DIY … or don’t: The beauty of the barter system

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Kyle Smith

There has been a lot of working going on in my garage lately, and, comically enough, none of it has been on my own projects. Sure, I’ve made progress on the Model A and even on my Honda XR250R supermoto project, but most of the results are due to other people who have worked on these projects while my time is spent working on something belonging by yet another person.

This is a prime example of how the automotive DIY economy functions. Hear me out.

I do a fair amount of work for other people and am willing to bet anyone else with enough skill to handle DIY projects of their own does, too. Whether a simple brake job for a friend’s daily driver or assistance in diagnosing some odd noise or a bit of welding for someone who doesn’t have the skill or tools, car people are generally helpful folks, at least to each other.

For instance, lacing and trueing spoked motorcycle wheels is not a particularly strenuous task, but it does require some experience and specialized tools to get a safe end-product. When my friend picked up a Honda CL350 with intentions to refresh it, he needed help. This guy is highly capable and has a shop full of tools, but he knows his limits and what his time is worth. That’s why he picked up the phone rather than a wrench and dropped the wheels off at my door. The final cost on the bottom line of my invoice as I sent him home? A favor to be called in at a later time. We didn’t discuss it, but we both know how this swap works.

Bartering is nothing new. It literally traces back to when we humans communicated in grunts and finger-jabs. Its efficacy has never faded, though, and the more I network and work with fellow DIY folks, the more I realize that bartering is the most satisfactory system. We all have our specialties, and we do well to defer anything outside our individual expertise to people who can do the job better, faster, and cheaper. (That’s assuming you are not taking on a task with the purpose of self-education.)

What will be the task I ask of my CL350-restoring friend in return for this fresh set of wheels? I don’t know. He doesn’t, either. That’s part of the fun in these arrangements. Oftentimes there is no record-keeping about who owes what to whom and what a favor’s expiration date might be. That would be like keeping score of who does the dishes more often in a marriage—we all know that’s a bad idea.

This isn’t really about bartering, anyway. This is about community, about keeping our cars and motorcycles on the road. The other set of motorcycle wheels I spent last weekend lacing and trueing was for a different friend’s vintage race-bike. He was helpful during my Six Ways to Sunday project, and we road-tripped four hours last fall to pick up an XR200 so he can join me on the starting line at some events and races in 2022. He also works Saturdays at a tire shop … awfully convenient when I had a new set of wheels I needed tires mounted on for my Express van. I offered a guiding hand while he learned wheel-building using my tools; he loaded up my van wheels and tires in his truck, and even handled the mounting and balancing. What a deal.

It wasn’t about the fact that I saved about $80 at a tire shop. This was more about me giving him the opportunity to learn a new skill. He operates on a humble budget (don’t we all?) and was only going to lace one set of wheels for the foreseeable future. He has no need to purchase a spoke torque wrench or a trueing stand. He could have made do with a pair of jackstands, some round stock, and a 6mm wrench—as I did when I built my first wheel set 10 years back, but that was an experience from which I could save him. The finished product is better for it, too.

There is always a bigger fish in the DIY ecosystem. We all have a person to call when we get in over our heads, and if you have been grinding through your own projects long enough, you probably know a phone number that, when it pops up on your phone’s screen, signals a very familiar conversation.

Deep breath.

*Accept call*

“What trouble did you get into now?”

Sometimes, it feels as if we are all collectively parenting each other even in adulthood—seeking DIY help often feels like asking your parents to bail you out of jail on a Saturday morning.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go brew a cup of coffee before getting back to work on my own projects. Funny you should ask—these coffee beans arrived in my kitchen thanks to a different friend who needed some welding done. Same friend happens to own a coffee roasting business … my kind of deal.

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