The small package good things come in*

2FD5AFDB-8504-4224-87BA-32841B73D36BStrictly has started and that means two things to look forward to – endless rounds of “but it’s a dance contest not a popularity contest” at work, and the slathering of our roads with a toxic brew of salt, molasses and grit that sticks to bikes like glitter to fake tan.

I could park Bishop Brennan up for the winter but I’ve just endured 2 days without a bike and it’s a safe bet that 6 months without riding would see me in an institution. Possibly prison.

So there’s only one way forward – it’s time to apply protection. For the past 5 years maintenance has been an existential battle, involving top end rebuilds, carb refurbs, exhaust decokes, caliper overhauls and welding. The idea of doing something planned in advance – the stitch in time that saves nine, if you like – is a rare novelty.

Like many aspects of biking, asking about the best means of protection from the horrors of winter reveals a community split on tribal lines. Are you Team ACF50, Team Scottoiler, or somewhere on the wilder shores of Cover it in Diesel and Wait Until Spring?

It could be argued that one of the advantages of riding a 2-stroke is that it generates its own oily shroud. But this winter I’m trying the new pocket-sized bottles of Scottoiler’s FS 365 bike protection spray.

FS 365 has been around for a while – in fact I should hang my head in shame and admit I’ve got a litre of it in the garage which I’m fairly certain I’ve moved through six house moves without ever getting any on a bike. It’s big and a bit awkward to use and life has been about lurching from emergency to emergency for too long.

The new bottles are a much more comfortable 250ml, designed with the aim of encouraging new users to pick one up and give it a go.

So on Monday I spent my brucie bonus day off giving the Bishop a bath (and yes, I did need to spell-check that carefully) and then covering him in the special brew of mineral oil, surfactant, anti-corrosion additives and water. The idea is that the water carries the spray across the surface of the bike and then evaporates, leaving a protective barrier between your bike and the winter.

First impressions? I like the colour. Teal is very on trend for 2019 and apparently stands for trustworthiness, reliability and spiritual advancement.  The smaller bottle is really easy to use, especially when you’ve got a sidecar blocking access to one half of your bike. I found there was a fair bit of run-off – it’s possible I was spraying with a little too much enthusiasm – but as the product is water-based and biodegradable I didn’t feel too guilty about sluicing it off the drive into the gutter. And – another shallow one, I’m afraid – even after application, the bike still looked clean, and not like something that had just had a layer of oil spread over it.

The key areas of concern for me are the MZ’s spokes and rims. Stainless spokes aren’t recommended for sidecar outfits as they’re too brittle, so I need to be sure that rust is being kept at bay. So I’ll be keeping a close eye and reporting back.

  • Scottoiler are giving away a FS 365 Complete Bike Protector 250ml Compact Spray with all Chain Oiler Kits and Scorpion Dual Injectors bought from their online shop between now and 9 October; or the spray bottle can be bought as a standalone item from bike shops and online. Normally it’s  £3.99 but until 9 October there’s a 25 per cent discount on all FS products in the online store so it’s yours for a bargain £2.99!

* One of the best lines from The Big Bang Theory.



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Into the Valley*

It always adds a little something to a trip when you set off in the teeth of a Met Office “risk to life” warning. On their website the whole of England had been covered in a yellow puddle labelled “wind,” which isn’t great when you’re planning on camping.

I compromised. I spent Friday night in a curry house with a hot date (yes, further proof that the end times are upon us) and set out on Saturday morning, doing my best to time things so that the Wingman and I would emerge from under the rain cloud lightly drizzling on our home city and head to the Tern Valley Vintage Machinery Trust Annual Show under dry skies.

It nearly worked.

When I say nearly, we arrived in the sunshine but that was the first we had seen of it.

