Good Shop Practice #13: Tight Enough is Tight Enough

Young mechanics, especially men, are prone to overtightening everything. Too much torque is dangerous, as everyone learns sooner or later. The snapped-off bolt or stripped-out screw head is a real motherfucker, and you have no-one to blame but yourself. Now you learn the art of extraction, which is an opportunity to do some real damage if you’re not careful. Some fittings need to be tightened to specified torque and need a torque wrench, but for most of the bolts and screws you’re installing, you need to develop the feel for getting your fasteners mechanically tight. Not Grape-Ape tight. It is a feel, and it takes practice to develop. You will screw it up sometimes, so, yes, extracting broken fasteners is another skill you need.

Good Shop Practice #12: Plan Time for Clean-Up.

Cleaning up shop at the end of a task or the end of the day is a way of extending courtesy to yourself tomorrow.  Having things where you expect them to be when you start the next job is the best reason for cleaning up after this job; it makes work much easier and reduces frustration.  Few things are as satisfying as putting in the last bolt or putting the seat back on the bike and seeing it whole again (then going for the mandatory shake-down ride), but that is not the end of the day’s work.  The half hour or so that it takes to wipe things down, put tools away, take care of the rags, &c., is last act, and it can be a very pleasant, low-mental-energy, reflective way to wind down.  It is also a great time for a beer.

Ride it Like Beckham

Why would you want a replica of some celebrity’s bike? Knowing you, you probably wouldn’t – unless that bike happened to be a tight little custom Triumph Scrambler.

beckham bike 1


If you’re not familiar with sportsball hero David Beckham’s motorcycle trip through the Amazon, there is a BBC documentary called “Into the Unknown” that is worth checking out:


One of these gents is probably Mr. Beckham

Let’s be honest, this is exactly the kind of trip we all wish we could do and would jump on if we had the chance. Being a man of discernment, Beckham didn’t just embark into the jungle on any ol’ German GS or big enduro bike. He rode a Scramblerized custom Bonneville T-100 what was customized in both the UK and Brazil. It’s a lovely custom job: classic, understated, tough-looking, and functional. And it looks great covered in muck and filth.

beckham bike 2

I bet you wouldn’t mind flogging around roads and trails on a bike like that. Motolegends, the British retro-clothing and bike gear specialists, are putting up a chance to win a replica of the Amazon custom bike. Graham Elliott and Phill Sharp of FCL Motorcycles in Cranleigh, UK, have built the replica to win. Like the original, it is built on a Bonneville, and it has key desirable bits, like the Arrow exhaust. It is stripped down, cleaned up, and blacked out, just as it ought to be.

 beckham bike 5

Visually, what really makes this bike is the custom tan leather seat. This was critical to getting the bike right, and these blokes (“dudes” for our USA readers) nailed it. It is the punctuation on the design, and is very well executed. beckham bike 3

A particularly pleasing detail is the blacked-out “garden gate” nameplate, which I consider an improvement over the “eyebrow”-style nameplate on the original Beckham bike.

beckham bike 4

This bike shows the real potential lying just under the surface in the Hinckley classic twins. These bikes are essential – elemental, and anyone with a little skill can bring that character through. I think the boys at FCL have more than a little skill, and they have done a fine job.

Go over to the Motolegends site and register to win this bike. Good luck, chaps!

Good Shop Practice #11: Focus

Distraction has become our normal psychological state. Focusing attention on one thing for more than a few minutes is now the exception, and this has interfered with our enjoyment of activities, our ability to see things to completion, the quality of our work, and our sense of peace and happiness. Distraction breeds anxiety and poor workmanship. Focus when you work, and prepare to focus for the duration of the work. If you need to gather information, such as, say, finding a video to walk you through a task, gather it all beforehand so you’re not searching at the same time you’re trying to work. Do one task at a time; if another task occurs to you, write it down and set it aside. Avoid the manic temptation to jump from one to the other. You can only do one thing well at a time.

Why the Feds Should Lay Off the Mongols’ Colors

Donning your motorcycle gear does not mean renouncing your constitutional rights, even if – and pay attention here – that gear includes motorcycle club patches.*

While most of our readers probably agree with that statement, the Department of Justice apparently does not. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the federal government is seeking authority to seize the patches and logos of the Mongols Nation Motorcycle Club. This literally means the power to stop on sight anyone wearing a Mongols cut, or anything with a Mongols logo, and confiscate it on the spot.

The mechanism for doing this would be the federal government legally taking over the trademark of the Mongols’ emblem, which is the intellectual property of the Mongols Nation Motorcycle Club. The justification, in simple terms, is that the logo amounts to a “license to commit crime.”

