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PANDEMIC TALES PART 2

A SIMPLE TALE OF MOTORCYCLE FOLK IN THE YEAR OF CORONA-VIRUS FROM THE PEN OF JOHN NEWMAN...

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The French Moped
About three years ago I acquired a Velosolex moped from my brother in law. The circumstances were sad; Frank had cancer and was selling and transferring his possessions.

The Velosolex was in his garage, but had previously lived on his boat that he kept on the canals and waterways of France; where it was used to zip along towpaths to reach towns and villages to pick up supplies. It hadn't been used for some time, and was looking sad and tattered.

The 'solex is basically a cycle powered by a fifty cc two stroke engine mounted on the front and driven by the front wheel. There's a lever that lowers the engine onto the front wheel, then a connector wheel engages with the front tyre. When the rider pedals the engine turns over, fires, and you're away at ten or twelve mph.

My 'solex is an early model (1962) with no throttle. Raising the engine to disengage 'power' and then braking is the way to come to a halt. Many thousands of these were made in France before manufacture was transferred to Hungary. No licence was needed to ride.

A consensus might be that having our movements restricted or being furloughed etc because of the virus, provides ideal surplus time to work on projects that we might normally put to one side. The 'solex should be running by now, but for some reason I've come to a halt with not many tasks left to complete the bike.

I can identify some reasons or rationales for this. I used the loosening of restrictions in the summer to ride; I took my kayak to the west coast of Scotland, and caught up with friends in different parts of the country. I also found that rather than using unfriendly weather days to work on the 'solex I didn't have the enthusiasm then. I preferred garage work on sunnier days, when I could have the doors open, and air wafting through.

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Time Frame Is Of Little Consequence
In the great scheme of things, the time frame is of little consequence; but the bike is nearly there. All the frame parts were powder coated by a small company in the next village run by two young women. New rims were built up by a cycle wheel builder in York. Other new bits came from suppliers in Holland and France where Velosolex enthusiasm is not only keeping bikes on the road, but rallies, ride outs and even races take place.

I've only the brake cables to trim to the correct sizes and connect; secure the saddle in place; connect the drive chain and the exhaust pipe, and then it will be time to tinker with the little two stroke unit to see if there's life. Fortunately there's a straight flat and smooth section of road adjacent to my house. I think an early Sunday morning trial pedal would be the best time to avoid any potential embarrassment of an 'old geezer' losing control of bike or body...watch this space.

An Eccentric Sidecar And A B33
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Dave Newman, who contributes to these pages, finds it hard to pass up the opportunity to acquire eccentric but often practical machinery.
In a memory now shrouded by the mists of time, Dave was taking one of his bikes for an MOT, when he spotted what looked like an off road sidecar outfit parked up. "Thought you'd be interested in that" said Roger the owner and MOT guy. He'd bought it as a winter hack expecting snow. The snow never came, and Dave eventually became the owner.

The outfit is a Suzuki concoction. An SP500 four stroke single engine levered into a DR500 frame, with a trials type sidecar attached. Dave and his mate Milky trucked it down to Spain one year; using it to ride in one of Austin Vince's famous 'Pyrenknees Up' navigation skills off road events. It then languished in the youth education project Dave worked at, taking up valuable space. Until Chip, occasional volunteer and multi-bike owning enthusiast took it away to work on early in the plague year.

What Chip needed was a slow bike for a trip to Scotland with two slowish bike friends. Nick, who rides and old BMW R65, and Steve who has one of the original and classic Honda 400 Fours. Parity of pace would be more or less equalised, and the sidecar could be utilised as a luggage carrier.

Our uncertain, indeterminate, insecure and indefinite future scotched the original plan - pun intended. So in the unknown and restricted interim they've separated the bike from the chair, and when the temperature lifts enough for Steve's fingers to retain feeling, he'll carry out a conversion job on the electrical system to transfer the existing hybrid six and twelve volt system to full twelve.
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Enthusiasts like Chip are often looking to change or add to their collection and to experience riding other machinery. So it was in the midst of the first lock-down (April) he saw an advert for a BSA B33, 1958 model and snapped it up from another motorcyclist who had an enviable collection.