Now, I’m not a wimp about riding in the rain. My ability to charm water from a clear blue sky is in fact legendary. But it’s the Wingman, you see. He’s getting on a bit and getting rained on isn’t great for his arthritis. I have provided him with a screen but Bishop Brennan didn’t come with a tonneau cover or hood. So I wrapped him in his Scruffs thermal dog jacket, the one that makes him look like Emperor Palpatine, and tried to explain about lying down so only his nose got wet. And we duly trundled up Watling Street to Shropshire.

There is something uniquely lovely about heading to an event and knowing your friends are already there. The Wartburg-Trabant-IFA Club UK were representing not just with The World’s Worst Car (TM) but also a selection of Eastern Bloc scooters so Bishop Brennan needed to join the throng and fly the flag for MZs.

We even did a bit of evangelism among small children. I totally respect that many bikers don’t want the littlies clambering over their machines but the MZ has two advantages – it’s not going to topple over, thanks to the chair, and it’s pretty robust (or already battered to f***,  take your pick!). So when two small boys and their little sister ran up and looked hopeful I asked dad if they would like to sit in – or on! – and the grins on their faces made up for all the soggy miles.

And then two little girls proved once again that girls will rule the world once they realise their power.

“Can we go for a ride?”

Now, I’ve never taken human passengers so this was quite a step up. Mum and dad didn’t mind, they’d already been happy for the girls to have a lap of the field standing on the running boards of a Simson Schwalbe. So I loaded one in the chair and one on the seat and off we went.

It sounded like this:


“Can we go again?”


“Can we go again?”


“Can we go again?”


“Can I hold the bars myself?”

Very briefly and in a straight line was the answer to that one!

These days we don’t have Kickstart on the telly to get kids into riding so we all have to do our bit. I think they enjoyed it…




*no, not the MAG one


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Welcome back to the age of jive!

It is time for a new tyre on the Wingman’s chair. It had a small tour of Warwickshire yesterday thanks to an erratic delivery person but got here safe in the end. Wasn’t expecting the white wall!

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Maybe a little too much adventure

There is a well-known joke about a man who owns no clock or wristwatch but does own a trombone.

“How do you find out what time it is,” asks his puzzled house guest.

“Hand it over and I’ll show you,” the man says, and starts to play.

“Who the fuck is playing the trombone at three in the morning?!” comes the cry through the wall.

I have always thought it a bit unrealistic. Until about two am on Sunday.

I know it’s a rally. Sleep isn’t everyone’s priority – there is no ‘eleven o’clock rule’ like the one which keeps the peace at Camping and Caravanning Club meets.  I had forgotten my earplugs so I made sure I got good and drunk the night before to give myself the best chance of oblivion. But I think it is Bad Form for the two-am-chatters to firstly pitch their tents all round mine about six inches away; and then to sit not in between two of their own tents but RIGHT IN FRONT OF MINE.

“It’s two in the fucking morning. Could you shut up?,” I asked politely, sticking my head out of my hemmed-in tent. There was humphing and grumping and a mutter of “Well I suppose it’s time to hit the sack,” and they shut up.

For three hours.

At five am, at least one of the party unzipped his tent and started packing up to go home. Cheerfully, loudly, and having banter with someone else who was up and about at the unholiest of morning hours.

I stuffed my ears with Johnson and Johnson wet wipes. They are good on stains but not great on the noises of pots rattling and a bike being packed. I huffed and puffed a bit in good British fashion.

And then I handed out the insults but hung back from getting out of the tent for fear of inflicting injury.  Hell hath no fury like a hungover woman woken up twice, and like the trombone player’s neighbour I bellowed “It’s five o’clock in the morning – are you having a FUCKING LAUGH?”

In fact I already knew they were having a fucking laugh because that’s one of the noises that woke me up.

Of course then they started trying to pack quietly which is even noisier than someone packing without a care in the world. I rearranged my erzatz earplugs, put my head under the pillow and tried to salvage another hour or so of rest, for at 5am the Jack Daniels would still be in the queue for liver processing.

