Note: this text version is not a word-for-word transcript.
Today, I want to tell you a little story.
It is the story of how I modified my motorcycle using two Allen wrenches, a hammer, a screwdriver, a power drill, a hacksaw, a socket wrench, a breaker bar, my grandfather’s old industrial-strength commercial pipe wrench, a wire brush bit for the power drill, a pair of scissors, some no-slip gripper strips, a second power drill, another hammer, six drill bits, a bunch of machine screws, a power drill adapter to screw in the machine screws, a paper towel, two zip ties, and some duct tape.
You know know exactly everything I shared with my friends on social media.
And, like my friend Traci, you may be wondering what on God’s green Earth I have done to my faithful steed Hancho. I single her out because she used two question marks to ask what the hell I was perpetrating on my motorcycle, which lets me know that I really perplexed her.
This was, oh, a month or so ago, so I suppose it’s about time I let the proverbial cat out of the bag.
What? Did you really think I’d post something that cryptic just to explain it right away? You’re no fun at parties, are you?
Well, I am fun at parties, and one of the things that keeps me that way, is my uncanny ability to know when I’ve milked something long enough.
So it is in that spirit that I reveal…
Well, actually, this story begins a couple years ago when I first got the bike. It’s the first one that I bought from a dealer, so it was a little over Blue Book, but hell, those guys need to eat, too. It is, as you can tell by looking, pretty damned comfortable. I never understood floorboards instead of foot pegs, until I sat on this bike on the showroom floor and said, “Oh! Well, that makes sense!”
Here’s where the ball starts rolling; you see, I’m short.
Well, depending on your standards, anyway. I mean, I’d have been considered average back when the Constitution of the United States was signed. Former Massachusetts Senator Samuel Adams was an inch taller than I am, and his entire legacy is a shitty beer that has nothing to do with him but his name, which doesn’t give me much to look forward to. But I’m digressing again.
My point is, the great thing about being 5’7″ on this motorcycle is that the floorboards eliminate the need to buy highway pegs. I can already stretch my legs out over the edge of the floorboards. The bad thing is, I had to reach out just a little farther than is 100% comfortable, to hold the grips.
So after a couple years of saying I was going to do so, I finally bought some new handlebar risers.
And that’s why I needed all those tools.
I can hear people wanting to strangle me right through the internet, so let me walk you through this.
See, changing the risers on a motorcycle is a simple process. You take the old ones off, put the new ones on. It is important to figure out ahead of time if you’ll need longer cables for your controls.
“Simple” does not always mean “easy.”
The risers are usually clamped around the handlebars with four Allen bolts. 75% of mine came off simply and easily. The remaining 25% was recalcitrant, and then the bolt head started to strip. I tried a second Allen wrench, because it looked like the first wrench was also stripping. No go. I tried driving a flathead screwdriver into the widening hole with a hammer and tried to knock it loose. This recommended remedy also failed, and after muttering some choice words about how I was going to violate Mr Allen’s corpse if I ever found it, I resorted to the extractor kit for my power drill.
These are not as efficacious as they’re cracked up to be; the idea is to drill a hole into the stubborn head and then reverse it out with the larger extractor bit…but usually what happens is the extractor just makes the stripped hole bigger, which is fine if it makes it big enough to remove the head from the shaft completely, like it did on my last motorcycle, when I had the same problem for a different reason. The head is, after all, the only part that holds anything down.
This time, the bit was not large enough, and a couple days of drilling later, I finally admitted that the kit was useless. At this point I realized that all I really needed to do was cut through the screw, which was not sitting right on top of the handlebar. So I grabbed a hacksaw and got the cap off in a matter of minutes.
Setting the handlebars aside, I now removed the risers.
One of them, anyway.
The other wouldn’t budge for the Second Coming itself.
Wondering which god I had inadvertently pissed off this time, I tried everything. The socket wrench was helpless, and not something I wish to break, so I abandoned it in favor of a crescent wrench, which was also helpless, and didn’t stay on the bolt right, so I abandoned that in favor of my breaker bar, which started to bend before I felt the socket start slipping on the bolt head. I absolutely did not want that bolt to strip, since I needed it to attach the new risers, and so I stopped and thought for a few minutes.
I looked at the reluctant riser for a while before it dawned on me that I did not need to turn the bolt…if I could turn the riser.
A quick trip to the basement for my late grandfather’s massive commercial grade pipe wrench (which is probably at least twice my age) and a second, larger, hammer was all that was necessary.
