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Gear Review: 55 Collection Hard Jacket

Product: 55 Collection Hard Jacket Made in: Barcelona Cost: €480 (US $510)
It’s likely you’ve never heard of 55 Collection; the Barcelona-based leather goods company is relatively small and has only been on the scene for a few years. So, allow me to introduce you to a company that’s making some of the best-looking and unique motorcycle jackets out there at the moment.

Adopting the “non serviam” nonconformist attitude that seems to run through a lot of Spain’s motorcycling culture (check out the crazy/beautiful custom works of El Solitario MC, for example), 55 Collection’s jackets may split opinion because of the company’s willingness to make jackets that are fashionable – that is to say, jackets that have a strong fashion element. The old dudes will decry hipsterism or some such thing. And indeed, I’ll admit that when company founder Aitor Gonzalez offered me a chance to try out one of his jackets I naturally defaulted to the most conservative of his offeri…

Robert Pirsig was right

John Sutherland and Robert Pirsig holding Chris Pirsig.
If you're in to motorcycles it's a good bet you've tried to force yourself to read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance at some point. And, if you're like me, your attention started to wane once the Sutherlands headed back to Minnesota. Partially because there is from that point increasingly less talk about motorcycles and partially because, deep down, I can relate more to John Sutherland than I can to Pirsig.

Well, at least where motorcycles are concerned. Because Sutherland, you'll remember, wasn't terribly interested in learning how to work on a motorcycle. This is why he spent so much money on a new BMW R60/2 (a). He wanted a machine he didn't have to fuss with, and he bought into the idea of BMWs as the most reliable of machines. Keen observers will note from my recent post about sport tourers that this is more or less the same reason the modern BMW F800GT sits amid the top three motorcycles I would most like to own.

I'd like to tell myself that I'm a little better than Pirsig makes Sutherland out to be. I clean and lube my bike's chain every 200 or so miles, I check the chain free play and adjust as needed, I do BOLT checks (b) before every ride, and so on and so on. I'm not at all averse to the idea of doing my own maintenance, I'm just not keen on actually doing it. I mean, from a romantic standpoint, I'm all for it. Yes, let us all do our own maintenance and live with motorcycles as God intended. But from a practical standpoint -- squatting down on the dirty, wet ground and banging my hands all to hell trying work out a big, greasy, metal puzzle -- I'd instinctively prefer to let someone else do it. Especially if the puzzle involves a vehicle's electrical system.

Pirsig says this sort of thinking is just an expensive means of making yourself angry. In part, because when you take your motorcycle to a mechanic he or she doesn't invest into it the same things as you. When a mechanic looks at my Honda CBF600SA, they don't see a shining beautiful tool for helping me come to terms with the fact I am presently "stuck" in the UK. They don't see a representation of freedom. They don't see the end product of setting a goal and accomplishing it. They don't see a way for my wife and I to have more enriched lives through access to Britain's breathing spaces. They don't see any of that. They see a Honda CBF600SA -- a motorcycle that Motorcycle News describes as "a bit soulless" -- and they don't care about it the way I do.

The end result of this lack of emotional investment, Pirsig says, is that mechanics are more inclined to do shoddy work.

But not all of us write technical manuals for a living, Rob. Not all of us have a nice, comfy, secure garage where we can dismantle our bikes and leave them sitting for a while if we run into unexpected challenges. Not all of us want to spend the bulk of our far-too-limited free time fixing a damned machine rather than using it.

So, when my father bought me heated grips for Christmas I decided to have someone else install them.

Chris and Robert Pirsig on a Honda CB77, in 1968.
Initially, my plan was to take the bike to one of the Thunder Road locations, with the ulterior motive of test riding another machine while they did the work. Thunder Road are the primary Honda and Suzuki dealers in South Wales. My interaction with them thus far has been less than spectacular, but I was keen to give them another chance because the only real wrong they've done is ignore me.

But when they did that to me again, failing to reply to an email I sent enquiring about service (I got an auto reply but nothing after that), I got huffy and decided to take the bike to a little shop just around the corner from my flat. Sure, that place was "low rent," shall we say, but I figured a professional mechanic of even basic calibre would be able to handle the installation of heated grips.

