May 6, 2014
I’m one of those people you might call “contrarian” when it comes to the Internet. Social media ran its course for me; I’m burned out on clickbait and listicles. I try to avoid any comments sections and generally stay in a very narrow mood when I’m browsing: barely restrained despair. When the Internet was first widely available, people said it had the power to unite people, elevate the discourse and free your mind. Well, look where we are now.
Within the last six months or so, though, I’ve changed my tune a little bit. A wonderful thing has happened: I actually learned something from the Internet! I don’t mean something of the “27 hidden uses for binder clips” variety. I learned something really big: how to fix my motorcycle.
Yep, there it is: my 1979 Suzuki GS550 in lovely maroon. I bought it last summer from a Craigslist dude who told me it would need some work. I was crazy to start riding, so I waved off the warning signs. “Well, everything needs some work,” I said. Little did I realize that “some work” meant that, among other things, I’d destroy the oil pan during my first oil change in my parents’ driveway, leaving a slow drip of cruddy oil everywhere I went. My fuel valve would mysteriously start leaking gas at odd times, and then would finally die in November when I went to close it up for the last time. By the end of the summer, the thing was so near death that I’d have to warm it up for 10 minutes before it was safe to ride anywhere – not exactly convenient (and extremely non-badass) when I’d be out and about.
There were many other problems – seemingly a new one every time I rode it – but it was totally worth it when I did get out on the road. Everyone who has a motorcycle will gladly blather on to anyone in earshot about how it’ll change your life or “put you in tune with the highway.” They’re all cliches, but they’re totally true. So, at the end of last summer, I wistfully put it away in the garage in eager anticipation of riding again in the spring.
Fast-forward: January. The polar vortex. Mole-like people squinting at an Antarctic sun while ice barriers accumulate and cars freeze. Not fun! My winter survival method this last year was to mentally replay all my favorite motorcycling moments – and to start Googling how to fix it. That’s how I found The GS Resources, a wild site with exhaustive forums all about a very particular make, model and era of Japanese motorcycling.
There are people on here who have had dozens, maybe even hundreds, of motorcycles. There are people who have powder-coating booths in their garages. There are people who have no problem welding new frames if the old ones aren’t cutting it. Basically, it’s a community of people who see a dying, greasy, scarred motorcycle and say, “Yup!”
I wasn’t one of them. I don’t think I ever once did anything to fix my car – or even really my bicycle – other than whipping out the credit card and grumbling for days about the scam of it all. But, for some reason, I started to dig the idea of ripping into the Suzuki to see if I could improve it somehow. I think the motivation was twofold: I’d gotten pretty stoked about working with my hands during the course of my extensive home renovation over the winter, and I wanted to quit spending money on things that I could do perfectly well myself.
And, in a nice change of pace, the Internet dudes of The GS Resources were helpful. They were willing to explain minute details to an idiot newcomer, and they really do love seeing these old bikes get back on the road instead of torn apart for scrap. I spent the winter reading all of their guides, how-tos and tips. I thought I was ready to do this.
It’s been a learning experience, to be sure, but fixing the bike has been way easier than I was expecting. It’s not engineering a bridge. A lot of it has been pretty similar: unscrew, clean, inspect. If it’s working, screw it back on; if it’s not, buy a new part. I’ve spent way more money than I was planning, but I’ve gotten an education and plenty of mechanical knowledge out of it. I can write and plan and edit and digitize things until the cows come home, but I’m over the moon that I can now say I know what the interior of a motorcycle looks like. I couldn’t say that in March.
I wish I could say I bolted the last of the parts back on, hooked up the fuel tank and pressed the starter. I wish I could say that the bike roared to life and I squealed through Northeast in a cloud of joy. Alas, I’m still working on getting it going, though I’m in the final stages. I’ve learned how to change the tires myself thanks to Bruce, a forum member from western Wisconsin who helped me out at his garage one weekend. After hours – literally hours – of staring at the wiring diagram in the manual, I know where all the electricity goes now. It’s almost totally rebuilt with new valves, gaskets, rubber bits and the like. It’s not leaking fluids all over my garage floor. It’s just about ready to be fired up.
I wouldn’t have gotten this far if it hadn’t been for an Internet community. I’m still a little bewildered by how friendly and willing to lend a hand these people have been, even from thousands of miles away. Maybe that’s all I needed to look for: a group of people talking about one very specific topic. I’ve actually been eager to hear from people all around the world – a much-needed respite from the vacuum and vitriol of social media and gossip sites. So thanks, Internet. I may not be riding my motorcycle yet, but at least I’m getting there.