Thursday, June 11, 2009

Two motorcycle stories with humbling conclusions

In '96, I bought a Triumph Sprint, a fine three-cylinder sport-touring bike that I rode for four years, almost the longest I've ever kept a motorcycle. After a few months of riding, I took the bike into the shop for its second or third oil change, and asked the mechanic to use Triumph brand full-synthetic oil, made if memory serves by the Mobil-1 folks.

After he did the oil change, aware of the benefits trumpeted by the makers of synthetic oil, I noted that my Triumph shifted better, more smoothly and with less effort. The gearbox felt slicker inside, more expensively constructed, perhaps hand-fitted - day and night, I thought, day and night.

So I went to the mechanic and told him I'd noticed the improvement immediately. Day and night, I told him, just as I just told you.

"I used that Triumph stuff the last time I changed your oil, " he said.

And I realized that marketing, like the Lord, works in mysterious ways.

Now I have a Kawasaki motorcycle that I have learned is made in Thailand. It's an okay bike but not a great one. I have tended to blame the Thai folks who assemble the bikes - not the Japanese engineers who designed it. If Japanese people make cars like Toyotas, motorcycles like Hondas and TVs like Sony, they must make very few mistakes. Has to be the damn Thais, I told myself.

And I compared my Thai-made 2008 Kawasaki to the 2006, two-cylinder Triumph I owned just previously. The British Triumph had a fault or two, but none related to quality of construction. It was flawlessly made; it didn't hold much fuel and used lots of it - those were the only problems.

Just yesterday, I read that the two-cylinder Triumphs made since 2005 have been built guessed....Thailand.

I've been writing about bicycling since 1983 and about motorcycling since maybe '85. Who knows how many people have read my stuff and thought - this guy seems to know things. Sometimes I get to thinking that I do know things, that I'm smarter than the average bear.

It's good that I'm occasionally (and dramatically) reminded that I'm frequently (and dramatically) fulla s--t.

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