The motorcycle temple of fuel, noise and speed
“Just a heads up, if you come over to the shop, it’s going to be chaotic.”
Thus came the warning from Todd Shiflett, known to moto culture in the Northwest as “The Carb Whisperer.”
When I arrive at The Carb Whisperer’s shop, Todd is standing on the roof of a toy hauler as it is backed into his driveway. He is lifting the overhead power lines so they clear the toy hauler’s rooftop air conditioner. Oh, so this is what he meant by chaos.
I have a pair of rims that need tires removed and bearings punched out to prep for powder coating so they can look nice on camera for an upcoming long term tire test for Road Dirt. I squeeze between the toy hauler and the house as I make my way to his backyard shop and by squeeze, I mean I walk sideways while carrying my rims lengthwise, holding my breath.
The Carb Whisperer’s backyard may be shocking to some. More motorcycle storehouse than yard, motorbikes and vehicles are parked everywhere: to the left a 4th gen VFR sits under an awning flanked by dirtbikes, to the right an original 1993 CBR900RR sits next to an RV, ahead a Honda ST1300 leans casually away from a Geo Metro that has potential, I think, for winning the 24 Hours of Lemons on an economy run. I once rescued a pair of vintage Honda Trail 90s from this yard and revived them for a friend. To the untrained eye this looks like a junkyard, but for motorheads like us, it is a gold mine. All of this navigating through the land of misfit machines happens before you get to the shop.
Todd ‘The Carb Whisperer’ Shiflett preps for the Desert 100.
Inside the shop a 1983 Honda Goldwing Aspencade is propped on a stand next to a Yamaha dirtbike that Todd and his buddy Jason are frantically prepping for the tortuous Desert 100, a race consisting of two 50 mile laps of eastern Washington scablands that if you squint, look eerily like Baja. Wrenches are spinning frantically because it’s late Monday night and they have to be on the road in less than 36 hours. Fortunately I just need access to the tire changer.
Todd and I have tools we share and like divorced parents we have joint custody agreements on a tire changer and balancer, a Lincoln Squarewave 200 Tig welder, a Milwaukee widemouth portaband and other tools that are just too useful to do without, but not used so frequently as to require a full commitment.
The tire charger is crammed against the south wall of the crowded shop and when I say crammed, I mean it is flanked by the Tig welder on the left and a workbench on the right with little elbow room for swinging the tire lever through its arc. However, I have done this many times and I’m getting pretty good at changing tires in a phone booth. Yet as I spoon off the first tire my right elbow extends too far over the small workbench to the right, almost knocking over the mason jar full scotch on the rocks, splashing some single malt over the shop manual, tools and water pump bolts. In the background plays some kind of pounding death metal music that makes Metallica sound like Zamfir and his pan flute. Jason, working behind me, lets loose an expletive as he strips a bolt securing the Yamaha’s water pump. Garage chaos is in full effect.
This is my happy place.
All of the important tools and fluids for man and machine.
You see, some find rest on a couch reading a good book, some recharge their batteries on a beach tanning under the sun, others find solace doing yoga poses on stand up paddle boards and as much as I find bliss in a snowy mountaintop view, I love a busy garage: the smell of gasoline, the sound of bad music, the cold metal and the hot blowtorch, the clink of a dropped wrench and tinkle of ice in a mason jar of scotch. Todd’s shop is special in this way- crowded with bikes and tools here is the place where bikes and riders properly worship the God of Speed and ply The Carb Whisperer’s expertise. This is the Garage Mahal, a Mecca with every tool you could think of, all the expertise you need and all of the reasons to never leave.
The Carb Whisperer’s garage speakers continue to pound out screaming lead vocals over cacophonous drums (stuff that he calls music) while I continue to spin off rubber and punch out wheel bearings, careful not to spill the mason jar of scotch and its swiftly disappearing contents. Aromas of grease and gasoline permeate the air, tinted with whiffs of rubber, alcohol and dog breath. Every garage needs a dog, preferably a chocolate lab. This one is named Rocky.
Rocky watches his owner do his thing. Todd once grafted an agricultural fuel pump onto the 1993 CBR900RR as we traveled to Canada.
Rocky takes turns walking between all three of us, inspecting our work with a curious nose, smelling our sweat and progress, like she desperately wants to help but lacks opposable thumbs. Jason continues to fret over the Yamaha and the stripped bolt as I steal Todd away to press out a bushing from the inner race of a wheel bearing. Todd lines it up perfectly in his arbor press and slides it out smoothly.
“I love my arbor press,” he says cooly, then takes a long pull from the mason jar. I wanted to do it myself but I forget, this is The Carb Whisperer’s happy place also. He, like me, loves a garage full of bikes, tools, angry music, a curious chocolate lab and good friends.
Task finished, I should leave but I don’t want to. Darkness has swallowed our Northwest home and the shop’s glow glorifies everything. Like playing baseball under the lights every sensation in the garage is heightened by the neon white, every moment becomes more memorable, more rich, more special. Lights buzz softly, music pounds, Jason swears yet again, wrenches ping, ice tinkles in the mason jar and Rocky’s toenails click on the concrete floor with a staccato rhythm as the cooling evening wind makes its way through the open shop door. As much as I like this place, I love it even more in the dark.
This is the only empty space in the garage. Just enough elbow room.
Jason mentions food and makes a pizza run to distract from the frustration of his stripped water pump bolt. When he returns he throws the pizza on top of the tools and bike parts on the cluttered main workbench because, well, there is just no other place to put the pizza.
Part workbench, part dining room.
While they dine I pull out one of the shop’s treasures and possibly the coolest bike I have ever seen, a Honda Gyro. Not only have I never seen one, I never knew such a bike even existed. But treasures like this abound in the Garage Mahal, so why should I be surprised?
I wheel the oddity into the glow of the shop lights for photographs in this article. At some point during the Gyro’s life someone may have used it as a pit bike during hydroplane racing with a Miss 7-Eleven front plate on the basket and U-711 stickers on the back. Jason climbs aboard and his massive frame dwarfs the tiny trike. At my request he demonstrates the articulating rear by throwing the scooter full lean while I snap a picture. Way before Yamaha ever thought of the Niken, this motorbike was leaning on three wheels. What I wouldn’t give to have this for the next MotoAmerica race at Laguna Seca just to ride it in the pits and see the looks I get.
The 80’s vintage Honda Gyro, a rare scooter, just another interesting bike in Todd’s shop.
Time to leave, I bid goodbye to Todd and Jason as they continue to spin wrenches into the night. Back in my own garage I place my stripped rims down next to my three motorcycles, just one of which retains its wheels. My garage is larger than Todd’s, has its own tools, welder and neon white shop lights but lacks the busy hum of race bike prep, head banging music turned up to 11 and friends who wash down pizza with a single malt. It is too quiet, too clean and definitely not chaotic enough. Maybe I should take up racing full-time just for the painful glory of wrenching on busted bikes until the day turns into night, then back into day again. However, like The Carb Whisperer’s Garage Mahal, my garage does share one very important element.
A chocolate lab. Her name is Daisy. She is Rocky’s sister.
This garage could use a little more chaos.