“Well, that sucks,” laughed a riding buddy when I, in the midst of a between-the-motos discussion on bike maintenance, disclosed how much time I regularly spent wrenching on my bike. And, in most senses, he was right. Putting in an hour of maintenance for every two hours of seat time is a bit excessive for the average weekend idiot, a label that’s proven fitting of me even before I first slid a copy of Crusty Demons of Dirt into the VCR. And even though the conversation in question took place nearly two decades ago, it was far from the first time I’d been the subject of friendly (I think) ridicule when it came to crossing and dotting my mechanical T’s and I’s. The thing I couldn’t quite figure out though, was why?
It wasn’t that I took offense to it. Far from it. In my mind being bothered by those kinds of comments would be like getting upset if someone made fun of you for being too rich, or going on too many dates with Monster Girls. Okay, so I don’t know what either one of those scenarios is like, but you get the point. I couldn’t quite wrap my thick head around why people frequently gave me a hard time for doing something that I assumed we all thought was super fun. Eventually I smartened up, a little anyway, and realized not everyone found wrenching as fulfilling as I did, which left me with a new question: Why the hell did I like it so much?
It ended up just being something I happily accepted, probably not unlike the way Weigandt revels in and glorifies his ridiculous penchant for penny pinching. But that all changed recently when I got set to change a set of leaky fork seals on my RM-Z450. It’d been a long time since I’d ridden my dirt bike, and since I started using the garage mainly for making and selling Cornhole tables (shameless plug for my side hustle), it’d been even longer since I’d so much as tightened a spoke on my disgustingly underused motorcycle. Even though I’ve changed more fork seals than I can remember (changing fork seals paid for most of the beer I drank in college), I was surprised at how much rust had gathered on my work hands. I was doing things in the wrong order and dropping nuts and bolts like a neglected two-stroke. But, the longer I worked, the more muscle-memory started to take over, and it wasn’t long before I was in the zone, completely unware of anything outside my sphere of existence. I was an observer staring down at my workspace, watching my hands systematically checking off the steps necessary to restore my forks to oil-tight status. It was amazing. All the way from disassembly to the final click of my torque wrench informing me my triple clamp bolts had reached 16.5 foot-pounds of torque, the outside world hadn’t existed.
When the job was done I quietly sat back looking at my bike, beverage in hand, when suddenly, I felt my mental intake valves unexpectedly creak open, allowing a charged mixture of thoughts, memories, and realization to rush in. My cerebral spark plug fired, igniting the charge, and my cognitive combustion chamber roared slowly sputtered to life. In that moment, I understood why I’d always received as much satisfaction from wrenching on my own bike as I had from riding it. I’ve partially understood it in the past, and have even written about it before (here and here), but probably because it’d been so long since I’d worked on my bike, it had never been so plainly clear before. It was never about the work itself. It was the escape and mental reset the work provided, something everyone needs from time to time. It’s almost enough to make me want to go ride through a bunch of dust just so I’ll have to change an air filter, or blast a ton of starts with a tight clutch to ensure I’ll have some smoked plates to change.
Of course, this same kind of escape can be found in just about any motocross-related circumstance. Whether it’s the social aspect of having some friends over to watch the races, the peace and solitude so readily available in the sacred garage, the extreme focus found only when pounding laps on the motocross track, or carving a loamy single track in the mountains, in a way, it’s all the same. In those moments, nothing else is happening or even really matters. No distractions or problems to fix, just fun with dirt bikes. What could be better than that?