Apart from my over-loud neighbours it had been a brilliant weekend.  Everyone in the MZ Riders Club says Carrog is the highlight of the rally season and it is in one of my favourite parts of Wales so I’ve had it booked in the calendar for ages. It is only about a hundred miles from my house so I went the long way to bag some Round Britain Rally landmarks on the way. I should have known it was going to be a trying day when I arrived at the first of them, a beautiful rural chapel, to find it was about to host a funeral. It is not easy to discreetly snap a photo on a two-stroke sidecar outfit when the dog likes to sing a little bike-starting song but I did my best.

LM-bagging completed I was peering at my map in the splendidly-named but difficult to pronounce Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain when a helpful Welsh chap talked me through the route I needed. The sat-nav was trying to punt me back onto the A5 up to Carrog, but on a beautiful sunny day with plenty of time in hand that would be dull. I wanted to go over the tops via Bala. All I needed to do was go back through the village, turn right at the pub, and head for Llanfechain, then Llanfillyn, then Llangynog, then Landrillo. No bother.

The sat-nav heard me ask for the quiet back roads and overshot. As we headed up the kind of goat tracks Biker Paul and I used to scare sheep on, I told myself that all was well, Bishop Brennan was coping, and we were fine even though the gap between the hedges was only just big enough for our wheels.

The roads got steeper and muddier, and the second thoughts got louder, and then we came round a corner to a lorry filling the road ahead, and started to slide gracefully back downhill on the mud towards the Landrover filling the road behind.

This was Not The Plan.

I switched the engine off to try and save the clutch and fishtailed to a halt broadside on with the tail of the chair in the hedge. Much like the Henchman in the first Austin Powers movie.

No bother – under the placid gazes of my motor-bound opposition I pointed the bike downhill, stared  the Landrover down until they started reversing, and tucked into a field entry to let them continue their ascent.

Tried again, ended up at the same junction.

Turned round, tried again, saw the same junction ahead and took the only other option, which was another goat track tucked in the folds between farmland.

Slowly the grass strip up the middle faded away, the tarmac got wider, and then we turned a corner and – joy unbounded – white paint down the centre line!  We had picked up the B4391 and it was plain sailing to the campsite.

Two months ago I was riding a bike that wouldn’t go 20 miles without dying. Apart from a brief lack of uphill traction, which was more to do with the mud in the road than anything to do with the bike, thanks to all my fettling it had coped with some really steep ascents, on a blazing hot day, with no bother at all. Forgive me for feeling bloody proud.

And how was the rally? Brilliant. Old friends re-met, twitter friends hugged in real life, and new friends made. And in a moment of splendid randomness, paths crossed with the wonderful Mark McArthur Christie who had set out to view the attractions of North Wales without realising this particular weekend they would include me,  an indomitable red motorcycle and a three-legged dog.







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What do we do on the first weekend in July? Yes, it is a trick question because in recent years the answer has been ‘fix Lomaxes’ or ‘arrange to move 500 miles.’

But this year I am returning to the National Road Rally! I’ve done it solo many times, and at least once in tandem with Biker Paul, when we finished at the Ace Cafe, and in two weeks time I am part of an MZ team. Well, we’re not daft, it’s 2 MZs and one Honda. MZ Steve has worked out the route, and I will be bringing the Hairy Navigator.

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There’s one!
But it’s got feathers, and a beak, and bony feet.
Nope. Still not counting it.
But….it’s saying ‘cluck’ and laying an egg.
I said no. We’re not counting chickens. Not yet.

There is a well-worn internet quote about madness being found in doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome. Thursday saw me doing the same things as I had the day I set out for Wainfleet and got brought home on a truck. Tent, Trangia and wash kit behind the seat. Clothes, food, and Wanted on Voyage in the nose. Sleeping bag lashed to the seat with my trust Helen2Wheels straps. Wingman in the chair, in his harness, singing his kickstart song which might be excitement or might be distress, it’s rather hard to tell.

