Steed: Built to Ride

In Tech We Trust

Tech Tip Index

If you ride a motorcycle, you have a relationship with a machine. Your motorcycle will bring you years of joy and satisfaction if you have a positive relationship with la' machine. Just like relationships with your spouse, kids or buddies; the amount of energy you put into your mechanical relationship with your motorcycle correlates directly with how much you enjoy your time with it. If you aren't a mechanic and you ride a motorcycle, you'll need one more relationship and that's with a motorcycle technician that you trust. Your life is on the line every time you throw your leg over your machine, so your relationship with your chosen tech is vitally important.

"In the wind." This Airplane/Motorcycling analogy is right on the money. It describes the feeling you get while you're flying down the asphalt on your two wheeled freedom machine. It's a cliché phrase that is literally used to describe the experience that you have when you're out on the open road with the wind in your hair. It's exhilarating, exciting and thrilling when everything is working smoothly.

Everyone is aware of the eminent dangers associated with riding a motorcycle; just ask your mom. That's part of the thrill involved that's under your control while riding. Nobody I know wants the 'thrill' that a mechanical failure can bring. With motorcycles, unlike airplanes, you have the option to service your machine on your own. Did you know that even if you are a master aviation technician, the FAA (Federal Aeronautics Administration) does not allow you to service your private airplane yourself? Their restrictive reason is that you might just cut a few corners to save a buck or two on your routine airplane maintenance. Then by doing so, risk your own safety; the safety of your passengers and others that could be injured if a mechanical failure occurs during flight. Otherwise known as 'mechanical Russian Roulette.'

Before each flight an airplane pilot will physically walk around his craft and inspect his plane for basic safety issues. A motorcycle rider should be no less vigilant of his two-wheeled machine. User-friendly checks of the lighting, horn function, tire pressure, and oil levels should be a routine every time you go for a ride. Usually at 2500-mile intervals the manufacturer requires a 'maintenance service' to sustain your motorcycle's warranty, safety and reliability. This requirement dictates a periodic service, and it's much more than 'just an oil change.'

Most people that ride don't have all the specialty equipment that is required to properly maintain and service their modern motorcycle. Even certified automotive mechanics usually do not have the tools or expertise to do a typical 10,000-mile service on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. So chances are, no matter how crafty you are in the home-shop or garage, you'll end up requiring the services of a motorcycle repair facility sooner or later. This is where the 'relationship' starts, and I'd like to provide a little information on how to foster a positive relationship with a shop or technician that you'll be entrusting with your safety.

First, just like a certified aviation technician, a certified motorcycle technician should consider your safety as priority one. The key to any relationship is trust. If you just fell and shattered your wrist, would you trust a medical student to set your bones correctly so your wrist might function as good as new? Or would you rather have a board certified orthopedic surgeon with several years of experience working to repair your broken bones. This isn't such a far-fetched analogy when you consider how high the stakes are when you're zipping around in the middle of nowhere on two-wheels. You are entrusting your life to the person that is working on your motorcycle. If you are comfortable with having your buddy's friend who just enrolled in motorcycle school to work on your bike in his backyard so you can save some dough, that's great. Then you should be aware that you would also settle for that first year medical student to set your bones if your bike goes down because your budget-mechanic forgot to properly torque your axle nut.

Everyone is human, and even the most highly experienced and conscientious mechanic will make a mistake occasionally. However, a quality facility will own up to its errors and make it right when they screw something up. Who knows if your buddy's friend working out of his home garage will do the right thing when he accidentally drops a wrench on your fender and gouges your fresh custom paint job? A penny saved isn't always that penny earned.