Many people have correctly asserted that the wearing of colors is a type of speech that should be protected under the First Amendment. However, it is another clause of the First Amendment that is more directly under assault here: the right of assembly. A motorcycle club’s colors are a statement of association with a group. This is penalizing individuals not for any acts but for their identity and associations.

Of course, the First Amendment protects “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” It doesn’t protect, for example, riots or criminal conspiracies. The problem is, the government has not shown that the Mongols as an organization are a criminal syndicate. While some individual members have been convicted of crimes, that does not indict other members nor the organization per se. The DoJ just finds guilt by association much more convenient than the long way around. Unfortunately, this handy shortcut goes right though the First Amendment.

I am not saying that the Mongols are or are not a criminal syndicate. That is for the federal government to prove, and unless they successfully do that the rights of expression and free assembly of the Mongols’ membership should remain intact.

By all means, we should vigorously prosecute violent and criminal activity, regardless of what badges, pins, patches, logos, jackets, vests, or – ahem – uniforms the perpetrators are wearing, but it is difficult to imagine any way whatsoever in which the power to seize the clothing of bikers would serve the public interest or public safety. On the contrary, it is likely to be a distraction from the actual investigation of criminal acts. It would surely be very satisfying for the federal officers, but merely antagonizing people who are perceived as low-lifes and outsiders is not a compelling government interest.

Cuts are deeply valued, highly personal possessions and statements of identity. Taking a biker’s cut is much more than confiscating some piece of paraphernalia – it is akin to stripping their identity. It is a humiliation.

And let’s be totally honest here: the Justice Department is not starting a collection of patches. The effect of this policy is to give them carte blanche to stop, harass, and search bikers without a warrant or probable cause. It gives them an excuse to get in the door and under the sofa cushions. It’s not really the bikers’ First Amendment rights they’re after, it’s their Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The fundamental premise the government is working on here is that wearing the colors constitutes a presumption of guilt. The unspoken intent is criminalizing identity, and it sets a dangerous precedent for stop and seizure on sight.

We have stated before that there is a huge difference between the lives, lifestyles, and culture of outsider motorcycle clubs – the so-called 1%ers – and most regular bikers you see every day at the bar. That is true. However, there really is no legal distinction between the Mongols and the Christian Joyriders of Kenosha. Neither the Mongols as a club nor a majority of its members have been convicted of a crime. This is an attempt to short-circuit the hard, important work of prosecuting criminal activity.

The ACLU is supporting the Mongols, and so should the AMA. Not that AMA funds should to toward the Mongols’ legal defense, but the AMA should take the official position that motorcycle club insignia are the intellectual property of the club and not subject to seizure, and that bikers should not be stopped on sight.

*In this essay, we will use the terms “club” or “motorcycle club” and not the terms “outlaw” or “gang,” because part of the question at issue is precisely whether the club is legally defined as a criminal organization. In other contexts, we use terms such as “outlaw” or “gang” to indicate cultural or aesthetic distinctions, not legal ones.

Photo Shoot: Bonneville Blue

Sometimes a color tells a story.


The Sherwin-Williams automotive paint shop can get you pretty much any color you can imagine, which makes working on a color scheme harder than you had hoped.  I wanted something tough and cool, but elegant.  Something that would justify sanding off the perfectly good factory black paint.


This first-world problem was processing in the background of my brain CPU one evening while drinking IPAs and talking about legendary bikes, when the topic of “Big Sid” and Matthew Biberman’s epic Vincati came up.  Apart from its historical and mechanical achievement, the Vincati is one of the most strictly beautiful bikes I’ve ever seen.  Should I copy that color?


No, this isn’t about copying someone else’s color; it’s about finding my own statement.  Still, I loved the Bibermans’ story of father-son reconciliation through a mechanical adventure, something I wish I could have had with my own father.  As it happens, they talk about the color in their book, Big Sid’s Vincati (which you should get if you don’t already own.)


The color they selected is “Lynndale Blue,” which was named after the Lynndale Farms Raceway in Wisconsin, and which adorned the 1966-67 Corvette Stingray.  This struck me like an omen:  My parents, both sports car & racing enthusiasts in the 1950s & 60s, both owned corvettes, and even met one another through the local SCCA.  It’s likely they even went to races at Lynndale: they went to Sebring, Watkin’s Glen, and lots of other tracks.


The “stinger” on the ’67 Corvette hood was black, which inspired my diagonal matte black stripe on the tank.


I also added a “smoking rabbit” Mad River canoe emblem on the side panel, an echo of memories paddling the Grand River with the family as a kid.  I still love taking out my Mad River Explorer 16 when I’m not riding.  I think the bike would look great with a canoe trailer attached.  Have to figure that one out.


The bike has several other modifications.  Nothing visually radical — things replaced here, cut off there, holes drilled in baffles there, and so on.  It will continue to change, so this is just a portrait of how it happens to look right now.  It’s not and will never be a real custom build, but it is a kind of homage to the custom builders, and a nod to Mom and Dad and all the great things we can do outdoors.


