Oil-free Engines

I’ve been reading  Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

In fact I’ve actually been re-reading it for the first time in nearly 40 years. At that time I had a motorcycle – a 250cc BSA Starfire – which I’d occasionally partly disassemble and reassemble. The main thing I remember about doing that was that I’d always wind up with my hands covered in black engine oil. I was never quite sure why the oil was black, because when you first poured it in it had the colour and very nearly the consistency of golden syrup. But within a few weeks or months it always turned black. And you needed a special green gel to remove it from your fingers and arms. It often took two or three applications of the gel. And even then there’d be black oil under your fingernails.

The book was oddly familiar as I began re-reading it. But I seemed to notice a few things that I don’t remember noticing 40 years ago. There are no real fully developed characters in the book (something the author candidly admits part way through). They’re all cardboard cut-out, matchstick men and women. But this time I noticed that they were all artists or musicians, and they were all on the run from a technology they didn’t understand. They didn’t know how to disassemble engines. They didn’t even know how to fix light switches. If they needed something fixing, they called in a mechanic or electrician. Or maybe they just bought a new one.

But when I arrived at it, on page 66 of my battered old copy, as he began to climb into the high country of the mind, I remembered very well the author’s distinction between classical and romantic understanding:

A classical understanding sees the world primarily as underlying form itself. A romantic understanding sees it primarily in terms of immediate appearance.

The classical motorcycle was the assemblage of pistons and cylinders and crankshafts and valves and gears. Those are the classical forms from which it was constructed. The romantic motorcycle was the complete, shiny, chrome-plated beast that throbbed and revved and roared. And while the author had a classical understanding of the world, and knew how to pull it apart and put it back together into its classical components, the other characters in the book were all romantics who didn’t want to get their hands dirty (or scuffed or bruised) doing that sort of thing…

Reading this, it occurred to me that antismokers are romantics who don’t want to get their hands (or hair or clothes) dirty. If antismokers had ideal engines, they would be oil-free engines. Because the stuff really does get all over your fingers and arms and clothes and face. And you have to clean them two or three times with green gel to get it off. Furthermore that black oil is laden with about 4,000 chemicals. If you drank any, you’d probably die. And it’s always leaking out of engines, to form little black puddles under them.

But what happens to an engine after it’s been “cleaned up”, and all the nasty black oil has been drained out of it? Well, the oil is an essential lubricant for the engine. The oil keeps the moving parts of the engine fractionally separated from each other, so that they slide past each other easily. It keeps the pistons fractionally separate from the cylinders, and the crankshaft separate from the gears, and so on. And if the oil is drained out, all these things start rubbing against each other. And as they rub against each other, they heat up. And as they heat up, they expand, and press against each other more tightly. In the end, the engine seizes up. It may then be beyond repair.

And the same is true of tobacco smoke. That also acts, among other things, as a lubricant – a social lubricant. It puts a veil between people, that prevents them from seeing each other too clearly, or encountering each other too closely. Dim lighting has the same effect. So also does alcohol. And mascara and lipstick.

One school I went to was on top of a hill, and from time to time the hilltop would be completely shrouded in cloud or mist. And in that mist you could only see a few yards. And the effect of that was to make the place you were standing seem like a small private room into which other people couldn’t see, even though you knew you were standing in the middle of the extensive school playing fields.

Smoke has the same effect, of veiling people from each other, and creating intimate private spaces within it.  Taking away the smoke removes the concealment, and removes the intimacy, and exposes everyone to the bright, harsh, unforgiving light of day.

And so when the dirty, filthy smoke has been drained out of a social environment, and people can see each other clearly, they see each other warts and all. Every blemish is magnified. Everything looks uglier. And people become more critical of each other. They cease to get along quite so easily. There’s more friction. Tempers are shorter. Anger is quicker.

A smoke-free society is just like an oil-free engine. I don’t know how long it takes for an oil-free engine to seize up, or how long it takes for a smoke-free society to break down. But essentially the same processes are at work. They will only be amplified by alcohol restrictions, lighting regulations, and sound level restrictions, and other supposed “improvements”.

We humans can’t take too much reality. It’s cold and austere and ugly. And so we disguise it in every way we can. We don’t want to see everything brightly lit. We don’t want bright sunshine all the time. We are creatures of darkness and mist and smoke.


