Classic Bike (UK) - - Contents - Mo­tor­ing e di­tor of The Times in a for­mer life, John Naish is a life long g fan of 1970s Ja­panese bikes

Naishy as­serts the con­tention that en­tropy reigns supreme the minute you wipe a cloth over your clas­sic


I’m sit­ting in a freez­ing garage, knuck­les bloody and skinned thanks to a brit­tle span­ner slip­ping from its bolt. Af­ter I run out of bad lan­guage, I be­come philo­soph­i­cal. I was only do­ing some mi­nor fet­tling. Why hadn’t I left well alone, rather than fool­ishly de­fy­ing the cos­mic force of clas­sic-bike en­tropy?

En­tropy, in physics, refers to the idea that ev­ery­thing in the uni­verse even­tu­ally de­grades from or­der to dis­or­der. As re­stor­ers, we bat­tle con­stantly with this. En­tropy starts work the mo­ment a new bike is taken from the show­room, etch­ing the first scratch in the paint and ul­ti­mately re­duc­ing it to a pile of seized, rust­ing parts.

En­tropy reigns, even when you are merely pol­ish­ing your ma­chine. It de­crees that clean­ing prod­ucts come in con­tain­ers that fall over and spill their con­tents at the least provo­ca­tion. Their lids also obey the quark laws of quan­tum physics; they will dis­ap­pear spon­ta­neously, no mat­ter how care­fully placed. Such lids reap­pear only af­ter the con­tainer has top­pled – or in the case of metal-pol­ish tubes, have been trod­den upon, spurt­ing their con­tents over ma­te­ri­als from which they can­not be cleaned, such as new tyres and seats. An­other quan­tum ef­fect kicks in when you take your re­built bike to a club meet. The the­ory of Schrödinger’s Cat ex­plains how the act of ob­serv­ing some­thing ac­tu­ally changes the na­ture of the ob­ject be­ing ob­served. The the­o­ret­i­cal cat is both alive and dead in­side a box, un­til some­one peeks in­side, which freezes the kitty’s state as ei­ther purring or de­ceased. Like­wise, your bike is con­stantly in the quan­tum state of both run­ning per­fectly and be­ing bro­ken. Gaw­pers can make the dif­fer­ence. The cos­mos de­crees that the more peo­ple who gather to watch you try fir­ing your clas­sic into life, the less likely it is to start. More than 20 watch­ers and you are ad­vised to pocket the ig­ni­tion key, go home and fetch a trailer.

Thanks to en­tropy, con­fu­sion will creep into a restora­tion wher­ever pos­si­ble. Part num­bers will mys­te­ri­ously su­per­sede each other, ren­der­ing a man­u­fac­turer’s man­ual as ac­cu­rate as the tarot. Some­one in a par­al­lel uni­verse, has re­ceived the right part. But yours, de­spite be­ing a cor­rectly num­bered OEM com­po­nent, will be 1mm out in a crit­i­cal di­men­sion. This will re­veal it­self only af­ter you’ve dis­man­tled the rest of the bike to fit it.

The an­cient Greeks un­der­stood en­tropy – hence the story of Sisy­phus, con­demned to roll a mas­sive rock up a hill ev­ery day for eter­nity. Each morn­ing, that rock has rolled back down the hill. At least Sisy­phus didn’t have a rock’n’roll bike with which to con­tend. Old ve­hi­cles are ba­si­cally a po­lite queue of de­grad­ing com­po­nents, each pa­tiently await­ing its turn to go awry.

This ex­plains why fix­ing one prob­lem pre­cip­i­tates an­other. Some of the cause­and-ef­fect seems log­i­cal. Fix the brakes and the fork seals burst – thanks to in­creased pres­sure from the rein­vig­o­rated stop­pers. Re­pair the forks and the head bear­ings go. If only that were the whole story. For by fix­ing things, you are also dis­plac­ing en­tropy, which may ap­pear any­where else on the bike at its whim.

I first en­coun­tered this phe­nom­e­non when I owned a house with a bath­room fes­tooned with an ar­ray of halo­gen bulbs. One lamp was al­ways on the blink. If I re­placed it, an­other would go. Then one tucked in a cor­ner blew, and I left it. None of the other bulbs ever mal­func­tioned.

Ditto with old ve­hi­cles. The uni­verse de­crees that they must carry a min­i­mum level of en­tropy. My Z1’s tacho and speedo nee­dles wa­ver so wildly nowa­days that mount­ing a sun­dial on the tank would pro­vide a more ac­cu­rate gauge of progress.

Get­ting the Zed’s clocks fixed has been on my to-do list for years. But this is where the bike cur­rently stores its en­tropy. Bet­ter there than in the gear­box or electrics.

Such were my thoughts as I shut the garage and headed in­doors for a hot drink and Elasto­plasts. Rid­ing clas­sic bikes is all about the joy of tem­po­rar­ily de­feat­ing en­tropy. Some­times, though, it’s bet­ter to beat a quiet re­treat.

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