We were heading for SALT 13, on the flat bits of the East coast the far side of Ipswich. But that was rather a long way away and we weren’t starting till the afternoon, as domestic chores like getting the 2CV her MOT and having a dispute with the neighbours about the position of their new fence posts delayed departure. So the first goal was a short hop to Cambridge, where there’s a rather nice camp site on the edge of the city centre, where we could pause and take stock.

It rained a bit. We voyaged cheerfully through the centre of Northampton, decided not to bother with Bedford, and nipped up a tiny bit of the M11 to reach Shelford. The outfit seemed to be shaking its head more than normal until I realised that it was just the headlight swaying to the beat of its own private drummer. Quick pause for tightening of nuts, then onto the trim green grass. Was that a faint cluck in the distance?

80 miles is no distance at all really – the man who brought me my first bike was found of saying “I could piss further than that” – but adventures don’t have to be huge to be significant. Barring the headlight, nothing fell off, the oil stayed where it was supposed to and the sun (mostly) shone. My back really hurt, though. Which is strange because I count myself fairly fit at the moment – I cycle 12 miles a day, which has given me thighs you could crack concrete on. But I’m not bike fit, and I was glad to call it a day.

One of the best things about the Cambridge Club Site is its book exchange. It’s Cambridge, so finding a book on the Bader Meinhof gang on the shelf shoudn’t come as a surprise. I nabbed that, and three others – a late Stephanie Plum novel by Janet Evanovich (don’t bother, she’s just phoning them in now); a children’s book by Eva Ibbotson which had an intrepid governess and a happy ending; and Bill Bryson’s latest which seems to have jumped the grumpy old man shark – got the tent up and settled back with a beer.

How to explain SALT? It’s a slightly tongue-in-cheek homage to the Cold War and the cars that came from it. There’s touring, there’s behind-the-scenes visits to Cold War sites, and there is feasting. I first heard about it when I owned the QEK, attended with Scabbers of mixed memory, and then missed the next two, one because I’d migrated to Scotland and my manager liked to play silly buggers with my leave, and the next because I’d migrated back from Scotland and my friend who came to help with the boxes wanted to stay the whole week and I felt unable to say “thanks, love – now off you fuck so I can go and drive two strokes.”

So this year had a sense of unfinished business and also the opportunity for MZ adventure. Though in the end the weather was so dreadful that I spent all of Saturday riding in the back of an army truck. It was a novel experience, by turns cold, wet, bumpy and with an underlying buzz from the exhaust fumes, but it was still better than letting the Wingman get soaked in the apocalyptic downpour. The SALT Tourists spent three hours in the rain admiring the nuclear bomb stores of Thetford Forest. I sat in the truck reading Smiley’s People, which was nearly the same, before they let me out for a pub lunch in the dry.

The reward for a soggy Saturday was a glorious sunny Sunday – perfect conditions to tackle the 160 miles home. AdventureDog got lots of cuddles from the owners of the caravan next to us at Moat Farm Campsite and we set out bravely.

There are things you need to find out when you are taking a new vehicle on tour. How often do you need to fill the tank up being one of the important ones. (About every 120 miles, is the answer. 10 miles a litre, same as the 2CV.) How hard can you push it before the engine seizes up is another.

This was my biggest worry. The Jawa-of-disgrace would run at 45mph for 15 minutes or so before overheating and abruptly losing power. I’d spent most of Friday waiting for that slightly sickening feeling, and keeping tabs on places we could pull in to recover – but it never came. So on Sunday we horsed on a bit, because I realised I could make it back in time for our local MZ meet if I didn’t hang about, and the bike was perfectly happy to run at 50. That’s a magic number because it’s just about fast enough to run safely on the dual carriageways, especially if road works are involved.

And if we can do 160 miles in about 4 hours, then there’s a whole lot of England we can get to in a weekend.

There’s an undeveloped metaphor in here but it is late and there are enough words already. The kit was the same but the bike underneath it was different. Change is, after all, possible.


Filed under MZ, Travel

A nice surprise

I decided not to do the Welsh this year, because (a) skint and (b) not enough practice and (c) not fully confident in my repairs.

