I’m an engineer. Rather, I have an engineering degree. I have an engineering degree from what is supposed to be among the best engineering colleges in India. If you look at my grades, you might think I did rather well in my engineering (CGPA of 8.91 out of 10). So you might assume that I’m a good engineer.
In my engineering I studied Computer Science. I consider myself to be pretty good at building algorithms and coming up with heuristics (better at latter than former). But I can’t write production code. I can’t write systems code. Fixing together a computer terrifies me. Any “normal engineering thing” is well beyond me.
My father used to rile me about going to IIT and yet being a poor engineer. “What did they teach you at IIT if you can’t even fix a lightbulb properly?”, he would ask. It didn’t help that he was pretty good at the small engineering stuff around the house, despite being an accountant by training and profession. Every time I did something stupid while trying to fix something, he would just say “IIT”. That didn’t mean that I made an effort to improve myself.
My father passed away in 2007. In 2010, I got married, and the wife took his place in riling me as a poor engineer. She is also an engineer by training, but she knows how to fix things. When our invertor gave way two years back, it was she who diagnosed what the problem was and what part should be replaced. Her father, also an engineer and also quite hands-on, procured the necessary part and fixed our invertor. I was quite lost. To give another example, I procured a lightbulb (a slightly complicated one, this one, for a fancy lamp) two months back. And then I waited another month till the wife came home for her vacation to get it fixed!
In this context, what I achieved this morning is surely a spectacular achievement. As I had mentioned on this blog earlier, I was going to meet my friend on Wednesday when my bike refused to start. Despite hitting the electric starter multiple times, despite kicking till my legs almost gave way, and holding down the choke while I was at it, there was no response. I ended up taking the bus that day.
I was dreading having to call Royal Enfield On Road Service and waiting for them to come and fix the bike. The bike is already due for service (I’ve taken an appointment for Tuesday), so I was wondering how I could avoid another round of repairs before that. In an earlier avatar, I would have just prayed (despite being mostly atheist) that the bike starts. This time, however, I was more resolute and decided to see if I can fix it myself.
A little bit of thinking convinced me that the problem was with the spark plug. I had replaced my battery just six months ago, so that was unlikely to be the problem. The noise when I tried holding down the electric starter convinced that. And considering that there was nothing else that was likely to have changed since the last ride (and there was fuel in the tank), and that the problem was in starting, it was clear that the problem was with the spark plug.
After putting NED for 2 days (the diagnosis happened on Wednesday), I decided this morning that I’ll fix it today. I googled for “how to change spark plug in Royal Enfield Classic 500”, and that gave me a few videos which told me where the spark plug is and how I should use a combination of the spark plug spanner (I had always wondered why I had such strange-shaped spanners) and the tommy bar to pull out the spark plug. And so I picked up my toolkit (for the first time in four years) and went down to check.
I located the spark plug (after all I’d seen in the video where it is) and pulled out its covering. The plug stood there bare. I now had to extract it. I tried with my hands and it didn’t work. I then found the spark plug spanner which fit over this plug snugly (a little bit of trial and error was involved in the process). Then came the problem of turning the spanner, which I knew I had to do with the tommy bar. So in went the tommy bar, and one whack I gave, and I felt something move. Soon the thing started getting unscrewed and I didn’t need to use the tommy bar any more. Presently the plug came out.
I realise I’d never seen a spark plug before, to know whether it was sooted and dirty. All I saw was one black tip, and assumed that that was the end that needed cleaning (I’d forgotten to see a video on how to actually clean a spark plug). So I picked up a cloth and wiped it. It took some effort but after some time most of the black stuff was gone from that end. I assumed that this should be enough to make my bike run until the service on Tuesday.
When you’ve debugged code, the greatest trepidation comes in the time when you’re testing the code after you’ve debugged it. For you know that if it doesn’t work now you’ll have to do it all over again! So it was with that trepidation that I fixed the spark plug back in its place (using first just the spark plug spanner and then adding the tommy bar). And I pressed the electric starter. And the engine roared to life!
I know this is trivial – that this is the first bit of motorcycle maintenance that everyone learns, and that an enfield owner is supposed to know something about maintenance and all that. Yet the fact that I managed to diagnose the problem and actually fix it is making me supremely happy. You can put this down as another item in the checklist that contributes to the “late bloomer” phrase in my twitter bio.