Four years ago, I knew nothing about motorcycles. If you had asked me to name three motorcycle manufacturers, I would have said, “Harley, Honda… uhhh… Ninja?”
But then, I fell in love with riding, and a new world revealed itself: the community of motorcyclists, the culture of bikes, the immense encyclopedic knowledge of mechanics and enthusiasts.
I have never been someone who gravitates toward groups — as a child I was more at home in the library than on the playground — but I found myself falling into this culture of motorcyclists as if I had known it for years.
Motorcycles — especially vintage motorcycles — have become important to me, and while I can’t fully explain why I’m so drawn to this culture, it’s been a welcome addition to my life.
Before falling in love with motorcycles, I spent my free time doing a lot of small, solitary activities: cooking, reading, yoga class, crocheting for friends and family, tending my plants…
But even before finding the motorcycle community, I had a creeping feeling that these small things weren’t really what I wanted to be doing with my life. While I loved, and still do love, all of those activities independently, I could feel that they just weren’t quite it.
I longed to have a project to work on that required discipline and commitment, that challenged me to learn new skills, that said something about my character as a person, and, in the end, that added up to be greater than the sum of its parts.
After rebuilding my starter motor last October, I felt a rush of relief. This was the fulfilling hobby I had been looking for. This was what I wanted to do with my time.
Something about the solitary hours in my garage on rainy evenings, getting to know how a motor works, patiently cleaning grime from the commutator, and keeping track of all the shims and bolts… It was totally absorbing, and, in a strange way, soothing.
Then, of course, there was the payoff. Seeing the starter spin on its own after hours of work was a rush. And now, every time I start my bike, I know that I was the one who made it happen. There’s nothing quite like it.
After experiencing that kind of fulfillment, I couldn’t just allow myself to fall back into the old, unsatisfactory routine, as I have with so many ideas and dreams in the past. Not this time.
This time, I’m going to do something about it.
In spite of my limited knowledge and resources, in spite of my anxieties and fear, in spite of my hesitation and uncertainty, I’m going to rebuild a motorcycle.
After all, why not? I enjoyed working on my starter, and I didn’t know anything about starter motors when I started. I know it’s not going to be easy to undertake a complete rebuild on my own without hardly any experience, but I can learn. I have people to ask for advice, and, thanks to a trip to Powell’s Used Books, I am now equipped with a manual. Plus, YouTube exists.
I can do this.
At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.
Regardless of how I feel about it, though, this much is true: I bought a 1982 Honda XL250R two weeks ago, and it is sitting in my garage, which last weekend I outfitted with new shelving, a workbench, and a space heater. It’s all set up now, waiting for me.
I had hoped that once I purchased a bike, bought a manual, prepared my garage… wrote a blog post about it… I had hoped doing all the preparation would make this project seem real. Now I wonder if anything is “real,” or if things just happen and we give them names.
I’ve always been the type of person who takes comfort in the planning of things. I also love spontaneous adventures when they happen, but something in my disposition is soothed by careful, methodical planning.
Now, I have completed the preliminary planning, and it feels like a pivotal moment, like I’m on the precipice of something important. But also I have a feeling that I will always be staring down the barrel of something waiting for me to cause it to happen.
I guess that’s the thing about working with your hands, working in the physical world. The desired result can’t be coerced into existence by sending an email, giving a presentation, creating a timeline, identifying your resources.
Planning and preparation is important. But at a certain point, you have to get out there and just do it.
Over the next few months (years? God I hope not…), I’ll be keeping a public journal of my rebuild on this blog. As you can see, I don’t plan on holding anything back, so if you want an honest account of what it’s like to rebuild a motorcycle with no prior knowledge, I’m your girl.
But also, I’m going use this project as an opportunity to explore some deep emotions and instincts I think many people have experienced ⎯ whether they work with their hands for a living or they just daydream about being a farmer or a mechanic from their desk. I’ll be doing this through research, interviews, and good-old fashioned creative writing.
I call it The RIDEWELL Rebuild Project. And I do hope you follow along Be sure to sign up for my email list to make sure you don’t miss a post.