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Spare Parts: Just desserts

By Ernie Copper

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Pickup trucks are motorcycling infrastructure. Depending on what you ride, buy, sell or trade, they can nearly be a necessity. While it’s true that modern EFI motorcycles are infinitely more dependable than their knuckle-dragging, carbureted vintage cousins, any broken-down bike becomes a nearly-immovable object when it quits running.

I’ve been a truck owner for close to 30 years. So long, in fact, that I can’t really remember what I did when I didn’t have one. A lot of other people say the same thing; they can’t remember what they did before I had a truck! But that’s what friends are for.

And now, a heartwarming tale of how great I am. The scene: a normal living room in middle America following a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner. The family is all home, lounging around the living room, the dog is at my feet, and the woman I love is by my side. A time out is in order before we all enjoy homemade pie for dessert. My son’s phone rings, and the conversation is abrupt and somewhat urgent from what I can hear. It’s punctuated with, “Where are you at?” and concludes with, “We’ll be right there.” I’m not sure what I’m in for, but it’s clear we are about help a friend in need. In less time than you could pull out your triple A card, we were on our way.

The protagonist in this tale is a longtime friend of my kids, a war veteran, Airborne Ranger, and West Point cadet. He’s also a newly-licensed motorcyclist. We’ll call him Straight Edge. Straight Edge followed the path that so many motorcyclists have walked before. He ponied up for a vintage Japanese bike that needed a little maintenance so he could get in the wind. He currently parks it at his mom’s and uses it when he’s on leave from the academy. He’s a lifelong adventurist, so I’d bet he’s hooked on bikes, aside from this vexing setback.

Part of the maintenance the bike needed was a brake job performed by another well-meaning friend. With unseasonably warm temperatures on Thanksgiving day, Straight Edge had decided to make his Thanksgiving rounds on two wheels. Who could blame him? Various parts of his aging front master cylinder felt otherwise, though, and succumbed to the pressure—quite literally—leaving him with a roadside seat for Thanksgiving. There were no dramatic get-offs and no injuries, but the black magic of vintage bikes had left our hero perplexed. But he knew just who to call.

I almost always have ramps and tie-downs in my truck and this day was no different. My son and I arrived in minutes and consulted with Straight Edge. After fact finding and evaluation, I started the bike and took it for a short ride—heretofore not possible because it wouldn’t move. It made me look undeservingly good. I didn’t do anything differently than Straight Edge had. The old bike just seemingly cooperated with me. We decided that I would ride it home for him in case it decided to lock the front brake again. The bike then became uncooperative for me too, so we aborted that plan, my son pulled into a hollow spot in a nearby park and we pushed the bike into the truck bed and tied it down. Years of loading and unloading bikes had us on our way before we could draw a real crowd. Aside from another of Straight Edge’s friends who lived nearby and kid on a really cool tricycle, nobody knew we’d been there.

After it cooled down again, the bike rolled out of the truck just fine. The next day we decided to take it to an old-school shop whose owner had seen it all before. He immediately diagnosed a failing rubber part inside the master cylinder and we dropped it off for repairs, since the part needed to be ordered and time was not of the essence.

We adjourned to a coffee shop to discuss all things, among them an introduction to the idiosyncrasies of vintage bikes. I’d recently acquired a 15-year-old bike with only 160 miles on it and I shared with Straight Edge that even it would give me some fits before I sorted it out. Rust never really does sleep.

Straight Edge learned a Shakespearean lesson that day: “The better part of valor is discretion.” It is true that sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. If he’d tried to force the bike home, the front brake could have locked up tight and resulted in catastrophe. Instead he called us.

I too was reminded of a lesson: sometimes the role of experience is to be there for the inexperienced and to help teach them the rules of the game. Straight Edge gained a bit of experience and it only cost him a little time. And isn’t that all experience really is? He also learned another lesson: if you want something done quickly, put it between a man and his Thanksgiving dessert!

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