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Winter’s rituals

By Terry Roorda

The days are short and the storms of winter move in from the Pacific to whip the coast, soak the central valleys, and pile snow in the mountains. The vineyards turn red, then brown, and are pillaged for their remaining fruit by swarms of starlings. Migrating water fowl arrive to rest and feed on the last of summer’s bounty as they follow flight paths retained over eons in their ancestral memory. The highways are wild with careening morons who’ve forgotten in five months how to drive in the rain. The forests echo with the harsh jangle of chainsaws, and cord wood is stacked in the back of old pick-up trucks driven by guys who look like John Brown and smile the smile of bittersweet reminiscence when they hear the old, familiar shouts of, “Hey! Whadaya think you’re doing! Get off my land ya goddamn timber rustlers!”

The sharp air is fragrant with wood smoke and the smell of tasty homemade pies; pumpkin, mincemeat, pecan. Children pore over toy catalogues, their fresh eyes sparkling with greed. Mild-mannered Yuppies fasten skis to the elaborate racks atop their four-wheel-drive Subarus, and gleefully summon the AAA for assistance with the strap latches. Bikers roll their weary mounts up planks and through the doors of tenements to begin the traditional winter task of rebuilding them in front of the T.V.

In the warmth of their sheetrock burrows, the bikers festively spread newspapers beneath their motors in a ritual richly akin to trimming the tree. The children help with eager smiles until they get in the way and have to be tenderly shoved into the cheap gas wall heater where their cute little Hello Kitty onesie catches fire. The luscious holiday smells of roasting delicacies battle for olfactory prominence with the noxious vapors of carb cleaner wafting from the kitchen sink where the parts basket has been hung with care.

These are the sights and sounds and scents of winter. The Pomo Indian word for winter in these parts translates to “world sleeping time.” The biker word for winter translates to “bike rebuilding and ensuing divorce time.”

Working on a scooter in the living room is as American as, well, working and having a living room. It is a rite of passage and a common experience that binds us together as American Bikers. It requires a level of dedication and poverty unique to our breed. Heated garages are the province of the rich and famous—guys like Jay Leno and Jesse Bullock. Which is ironic since they hire other guys to work on their bikes and only need heat in the garage to keep the litter box warm for their fat, spoiled cats who eat better than we do. But I’m not bitter.

Spouses and roommates of bikers are, generally, sympathetic enough to our obsession to allow a certain amount of leeway in the use of the living quarters as an industrial repair bay. In my experience, however, I have discovered that there are a few activities that sorely try their patience and should be avoided unless absolutely necessary—or you’re tired of your spouse or roommate. They are:

  1. Do not use the shower stall for a paint booth.
  2. Do not use their toothbrush to scrub parts in the dip tank.
  3. Do not dump waste oil in the commode unless someone in the house has been ill, and you can blame the mess on them.
  4. Do not fire up the bike in front of the clean laundry.
  5. Do not use the household cutlery for pry bars, chisels, or putty knives for the gasket sealant.
  6. Do not solder wiring harnesses on any table that has been described as an “heirloom.”

I suggest you post these simple precautions on the wall by your bike because, as simple as they seem, you’re liable to space them out completely once you’ve entered the bizarre, monomaniacal mind-set of the residential bike builder. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Aside from the obvious benefits of heat and light that come with working on the scoot in the front room, there’s an additional attraction that should be mentioned. I have found that on Christmas morning when the gaily wrapped gifts are arrayed about the room, beneath the resplendent tree and around the transmission components, you can pretend that Santa brought you a motorcycle—some assembly required. This is especially cool if you’re having a real lame Christmas, and all you got was a salad shooter and a hot lather dispenser and you’ve got a beard. Instead of getting morose and falling into a mean funk of self-pity, you can feel joyous with your new motorcycle… I know, it would have to be a pretty lame Christmas.

These days, thanks to the miracle of drought and the Evolution motor, I tend to spend my winter riding. I will still, however, occasionally put my bike in the living room to work on it. Some would characterize this as the desperate escapade of a man trying to recapture his youth. There may be some truth to this, but I think it’s mostly because there’s a better set of tools in the kitchen than in the garage. Nothing gets that last dollop of tired oil out of the primary like a good turkey baster. (That’s not one of the activities I warned you against since I haven’t actually been busted doing it. Yet.)

It’s all right here in the diaries.

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