Take the time to go to several shops to get a feel for what they are all about. Meet the people that work there and who own the operation. Find other riders and ask them whom they intimately trust to work on their bike. Then make a decision that feels right in your gut. Don't be intimidated by the whole razzle-dazzle speed-secrets that some mechanics will throw at you. If you don't understand what they are talking about, just ask. If you can't get a straightforward answer or solution to any mechanical problem, run away. These really are just machines. Machines need maintenance and will break. There's no magic wand to repair your bike. It takes knowledge, skill, and the personal awareness of the technician working on your bike to deliver a quality of service on which they would stake their life. That's the key. Find a technician or shop that you feel has your best interests in mind. Sometimes the repairs required are not cheap, but neither is that ride to the hospital in the helicopter from the middle of nowhere.

If you don't respect the facility that's working on your bike, find another. Remember that commercial from a few years back, the one that asked the guy if he was in business for 'fun or profit'? Believe it or not, serious motorcycle businesses are run for a profit. There's many a shop that has been opened because the owner thought it would be fun, but then discovered that fun does not keep the doors open for very long. There's an old adage that "long after the sweetness of cheap has vanished, the sour taste of poor quality and inferior craftsmanship lingers on." Look for a shop that is run professionally. You should get a complete estimate that fully explains the cost of all your repairs before you leave your bike for any work. If there are additional repairs needed, they should call you and inform you of what is going on and what it will cost. This insures that you will get what you paid for and nothing less.

Become involved in understanding what is going on with your bike. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Expect the same courtesy from your motorcycle shop and technicians that you would expect at a good restaurant. It is a 'service' business, so expect to be served. At the same time, you wouldn't bring a steak that you bought at the local market to a fine restaurant and ask them to cook it for you. What type of service do you think you'll get when you ask the chef for medium rare filet when you provide the entrée?

Mail order motorcycle parts are proliferating everywhere. "Discount" catalogs, mail order, and on-line motorcycle parts are easy to peruse. Sometimes you'll save a few dollars, most of the time you'll end up paying less for the same part at your local shop, and they have it sitting in stock right there on the shelf. Once you figure in your time, the costs of shipping and any defects or warranty issues that may arise with your mail-order part; you may find that what you thought was cheap, really wasn't the best deal after all the dust settles. Once again, take the time to find a business run by people with whom you are comfortable dealing with. Check their prices with prices that you've found in the catalogs or on-line. Then make the decision whether you can install or 'grill' the part at home. No need to insult the chef.

Relationships are also built on timeliness. A quality facility will respect and value your time. You've got other things to do in your life besides schlepping your motorcycle to the shop, getting a ride home, and then missing a weekend ride with your buddies because a part was 'back-ordered.' It is reasonable to expect the parts that you need for your project to be available when you are scheduled to have the service or customization performed. Ride your bike until all the parts are in stock and the service-calendar at your shop is ready for your operation. If you feel like the shop can't organize the components that you need for your job before you drop the bike off, there's a good chance that they won't know what you'll need to get the job done right. After you're committed and your bike is in pieces, then you're in way too deep.

Finally, what's right for the goose isn't always right for the gander. Just because you saw some new whiz-bang omni-gobulator on some show-winning machine in a magazine doesn't mean that it will perform right on your bike. Ask your trusted mechanic or shop-owner what they think of a component or parts application in regards to your machine. They work with this stuff everyday. Chances are they will steer you towards components that are proven to work. Experience dictates that if a part fails more than once, a reputable shop will stop offering that component. A motorcycle shop can't exist for very long warranting failed parts or suffer the wrath of consequences from multiple unsatisfied customers. Look for an existing track record of long-term quality relationships with vendors and customers when choosing a shop for your machine. A lot of time components from different manufacturers don't 'just fit' together, and it takes years of experience to know what will fit your application.

Relationships are a two way street. Your relationship with your local motorcycle shop should be no different. Respect is earned, and a shop should earn your respect and confidence before receiving your hard earned money. In turn, you deserve to have the piece of mind to know that your bike is performing up to its highest potential and be prepared to pay a reasonable price to keep it that way. Most of all, respect the person who is working hard to make a living keeping you rolling down the road safely, and then you've got a successful relationship with the man and the machine. In tech we trust.

Keep the rubber side down.
- John at Steeds

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