Teacher to student in 60 seconds
Teaching is the best way to learn. I’m not sure that is universally true, but it is for me most of the time. That’s why my garage has an open-door policy. The slight slowdown of work to help another person better understand the systems of vintage cars and motorcycles is totally worth it to me. Fulfillment is a two-way street. I know this because in one day I was on either side of the fence, taking a turn being Tim Taylor, then Wilson.
I dropped by a friend’s shop on a Friday evening and found their son wrenching on a Honda XR80. When he had purchased the bike, it was not running; the seller and he believed it to be a carburetor issue. Aren’t they all? Given my knowledge of Honda XRs big and small, it was only a minute before we had tools in hand, tearing into the Keihin PC20 carb.
This 80 had a goofy running issue of stumbling and sputtering, along with the occasional hard start, symptoms which usually get filed under “carb needs to be cleaned.” It’s often not even worth further diagnosis: Regardless of where the junk is lodged in the carb, it will get evicted when everything comes out. This was the second time I had encountered this problem on this motorcycle; my friend’s son had purchased it from another of my friends who had taken the quick solution: Replace the factory carburetor with a knock-off. It worked for a bit, then ended up worse than the original. Time to sort out the correct carb and get this bike running again.
So there we were, a 32-year-old and a tweenager sitting on the ground asking each other questions about idle circuits and explaining how the throttle slide worked. No one so thoroughly troubleshoots a problem as someone who knows just enough to be dangerous. Each time he thought of a solution, he would bump up against his lack of understanding and ask another question or attempt to work around his lack of knowledge. Cleaning the carb took us a couple of hours; on my own, I would have finished the job over the course of a single beer, the last sips of which might be slightly warm.
With the little Honda running, it was time to turn my attention to why I had first visited my friend’s shop: the lathe. I switched from teacher to student as my friend, a trained engineer, discussed with me the crude drawing of a special tool I had designed to help press delicate needle bearings into the side covers of a motorcycle. He confirmed my design was functional and that we could machine it with the materials we had on hand.
We chucked some 6061 aluminum into the lathe and turned a medium-sized chunk of metal into a custom driver for inserting bearings into the clutch cover of a 1986–95 Honda XR250R. (Hondas doesn’t even sell these fiddly little needle bearings—you have to source them from industrial supply houses.) Driving in needle-bearing shells has always been hit-and-miss for me; I always fold a lip over and cause the needles to bind. I wanted to make a tool that would hold all the needles in place and also drive the entire surface of the shell at once. Sound fancy? It’s very much not. Perfect for my first lathe project.
So we stood there and asked each other questions about speeds and feeds, process order, and the finer points of thick-cutting oil. I troubleshot it like someone who knows just enough to be dangerous: Each time I thought I had the solution I would bump up against my lack of understanding and ask another question or jump to attempt to work around the lack of knowledge.
Mentor and mentee, all in a couple hours. A kind reminder that the entire automotive community is just a circular motion of knowledge. The more freely we share, the more we gain and understand—even if only because we have to think of that perfect way to explain how a planetary gearbox works.
If you care about something so much that it becomes a part of your personality, you should be sharing that thing. Not just parking it in public for someone to see and appreciate, though that is a start. What I would really challenge you to do is to take the same time you would spend learning or enjoying our hobby and go out proselytizing. Your first time tackling a project might be best done alone, but the second time, invite someone who has never done that job. You’ll likely learn something new. Whether it’s listening to stories, telling stories, or sharing resources, make sure that the chain of mentorship does not go broken.