I know a guy from work who rides his twenty-nine-year-old Kawasaki on nice days to get his rebel on. He’s not a biker. He bought the bike cheap and for years it ran great. He rode it to work and all-around town on weekends when the wife and kids didn’t need him around.
He started to have intermittent problems. “Mysterious problems.” He told me about them whenever he saw me. I just listened: “It ran okay until I went over forty, then it started to miss or something, the next day it ran okay up to thirty-five, then it seemed to run out of gas and it wouldn’t idle, the next day it ran great, but I had to jump start it, then it just cut out.” He did his best to figure out what the problem was and he tried to fix it. Sea Foam in the fuel, new spark plugs. bigger spark plug gap. smaller spark plug gap, racing fuel. Leave the gas cap off. Put a new gas cap on. Bypass some fuses. He replaced the battery twice. He YouTubed the shit out of the problem for months and read and reread every Kawasaki forum he could find, but nothing worked.
He gave me updates during the course of the summer on what he had done most recently to fix the bike and what the results were. He wasn’t able to find a shop that would work on it. They were all too busy or didn’t want to work on that particular bike–too old. The Kawasaki dealer was too expensive. I finally finished a large project I had been working on and offered to see if I could find and fix the problems for him.
He got half-way to my garage before the bike died. He called me.
“It’s dead, man. It won’t even turn over!”
I told him I would come get it with my trailer. As we began to load the bike, light rain began to fall. I didn’t pay much attention to it. Then just as I was holding the bike up with one arm and trying to attach the strap to the handlebars with the other, it poured. I was drenched in a heartbeat. The torrent was perfectly timed. As if God said, “Hey Pete! Hold my beer. Watch this!” All of my Jeep’s windows were down. My phone was face up on the hood. I wasn’t wearing underwear beneath my white athletic shorts. I looked up to the sky and asked, “Are you enjoying this?” Lightening flashed and thunder rolled and the sound undulated like low, sinister laughter. The rain stopped as we got the bike into my garage.
I began to check for electrical faults and tested for voltage here and there. I realized what the root problem was when I followed the wiring harness under the motorcycle. He had no bell. My but tightened and the hair on my neck stood at attention. This Kawasaki was in the clutches of a gremlin.
According to the Oxford Living Dictionary, a gremlin is “An imaginary mischievous sprite regarded as responsible for an unexplained mechanical or electronic problem or fault.” Obviously, whoever wrote that definition has never owned a motorcycle. Or flown a World War II military airplane, which is when gremlins were first identified and given a name.
Gremlins are known by other names: “petite tête de merde,” in France or “kleiner Scheißkopf,“ in Germany both of which translate to “little dick heads” in English. The most compelling proof of gremlins is in the absence of their mischief when the proper measure is taken to keep them away, which is a bell. All of my bikes have bells and my problems are all strictly wear and tear. There’s the proof.
The Bell is not a symbol of guardianship like a Crucifix tattooed over the heart or a necklace made of garlic. The Bell is as necessary to a motorcycle’s reliability as clean gasoline and leather handlebar streamers. It doesn’t need to be made of silver. It doesn’t need to be blessed or subjected to any kind of ritual to be activated. It only needs to hang from the bottom of a motorcycle in such a way that it can ring. The ringing keeps the gremlins away from the bike.
Like a newly erected scarecrow can’t put corn back on the stalks, a bell installed on a broken motorcycle doesn’t fix problems that were preexisting. I still had to figure out what was wrong with the bike and fix it. Eventually I found what the gremlins did. They burnt a wire, slowly so it didn’t completely fail right away, deep inside a connector where it couldn’t be seen. That’s was the original problem. I repaired the wire, then followed the trail of symptoms and resolved the rest of the problems one-at-a-time, a screw missing here, a nicked O-ring there, a little slobber from the float bowls drooling on a vacuum hose. Some of it was age related. Some of it wasn’t.
I got it running. It still has a few problems, but it moves under its own power with both cylinders firing most of the time, which is the equivalent of going from a walker to a cane for someone who broke both legs. Then I installed a Bell to keep the fucking gremlins away.