Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Project Bike


Paul and I left for Bellefonte and a late breakfast on one of the balmy days last week.  No better way to burn a half day's vacation time from work. A BMW K1200 GT is an unlikely pairing with a Vespa -- I've witnessed demonstrations of the power advantage of the BMW as it fled from the scooter at a pace I could never hope to match.

During breakfast I was reminded of project bikes when an old neighbor and her daughter stopped by our table.  Her son, Cooper, has a project going in their basement with his Honda motorcycle completely dismantled and awaiting reassembly.  Cooper, if you read this, pay no attention to your sister's predictions that it will never run again.  She just doesn't understand the spiritual power of the mechanical journey you've undertaken.

That brings me to my own thoughts of a project bike.  A couple weeks ago I received an email from Paul instructing me to clear out the garage and gather some cash -- he found the perfect project bike for us -- a 1989 URAL.


After breakfast we paid a visit to the the machine in question.  As I neared I could feel my wallet try to leap from my pocket.  The smell of sulfur floated in the air as a cloud passed over the sun.  There, under a roof next to a garage sat the URAL.  Sat might be too strong.  There it existed might be better.

The registration tag on the license plate indicated 2005 as the last legal time it was on the road.  The earth was slowly absorbing the URAL and a sense of sadness permeated the air.  The odometer showed less than 2000 miles and was explained by the owner as resulting from problems with the bike when it was new and the dealer setting it up improperly.  Those actions led to the repeated fouling of sparkplugs at the 60 mile mark and he eventually grew tired of replacing them and of the URAL in general that he parked it and walked away.  That's 2000 miles in 16 years.  Sweet.


Mechanical projects called to me despite the general hatred I have for machines.  The puzzle, the challenge,  some hard to describe experience sings out and I feel vulnerable to bad decision making.  Experience has proved over and over that they are black holes for cash, money, and spirit.  And they likely will never be completed.  In my head plays a film of my construction of a dune buggy on a custom chassis utilizing an engine from a 1963 Corvair Spyder.  With thousands of dollars invested when I left for college by mother sold it to someone for $300 while I was away -- less than the price of the headers I put on the engine.

And there's the 1949 Willys Jeep pickup truck that my father and I completely dismantled and sandblasted with loving care.  The engine to a speed shop to be rebuilt, time and sweat and cash invested only to turn it over, unfinished, to the buyer when he sold his farm.


Staring at the black URAL I could see myself cleaning out the garage, organizing my tools for an assault, preparing for a mechanical siege worthy of at least two write-ups at GarageJournal.com. I could feel my head being pulled closer and closer to the engine by URAL forces, vision dimming, reason evaporating, Paul dancing a jig, the seller dangling the $1200 price tag in my face...

And then a flame flickered inside me, a soft voice slowly rose in my mind speaking clearly, "Ride, son, ride.  Don't clean, don't dismantle, fix or modify.  Abandon the search for parts, the need to weld or paint or modify.  Ride, and ride again.  Waste not a minute of your life on such a project..."

And so it has passed.  The URAL awaits another rider.

17 comments:

Richard Machida said...

When I saw the title, I was shocked as I didn't think you liked tinkering. But maybe I was wrong (it's been known to happen). After seeing the photos, I believe that I would have passed it up as well. Did it have a sidecar?

bobskoot said...

Steve:

I used to have a project when I purchased my '67 Firebird Convertible. I had to scour parts from CA, buy reproduction pieces, go to car swap meets to get all the stuff that I needed, until it was finished.

then I realized there was more to life than creating a unintended hobby.

Soon I may have more time than money, so I thought that perhaps a "project" would keep me busy, and force me to learn more about mechanics.

If you lived next door to Charlie6, I would have purchased that URAL. Some may see that find as an unpolished jewel, looking through your eyes, I see it as an empty bucket with no bottom

bob
Riding the Wet Coast

SonjaM said...

Time is precious. No need to spend it in the garage when you can be out there riding. I agree... although sometimes I wish I had the space and the talent to do little projects...

Rogier said...

Life is to short for this. Way to steep of a learning curve. No more time for riding your scooter...
Besides $20 sounds more appropriate. And if you are going to dedicate a mayor portion of your life and resources to a project bike. Do it with something that has more potential value than a Ural...

Charlie6 said...

