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#289 The masterlink in the chain

The world might learn a lesson. When motorcycle maintenance calls, even old rivalries can be put aside.

I’ve been told that, traditionally, paramedics and firefighters don’t like each other very much. But it seems a motorcycle can bridge that gap because a firefighter just spent the day with me working on a paramedic’s bike.
My good friend and roommate Christopher Langford has been attending a brutal paramedics course at Humber College that some weeks involves all seven days, including classes at school, placement at a hospital, and “riding out” on an ambulance. Add in many hours of studying and there’s not much time left for anything else, such as basic TLC for the 2002 Kawasaki KLR 650 he’s been riding to school, logging about 75 km return. But the KLR’s tires were getting slick and the chain worn so maintenance was definitely in order.
When my dirt biking buddy Ray Sticklend offered to bring his tire changing and balancing stands over to help with the work I decided to do for my friend and paramedic in training, I said “YES!” to Ray the retired firefighter.
The heat was on and the garage comfortable when Ray arrived with a jack that made me envious. No concrete blocks for Thumper, she got a ride. An electric drill made the jack go up and down. Talk about convenient.
I barely had my new shop gloves on when Ray had the castle nut and cotter pin off, and the rear wheel up on the stand. Fact is I didn’t touch the tires. They changed themselves while I was busy doing other things like catching little rubber blocks that kept falling on the floor. These shock absorbing dampeners under the sprocket fall out every time you turn the tire over, which happened more than once. I was amused to hear Ray say, “We’ll just use this one till we find the one we’re looking for.”
Then it was my turn to lose things. I found myself walking around in circles trying to find the inner tube and sprockets. They had to be somewhere. I had the new chain on my workbench. The tires were hard to misplace. There was a box with other parts. But where had I hidden the inner tubes and sprockets? I finally found them in a black grocery bag that says, “This bag is green.” I won’t tell what I said about that disappearing black bag.
When I handed over the inner tube, Ray asked for baby powder. I felt somewhat redeemed when I opened my supply cupboard and produced a bottle of powder to lube up the tube. He brought his own bottle of squirt to lube the tire bead. I kept jumping to keep ahead of him, turning the air compressor on and passing him the hose. The new tire was on in no time, and the tube blown up to well beyond the required pressure to make sure there were no kinks in it.
Next came the sprockets and chain. The rear sprocket was bolted on moments after I found it. Next I was producing a grinder and plugging it in. The original factory chain had to be ground to get it off. I produced a punch of the correct size to hammer the pin out—and a hammer. Then Ray wanted an anvil. Well, the anvil was a special item that I just received from a friend in Port Dover: a foot-long piece of railway track—perfect and sexy. I scrambled to get the anvil to the chain. Suddenly the chain was free and I got to hold it up to see how great the arch was, or rather, how worn the chain. The sprockets weren’t too terribly bad. And I learned that on the KLR, you just flip the wheel sprocket and use the uncut teeth to double the life of the sprocket. Nice. We didn’t do that though, we used the new one.
We had actually made a decision to change the number of teeth on both sprockets, in order to give the bike longer legs on the highway, which compromises the peppy jump the bike has in the city but with all the highway driving the KLR was doing, it made sense. This is one of the nice features of chain drive—changing to a sprocket with a different tooth count affects the drive ratio principally in the same way that swapping out a transmission gear to one with another tooth might.
I took pictures as we went along so Chris could see what he had missed while training on an ambulance.
Ray unbolted the cover that guards the small sprocket and chain, and I got busy. It was filthy, covered with chain lube and dirt that formed to make gooey sludge. I used a vintage scraper from a DeHavilland aircraft that had come with my workbench. Between that and my parts washer, the chain guard was unrecognizable, practically brand new. Then I scraped the gunk from around the new sprocket, which had miraculously replaced the old one. Ray discovered the gearshift lever was loose so tightened it up. Chris would notice that difference!
Then we put the rear wheel back on. I lightly greased the axle and in it went. Then the chain slid around the sprockets and with some difficulty the new chain was cut to size and the master link installed.
Next we had to do the front wheel. While Ray was doing that, I replaced the brake lever that had broken one day when Chris dropped the bike in the driveway. I thought nothing of squeezing the new lever after greasing the pivot pin—until we tried to put the front wheel back on and discovered the brake shoes were completely closed. Oops. Gentle prying with a big screwdriver parted the brake shoes. Meanwhile, I noticed ugly rust brown grease in the speedo drive. I cleaned it out, and pulled the cable, which was also rusty brown, and lubed everything with a nice gob of green Luca grease. I had nothing to do with changing the front tire but helped put the wheel back on.
The final job was the Bark Busters, and they were a pain. Turns out the factory handlebars have aluminum plugs in the ends to reduce vibration. They needed to be drilled out to hold the Bark Buster mounts. That was an unexpected nasty job and a time delay. We were in a rush. Both Ray and I had separate plans for the evening and time was flying. I adjusted the tire pressure while he connected the plastic to the aluminum crash bars. And then he grabbed his stuff and ran out the door, leaving me to put the Hippo Hands back on and wheel the bike outside, so that Chris could take his bike—not mine—the following morning.
I understand firefighters are not supposed to like paramedics. But there are no rules against friends helping friends. Motorcycles build bridges over amazing gaps …. masterlinks.


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