Finding friendship via motorcycles

Part of me is still convinced there will be a stretch of time in my life when I survive solely on the money I earn from wrenching on motorcycles.

But I have some problems: I’m impatient, don’t have the know-how and would certainly break a lot of parts along the way. Such was the case for the majority of the build for my most recent motorcycle. I stripped too many bolts to count. I somehow obliterated both of my carburetors beyond repair. I rusted the inside of my gas tank into a scaly mess — it’s basically worthless now.

On those days when I’m bloodying my knuckles on every mildly sharp surface on the bike and dropping bolts in impossibly difficult places, I have to remind myself why I work on motorcycles at all.

And some days, I don’t need reminding. Some days, the timing chain drops perfectly into place, or the throttle doesn’t stick anymore. And on rare days, when the universe is feeling especially benevolent, the bike actually starts. And so was the case this Friday.

My friend Carl and I were sipping on an especially delicious Columbian from my friends over at Pinewood Roasters while talking shop on some motorcycles we had recently ridden. When we had finished catching up, we drove up to my loft, and spotted this beauty waiting for us.

1970s Volkswagen Van.
This VW vanagon sat outside my loft, as if it was waiting for me.

I’ve been ogling over 70s and 80s vans for the past few weeks, so this VW vanagon was a special treat. It felt like a sign that it was going to be an especially successful day of motorcycle work.

Carl and I said our goodbyes, and I immediately began priming the bike for cranking.

There were a few parts I was missing though, so I made some calls to other motorcycle enthusiasts I knew. A buddy of mine named Thomas was kind enough to let me snag his jumper cables for the evening. Another random passer-by offered me up some start fluid in-between his trips to Harbor Freight. He was building a parts organizer, naturally.

Thanks to the graciousness of those close to me, my bike finally fired up after a few cranks (only after I realized I had never put the keys in the ignition). It was overwhelming sense of approval hearing that motor scream to life after years of neglect from previous owners.

Despite my utter joy, I noticed that it wasn’t the motorcycle that had me so stoked. It was the realization that getting the bike running was a collective effort — that relationships had brought me to that state of joy.

It was that authentic connection you feel when helping another person. It’s something I often take for granted.

The importance of relationships has been a lesson I’ve been learning recently. In the words of American Historian David McCullough, “There is no such thing as a self-made man.”

But I’m nowhere near getting the bike on the road. In fact, it seems like I have a maintenance checklist longer than what I started with. I suppose that’s okay, though. Those closest in life have a way of showing up — even if it’s just a matter of catching up, or even getting your motorcycle running.


Originally published at Gavin Pugh.