Friday, January 18, 2013

Ode to the daily driver.

Like many other people, I have a daily driver. The one vehicle you use pretty much by default, all the time, while doing little more than filling the tank and giving little to no thought to maintenance, cleaning and general upkeep. This is not ideal, but it is a necessity of daily routine. It could be a car, a motorcycle or a scooter but I think you know what I mean. The thing is in working order, it's reliable and won't let you down, but you know you should really fix that door handle, or that warning light, or that creaking noise that you can't quite figure out where it's coming from. You should also wash the damn thing once in a while, but who has the time.
In my case, my daily driver is my beloved 1994 Harley-Davidson Sportster.
It's a "99% stock" workhorse that has given me well in excess of 60.000kms of doggedly dependable service. I have been on a few longish trips, two-up, luggage. I have used it all year 'round, come rain or shine. It is such a solid machine that maintenance is really an understated affair of yearly or twice-yearly servicing, itself a very simple procedure. That said, nothing lasts forever, as the Sportster reminded me some time before the Christmas holidays when it started to smoke alarmingly from the front cylinder, and generally acting up. Poor thing.
So, I handed it over to Roberto, an H-D trained mechanic who quickly went to work and discovered, among other things:
  • totally pulverised, almost non-existent valve oil-seals;
  • crusty valves;
  • fairly worn-out piston rings;
  • discoloration on one of the cylinder liners;
  • the oil tank AND the battery carrier about to break loose from the motorcycle (!);
  • a faulty oil pressure warning switch, which - given the recent BSA debacle - I think we can all agree is a bad omen;
Beyond that, he generally went over the bike and found all the small things I knew about but had never got 'round to fixing. Sometimes you need things to reach a certain point before you get them sorted out. It's great to have the Sportster back and in good shape, with things such as the speedometer lights working again, what a novelty! Things pile up... you only notice when they're all gone just what a difference it makes.

Now, I like to tinker with old bikes. I like to learn how to do "new" things and improve my skillset, and the Sportster is by far an easier machine to work on than, say, a 1950s Triumph. I have a Clymer workshop manual for the Sportster that's about as thick as three Encyclopedia Britannica tomes stacked together.
So why not fix this myself? I'm sure that given time I could learn how to do it... but that's exactly the point: it is one thing to play around with a bike that you realistically won't need right away. You can afford to take your time and keep it in the shed for a whole winter. But a daily driver needs to be ready, always. So it's better to rely on someone who really knows what they are doing and can get it done quicker than you can, so you can get maximum reliability out of something you use so often, it is practically an extension of your butt.


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