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!
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!
“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.
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.
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.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in posession of the same lid she has been riding in for 10 years must be in urgent want of a new one.
But I hate buying new lids. I got my head stuck in one in Ally Pally. And I paid a large amount of money for a shiny red AGV one which turned out to be the wrong shape and induced blinding head pain after 30 minutes. So I have soldiered on with my BMW Sport, even though I have dropped it a lot and the visor attchment on one side is broken. And the lining has holes worn in it.
I could (just about) justify this when I was just riding the two miles to work and back.
But now I have an MZ outfit and I have big plans! And a woman with big plans needs a proper lid.
I sidled up to the Schuberth specialist. They do women’s fit helmets these days, you know! He looked at me, my David Coulthard jawline and my Sean Bean chin and, with supreme levels of tact, said ‘You’ll probably find you don’t need the ladies’ fit.’ He did explain that women have different shaped heads to men, usually have bigger hair, and the lining is easily detachable so that you can wash your make up off it. All these things seem sensible. But the medium was too small and the large was too large, even in non-lady sizes.
Thank goodness, I thought. Nothing fits so I can carry on with my baggy old BMW.
But it really won’t do, not for a proper biker which I am slowly returning to being.
So I sidled up to Helmet City. What do you have that will fit a woman with a big chin, I asked? We started with the Schuberth but that was too tight in the forehead and too high on my massive head. Try this, said the sales chap, handing me a Shoei. Now, I’ve never had a Shoei shaped head. But apparently these days I do. It fitted where it touched and it has a drop-down sun visor so my ambition to be the drop ship pilot from Aliens is finally realised. (though without being eaten by a xenomorph, please).
But buying it would be hasty. I need to build up to it gently, not least because I have already spent 500 quid this week on Hortense.
Pause for lunch.
Interlude for sitting on the new Honda Monkey bike (fab); buying ACF50 (winter preparation!); purchase of Ogri Christmas cards from Tim Midlife Classics (not sure who I shall be sending the Mitzi ones to!); and picking up a flyer for the 2019 Garbage RunGarbage Run (definitely up for this).
Return to the stand with card in hand. Now it turns out that I’ve been putting helmets on wrong for 20 years. I have always pulled the sides apart and dived in face-first (and dear lord, that looks very wrong written down). But apparently the Shoei way is to balance it on the crown of your head and pull it down. It’s unnatural.
So now I am the nervous owner of a grey Shoei with dayglo stripes. It has a pinlock visor shield which some other Shoei experts fitted for me. “What’s your bike, is it a [something modern and up to date which would match the lid]?”
“No, it’s an MZ 250 with a side car.”
Much amusement. It took three of Team Shoei to get the visor on and off so I’m glad I wasn’t doing it myself at home.
I think at full price this lid would be 50 per cent of the cost of my motorcycle. But it is last year’s colour so I got it for much less. I carried it round proudly for the rest of the show and it’s now sat on my dining table looking very beautiful.
It was a fantastic day all round. Last year I went on my own and realised that I had been mediating my motorcycling through other people and vowed to stop it. Unfortunately the universe misheard and mostly stopped me riding at all. Today I went with a friend and though I have done almost no riding in the intervening 12 months I felt much happier about where I am and where I am going. Albeit slowly, and in a cloud of 2-stroke.
“A favourite saying. ‘It doesn’t matter how you travel, it’s that you travel which matters.’’ … Of course, a motorcycle is best.”
But an outfit is better 😉
I had bought my ticket and arranged insurance for a magnificent classic Suzuki and Watsonian chair on sale in Ayrshire when the vendor changed his mind. 100 quid down on an non-refundable fare to Glasgow Central. Cheers, twat. Though I did once do the same to a man on his way to buy 2Moos, the Africa Twin, so perhaps it was karma catching up with me.
This one got posted to the Federation of Sidecar Clubs facebook group and was, I thought, snapped up by another member who has been on a quest for an MZ outfit for a long time while I was haggling over the Suzuki. I sighed, and cursed our Scottish vacillator.
Then I got a message in my inbox, from the son of the seller. I turned out he was a local chap who I’d visited back in the spring to see if I wanted to buy his Monza (I decided against putting a chair on the Triumph in the end so didn’t.) Dan had passed on the rig, was I still interested?
A deal was done, and yesterday I collected my rental trailer and trundled off to collect the outfit. It is always a bloody rugby day when I hire trailers which means bringing them back requires dodging through the security and the parking chaps in hi viz around the arena to get back to the yard. A 2CV can tow 400kg. The trailer weighed 228kg empty. An MZ250 weighs about 150kg. I was a bit worried.
Last time I brought a bike home on a ramp I borrowed a neighbour’s husband to help me back it down. These days I am an Independent Woman and did it on my own, though one of my new neighbours did watch to make sure the ramps were in the right place. Mainly because she was waiting to get her car into the garage and a pile of Eastern Bloc iron on its side in the alley would have represented an unacceptable delay.
Today we have been out. Once without the Wingman, in case of catastrophe, and once with, as he was sat by the door complaining at being left behind.
“Is the sidecar just for the dog?” asked a chap in the garage as I was filling up.
Yes, I said. I didn’t tell him that the dog also has a three-wheel kit car and a doge chariot. I think he would have thought that to be too many wheels.
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.
The smalls next door decided to have a sweet shop at the end of their drive this weekend, which was rather unkind at a time when I am strictly bound to the rules of Fat Club.
As I fitted the sat-nav mount to the handlebars of the Jawa they tempted me with less of a siren call, more of a bellow. “Would you like some sweeties?” I’m very glad that it was them offering me sweets and not the other way round!