I figured wrong. The fact is, they did such a poor job that I was able to identify problems on sight. Sparing you a long story, I worked myself into a quivering rage and got most of my money back. The grips work as they should but the electrical tape on my right grip makes it look as if the job was done in Arkansas.

I feel now like John Sutherland: angry at the mechanic for doing such a substandard job, and angry at myself for having trusted him. Would it have been better if I had taken my bike to Thunder Road (c) and paid more? I don't know. I wish I had the skills (and time and space and tools and motivation) to have just done the job myself.


(a) Isn't it crazy to think that both Pirsig and the Sutherlands made this trip on machines that produced no more than 30 bhp?!

(b) BOLT stands for "Brakes, oil, lights, tires." Based on a quick search of the interwebs, I appear to have made up this acronym. I don't remember making it up, but I also don't remember anyone telling it to me. So perhaps there is my own knowledgeable Phaedrus lurking deep within.

(c) My relationship with Thunder Road is an odd one, it has to be said. Because my empirical experiences, i.e. those experiences I've actually had rather than those I could have, suggest I should focus my attention on other businesses. But opposing this is Thunder Road's incredibly positive outreach. After my initial negative experience, they contacted me directly to apologise. When they disappointed me again, they again got in touch. So, since they've not ever made me angry in a way that cost me money, I'm likely to give them a third try sometime soon.  


  1. When I read the post where you mentioned you were going to get someone to install your grips, I actually thought about Pirsig and wondered if we'd see this post soon. I'm delighted.
    In my recent experience, my wife collected her bike from servicing at our local bike specialist and discovered to our collective horror that they had neglected to put a drop of oil in after changing the filter and draining the sump. Ever willing to give the benefit of the doubt, I put it down to an absent minded gaff. When the chain snapped a couple weeks later and revealed a forward sprocket with missing teeth, I realised that we're going to be doing all our own servicing from now on.

  2. I struggle with this as well. There's a rider here in San Diego who blogs that I greatly admire, The MotoLady, Alicia. She works on her own Ducati Monster and blogs about it. Her Instagram is one photo after the other of work she's done rebuilding this motorcycle. The shop where she does the work is a community type shop where I can pay a space rent, use their tools, get professional advice, hands-on training, and do the work myself. But I don't want to invest the time. Mind you, I love wrenching. But the time . . . I could be out making money instead.
    My bike is just at 10,000 miles and I will do my own oil change, but beyond that, I doubt I'll do more.

  3. I think I am lucky in that hubby is handy and doesn't seem to mind installing grips, doing oil changes and such. He might not particularly enjoy the task but he does it anyway for me - that's love.

    He had a shop issue last year when a mechanic at the Triumph shop tightened a crush washer after an oil change so much it cracked the oil pan - not noticed until he went to do the next oil change himself. Luckily we have a local welder who can do aluminum and the shop reimbursed us.

    Would be nice if you could find a shop who readily answered your emails and you felt wanted your business a little more.

  4. Oh, and as a wise friend of mine once said: "There are those that do, and those that pay those that do."

  5. Chris:

    I am like you with no place to work on my bike(s). I have a narrow driveway and if blocked, then I can't drive my cars out so I can't leave a disabled bike there as it waits for parts. Also it is outside and everything has to be put away when I am not there.

    Simple tbings like oil changes can be done but I am not equipped to take away the used oil. I do not wish to spill it in my car but luckily I have a great mechanic whom lets me look over his shoulder. You should find one too, there must be one close to you, somewhere

    Riding the Wet Coast

  6. Chris, wow, how terribly frustrating. I'm not comfortable doing much work on my bike...I'm not mechanically inclined and I'm not ashamed to admit it. I feel safer letting a professional work on my bike. It is my ass on the line after all. Hope you can find a better shop. I know it's hard to find a shop that treats you well and does high quality work. ~Curt

  7. I love working on my own bikes when I can and seldom can't. Just because I like too. Every now and then have a job that needs special tools of some kind but as I said seldom. I don't mind riding a less reliable bike if it's something I can relate to in other ways. Rode triumph for years and currently on Harley. Don't bother​ asking me to justify that. Loved Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance just because I could relate to a lot of what he felt.


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