Friday, 28 September 2007

Mechanic Ramayana

Even more on biking, read at your own peril.

My mechanic is an ex-racer.

While this statement may conjure up visions of grandeur on his part, and grandeur by association on mine, things are far from such a pretty picture. And while i do admit that there is an inordinate difference in the the depth of my theoretical and practical knowledge on automobiles, and that theoretical knowledge is not of much use when your second gear refuses to engage, i also think that mechanics are highly overrated. Maybe it's because i get overwhelmed by their depth of practical knowledge and my brain switches into simpleton mode. Either way, the point is that our combined knowledge has done but scratch to improve the well being of my bike, which incidentally is my pride and joy.

Initially my contribution to this pride and joy was to keep it shining through rigorous application of spit and polish, and spend sweat and tears in keeping it serviced. and sweet fuck-all apart from that. i've said this before and i'll say it again, the first few months with a bike are a period where your feelings for it turn from love to one of invincibility. you and your bike are the a-team on the road, the one to challenge your supremacy is yet to be born. of course, you hastily correct this rather shortsighted view after your first encounter with one of the mechanic breed. The first time i needed to go to a mechanic was, yes you guessed right, after an accident. The accident itself did nothing to my feeling of invincibility except enhance it since i escaped without a scratch, but the bike wasnt so lucky and needed a mechanic. Now theoretically i could replace the headlamp assembly, but i wasn't so sure about the practical part. I was still madly in love with the bike, we were sorta like newlyweds, so me taking it apart was analogous to me performing open heart surgery on my wife, despite the fact that headlamp replacement was more suited to a nose-job analogy. Another characteristic of this situation is that you're so in love that you run around for second opinions etc., and no expense is spared to get your love back to good health. I, unfortunately, did the same.
I ran around to four mechanics asking their opinions, and predictably (in retrospect), got four different opinions. one told me i needed to replace my fork. Since that was a rather expensive proposition, he was easy to strike off my list. Another said it's ok, just change the bulb, the whole assembly is expensive, change it when u put in for more serious repairs. Of course, the urge to keep my bike shipshape meant that he was easy to cross out of the list as well. Of the remaining two, i dont recall much about their opinions, but i based my choice on the fact that one of them was a racer and the other wasn't. So i chose him to nurse my bike, and theres started my saga.

From my perspective, mechanics were put on earth to rob innocent bikers of their money. This is not specific to any mechanic, i hold this as a universal truth. The old breed of mechanics who loved your bike more than you did, dont exist anymore. The kindly old man with a boxful of tools in a dilapidated shed has been run over by the much resented march of civilization. Even service centres in villages these days have hydraulic workbenches that lift the bike to an ergonomic height, and multi purpose electric tools that change heads mechanically so the mechanic need not waste time switching from a spanner to an allen key. But this change, unfortunately, cannot be equated with a rise in quality. Your average mechanic has become more educated yet dumber, better paid yet greedier. Half the repairs on a job sheet are routinely overlooked at these places, basic thing like oil are never checked, and some of the more unscrupulous ones swipe new parts from bikes and replace them with damaged ones. And being rather naive, i was not prepared for this labyrinthine world. Multiple service stations authorised by the maker of my bike proved disappointing, and each damage hurt me and my pocket and yet never got fixed. The only consolation was that this was true for service centres of all the major bike makers.
So, with my trust in these shaken, i returned to the fold of the roadside mechanic. Sought out the racer chap again after months, and started giving the bike to him. He seems like a good man, speaks good english which is a relief since i cant make sense of Kannada, and behaves more like a racing team manager than a mechanic. Which was nice initially, since he figured with a single look at me that i ride fast and race pretty much everyone from every red light, and he started giving riding tips. And my riding definitely improved, especially cornering skills. I was elated, i began what i called 'riding on the edge of capability', noting down speedo readings at difficult corners and trying to best them the next time around. Of course, this was meant to invite more accidents, and sure enough, they happened. That's when i figured that the racing outfit he imagined to be running with me as lead driver was a GP team, to him, from an expenses point of view. And here I was, thinking of something like a SriPerumbudur track team :P Anyways, after the first crash, he gave me a list of stuff to replace. Some didnt even look relevant. When i asked him i got a lecture about racing safety, and i meekly agreed to replace them. More crashes followed though, and i became acutely aware of the fact that i might not be able to afford his services. But then, sentimental fool that i am, i had taken a liking to my 'coach' by now, and not wanting to jeopardize my racing 'career' i decided to look for alternatives. I went to a big service station again. and returned back to my mechanic just as fast, since those service station types still hadn't cleaned up their act.
But then i started having all sorts of doubts. The invincibility phase was long since over, and i knew the limits of my bike, so i decided to see the limits of the mechanic. i wanted to know if he was the kindly honest chap he came across to be. So using my theoretical knowledge i'd badger him with questions designed to trap him, yet all i accomplished was further doubt in my mind and no concrete answers either way. I started hitting below the belt and asked him to show me the parts he claimed to have replaced, which he did, yet i suspected they could have been from some other bike and that i might as well have thrown my money away. Finally, i snapped. That happened one day when i was riding to office, and the bike ground to a halt. The wheels were stuck, and wouldnt budge. Something to do with the gears i imagined. Since i wasnt too far from his shop, i took it to the mechanic. He gave me a detailed list of repairs needed, including changing shifters for my gears. he quoted about 3 grand for it, and i flipped. I gave him a piece of my mind and told him what i thought of his proposed 3 grand bill, and told him to just get it barely roadworthy at the cheapest possible price. He warned me that might lead to worse gear problems, and i told him i'll cross that bridge when i come to it. He got it done for a grand, and i rode off quite pleased with myself for having put my foot down and having saved a pile. If only i had done this earlier, i would have saved a lot more. He does good work, as i've come to know, i should just have checked him from swindling me. This thought strengthened further in my mind for the next three months, and the bike ran perfectly, as if to vindicate me.
Until i lost my second gear one day. I took it back to him, and stood there while he dismantled the engine. He showed me where the shifter had been eaten into by the gear, where gear teeth had broken off and ruined other gears. I stood there dreading an i-told-you-so speech, wishing the earth would swallow me up. Cos he did tell me all this the last time. And it cost me 6k this time. Humbled, i paid up and without a word he gave me a half-grand discount. I took the bike and made a mental note never to mess with mechanics again. Thats when he dropped the bombshell, something you'd never expect a racing manager to say. "take it easy for the next 1000km, son", he said "dont push beyond 60." My jaw was scooping dirt from the road as i drove, nay, inched back home.

Last count, i've done 81 of the 1000 prescribed kilometers. I'm never gonna make it.. aaargh.

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