Stop Imitating Outlaw Biker Gangs

Since last week’s shoot-out between the Bandidos and the Cossacks in Waco, Texas, many bikers – or perhaps they’d rather be called motorcyclists – have been making protestations that the actions of these outlaw biker gangs do not represent the attitudes, lifestyles, and actions of most people who ride motorcycles. True enough.

They say that this incident puts us bikers (I’m just going to say “bikers”) in a bad light. That it casts a shadow over the rest of us. Well, I don’t think most civilians have any confusion between the typical biker dudes they see every day and outlaw gangs, any more than you might confuse, say, your neighbor’s basement home-brew set-up with an underground meth superlab. But I guess I could see the point.

They say that they want to distance themselves from this harmful image of outlaw culture. This is where I have to throw a bullshit flag.

If we’re so all-fired keen to distance ourselves from the stigma of outlaw biker gangs, why do so many bikers go to such lengths to imitate them? The hair, the vests, the chaps, the boots. Not the mention the type and style of motorcycle. The entire persona of many ordinary bikers is, intentionally or not, overtly derivative of the outlaw biker archetype. Even the loud pipes: most bikers who have drag pipes have them because they convey that dangerous, outlaw image. It’s not a performance thing, and it’s honestly not a safety thing.

The most blatant homage to the outlaw biker gangs are the club vests and patches that explicitly imitate the style of the gang, complete with club logo and chapter rocker. The most obvious example is the Harley Owners Group (HOG – one of the least clever backronyms of all time). HOG is a corporate-sponsored community branding and marketing effort, which is the polar opposite of an outlaw biker gang. HOG is to a biker gang what the “by Mennen” jingle is to Jimi Hendrix. Yet they, quite brilliantly, co-opted the exact iconography of the gangs, triggering the same psychological mechanisms of tribal loyalty and converting them into brand loyalty. To the untrained eye, a HOG chapter pulling into a Denny’s looks an awful lot like some bad shit is about to go down. At the Denny’s.

Even more bizarre are the riders who sport “Sons of Anarchy” gear. It’s not just a fantasy, it’s a fantasy of a fantasy. These really belong more at ComiCon than at a bike rally.*

There is nothing wrong with regular motorcycle clubs, but so many of them use these vests and patches it reinforces the unstated assumption that the only “real” bikers – the most legitmate bikers – are the outlaws, and that all the rest of us are just varying degrees away from that pure core. That’s what’s really wrong with this.

The appeal of the outlaw is very real, powerful, and completely understandable. For most of us, that’s part of what got us into motorcycling in the first place. There is a genuine delight in terrifying soccer moms. It’s the cowboy, it’s Johnny Strabler, it’s Han Solo. Every romantic hero plays by his own rules, right?

Well, we are undercutting that independence instinct when we spend so much effort imitating members of some other group. We have to acknowledge that what biker gangs are doing and what the rest of us are doing are completely different things. We don’t have to emulate them because we really share nothing in common with them.

Many ordinary bikers already feel that in some ways they’re on the fringe. There’s something in us that is not like our peers. We are doing something not that many people do, something that our friends or family may not understand or approve of. We invest time and money in something that is dangerous and impractical. This, too, is part of the appeal. For much of life, we have to fit in, but as a biker we can be comfortable as an outsider. But again, being an outsider is a completely different thing from human trafficking and running guns and drugs.

If you truly want to be in an outlaw biker gang, then that’s what you should do, but recognize that it is not a life of freedom: it will take a tremendous commitment and sacrifice, including possibly losing the relationships of the people you care about most. I doubt most of us are willing to do that.

If you don’t want to be in an outlaw biker gang, then drop the affectations and stop whining about getting a bad rep from the outlaws.

You have to pick one or the other: you cannot both have and reject the outlaw biker fantasy. This is like someone who dresses as a knight at a Renaissance fair complaining that they don’t want to be associated with the negative stereotypes of European nobility.**

The world of bikers is one of amazing biodiversity. So many types of people and machines, different backgrounds and reasons. A lot of histories and stories. And for the most part, we’re all cool with each other. Even people from backgrounds who would otherwise not interact are generally decent and accepting in the context of bikes. There really are not a lot of rules to “how to be a biker,” and that’s part of what’s so great about it. Maybe the one universal tenet is that you need to be yourself. Be your damn self. You don’t need anybody else’s approval to be a biker, and you certainly don’t need to emulate a group you don’t actually want to join. It’s so much easier to just be yourself.

*I don’t mean to dis on the ComiCon folks. They at least are generally aware of what is and is not a fantasy, and they’re usually pretty cool.

**Again, nothing against the Ren Fair guys. Joust on!