I have no idea what in the hell the previous owner did to attach this riser, but for several loud, clangy minutes it still did not want to move. It was with a sense of triumph associated with first flights or the invention of disease cures that I finally got that sucker to turn.
After a few revolutions, I even remembered to secure the bolt so the whole works didn’t just keep spinning around.
The riser was off! Quickly I put the new ones on, moved the handlebars into place, capped them off, and watched the handlebars rotate in their new home until the grips pointed straight down–like a porn actor at the end of his shift.
The new risers are painted black. Including on the inside where the bars go, so it’s perfectly smooth and even though the bars have some knurling, there was nothing for them to latch on to, no matter how hard I tightened them.
So I used a wire wheel attachment for my power drill to roughen them up. Put the bars back in, tightened the caps, and they stayed put. I gave them an experimental shove, and they moved slightly, then a little more, and then they sank like a mob informant with cement shoes.
The following day, I purchased some no-slip strips and cut strips off of them. Placing the strip strips in the mounting area, I clamped down again and gave a few more shoves. They stayed put. I rode around the neighborhood for a few minutes, and they stayed put. I had finally achieved success.
I went to the corner gas station to fuel up, and while riding away from the pumps I noticed that the mirrors were pointing more at the ground than directly behind me, and as I was thinking I needed to adjust them, my hands went rather unexpectedly downward as well.
Success had been prematurely declared.
I limped home, and resumed researching solutions. Most of them were chemical in nature; industrial plumbing cement, JB Weld etc. While I’ve used JB Weld to great effect on other projects, I know that it is not infallible, and in this instance I would prefer a mechanical solution.
Since all I needed to do was keep the bars from spinning–they were in perfect position for the brief period before catastrophic failure–I decided to just drill some machine screws through the caps and into the bars.
Screws are not infallible either, but my philosophy is that any event that would cause the screws to break is not likely to be one which I will also survive, so at that point it won’t be a concern. At least, not of mine.
I made the required purchases, put a paper towel on the gas tank to catch metal shavings, and set about my work.
The first “self-drilling” screw got stuck. I grabbed a second power drill, with more torque, and the screw went through the cap…but refused to go through the handlebar, no matter how long I drilled.
So the next day, I went back to the hardware store and bought some drill bits, to drill pilot holes.
Seconds after I started, the handlebar was pierced. The screw went in like butter seconds after that, and I finally had a working set of handlebars, in the position I’d wanted.
I like backup plans, so I drilled a pilot hole into the other riser, and the drill bit ground down to about half its length. No matter, these things don’t last forever, so I replaced the bit and still couldn’t drill into the blasted hole to save my life.
I set the tools aside. I rode around for a while. Like a week or two.
Then I decided to finish the job. That’s when I saw that one of the drill bits had broken off, and prevented further drilling, because a drill bit won’t drill a drill bit. (Try saying that five times fast.)
I tweezed it out, applied another drill bit, and seconds later had a pilot hole all the way through the handlebar. Machine screw in, handlebars solid, job well, and finally, done.
The zip ties hold my tool bag onto the bars, and the duct tape I used to replace the rubber bits that had fallen off parts of my left side cover, so now said cover no longer falls off the bike every ten feet. (Different project, but done while all this was going on.)
There are several morals to this sermon.
The first is that honesty does not necessarily imply “full disclosure.” Not even from me; I was honest when I posted that shopping list…I just eliminated a few details. I have no idea what my friends thought I was doing to my bike–which is why I posted the way I did.
The second, related to the first, is to never assume that you have the whole picture unless you have no degrees of separation. Most of the time all you have to go on is what you’re told, and you have to do the best you can with what you’ve got where you are. Try to make it as complete as possible, and be open to new information.
The third is going to be a recurring theme in these sermons: never give up. I had some very frustrating drawbacks here, and trust me, I did some primal scream therapy in a secluded moment because bottling frustration up is not healthy. But then I got back to working on hypotheses and solutions. I did nothing that hadn’t been tried. I knew that it could be done, and the only thing that could stop me from doing it, was me. And I wasn’t going to do that.
You might say that it’s easy for me to say with a basement of tools and access to a hardware store, and I won’t dispute that; I’m just saying that without all of that, I wouldn’t have been defeated, this just would have taken longer.
A bike gives you that kind of confidence, over time. “Don’t give up” is one of the most important lessons the bike has to teach.
That is the Truth.
And Truth rides a motorcycle.