About Frank Davis

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35 Responses to Oil-free Engines

  1. Reinhold says:

    Brilliant piece again, superb comparisons.

  2. The one thing that always rings true is the society always want unhindered freedom.
    What theyve done to smokers they will do to everyone else in one thing or another.
    The restrictions on foods,drrinks,smoking,alcohol,movie content etc etc………….
    Theres no end to it and it builds a sub culture of society that hates over bearing government and regulations. The taxes the fines the BS of it all……………Then the controllers who have no earthly idea how to turn a profit destroy the freedom that was needed to create profits to begin with.

    The controllers have in effect bankrupted not only societal freedom but the means to support itself and the controllers too. They are like a malignant disease that eats away its host!

    They have in effect killed themselves off and their movement by destroying the things that keep a society in movement and in profitable times.

    So they create economic plastic worlds where they can make it appear profits are there but in reality they are artificial and unreal. Today the worlds countries have nearly all devalued their currencies making the dollar worth more. In the end the dollar itself must be devalued or americans cant sell anything on the world markets because its beyond anyones ability to pay the price……hense exports go to nothing and imports likely the same way………..as americans value as in pay cant buy anything either. Zerocare has forced most outfits to cut work hours to at or below 24 a week so as not to have to pay billions in penalties and smokers lie about smoking so they don’t get hit with triple rates on a do nothing insurance plan.

    The Controllers destroyed their world all by themselves……………get ready for the economic collapse and Ive heard October is the time frame for all the markets to crash in the bond yields.

    We will see but you can keep printing and mouse clicking trillions every month in a world already bankrupt.

  3. What a lovely analogy you make, Frank: that tobacco smoke acts as a social lubricant like oil to an engine..

    We are indeed ‘creatures of darkness and mist and smoke‘ and as I write this with my first coffee and cigarette of the pre-dawn day, the mist is forming in the valleys below the house after a cold clear and starry night.

    It’s also just over 40 years since I read Pirsig’s book. Where the fuck does time go?

  4. I tried reading zen in my early twenties but failed but then managed it some years later. I thought the analogy with the fixable motorcycle rather than the sealed non-maintenance was a good one. If you went for the fixable one it was like taking responsibility whilst the non-maintenance left to other people to do was like big government .

    I ride a Harley and its modern and needs other people to keep it going. I may replace it with an older and more accessible model. No real electronics and hands dirty time. I used to maintain my own cars and I spent many hours doing up my Mustang. Sometimes it didn’t go as well as I wanted but it was never disastrous.

    Things are different now. I really don’t care what people do as long as it isn’t harmful to anyone else. That means smokers can do their thing also without all the crappy pretendy science lies.

    • TT if you do watch the oils today they don’t have zinc in them for the older engines. I didn’t know this and nearly destroyed an engine I put in my jeep for flat faced cam lifter engines and others. I caught it quick enuf not to destroy the engine. Only had to replace the cam bearings on start up. Never knew the old oils had all their additives removed by EPA.

      So now you have to buy these additives in special cans to get the metals to hone together and face finish with each other…………

      My Harley a 1989 FLHTC is the older style and Ive been my own wrench on those for thirty years. Last week the starter solenoid plate to stud contacts went bad,called for a rebuild kit 89-90 were a bastard year they don’t carry it except as a new unit. So I braized the worn out copper end with my torch and brass rod………works perfect after grinding it back and sanding to level the surfaces………..

      Now wait til the weathers right and go ride

  5. Rose says:

    I was never quite sure why the oil was black, because when you first poured it in it had the colour and very nearly the consistency of golden syrup. But within a few weeks or months it always turned black. And you needed a special green gel to remove it from your fingers and arms. It often took two or three applications of the gel. And even then there’d be black oil under your fingernails

    Oh that does take me back. Having spent a great deal of time sitting in garages in my youth watching friends overhauling their British bikes, the green stuff was Swarfega and the reason your oil went black was that it was full of tiny bits of metal .

    • Carbon deposits make it black like smokers lungs cant be black because tobacco smoke contains no carbon. If you’ve got metal shavings you got more problems than dirty oil. Some bikes engine oil was also tranny/clutch oil and clutch plate rubs can make the oil black and put carbon/asbestos flakes in the oil.

