Total Recall: Taking Your Motorcycle Back To the Dealer For a Zip-Tie? | CRANKED

It wasn’t so long ago that motorcyclists defined themselves by their mechanical abilities.

A major motorcycle manufacturer's recent recall of 84,000 bikes for what boils down to looping a plastic zip-tie around an errant hose (see what manufacturer issued that zip-tie recall HERE) has brought into stark relief just how far we've fallen as motorcyclists. Not long ago, we were a much hardier breed. Motorcyclists defined themselves by their mechanical abilities. Taking your motorcycle back to the dealership for a lousy zip-tie would be like hiring a gigolo for your girlfriend: unthinkable.

We used to be a self-reliant species, before the Liability Industrial Complex threw heaping shovelfuls of sand into the machinery of motorcycle ownership. Back then an unspoken contract existed between motorcycle manufacturers and consumers. The deal was this: Manufacturers arranged shiny bits of metal into a motorcycle-shaped object, and motorcycle riders breathed life into that object. Every mile ridden was a triumph of faith over engineering. The motorcycle and its rider were a team, and there is no warranty in team.

This unspoken contract had no signature line for third parties. It was not unusual to discover that only one person on earth could start a particular motorcycle. My 1973 Norton 850 was typical. I remember the day I sold it, watching the new owner kickstart himself into a steaming puddle of exasperation. “What am I doing wrong?” he pleaded. “You just have to believe it will start,” I said, and gave the Norton one prod and it stumbled into an over-rich idle.

Nowadays anyone, even a dead man with a stiff thumb, can fire up a motorcycle. There’s no trick. You don’t have to believe in a damn thing.

We expect modern motorcycles to start on command, and I understand why you’re scared when yours doesn’t. You’re worried about voiding the warranty on your new motorcycle by just looking at the maze of wiring under the tank. You know you’re not smart enough to fix it, you know you’ll screw up and break something expensive, that your safety might be compromised, and that you’ll look stupid standing at the service counter. Fear gives the best excuse. Leave it to the experts; they know best.

Hear this: Safety is way overrated; money isn’t everything; life has a higher purpose than mere expediency. I’d rather push back to the dealer a motorcycle that’s been comprehensively destroyed by my own hand than ride anywhere on a bike full of whirring unknowns. There’s a name for motorcycle riders who can’t operate a zip-tie: car drivers.

Motorcyclists have always been better than drivers. We are smarter. We are stronger. We are better looking. Motorcyclists know the cylinder arrangement and the number of valves in their engines. We actually care which direction the crankshaft rotates. We hold opinions on how rear suspension linkage should work. Car drivers remain blissfully unaware they even have an engine under the hood, right up until the gas pedal stops making it go.

Motorcycle kickstarters are long gone. Computers control throttle position now; we only make suggestions. Soon enough, maximum braking force will be determined by jury trial and applied from corporate headquarters via Bluetooth signals from our cell phones. Motorcyclists are trading our rich mechanical heritage for safety and operational improvements.

From now on motorcycle manufacturers will only cluster complexities onto complexities. Millions of unknowable calculations already happen every mile we ride. I’m not asking you to shun technology, but we must find a way to remain involved in those calculations. Take back your motorcycle, using whatever means necessary: data cables, software hacks, even just a package of assorted zip-ties. Every zip we refuse to tie ourselves only moves us another step closer to becoming enchanted, superstitious cavemen dancing around magical black boxes.

Pass me a sledgehammer, then, and a laptop too—the value is in the doing the work, and it doesn’t matter if the motorcycle costs $2,400 or $24,000. Those warranty zip-tie installations might seem essential in the short term, but like your girlfriend and her gigolo, no one benefits spiritually from that exchange.