when wet pavement could turn icy with the drop of a few degrees. I've been there. It isn't pretty. Well, it is pretty when the ground and the trees get all frosty, but they're hard to see when you're sliding face down on the street at 50mph.

    Ride safe, all.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Whizbang's Spinning Wheels: November 2003 started by Whizbang View original post
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