      You take a diesel engine out in new oil. Drive it 2 days the oil is solid black because diesel burns so dirty.

      • here in the states the EPA mandated the use of a separate pump and chemical tank for trucks that injects DEF into the exhaust to reduce the black soot. Its actually extremely expensive and my brothers new truck he bought had it and if he ran out of the DEF crap his on board computer shut down the truck………..wherever he was!

        He quickly dumped that truck and bought mine a 1995 7.3 turbo ford with a dump bed.

        Diesel Fuel Additives Injection | Exhaust Emissions …


        IFT (Amelti) SmartFeeder: fuel additives injection solutions for diesel engine fuel efficiency and reduced exhaust emissions.

        Now adays EPA and other govmnt entities have made any new car or truck worthless to even own and made them expensive over all the BS safety and anti-pollution devices.

        Somebody doesn’t have a seatbelt on the car or truck will go to stall speed like 30 mph and no faster. The anti-lock brake system if you hit a pot hole and our pulling a load will cause your brake pedal to go to the floor until you’ve pumped it 3 times. I know I had a camper in the mountains behind my new truck some yeas back and I nearly slid into the back of a car ahead of me because the brakes failed I thought. Then a chevy dealer told me no that’s how those work………I said can you disable the BULL SHIT before it kills someone. He said yank the 60 amp fuse out for the brake system then its back to normal.

        I sold the truck a month later and bought that Ford now I went with a 1985 dodge 1/2 ton with no anti anything in it. Works perfect I just need to rebuild the motor and tranny so I know its all good for as long as I will need it.

        Trust me these anti everything Nazis have fucked everything up that can be fucked up.

        Now Washington state just passed a per mile tax program its a test program aimed at screwing everyones driving by the mile. Likely even spit you out a speeding ticket at the same time too………….

  6. woodsy42 says:

    Interesting thoughts. I think you may actually be on to a larger problem than just smoke. Maybe the ‘oil’ of people’s lives is not just smoke but the more general ability to take risks,to take a step outside the ‘straighht and narrow’, be a bit anti-social occassionally and to express their feelings openly and sometimes upset people. Basically be themselves.
    Smoking is one example of such behaviour. Jeremy Clarkson is maybe another, every new rule and statute the government make removes a bit more oil.

    • every new rule and statute the government make removes a bit more oil

      Bingo because it affects everyone and everyone gets pissed off with it all.

      That’s how the Controllers destroy themselves.

  7. margo says:

    That is a good analogy, Frank. The healthists think the body is a machine, and if we do as they say it will stay perfect forever. But we’re not machines and we’re not all the same and those of us who are in tune with our own needs should take no notice of them.

    • The healthists think the body is a machine

      Sorta brings right to the fore front the perfect ARYAN RACE of Hitlers Eugenics objectives.

      Darwin started more shit than any single person in the world it appears. They took his work and began insanity.

      • Some French bloke says:

        Not sure if Darwin should take the blame for any (mis)use his theory has been put to, or Nietzsche for the rights Nazis claimed to have over some of his ideas, or Einstein for the use of atomic bombs, or Christ for the Inquisition’s reign of terror.

        Unrelated note about Einstein: as a Jew, and as a German (originally, then a Swiss citizen from 1900 to 1940, then U.S.) he had all the reasons in the world to want to discredit Nazi racial ‘science’, plus, as a scientific genius, the ability to do so. But maybe he just didn’t want to stoop to their level..
        No wonder no major, world-class (possibly smoking) scientist of today is willing to stand up against TC and have their lie factories put out of business!

  8. John Watson says:

    The analogy is actually excellent, like machines the human body requires fuel, lubrication, electricity and some degree of maintenance, there the similarity stops. If we look at two machines, say a Sea King and a Wessex, both are helicopters, they have the same basic components, rotors, engines (of different types) gearboxes et al. Just like people they too need fuel, lubrication, an electrical supply and a great deal of maintenance. the difference is the Sea kings and Wessex’s have over a dozen manuals each to guide the mechanics on how to keep them working. People do not come with manuals, like people things go wrong with helo’s, usually the same things but never at the same time, and sometimes something new comes up because they are old and nearing the end of their useful lives, (a bit like most cancers if you think about it) after all they are only as good as the sum of the parts installed and how they treated and maintained. The human body is no different, hard usage means parts wear out earlier, poor maintenance can destroy it as can lack of fuel or lubrication. Sometimes you get one that never works quite right, it needs more care the others, just like people a few are ill most of their lives a few almost never seem to get ill while most follow the middle of the road. Some need to use more fuel or lubrication, some less but no two are exactly the same, just like people. A Mechanic is really a machine doctor, they know each machine is slightly different and that sometimes one cure does not suit all especially when one fault has multiple causes. Once medical doctors worked the same way, today they blame the patient and their lifestyles, they have forgotten what (some) Mechanics have (beaten into them by grizzled Chief Petty Officers with big spanners) learned, check everything, if in doubt replace the part and check everything again. (If nothing else works then hit it with a hammer lol).