As AdventureDog and I had a hard weekend of sidecar voyaging ahead, two small bags of cola bottles seemed a justifiable purchase. Larger small carefully tweezered them from her stash into a bag. “What were you doing last week under your car with a chainsaw?” she asked.
I don’t remember doing anything under my car with a chainsaw, but I was hacksawing the exhaust off. I explain, briefly. Meanwhile small small has run off to get his biker boots, for he is one of those tiny motocross riders with no fear, and wants to show me that not only is his bike louder than mine, his boots are better and he goes faster.
I have no doubt.
But it’s OK, because this weekend is about distance, not speed. I was fitting the sat-nav because for the first time in three years I was going somewhere on a bike that I hadn’t been before – the starting landmark for the Round Britain Rally.
Because the bastard snow has kept us within the city limits for far longer than planned, I was quite worried about the 160-mile round trip to the ARSE, the Annual Rally Start Event, when our furthest voyage has been the 13 miles to the Long Itch Diner. Or perhaps the abandoned run from Fife to Dundee last August which ended up on the Proprietor of the Northern Rest Home for Distressed Machinery’s trailer.
So Saturday’s mission was to double that with a trip to Jack Hill’s Cafe, one of my favourite biker stops, and if all went well, make it back to Asda in time to take part in the Coventry Riders Action Group Easter Egg Run. I love a good egg run and I haven’t done one since I lived in East Anglia.
Of course it was raining on Saturday. Just like the good old days. I’m impressed that my personal weather system has waited the four years I’ve been away from motorcycle touring. It joyfully precipitated upon me all the way down the A45 to Jack’s, where I had a cup of tea instead of a fry-up, and AdventureDog gave me the face because he didn’t get any bacon.
Slowly, the niggles are being ironed out. Having 40psi in the rear tyre instead of 5 certainly improves the handling. Backing off the rear drum adjusters released an extra 5mph – may not sound that impressive but when you’re struggling to get up hills it makes a big difference! And all my bad habits are being shown up. On the 125 I brake into a corner and coast round. On an outfit that drifts you out into the oncoming traffic. Get your braking before the corner – biker 101. I may even have muttered IPSGA to myself.
Damp but happy, dog, chair, Jawa and I made it to Asda in time for a coffee, a chat about the insanity of the decision to charge bikers £12.50 a day to ride in London, and a rapid turnaround to head out on the egg run.
“I’ll keep it fairly slow,” said Baz, in the briefing. There must be a local definition of slow I’m not familiar with, I thought as we hurtled along the back roads around Wolvey and back to Broad Park House, a centre for children with learning disabilities. They were so excited to see the bikes and the best thing about the day was that everyone was happy to let the kids scramble into the seats, toot the horns, and generally have a whale of a time, even the chap with a gorgeous BSA and vintage sidecar who would have been quite justified in saying no. With three kids in the sidecar and two on the bike, they looked like they were ready to hit the road and have the best adventure ever, but for dog and I it was back to the cupboard via the petrol station to get ready for our Sunday run.
I have done 360-mile days, I have ridden from Lands End to John O’Groats (more than once) and I’ve even done one Brit Butt (Lite version) but for the last three years I have only ridden the three miles to work and back. Everything else has been done sitting on my arse in the Lomax, and one of the lessons of Saturday was that my riding fitness has withered away. It is OK, I tell myself. When I got my first big bike after learning, I was daunted by the thought of riding from Buckinghamshire to Sheffield, where then-hubs was working. I printed out out maps, wrote myself some tips, and survived.
On Sunday I packed a flask, a bacon sandwich, and a reminder that this wasn’t about heroic stamina, it was about getting started. And my raincloud had decided to take a holiday so it was a lovely day to bimble south, stop to do my velcro up again (it’s given up any kind of grip), stop to let the dog have a wee (should have gone before we went), stop for a coffee (roadside coffee always tastes better when you’re sat on a bike), have a go on the motorway (not a great idea), stop to check whether I’d filled the 2-stroke tank up (yes), and finally make it to the ARSE.
Touring on a 350cc outfit is slow.
It got slower on the way home and when I pulled in to the petrol station I discovered oil all over the crankcase. 2 for 2, I thought, and went home sad. But people who know 2-strokes and Jawas better than me say it is just dribble from the exhaust. So Easter is looking like this:-
I hope Jesus would approve. After all, it is a resurrection of sorts.
My luck is not getting any better. I had to pull out of my house purchase after the survey found that the roof needed replacing. My tax is so screwed up that I will be paying twice as much as normal until next April. And the weekend I had planned to ride the Jawa down from the Northern Rest Home for Distressed Machinery was the weekend that winter decided to show up, with Met Office warnings for ice and snow.
I decided that the preservation of mental health made the outfit a survival item and arranged for it to come down on the back of a lowloader. If I don’t eat for the rest of Decmember I’ll be able to cover the fee.
The outfit arrived at 7am on Saturday morning. The keys followed in the post two hours later. I’m not saying I was desperate but the postie looked very surprised when I wrenched the door open as he turned into the drive. He was getting no chance to stick a card through and run away.
Wingman and I have been out twice already – the weather was horrible yesterday but today the sun came out while we were having a coffee and a burger at the drive-thru. I am remembering how to turn left and right, and that you need to give it an extra boot to get from third to fourth.
And it is lovely to be out on a bike and learning again. Wingman isn’t convinced yet but if I keep taking him to McDonalds for a plain burger he might come round.