Amnesia. The best word in the English language. Now that the bloom of summer is upon us it’s hard to summon the memory of the winter that was. Or of the spring that wasn’t. There was a time, long ago, when I’d don mitts and winter jackets and scarves and wedge goggles under visors to ride sandy roads in a three-degree chill, through a landscape six weeks away from the first bud of spring. But I gave that up. As a motorcyclist the worst thing about our climate isn’t the wait to the first ride (though that’s bad enough). No, the problem is that for those of us with old bikes, or race bikes, or bikes that require attention of any sort, it’s too cold to wield a wrench for far too many months.
As October fades to the dark of November, winter hovers like a cloud of Manitoba mosquitoes: amorphous, massive, and endless. The endless aspect could work in our favour, but unless you’ve got a heated workshop (I’m sick with envy), the cold of winter negates the usefulness of the non-riding season. So we wait for the tools to thaw and for the temperature to moderate. And once the freezing point is breached, work begins. My technique is to have a hot shower and then make hot coffee and then run to the garage and take position under the radiant heater. (The glowing red coils of the $60 heater are as much for psychological benefit as they are for the production of heat. Don’t discount the former but don’t forget the importance of the latter.)
This (lengthy) preamble is my justification for being behind. Once the flirting-with-double-digit temperatures of May arrive we’re all — garage workers of Canada — in a flat-out panic to make things run. I receive a text with a picture from Paul Hewitt, a pal of mine, and I see his project bike, which is without wheels and a bunch of other significant-to-the-pursuit-of-function parts. He’s feeling good about his progress. I’m not sure his feelings are justified. He’d quip that he’s further along than I am. And he’d be right. I’ve spent the last two nights fitting radiator hoses, which should take about 20 minutes but have taken me four hours (and counting). The trouble is that the fittings for the hoses are corroded. What else can I do?
Paul Hewitt is an interesting man, in the way that nine-fingered people always are. He’s done time working in bike shops but is now machining bits for props in the movie business. He went to Italy last year and rode his bicycle 324 kilometres. In one day. He is 60 years old. He has a shed in his backyard just big enough to collapse in, but nearly every winter he turns out an exquisite motorcycle. This year it’s something called a Moretti, like the Italian beer of the same name. It’s powered by an air-cooled Ducati engine, and once it’s done we’ll feature it as a Showcase item. If we can make it to the shed on time. Hewitt has a pathological obsession for selling motorcycles the moment they’re completed. It’s like after he hears them run the thrill is over and it’s onto the next. Sure enough, he already has a buyer for this one.
And then a call from contributor Paul Bremner. Can he store his V-Strom in the magazine lockup for a few weeks while he’s on vacation down south? I never pass up the opportunity to help a contributor, as it’s a favour that can be redeemed later in a moment of need. Like at the next deadline, when I’m short a story and could use something immediately. Bremner does not have a garage. I know that V-Stroms don’t require much in the way of maintenance — they’d probably run just fine on fryer grease and a crankcase full of oil extracted from crushed hazelnuts — but no garage? What does he do with all the hours that should be spent lubing cables or sorting out the maniacal ham-fisted machinations of the previous owner? Oh, I see, he bought the V-Strom new.
Garage work is an essential part of my motorcycling experience, and since I have a pair of 20-year-old Ducatis, it will remain that way. But they’re the perfect machines for me. They are mechanically robust (so they shouldn’t — touch wood — leave me at the side of the road) but were assembled with a degree of disinterest — the wiring is susceptible to the ingestion of water, the charging systems are apathetic, and the great (but little known) worldwide grease shortage of the mid-’90s is manifest in bone-dry steering head bearings and swingarm bushings. With diligence and patience it’s stuff I’m capable of fixing.
I don’t know what I’d do with a motorcycle that didn’t require anything from me. It would be as shocking as being in a romance where there was no issue that required discussion. Or discussions. I don’t have a television, so on my non-work hours I’m either fixing something or reading. Often I’m reading about how to fix something. On my nightstand the collected works of Raymond Carver sit alongside the Desmoquattro service manual. The pair together suggests I require a degree of complexity in my life. I’m not sure that’s healthy. I think I’ll get a book on that. I’ll read it next winter.