Tech Matters: Motorcycle Jigsaw Puzzles

According to my wife, I don't own any motorcycles. No. What I own, according to her, are several complex mechanical jigsaw puzzles that are stored in a big box, called a garage, where normal people generally keep things like lawnmowers, cars, and occasionally, fully operational motorcycles.

After some reflection I have to agree with her. When I buy a motorcycle, I see it essentially as a collection of parts that I can take apart, rearrange to my heart's content and then assemble into something that might look like the picture on the box...or not.

The puzzles fall into three categories: new bikes-these are collections of freshly minted parts and hardware loosely assembled by the manufacturer so they can be easily transported to your home. On a measure of complexity, new bikes are at the bottom of the heap; they're pretty much the entry-level puzzle, and can be easily disassembled and put back together by anyone that wants to.

Used motorcycles-these are slightly more challenging. With any luck, the previous owner bodged some of the hardware or performed really dubious repairs, so not only do you have to take the bike apart to fix everything, but you have to overcome the previous owners' level of mechanical incompetence to do it. These puzzles can be challenging, but are rarely overwhelming.

The basket cases-these are the ones that really test you. They normally come in several large leaky boxes, although you do occasionally stumble across one that's semi-assembled. Basket cases are like those gigantic puzzles with 10,000 pieces, that when fully assembled, depict something like the Crimean War or the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. They can be tough nuts to crack, but when you're done it's incredibly satisfying, and yeah, these are my favorites.

Now, why I'm like this I don't know, but it's been like this since I acquired my first motorized two-wheeler, a Steen Taco 22 minibike, over forty years ago. Fortunately, I've managed to make a career out of it, although frankly, it can be an extremely frustrating way to live. Lord knows I'd cover a lot more mileage if I didn't spend so much time fiddling around in my shop. I can't though, but I know-with 100% certainty-that I'm not alone in my affliction. Frankly, I don't know a single person that rides a one hundred percent, bone stock motorcycle. For sure, none of the guys I ride with can leave their bikes alone for more than ten minutes. In fact, I'd be willing to bet a week's pay that the majority of you are bent in a similar fashion.

Judging by the technical questions we field on a daily basis I'd guess that at least 50% of you are moderate puzzle people: you're constantly installing, repairing or modifying something on your bike, and from the photos you've sent us, I'd have to say you do a very credible job. Of the other half I'd guess that maybe 25% or more of you are as serious about building jigsaw puzzles as I am, in some instances even more so. I don't want to point fingers, but there's a certain law enforcement officer out there that's been jig-sawing at a Suzuki C50 for a couple of years. The bike is superb, and that's even when you consider that he can only fiddle with it when he's not chasing bad guys.

The smallest percentage of readers are the ones that don't do much of their own work. I have no issues with that; some guys just don't like working on stuff, don't have the time, the tools or the inclination, and yes, there are a few riders that are just afraid to mess with their bikes because they're afraid they'll do some damage. All of that is understandable; my only comment being that you're missing out on a component of motorcycling that can bring you great pleasure if you'll only give it a chance.

So why are so many of us incapable of leaving our motorcycles in a stock condition? The clichéd answer would be that because a motorcycle has so much "mechanical presence," people that just like to tinker with things are biologically drawn to them like some sort of wrench-wielding moth to the glow of a welding torch. I won't dispute that, but it certainly doesn't explain why people who've never picked up a wrench in their life buy a new bike and suddenly develop an inexplicable desire to change everything from the handlebars to the exhaust system twenty minutes after they've ridden it out of the showroom. If anyone out there has a notion as to why this happens, please let me know. There's a decent cigar and a couple of beers in it for you.

In the end, it doesn't particularly matter why we like to turn our motorcycles into jigsaw puzzles, but we do, and it's been that way since the very first motorcycle hit the showroom floor. I'm near positive it's going to be that way as long as motorcycles are sold. I'm pretty sure that few, if any of us, will ever completely finish one either.