Monday, April 7, 2014

Post 3 - Clean machine, clean mind???

This is the third in a series of blog posts detailing my preparation for a trip to France on my VFR. This one is a little personal, perhaps too much so, but I hope it gives you an idea of the depth of thought I get into when washing the bike.

"You missed a spot". "There's a little bit of dirt still there". These are mainstays of those who poke fun at someone who spends hours cleaning something. I've used them myself many times and, indeed, have had them used at me too. I've always considered myself to be a very neat person because tidiness allows me to get on with whatever I have at hand, whether that be work, thinking, reading, looking. A tidy space allows, for me, a tidy mind. This all feeds into the stereotype of the predictable person who has everything in order, is punctual, doesn't defy authority and fits into neat stereotypical boxes. The thing is, although I love having things neat and tidy, I have never been known as being punctual (I've become better but I see myself as adhering to a more Italian way of timing rather than, say Germanic). I probably am a little predictable but then if I think of some of my former classmates in school I doubt any of them predicted, based on my behaviour in school, that I would love motorbikes. Perhaps some of them predicted that I would go on to do a PhD in university, and specifically, in history based on my love of that subject in school. I may have predicted that I would go on and do this as well (I originally wanted to be a history teacher) but I am not sure if I would ever have predicted some of the mindsets that I have entertained and considered throughout my two and  half years in the PhD. Where am I going with all of this?

Setting up the powerhose (I know, I know, never use one on a bike...I think you can as long as you are very careful and never spray too close, otherwise bearings and electrical components and seals become unhappy), bringing the car shampoo, polish, and wax out to the front of the house, I began to think about all of this. Not far across the road was a guy, same age as I am, who now has a kid and is married but who had kinda bullied me back in my primary school days. I never had a huge circle of friends in school but he was a constant bugbear until one day I finally decided to take him on. He ran away. I didn't get the satisfaction of really hitting him but still... Anyway as I saw him I wondered did he have any idea where I am now in my life and would he ever have thought that a softy like me would have a motorbike. As I wondered I set the powerhose up and began to shower the bike with water to loosen any dirt particles before applying a sponge to it. I used Farecla's G3 range of paint detox, paint renovator and resin wax which I can heartily recommend even if the wax is hard work (smells nice though). Having thoroughly wet the bike I applied my clean sponge and, one panel at a time, worked in the paint detox shampoo. This stuff is supposed to take off prior layers of wax to leave a bare surface for a polish and wax afterwards and you can almost feel that when you run a finger on the paint afterward. Also the water dries off in a different way than it would if you used a wax shampoo like Turtle Wax Car Shampoo. 

The Honda logo from the fuel tanks reflects on a polished panel.

The RC36 model of VFR has many little vents and sections in the plastic which require attention when cleaning and as I got further into the details I began to think of where I was right now in my life. The bike then, while its paintwork was being reconditioned by me, was, in a sense, also reconditioning my mind and forcing what had previously been ingrained and unthought to come out and be examined like the bits of dirt that stick to paintwork over time. The bike wasn't dirty by any means, most would have said it did not need washing but as for my mind, well it's not been as neat and tidy as I would like for quite some time. On the surface everything looks fine but underneath there are torrents of thought which scatter whatever order I have managed to find. The PhD is the central part of this and while I love history and love studying it, the PhD has changed me and I find myself more irritable, much less relaxed and stressed out. Cleaning the bike allows you to think about these deep inner thoughts, or so I think, because you concentrate on the action of cleaning. You are not distracted and therefore have space to think. And space to clean out the mind and try and bring order to the disorder inside. These were deep thoughts for me but the act of cleaning the bike allowed them to come to the surface, it may actually have brought them right up to the surface. Here I was doing something I really love, paying close attention to a motorbike, while thinking about something else I love but am having real difficulty with. 

