Garage Zen: The joy in the familiar

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The human brain is a weird thing, maybe even weirder than a three-barrel Holley. People’s minds can be wired so many different ways, but the vast majority of us all have one circuit in common: we find comfort in the familiar.

Rebuilding the the knock-off Sheng Wey carb that is currently fitted to my Honda SL125 project bike was akin to Zen meditation, as Pirsig would surely agree. Why? I have rebuilt that specific carb at least seven times and done 50 or so fixes on carbs just like it. Instead of that procedural failure and repair breeding contempt, the familiar, predictable repetition of it brings me joy.

Yes, I was elated to unclip the Chinesium float bowl and dump its contents into the container of old or otherwise stanky fuel that I often use to top off my fiancée’s Jeep Renegade. Reaching into the second drawer of the toolbox, I confidently grabbed the two flathead screwdrivers that fit the jets, along with the angled pick that so easily removes the float pin. I hit my stride, my hands went to autopilot, and my brain started to wander.

Honda SL125 torn down
Kyle Smith

The problem turned out to be clogged jets, just like the last three times. If you are thinking the tank is dirty and causing problems, you are partially correct, but the main “issue” is the diminutive size of the jets for this meager 125cc four-stroke. That tiny orifice is simply more susceptible to particles of dirt and rust that the jets of a thirstier engine would pass without issue. Cleaning the carb is also my first go-to on this machine because it requires only two 10mm bolts to remove it. The phenolic spacer between the carb and cylinder head means I don’t even have gaskets to worry about. Simple job.

One explanation for this mental state could be that old saying about how one never crosses the same river twice. Heraclitus was a Greek philosopher, with a dark, dim outlook on most of the human existence, but his river concept can be interpreted in a much more positive light. Every time I rebuild this carb it’s the same, but also different. Comfortable, but novel enough to hold my attention and for the subtle specifics of the procedure to present themselves.

SL125 getting worked on
Kyle Smith

Annoying as it seems when I sit down to do it, I know that 99 percent of the time I will have the bike back together and running smoothly in 20–25 minutes. Tackling larger projects where things can—and will—go sideways is a different brand of garage adventure, but there will always be a soft spot in my heart and time in my schedule for taking on a task that I can dang near do with my eyes closed. I am lucky enough to have the space and tools to do these jobs myself; maybe one day I will tire of carburetor R&Rs, but until then, you can find me in the garage with the nice screwdrivers out, happily humming a tune. Whether it’s detailing, brakes, or valves, hopefully you are finding your own mechanical Zen.

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