The Beauty of Broken Bikes

2 comments / Posted on by Kirk Chapman

You know that moment you have when you've worked so hard on something for so long, to no avail, and you wonder why the hell you were doing it in the first place? That was my experience working on this 1981 police Guzzi.

It took way longer than I expected. After squaring away the carbs and the wiring…I cleaned it, replaced the windshield and a few other parts. But those brakes were the death of me.  A month I think it took.  I would fix something and then need a part… something else was wrong… so I would order another part.

Days in transit led to a delay that is embarrassing to even talk about. But that said, I ended up learning a lot. I rebuilt three calipers – two up front and one in back. Learned how to properly blow out the cylinders with an air compressor after getting a blister on my thumb from having my finger over the bleeder valve. Learned where ALL the seals are. I learned how master cylinders worked by rebuilding them both individually. One I rebuilt on the handlebars because I couldn’t get the grip off and didn’t want it ruined. I learned the design that the foot brake applies pressure to one front brake and the rear.   I replaced all the lines…went through two bottles of brake fluid. And they are now spot on. Almost...perfect. 

I was pretty psyched to ride it, but the right cylinder wouldn’t fire. Was it the coil? The points? The wiring? The plugs? The plug wires? After going back and forth on that issue, and troubleshooting it, we finally got it to fire on both cylinders. I think I made it 1/8 of a mile down the road before I broke down.   I wasn’t discouraged, but was a little frustrated.

After another night we realized that the points had lost gap, and we regapped them and all was well.   The next day Shelby had stopped by and Bradley hopped on his Guzzi to meet him at his house to look at something. “I’ll meet you guys there!” I yelled.  In fifteen minutes I hopped on my bike to head over and at about 1.5 miles later I lost that cylinder again. The bike was dead…I wasn’t going to meet up with a friend...and I had no one to call. 

It's that point when you just get pissed. How many hours have I spent? Late nights…money…AND it was just running SO well. I wanted to kick it over–not to start it...just kick it over on its side. Someone could’ve pulled up and offered me $1K for it, and I probably would’ve taken it.

But I had to walk back to the shop. And it was that mile or so that did it.  

We struggled for a long time with what we really do at 9 MC. We sell apparel and hopefully, soon, will have some of our own branded gear. But what started it all was doing what we love. We work on our bikes…and, yes, we’ll sell a couple. But we aren’t a service shop and we don’t restore bikes. We simply breathe life into them.

There is beauty in neglect…in brokenness…in the forgotten…and in the imperfect. Its hard to see sometimes. Truly. Sometimes a bike looks, honestly, just like a piece of shit. But we like that. As I walked back for that mile all the reasons I ride and love vintage bikes came back to me…not the least of them was breaking down. 

Its not the bike's fault that it didn’t run great. It was my expectation that something that hadn’t been started in 30 years was going to work flawlessly on its first real ride! It's embarrassing walking down the road, because you can't solve a problem that others think you can solve. But there is also a pride and a sense of adventure in the imperfection.  

I got back to my shop and grabbed the tools and drove my truck back. Took off the seat and moved the tank so I could access the points. They had, again, lost their gap and I adjusted. The bike ran great, and I made it to Shelby's house and back to the shop before they lost their gap again...just kill me.

I ordered new points and sanded and greased the “spindle” before installing them. After all that, recently I put about 20 miles on it in a single trip. And now it runs great.

So what's the point? And why bother blogging about this? I guess to serve as a reminder that sometimes fixing the same thing over and over again until it finally works can be worth it. And breaking down is indicative of a problem…not a final state of affairs. I guess because sometimes that long walk back to get your tools can give you time to both think and remember how you got into the situation–DOING SOMETHING YOU LOVE! Maybe it's just remembering that broken things can be pretty rad.   

It's not for everyone. Talking in the shop the other day the statement was made to the affect of “if you are able to get an old Brit bike to stop leaking oil, you have removed all of its Britishness." And I think that has a lot of truth in it. Not only is it okay if it leaks oil…it’s a sign of its greatness.

So here’s to enjoying the next walk home to grab your tools to try one more time to fix something you had solved a dozen times…and here’s to the oil leaks and pitted chrome. Here’s to fixing broken things but not losing sight of what drew you to that very thing in the first place. 

-Kirk

2 comments

  • Posted on by Anthony O'Koren

    So True, as with life.
    To have the ability to Understand, Respect, & Care for, “Simple Machinery & Basic Electrical”, and be able to tell the the difference between the two, is Pure Magic to those who don’t take the time to practice Walking Home.

    -Anthony O’Koren

  • Posted on by Mac

    Old bikes bring us back to simpler and perhaps more honest times. Simply put “Keep recovering, rebuilding and riding” Cheers Mac

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