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Common Tread

Stinky and Old Fat Dad demonstrate the importance of spare keys

Apr 05, 2019

"The cobbler’s children always go shoeless."

That’s what they say, but that's not been my experience. Lately, I’ve been working on Stinky’s stuff more than my own. (Stink is my kid.)  Stinky’s mechanical interests have been stacking up faster than his aptitude, though I must say he is progressing rapidly. Until that aptitude catches up, he’s leaning on Old Fat Dad a little to pick up the slack.

And the tab.

Recently, among other things, we’ve been replacing locks on his Honda Grom. The story of the repair job we’re doing on Stink’s lil’ Honda actually starts a few years back, before he even rode a motorcycle, and it actually even begins with a totally different machine, a Honda XR650L I picked up at some point in the past. After I bought a true-blue dirt bike with a plate, the XR languished in a corner of the shop. (I loved it, I just had other bikes for almost every situation that were better to ride.) Up for sale it went. I helped the new owner load it up in his truck and waved goodbye. I was maybe a teeny bit bummed, but I had some cash in my pocket and I knew the big dualie would at long last get some mileage put on it.

Key board
And here is where this problem all began. Photo by Lemmy.

Some time ago, a home project brought my attention to our spare key board. I am pretty fastidious about spare keys, specifically because I had so many key mishaps as a younger man. I am loose and freewheelin’ in some parts of my life, but I am normally very meticulous when it comes to my motorized conveyances. I saw a Honda key on its peg, and at that time, I had no Hondas. I thought, “You ninny, you stiffed the guy who bought the XR.” I then decided it was too much trouble to look the guy up, and that a year later, he probably made a copy or two. I tossed it in the trash and moved on with my life.

Now let’s skip ahead to a surprise warm day this winter.

Before school that day, Stink asked me for the spare key to his bike, as he had lost his main key. A that precise instant, it suddenly dawned on me why I had a Honda key on my rack. Of course I gave the XR guy the keys; I remembered that they still had the dealer tags on them. Shit. I threw away the Grom key.

A brief interlude: Our own editor, Lightnin’ Oliver, recommends you keep a spare key handy when far from home, yet I know for a fact he’s been flirting with disaster by having at least two bikes that have just one key, one of them for over two decades. I know I have a problem with keys, so when I build a bike, a keyed ignition switch is not an ingredient in the recipe. I have only two bikes with keys, and they are both locked permanently in the “run” position. I maintain possession of the keys, but I do not use them.

As reality dawned on me, I shook my head, but consoled myself about this unfortunate loss of the key by noting that his 2015 Honda Grom is not an exotic machine.


This bike has three tumblers, all keyed alike: ignition, seat, and fuel filler. I started rubbing my temples as I explained to Stinky the issue here, knowing full well this was going to spiral into A Big Expenditure of Old Fat Dad’s Money.

Later that day, I called the dealer to have them cut a key. My guys at Martin Moto pulled some strings for me and got their Honda manufacturer rep on the horn. Turns out Honda not only does not relate key codes to VIN, but they are also unable to cut keys even if I had the key code. Swing and a miss.

I then set to rounding up parts to deal with this little problem. ZLA Mechanical Wizard Joe Zito said he’d had good luck getting keys cut by locksmiths when they’d been lost, which seemed like it could be cheaper than replacing parts.

I spoke with a local locksmith, who, as it turns out, was irrationally curt. He informed me he needed all three lock cylinders to cut a key, as each lock uses a few spots on the keys. (This is known as “bitting.” I knew all this from my time working at an auto dealer years ago, where I occasionally re-pinned lock tumblers in this exact same scenario, but I bit my tongue and let the locksmith contemptuously ‘splain the process to me.) I explained to this friendly fellow that pulling all the lock cylinders might be possible but at least one would be destroyed. He seemed very confused by that and his quote skyrocketed to a number far greater than what Mother Honda wanted for a freshy set of keys and cylinders. I thanked him for his time.

That evening, I roared at Stinky, ordering him to turn the house upside-down. (The bike made it home, so the damn keys must be here, right?) I asked Stink if it was possible he set them on the battery when he undid his battery maintainer leads, and then maybe snapped the seat shut before he took off. He said no, but he wasn’t sure.

Well, the damn locks had to come out one way or another, and the seat would probably be the easiest entry point anywho. Old Fat Dad has had a bit of a checkered past, and has worked his way past a few locks in the past with startlingly high success, as both a paid professional, and a few in… an extracurricular capacity.

