Over the years, when it comes to fettling with mechanicals, I have learned nothing.

Nothing… except that after the event there are easier ways to give blood rather than by stabbing your thumb with a rusty Stanley knife whose edge has been blunted by repeated overuse cutting old Lino on a concrete floor.

There is a supposed affinity between man and machine which means that there is no maintenance job too small which should be given to the professional garage, and no job is too big that it cannot be tackled with time, tools and a nice cup of tea. An oil change, for example, is simply removing old oil from the sump, replacing the oil filter and refilling the engine. All you need is a rag, a drip tray large enough to hold the old oil and a radio blasting out your favourite songs. Older chaps should have a topless models calendar on the garage wall. Younger more woke chaps can listen to Woman’s Hour on Radio Four before offering to do the ironing. The only real jeopardy in the oil change procedure is to be found in losing the oil drain plug while unscrewing it from beneath the engine, and then watching it as it drops onto the garage floor and bounce towards the darkest recesses of the workshop where mice and hope go to die.

Triumph is a name well known to men. It is a company that has existed since 1902. The Triumph motorcycling company is not to be confused with Triumph the lacy bra maker. Care needs to be taken when googling Triumph in case one gets sent to the wrong company’s web site. An awkward conversation is to be had with one’s partner if by chance they should look over your shoulder and instead of seeing a Bonneville leaning into a corner, or a picture of a piston, they espy you lingering over a picture of a buxom model in flimsy red lace.

The current Triumph motorcycling company was established in 1983 by John Bloor after the original company Triumph Engineering went into receivership. The new company, initially called Bonneville Coventry Ltd, continued Triumph’s lineage of motorcycle production. The ‘Bonneville’ is a superstar among motorcycles, popular around the world.  

Popular I guess right up to the point when maintenance is required. To be fair, many men actually enjoy the sado-masochistic practices when machine and maintenance meet in the battle of the workshop. I have in the past, the long distanced past, deconstructed motorcycles and their engines, assisted only with bravado, ignorance and a handbook written by the company’s PhD in mechanical engineering whose only actual experience with the reality of oil, grease and cursing was at their own birth. They may know a lot about compression ratios and newton-meters but their ability to impart actual useful information, is in inverse proportion with their abilities to say without giggling “slide the shouldered shaft into the bush with the shouldered end innermost, see diagrams 16.12b”.

They write that stuff with a serious face, expecting us to a) understand and b) to follow the instruction. That actual sentence can be found in the Haynes Manual for the Triumph Bonneville page 2.33. I bought the manual at the same time as the Bonneville back in 2001. Not that I thought for a moment that I would actually use it. Its purpose, and position on my bookshelf, is merely to give the impression that I’m a Renaissance man who knows his way around the big end of an engine as well as he does around the big end of Wagner’s Ring Cycle.  

Although makers of fine motorcycles, Triumph can also be a bit….stingey? They are not immune to cutting corners or costs in production. This means you get everything you need but not necessarily want on the bike when you wheel it out of the showroom. In my case with my brand new Bonneville way back in 2001, I did not get a rev counter and a centre stand. In both cases…wtf? Triumph must have made the decision that they are not needed only just wanted like the third large Gin and Tonic before dinner. Well, I admit I have done well enough without either for nearly 20 years so perhaps they have a point. Time comes though when maintaining chains and cleaning back wheels really do require the machine to be up on a centre stand. Trust me.

That time has come. I have already put after market exhaust pipes on the Bonny so that it no longer sounds as quiet as a small kitten purring as you tickle its tummy. The factory pipes are for the United States market with much stricter emissions and noise reduction targets. The result is that the factory Bonny makes less noise than a hamster* with a pillow on its face. That might work for Alabama or Montana, but not in Ambleside or Manchester. The bike is British, home of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Motorhead…like…ffs…a quiet Bonny? It is like asking Ozzie Osbourne to sing ‘hush a bye baby’ in front of the Queen after doing a gram of coke and bottle of Jack Daniels.  

So, the pipes are already done. Other modifications have been very minor, but now comes the centre stand.

Can’t be difficult can it? A couple of bolts and a spring?  I watch a youtube video which mentions stretching the spring with a hook to get it in place. No other videos are forthcoming, other than some chaps doing the similar job but with other models of Bonneville. All mention stretching the spring as “the hard bit”. They all suggest the bike is stabilised in case one is daft enough to pull it over upon oneself after trying to stretch the spring. OK. message received and understood. I will try not to kill myself. I look forward to having the bike crush my chest as much as I would look forward to binge watching Love Island with gang of recently jilted teenage girls high on chocolate and self absorption.

