Suffering From Projectitis

Those of you who aren't tool-users might want to skip this column, but it might just prove to be a cautionary tale for those contemplating a project purchase, even if it is a really great deal.

A man with one motorcycle never lets wrenching interfere with his riding time. When that one bike is broken or needs service, he's not prevented from riding because he has shop work that's a higher priority; he's prevented from riding by a broken bike. The two are entirely different.

To avoid the one-bike-down syndrome, he elects to find a second bike, to ride while the primary bike is off the road. Riders in the U.K. often have a second, beater bike for riding when the salt and muck is on the roads. We don't have much of that problem here in East Tennessee, but a back-up machine still might make sense. But our sensible rider inadvertently just multiplied his required wrenching time by a factor of at least two, and perhaps much more if Bike #2 is old and clapped-out, or some exotic freak destined only for use on sunny Sundays. Soon enough, a too-good-to-be-true deal on Bike #3 can't be resisted.

It even comes with a greasy service manual.

You can see where this is going. Rusty worthless heaps gotten cheap or free only act as mulch to this slow-creeping sickness, until it erupts into a full-blown case of Stage 1 projectitis. Late-stage projectitis symptoms include piles and buckets of mixed parts—some motorcycle, some "other"—that the patient can identify in the dark by feel: "Oh, that's a headlight ear from a 1969 Triumph Bonneville. It's too bent to be worth anything though. And this cylinder head is from an old Tecumseh lawn mower engine."

I haven't even touched on collectors, that breed of rider who can't say no to a neglected motorcycle with a sad look in its eye. Collectors who also have "modern" bikes experience a unique dilemma, with a bike ready to have its button pushed and just ridden, while several old heaps sit weeping for attention under layers of shop dust, that unique fine grinding paste of soot, oil, filings, and dust that's hell on painted surfaces. If they're lucky, they get a sheet thrown over them, or, more likely, some disintegrating cardboard boxes full of yet more old parts. Old bikes love that.

Conard Shultz, über-collector profiled in the April Handlebars, simply has a full-time mechanic to tend to his flock. My old friend Clint, who moved from Knoxville a few years back, never got around to the wrenching step. Acquisition was everything, and once he procured a "project," it just sat with all his other projects while he hunted for more. His particular strain of projectitis didn't interfere with his riding time, but it certainly stress-tested his storage capacity and his marriages. Local photographer/AHRMA racer/Appalachian nasal singer Jack Parker stuck several old bikes on the wall of his barn, 12 feet off the ground. At least one is British and it's not leaking onto the floor, so I have to assume he drained the fluids. Problems solved.

I'm convinced that the entire Barber Motorsports complex is a manifestation of George Barber's own case of projectitis. And my fears of my own condition were quickly calmed by a tour of Dale Walksler's shop area at the Wheels through Time museum. Dale's got it bad, with 14 bikes going at the same time, and hundreds to crank and ride.

Winter comes, especially in the frozen snot belt, and all is forgotten. With no warm sunny days to be sacrificed to make time in the garage, project progress can be astounding; shop heater willing and the creek don't freeze. But soon enough, the days get longer and warmer. The brain in the helmet thinks of tasks undone in the garage, and hands greasy and skinned long to hold a clean handlebar attached to a running motorcycle.

I think the trick is to find a comfort level, and stick to it. As one bike makes that natal transition from project to running, tagged motorcycle, another bike needs to be sold, sacrificed to the gods of free space and maintenance load. Otherwise, you've just added another mouth to feed, joining the chorus of others chirping "feed me, maintain me."

One trick to keeping afloat after the onset of projectitis is to do something, anything, every day. Even if it's some minute cleaning task, my lizard brain assumes control once it senses parts in my paws and completes additional tasks—often with no conscious thought whatsoever on my part.

Sometimes I envy those guys with just one reliable motorcycle. Their brains think "It's a great day to ride." They grab their single motorcycle key and ride, unfettered by nagging thoughts of projects they could be working on, or eBay searches they could be making. But can you be satisfied playing a round of golf with one club or eating the same meal every evening? Please note: this diversity rationalization should never be applied to spouses or significant others, of course!

There's satisfaction to be had from the "spannering." Some early fall day, garage doors rolled up to let light in and fumes out, WKCH booming on the dust-covered boom box, an afternoon of wrench-spinning can be as soothing as a ride on a twisty road. Look at your fingernails; your mileage may vary.

Fred Sahms is a curmudgeonly Luddite who has been soiling his fingernails with old motorcycles for 25-plus years. His garage is located somewhere in North Knoxville. Drop him a line at fred@fredsgarage.net.