You have owned a Moto Guzzi for four months - long enough to know the dealers are few and far between and parts are rare. It is a sidecar outfit, putting you even further out on the limb of obscurity. You are five hundred miles from home, pull in the clutch to start the morning's ride and suddenly there is no resistance. Broken cable, and you didn't pack a spare.
It was the sixth annual motorcycle trip with my sons and my first long trip on the Guzzi. We were in Springfield, Ohio, about two blocks from one of the largest motorcycle accessory warehouses in the country. My first reaction was that I was a lucky man to lose a part within walking distance of such an establishment. We were their first customers that morning.
"Of course we don't know the part number," but then again, they didn't sell Moto Guzzi parts anyway. No they couldn't look through that huge warehouse to see if they had something close. "Sorry we can't help. Good luck on your trip. Have a nice day."
A stranger walked by and struck up a conversation. Didn't remember a Moto Guzzi dealer anywhere near Springfield. But there was a Harley dealer at the next freeway off ramp.
Joel and I rode up to the Harley shop while Christopher guarded the wounded Guzzi. Once again we explained our plight and showed the parts guy the broken remnants of the proud Italian cable. While he was looking it over every employee in the dealership assembled around us and started exploring solutions. The parts guy ripped open every clutch cable bag on the shelves looking for a possible substitute. He brought out his best candidate but it clearly wouldn't work - no where near "stout" enough for our marque. No, they couldn't weld the old cable back together. Can't fix those things. No, the machine shop next door probably wouldn't either. As the conversation went silent, someone said "how about Jon?" One of the guys said he and Jon went way back. Gave us directions, then said maybe he'd better call first. Yeah, Jon says he can help. He has a Guzzi clutch cable in stock! Guy ordered it five years ago and never came to pick it up. Still in prison! "Come on down and get it."
We rode over to Jon's shop. It was a good thing the guys at the Harley dealer gave us detailed directions complete with landmarks. Jon is not big on signs. We stopped at an old building with a gravel parking area. Sign on the door said "authorized personnel only" but it was upside down. We opened the door, walked in and were transported back in time to the motorcycle shops of my youth. It was like a time warp in a science fiction movie. Jon runs an old time bike shop. The customer area was long and narrow; glass display cases separating us from the wise men who know how to keep our machines running and how to make them better. There were parts and accessories everywhere, many of them very impressive. Motors for sale. Frames for sale. Stuff in the cabinet. Stuff hanging on every wall. Stuff hanging from the ceiling. Old posters everywhere, even on the ceiling. Really interesting material.
Joel, our engineering student, immediately forgot about the clutch cable and went into some techno frenzy, for, in addition to all the neat stuff, there was a rather complete machine shop just over the counter with some very impressive looking engines in various states of assembly. A nearly complete custom Harley was also visible in the rear work area. Tools were neatly stored and the work area's efficiently designed. It wasn't big. It wasn't fancy. But there was no doubt that serious mechanical work was done here.
Jon came out and welcomed us. Took our cable and went straight to the Guzzi cable he had in stock. Not even close. Guess he'd have to make us a new one. What!? Make a part? Repair a broken part? No part number required? No bar coded parts bin to rummage through? Just like that. "I'll have to make you a new one from the old pieces." My head is reeling, I must be back in the sixties. I'm feeling the top of my head to see if my hair has grown back! Nobody makes parts. Doesn't Jon know about product liability suits? "When did I need it?" I must have really looked shocked by this time. Jon noted it was a joke! Dry sense of humor, these Ohio guys!
He took my greasy old stuff, asked a bunch of questions about the Guzzi, disappeared into a back shop area and emerged in about twenty minutes. He asked us to come on back - to the inner sanctum. Jon wanted to demonstrate his new cable. He had one end affixed to the bench and was holding the barrel at the other end, pulling with all his might and leaning back like a water skier. "Strong enough?" "She be looking real good to me, Jon." Both Joel and I thought it might survive into the next millennium. Jon then patiently explained how he soldered it; why he didn't like the aluminum barrels and used bronze; how it should be installed for maximum life; how to properly lubricate it. He then digressed into a full stress analysis of motorcycle cables and how each stress factor could be addressed. Joel is frantically looking for a tape recorder to get this all down! A full spectrum approach to motorcycle repair for $20!
The differences among the motorcycle establishments I visited that day are interesting. The wholesaler didn't have a part in stock, didn't offer to order one, and that was pretty much it. Nothing personal. The franchise Harley dealership didn't have a part that could work, but they put the full court press on trying to help out because I was a fellow cyclist far from home and in a bind. The old time bike shop didn't much care whether they had a part or not. Jon was just going to fix the problem and get me back on the road, period. Unlike the other two, he is not limited by his computer operated logistical support system. Need a part? Make one. I had a broken clutch cable, but I don't think the result would have been any different if any other part of the Guzzi had broken (within reason).
Guys like Jon and the shops they operate are a rare treasure. From my experience, they are few and far between - a part of my past I did not believe I would ever get to revisit. Jon had a hand lettered "Mechanic Wanted" sign hanging from the ceiling. I hope he fills the position with some young person who will carry on the tradition.
I'm sure I would have found another solution if I hadn't found Jon. I never even got around to consulting the MGNOC Guzzi Contact Directory. But I'm glad I didn't have to. Jon fixed my bike and added an unexpected dimension to my annual trip with my sons. Sometimes a little setback can produce a very broad and interesting experience. Like Pirsig says, you just have to have the right attitude and be open to what the world is offering at the time. Never thought I'd have such a memorable experience from a broken clutch cable. Or maybe I just really enjoyed the trip down memory lane.
You will never find Jon's shop without directions He has no sign and the building looks nothing like a "motorcycle dealer" or "motorcycle accessory place." What he does offer is mechanical skill and knowledge and a willingness to help a fellow biker. I have no doubt that my clutch cable will last as long as any factory original part. Jon knew he would very likely never see us again, but repaired my clutch cable as carefully and thoroughly as if I were a regular customer. I certainly felt I had been treated as such.
If you ever go through Springfield, Ohio, or if you live nearby, it might be worth visiting Jon's shop. He is a kind and interesting man and his shop is a true cultural experience. You can meet Jon Mastoris at: Custom Cycle, 2107 W. Main Street, Springfield, Ohio, 45504. Call him at 937-325-5811 for directions when you get close.