So I watched the video in which the monotone Brummie tries to bore me to death with instructions taking 8 minutes when 8 seconds would have done it. It amounts to “download the instructions…and watch out for the bastard spring”. He then waves his phone camera at the underside of his parked bike as if the wonder of his work will magically reveal itself. By the way, there is a reason why there are professional film makers and editors. Editing is a rather underrated skill…until you watch YouTube. 

I download the instructions which on the face of it look clear. I also lay out the centre stand and its assembly. I was right. A couple of bolts, three (?) nuts,  two rubber bushes, a rubber stop for the exhaust and the bastard spring. There are one or two other bits with fancy names such as ‘spacer’, ‘retaining bolt’ and ‘C plate’  that might come in handy at some point.

Both video and written instructions at the outset fail to mention one very very important starting point. It is this:

“Do not attempt this while the bike is at ground level resting on its side stand”.

Consider that the centre stand fits the underside of the bike, which has not a lot of clearance between frame and ground. A hedgehog would be fine going underneath it, a Jack Russell terrier would be testing its luck. A Vietnamese pot bellied pig would be bacon in a clip clop of a bloodied trotter.

So fitting the spring retaining bolt to the underside of the frame requires patience, getting onto one’s front, laying completely flat,  arms extended and fiddling blindly with the hole it is supposed to go into. All I can see is the swing arm of the frame, chain and chain guard and the floor. It is akin to one’s very first virgin fumbling with the bra strap of your first girlfriend in the complete dark with one arm tied behind your back. It can be done, but not without patience and luck. I am proof it can be done because I did it. It took the second cup of tea of the day to regain composure. The first cup of tea should always be taken just before you start any job.

At this point cussing was restricted to the odd ‘bugger’, a ‘you bastard’ and a ‘you have got to be fucking joking’. The instructions merely said “fit the bolt in the hole in frame”. The video had missed this bit completely and droned on about the bastard spring.  What they do not say is that there is no room to turn a standard torque wrench or ring spanner more than about 10 degrees. The handle of the wrench butts up against the tyre and the frame and allows minimal movement. I am not an engineer, clearly, but I guess to get a turn on a nut requires just a bit more than a 10 degree swing by the spanner? I try not to calculate how many 360 degree turns of the nut it would require to get it to 47 NMs. Nor can I, for the life of me, see how a torque wrench can be used in such a confined space.

Defeated by the lack of space to use my wrench I have to make what was my first trip to the local tool shop, MacSalvors at Pool, to purchase a stubby handled ratchet which might work. The proper torque wrench sits forlornly on the bench alongside its bigger cousin used for the rear axle nut.  If you don’t know how tight the pressure of 47 NMs is, think of walnut cracking. A third cup of tea is required upon return to contemplate how I was going to get the nut tightened sufficiently while at full stretch on my front, while trying not to get the oily tube from the chain oiler poking in my eye.

I have of late bought a scissor jack which fits neatly under the bike frame which raises the motorcycle high enough for ease of access. Just the the thing for jobs such as this. Not one mention of using one is made in the instructions. I would re write them as follows:

  1. Book a slot with you local bike dealer.
  2. Drop off Bike.
  3. Go for Beer.
  4. Pick up Bike. Happy Days – go and watch football.
  5. If you do attempt this yourself, get a scissor jack…don’t try this at ground level. It is a complete bastard…and we designed the damn thing. Seriously, consider steps 1-4.
  6. Have a cup of tea.

My scissor jack is beauty. With it, the bike would rise quicker than Jesus on speed. Problem is, the jack was 10 miles away, and did I mention that the intructions made no mention of needing one? Then having looked at the simple black and white line drawings of frames and bolts on the downloaded instructions, I realise something. Firstly they are close ups so that you get a partial view of frame and the fingers of the mythical mechanic doing the job, and then secondly, the perspective. The close up belies the perspective, and it is only upon very careful reflection upon the diagram that you realise that the drawing has been made from the perspective of…you guessed it looking up at a raised bike, something they did not think sufficiently important  to mention.  Instead we get “put bolt in hole”. You get better instructions from a lobotomised cretin explaining how to use the Large Hadron Collider using only crayons and a doughnut.

Next comes the bush greasing and insertion.

Yes, Really. Snigger if you wish at the back, it is your time you are wasting.

That was the easy bit and set up the fourth cup of tea. No Hob Nobs as accompaniment at this stage, though one feels one has earned it after the first fiasco.

