Zen and the Art of maintaining a good mood about my motorcycle

Saturday, June 27th, 2009 Latitude: S Longitude: E

In German, the word maintaining and waiting are the same. So, “Zen and the Art of motorcycle maintenance” by Robert Pirsig was published as “Zen und die Kunst, ein Motorrad zu warten”. Add one word and you end up with the title of a book that could be written about me and my Royal Enfield Bullet: “Zen and the Art of waiting for a motorcycle”.

Let me start at the end – my end, the lower one: my right foot. Since Tuesday, it features a blister, thanks to me switching gears with light shoes on only. Is it the shoes? Is it the erratic unwillingness of the gearbox to act upon my orders? Is it Indian product quality? Or the fact that a post-war (that is WW II) construction obviously has a thing or two left to ask for? Or is it the fact that I am pretty new to motorcycles? Not much I can compare to. Does a recent 250cc Honda Baja that lets you change gears like “click” count as a good comparison? No blisters from that one.

The gearbox-blister is only the latest check of Bullet-the-Buddha to see if I really mean serious with riding motorcycles. There is also the long row of stuff that have my workshop folks say: “We never had anything like this happen before…”) And believe me, these guys have seen a lot. They are the people who import Royal Enfield into Germany and I would guess that right after the US and the UK, my home-country is probably the 3rd biggest export destination for the Bullet. So if there’s unexpected stuff to happen, they hear of it, as they are in charge of supplying exchange-parts under warranty to all dealers.

Here’s a list of stuff that made me wonder (and I wonder if I manage to remember everything right…). All of this happened in my first year and my first 4000 km with the bullet:

  • On the first longer ride, part of the gear-box just fell off, as the screw wasn’t secured properly.
  • Indicator lights sucked the battery far to fast.
  • Clutch wire snapped after less than 3000 km.
  • Valve-Ring got loose, almost causing the motor to destroy itself.
  • Exhaust pipe internally fell apart causing the thing to sound like a tank.
  • Rubber tube between carburettor and cylinder broke.
  • Chain protection broke at the rear handle.

A couple of more things that have more to do with the workshop staff not working properly (tube valve been cut off by tire not been put back properly after change etc.)

Everything was always handled smoothly and without any problems by the importer/workshop. The have a very friendly and professional attitude. The Motorcycle is under warranty for 2 years so apart from the trips to the workshop and back and the time involved I am not loosing out on too much from all of this. Instead: I learn a lot and my attitude towards the bike I ride is improving a lot along the lines of what Robert Pirsig is talking about in his book: Care for it, it’s part of you as a personal whole.

The Bullet is fitted with a sidecar, also that one from India. Its a constant source of pleasure for me, my partner, my daughter, my siblings and friends. It’s a unique experience.

It might also be one reason why so much is happening to the bike. My theory: the engine causes a lot of vibration and the motorcycle with the sidecar attached to it cannot handle the shaking too well. A lot of the motion energy is transmitted into parts like the carburettor or the exhaust pipe. Well, that’s just a theory – mind you, I am an amateur, comments on it are more than welcome…!

I do media development as a profession, mainly working in Laos and riding an Indian built motorcycle back home in Germany constantly reminds me of the circumstances people live under in other parts of the world. I get approving looks from people on their perfect BMW’s, Hondas and what-have-you-not and sometimes I envy them for being able to just get on and get off with it.

The fact that I could get another two bikes for the price they have paid for one puts the whole thing into perspective again. Three Indian-built bikes together should be as reliable as one German one. Let’s not talk about the “soul” of the machines.

Would I buy another Bullet? Definitely yes – they can only get better.