There are already three bikes in the garage: 2004 KTM trail bike; 1990 Honda VFR 750, and a 2015 BMW R1200RT which will make room for the B33. An unusual choice of replacement unless you consider that Chip lives in London and in October of this year the extended area of emission controls will render the BeeEm partially redundant. The Beezer, as an exempt historic vehicle, can thump its way round the capital comfortably oblivious. Back in the day it was marketed as a road going/commuter mount, and given the volume and stop start nature of present London traffic; speed and weight not required.

Firing Up The Beast
One problem, he's having trouble firing up the beast. I'll try and help by quoting from the Sump online magazine specification review: 'Starting the B33 is simple. Impede. Tickle. Slight throttle. Bring it over TDC and press through. The key part of the kick-start swing is, as ever, the last third of travel. Just keep the pressure steady rather than aggressive, and (if the ignition and carburation is correctly set up) it should start easily enough'. Good luck!

The Physio
Down the years motorcycling has not treated my back kindly. I've spent more on (private) physiotherapy treatment than I like to think about. Like the vast majority of the population I believe the NHS is one of the UK's shining achievements; but physio services for bikers bones is not readily available, and if neglected, problems accumulate and serious damage sets in.

The physio I'd been using for many years retired. He'd kept me in good shape, and offered sage advice knowing that riding and writing about bikes was a major part of my life. Last April my back went into spasm, when in the act of lifting accumulated empty bottles for recycling - 'nuff said -and I was practically immobile. The NHS, even at this early stage of the pandemic, had enough to cope with under pressure from this new and unknown virus. A&E was not an option, but fortunately I located a physio practice that was registered to continue treatment during the restrictions.

The practice was as expected well organised in terms of full hygiene facilities and clients not coming into contact. In the waiting room my attention was soon drawn to the skeleton model that all physios seem to display, but unusually this one was adorned with a selection of VR46 paraphernalia - VR46 is the name of Valentino Rossi's race team and marketing operation. Also on the shelf were a number of motorcycle books, historic and more modern, and mostly concerned with racing.

Once in the treatment room, and having met the therapist Lee, I saw a couple of photographs on the wall of racing motorcycles on track. Having diagnosed and located the problem area, and with me prone on the treatment table, we soon got into conversation about bikes.

Track Day Enthusiast
Lee is a track day enthusiast, and his father owns a collection of Yamaha TZ two stroke racing bikes; made famous in the 70's by riders such as Phil Read, Bill Ivy, the Canadian Mike Duff, and Kenny Roberts from the USA, among others. Fast but fragile if not well maintained, they have been the favourite mount for racers from club runners to world champions.

Lee's track bike for 2021 and (hopefully) beyond will be a 1992 ZXR400 Kawasaki. The four cylinder across the frame four stroke that has the power band of a two stroke; nothing below 8,000rpm, and then screaming up 14,000rpm. (There's a full track day programme operating at circuits across the UK this year).
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The bike needed quite a lot of TLC to get it track fit. It wouldn't tick over, and once the airbox was removed it was discovered that the carbs had been cable tied onto the inlet ports. After stripping and cleaning the front brake, the pistons were found to be damaged; so a new brake kit was fitted. The head stock was loose too, and it needed a new radiator that was sourced from Australia for £150.

A steering damper from an Aprilia 125 went on, new tyres, and new fairing brackets were welded on to replace yet more cable ties - an invaluable addition to the motorcyclists fix and repair repertoire, but there are limits. Now ready to go.

If you're around the track days this year you'll easily notice Lee. He has 'the physio' on the back of his leathers. An appreciation of his most admired racer, the aforementioned Mr Rossi whose leathers are labelled 'the doctor' for reasons that are open to a number of explanations that would take up too much word space here, and can be found online.

Thanks very much for that John – nice collection of motorcycle tales there. If you have any comments or any stories of your own to add, please email us at news@wemoto.com or drop us a message on Facebook.

Posted by John Newman
for Wemoto News on 27 January 2021 in Features

Edited By: Denisa Orbulescu

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