To rebuild or not to rebuild

- Mar 24, 2015

To rebuild or not to rebuild, that is the question.  When Shakespeare's Hamlet originally coined those famous lines I'm parodying, he was grappling with his own his own sanity, and if you've ever attempted a rebuild in your garage you might be able to sympathize with that tragic hero.  Not that I would really know from experience.  The first and last time I attempted a rebuild was of a lawnmower engine when I was fourteen.  I managed to get it pulled apart and, not having a clue what I was looking for, I proceeded to put it all back together again…although I inexplicably found myself with some extra nuts and bolts with no idea where they should go.  A few pieces can't be THAT important, can they?

Not surprisingly, it didn't run when I was finished and I later found out that there was nothing wrong with the engine and it had actually been running fine until I tried to "fix" it.  At that point I realized that I'd probably be paying for oil changes for the rest of my life.  

In contrast, my brother has been pulling things apart and fixing them since he could walk.  I seem to remember him at eight years old, armed with our Dad's screwdrivers, taking apart our defunct popcorn maker.  He had Dad help him solder a couple of wires and the thing ran for the next few years…until he converted it into a disc sander. James comes by his mechanical affinity honestly. Our Dad has always enjoyed working on engines and our grandfather could turn his hand at anything—he spent the Great Depression building movie sets in Hollywood and his golden years building sailboats on Okanagan Lake.  Some apples don't fall far from the tree.

So it's not terribly surprising when I go into his garage and see his bike in bits and pieces.  He rides a 1980 Honda CB 650, or at least he did until it started stalling and leaking oil.  Japanese bikes have a well-earned reputation for being bullet-proof; but James remarked to me lately that after a certain point maybe even Japanese bikes start to become British.  Nonetheless, with a little help from a grease-smudged shop manual, James figures he's got the problem sorted out and I won't even embarrass myself by trying reiterate the diagnosis.  If you have any experience wrenching on bikes you've probably already got some ideas about what the problem might be.  I'll just squint my eyes, scratch my chin and tell you what I told James, "Hmm, yeah…could be…"  


Because he's already halfway there he is considering a rebuild.  "After all, when am I going to have this all apart again?" he asked me rhetorically as he gestured at the meticulously labeled parts adorning the walls and workbench.  He's got a point.  And besides, he and Brent have done some custom work on his bike, and it often gets compliments where ever he goes.  It's got a lot of character…although perhaps the price of bikes with character is that they inevitably end up in pieces on someone's garage floor.  

Therein lies the rub. After all, the time, energy, blood, sweat and tears that will go into a rebuild almost always outweigh the monetary value of the machine.  Of course, with motorcycles, as in life, financial yardsticks are inaccurate and irrelevant measures of the things we truly value.  And in life, as with motorcycles, we sometimes find the pieces of the things that we most treasure - our families, our occupations, our dreams - scattered around us in a not-so-meticulously-ordered fashion.  

And those are hard moments.  To rebuild or not to rebuild—that really is the question.

Sometimes there are too many parts in too many pieces and we can't remember or even imagine what the whole once looked like or even it's possible to put the myriad of pieces together again.  

But, sometimes the memory of what was is enough to give us hope for what might be.  

For James, I wonder if all the memories of all the miles aren't somehow retained in all those pieces waiting in the garage: waking the sunrise with a new set of pipes while rolling down the lakeshore on a summer morning; happily miserable while watching the bike steaming in a coastal downpour as the miles of rainwater puddle under a table in a coffee shop; bearing witness to the colour and texture unfolding in a blur of beauty while racing the clock to catch a ferry; and crawling through an August oven of red lights and traffic offering profane prayers to the motorcycle gods to keep the bike from stalling.

The road of life is full of beauty and danger, joy and sorrow, hope and heartache, the mundane and the miraculous.  Sometimes our journey finds us at the side of the road painstakingly re-assembling the pieces of our lives and sometimes we're rattling down the road held together with nothing but duct tape and a prayer.  Perhaps all it takes for us to pick up a piece or two and start putting things back together is a little bit of hope…and even the hope of hope might give us enough courage for one more day. And if your life is like me and my old lawnmower, you might just end up with a few extra pieces left over…

David Balfour was born in Regina, Saskatchewan and has since lived in Edmonton, Alberta, as well as British Columbia’s Cariboo and Kootenay regions before settling in the Okanagan. David has had a variety of career tangents through the years: he was a roadie for a rock band in the 1990s, he worked on a mushroom farm, completed a Bachelor of Arts degree, owned a small business and is currently completing his Education degree at the University of British Columbia.

David is new to the world of motorcycles in general and MotoVida in particular. However, a love found later in life is better than a love never found at all. He lives in Kelowna, BC with his wife, Lindsay and their four children, Emma, Annie, Aidan and Cordelia, and the Radian, his motorcycle.


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