Now for the ‘bastard spring’ which has to be stretched to fit into the the hole in frame at one end and the centre stand at the other. Bearing mind it does not want to be stretched. It is a spring after all. But I am ready because the video discussed the bastard spring. I have a hook at the ready. The first end of the spring is easily slipped into its retaining hole in the frame, then the hook is inserted at the other end of the spring and after a few pulls the spring end slips into its allotted hole on the stand. Not too much fuss. Its a bit like tempting a rabbit back into its hole with a carrot. The rabbit runs to the entrance no problem but then needs a boot up its arse to get it inside. Boring Brummie could have saved himself the precious 8 minutes droning on about the spring. Even the bike stayed stable as I pulled at it. The cussing was reserved for the final stretch and warranted a short expletive of “come on you c*nt” as encouragement. Blood was there none.

Now all that is  required after the spring fitting is a bit of fettling and the insertion of the rubber stopper into the exhaust bracket. The instruction said:

“Put Stopper into hole in exhaust bracket” and came complete with a little picture of the black hard rubber stopper, which looks like door stop or a piece on a checkers board, and the shiny steel exhaust bracket and its hole.

I’m feeling like Fred Dibna after setting his final stick of dynamite. Now for the very easy bit to finish off. Another cup of tea before the final push. The only decision at this point is whether to raid the biscuit tin. The tin of swarfega tantalisingly awaits for the ritual cleaning of hands after the job is complete, the tools lie about the bike to give the impression of professionalism, three empty mugs of tea are evidence or work already carried out, and a wipe down of an oily rag will see us through. Brunel, Trevithick, Gresley…move over, I’m joining the ranks of Great British Engineers. After all I grew up in the shadow of a mine stack, lived on Camborne hill walking in Trevithick’s footsteps. I’ve driven a steam engine and sniffed the fumes of coal fuelled industry. I have oil for blood and guts of pig iron. Even my farts are industrial in sulphurous scale and scope.

I pick up the stopper and the exhaust bracket. I can see where one fits into the other. You don’t need a degree in mechanical engineering from ‘Clever Bastard University’ and even a chap in search of a brain cell to complement the only working one he has, can work it out. Placing one up to the other I push.


I might as well be pushing the stopper into a brick wall. The resistance makes itself felt. I try again. And again. The thumbs begin to go red, then white as I exert more pressure. Nothing. Ok, it needs a bit more force than a human thumb can apply. I try a lump hammer, gently at first and then with each failure I am forced into a rethink. I place the exhaust pipe bracket in a vice and try again with the lump hammer. Of course one cannot merely thump at it because of potential damage to the pipe itself. Lump hammers don’t do gently though, they are not designed for gently tapping. I try the putting the pipe on floor but only succeed in bouncing the hammer off the rubber stopper so that the hammer rebounds towards but not into my face and the stopper goes flying across the room. The stopper does not want to going the hole. That’s it. Perhaps I should heat it up to make it more flexible? Can the stopper itself go into the vice and can I reverse engineer bracket to stopper rather than the other way around?

I need cup of tea and a think. This is taking an hour of my time. I am getting perplexed, surely they designed it so that it would fit? In the end I resorted to finding a screw and a flat washer and then screwing the bastard in place. That’s not shown in the drawings or mentioned in the video. It should be.

It is mid afternoon, the sun is beating down and I am hot tired and thirsty as I stand in my red oil stained and greased overalls looking at the bike. The stand is finally in place. Now to test it.

Taking the bike off the side stand, I stand on the left of the bike and grab the frame and pull back to engage the legs of the centre stand evenly upon the ground. Get this wrong and the bike topples over. If this happens towards you, there is a slim chance of stopping it crashing to the floor or crushing your knee caps. If it falls away, then money will be spent putting the damage right.

I pull and hope.

Nothing but a gasp of air, a wheeze, a grunt and a sharp tight pull of calf muscle which threatened to wrench my achilles tendon apart. I try again but the same result. Einstein, it is said, once remarked that stupidity is doing the same thing again and expecting a different result. Well I was stupid just the once, partly because I was knackered and near to tears. The realisation dawned that I had spent nearly £120 and 5 hours to get to this point only to find I did not have the strength to lift a bike onto its centre stand. Was I really going to have to ask Ann for help every time I want the bike on its centre stand? What about when I was out and about, would I have resort to asking strangers to assist the old man in lifting his bike? Oh, the ignominy, the distress, the shame.

Then I remembered that it was all about technique not strength. One needs one’s centre of gravity further back! So with a deft little step a princess ballerina would have been proud to have done, I repositioned myself and with a third pull the bike easily came up and over onto its stand. I could have danced with joy.

Not all things respond to brute force. Bikes are no exception. Just like a marriage, they require tender loving care, a little coaxing, a lot of understanding, patience, money, and regular lubrication to keep them going without undue noise and vibration.


*no hamsters were hurt in the writing of this article.

Published by Lance Goodman

Freelance writer, bon vivant and all-round good oeuf.

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