    • In electronics I had CPOs beating the same shit into our heads all you do is keep it running your not an engineer so quit asking why and how it works just know it does……

      So Im busting my ass on a closed loop circuit an I have a square wave pulse that keeps getting all sorts of trash on it at varying stages of the circuit and Ive got probes and 3 o scopes looking at this wave everywhere making sure I have loaded the signal down and in walks my friend Dave our tech rep from the factory he says good lord son. Let me look here. He says get me a razor blade I said WHAT! He says do it………..so I dug one up.

      He cut the circuit trace right at the worse signal spot I had found he said now get a pulse generator and inject a good signal on this end and test back the other side from origination.

      Fuck me………took about ten minutes and found a bad gate on a chip.

      • BTW Cousin there were books on theory of operation the navy kept in the tech library on the system that described exactly what each step of every circuit did. That became my Bible on that system the T8 Russian radar system. I could trouble shoot that system over a phone a year later.

    • Yvonne says:

      As far as I am aware current NHS rules seem to indicate that people are covered by instruction manuals. NHS doctors have to take NICE guidelines (instructions) into account when treating patients. Certain blood test results fall within ‘normal’ ranges, so despite symptoms, the patients are sent away untreated. Rather like saying the normal shoe size range is 5 to 9, therefore you should not take size 11. If they do not follow the ‘guidelines’ and woe betide it costs more to treat the patient or the patient suffers from some adverse incident then the ‘guidelines’ are no longer guidelines but presumed mandatory, so most doctors won’t take the chance in treating outside the box in case of insurance complications or trouble with the medical boards. Moreover, it does not help that medical schools teach step-by-step instructions to reach diagnoses in the allotted 8 mins per patient.

  9. Beneficial or Not, America Doesn’t Want a Smoking Age Increase

    Modern Readers

    Anti-smoking campaigners across the US have been lobbying for an increase to minimum smoking ages for decades now to little avail. However, new …


    • While the development of some cognitive abilities is achieved by age 16, the parts of the brain most responsible for decision making, impulse control, and peer susceptibility and conformity continue to develop until about age 25,” commented committee chairman Richard Bonnie.

      The committee was asked by the US Food and Drug Administration to establish what kind of difference an increase in the minimum smoking age would make by the year 2100.

      Unsurprisingly, critics have argued that such a radical change would be both near-impossible to implement and represents hypocrisy in a country that’s willing to send teenagers to fight wars overseas. In addition, recent polls have suggested that a very fractional majority of US citizens are in fact against proposed minimum smoking age increases, outnumbering advocates 53% to 47%.

  10. James Enstrom wins
    When I was in Australia last year, I cited John Snow, Katherine Flegal, James Enstrom and the authors of the ‘Australian paradox’ study as victims of groupthink for having arrived at scientific conclusions that contradicted ‘public health’ dogma (article here, video here).

    Of the four, James Enstrom got the worst treatment. He produced research that challenged not one, but two, political agendas. Not only was he the co-author of a study that found no association between secondhand smoke and lung cancer and heart disease in 2003, but he also found that the threshold of risk from diesel particulate matter was considerably higher than the Californian Environmental Protection Agency assumed when it introduced punitive restrictions on vehicle pollution.

    A number of studies have supported Enstrom’s findings, but Cal-EPA ignored them in favour of a study conducted by Dr Hien T. Tran which happened to find a serious risk from the very thing Cal-EPA wanted to ban. However, as Enstrom discovered, “Dr.” Tran had bought his PhD from an online University for $1,000. Although Cal-EPA eventually accepted this, Enstrom was sacked by UCLA because—in the university’s own words—his research was “not aligned with the academic mission of the Department”.

