If I can fix a typewriter, surely I can fix a motorcycle
No, I haven’t fallen of the face of the earth or shut down my blog. I’ve just been a little bit…. preoccupied of late. In the last 8 months my work has been very fatiguing, as for a number of reasons my shifts have been pushed and pulled back and forth from morning to evening hours – sometimes with little more than half an hour of notice. I have also often been asked to stay back late or do extra days. Frankly, I’m just worn out and in need of a break. I’ll be taking leave from work very, and I’m hoping to recuperate and get myself back to normal.
For those who aren’t aware – I started fixing and using typewriters as a something of a stress-release and it is meant to be a distraction from the kinds of things I do and see at work. As I have said before, repairing a typewriter is like solving a big mechanical puzzle. One that you can sit on your desk and take with you elsewhere. However unlike most other puzzles, you get a magnificent writing machine that you can do something with once you have solved it.
However, around June when things were getting really stressful at work, I had this idea. If I can fix a typewriter up to usable standard, surely I can fix a motorcycle. So I started looking for the perfect wreck to try and get up to roadworthy standard.
And it didn’t take long. One of my all time favourite bikes appeared at an auction yard. It was a 2014 Triumph Bonneville T100. The rider had stacked it in early June – a year after he or she bought it. Sadly, the bike had only travelled a whopping 565 Kilometres in that year. It was practically new when it crashed. No doubt adding to the write-off status as the damage consisted more of very, very minor cosmetic damage than it did structural damage. But those very minor parts were hideously expensive to replace – and on a bike that was virtually new, they would have to have been replaced to get it up to standard for the insurer.
I bought the bike very cheaply compared to retail value from the auction. But expensive compared to most auction prices. With so little use on its engine the bike heavily contested. The bike had seen so little action that the ‘new tire’ hairs on the front tire were still on it. However the wheel was slightly warped, and 80% of the parts in the forks were warped beyond repair. The brake pedal mount had been bent back, and the brake pedal itself was torn off. The headlight was virtually pulped, but surprisingly the lens was not shattered.
Pieces of the bike hung off and onto the ground, and it looked awful. But I saw a lot of potential in this beast.
Why the Triumph?
At the auction there were some other incredible bikes. The Ducatti St3 next to the Bonneville needed just new faring and could be turned into an incredible ‘street-fighter‘ by simply taking it off. There were Harleys, Moto-Guzzis, Even a beautiful BMW R1200 which actually went for less than my Bonneville.
Well, I blame John Hannah for my decision.
Back in the 1990’s I was a young idiot from the outer-suburbs that felt rather lost in the world. I had finished high school and went on to start studying engineering while I was still trying to pull myself into some direction in life. It was at a workshop that trained up people for Toyota, Siemens and Repco. While I loved the theory side of the work, I hated the workshop days. Namely because of the drill-sargent attitudes that the people that were doing the training had. I felt intellectually I was wasting my time with this crew, and the trainers also were quite aware of this problem too – so they basically left me to my own devices several months in to just play around in the workshop. Namely because I was a little to strong willed and sharp minded to take on.
With a bunch of technical skills under my belt, I left that and moved into studying theatre technology. I was originally aiming for film and television, but fell in with another mob that liked me – and I like them in turn. But there was no money in the industry, so I started working at the Vic Markets to make an income. And that was hard, hard work.
I felt my life slipping into outer-suburban dreariness as the theatrical work faded away and I just ended up working a very underpaid position and living with my then partner who struggled to just keep her job in KFC. I really needed some direction, but I just seemed to wander aimlessly.
Sitting at home one night I was flicking through what was on TV when I came across a show called McCallum. While the idea of a forensic pathologist investigating crime was hardly a new idea, it was John Hannah’s character in the lead role that I gravitated to – and it was his character that I found particularly inspiring.