The little Grom put up a hell of a fight; it was far more resistant than could be reasonably expected of a motorcycle of that size and price. Old Fat Dad won out in the end, as he is wont to do. I won’t go into much detail on what had to be done to slip past Big Red’s security features, for obvious reasons. Little was damaged save the cylinders, which were useless to us at this point, anyhow. The exception was the one lock Stinky pulled under OFD’s tutelage, the ignition lock cylinder. The boy seemed amazed that he could have to pull off the headlight, cowling, handlebars, and top triple clamp for one dinky lock cylinder.

Handlebars off
The labor to get to the ignition lock alone was more than Stink expected, I think. Photo by Lemmy.

At this point, I put Ol’ Stink to work; some punishment wrenching was in order. His seat latch had always been a bit gummy, and the cable was stretching, so I figured we ought to replace those in tandem. (I’m not a monster. He suggested I should buy him a 250 or 300, and if I’m gonna get good money on trade for that Grom, the locks need to work nicely, including the latch.)

Off came the tail plastics. Stink’s little Grom has a neat little high-pipe, and a tail tidy that he was instructed to remove. The fuel tank cover came off. Both side fairings were removed. Stink was learning at high speed.

Look, I'm all for teaching my kid a lesson, but glory, this is a lot of disassembly for a lost key. Photo by Lemmy.

I asked the boy if he was remembering where all this stuff went, and if he had all his hardware. We’d previously had a good long talk about taking photos during disassembly, taking notes, and bagging hardware or at least grouping it with the item it belonged to. My little redheaded rapscallion assured me he had things locked down. (Spoiler alert: He did not.)

Parts began trickling in. I’d secured a salvage latch for him that showed up and was in fine shape, so I had him install that. Next, a package with the salvage fuel cap, ignition switch, and seat latch cylinder arrived. Boy, was that a disappointment.

Aftermarket lock cylinder
OEM parts on the right, bullshit used aftermarket junk on the left. Photo by Lemmy.

The parts were indeed used, as advertised, but were used reproduction pieces. (Read: garbage.) The aftermarket key could not even be removed from the fuel cap, which explained why it was shipped in that condition! I got steamed and sent it all back, prepared to take the financial lashing I knew I earned when I tossed my kid's key in the trash, and called up Martin Moto. They found a kitted part number, presumably for this exact scenario, and agreed to have it to me in two working days, which is more than reasonable.

Stinky mad face
"I have found these parts to be of insufficient quality, Father." Photo by Lemmy.

After the latch went in, Stink learned again that Old Fat Dad is filled with ideas that are not all intrinsically horrible, like the ones about taking notes and photos, and grouping parts together with their fasteners. A push pin snap rivet fastener seemed to go missing, as did a very specific shouldered M5 fairing bolt. Stink spent some time at AutoZone (Spurg’s favorite clothing store) to find the push pin snap rivet, and OFD had a shouldered fairing fastener stripped from some long-gone heap headed for the boneyard. I sent him to fetch the parts for his bike. We also had a good long lecture on how not taking notes leads to angry fathers being saddled with the task of determining exactly where these friggin' bolts are supposed to go, for the love of God! Reassembly commenced. Slowly. But the Grom did begin to come back together.

Stink grinning
Oh, he looks happy here, but I made parts of it miserable for both of us. That'll learn him. Photo by Lemmy.

The rest of the job went uneventfully. We buttoned up the Grom, Stink lost six thousand more pieces and struggled to remember where everything went, and when all else failed, he knew he could look quizzically at OFD, who would grumble and keep the project moving along. Stink is back in his saddle doing Grom Kid stuff; he was out riding to school while we still had snow in the yard. I got to spend some time wrenching with him a bit before he goes off to college, and he got a firsthand lesson on why vehicle maintenance (including keeping track of one’s key!) is important.

And perhaps most importantly, a sick bike that came in the door was made whole once more, in better condition than it was when it rolled in, and our part of the world is a little better than it was the day before.

Check your key situation. Have some copies made up if you don't have any, stash a few with your buddy or your spouse, and for the love of Pete, don't learn this lesson this way!


Ten days after this transpired, Mrs. Lemmy called me to the laundry room. This made me quite nervous, as we've had an unholy amount of problems from no fewer than half a dozen washing machines leaking. Sure enough, she pointed to a small puddle on the floor. I asked her to empty the clothes washer so I could extract it and repair it. Shortly thereafter, she meandered into the shop and told me she found Stinky's key fouling the silicone gasket, causing the minor leak.

I saw a look of anger pass over Stink's face that I knew well, as I've worn it once or twice myself. It's neat to watch the next generation of motorcyclists experience the feelings that all of the riders who came before us went through. In half a second, he expressed 120 years of motorcycle frustration and fury.

Make a copy of your key.