But the Welsh came to me! A small gesture but it really cheered me up.

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Mostly about mechanical idiocy

It is just possible that I overshare my life. Last Sunday when the Wingman and I finally made it to Caffeine and Machine, the first words said to us were “It’s still leaking then?”

(Actually the first words were ‘do you need a push’ as the entrance to the car park is quite steep and I ballsed it up. The answer was yes to both.)

Like the Emerald City or El Dorado, ‘Caff&Mac’ has taken on a slightly totemic quality. Since it opened in the winter I’ve been trying to get there but every time I set out the gremlins defeat me. Or the weather. Or, as it turned out on International Female Ride Day, good-old-fashioned personal incompetence.

The previous weekend we had made it to Stafford, with no notable mishaps, but the spreading pool of oil underneath Bishop Brennan had caused some comment. Armed with 6mm copper washers and some Hylomar blue I refitted all of the casing screws and we set out bravely on the sunny Saturday morning, gearbox refilled with the tin of Castrol supplied by Midlife Classics which I had been saving for the day that spannering was complete and adventures beginning.

As we trundled down the Fosse, between one beat and the next the engine cut dead. Much despair.

We stopped in a handy field entrance. At least the sun was shining.

It turned out the spark plug had shook itself loose. So that one was all on me. But I think it was a cry for help on the part of the bike – ever wondered how much gearbox oil comes out if you forget to refit the filler plug before setting out? All of it.

Don’t ask me how I know.

My adventure to Caff&Mac was supposed to be my consolation for not going to Wales for the Welsh National Rally. Three things ruled it out – lack of funds, lack of practice, and lack of confidence in the bike. Last year I got one checkpoint in before the Jawa’s gearbox expired and it was the best part of a week before the local recovery guys could deliver it back whence it came. So I didn’t fancy a second DNF.

After a reasonable amount of self-flagellation we set out again on Sunday and finally arrived, though still leaving small puddles.

This was clearly Not Right. The copper washers had done their job and the screws were no longer dribblng oil, but the flow rate seemed to be getting worse. And the rattling which had turned out not to be the small end bearing was also getting worse.

In a moment of ‘Oh Shit’ clarity two and two added up to ‘your oil pump is no longer attached to the side of your engine.’

And if a two-stroke isn’t getting oil it takes about a quarter of a mile before the piston siezes to the barrel.

Don’t ask me how I know that either.

So we found a nice leafy car park to stop in for some emergency surgery. I really need to start doing things up more tightly.

And then we had a really fun run home. But I still took the car to Thunderfest, just in case.


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Barrels round

If it’s spring I must be taking my engine apart. I knew when I bought the MZ that it was going to need some work but that doesn’t make it any easier when it splutters to a halt and leaves me and the Wingman standing like lemons at the side of the road.

Last weekend we were supposed to be making our MZ rally debut at Wainfleet brewery in Lincolnshire. MZ Steve gave up a Sunday to help fix my wiring so I could get an MOT. Even more nobly, Mrs MZ Steve gave up her Sunday to do the driving and spent the day sat in my front room with her crochet.

We had arranged to RV at the Little Chef at Thrapston but I only made it about 20 miles from home, when I slowed down for a junction, and the engine just carried on slowing to a stop.

Now, it had been doing this before and I swopped the fuel cap with the blocked breather for one without a blocked breather and hoped that had solved the problem.

No chance, said the god of engine problems.

Two sorts of people stop when you are broken down by the side of the road. Well-meaning ones, who ask ‘are you OK?’ but don’t really have anything to contribute other than moral support, and really useful ones. A young woman stepped up jiggling a baby. ‘Are you OK? Do you need any tools? It’s just my husband and I restore vintage Lambrettas…”

It turned out I needed an allen key because – and I can’t remember why I had taken the lid off the carb – I’d managed to ping the throttle cable free.

By the time I’d got the cable attached to the slider again the engine seemed happy to start and I had a choice.