Steve, part of me says...it is labor worth doing to resuscitate that Ural...the other part says good decision in turning that down.

1989, probably a 650cc, with all the early components that proved so troublesome.

I too must admit surprise that you like to rebuild and tinker, for some reason I remember you taking the Vespa in for something minor?

Still, good on ya for going to take a look. I think you made the right decision. Even with all the experience I've had with my '96 Ural Natasha, I'd be highly reticent to take on that project bike! Damn near everything would have to be replaced!

dom

Redleg's Rides

Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

Dar said...

Steve - my hubby had that fix it up gleam in his eyes twice last fall, but I vetoed the projects. He was looking at am old Honda Benly and a 305 Honda Hawk, I just wasn't ready for another fixer upper project, there 2 out in the driveway already. Good job on passing it up.

Steve Williams said...

Richard: I don't like tinkering. Not at all. And don't have a lot of spare time to do it. Still, I find myself drawn to these kinds of projects.

It does have a sidecar and it's in good shape. Probably the only thing of value.

Steve Williams said...

bobskoot: I'm with you -- it seems like a bucket with no bottom. My friend Paul sees it as a jewel I think. Maybe he'll comment and reveal his vision.

If I was going to undertake a project right now I would hope it would be related to photography or in writing a Scooter in the Sticks book...

Steve Williams said...

SonjaM: I hate being in the garage. Maybe if I had some fancy setup it would be different. But right now, I want to ride.

Rogier: You have the situation summed up well. Maybe I should restore parts of my house...

Steve Williams said...

Charlie6 (dom): You know you would be all over that old URAL. The thought of completely dismantling and replacing practically everything just has a sick appeal. Like riding in snow.

Seriously though, this bike is far too gone for someone like me, with a short attention span, to think about "fixing up".

I used to do all the service and maintenance on my LX150 until an unfortunate error on a belt change that wrecked the crankshaft. About that time I stopped. And once you stop it is hard to go back.

But I could do it if I had to. The recent simple thing with the loose sparkplug wire turned out to not be so simple and required a tech 3 hours to fix. 3 tech hours equals 12 Steve hours...

Steve Williams said...

Dar: A lot of men need to have unfinished projects around. It's how we feel needed...

Gordon said...

Your ability to unravel truth in the midst of emotional chaos is a great gift. Your words will be in my head as I face projects (e.g., the motorhome and my tendency to obsess on details).

Steve Williams said...

Gordon: I've been thinking about motorhomes a lot. And thoughts of sailboats and horses come into my head. And so do buckets without bottoms, wells, and Dante's Inferno.

Seven miles per gallon.

Still, there is appeal for an unfettered life that includes hot water and a shower...

OSG said...

Come on Steve, why can't you man up and make bad decisions like the rest of us?

I've done several Vespa rebuilds over the past few years, enjoyed the process but never made a cent when it came to selling them.

Like you, I have finally wised up, sold the last of the projects, and am a recovering projectaholic, who is spending his time riding instead of wrenching and opining about lost garage space.

Congrats on your prudence!

- Brooktown Geezer

Paul said...

Steve W.:
I feel satisfaction on several levels when I clean, rub, tinker and repair and polish things. I'd enjoy the heck out of fixing up the Ural. The main reason I'd buy the Ural was for the purpose of fixing and dolling it up. That's the fun part. I took the intake manifold off my dad's Studebaker when I was 10. I wasn't supposed to. But Dad put it back together. I assembled my brother's Christmas bike for my dad. I was honored. Now I'm 55 and it's just a problem of priorities. I want to do my photography and ride my motorcycle. I was going to talk myself into the Ural through your enthusiasm. "Paul we gotta get that! Oh man it's going to be the ultimate people magnet! I can take Kim and JR for rides."
But in the end we have the vehicles we should have already. Happiness isn't after the next project it's right here right now. But I'm still in if you are.
Paul

Steve Williams said...

Brooktown Geezer: I ran into Paul this evening and he threatened to deploy some powerful argument that I could not resist and take on the project. I told him to go ahead and try but the answer is NO.

When I dream, I dream of riding...

Steve Williams said...

Paul: Sorry I couldn't pour any enthusiasm on the URAL for you. My opinion -- you'll be better off shooting pictures than rubbing on a dilapidated URAL. Let the earth reclaim it...