JOHN EXPLAINS WHY STUFF INEVITABLY GOES WRONG WITH CLASSIC BIKES. IT’S ALL DOWN TO ENTROPY, APPARENTLY
Naishy asserts the contention that entropy reigns supreme the minute you wipe a cloth over your classic
‘THANKS TO ENTROPY, CONFUSION CREEPS INTO A RESTORATION WHEREVER POSSIBLE’
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.