Tethys when brand new - many years ago

Zen and the Art of Scooter Maintenance

I’ve read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance 3, maybe 4 times so far. With each reading I’ve understood a little bit more – about the book, but also about me. If you haven’t read it, do. The first time I read it I really absorbed the epic adventure, the value judgement that diy is inherently Quality. The next couple of readings I started to understand the philosophy behind it – more that diy can help you understand Quality. Maybe I’ll read it again while I’m riding my scooter coast to coast.

The part of the book that is sticking in my mind about the book right now is Pirsig’s ideas about gumption traps. When we talk about burnout we are talking about gumption traps. When we talk about having gumption we are talking about being in the Flow. We all have our run-ins with gumption traps and I think for many the whole pandemic has been a great big gumption trap.

The result of falling into a gumption trap is the loss of enthusiasm of working on the material and the irresistible desire to put the entire thing away.


The thing about scooter maintenance and this whole cannonball thing is that makes these philosophical ideas very concrete for me. Pirsig divides gumption traps into external traps which he calls set-backs, and internal traps which he calls hang-ups. (Hey, it was the 70’s when this was written!) Me personally I think of the internal traps as psychic drains.

Out of Sequence Reassembly – this is the setback I’ve been facing most on my scooter. This is the setback when there is one screw leftover when you’re done. Actually, on my scooter right now I’ve got two screws missing – I dropped them and they disappeared into the frame of the scooter – and one screw leftover. The two missing screws I’ve gone out and found replacements — they are too critical to let slide. But the extra one? It’s teeny tiny. It is disheartening to think I need to go through the whole process of removing the center front of the legshield, to get to the screw that let’s me pull off the glovebox…. There are about 12 things to disassemble to get back to the place where I think the screw goes. That is disheartening.

My problem is that I’ve done this particular work on the scooter several times before, so I feel like I should know the way it works and get it right the first time. But that was many years ago – so I really need to consider myself a newbie again and take it step by step. In my professional life I think the same thing is happening. (not that I’ve got two screws missing!) rather, that I’m assuming that I’m good at X. I used to be really good at X. In fact, people said I was a natural at X. But, it has been a while, so I need to go back to the basics and take it step by step. To look at this through the Zen lens I need to go back to the beginners mind. That’s the way out of this gumption trap.

Yep, I think I’m going to re-read the book to see what other gumption traps I’ve fallen into lately.