From Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance

On an air-cooled engine like this, extreme overheating can cause a "seizure." This machine has had one — in fact, three of them. I check 
it from time to time the same way I would check a patient who has had a heart attack, even though it seems cured. 

In a seizure, the pistons expand from too much heat, become too big for the walls of the cylinders, seize them, melt to them sometimes, 
and lock the engine and rear wheel and start the whole cycle into a skid. The first time this one seized, my head was pitched over the 
front wheel and my passenger was almost on top of me. At about thirty it freed up again and started to run but I pulled off the road and 
stopped to see what was wrong. All my passenger could think to say was "What did you do that for?" 

I shrugged and was as puzzled as he was, and stood there with the cars whizzing by, just staring. The engine was so hot the air around 
it shimmered and we could feel the heat radiate. When I put a wet finger on it, it sizzled like a hot iron and we rode home, slowly, with 
a new sound, a slap that meant the pistons no longer fit and an overhaul was needed. 

I took this machine into a shop because I thought it wasn't important enough to justify getting into myself, having to learn all the 
complicated details and maybe having to order parts and special tools and all that time-dragging stuff when I could get someone else to 
do it in less time.. .sort of John's attitude. 

The shop was a different scene from the ones I remembered. The mechanics, who had once all seemed like ancient veterans, now 
looked like children. A radio was going full blast and they were clowning around and talking and seemed not to notice me. When one 
of them finally came over he barely listened to the piston slap before saying, "Oh yeah. Tappets." 

Tappets? I should have known then what was coming. 

Two weeks later I paid their bill for 140 dollars, rode the cycle carefully at varying low speeds to wear it in and then after one thousand 
miles opened it up. At about seventy-five it seized again and freed at thirty, the same as before. When I brought it back they accused 
me of not breaking it in properly, but after much argument agreed to look into it. They overhauled it again and this time took it out 
themselves for a high-speed road test. 

It seized on them this time. 

After the third overhaul two months later they replaced the cylinders, put in oversize main carburetor jets, retarded the timing to make 
it run as coolly as possible and told me, "Don't run it fast." 

It was covered with grease and did not start. I found the plugs were disconnected, connected them and started it, and now there really 
was a tappet noise. They hadn't adjusted them. I pointed this out and the kid came with an open-end adjustable wrench, set wrong, and 
swiftly rounded both of the sheet aluminum tappet covers, mining both of them. 

"I hope we've got some more of those in stock," he said. 

I nodded. 

He brought out a hammer and cold chisel and started to pound them loose. The chisel punched through the aluminum cover and I 
could see he was pounding the chisel right into the engine head. On the next blow he missed the chisel completely and struck the head 
with the hammer, breaking off a portion of two of the cooling fins. 

"Just stop," I said politely, feeling this was a bad dream. 

"Just give me some new covers and I'll take it the way it is." 


I got out of there as fast as possible, noisy tappets, shot tappet covers, greasy machine, down the road, and then felt a bad vibration at 



zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance, robert m. pirsig 


Page 11 of 192 


speeds over twenty. At the curb I discovered two of the four engine-mounting bolts were missing and a nut was missing from the third. 
The whole engine was hanging on by only one bolt. The overhead-cam chain-tensioner bolt was also missing, meaning it would have 
been hopeless to try to adjust the tappets anyway. Nightmare. 


The thought of John putting his BMW into the hands of one of those people is something I have never brought up with him. Maybe I 
should. 


I found the cause of the seizures a few weeks later, waiting to happen again. It was a little twenty-five-cent pin in the internal oil- 
delivery system that had been sheared and was preventing oil from reaching the head at high speeds. 

The question why comes back again and again and has become a major reason for wanting to deliver this Chautauqua. Why did they 
butcher it so? These were not people running away from technology, like John and Sylvia. These were the technologists themselves. 
They sat down to do a job and they performed it like chimpanzees. Nothing personal in it. There was no obvious reason for it. And I 
tried to think back into that shop, that nightmare place, to try to remember anything that could have been the cause. 

The radio was a clue. You can’t really think hard about what you're doing and listen to the radio at the same time. Maybe they didn’t 
see their job as having anything to do with hard thought, just wrench twiddling. If you can twiddle wrenches while listening to the 
radio that’s more enjoyable. 

Their speed was another clue. They were really slopping things around in a hurry and not looking where they slopped them. More 
money that way. ..if you don’t stop to think that it usually takes longer or comes out worse. 


But the biggest clue seemed to be their expressions. They were hard to explain. Good-natured, friendly, easygoing. ..and uninvolved. 
They were like spectators. You had the feeling they had just wandered in there themselves and somebody had handed them a wrench. 
There was no identification with the job. No saying, "I am a mechanic." At 5 P.M. or whenever their eight hours were in, you knew 
they would cut it off and not have another thought about their work. They were already trying not to have any thoughts about their 
work on the job. In their own way they were achieving the same thing John and Sylvia were, living with technology without really 
having anything to do with it. Or rather, they had something to do with it, but their own selves were outside of it, detached, removed. 
They were involved in it but not in such a way as to care. 


Not only did these mechanics not find that sheared pin, but it was clearly a mechanic who had sheared it in the first place, by 
assembling the side cover plate improperly. I remembered the previous owner had said a mechanic had told him the plate was hard to 
get on. That was why. The shop manual had warned about this, but like the others he was probably in too much of a hurry or he didn’t 
care. 


While at work I was thinking about this same lack of care in the digital computer manuals I was editing. Writing and editing technical 
manuals is what I do for a living the other eleven months of the year and I knew they were full of errors, ambiguities, omissions and 
information so completely screwed up you had to read them six times to make any sense out of them. But what struck me for the first 
time was the agreement of these manuals with the spectator attitude I had seen in the shop. These were spectator manuals. It was built 
into the format of them. Implicit in every line is the idea that "Here is the machine, isolated in time and in space from everything else in 
the universe. It has no relationship to you, you have no relationship to it, other than to turn certain switches, maintain voltage levels, 
check for error conditions — " and so on. That’s it. The mechanics in their attitude toward the machine were really taking no different 
attitude from the manual’s toward the machine, or from the attitude I had when I brought it in there. We were all spectators. And it 
occurred to me there is no manual that deals with the real business of motorcycle maintenance, the most important aspect of all. Caring 
about what you are doing is considered either unimportant or taken for granted. 


On this trip I think we should notice it, explore it a little, to see if in that strange separation of what man is from what man does we 
may have some clues as to what the hell has gone wrong in this twentieth century. I don't want to hurry it. That itself is a poisonous 
twentieth-century attitude. When you want to hurry something, that means you no longer care about it and want to get on to other 
things. I just want to get at it slowly, but carefully and thoroughly, with the same attitude I remember was present just before I found 
that sheared pin. It was that attitude that found it, nothing else.
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