The Gumption Trap

Well I’ve gone and got myself stuck in a Gumption Trap!

For those not familiar with that term, it comes from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, that well renowned book that has very little to do with fixing motorcycles, but an awful lot to do with how you “think” about fixing motorcycles. When I first read Zen around 20 years ago, it was this concept of gumption that really struck me, and stuck with me.

Robert Pirsig uses the term gumption, apparently an old Scottish term, to describe the enthusiasm and initiative, the “psychic gasoline” required in order to get a job done. “A person filled with gumption doesn’t sit around dissipating and stewing about things. He’s at the front of the train of his own awareness, watching to see what’s up the track and meeting it when it comes. That’s gumption”.

From a very early age I have always “maintained” my own things, and I use that term very loosely. It began with pulling things apart to see how they worked, then surreptitiously making all of the disassembled parts vanish. It then progressed to reassembly, and on the odd occasion a device that even worked again. Buoyed by these early successes it extended eventually to bicycles, motorcycles, cars, and pretty much everything I have ever owned.

The problem with these undertakings in the early days was that I was ill-informed, untrained, impatient, and ham-fisted. I was forever breaking things in my rush to get a job done, stripping threads, snapping bolts, rounding out screw heads. I would start jobs without the tools to complete it, or any consideration to the parts I might need. Often this ended in a half-done, half-baked repair, or a long and frustrating delay, or in extreme cases a complete disaster and the ensuing disappearance of yet another item. There have even been occasions when the very worst possible thing has happened, I have had to take something to “professional” for repair and explain red-faced how the item in question ended up in the pathetic state that I now presented it in.

But then I learnt about gumption, and my life took a turn for the better. It is very evident that this concept is what I was meant to learn when I first read Zen. The rest of the book, the philosophy and the discussion of values and perceptions was lost on me, mere preamble to the important stuff. That’s one thing I love about books, read them more than once and you learn something new every time. In the ensuing 20 years I applied the concept of gumption to all aspects of my life with great success, but none more so that when it came to fixing stuff.

I began to approach repairs with a much more rigorous and logical mindset. I did research, I thought about tools and parts that would be required, I allowed time to complete the job, and I focused on the desired outcome, looking past the problem to the solution. I even started to ask for help, something I have never been great at, and still struggle with to this very day.

I unexpectedly ended up with two days on my hands last week after some work was cancelled, so I decided to tackle a job I had been procrastinating over, removing the final drive and swing-arm from Aries to inspect and lubricate the bearings, drive shaft splines and universal joints. I had done this on other bikes, but not this one, so my procrastinating was mainly down to delving into the unknown.

I had researched and discussed the undertaking, but I had failed to consider tools or parts very thoroughly. Having removed rear wheel, brake caliper and drained the bevel drive I struck my first gumption trap, realising that I lacked the necessary size of sockets to remove the lock nuts and bearing studs. This is where the temptation to fall into old habits rears its ugly head. What can I use to “make do”, or “improvise”? I’m all for improvisation, but when it comes to 30mm lock nuts, you really need the right tools. Time to take a step back, walk away from the situation and think it through. I have learnt through bitter experience that this is much better than forging on only to create more problems than you already face. While I was taking a break I checked what type of grease I needed for the splines, not the type I had in my stock, should I be surprised.

So I set of to track down grease and tools. At both of my local suppliers no sockets, but grease, sure they have grease, but not that type of grease. This is to be expected when you live in a village but luckily my wife was doing some shopping at the nearest town, so I rang some auto supply stores. First store the assistant was rude and unhelpful, but the computer said they had everything I needed in stock. When I asked her to confirm that they were in stock my request was met with utter shock. “But that means I will have to write down the product codes and go and look for the items”!!! Yes I could see the look on her face just by the tone of her voice, and the fact that I had already given her the codes didn’t seem to make any difference. I waited while she put me on hold and huffed off to check the items. I smiled to myself as she returned, eventually, to tell me that the computer must be incorrect because she couldn’t find one of the items. I thanked her for her time and rang another supplier. This assistant couldn’t have been more pleasant or helpful and I was very pleased when he told me that they had everything I needed. So having narrowly avoided the slippery slide into the gumption trap, I now just needed to demonstrate some patience until my wife returned with the goods.

With the right tools in hand it was relatively quick to remove the bevel drive to reveal….lovely looking splines with barely any wear, and likewise with the universal joints. But wait a minute, what’s this here trapped in the grease next to the bearing? Why it’s little needle like pieces of metal, little needle roller like pieces of metal, little needle roller pieces of bearing. I’m sure they should be in the bearing, not next to it. That can’t be good. Do I feel like I’m sliding into the gumption trap again. Now I wasn’t surprised by the fact that the bearings are shagged, Aries has done 160k, but I was surprised at my lack of forethought and planning. Again time to take a step back, take a moment to walk away and get some head space.

So I had reached a point where I knew I wasn’t going to be putting Aries back together in the two days I had available to me, and as Aries is my primary form of transport, this had the potential to be a major issue. But I didn’t want to think about that just yet, I needed to know if there were any more surprises in store, so I continued with my investigations. Upon inspecting the swing arm I concluded that it wasn’t coming out until the exhaust silencers and part of the exhaust pipe were removed, so that was the next task. I’m grateful for the wonders of stainless steel exhausts, but they are still a bugger to get out. Once done the swing arm came out relatively easily to reveal more lovely splines, and this time, bearings still in good serviceable condition.

So now I knew what I needed so the search began. I can order them from the other side of the country and wait for them to arrive, or I can order them from overseas for half the price, and wait longer for them to arrive, but what about getting them locally? It had to be worth a try, so armed with the bearing part number I rang a local engineering supply company, a company that advertised the very brand of bearing that I was seeking. I gave them the part number and held my breath. “That part number doesn’t mean anything to us, you’ll have to bring the bearing in so we can measure it and order it”. OK, strike one, what about the local BMW dealer? For reasons I won’t bore you with I am not a fan of my local BMW dealer, but if anyone was going to have the bearings it would be them, you’d think! “We’re all a bit busy at the moment, we’ll give you call back, what do you want”? Based on past experience I knew what that translated to, and I’m yet to get that call back, so strike 2.

So no bearings means no bike, no bike means no transport, no transport means no work. I’m slipping further and further into the gumption trap, I think it’s time to ask for help. I put in a call to my friend and mechanical mentor Len to explain the situation. Talking to Len always makes me feel better, and smarter, particularly when his response to my dilemma was “well you’ll need some transport, so you best come over tomorrow and get my bike and use that until the parts arrive from overseas, once you’ve got them it won’t take long to put them in, I’ll give you a hand if you want. Actually while you’re at it, order me some bearings too, my bike’s probably due for a set”.

So maybe it would be more accurate to say I almost got myself caught in a gumption trap. I stared into the abyss, and I felt myself slide, but somebody threw me a line and dragged me clear, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

Have you been caught out by gumption traps, or are you too clever? Let me know the secret. I’m getting better at avoiding them, but I’m not out of the woods yet, maybe I never will be, maybe I just need to ask for help more often.

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The Perpetual Motorcyclist

© Observations of a Perpetual Motorcyclist, 2012 – 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Observations of a Perpetual Motorcyclist with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

8 responses to “The Gumption Trap

  1. Funny… We here in Texas use the word gumption a lot. Never thought about the word much until now… I think we all get caught up in the gumption trap from time to time…

  2. No one expects the Spanish Gumption Trap! It sure is easy to get into. Not just for bike repairs. Those of us dealing with various physical and metaphorical breakdowns and upheavals in our lives must be particularly aware and particularly beware.

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