I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with being inspired by a fictional character. For I’ve seen others look at James Bond, Ripley from Alien and pretty much every character played by Steve McQueen to inspire their lives. And here was a character that I felt spoke to me. McCallum was a lead character that had qualities unlike what I’d seen in lead characters before. He didn’t have a cocky testosterone-filled over-masculine swagger, but instead carried himself with independence and self-confidence. The character was headstrong rather than athletic or burly. He wasn’t the usual alpha male that is held up to men as a role model.. He wasn’t a mono dimensional character, but complex and considered. He didn’t have a simplified view of sexuality (neither did the entire show) and relationships. He was a different kind of man in a world filled with Boof-head footballers and gun-tottering tough guys that were the usual fare being held up to men as a role model. Through his character I came to terms with the idea that being emotional and expressive wasn’t a negative. Something that I surprisingly didn’t even really grasp working in the theatre industry.
And then there was the motorcycle. McCallum got around on a black Triumph Thunderbird. 900ccs of bike that was neither Tough-guy posery like a Harley Davidson, nor plastic fantastic like a Jap Bike. Yet it had a great retro style and plenty of chrome and steel to still look utilitarian yet beautiful. It matched with his urbane and social charisma.
I loved it. Instead of feeling aimless in life, I started to try and push myself more and more and I accepted more about myself. I stopped trying to subscribe to the ‘blokey’ role that most men in Australia find themselves being pushed into, and I no longer felt I needed to fit into someone else’s stifling view of what it was expected of you to be identified as a man.
Other than that… I just really liked the look of the retro-yet-not style of the Triumph motorcycles anyway. And they also have a reputation for being highly reliable – as reliable as the BMWs that traverse the world. And I do intend to be taking this beauty far and wide whenever I get the chance.
Rebuilding the Triumph.
As is obvious in the photo above I eventually got there. Knowing that doing the work myself would save me on labour charges, I didn’t think that this whole project was insurmountable. In fact, the cost of the repairs cost me less than $au1000. Considering a new T100 ‘Black’ edition costs $au15,000 before on-roads, and a second-hand one usually sits around the $au13,000 dollar mark, I came out WELL in front before I tried to get it on the road.
But that wasn’t to say that it was easy. I did the repairs progressively over about a month and a half, and spent a large amount of time in the evenings sourcing parts. I replaced off and replaced a total of 27 pieces from the motorbike and had the occasional moment of extreme swearing as I found my skills were tested. I mean, really tested. I had several family members who were very experienced with working on bikes shaking their heads at me and behind my back talking about how stupid I was.
But I persevered. I guess that’s the difference with self confidence – you know what you know, and you know what you can do. You just have to trust in yourself.
By sheer dumb luck I managed to find a large group of parts to replace a lot of the key components ultra-cheaply online. A man over in Point Cook was partially dismantling a T100 that he had just bought, which he was converting into a cafe racer – and as such didn’t need things like mirrors, mud-guards and arms, and other bits and pieces. The parts I bought of him were newer than the parts that I was replacing on my bike, and had done even less K’s than my own vehicle had. To buy most of these parts new would have cost me about 7 times more. No wonder insurers write these bikes off so quickly.
But I wasn’t content with using second-hand parts for the forks. Triumph Australia were freakishly expensive when it came to parts i needed, and I soon found myself starting to questioning if I really could do this cheaply enough to make it worth while. But after doing a heap of research, I found a provider for the parts overseas that produced better quality components at considerably less than Triumph were asking for their parts retail. I just had to wait a long…. long time for these parts to come from Italy.
I realised I had some tool deficiencies when it came to doing some key work on the bike, so I just coughed up and got someone to do some pieces of work for me. I took the wheel to get straightened by an expert, and after 5 minutes and a flurry of flying spanners and measurements he straighten up the wheel. It would have taken me hours, instead he did it faster than I can cook two minute noodles (I like to add more to my noodles) and it cost me a whopping $10.
After I had all the parts I needed to re-build the forks, I took them down to a guy I know named Curtis at Jap Spec Moto, who threw them together for me when he a moment. Curtis is a great mechanic, and I always get him to service the Yamaha V-Star that we also own. He was happy to oblige. It made sense, as these forks are a fairly crucial component that I would be relying on for my safety and so I felt that it was better handled by someone that knew what they were doing.
