Category Archives: Garage stuff


52033885_2304492933129234_7908322633584738304_oSpring has arrived, stealthily. Much like the dog, who sidled up while I was admiring the crocuses which were my clue that winter is coming to an end, and widdled on them.

Two weeks ago I tried to take the outfit on an excursion to the Long Itch Diner and had to turn back in misery. Not only because of my freezing fingers but because the front brake was about as effective as a Tory Brexit minister, and because something weird was going on with the throttle – it felt like a constant battle to hold it open. Maybe the perished, rock hard rubber? Maybe something else.

Once the flu had buggered off, I put the heater on in the garage, for it was still winter last weekend, and got stuck in.

The grips that came from a well-known overseas MZ provider were disappointing. The non-throttle side was too big, and flopped about aimlessly. The throttle grip was too short, and like the party dress I bought when I was 17, could either cover the top or the bottom but not both.

So I went to the shop. My nearest motorcycle emporium is a dirt bike place staffed by gnarly youth, none of whom were familiar with the glories of Eastern Bloc bike design. The Renthals wouldn’t do, they were far too narrow inside. But a set of Oxford Fat Grips looked most promising. Back in the garage, the clutch side went on beautifully. The throttle side required significant amounts of lubricant, a hairdryer, a broom handle and a great deal of huffing and puffing. Much like me trying to get that dress on in 1987.

But I digress.

Saturday was a sunny day and it was time to voyage further than the local park, so we went ten miles to the park in the town where the Posh live and dogs are called things like Harvey and Brian. We met rather more pugs and rather fewer Staffies than we normally see, and no-one took the Wingman’s picture in his sidecar. I think his lack of Boden clothing rendered him invisible.

All was well. The new grips were decadently squishy. The throttle stopped fighting back and stayed where I wanted it. But on turning for home the front wheel was unhelpfully wobbly. A quick inspection revealed just about every single spoke loose to the touch – but also seized solid. Helpful.

Patience is not among my virtues. But in the face of an array of stiff nipples (sorry, anyone who is googling this term and not expecting a blog post about motorcycle mechanics) all you can do is apply the penetrating oil (oh dear, it’s not getting any better, is it!), have a cup of tea, take a firm grip and wiggle the spoke key back and forward until something gives.

And like the crocuses, and the warm spring sun, nothing happens for ever, until quietly with no warning the key turns, the spoke tightens up, and the wheel comes back into stability.

On Sunday we completed our voyage to the diner. Two weeks late but much improved.



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Temporarily in funds after selling the Lomax I decided to treat AdventureDog for Christmas and buy him an OEM screen for his sidecar from Watsonian. While it is certainly – theoretically – possible to buy a sheet of perspex and bend my own, I thought for once I would go straight to the source and buy something brand new.

It came in a splendidly large and branded box. I took it home and parked it in the hall, waiting for a day when he wasn’t paying attention so I could pop it on the chair for him and surprise him on Christmas day.

Imagine my horror when I took it out of the box to find a beautiful, smooth sweep of plastic – WITH NO FITTING HOLES.

On thinking about it, it’s perfectly reasonable that you should have to drill your own – I’m sure every chair is slightly different in the spacing and location of the mounting holes.
But I know one thing about drilling holes in hard plastic and it’s this – hard plastic cracks. A lot.

I asked my team on Twitter for their tips.

There were many. Use a wood bit. Use a metal bit. Make sure it’s sharp. Blunt it on a grindstone before you start. Drill quickly. Drill slowly. Melt a pilot hole first. Don’t let heat anywhere near the plastic.

I read them all. And watched a couple of YouTube videos just to make sure.

It seemed to me that the most important thing was to have maximum control over what the bit was doing. And that meant a hand drill.

You can’t buy them any more. If you look for Hand Drill on B&Q or Argos you get a cordless power drill.

But for once the gods were smiling and an ebayer 2 miles away was selling a pair of Stanley hand drills with the auction ending on Christmas Eve. Yes, they wouldn’t mind me picking them up. And the sun was even shining so the car would start. (Hortense is Unhappy at the moment, doubly so when it’s raining).

Christmas came and went. I wasn’t feeling brave enough. I didn’t want my first attempt to be on a three-figure piece of plastic.