There are two frames of view for both aspects both the cleaning and the thinking. Today as I cleaned every nook and cranny of the VFR I was up close to it, examining each and every bit, with every small thing contributing to the bigger picture. There are many who wash their bikes with a garden hose and some shampoo from the shower and as long as it looks decent from ten or twenty feet away they are happy and the VFR could be looked at similarly, I could stand back and admire it but in doing so overlook the smaller things which annoy me up close like scratches or a rusty fastener or two. My thinking today, about my life right now, went in a similar but opposite way. The closer, short-term, image looks decent. Doing a PhD is something many have said to me that they'd also love to do (not sure if I would recommend however), I have gotten to research in the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and see Atlanta, give a conference paper in Newcastle in the UK, can pick my own hours and I even get to teach (which is my real passion I think). However if you step back and look at the longer-term, twenty feet, image, things seem different. There is no end date for my PhD, I have research plans which never seem to stick, I feel lost in space at times, by the time I have my foot on a career ladder I will be nearing 30, there is no serious funding readily available for my research so I can never treat it as a full-time job as such and money must always be watched carefully. Not to mention points where I have felt mentally and emotionally drained to the point where I feel sick. These are right dichotomies. 
Researching in a Presidential Library. Nice in the short-term image...sorry there is no bike here!

As I put the powerhose away and began to rub the paint restorer (which is basically a polish) onto the paintwork (starting with the tank), I had no idea of what to make of what was going on in my head. The paint restorer gently abrades dirt from the surface and smooths out the surface for the wax. It, essentially, prepares the freshly washed and freshly bared surface for a protectant coating and I wondered if it were possible to use some of this on my brain to smooth things out inside. I'm not bald so it would be considerably more difficult to rub in though. Neither is my skin metallic, this particular stuff is for metallic paints. Hmm. While there was no more order to the thoughts in my head at this point, I did feel that, since taking the cleaning stuff out to start, that there was more substance to the thoughts jumbled up inside. I had more to say about them, if not what order to say that in. The bike itself was beginning to look rather dapper again, the metallic flakes in the green paintwork were really to the fore now, the rare sun making them dazzle. For a 17 year old bike with almost 67,000 miles on the clock the paint really does look well, to the point where there were moments when some of the metal flakes seemed to be floating within a pool of thick paint. The resin wax added to the shine and smoothed out the surface but was difficult to put on what with it being quite thick. All that was left from here was the black plastics which I use WD40 on in order to restore there proper colour. And then a quick spray of it into the control switches to get rid of excess water which may have crept in. The devil is in the details in these little jobs, overlook them and see your electrics eventually turn to dust. At least that is what I think. 
Done, the photographer's reflection is to the left of the visible front indicator!

Standing back at this point and admiring the bike from ten feet back the little scratches that are evidence of 17 years of use on the road were much harder to see. The little bits of dirt in tiny nooks that I simply could not reach were invisible now, the overall sheen of the bike capturing my eye and preventing any deviations. Being honest, I was happy with that day's work, I could be proud of the VFR again. As for my own mind the overall sheen of the clean VFR made me focus a little more on the nicer short-term, closer image, of my own life. Such things as cleaning the VFR are part of that more short-term picture (cleaning a VFR is hardly up there with mortgages and careers in terms of life events is it? Maybe it is...) and it had brought me a lot of satisfaction today so perhaps by concentrating on these more short-term bits then I could bring myself that little bit more satisfaction. As I tidied the cleaning products away and parked up the VFR the thoughts in my head were no more in order but they were certainly "cleaner", they were a little more defined. It might seem a little mad but in cleaning my bike I often think I am cleaning my own mind, or at least allowing it some space to shake off some of the deposits that rest and stick over time. 

As an aside, if an important one, I bought a new rear tyre for the VFR today. A Metzeler Z8 which I will have to fit during the week. I also have a mini compass on the way which I will stick to the cockpit of the VFR for navigation (I will be using maps I think as I cannot afford mobile data roaming for navigation through Google Maps on my phone) and I even took out my set of freebie panniers and hosed them free of dust so they will be ready for the trip too. Also, thank you for reading this far, I know this has been a long one and a very personal one too, I just hope that I managed to convey the connection between cleaning the bike and time for personal thoughts that I recognise!


  1. Well I've got to say that is looking great for a 17 year old bike, you can be proud of that.
    I am also glad I am a bit dim, cleaning a bike and all that thinking would wear me out!

  2. Thanks Keith! It was a dream bike of mine since getting into motorbikes and I just love owning it. You're far from dim, there are many different types of intelligences (spl?), you went out to the road and raced and that takes intelligence. It isn't often acknowledged but it does in my view.