The Universe Takes a 14mm Box Wrench To Unstick

Note:  This post was originally posted several years ago, on a previous version of this blog.

How a 14mm box wrench unstuck a secret of the universe.

It’s finally riding season here in the great white northeast. It has been, in the words of George Harrison, a long, cold, lonely winter, and while it is certainly possible to motor around on two wheels in winter weather, I don’t recommend it, as it is about as comfortable as being in a giant blender full of frozen octopus, on the “mince” setting. A tad unpleasant, is what I’m getting at here.

So I’m one of those bikers who puts their bike up for the winter. It involves a certain amount of maintenance, but fortunately for me I consider that to be almost as much fun as actually riding.

The end of the year is when I usually change the oil filter. Skipped it last year, because I milked the season into 30 degree days, and frankly I wasn’t in the mood to lie down on concrete, in an unheated garage, to swap the sucker out. It’s not like I was going riding; it would keep.


You wouldn’t think that a Great Truth of the Universe would be enclosed in a $5 cotton cylinder soaked in oil, but this one had three.

You see, my first bike had an oil filter that was just like the one on a car: enclosed, and you’d screw the whole thing on and off, leaving it hanging off the bottom like an overcompensatory testicle. Simple, but effective.

My current bike, a 1997 Yamaha Virago named Erika, is a little bit more elaborate, and designed more with aesthetics in mind, so the oil filter has to be put directly into the engine. So the bike has cleaner lines. The problem with that, is that in order to open the port for the filter, you have to remove,or at least loosen, the right side crash bar. The crash bars, for my non-riding readers, are the big chrome parentheses on the front, near the foot pegs, which keep the engine off the ground in the event that the bike tips over. Saves money (and your paint job) in the long run.

In the short run, they’re a royal pain to remove on this model.

The first two bolts were easy, once I’d got a hold of the right length socket. The bar still wouldn’t move and then I saw another big bolt, which proceeded to chew up the next three hours of my time.

It wouldn’t budge.

I tried wrenches, sockets, hammers, WD-40. Nothing worked. I tried cutting down an allen wrench with a hacksaw, to see if I could fit it into the smaller space between the bar and the filter cover, so I wouldn’t need to remove the bar at all. I did, but then the cover was wider than the space…and how would I have gotten the filter in anyway? More time wasted.

My dad, who had come to see how I was getting along, kept insisting that I just give up and take it to a mechanic, because “the have special tools, and they know what they’re doing.”

I kept telling him, that all this needed was a wrench and some leverage, not 200 of my dollars.

He left, and almost immediately afterwards, I saw a fourth bolt on the crash bar assembly.

You see it coming, don’t you?

That’s the bolt I should have been working on. Turning my head just a little to one side, I saw that the bolt I had been trying for a couple hours to remove did nothing but hold the two segments of the bar together. It was the fourth bolt that actually held the thing on the bike. I laughed for two full minutes when I saw that. This one came off easily enough, (though it was a time-consuming process, since it’s in a spot where you can only give it an eighth turn at a time) and I did eventually change the filter, though at that point I was running late for band practice and had to put the rest of the maintenance—and my first ride—off until another day.

What secrets of the universe did I uncover in all this boneheadery, you ask?

First, perseverance pays. My dad wanted me to give up right away. To be defeated and say “I can’t do it.” The “special tool” I needed for the job turned out to be a 14mm box wrench. While I’ll grant you that there are, and ever will be, times where one may acknowledge oneself to be out of their depth, the key to living is to know where that point is, and not assume that it’s “right away.” Capability is a large part of satisfaction and well-being—you got this, even if it takes a while.

Second, look at things a little sideways. If I had turned my head a little to one side when I first started in, I’d have been done in a third the time, and wouldn’t have needed a hacksaw. The solution to a problem can sometimes be found strictly in the way you’re looking at it.

Finally, keep an eye on the big picture. I wasted a whole day, and I didn’t get to ride on that warm day when I changed the filter…but that’s fine. Why? Because it rained for the next five days, in 30-40 degree temperatures. Riding in the rain is also possible but uncomfortable; have you ever had someone put a bunch of sewing needles in a leaf blower and aim them at your face? Yeah. So I wouldn’t have ridden anyway, plus the rain washes all the salt off the road, preventing corrosion, and if I had waited until today’s 60 degree weather to start in on the maintenance, I’d have blown all of today and been a lot more upset about it.

Everything moves forward…clinging to one negative spot will only hurt your arms. This may have been a pain in the ass in the short run, but it’s worked out beautifully.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go finish wrenching up the secrets of the universe.

Be Seeing You.


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