My shop is in an over-sized two-car garage attached to my home. My work is a calling, in the theological sense of the word. Ethical and moral questions arise every day – they are hard, sharp, unambiguous and unavoidable.

Scenes from a Renovation

Posted: November 17th, 2011 | Author: Administrator | Filed under: Around The Shop, Motorcycle Repair, Random Things of Interest | No Comments »

Most of the past month has been occupied with a major renovation and upgrade to the shop. Pretty much tore it out to the walls and put it all back with four years of experience informing the new ecology.

Is it terribly pretentious to speak of the ecology of a shop? Probably, but it’s my whimsy of the moment to do so.

My shop is a complex dynamic system – massively interconnected/interactive. Everything effects everything else – some interactions/relationships are insignificant, others focal. And these relationships change/evolve over time. After nearly four years, the fundamental structural relationships no longer supported the life of the shop but constrained it.

The fossil record shows that evolution has not been a smooth continuous process but what Stephan Jay Gould has called “punctuated equilibrium” – long periods of same-old same-old and then explosions of wild and crazy life forms – followed by a new period of quiescence.

So it goes with a shop – my shop anyway. Long periods of working within an established structure/conceptual order, adapting to/working around the accumulating inefficiencies/inconsistencies/incoherences. Until one day something happens – some small insignificant thing – and I say, enough. A small riot of creativity settles down into a new equilibrium – for a while.


Esitmating work on vintage bikes

Posted: July 18th, 2010 | Author: Administrator | Filed under: Around The Shop, Editorial, Motorcycle Repair | No Comments »


Thanks for your note of inquiry.  And thanks for preserving cool old crocks like your water buffalo – the Brits nicknamed them the Kettle.

My shop rate is $40/hr. – about half of what the major shops charge – and vintage Japanese bikes are all I do.  That said, I cannot responsibly estimate what the job will cost.  I can’t imagine it taking less than six hours, so figure a minimum of $240.  When dealing with 35 year-old machines, the possibility of unforeseen problems is very high.  It is not uncommon for a customer to bring me a bike saying that it just needs the carbs cleaned, tuned, and synced.  Well, unless you know for sure that the valve clearances are within spec – and they very seldom are – , you can’t get accurate vacuum readings to tune/sync the carbs, you are trying to compensate for mis-matches in valve opening/closing times with carb throttle opening changes – and one coil is very week and the points cam bearing has play, the chain and sprockets are toast, the cables are stiff and frayed, and so on and on.  And then there are all the opportunities for seized/stripped/other-wise buggered fasteners.  And so on.

In your case, we needn’t trouble about the valve clearances :-)

What I can tell you is that I keep a bench-log and record my work in considerable detail – useful for the customer too later down the road – and you will know exactly where my time and your money went.

Existential Motorcycles
Alexander, NC                                   TEL: 828-683-9289

What I think of vintage British motorcycles

Posted: July 18th, 2010 | Author: Administrator | Filed under: Around The Shop, Editorial, Engine, Motorcycle Repair | Tags: | No Comments »


Repeat after me:

Vintage British bikes are like psychotic women; irresistibly attractive and impossible to live with – gorgeous nightmares.  Lovely to look at but don’t take one home.

I restored a ‘69 Royal Enfield Continental GT for my oldest and best friend.  The cam profiles were nearly square – looked like something out of a drag-strip engine.  But the valve train – pushrods, of course, was a bit of a Rube Goldberg weirdness so Harry and I mapped the actual movement of the valves – a dial indicator on the valve stem and a degree wheel on the crankshaft.  The weird rockers/followers translated the square cams into what would have been in it’s day – the engine design dates from the ’50s – normal moderately high-performance profiles for opening/lift/duration/closing.

I had a reprint copy of the original shop manual and compared the numbers we derived with factory specs.  Not even close.  The manual covered both the hot-rod boy-racer and the cooking-sherry model from which it was derived.  I happened to look at the specs for the plane-Jane engine and they were close to ours.

Suddenly, it was clear.  The numbers had been transposed between models in the original manual – and nobody at Hitchcock Motors in London – who are the chief stockist for vintage R.E. spares and who reprinted the factory manual – had bothered to correct this error.

By this time, I was getting matey – via emails – with Allen at Hitchcock and told him about my discovery – and that while my numbers were close to what I now assumed were the correct numbers, they were still different – beyond variation due to measurement error.  His response tells you all you need to know about vintage British motorcycles.

Allen thought it was amusing – said they had been sending out that reprint for 17 years and no one had ever mentioned the error before.  And don’t worry about the cam numbers, he said.  When they ran out of original spare cams and tooled up for another run, they measured ten different cams – and not one of them was the same.

Print this out and tape it in a prominent place in your shop.

Existential Motorcycles
Alexander, NC