As part of my “real job” I frequently travel to California and Arizona. In the summertime this can be a nightmare, but in the winter it is occasionally a welcome reprieve from the darkness and sogginess of an Ontario winter. Honestly, I like the winter. I like the calm, the long twilights, and the sparkle of snow under moonlight when it’s really cold out. What I don’t like is slush and wet feet, or cold car seats… That’s probably the worst part for me; chilly balls. Because I’m always travelling for work I never have a motorcycle with me, this is kind of painful. It feels like a waste to have access to dry, warm conditions and be stuck in a damn rental car. On these frequent trips my mind reliably turns to ponder the plight of the cold climate motorcyclist.
Unless you’re far more hardcore than I am (which is, admittedly, not too hard) the Canadian riding season is pretty short. With luck you can start riding in May, and push it to the end of October. For this short interval, paying for insurance, setting aside indoor storage and general upkeep can amount to a lop-sided cost-benefit equation, one that may tip the scales away from being a rider. This is why you see such a great selection of low-mileage older bikes for sale in cold climates. For those of us who wrench, chop, and weld, however, there is great benefit to the off season… Or rather, the project season. When the evenings are warm and well-lit until 9pm, it’s hard to find the motivation to stay in the shop. But when it gets dark at 4:30 and the roads are badly buggered-over with salt and gravel, it’s lovely to stay in, put some good tunes on the garage stereo, get a hot cup of tea, pull on your favourite insulated plaid shirt, and get cracking.
Yes, it gets a little lonely at times… It’s much easier to find someone to ride with than it is to find someone who also enjoys wrenching, but it’s a fortress of solitude. One can sing along to “Where Eagles Dare” as off-key as one’s little heart desires. On the days when it’s particularly blustery and cold, the sense of warmth and “right-place’dness” is especially profound. There’s a German word for this: “Gemütlichkeit”. There’s nothing that makes me feel quite as cozy and content as watching a storm whip the exterior of my shop’s windows. The way the snowflakes flash in the light as they pass by can be mesmerizing. It’s even pretty to look at from the opposite direction on those inevitable trips to empty the shop trash, it’s nice to look into the garage from the outside. It’s a bit like those cliché scenes in Christmas movies where the downtrodden protagonist peers longingly through the windows of a cheerful happy home. Only in this case, I know I’m going in.
My wife often says that her surroundings are a metaphor for her state of mind; when the place is a mess, so is her headspace. I feel this way about my shop. Sometimes I can’t even work until I spend an hour cleaning it up. In the winter time when it’s cold and dreary outside but warm and welcoming in the garage, it feels like I’m being welcomed into my own mind. It’s an invitation to contemplate and reflect, to let my hands take up the tools they know so well, and set about the tasks they know how to do. When there’s snow on the ground, there’s no rush. I can spend as much time as I like fiddling with the details and getting the bits and pieces as exceptionally clean as I have patience for. I love building carburetors in the winter. In the summer time it’s always a rush to get them wrapped up and installed so I can see if they work. In January I’m going to be waiting at least 4 months, so I can take the time to really get to know the thing. I like wiring in the winter time too, for exactly the same reason. Tailoring the length of the leads so they all match is easier to do in February than it is in July when I just want to stomp a kick-starter, crank the throttle, and go.
I love riding and I love racing, but the wrenching part is every bit as enjoyable maybe even more sometimes. In a bizarre way, I pity those poor souls who live in warmer climes. They may never know the zen of building bikes in the winter. It’s magic. The mind is cleansed by the season, the frenetic pace of summer is behind us, and we can shift from the sweaty-necked grit of summer’s dust and into the cool focus of winter’s ice. All of this of course, requires a good garage heater. Without that, it’s bloody horrible.