Gravity and Road Gradients

Gravity and Road Gradients
Photo by  Libby Emerson

Photo by Libby Emerson

The events of The Human Centipede could largely have been avoided if the female protagonists were skilled enough to change a tyre. When my father taught me how to change a tyre, I’m sure he didn’t expect me to be caught up in a similar rogue-German-surgeon scenario, but more likely figured it would save me from being stranded for hours on the side of the road, crying, probably in the rain, waiting for roadside assist to show up. Getting me to think about gravity and road gradients, and to recognise which brakes are activated by the handbrake, and therefore which wheels need to be chocked, has stopped many a car from rolling away from (or over) me.

Although my dad got me started on basic maintenance when I bought my first car (a 1970 vw notchback), I’ve learnt most things from breaking down, reading manuals (and forums and whatever else I can get my hands on), and talking to real, knowledgeable people, in an effort to avoid breaking down and being stranded (see above: crying). Once, after my fan belt exploded on the freeway, I spent 4+ hours trying to get a woodruff key in place to reinstall my vw generator, only to learn a 30 second trick the next day from an old school vw mechanic. Hands-on knowledge like this is invaluable, and usually can’t be learned from google.

I don’t think knowing how to change a tyre makes me any less of a lady. Perhaps just less of a damsel in distress (defined as an archaic term – women should have advanced from this stereotype years ago). For this reason, Marion Ravenwood – babe – (Raiders of the Lost Ark) will always be infinitely cooler than Willie Scott (Temple of Doom). She could run her own business. She could drink anyone under the table. She wasn’t dependant on Indiana Jones. Her voice was entirely less shrill.

Marion Ravenwood - still from film  Raiders of the Lost Ark  (1981)

Marion Ravenwood - still from film Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Willie Scott - still from film  Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom  (1984)

Willie Scott - still from film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

Buying a 1969 Honda CL350 and joining a community like Rising Sun Workshop has jump-started the obsession again.

I thought: ‘my new old bike is running a little strangely. It probably just needs an adjustment. It will take me a couple hours, tops.’ Boy, was I optimistic. I negotiated a Tuesday off work, organised breakfast with friend and fellow rider Kel at Rising Sun, and afterwards moseyed on over to the workshop area to get a handle on my points. Within the estimated couple of hours, the valves, points and timing had been triple checked and were bang on. Workshop manager extraordinaire Brad rolled the bike up to the kill switch line to test it (just because you can do it yourself doesn’t mean you can’t let the boys lift the heavy things sometimes). The bike started, but was running intermittently on only one cylinder. Apparently issues with spark and fuel delivery can present with very similar symptoms, and having one black, shiny & wet spark plug does not a happy motorcycle make. Back into the workshop we roll.

We messed with it until we’d pretty much drained the battery, but not before I tried to ride home... I’m lucky bikes are easy enough to wheel out of harms way. This was also the day I popped my kick-start cherry; in the dark, bike in a driveway, helmet on the footpath, curious pedestrians, workshop owner Adrian on the phone, but all to no avail. Honda twins need strong batteries to run properly. Hey there, break down + tow van!


Having subsequently learnt that the term "fucktonnes of smoke" has (and owns) its place in technical jargon, I can now proudly say that I have pulled my engine apart and put it back together. My pride and joy is once again on the road and bringing me pleasure. In the throes of engine surgery, other workshoppers understood my frustrations because they’d been there before. I never thought I'd care this much about the relationship of the crankshaft to the camshaft, or why it mattered [hint: timing] or even know the difference between the two, short of where they generally were, but getting to know something that intimately was an awesome experience. With a gentle push in the right direction, and a solid knowledge/support/tool base/extra set of hands, the inner workings of my machine are no longer just inexplicable voodoo, and I successfully avoided feigning ignorance and doing more damage by putting the job off. While I certainly appreciate why someone would pay a mechanic to overhaul an engine, there is nothing like doing it yourself, but first consult ALL the versions of your manual, and be sure to pray to the gods of rounded bolts and gasket glue.

Not that I’m itching to pull it apart again or anything. It’s much more fun to ride.

I might need to get another project.

N+1 right?

Photo by Kel McIntosh

Photo by Kel McIntosh

Jo is a buxom redhead looking for adventure. She loves her motor children equally, and if you ask really nicely, she might let you take them for a spin. Easily distractible, but also easily obsessed, she is our Editor-in-Chief, resident proof-reader, and zany ideas lady. Caffeine is her fuel of choice.