Machines break. Some more than others. For those of us who ride mopeds, our machines fall into the “more often than others” category. Although it limits the reliability of mopeds, fixing a broken moped is half the fun of owning one. I should be clear: when I say moped, I’m not talking about those shiny Vespas some folks buy up at Herb Chambers on Brighton Ave – I’m talking about the dirty, rusty motor bikes you see zipping around. Like these:
I’ve been putting a lot of work into my Puch lately, and was so eager to try it out on a long ride that I decided to ride from Boston to my hometown of Medway, Massachusetts. Moments before I was going to leave, however, there was a knock at the door. The postman handed a gleeful me a package containing a new part for my bike. I had to decide: ride the bike as is, or put this new part on before you leave. I chose the latter, and it was a mistake.
Once I got out to Newton the moped sputtered and finally stalled, or shut off. I was able to get it started again, but it still sounded funky. The way I saw it, I was already in Newton: too late to turn back now. So I kept riding. But by the time I reached Natick, the bike decided it no longer wanted to run, and it didn’t.
An engine needs three things to run: spark (from the spark plug), fuel, and compression (in the cylinder). I checked spark first – had a strong spark, no problem. Next I unhooked the fuel line from the carburetor to see if gas was flowing – sure enough it was. And then there was compression. To check compression you plug the hole where the spark plug screws in with your thumb and pedal the moped. The pressure inside the cylinder should blow your finger right off the little hole. Unfortunately, the air leaked out the sides of the cylinder and my thumb remained right where it was. No compression, no start.
Oh yeah. And it was pouring rain.
In my rush to put on my new part – a head for the bike’s cylinder – I had stripped a couple screws that needed to be perfectly tight to get compression. If only I had waited. But a broken down moped, like I said before, is all part of the fun of mopeding – there’s a sense of accomplishment about being able to diagnose a problem and fix it. But for now, I didn’t have what I needed, so I decided to walk up the street and see if I could find a restaurant. Both of my parents were out of state, so I needed to find a place to hang for a couple hours until they could pick me up.
I ended up at Tio Juan’s Margaritas, a Mexican restaurant. I locked my defeated bike outside in the rain, and took a seat at the bar. I enjoyed a delicious burrito and more Roy Rogers (coke and grenadine) than anyone has drank in a single sitting ever (yes, this is confirmed by Guinness). Oh, and a little guac on the side (of course).
I could have been really depressed knowing that once I finished my meal, I would have to return to a broken moped in the parking lot in the rain. Instead I focused on how delicious my burrito was and how generous the bartender was with the grenadine in my coke. And I was rewarded: when I went outside the rain had stopped and the sun was shining.
I hadn’t realized it, but it turned out I was less than a mile from the mall. Naturally I headed over. In all of my efforts to start the moped on the side of the road, I had more or less ruined my shoes on the pedals. So I went to Journey’s and got a shiny new pair of Converse All Stars (my first pair of Converse, actually). Then I treated myself to a pretzel and headed back out to the garage to see if I could get this moped going.
But I did figure out exactly what I needed to fix it: four studs to connect the cylinder head more tightly so I could get compression. I orfdered them for just $12.00 on my smartphone, and in no time my dad came to pick me up. A few days later, studs in hand, the bike is running great.
So I guess this post isn’t really about mopeds, but more about looking at the bright side of things, which is something I’m learning to do. Rather than looking at my botched ride to Medway as a bundle of unfortunate occurrences, I see a delicious meal, a sunny walk, new shoes, and ride back home with my dad. All things considered (thanks NPR), that’s not that bad of a day. And besides. Half the fun of having a moped is fixing it when it breaks. (And it breaks like every single day.)