A miniature study of the art of rationality

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My Enfield where the whole journey began: my parents garage. Picture by me.




That was the word I used then, on a spring day, some four years back. I had just snapped a cylinder head bolt with my new torque wrench. I had never used a torque wrench before so what the hell did I know, but as far as I could tell I wasn’t even close to actual torque value of 3.3kgm of that nut i was tightening on that bolt. “Fucking crappy Indian metal” I thought and wiped the sweat from my forehead as I stared at the bike, grasping the wrench like I was going to beat that cylinder head into it’s place with it.
Doesn’t sound very serene, does it?

Well, here’s the crazy thing: it is.

During my pre-motorcycling years, I always had difficulties to maintain focus on almost anything. I had spent two extra years in school before completing my design studies, as I really just couldn’t keep my stuff together.  I didn’t know what to do with my life, what to look for, how to feel etc pretty normal stuff people in their 20-somethings might feel nowadays. One thing I definitely didn’t feel like getting was a motorcycle.

But as it happens, one day I found myself looking at a picture of 1961 Velocette Venom and thinking “Oh yeah, it could be entirely possible to get something like THAT”. Entirely possible yes, if I just learned how to wrench. Even though as I knew nothing about motorcycles (really, I didn’t even know how the engine works) I knew that a bike like that would rather shatter itself into pieces than let me ride it like a modern bike. So, even knowing my short attention span, I decided that I would try this.

I went and bought my first bike, the Royal Enfield Bullet 500.

Head re-torque and clutch oil change at the summer cabin. With a glass of wine, of course. Picture by me.

And then the magic happened.

This bike, with it’s endless little things you have to look after, sharpened my focus to a point I didn’t know existed. The clouds of low self-esteem moved away, and suddenly I found trust in myself that I could keep this machine running. At first, the stuff I learned was pretty basic, like valve adjustement and carburettor work, but soon I found myself tearing the engine apart just for the kicks. The feeling of making it always work a little better than it did before I started wrenching, was just so immensely gratifying.


Cleaning the bike for photoshoot. Picture by Vili Niemi.


Of course, it was a simple machine but that’s just the point.
I think everybody who’s interested in motorcycles or motorcycle maintenance has probably read Robert M. Pirsig’s book “Zen and The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance”. That book is as much about everything else as it is about motorcycle maintenance and I admit it’s bit of a cliché to bring it up when talking about this, but nevertheless it has one very good observation on the subject:


A motorcycle functions entirely in accordance with the laws of reason, and a study of the art of motorcycle maintenace is really a miniature study of the art of rationality itself.


The motorcycle maintenance didn’t throw me more out-of-balance, it cleared my head because of just that:  there was reason and there was rationality. Now that I got the grasp of it, my head worked way better in all aspects of my life and not just in motorcycle maintenance. It is really a balancing thing for me.

As I’m a person who loves arts and aesthetics, naturally the bike building soon followed and those two things really work well together: the art, the romance for me is in building and shaping a motorcycle and the rationality, the classicism is in the mechanical work of engines etc. I really couldn’t see myself doing just the other thing without another.


Me with my Enfield in DGR2014 Helsinki. Picture by Paavo Lehtonen.
Me with my Enfield in DGR2014 Helsinki. Picture by Paavo Lehtonen.


I’ve worked on a number of bikes and it’s always fun, but I have to say that still the most fun is my Royal Enfield. It still has most of that magic. Even when I snap a bolt or strip a thread, after the initial frustration wears off I think:

“My mind is free because of this bike and it deserves to run forever”.

And then i fix it.