Then a small lightbulb moment. I had a perspex laptop stand that would still work with a few holes drilled in it. Game on! Six practice holes – and one jammed drill, still need to figure out what has happened there – later, it was time.

The beauty of the hand drill is that you can feel every shaving come off the plastic. There’s none of the brute force of hammer-drilling a blunt bit into a brick wall. If the bit feels like it has jammed, just wind back a fraction, don’t press on until lumps break off.

Into the garage.

Second blow! The screen wasn’t a brilliant fit round the top of the chair. It was a bit uneven, and one of the holes would have been perilously close to the edge.

I felt a bit outraged. I had paid for this ill-fitting white elephant!

I checked in with Boffin. Calm down, dear, he said (though he used more words.) Plastic forming is always a bit hit and miss, the shape changes as it cools. You will always need to do the fine-tuning yourself.

Cup of tea.

Out with the Dremel and the files, and an upturned plant pot to sit on. That went well – it lasted 5 seconds before splintering to pieces under my arse sending me sprawling back into the arms of the Triumph. AdventureDog managed to keep a straight face while I retrieved my dignity and found something sturdier.

Once I’d set about the edge, I felt more confident about drilling the holes – it was the point of no return. “If she dies, she dies.”

It was still a bastard fiddly job though. Because the screen doesn’t sit flat on the fibre-glass. It sits in a rubber gutter. But if you sit it in the gutter you can’t see where to mark the holes….and if you roll back the flap to reveal the hole (ahem) you move the screen.

Reader, we guessed. Or perhaps we Estimated how much clearance to leave between the chair and the bottom of the screen. And checked as we went along. Middle hole first, test fitting, check marks for next two holes. Test fitting, check marks for outer pair.

Five holes, and no problems.

Much pride.

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I try to keep the list of ‘things I don’t want the landlady to know about’ fairly short. I don’t drink in the house very often, I haven’t had any gentlemen callers ( though I should perhaps add that they haven’t exactly been forming a queue) and I haven’t sat on her sofa in my pants to watch Strictly.

I am not sure that this adds up to enough in the ‘virtue’ column to make up for ‘arsing about with petrol on her garden furniture.’ Close to the spot she likes to stand for an after-dinner ciggy. But last Friday was dry, clear and still, while the forecast for the weekend was crap again. And, based on prior experience, I had about two hours before she came home. Fortune favours the brave and all that….

Checking the float on a 2CV carb is simple. Whip the top off, turn it upside down, and check that the dimple in the middle of the float is 18mm plus or minus 1 above the edge of the carb body. If you’re feeling thorough, check both floats and average it out.

Checking the Jikov 2829 CE requires a Nutella jar, a ruler, a length of tubing, a syringe, a permanent marker and some non-latex gloves. I couldn’t find my syringe so I had to nab the landlady’s Highland Spring bottle from the draining board. I hope she isn’t still looking for it.

Eat the Nutella. (I had to skip this step as it isn’t Fat Club compliant and spoon it into a tub instead.) Mark a line 10mm from the lip of the glass. Balance the top half of the carb on the jar. If you left the fuel hose on the tap go and fetch it and attach it to the carb. Using the syringe, feed the carb with petrol until the valve closes. Wipe up the petrol you spilled on the table before it melts it. Realise that over-enthusiastic syringing has resulted in overflow, giving a false reading. Syringe the petrol back out of the Nutella jar and try again. Keep trying until the valve closes just as the petrol hits the line that you drew.

Worry about meniscuses and other visual tricks.

Decide that time is short and you are close enough for jazz.

Assembly is the reverse of disassembly. Though without dropping any screws down holes this time. David Angel at F2 sends brilliant step-by-step instructions, though not for the fainthearted. I don’t think Haynes has ever suggested I should roll a rubber hose back like a condom before fitting it, but it did the job beautifully.

By 5pm on Friday I had a bike that started and ran. Which was a significant victory. Since then I have mostly been trying to set the air mix screw, with limited success. I’ve watched a lot of YouTube videos, mainly by a chap called Mustie1 who is fettling a barn find Jawa at the moment. I need him to stop fannying around polishing the paintwork and show me how to tune the carb!

I also found a brilliant description of the process on the Yezdi and Jawa Club of Chennai website.

