LESSONS LEARNED FROM A CHINESE MOTORCYCLE: Sometimes Little Things Really Matter

Sometimes it’s the little things in life that determine success or failure, and experiences that one of my sons and I had with a brand new Chinese motorcycle back in 2010 is a case in point. Joseph was 12 back then and he got the urge to buy himself an off-road dirt bike. Nothing large, just something to toot around the country property where we live. Joe had a couple of thousand dollars of birthday, Christmas and lawn mowing money saved, and that would buy him a decent but used name-brand bike. Somewhere along the line he discovered he could buy a brand new discount motorcycle made in China for half as much as a used Japanese bike cost. The idea of new instead of used got him, so that’s what he did. New is always better than used, right? The little motorcycle arrived in a wooden crate needing some assembly. That’s Joe’s Chinese bike below just after we assembled it.

This is the motorcycle Joseph bought with his own money. A pretty snazzy machine on the surface, but true beauty is more than just superficial.

Shortly after getting the thing running, an old-timer named Pete came over with a warning. Pete’s a seasonal neighbour out here on Bailey Line Road where I live. He’s got a nice place on the lake just west of my house. “The nuts and bolts on those Chinese motorcycles are always coming loose”, Pete warned. “Better put thread-locking liquid on all of them before you lose something.”

This sounded crazy to me, but Pete was right. It’s not that the motorcycle vibrated much, either. In fact, it ran particularly smoothly and started on the first kick every time. It really ran great. But sure enough, just as Pete said, things fell off that bike every day or two. Sometimes this was no big deal, other times it caused metal parts to break. I spent a lot of time wrenching, welding and delivering quite a bit of TLC to this “bargain” new motorcycle.  I also bought a big bottle of Loctite thread-locking liquid.

The problem, as I discovered upon close examination, was something small but crucial. The fit between the threads on the nuts and bolts was loose. It’s just the way every fastener was made.  They tighten okay, but there was less friction between threads so fasteners came loose more easily. If you threaded a nut and bolt together, there was more than the usual side-to-side wiggle there. You could see it and you could feel it. Although the fasteners seemed to tighten properly with a wrench, there wasn’t enough friction between the threads to keep nuts and bolts together reliably. Everything else about Joe’s Chinese motorcycle worked great, but it turned out to be an annoying make-work project for me because the fit of small but crucial details was deficient. Who would have thought that the microscopic interaction between threads of fasteners could be such a big deal?

The deficiency of small but crucial details can affect your life, too.  Just like Joe’s motorcycle, the difference between success and failure with hobbies, work, machines, gardening, woodworking and even relationships can sometimes be nothing more than a small detail here or a little tweak there. If the manufacturer of Joe’s bike had just used better nuts and bolts, the bike would have been a fabulous success and a great bargain. As it was, this machine had to be considered a modest failure. It’s like trying to open a combination lock. You either get all the numbers right or the lock doesn’t open. There are no points for being close.

Do you keep a pocket pad in your work clothes so you can write down ideas you get or things you need to buy at the hardware store? Do you always try to make every trip to the store count? Even something as simple as carrying more things in your arms as you move from one part of your property to another can make a big difference at the end of a week or month. At least that’s what I find. All these things and more are the practical equivalent of the fit between nuts and bolts on a boy’s hard-earned dirt bike. Are there small things coming loose regularly in your life? Fix them properly, right at the root of the problem, and the rest of life will probably be a lot better.

Final note: Joe ended up selling that Chinese motorcycle and he bought a used Honda that was about 9 years old. We’ve never had a single issue with that machine, even after years of owning it and using it regularly. Just gas and oil changes. What a difference getting the details of diligence design can make.

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