    Enstrom has been appealing his dismissal for the last few years.

    Dr. Enstrom not only blew the whistle on junk science driving recent proposed California diesel emissions restrictions, he discovered the state’s lead “scientist” had purchased his degree from a fictitious “Thornhill University” and that many members of the state’s Scientific Review Panel had overstayed term limits by decades. While the fake scientist received only a short suspension after Dr. Enstrom discovered his fraud, UCLA not only fired Dr. Enstrom, it also looted his research account of tens of thousands of dollars and failed to pay him any salary for more than a year.

    I’m delighted to see that Enstrom has finally prevailed…

    Not only did the Regents agree to pay Dr. Enstrom $140,000, but they also have effectively rescinded the termination, agreeing to Dr. Enstrom’s use of the title “Retired Researcher” (as opposed to acknowledgment as a non-titled terminated employee) and his continued access to UCLA resources he previously enjoyed during his appointment.

    This is a significant victory for academic freedom and the fight against policy-based evidence, as David French from the American Center for Law and Justice explains:

    Dr. Enstrom’s victory comes at a critical time, reminding the public that the scientific establishment is hardly infallible. Indeed, it’s subject to all the same failings as any human institution, including greed, corruption, and bias. It’s worth remembering as the House once again takes up the Secret Science Reform Act, a bill that would render the EPA more transparent by requiring it to make available for public review the “scientific and technical information used in it’s assessments.”

    It shouldn’t take an act of job-risking courage to bring transparency and honesty to science, but in the Leftist-dominated academy, dissent from progressive orthodoxy is seen as toxic, instead of patriotic. Here’s hoping that with more victories like Dr. Enstrom’s (and Dr. Mike Adams’s jury verdict last year), universities will learn that censorship is expensive. Protecting academic freedom may lead to less scientific “consensus,” but it will certainly lead to greater integrity.

    It’s nice to report a bit of good news for a change. More details here and here.


  11. roobeedoo2 says:

    I had an epiphany last year, about blogs like yours, Frank, and commentators like our Harley. I don’t know anything about mechanical engines, doesn’t mean concepts can’t be applied elsewhere ;)

    Not sure if I mentioned before my love of ‘synchronicity’:


  12. Obama Inc. Funded “Smart Necklace” That Monitors What You Eat – Minutemen News

    The federal government helped finance the creation of a so-called “diet choker” that monitors the eating habits of the wearer.


  13. garyk30 says:

    OT, more about PP

    PP is a solution for a virtually non-existent problem.

    TC and braindead pol’s claim you need PP to help prevent children from starting smoking; because, 600 per day in the UK do start.

    There are 15 million kids under 18 in the UK.

    Only 1 per 25,000 kids start smoking each day.

    99.996% do not start smoking each day.

  14. johnnyrvf says:

    I have just rebuilt a 500 Triumph motor; a ’70 twin carb Daytona. These machines are very precise even though they are ancient technology and won’t run at all well unless everything is in tolerance, the closer the better. They also do not like hammers and they need a good practical knowlege of engineering basics and tools to put them together properly. The wanker down the pub might make it seem easy but the shop manual and all the trick tools needed suggest otherwise. Although home maintainable, you need patience and an ability to think laterally to get the best out of them. Oh and the ability to NEVER assume anything!

    • I had a 500 trumpet give to me a few years back by a friend,I swapped it off for a 850 commando engine. Then sold it and used the money towards a rebuild on my 89 flhtc Harley. Wish Id kept the 850 damn good bike.

  15. Marvin says:

    The Japs cured oily motorbike engines with a very simple innovation. Split the crankcase horizontally instead of vertically and Hey presto, no more oil leaks!!! It also made them a damn sight easier to work on.

  16. jaxthefirst says:

    “I don’t know how long it takes for an oil-free engine to seize up,”

    Probably about 60 seconds. And it wouldn’t just seize up, it’d burst into flames shortly afterwards. The analogy to tobacco smoke is therefore accurate in this respect, too. The social lubricant of society has been, effectively, pretty much removed (or made almost totally ineffective), and as a result society has, first, ceased to move with its usual easy fluidity, and is, now, bursting into flames – of resentment, intolerance, indignation, hatred, and rage.

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