Stick or twist?
A sensible person would have recognised that whatever the problem was, it had returned and Lincolnshire was not going to be reached.

A sensible person wouldn’t own an MZ. We got as far as the slip road to the A14 when it went again. Fortunately this wasn’t a busy junction and there was a safe place to wait. After half an hour the engine ran well enough to get us back to the nearby truck stop but only just. A helpful trucker pushed us up to the caff where I consoled the Wingman with sausages from my all-day-breakfast and admitted defeat. The A14 is not a good road to break down on as it’s very fast and has no hard shoulder. We would turn around.

Changed the plug, that seemed to help, for a short while. Got to within 5 miles of home, had to call my rescue people. By the time they arrived, the bike started so of course they didn’t put me in the back. I got to within 2 miles of home and had to call them again. But by now it was rush hour and it took a Very Long Time. And I had stopped in the middle of 6 lanes of traffic which wasn’t cool.

And then they told me that dogs aren’t normally allowed inside cabs any more and they are supposed to wait in the vehicle being rescued. They looked at a distressed and trembling Wingman and agreed that no, he could not be expected to sit in an open sidecar on the back of a low-loader. But it’s just one more example of a world designed for cars and it worries me a lot. Allergies, apparently.

I had left the house at 10.30 and got back at half past 6. On the roll of honour – the lady with the baby and the allen keys, the trucker who gave us a push to breakfast, the helpful chap who told me the postcode of the factory car park where I was waiting for the first truck, and the lady jogger who helped push me out of the traffic to a place of safety so I could wait for the second without dying. And Steve, who said ‘come tomorrow in the car.’

So I went to the rally in the car and had a lovely time and all the boys debated what the problem was with my engine.

The problem with 2 strokes is that everything influences everything else, and deduction turns into the Battle of Wits from the Princes Bride – is the choke sticking slightly on? then the engine is running too rich, which might end up in overheating because more fuel means less oil. But the tank is full of flakes of rust, so I clearly can not count on over-fuelling and perhaps the engine is running lean. Which might end up in over-heating because if there is not enough petrol going through then there is not enough oil either. So I can clearly not assume that it is overheating and it must be some other problem.

So I have been doing what I should have done in the first place, which is to take the tank off, clean out the shite, take the carb off, check all the jets and the float, and while I’ve done that I might as well take the barrel off and change the small end bearing in case that’s the source of the worrying ticking noise that could be the count-down to an engine failure.

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Fail again. Fail better.

1e147592ceaa016531cb2bc55dd6e6b1This week has been a frustrating lesson in the importance of starting again. I’m trying to make a dog sweater for the Wingman so that he is toasty in the sidecar when we go to our first MZ Rally at the end of the month.

It’s pretty complicated but I hadn’t expected to be on my third start with it. I’m new to cable knitting but not so new that I can’t see when something has gone horribly wrong.

Much like my MZ exhaust. I had three jobs this weekend – change the spark plug, in case it’s the source of the odd ticking. refit my lovely round front wheel with its lovely (newish) flat brake disc, and find out why the exhaust is leaking from the head. (Spoiler alert – because it wasn’t tight enough).

Now it turns out that, like the question ‘what’s the best oil ratio?’ exhausts can start a fight in a room of 2-stroke enthusiasts.  Some people like to put a big copper ring in between the downpipe and the barrell. Other people don’t. My downpipe is quite wobbly and it turns out I have a bent flange. (Yes, I will go and see a doctor…) So in went the ring.

There are only three clamps on an MZ exhaust – one at the front, one at the back, and one in the middle. With the other two in place, the middle one was about an inch shy of where it should be. Clearly I had fucked up.

I consulted.

It sort of went on.

I checked back in on my post in the MZ Riders Club Facebook, where helpful chaps look after this numpty woman.

“It’s upside down,” said Andy.

Damn. Of course the rule is that before you take anything off you take a photo of it so you know what it looked like but I forgot.

So I have started again. Again.

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