Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Mechanical Relationships

Its spring. The grass is getting green and the road is calling.
That got me to thinking about my relationship with the mechanical toys in my life. I used to work with Mark Amato and one day in a conversation about motorcycles, he said that he would rather ride the bike than work on it. At the time I thought, what a strange idea Mark has.

Personally, I get great pleasure out of thinking about how my toys work and how I can make them better. Or least make them the way that I want them. I guess that means that I spend more time working on them. After talking to many other people, I've come to the realization that I'm the one with the strange idea. Most people think like Mark does.

I have friends in the Points and Condenser Preservation Society that always seem to have 3, 5, or more toy cars at any given time. And they always seem to be looking for the next one to buy or selling one that they have had for a year or two. I once asked one of the guys about this and he said that he hoped to own 30 or 40 interesting cars in his life time. He couldn't afford to own them all at once, but he could still enjoy owning each of them for a time. He added, that after a while, he understood the experience of a car and was ready to move on to the next thing. He never considered modifying his cars. Each car's personality was fixed in his mind and that may be why he kept changing cars for variety.

On the motorcycle front, Doug Klassen over on his "40 on 2" blog talks about having ridden motorcycles for more than 40 years. More than that, he has owned more than 40 different motorcycles, some models he has owned more than once.

For me, that is just amazing. I wouldn't know how to go about it. I tend to buy a car or a bike and start thinking about how to make it work the way I want it to. The next thing you know, 5 or 10 years has gone by and I'm just getting familiar with my new acquisition.

I counted up the cars I have owned and in almost 40 years of driving and more than 50 years of being a car nut, I've only owned 9 cars total. Well 10, if you count AREX which has been more of a project than a car. That total includes 2 racecars, one of which wasn't steetable, and 2 winter beaters that didn't last long but got me through winter when Gidget didn't start reliably.

I have to admit that, because I work in the car industry, I had the use of company cars for about 20 of those 40 years. By taking my work home every night, I only had to own toy cars for those 20 years.

But the psychology must go deeper than not needing a newer transportation vehicle every couple of years. Part of it may be that, at 6' 5", nothing in the world is designed to fit me. When I find a car or motorcycle that is close, then I hang on to it and take the time to modify it to fit me.

Another part maybe that I take after my father as an engineer. I remember as a kid having my father bring home a new toy and the first thing he did was take it apart. I can't help thinking that it is just as interesting understanding how something works and maybe improving it, as it is using it.

I know I'm not completely alone. Ed Argalis has had his Honda TransAlp since it was new in the late 80's. And by the way, my motorcycle count is only 2. That is a little easier to explain. When I was in my early 20's, I bought a used Yamaha RD 350.

I had two problems with that bike. First, it was a small frame bike, so I sat back where the passenger was supposed to sit. That, in turn, left very little weight on the front tire and the steering would get scary light on the freeway.

Second, I was in my early 20's and just could not stay out of the throttle. As a Dynamics engineer, I knew that it took twice as much distance to avoid an obstacle on a motorcycle as it does in a car. But as a young man I just kept that throttle open.

One fine January day, because the sun was shining, I found myself riding the motorcycle at 10 degree F, charging into a blind corner at 70 mph, and finding a strip of ice across the road where the sun had melted the snow which had run across the road and refrozen. I was lucky to get away with only a major wobble, but I swore that I would sell that bike and not ride another until I had better judgement and self control. It took me 20 years to decide to buy a bike again. And then years modifying it to fit me.

Visiting my Dad after a 7000 mile motorcycle trip. Dirty bike, helmet hair, and all.


  1. Funny - that doesn't sounds like something Amato would say... :)

  2. "He couldn't afford to own them all at once, but he could still enjoy owning each of them for a time. He added, that after a while, he understood the experience of a car and was ready to move on to the next thing."


    I think that sums it very nicely. Either that or some of us just have a short attention span for specific mechanical things. Even with my R/C airplanes over the years I'd build something, fly it three or four times and sell it to finance the next project. I understood what the plane had to offer in both building and flying and that was enough.

    I attribute some of my lack of attention span with cars and bikes to my formative years. Dad was a car salesman and we always had new cars (salesmen were given "demo cars" to drive home in those days). When kids would come to school and excitedly talk about the new car they got that weekend I wondered what the big deal was. We'd had three or four new cars that year and every year. Somehow that got to be a habit with the bikes in my life.

    I have indeed *averaged* one bike a year for 43 years now although there was a time when I owned seven Bultacos at once. The longest I ever kept a ridable bike was four years. I do have a Bultaco in the backyard that I've had for ten years though but I don't count it because the engine is still in the living room.

    The shortest ownership life of any bike was thirty days for my '03 Aprilia Falco. The throttle was like a drug. I was going to wind up in cuffs by the side of the road with that bike and at 52 years of age that seemed like a bad idea. The Falco was great though, not unlike getting to date a supermodel you knew you could never marry or afford but at least for time life was lived in the fast lane. The memories are just right...

    My neighbor Jim is more like you. He keeps cars 300k miles and then complains about having to sell them for a pittance and buy something new. He rides a KLR650 and I'm pretty sure if there's a way to get that bike to 300k he'll find a way. Jim is a psychologist and looks at me rather oddly each time I bring home another bike. I think he's the one who is odd.