If you can’t ride all winter, shop therapy is advised.

By Nick IenatschDecember 10, 2019

1988 BMW R100RS
I enjoyed this 1988 BMW R100RS tremendously this summer… – Nick Ienatsch
…because I took it all apart last winter! It came into my life on Thanksgiving weekend of 2018 and was on the bench two days later, where it stayed through January. Nothing major was needed, but everything was touched, cleaned, refurbished, loved-on, lubricated, adjusted. I wanted to make this classic feel as new as possible, and time in the garage was the only way to accomplish that. – Nick Ienatsch

My (legal) street-riding began in 1977 in Salt Lake City, Utah. My dad and the gang we rode with all summer would take our bikes apart every winter. Heads got ported, exhausts were drilled out (don’t ask), frames got painted by Walt Allen in his mom’s garage. Every winter.

’82 Katana
A scrapbook picture of my ’82 Katana after a few winters of work. At one point we had seven sportbikes running around Salt Lake City with painted frames…sprayed in the winter, enjoyed the rest of the year. – Nick Ienatsch

In 2003, my wife and I moved to Colorado, back into winter weather which reunited me with the joy of working in the shop while the highways are impassable on two wheels by a rider with my skill set. As I aged, I found the satisfaction of working on bikes to be very close to the joy of riding bikes. The term “helmet therapy” is real in my life, and so is “shop therapy.”

Winter is here; what are you doing? Perhaps nothing because you “don’t have any mechanical skills.” Maybe because you’re too busy. Maybe because your tool chest and shop are nonexistent or unaffordable.

1. You don’t have any mechanical skills. Yet. Motorcycles are so beautifully logical; the parts are generally small and movable by yourself in comparison to dropping the rear end out of your Nova. Equipped with a workshop manual, the internet, patience, and organization, new mechanics can find their footing fairly quickly.

Kevin Cameron has written about learning things on our own, and this applies exactly to bike wrenching. If you have to force anything, stop and fix the mistake you’re making in alignment or spacers or bolt lengths. It’s just one big rolling jigsaw puzzle.

Take pictures of things with your phone. Label parts with tape. Push bolts into cardboard with an outline of the parts in their correct places. Take your time, and if you have a smarter brother who lives close to you like I do, get him over to help!

2. You are too busy. You might be too busy to get something completely done in one sitting, but remember that winter is many sittings. Get that bike on the bench, work on it for 30 minutes, and then get back to it next Saturday morning. This is certainly the secret if you’re painting parts: Let them sit between coats. (Don’t ask how I know.) “Nick” often rhymes with “impatient.” Painters, just walk away.

This is where organization, cellphone pics, or a smarter brother come into play. Take your time, watch how things come apart, and do jobs in several sessions. Very soon the term “shop therapy” will make sense—peace and happiness.

prepping old wheels
Elbow grease, cleaners, wire wheels, sandpaper are relatively affordable and do a great job prepping old wheels if you can’t get to a sandblaster, or the cheap sandblaster you bought at the discount tool store clogs quicker than a XR100’s pilot jet, if that small amount of time is even measurable. Just an example. – Nick Ienatsch
Ford Tractor Blue
The results are worth the effort: the same wheel painted Ford Tractor Blue from Rustoleum’s Farm Equipment line. Refurbishing a 1986 GSX-R1100 is what started this column a few years ago. – Nick Ienatsch
This is what came home in the fall. – Nick Ienatsch
This is what rolled out of the garage in the spring. Yes, I was lucky to have extra LTD bodywork, but my point is: Abused and neglected bikes are out there and cheap. All this work was done in my garage. Inspired? Inspiration is the main ingredient.
Nick Ienatsch

3. Your tool chest and shop are nonexistent or unaffordable. Ah, yes, money. Shop therapy has little to do with the work being done, all to do with time spent around jewellike machinery, the feeling of improving looks and performance, and the anticipatory joy your work is creating for the upcoming riding season.

We may not have the cash to bolt on a turbocharging system this winter, but can certainly afford cleaning supplies and some automotive paint to refresh a few tired parts. Degreaser gets the party started, sandpaper preps it, and then a patient application of color can yield some amazing results.

My bench is an old solid-core door with foldable legs I bought at Lowes, cut as necessary to bring the table to a working height; bikes get on the bench via an old 2-by-12 board that’s about 10 feet long.

Tools can become an expensive addiction, but if you’re just starting out, look for sales on tool kits that come with wrenches, screwdrivers, pliers sets, and sockets. Shop those discount boxes in the middle of the aisle for a rubber and a ball-peen hammer. Look in the tool section of your local classifieds and you’ll find retiring mechanics selling complete sets. As your work progresses, necessary tools will make themselves known. Start a Christmas and birthday list. And, finally, many auto-parts stores will loan or rent specialized tools like pullers or compression testers.

IT111 FZ
So many of us own and enjoy older bikes; a good way to ensure the dependability of these decades-old machines is a winter going-through. Put your hands on everything and you’ll see the small problem that would have stranded you 800 miles later. I must add a tremendous tip I read on the Suzuki GS site (gsresources.com): Many apparent electrical component failures are in fact corroded wiring connectors and bad grounds. If nothing else, go through and clean your vintage bike’s electrical connectors and grounds this winter. Shop therapy builds dependability. – Nick Ienatsch
What do you see? As your shop confidence grows, you won’t see a hopeless mess; you’ll see a bike you need to take home and put up on the bench for the winter. – Nick Ienatsch
top triple clamp
The top triple clamp pops off easily and then it’s just sanding and cleaning before you apply paint. YouTube tips taught me to warm the paint cans in hot water even before I started spraying in 35 degrees. Cold? Use that sandpaper harder! – Nick Ienatsch
bike ready for summer
Now, every time I reach in to start the bike, my winter’s work makes me smile. Shop therapy is an ongoing endeavor. – Nick Ienatsch

Last winter, a friend of mine did a thorough refreshing of the scooter he uses at the racetrack. I literally mean the scooter, the little buzz-bomb we ride around the paddock to hobnob, fill our gas cans, and pull a tire cart. Of course, he worked on his racebikes, but his work on the scooter was just as satisfactory because of the pride taken when you have the cleanest scooter in the pits. Shop therapy yields great mental and physical results, even on small projects. Let’s all get some this winter.