I’ve been riding dirt bikes since I was five years old. As a child, I was under strict instructions not to break the bike. If you stacked it, the concerned parental response was always, ‘is the bike alright?’
Replacing broken bike bits due to joyful dirt biking stupidity was never in the family budget, so we learnt not to crash.
Replacing bikes that were frankly munted was also not in the family budget, so I also learnt how to take out and clean a fouled spark plug… every four kilometres or so. (Fortunately you only had to ride that bike if you had company and drew the short straw.)
However, that’s about as far as it went. Despite my father’s immense talent and resourcefulness as a mechanic, I learnt very little about matters mechanical. I did learn not to touch anything in the shed (especially not the good sprocket set); not to drink the anti-freeze (like lime cordial, but not); and that a good Stihl chainsaw should always be transported on the front seat of the ute with its seatbelt on (the children can hold onto the windscreen wipers, they’ll be fine).
The reasons for my lack of mechanical tuition probably lie somewhere between my misfortune in being a girl and the fact that my father and I were like two cats in a bag for most of my juvenile years. (Too similar, apparently.)
Fast forward to the present day, where I have two motorcycles, a passion for riding, a crazy plan for adventure and a financial set-up which involves me earning a salary which I promptly transfer to my mechanic.
I’ve begun to realise that this skills lacuna really affects my quality of life. It makes me vulnerable: I’m always relying on someone else to fix my bike or help me out, and that’s not always a safe or pleasant position to be in. It restricts me in terms of what is sensible and practical: I might have the skills to ride single track in dodgy places, but I’d better not fuck up and break something out there. It also restricts me in terms of what I can do with my life: I can’t turn my back on a good job as long as I’m paying my mechanic the relevant princely sums to keep my bikes on the road.
So I’d better start learning, and fast.
This going to be a massive learning curve, because I’m starting from a low base. Now, I feel like most Australian men (and this may not actually be true) are brought up with some degree of exposure to practical mechanical ‘stuff’ and as a result have some sort of baseline competency (or at least, a delusion thereof which gives them the confidence required to have a go). Me, on the other hand – I have no delusions of competency but a strongly-honed terror of inadvertently destroying things.
Example: the other day I needed to check the fuses on the SV650. How hard can it be? I take off the seat, find the fuse box, try to pull a fuse out… it won’t come out. Should I pull harder, I wonder, or will that risk breaking the fuse or the fuse box? Maybe it’s not meant to just be pulled straight out and there’s some sort of clip or release thingy I should know about? Maybe I should use pliers but maybe that will crush the fuse? How delicate is a fuse anyway? (Are you laughing yet?) So I call Dave The Autosparky to ask him how to pull a fuse out of a fuse box.
You just pull it out, he says… maybe use some pliers if it’s stuck.
Nothing like a bit of expert advice.
So one of the things that’s always kept me away from toolboxes is a sense of my own exclusion from the Secret Brotherhood of Mechanical Aptitude. All attempts at bridging the gap would end, I assumed, somewhere between disaster and humiliation. Well, one of the good things about getting older, and crankier, and giving fewer fucks, is that you begin to get over the fear of looking foolish. So lately I’ve started having a go.
A few months back my SV650 was up for an oil change and for once, didn’t seem to be suffering from any other comorbid mechanical ailings that might require professional attention. I spent many, many hours of watching YouTube videos about how to do an oil change on an SV650. Then I spent another hour hoping that I’d correctly identified the drain bolt. I then did the oil change, which took all of about thirty minutes.
MISSION FUCKING ACCOMPLISHED.
One gigabyte of YouTube tutorials = one small, non-disastrous maintenance procedure.
It’s a start.
ADDENDUM: Guys, this is very much the beginning of the mechanical journey. Wait for the next installments before you send me that irate email telling me that I can’t possibly learn to fix a KTM and that I’ll fail. My inbox is already full of those.