Monday, September 21, 2009

Clutch Not Brake

They say you can never go home again. The point being that the distant past can never truly move forward into the present. You can't get there from here.

It all started with a 50cc Honda scooter a few years ago. A 1978 Honda Express in a bright, very lime, green. A diminuitive machine with a top regulated speed of 27mph. They look more like bicycles than motor scooters. And if you take them for what they are you find yourself weirdly enamored by them.

My father in law had a rented storage unit. It was on the edge of the small town nearest his farm. A space filled with all the oddities we seem to keep in the indecision of possibly needing someday and throwing out. Furniture, hoses, you name it. Property purgatory.

I helped him clear the unit out. That's when I saw it. Hidden by sheets of plywood and stacks of wooden chairs. A cobwebbed old scooter which had been through better days. But everything was there. As far as I could tell anyway. Quietly, patiently waiting for someone to bring it back to life.

I dug into it with the advice of a few friends. Dan, who lives in my hometown guided me by phone while Loren, whose ability to breathe life into mechanical things always amazes me, came to my rescue here.

"Well I think there's supposed to be another part in there, there." Loren would say.
"You should be seeing something that looks like such and such between the lorkin cable and the stiction valve," said Dan.

I said, What?

The scooter was showing more and more of its internal glory by the day. Loren had the exhaust to reweld the aftermarket "flow derestrictors" drilled into it. I examined this, poked at that and became more familiar with this most basic of internal combustion engine designs. Little things about two stroke engines started to come back to me. I remembered that I actually liked points back in the day. Saw them as a challenge. Only because I reset them to factory specs. I knew how little I really knew.

Before long the Express was running and road legal. I tooled along the country roads outside my neighborhood. A hint of blue smoke marked my passing. It was glorious. Even if it was the slowest motorized two wheeler I'd ever ridden, it was fun getting up to thirty plus mph on the slopes. Even if it meant huffing like the little engine that could just to crest them. Each ride would end in a little fine tuning. Tensioning spokes if nothing else.

Then I heard that the new Vespas were also constant variable transmission. Auto-scooters which could really get you up to travelling speeds. An LX150 found a home in my garage.

But the maintenance seems more involved than I would like. CVT belts and rollers need to be checked and replaced regularly. About every four thousand miles on the rollers, six to seven thousand on the belt. Let me put it another way. I don't look forward to what it takes to do that maintenance. You need to move or remove quite a bit just to get to the valves, for instance. The whole engine/transmission assembly needs to be detached from the rear shock and tilted, just so you can get the valve cover off to check them. Its the maze ahead of the cheese that gets old.

So why not a four stroke Vespa? Or something reasonably close to that design? Stellas came close but they've been two strokes until now. Hot plugs, soft siezing... They sound magnificent when they're running but I'm no longer interested in the fiddling required of two strokes.

Then I read about the new four stroke Stella and I thought, This, this is the scooter I've been waiting for. Four standard gears and a clutch, four stroke engine and the basic iconic silhouette of the classic Vespa's evolution. The engine is on the right, where I can easily get to it. And the belt and rollers are history.

Maybe coming home needs to be a blend. A proper mix of the best of the past with this moment. I'm hoping the upcoming 4T Stella might be that bike for me.