I researched the hell out of everything I did to this bike – everything from correct torque settings for every bolt on the bike, to how to test for straightness and correct length. Which I also did to make sure everything was in perfect working order – and not inclined to send me spiring into something big and metal – and thus killing me. If anything, I went over-kill with the safely checks as I think I spent twice as much time checking things for cracks, wear or straightness than I did actually bolting, unbolting and adjusting things.
Eventually I finished the repairs and took it out onto the street around my home. It felt beautiful to ride, although I found the 865cc EFI engine punchier than expected, and was quite thrown with the power at first. The biggest bike I had ridden in the past was a BMW R80, and this thing would easily wipe that bike off the street.
Fastest Typewriter Transport In The Land.
It probably won’t surprise anyone that I attempted to see how I could strap a writing machine onto this bike for casual writing sessions out of the house. While I was chasing parts I came across a gentleman that was selling a genuine Triumph ‘Solo seat’ – which had an interesting rack on the back.
You can see that seat and rack setup in the above photos. What I then discovered is that a well travelled Remington Portable 2 that I recently acquired fitted nicely onto the rack. I get the feeling this might be perfect for a future road-side writing session. But I’ll tell you more about the Remington Portable 2 soon. Mind you, I feel I really should find a suitably sized Triumph typewriter to match the bike.
The triumph was fixed, ready and raring to go. All I needed was for the mandatory checks to be done, and I could get it on the road. It seemed simple. I was sure I was moments away from success.
Then the shit hit the fan.
Oh the fool I was.
Having a solid mechanical aptitude and a mind that loves to solve a problem is one thing, but although I had dreams of spinning around on a set of two beautiful wheels into the sunset the government had different ideas, and it potentially could have cost me everything I spent on the bike up until that stage. I loved working on the bike, but the basic bureaucratic stuff that I deal day in, day out with at work I just kinda… neglected.
The government requires you to undertake two inspections. First, a basic roadworthy check and second a ‘VIV’ inspection, which is a verification that you haven’t tried to “rebirth” a stolen vehicle, and that your bike is sound from an engineering standpoint to get back on the road. VIV inspections are required for all ‘repairable write-offs’ being returned to the road.
I booked into both, and set the VIV inspection the day after the roadworthy. I was quietly confident that everything would pass just fine. The day came to take the bike for the roadworthy, and it passed with flying colours. Hell, I even saw the inspector taking it for a longer spin than was necessary as I waited for the inspection to be finished at a cafe several kilometres up the road. I guess he liked my bike.
I sat down in front of the TV that night excited about the VIV test the next day, and I went through all my emails to check on what needed to be happened. To my horror I found an email with a hidden attachment containing details that needed to be undertaken before I could take the bike in to be looked at. The VIV inspection was expensive – it cost me $130 for a deposit prior to the test, and an extra $460 on the day. The test itself was more expensive than the bulk of the repair work I had completed.
The conditions in the email attachment were extreme. I had to have an extensive amount of paperwork on hand when I arrived – paperwork that I wasn’t even close to having together, and documentation on every cent I had spent. I had been pretty casual with my receipts up to this point, and now I looked in horror at the list, which informed me that Ebay purchased parts were viewed with suspicion as they could have been taken from a stolen vehicle. My ‘almost too good to be true’ ultra-cheap parts potentially could have implicated me in a vehicle theft. Worse, I hadn’t even taken a receipt from Curtis or the wheel guy for the work they did for me.
I hit the computer at 6pm, and worked through till 2am pulling together a repair diary. I had most of that already done as I had been keeping notes in a journal as I rebuilt the bike, but it needed to be tidied up into coherent diary for the inspector. I researched people’s experiences like crazy with the VIV, and discovered that they were largely negative. It seemed the VIV inspection was ultra-freakin’ hard to pass if everything I read online was to be trusted.
