If it ain't broken, don't fix it!

If it ain't broken, don't fix it!

As riders, we love being on the open road, fueled by the pure simplicity of the moment.

That has one natural side effect, we absolutely love our bikes, and take care of them the best we can, regardless if we have a hands-on approach, or if we have someone else doing it for us.

Despite the route we choose, it is vital to understand a few concepts, and amongst them, one stands out: knowing when something is broken and needs fixing, or not.

As a general rule, we've all heard that if it's not broken, we shouldn't touch it.

However, there is one other CRUCIAL part of that statement that is often overlooked.

If it is not broke, don’t fix it, BUT, damaged is not the same as broken!

I’ve been working with motorcycles for years, and I apply the same principles that I was taught in my field of studies, airplane maintenance engineering.

I’ve worked for an airline company for ten years on their maintenance teams, and having to distinguish between broken and damaged was a daily event.

It happened on inspections that I would spot something damaged but working correctly.

However, curiosity and innocence would get the best of me, so I would start removing parts to fix the problem.

Opening that Pandora's Box would bring up 20 other parts in the same situation, and because Murphy's Law, I would manage to break one of them on removal.

In no time I would have a million parts around me, no fix in sight, and no clue when the lot will be working again.

I quickly learned how to avoid this mistake, and for you to do the same, you need to learn that there are many "stages of broken."

But how does this translate into the motorcycle world?

Unline aircraft manuals, motorcycle manuals do not have “stages of broken,” meaning we are working at our peril.

However, the same principles apply to bikes, as they do to everything else.

Let me share an example:

  • The problem:

    You spot a small crack on your fairing.

    Initial evaluation shows it to be broken, can't be snapped back into place.

    But does it jeopardize your driving safety in any way?

    Can that damage buildup and allow part of the fairing to break off?

    If it breaks off, can it damage something vital in the process?


Reference: Image from www.autobody101.com that will serve as an example.

You have to make a decision, leaving you with three options:

  1. The "All is good..." approach.

    You wiggle it around, you inspect it closer, and you decide it’s not going anywhere as it is.

    Mechanically, the bike is safe to drive, so “not broken.”

    You decide to move on and forget you ever even saw it.

    This decision might come back to bite you, might not, only time will tell.


  2. The "Panic! My bike needs to be pristine at all times!" approach.

    You decide to stop everything you are doing and fix it ASAP, after all, it’s removing the panel, sand it, “glue it” back together, a bit of paint, and back on the bike.

    A few hours of work, tops!

    As you remove the panel, you notice that one of the fairing screws is busted, you need to drill it out, so a 2-minute panel removal just turned into 10.

    As you start to prepare the “glue”, you notice you don’t have enough.

    There goes another hour on a round trip to the shop, plus another hour to go to the screw shop, just to find out you will have to wait another two days for the correct fitting to be available.

    Your quick one day fix just turned into three if the shop doesn’t fail you.


  3. The "Let's evaluate the situation." approach.

    You decide it needs fixing, but not right now, so you prepare!

    You thoroughly inspect the damaged area, check if you have all the tools for the job, and consider potential problems you may encounter.

    You also drill a stop hole to prevent the damage from spreading, creating a temporary fix.

    Knowing the damage is there and not permanently fixed, you also add checking it to your pre-ride checklist.

    That damage didn't make the bike unrideable, or in other words, broken, so you didn’t fix it, but you kept an eye on it, and prepared yourself to do it properly when the time is right.

    That can be next week, next year, or never, as some temporary fixes become permanent, but you didn't neglect it, and that problem will not sneak up on you again.


Reference: Image from www.flight-mechanic.com with the explanation of what a stop hole is

This is a made-up scenario, but it is more common than you may imagine and goes further than damaged fairings.

In this example, there is a crucial point, which is the temporary fix.

It happens time and time again that we see something damaged, temporarily fix it, making the part serviceable, even if it was not made new yet.

In the example, that fix was the stop hole, that may very well keep that fairing operational until the end of times.


I used a cracked fairing as an example so you can see multiple options to the same problem, but let's see a few more.

  • You find a small damp patch of oil on your suspension.

    That indicates a leak, but does that mean you need to call road assistance and immediately haul the bike to your mechanic?

    Not necessarily. 

    If you clean it, stay away from roads and riding styles that will be more demanding on your suspension, and keep a close eye on it, you can monitor the leaks evolution.

    Sometimes small leaks solve themselves; sometimes they stay the same for a long time, and sometimes they get worst.

    I don't mean you shouldn't fix it, leaks need to be addressed, but this one doesn't yet mean you can't ride to your mechanic, or finish the trip if you are far from home.

    Limiting the usage, and creating an inspection plan is vital for this approach.


  • You find a broken wire on your clutch or throttle cable.

    If one broken wire doesn't dictate that a cable is immediately unserviceable, multiple broken wires can mean imminent disaster.

    Being thoughtful when evaluating the situation will dictate if you can ride home or to your mechanic, or if your ride is done for the day.


  • During your ride, you smell fuel.

    Last time you fueled up was a few hours ago, so it can't be a rogue couple of drops that are hiding somewhere, it needs to be a leak.

    Stopping immediately is mandatory, fuel leaks are dangerous, but they don't need to be complicated.

    A simple loose hose or clip may be the problem, and they are of easy and fast fix, even at the roadside.

    Regardless of how you approach this, a fast and detailed inspection is vital before deciding to get back on the road or calling assistance.

    If fuel leaking to the floor is just an annoyance, leaking onto the exhaust can create a ball of flames no one wants.


All of these examples and many more tell us that different damages can:

  1. Allow you to keep riding without limitations

  2. Limit the usability of the bike to certain speeds or types of terrain for a limited period of time

  3. Force you to stop riding immediately to fix the problem


This means that understanding what is at play as well as asking questions and running scenarios can dictate the difference between finishing a ride or having to call roadside assistance.

In the same token, it can dictate the difference between getting ripped off at a garage, or knowing exactly why your mechanic is doing this or that.

Information is vital, and understanding when and how we can be mechanically safe on our bikes, crucial to our survival and enjoyment.

Regardless if you like to get your hands dirty or not, learn how to inspect your bike, and how to address problems you may find.

It is a long process that takes time and some studying, but it will get you much more in touch with your bike and in control of your safety, and that is priceless.



If it ain't broken, don't fix it!


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