When I was 15 years old the book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” came out. Having spent the majority of my high school daze in the garage working on any one of a large number of motorcycles, the title appealed to me. Maybe there was something meditative about working on bikes. Maybe all that pain and suffering at the hands of foreign-built machinery had some higher purpose in my spiritual evolution. But then again something about it seemed pretentious so I never read it. As we get older we lose our ability to spot pretentiousness. This skill is at its most refined in our teenage years. One reason why teenagers hate everything. I know I did.
To me motorcycle maintenance is an opportunity to experience the extremes of every emotion and physical reaction that we possess in a compact amount of time. There’s the obvious ones; patience, perseverance, creativity, and problem solving. There there’s the physical; busted knuckles, thrown objects, broken stuff, and cussing. Lots and lots of cussing. We can experience the very best AND the very worst of ourselves while fixing a motorcycle. So, it is not really a spiritual journey, but simply a reflection of our varied lives.
Working on a motorcycle is not art either. Unless you are some rich bastard just slapping a bunch of primo parts onto a frame that someone else powder-coated and someone else built the motor for. I am about as far away from that as possible. My goal, whether forced upon me or not, has always been to spend as little money as necessary. I guess that’s a big reason I still ride a two-stroke. One of the unwritten agreements I have with my wife is that I can have a dirt bike, as long as I don’t spend money on it. That suits me fine as I get satisfaction out of fixing things and doing my own work.
If motorcycle maintenance is neither a religious experience nor art, what is it? Motorcycle maintenance is life itself. Every single lesson of any value in life can be learned while wrenching. And what you do, or don’t do, in the garage is a reflection of the rest of your life. It is a mirror to your soul. Think of all the garage motorcycle mechanics you have known. They vary from meticulous, clean, neat, and thorough to lazy, sloppy, and careless. These descriptions apply not just to their mechanical skills, or lack thereof, but to all aspects of their life. Some people prefer to be alone. Others need company to keep them going. And, let’s admit it, some of us are just smarter than others. All these things play out on the garage floor the day before a big race trying to figure out a major problem.
So, the next time you are evaluating your friendships, or considering expanding your friends list, spend a little time with them working on their bike. You will learn everything you need to know in a fairly short period of time. Just remember though, your friends might be doing the same thing with you.