“select a place far away from the city or your residential area so that you do not disturb the tired, sick, disgusted, old people or babes (babies) living in your colony. You are likely to be shooed away from them when you are at a critical point. You may choose a place near your girl friend’s house just to impress her! Put the bike in main stand and get hold of your screw driver. That is all you need, together with your eyes, brains and ears.”

Yesterday I thought I had this cracked. I headed to a local beauty spot where one of this year’s RBR landmarks is located. I selected a place far away from my colony and adjusted the screw until the engine had a cheerful sound and the throttle response was quick without hesitation, deviation or repetition.

Today we were idling like a dog again. But yesterday was beautifully sunny and today was grey and damp. Maybe that makes a difference?

Who knows. After all the surgery I feel it’s now time just to start riding and see what happens. What’s the worst that could happen? Well, I could melt my pistons, lock the engine, crash and die. But I’ve done that once before (the melting part, not the crashing and dying part) so hopefully will feel it happening while there’s still time to pull in the clutch.

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I am buying a house. I owned a house until February last year and I sold it. So buying a new one makes me sad and angry, mostly with myself. And scared, because I don’t want to be taking on a mortgage at this point in my life but prices have gone up and my savings have gone down.

Four days of fettling a motorcycle in the rain have helped to remind me that having your own house is A Good Thing. If this had been my house I’d have put the outfit in the conservatory, put Planet Rock on, and had a lovely time. If the landlady had gone away for Easter I’d have been tempted to do the same. But no, she had the audacity to want to stay in her own home for Easter so I put my kagoule on, tried to find a spot for my cup of tea where it wouldn’t get diluted, and cracked on.

First, the dribbly exhausts. The internet is full of advice on having to take cutting wheels to welds and perform tricks with mole grips to get baffles out. I am here to tell you it’s much easier than that. Undo the 7mm bolt each side of the tailpipe and pull. Inside there’s a collection of objects d’art and two rubber rings, in my case, dripping with oil. Better get a bucket. And some degreaser.

It is much harder than I expected to get degreaser these days. Homebase don’t have it, the Brown Overall Emporium that had my Lomax bolts didn’t have it, and Halfords only do it on pre-order. Even my longstop local car accessories place only had a tiny tin. Has it been banned for our own good? I bet Shetland Janitorial could have helped..

So that was Good Friday. Degreasing, in the rain. After a bit of a James Herriot moment with my rubber-gloved hand inserted up the bike’s rear end I decided to take the pipes off for better access and to give a good clean to the surfaces where the collars meet the head, because David Angel says if these are dirty the seal will be poor.IMG_0598.JPG

Easter Saturday was more degreasing, cleaning of heads, refitting of shiny clean pipes, and then the game of trying to get the baffles back in. You can take them out in pieces but they need to go back as one unit. Have a guess how many tries it took to figure that one out….

2 days down, one job done. I ponder whether TV shows like Shed & Buried raise unrealistic expectations about how long jobs should take but decide that no, I’m just brick slow. My excuse is that I’ve never done this before. Next time will be quicker.

Another cup of tea, and then time to tackle the carb. I have a new float valve to fit and a set of gaskets in case I tear one. I’ve been eyeing up jars in supermarkets because the internet says that a jar with a 7cm neck is the right size to check the float height. And it needs to be really shallow to save me from having to take the whole carb off. Fortunately I work in a university town so roaming the aisles with a ruler and muttering doesn’t attract comment. Or security guards.

Taking the float bowl off, I dropped the screws. No problem, I thought. There’s a kind of shallow dish on top of the engine – the one that filled with fuel when the carb overflowed in Sainsbury’s car park – that will catch them.

So why did I only recover three screws?

Because it’s a shallow dish with a hole in one side that leads down into the engine assembly.

Much despair.

I could buy another screw. But that would leave one inside the bike doing god knows what damage.

There is only one thing to do. Get out the Big Screwdriver and take the side cover off. Underneath is something that I think is the ignition module, something else that I have no clue about, and a shiny carb screw resting gently on a ledge. I retrieve it and back gently away.

Panic over, and game over too – one of the floats is half-full of pale yellow liquid, like a Fanta bottle on the central reservation.

I’m cross because I’m the world’s slowest mechanic and losing screws down holes is really not cool.

But I’m also happy because I was right – the float wasn’t floating properly.

