A motorcycle in Covid times - a blog, in 1000 Words or Less
In the spring of 2017, I bought a 1973 Norton Commando. For those who don’t know, a Norton Commando is a British motorcycle with (for me at least), a high-level cool factor. I’ve had an interest in vehicles, particularly motorcycles, for as long as I can remember and was looking for a long-term project that would keep me busy on a day off. A vintage motorcycle in need of refurbishment felt like the perfect answer.
My initial plan was to ride the bike through the summer and then begin the restoration process when the weather turned lousy. I planned a resto-mod, which means restoring the bike to like new condition but not to exact factory specifications. In other words, certain aspects would be restored, others would be modified. Ultimately, the bike would look almost the same as it did when it left the factory nearly fifty years ago but the finish (the chrome, the paint, the powder coating), would be of much higher quality than original. In addition, I’d install a modern electrical system for reliability and better brakes for safety.
Restoring a vehicle to stock condition, turning it into a complete custom, or rebuilding it to something in between, is a goal a great number of motor vehicle enthusiasts talk about, perhaps because a project such as this looks feasible, thanks to so-called reality TV. In actuality, these projects are often started with the best of intentions but sadly, never finished. The vehicle is either scrapped or sold for parts after languishing forgotten under a tarp behind a garage for several years. In all likelihood, the unaware builder didn’t know three important rules:
Knowledge and research are crucial.
The project will take way longer than expected.
The cost will be much higher than anticipated.
I’ve a tackled a couple of similar projects to my planned Norton restoration (although not to this extent), so I knew these maxims. With them in mind, I came up with a workable plan. After riding through the summer of 2017, I’d slowly and methodically disassemble the bike. I’d snap lots of reference photographs and take copious notes after which, I’d begin sandblasting, chroming, powder coating and accumulating parts. By the spring of 2020, I’d be ready for reassembly. A three-year timeline seemed reasonable. It allowed for unexpected delays and costs while being long enough to avoid the pressure of a deadline and still short enough to prevent a loss of interest.
Men plan, God laughs, as the proverb goes.
The individual I bought the bike from owned it for nearly three decades. He was quite proud that he did, as he said, “…most my own maintenance.” Within days of getting the Norton home, I realized this wasn’t something about which he should have bragged. I won’t go so far as to say he was a hack, but when a person uses rolled up cardboard and a broken piece of 2x2 as a means to restrain the battery inside the battery box…well…he’s not a mechanic. He’s barely even handy. Thirty years ago, some of the short cuts and backyard fixes he applied may have been excusable. Tracking down parts for a British bike would certainly have been difficult before the internet…
…although, I assume Norton Andover in Great Britain had a telephone, even as far back as the eighties. Today, in a world that has more of everything a person might reasonably need (and mountains of useless junk nobody ever needs), when it’s all available in seconds on Amazon or eBay, there is no excuse for the previous owner’s Mickey Mouse “maintenance.”
The more I looked, the more I realized riding the bike in the condition it was in, would be flat-out dangerous. The decision not to ride added several months to my rebuild plan. I could begin disassembly several months sooner than I anticipated and as an added benefit, I could spread the budget over a longer period of time. Ultimately, I’d finish the project as planned, on schedule.
The project proceeded with slow and steady progress through 2018 and 2019, and then…
Overnight I could no longer speak face-to-face with the individual who was so helpful with the countless questions I asked.
Suddenly, parts became far more expensive and much more difficult to obtain.
The talented mechanic friend who, more or less willingly, helps me with projects such as these, was told by people in positions of power (supposedly looking out for his and my health), that he could no longer visit my home.
For my part, instead of working on my project, I channel surfed from one news program to another and scrolled from one headline to another, searching for facts that explained the collapse of societal norms and hopefully, hints that a return to normalcy was imminent. An apathetic laziness seemed to take hold, preventing anything positive or constructive from happening. Nothing much mattered except Covid updates and the impact of the disease.
As days turned into weeks, I began to realize I was stuck in a feedback loop. The media was making the Covid experience much worse than it actually was. In an effort to keep people reading their headlines or tuned to their stations, they reported the worst, most sensationalistic Covid moments without balancing them with the more widespread but mundane truths; the crisis was bad but it wasn't a Chicxulub event. Naturally, with this steady diet of apocalyptic stories, the observing public became progressively more concerned. Politicians took note but instead of acting in a considered, fact-based manner, they governed by public-opinion-poll, overreacting spectacularly in ways they opportunistically hoped would cast them in a favourable light. The media reported their over-reactions (never forgetting to mention the daily death count), and the feedback loop gained velocity.
Meanwhile, the Norton sat in pieces on my workbench. Parts I’d piled up in a spare room were ignored. My interest in the project dropped to zero.
I’d be embarrassed at how long I was hostage to the feedback loop and the odd sense of indifference it brought about, except almost everyone I know experienced something similar and reacted in a similar manner. As time passed, however, it became obvious that Covid was nowhere near as catastrophic as the modelling suggested or the media reported. Every time Justin popped his head out of his bolt-hole to throw more money at one group or another, and followed up with a pompous statement about, “...following the science…” I felt more and more like I was being fed misinformation. It seemed like much of the Covid narrative was being foisted upon us because politicians and policy makers were afraid of backtracking and admitting mistakes and poor judgment. This made dismissing the headlines and finding more constructive ways to fill my day simple. When you know you’re being lied to, it’s easy stop paying attention.
I started working on the Norton again, an hour here, a couple of hours there. When restrictions and related mandates eased in the spring, my mechanic friend came by for a visit. With the help of another set of hands and some collaborative problem solving, the slow momentum I had going turned into significant forward progress.
For many people, the pandemic response brought about huge, life altering moments. Unexpectedly, and perhaps surprisingly, Covid also impacted small, inconsequential things in ways impossible to foresee. Despite all these setbacks…
…two years behind schedule and five years (almost to the day), after purchasing the Norton, I had it reassembled and running. Save for a few inevitable bits and pieces I had to mail-order, the project is virtually complete.
Unfortunately, Covid is far from complete. The disease is here to stay, as I think we all know. Thankfully though, the feedback loop seems to have snapped. Try as they might, with reports about this wave and that variant, the media hasn’t been able to keep the biggest story of their careers alive, partly because the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine has captured our attention, but also because most people realize Covid isn’t going to kill a quarter of the world’s population, no matter what the ominous “reports” would have us believe. We’ve come a long way from flattening the curve, social distancing, lockdowns and fourteen-day isolation periods.
The refurbished Norton looks good and runs well and no matter how long and how difficult it was to get to the point I'm at today, even though there's a little farther to go, everyone of us is in a better place than we were a year ago.
If you’re interested in seeing some of the project photos, check out my Facebook link below.
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