Spannerman and Haynes boy

The Haynes manual is part of motorcycling history. In the 1970’s, those of us my age fortunate enough to have a motorbike could manage to put fuel in it, but no way could we pay for a professional mechanic. Besides, there was a point of honour at stake. Bragging over consecutive half-pints of lager with your mates, you had to be able to chuck around words like ‘overhead camshaft’, ‘points’, ‘carburettor’, ‘condenser’, ‘drain plug’, ‘10/40 Castrol’ with casual insouciance as if you knew what you were talking about.

My first foray into mechanics was to change the sparkplugs. I carefully read the relevant instructions in Haynes, looked earnestly at the photos, chose my socket, breathed a fervent prayer that I wasn’t about to damage my pride and joy forever… and extracted the plug. It was a proud moment.

Of course, having once taken bits off the motorbike, just to see how it worked, the bug had bitten. Progressive week-end removal of components followed; rocker covers, camshaft cover, wheel spindles, brake pads, brake shoes, carburettors… all gradually were notched up as the pages of the manual became more stained with grease, oil, sweat and WD40. Somehow, I always managed to get it all back and running by the end of Sunday. Changing oil and air filters, checking the timing, balancing the carbs, adjusting brake drums- in fact, learning and maintaining the motorcycle became second nature.

By the time I had graduated to my XS750 Yamaha, I was ready for the bitch. Now listed on websites as a Japanese classic (£6,500? You gotta be kidding!), it was a lovely machine with a couple of very nasty design flaws. The primary chain was lubricated by splash only; and the central cylinder had a tendency to overheat. Consequently, I nearly had a coronary when I had to pay over £65 from my student grant (remember them?) for a new chain; and I got so I could have the engine out of the frame, on the bench, the head off and away for a re-bore in 90 minutes flat. I did that little number twice in 18 months.

The point is, of course, that we all ended up having enormous fun and taking immense satisfaction in doing maintenance ourselves. It wasn’t just about saving money, but more about knowing the machine inside out, just for the pleasure of it. It was part of the whole motorcycling thing.

Modern machines are electronic and engineering marvels, what with fuel injection, ABS, traction control, on-board computers, LED’s and digital read-outs. I do wonder, though, just what the younger generation of riders is missing through not being able to get into the guts of the thing and fiddle about of a weekend. Paying some adenoidal teenager £35 an hour to plug your mount into a computer, which then tells him which piece of silicone to unplug and bin, is not quite the same, somehow.

Then there are the practical considerations, not least that if you break down on a bike whose insides and foibles you know well, you have a sporting chance of repairing it yourself and getting home, instead of waiting 2 hours for the RAC man (who will say, when he eventually finds you on the B3639) “They didn’t tell me at despatch that it was a ruddy motorcycle. I’ll have to go back for the bike trailer...”

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