But I’m cross because I wasn’t confident enough to back my hunch and order a float at the same time as the new valve, so now I am stuck for the rest of Easter. And I can’t even pig out on eggs because we had a stern lecture at Fat Club – one large egg has as many calories as two bottles of wine. “Would you sit and drink two bottles of wine to yourself?” asked the leader. Most of us nodded, to her disappointment.

The exhausts look shiny though.


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A garage that sets homework!

Hortense has been to Pete Sparrow’s 2CV workshop to get a towbar fitted. I’m not anticipating towing any time soon, because most modern caravans are well over our 400kg limit. In fact most trailer tents are also over that limit too! But it seemed worth doing while you can still get TUV-approved towbars. It gives her a rather rugged air, as if we could hook up a rig and head for the horizon.

It was quite embarrassing taking her because there are lots of little things wrong with her. And one big one. The clutch is now slipping. I feel certain that this has been brought on by me not having a handbrake since December. Instead of a simple handbrake adjustment I now need to split the engine from the gearbox and put a new clutch kit in. Talk about spoiling the ship.

The underseal is also peeling off her hindquarters. Pete has put me under instruction to strip it all off, with a wire brush, taking off the shock absorber for proper access if needed, so that the job can be redone properly. I think one of the reasons he’s so busy is that he was happy to take time to lift Hortense up into the air and talk me round all the flaws that are starting to develop. She needs a damn good waxoyling, a hard look at the offside rear brake cylinder, a new stone guard and a new clutch. Over a cup of tea we agreed that 2CVs are awesome and although they demand most of our spare time as tribute they are worth the effort.

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A Twitter friend stopped by yesterday

He was dropping off his late father’s workbench and vice for my workshop.

There are days when I wish I had lots of money and could buy all the equipment on my wish list. But new tools are not as good as cherished old tools with love behind them. I promise that these will continue to give good service, and I’m very lucky to have them.

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Happy Monday

imageThrough the window it looked like a beautiful morning – blue skies and sunshine – though a quick dog-walk added a biting wind to the mix. Still, if it looks warm, that’s nearly enough reason to take the bike to work for the first time this year.

In fact it’s three whole months since I’ve ridden more than the distance from the end of the trailer up into the garage. A quarter of a year without riding? And I dare call myself a biker.

Now that unpacking has made decent progress I know where my winter trousers, gloves and lid are. That was good. But my garage seems to be a place where batteries die. The Lomax would barely turn over at the weekend, and now the bike was struggling hugely. She’s always been a bad starter but this is a whole new level. Something might have shaken loose on her travels, or maybe I need to face reality and buy a new battery.

And of course the day I go in on the bike is the day I find my missing box of stuff in the cupboard at work! Please welcome – the kitchen knife! The no-longer needed Vodafone SureSignal! And …the Foot Pump! Hallelujah.

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Otra vez siento bajo mis talones el costillar de Rocinante

my life in a van

Once again my life is loaded into boxes in the back of a van. So far this time I have broken my toe (dropped padlock from my storage unit on it); burnt my knuckles (got too near the exhaust on the TTR trying to demonstrate that it wasn’t an oil leak, it was just a dirty engine); and traumatised my dog by putting his favourite sofas into storage.  The bike has gone for a vacation in Oxfordshire; the Lomax has gone to a different secret location in Oxfordshire, and Shakey and I are about to move into temporary digs in the West Midlands.

If you need vans in Cambs then I wholeheartedly recommend Stuart Darling, they were really helpful for me, though sceptical at the thought that I would be able to help move my own washing machine.


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Hair oil

The Triumph has needed servicing badly for a while. Unfortunately that’s just what it got yesterday – I am not normally quite so cack-handed as to get more oil on the drive than in the drip tray, to dip my hair in it when getting down to check the chain tension, or to spend 20 minutes winding the chain tensioner the wrong way, but those are just the highlights.

It is, I suppose, an improvement from earlier in the week, when I managed to put the car into reverse instead of first and smack the poor bike into the garage door.

It may be that used 10w40 is good for split ends and overall condition. I will let you know.

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All is safely gathered in; now the tricky part begins.


All is safely gathered in; now the tricky part begins.

First the piston then the rings; push-rod tubes and fiddly things;

Heads and oil and manifold – will I make this Lomax go?

(with apologies to Henry Alford)

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