Guest Post: “Getting into it”

Our little shop - where the education madness happens. Photo: The Dandooligan


By: Andy Steinhauer

I’m a pretty handy fellow. Carpentry, audio, electrician’s work and rigging are all things that I do professionally, but up until recently, I had no clue how to change my oil. People would even ask me questions about their vehicles. They would assume that anyone who works blue-collar and rides a motorcycle that’s as old as Reaganomics must also know a thing or two about things that go vroom. Negative…

How do people learn how to turn-wrench in the first place? Most classes available are for those of us who already have a pretty good handle on internal combustion and want to go professional. Vanilla valley, that pasty, yuppie place where I was raised only had mechanics on the rough side (professional) or the rich side (hobbyist) of town. I was VERY middle class. The only people I’ve run into with the precious machine knowledge, gained it from a family member or some almost-family friend down the street, and I had neither.

Enter The Dandooligan. My new roommate who’s wish is to turn our apartment’s tiny garage into a shop. Well, this is something I’ve done several times before, usually requiring at least three-times the space for some huge scenic construction project and storage space for one to three tons of lumber. And even those spaces were small for the projects I used them for.

So, because of my previous experience I had a hard time visualizing the Dooligan’s assertion that a space of about one-and-a-half jail cells could be an effective workspace. Well, I’ve since learned that working on a bike requires VERY little space as long as a reasonable amount of organization is applied. Motorcycles are small. Their parts are small. The tools are small. I don’t need a circular mitre box saw or a three-ton rack. Joy! Oh the places you’ll go with 100 bucks at Sears… or $10 at Harbor Freight.

The first thing a layman sees when he delves into the wild world of wrenching is an extremely sophisticated piece of technology that makes about as much sense as one of those sex-ed posters. Yes, we all sort-of know what a cam-shaft is, but what’s the REAL difference between carburetors and fuel injectors? Well, I won’t go into religion or sanitation, but these are deep issues people!
But if you ever find yourself taking a noob through his first oil change, take a step back and realize that you might have to answer some pretty awkward questions that he/she might not even ask. “Yes it’s OK to get oil on yourself.” “No you don’t need to tighten everything to 80ft/lbs so your bike doesn’t fall apart while you ride it.” “No, you’re not going to break that. It’s a chunk of steel.” “Stop! You’re about to break it! Yes, I know it’s a chunk of steel, but it’s a completely different chunk of steel.”

We don’t know! And we won’t know for quite a while, because this stuff really is complicated. It helps immensely to have an experienced and patient teacher. I also suggest, (if you’re going to mentor someone), know how internal combustion works.

When I say, “What’s that thingie?” The Dooligan’ usually responds with a brief lecture on how ‘that thingie’ interacts with the do-hickey to make the what’s-it turn. Even though your student may appear occasionally bored, the small amount of information I’ve been able to retain has been aided heavily by the insertion of context.

I, for some stupid reason, have trouble remembering that a valve cover is called a “VALVE COVER”. We all have small brain issues… Anyway, whenever I look upset with myself when trying to refer to a mystery part, the Dooligan’ will ask me what it does, which will often spark my memory. Keeps the oil in = Valve cover. Ah hah! It’s very important to learn WHY!

The whole experience has been very enjoyable so far. Much more so than trying to decipher my Clymer manual, not to mention infinitely less time-consuming. I’ve got a long way to go before considering myself a competent wrench-turner, but now that I’ve taken the first few steps, I no longer feel like I’m about to break EVERYTHING. And I now know enough to learn more. Those first couple hours of good guidance are essential. Without them, I’d still be taking my bike in for needlessly expensive repairs every time it got the sniffles or needed a change.

The front cam-cover-rocker-arm holder had broken, and needs to be fixed on Andy's 1984 Honda Ascot VT500FT.

To you non-laymans out there: If one of your buddies wants to learn a thing-or-two about his bike, go for it! He’ll be eternally grateful, and if you’re doing it right, it’ll be fun.

Andy Steinhauer is a comedy writer and performer in Colorado. He usually sticks to audio-visual mediums but occasionally writes in a novel format and guest blogs for whoever might be interested.

Some of his hYlarious projects:


About Dandooligan

Dandooligan CO, United States Every ride spurs the yearning for another and as such, has pushed me to adopt the riding lifestyle and all of it's challenges. This blog concerns those challenges from bikes to gear, media about bikes, and maybe even some psychology/sociology on the subject as well. Dandooligan, a mash-up of Dandy and Hooligan, both very important parts of me and my outlook on life. I'm also known as Spooph


  1. Blaze

    He is one of the most patient knowledgeable teachers I know when it comes to a lot of stuff and he never makes fun of me when I call him in a panic trying to remember where the heck the stupid bolt is to do something.
    I’m glad you’re learning how to wrench on your bike. It is a very deep connection that is formed when you are elbows deep into your bike. Wouldn’t trade that feeling for anything in the world.

  2. reyrey

    Agree with the above comments, as I have found myself in “uh oh what do I do now” spot a few times. The first was patiently coached over the phone on how to accomplish my task, even though I was using “thingie” and “square piece” terminology. 🙂

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