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Honoring a true friend to the motorcycle community
A few years ago I was fortunate enough to get connected with a mobile mechanic who was one of the most talented and experienced wrenchers I've met in my entire life. His name was Jose Velasco but he was known by the riding community as "Pops". He was on the shorter side and had a top row of various metals making up his teeth that were visible when he smiled. They were visible a lot. I found out yesterday that he sadly passed away last week.
He had worked as the main (senior) mechanic at various Los Angeles motorcycle shops in his decades of wrenching and even owned his own shop on the east side for a few years. As the east side became more hip, rent climbed until Pops opted to close his shop and started working as a mobile mechanic.
Pops was the definition of an old school mechanic. When working on any of the bikes I've owned he would always insist on being paid when the job was complete, rather than after the end of each day before he left. I paid Pops in cash and there was never anything more than a handshake involved in our agreements and on our long term projects when I accumulated an outstanding balance overtime before the job's completion, he operated the same way.
He always recommended ordering parts online for cheaper rather than going to the local shop, even though that meant an extra trip for him back to my house upon the part's arrival. Only OEM parts however, which I eventually noticed went hand-in-hand with his mentality as a mechanic.
He worked hard. He was a "measure-twice-cut-once" kinda guy who did jobs right the first time round and he stood by his work. More importantly maybe, he cared about doing good work that would last. His word and reputation meant a lot to him.
He was always nice, and patient enough to explain to me exactly what he was doing a lot of the time so I could learn. This obviously slowed him down, having to move his hands at times so I could see and other stuff like that but he genuinely never seemed annoyed or I'd have long ago stopped asking. He really was happy to pass his knowledge down to me so I could, in his words "Do this yourself next time." I think he saw motorcycles as these things that bring people joy and he wanted to share that with the world.
I now realize how much time I collectively spent with the guy, and though there was admittedly a bit of a language barrier at times, it never stopped him from talking the entire time he worked. When he wasn't teaching me something, he was talking about bikes or telling stories, and more often a combination of the two.
Pops was from Mexico and grew up working on bikes and riding. By the time we met he had been wrenching for around forty years. His wealth of knowledge was legendary along with his memory and attention to detail. He was beyond mechanically inclined and he would do things that would blow me away.
Once he showed me how to set at which point in my K7 GSXR's rev-range the shift-light will come on at. This was accomplished by pressing the two buttons on the dash in a specific sequence. It's more than just a few presses of said buttons too. Pops didn't own a modern GSXR then and never had at any point but as he said, "The bike's been out for a decade." As if that wasn't remarkable that he somehow permanently stored that in his head. He worked on all kinds of bikes too, everything from cruisers to scooters and dirt bikes to track machines, he did it all.
The guy didn't just wrench on bikes though. The guy could ride. His bike's tires were worn down in places seldom seen on road-going rubber. I always thought it was funny to imagine this older guy still dragging his knees around on public roads, completely throwing caution to the wind but seemingly, that was Pops.
He liked to tell stories of his frequent trips from Los Angeles to Mexico where he said there were areas where he could go as fast as he wanted to go without worrying about police or speed limits. And he did. He would push bikes to their limits on a regular basis and he had the scars you'd expect from doing this on public Mexican roads with 1970's gear and machinery.
I was born in 89' so I am too young to be aware of the top speed moto-armsrace of the late 90's that gave us the Blackbird and Hayabusa and the like. Granted I have the benefit of hindsight and this is just my opinion but it seems a little silly to build roadbikes with the top selling point being ridiculous (and license jeopardizing) ever-growing top speeds. I used to wonder who their market was and who exactly was buying and riding these bikes. It turns out it was Pops.
Pops was a man who dedicated his life to motorcycles and must be responsible for tens of thousands of repairs. That's not to say he didn't love his family. He was truly a friend to the motorcycle community and made more of a contribution to it than most ever will, making a lot of people happy along the way.
Fixing someone's bike is almost like getting someone's sick child well again and that's what he did. He leaves behind a wife, several now adult children and countless friends and customers. While his death is sad, Pops lived a relatively long but decidedly full life and he will be deeply missed by many.