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3rd February 2003

A brief history of time spent in sheds… The True Way, according to Frank Westworth. Why the Big Shed? Because it's a shed, and because it's, well, big...

In case you were in any doubt; yes, that is a battery...Tales From The Big Shed

In fact, there are three Sheds, and not many people know that. Sheds have a tendency to grow, until the whole place is packed with them.

Sheds are wonderful places, and as this is the first of the Second Series of Shed Tales (the first was in another place altogether) I thought I'd bore a bit about what makes a good shed, and why my own Shed is so wonderful Almost entirely wonderful, in fact, but...

The first thing you need when you decide to have a second home, or 'shed' as it's sometimes known, is a reason for having a shed. Do not laugh; this is not obvious to some folk. Over what I can now refer to with a slight air of irony as my 'professional' period, I visited many folk with sheds. Several of them had no reason to have a shed. A shed is a place where bikes live; a place where things get done to bikes, where an otherwise sane individual can get away to fling spanners, wave a small number of fingers at the world, and relax, confident in the knowledge that while everything that gets done in the shed is vital, little of it is important.

The best reason to have a shed is ownership of a bike. Doesn't really matter whether it's an old bike or a new bike; it's the riding that's important. If you ride enough then you'll need to get intimate with your motorcycle, and your shed is where you do this. A shed must therefore be a comfortable place, both for you and for your bike, and it needs to be a private place, because you do not want strangers to spot what an ace place is your shed and how great is your bike, lest they break into the former and make off with the latter!

For this reason, a roof alone is not enough. I once thought that a dry place to work was as much as a chap could hope for, and that a car port or a ginnel, an entry, was sufficient. My bike, I youthfully decided, could live perfectly well under a cover. This is not true. I was wrong. Firstly, although spannering away in full view of the passing world and his dog does have its odd attractions, being damply visited by that dog is a pain, and squatting at the side of the road is an occupation best left to dogs and their ilk, as it breeds backache, posture problems, and much, much worse! Secondly, a cover is little protection, either from the elements or from low-life scum who'd prefer to steal your bike than work hard and buy one of their own. Ask not how I know.

So as well as a roof, you need walls and at least one door. That's sensible. If you are blessed with enough floor space to walk around your motorcycle, and can spanner from both sides, then you are doing well. You will needs tools in your shed, and by the time you have added up the space needed to provide you with enough room to circumnavigate your motorcycle, and to provide storage space for your tools, you have in fact used up most of the space provided by a modern garage. As many of us have discovered, although it is perfectly possible to keep about ten motorcycles in a modern single garage, serious work upon just one of them requires parking most of the others outside. This defeats many of the reasons for having a shed, particularly if, like me, you enjoy owning a lot of potential motorcycles. And before you ask; a 'potential' motorcycle is one which you know will work wonderfully … one day.

So sheds have a tendency to both grow larger and to multiply. In this, they are not entirely unlike shed-dwellers, who generally appear capable of doing both things themselves.

At this point I should perhaps run through a list of all the sheds I've owned, but that would be boring, not least for me! However, from grim personal experience in those dire days before the adoption of The Big Shed, or The One True Shed if you've suddenly come over all Tolkein ('one Shed to hide them all, and in the darkness bind them…'), I can share with you that as well as enough space to swing the cat (a quaint folk tradition of Olde Englande, for our overseas reader), a roof and some walls, you really do need a few other bits and bats to make life jolly.

You will rapidly find you need to spend more time in the shed in winter. This is because motorcycles require more cossetting when ridden through the stormy months. And so do their riders. Riders need light, for example, because spannering in the physical dark as well as in the metaphorical dark is tedious, and although it can be challenging, the rewards are often too few. Riders also need a dry floor. Do not laugh. I once had a shed which flooded whenever the Trident I was riding at the time required urgent attention. There is nothing spooky about this; the T150 would fail every time the wintry rains reached monsoon proportions (although I never found out the reason, despite carrying out every water-proofing trick I could think of) and those same monsoon rains came from the West, and drowned the shed.

A good friend of mine recently showed off his own brand new, custom-designed and wonderfully brick-built shed, then called me a couple of weeks later to rant about the unhappy fact that when the wet west wind blew, his shed filled with water. This made him into an unhappy good friend, as you can imagine…

Spannering while kneeling in an inch or two of icy water is not a greatly inspiring experience, to be honest, and when you add electricity to the equation, it can become hair-raising. Literally.

So, light and dryness are good things. As is a bench. A bench (I favoured old kitchen cabinets for many years; free from council tips, and robust enough. At one time, I had a much posher kitchen unit in the shed than in the kitchen…) means that happy spannerjack can strip off a component, then can work on it without squatting, kneeling or enduring other stupid back-wracking performances which will cause tears in later years. Benches are good. And so are vices. A vice means that you can mount that component, and can then beat it into submission with both hands, at little risk to delicate digit. Holding some fragile hunk of Mr Lucas' finest electrical wossname while you assault it with a rasp file is much more pleasant if you can reduce the risk of applying the file to your own fingers. Nail files are better than vicious rasps for trimming fingernails…

If your bench is sensibly sized, you will soon discover The Joy Of Seat. Yep; a stool upon which you can rest your posterior saves stooping while you file chunks out of your knuckles. This is Another Good Thing.

But the single greatest Good Thing is the hydraulic workbench. When Rowena and I first got together, she insisted that I bought myself a large hydraulic workbench. This was because she was heartily sick of me staggering half-crippled about the place and being unable to perform the most menial of familial duties after a couple of hours flinging spanners at my Commando. Hydraulic benches have but a single disadvantage. They cost a huge amount of money. Sell the cat into slavery and get a bench. You will never regret it. Since I bit the bullet (and failed to sell the cat), my shedlife has been glorious. No, no; really. Some afternoons I don't actually do any spannering. Instead I wheel a bike onto my hydraulic bench, operate the simple pedally-pump thingit so that the bike is raised to a suitable height for me to apply spanner, mallet and rasp file while sat in comfort on the stool which was given to me by another mate and which has seen service at several big classic shows (next month: a guide to stools I have known?). Instead of spannering, I pour a healthy glass of an appropriate tincture and watch in a very laid-back, old hippy way as the bench lowers the motorcycle gently back to the ground, all on its own. It is important that you choose a good quality bench with a good quality guarantee. Or a bar to lock the bench at the appropriate height. The latter is cheaper and easier than the former.

The Big Shed. Note big bench. Note also Norton, the reason for needing the big bench...

So there you have it. Big Frank's Guide To The Rudiments Of Shedland. My own shed, The Big Shed (brook no imitations, etc) boasts many more features than these simple few listed here. It has, for example, a sink. These are good. Sinks provide cool water for the cat to sup at, or to fling at the cat should need arise. The Shed has also a parts washer. These are good: a chap should be able to wash his parts whenever he needs to, without opposition or hindrance from more delicate family members.

And The Shed has lots and lots of bikes, and bits of bikes, and posters, and a radio, and a pile of old magazines. And it has a stream, too, and it stands on stilts…


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