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The dark arts

Posted on 22 Mar 2011 in Opinion | 1 comment

In his book Shop Class as Soulcraft Matthew Crawford skillfully documents our evolution from a culture of craftsmen and DIY mechanics to a culture of office drones and endless consumers of disposable goods. He doesn’t lay it out in judgement, simply as a steady and significant change. There was a time when the Sears catalog included exploded views of things like washing machines, so that you could fix yours if it broke. Today, the idea of fixing a home appliance is almost unheard of. When your toaster dies, you go to Target and buy another one. Like it or not, times have changed and the number of people who know how to fix things like old motorcycles is dwindling.

While popular culture may continue to march along toward disposability or the latest piece of technological integration, we’ll continue to celebrate old machines and the dark arts it takes to keep them going. Thing is, we’re not alone in our love for old iron. There is — and we think there always will be — a small group of rebels that love the old over the new. A group who prefers a clean set of carburetors to boring ol’ fuel injection every time.

But why does it matter? It matters because a lot of people think that a new bike is their only option. Or that a custom bike has to come from OCC, cost a fortune and be 20 ft long. It just isn’t true. A 2011 Honda Goldwing may run you $28,000. But a decent ’81 GL with a lot of life in it can be had for as little as $1,500. Will it need a little work? Probably. But here’s the thing, that ’81 bike is also a hell of a lot simpler than the new machine. And in our opinion, it’s got a lot more character. No complex electronics. No microprocessors. No ABS. The new Goldwing has an airbag on it for crap’s sake! That’s not a motorcycle anymore. That’s a two-wheeled RV.

I digress. It’s not about the Goldwing*. It’s about our Prior Avenue garage being a sanctuary for the dark arts of hands-on motorcycle repair. We even have our own cauldron. Sure, it’s only an inch across and full of solder for making control cables, but that’s not the point. It’s not enough to simply know the darkness, you’ve got to love it.

* In fact, best you don’t mention Goldwings to Jeff. Sore subject.