22 September 2004

It Ain't Magic, Dipstick

Reading Fixer's post about the Wire Cutter From Hell got me to thinkin'. Ready or not, here it comes.

When I was in 'Sickle School at L.A.Trade-Tech the instructors told us to listen up in Electrical class, because if we knew electrics real well we could always get a job on account of a lot of guys didn't know much about it and wasted time and parts on electrical problems. So, we listened.

They taught us about electricity, AC and DC. What it was and what was necessary to create it on a bike. Same as a car. Same as a nuclear power plant, for that matter.

They taught us Electron Flow Theory and Conventional Flow Theory, as some bikes still used the latter at that time.

They taught us about Voltage, Current, Wattage, and how they relate. They taught us Ohm's Law 'til we knew it backwards and forwards, because you need to.

They taught us about resistance, capacitance, conductance, inductance and the effect of dissimilar metals on one another. We learned the Right Hand Rule and The Left Hand Rule.

They taught us how electricity was generated, rectified, stored, and distributed.They taught us about generators, alternators, solid state and mechanical voltage regulators, excited fields and electrolytic capacitor battery eliminators.

They taught us about batteries, sponge lead, sulfuric acid, and sulfation. Vibration, too, but that was a whole separate class.

They taught us about ignition, lighting, charging, starting and accessory systems.

They taught us about headlights, taillights, turn signals, horns, switches, relays and wiring. We learned about starter motors. We learned how many accessories were TOO many accessories.

Then they started teaching us what could go wrong. This part was easy, because there's only TWO things that can go wrong with an electrical system. Some technogeeks think three. It's an ongoing argument. Yawn.

Then they taught us how to troubleshoot and how to use a Volt-Ohmmeter.

Then we took written and practical tests.

Then, and only THEN, were we allowed within ten feet of a motorcycle with wirecutters.

That was over thirty years ago. The stuff mechanics (I refuse to use the word 'technician'; that's somebody with a clipboard and pocket protectors, like a service writer) have to deal with these days, like microprocessors and EFI, makes that stuff look pretty Stone Age.

It's still all true, though, and they still have to know it.

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