The philosophy of bike upkeep in the real world

I’m pretty good about tackling the easy maintenance stuff like changing oil, plugs and filters. Anything more complicated than changing tires usually gets the tomorrow treatment.
It’s an attitude that drives a lot of my riding buddies crazy. And it’s one that got blasted in the seminal biker novel, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
No one should be surprised that I snapped an alternator belt last Sunday and was stranded about 75 miles from home. It was only 20,000 miles overdue for changing.
But what’s really strange about my Father’s Day breakdown was where my bike stopped running. It was in the tiny North Coast town of Point Arena, California, where there are no Costcos or Starbucks and not even a single traffic light, but there is a motorcycle repair shop that specializes in BMWs.
Guess what it’s called? The Zen House. And it’s motto? “The art of motorcycle maintenance.”

Zen in the sticks

I couldn’t believe my eyes as I rolled to a stop in front of the place, a puff of gray smoke rising from beneath my gas tank. The sign said, “Open Sundays till 1 p.m.” My head snapped in the direction of my on-board clock. It was past 2.
Just then a guy from the neighboring gas station walked up. An oval patch on his shirt said Mike.
“You just missed them. They took off on motorcycles, headed that way,” he said, pointing south on Highway 1.
I dialed their number on my cell phone just in case they had call forwarding. They didn’t.
To my surprise, my bike still ran – off the battery. I asked Mike the quickest way back to Santa Rosa. He laughed.
“Go back the way you came,” he said. “And don’t try to cut across the hills on the old logging road. You’ll get stranded and die.”
We shook hands and I rode off. The bike sailed down the scenic highway like there was nothing wrong with it. I passed through Gualala, The Sea Ranch and Stewart’s Point before the battery went dead at Timber Cove, about 13 miles north of Jenner. Without electrical power the motor won’t run, I came to find out.
Figuring I might as well try to salvage the day, I walked in to Timber Cove Inn, which is on a cliff over the Pacific Ocean, and had a beer. Eventually, I called a towing company. The 54-mile ride home cost me $400.
Replacing the alternator belt in time would have cost just $28.
When I got back, I went straight to the bookshelf. I pulled down the dusty old Robert Pirsig novel and have been reading it ever since.

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