Like most of you I’m sure, I have built up over the years a group of people and outfits which are my go-tos when one of my bikes needs a bit of work. It’s a trial-and-error thing, you have to get burnt along the way, but you sort the wheat from the chaff and end up with a pretty reliable bunch. You have to wait for a few of them, and yeah, one or two can be a little weird, but such is the price of getting reliable and quality work done on your old bike.
I was talking to a mate of mine who does a bit of mechanical stuff on older things. He was telling me that he is getting more work than he can handle. Now, a lot of that would be because he does good work (although he can be a bad-tempered bastard at times), but he reckons it is becoming increasingly obvious that most repairers would rather never see an old beast again. Naturally, I asked him ‘why not?’.
Apparently there are a few reasons.
Parts availability is just one. Repairers hate bikes hanging around longer in the workshop than they have to. It’s about storage, but mainly it’s about getting paid. If they have to wait for parts, well that bike is not making them a zac and well, who likes that?
There is also the difficulty in accurately quoting work. The simple fact is they can rarely be sure of exactly what they are going to find, especially in the case of engine work. You take the head off a seemingly sound bike and it looks like an industrial accident at a bike wreckers. You know that dreaded call. ‘It’s Wallaby Bob’s Bikes here. I have some bad news…’ It goes from Wallaby Bob to his brother, Roo Ted. Yeah, you get it.
Not helping is the fact that they just don’t teach the sort of skills needed to repair old crappers any more. If it ain’t got a USB port in which to plug the diagnostic electrickery, well, how the bloody hell is 23-year-old Tarquin to fix it? And all that grease! He’s just had his nails done after all. ‘Hey Tarquin! Download a pair willya!’ Woops, sorry. A little ‘social commentary walk over the edge’ there…
This is leading to a whole new phenomenon when it comes to getting work done. That of The Specialist. These are usually folk who know their way around older stuff and can actually diagnose problems with, and indeed fix, older machinery. They hang out in darkened workshops, may or may not be friendly and might take a long time to get your job done. It’s likely to cost a fair whack too. After all, you need them, right?
When you consider all that, it’s little wonder that my mate is doing well. He likes working with old bikes, knows more about all sorts of wonderful stuff than most and is quite happy to tell you to f#ck off at the drop of a hat. I like that.
What does worry me though, is that simple attrition will see fewer and fewer of these operators about to help us. In fact, there may well come a time when things that we considered day-to-day issues become almost impossible to fix, due to parts unavailability and a lack of people who can make them. Spooky, huh?
So. Tarquin. Grab a vernier caliper and fire up that lathe boy. I’m gonna show you something…
See you on the road.
Snag’s career in motoring journalism spans 29 years with stints at major bike mags Australian Road Rider, Motorcycle Trader and AMCN along with contributions to just about every other outlet worth a hill of beans. He was editor of Unique Cars magazine and hosts his legendary podcast ‘Snag Says’ when he gets off his date.