By 2am I was exhausted – both physically and mentally, and I had run out of all options to get my documentation right. I even had to swap back some parts that I had ‘customised’ on the bike to make sure it would pass, resulting in a late-night workshop session to repair already repaired parts (note the changing seats and indicators in the photos). I was confident that the bike would stand up during the engineering inspection, but I knew I didn’t have anywhere near enough paperwork to pass the VIV. I rolled around sleeplessly in bed, occasionally switching in my iPad to do more research – all of which came back negative. I was due at the inspection centre at 7:30am, and by 5am I was fatigued, stressed and delirious. So I made a decision:- blow my $130 deposit now, instead of blowing the $130 and $460 and potentially having my bike confiscated by the police. I reasoned I could come back another time once this I was sorted. I also realised that If I even tried to ride the bike after that long night, I would probably kill myself as I was in no metal condition to ride.
It was a low moment for me emotionally.
Once I made that decision at 5am, I fell peacefully asleep. The next morning I made a plan on how to get everything together and do some more inspections ready for my next attempt at the VIV – which I was confident I could do probably 2 weeks later. With a plan in hand I felt renewed again, and 4 days later I had the bulk of the paperwork together that I needed. I did a few more measurements and took some photographic documentation to prove my engineering was sound, and I was again becoming confident that the bike would pass. But the horror stories of other riders were at the back of my mind and I just couldn’t shake them.
6 days after i had abandoned my attempt at getting the VIV done I got a phone call from the engineering firm that had been contracted by the government to do the inspection. In the middle of a particularly busy day at work I took the call. “We just wanted to check that you were okay to come in tomorrow for your booking” the lady said over the phone. Confused I didn’t know how to answer “OH! It’s tomorrow”? said. “Yeah, she replied.” I agreed I would then wondered what the hell had just happened.
I looked back over the Vicroads email, and somehow my booking had been miss-booked to a week later. In another moment of sheer dumb luck for me – I hadn’t blown my $130. When I got home from work I put in a solid few hours finishing up my paperwork, and providing contact numbers and home addresses for everyone that I had made ebay purchases off – in the hope that would suffice. I wasn’t sure I was going to pass, but I was making my best damn attempt.
I anxiously rolled up the next morning with my father and dropped the bike with the engineers. The lady on the front counter was very nice, and she had a dog that sat in a basket in the window of the office that yapped at me. We had a friendly chat, and I handed over all my documentation and left the bike with her. Legal requirements stated that I had to leave the premises during the inspection, as I could potentially interfere with the assessment by the engineer, whom I would never be allowed to meet.
I returned 6 hours later and had another polite conversation with the lady on the counter. She didn’t tell me if my bike had passed or failed, however she started filling out a form while still having a very friendly and polite chat. Then the engineer came in. He said nothing to me but signed a piece of paper and wrote some details. It struck me that he didn’t usually write this stuff as he had to ask the lady where he needed to write. With a smile I was handed my documentation back – sans the repair diary, and I was given my VIV certificate.
The bike had passed! On the first go!
As went to leave the lady said to me “You’re extremely lucky you know”.
“Oh? What do you mean” I inquired.
“Well, motorbikes don’t usually pass inspection. They always have something wrong”.
“Oh? How many”
“Really”? I said bewildered.
“Over 90% or more fail”.
I let that sink in for a moment. People with even stronger skills than me would have had attempted this and failed. Behind me was a man that on that morning had brought in a Harley Davidson for testing, who moaned in resigned agreement. My guess is that he hadn’t passed. I had taken into this foolishly ignorant and somehow passed. Although I don’t think it was dumb luck. I think years of working in health and having to keep meticulous records gave me a little extra that got my arse over the line.
I registered the bike the next work day, and in what felt like a last-minute dig the number-plate didn’t fit properly as the bolt holes were too wide for the bike’s number plate bracket, which required me to do some fast thinking and engineering in the Vic Roads car park.
Happy writing and riding, folks!
PS. Here’s an article I found particularly inspiring that I read a little while back. It’s about motorcyclists volunteering their time to transport urgently needed blood products for hospitals. Hmmm… maybe the Bonneville might be put to more practical use…. You can find the article HERE: BLOOD BIKERS