Since the ultimate deterioration of my fuel pump at the road's edge several weeks previous, I've experienced the overwhelming urge to begin doing some of the basic work on my bike. In the past, I handled much of the routine maintenance from oil changes to valve adjustments. Due to the amount of riding I've done in the last couple of years, I left much of that in the capable hands of certified mechanics. I no longer have a garage to call my own either, a fact I hope to remedy just as soon as I write that international best-seller. For the time being, my purchase of a rear-wheel stand permits me to perform basic care for my Ninja, chain adjustment and lubrication for instance. The stand makes oil changes less tedious.
From my earliest days of riding as a teenager, the motorcyclists with whom I associated encouraged rider maintenance of machine. Such practice familiarized the rider with the bike and, in the event of a breakdown far from home, that rider would likely be better equipped to sort out the underlying problem. Perhaps, such a rider might even possess the skill necessary for emergency roadside repair. And as any longrider can tell you, such spur of the moment fixes rely much on knowledge of the specific machine. The cycle I come to know at 50K miles will not be identical to the machine I rode out of the showroom. An intimacy between between operator and vehicle must be cultivated.
One need not tear the engine down to the block to develop such intimacy. For myself, merely peeling away the plastic skin and taking a good look at what lies beneath furthers that relationship. Though I lacked the ability to fix the problem at the edge of the road, knowing the sound of my fuel pump at start-up enabled me to correctly diagnose the issue. This comes from no real examination of the pump itself, but rather from the times I have sat next to the bike in a quiet place and laid my ear against the tank to listen to the workings after I have turned on the ignition. No problems to identify, but only to satiate my curiosity.
How is it that I know I have a stiff link in the final drive chain? At speed, the feel of the machine has changed, a vibration present now that did not exist one month ago. I feel a revolving sensation through the footpegs, a thrum that alternates between a soft and hard sensation. Lift the rear of the bike from the ground, peel away the covers, and rotate the rear wheel. Inspect each link as it revolves around the sprocket. There it is, a light binding in a single link. Then the intimacy begins. Cleaning and scrubbing the chain shows that it remains in positive condition with little corrosion and limited wear. The teeth of the sprockets are not hooked, still "toothed" rather than "finned". The scent of solvent and gasoline settle into my hands.
The bike is lowered. Gear donned. Rider and machine ease onto the highway for a test of the work. The vibration is gone, replaced by the constant, smooth buzz as the the transmission snicks through gears and the engine seems to pull the rear wheel along. It's this communion that reminds me, trapped in the narrow box of my office later in the week, that much of who and what I am exists only when in motion, in the graceful arc toward a tilted horizon.