ap50

MECHANICAL APATHY by Nigel Crowley

Nigel has been kind enough to send me another article for your enjoyment.

Motorcycles. Funny things eh. I’ve just celebrated close to 30 years of riding them and lately I’ve been thinking back to when it all began.
For me, it started out of necessity when I ended up going to school about 20 miles from where I lived with my parents. With no reasonable public transport to hand, owning my own wheels was the only, and for my parents at least, reluctant option. I, on the other hand, was doing my happy dance.

My dad spent some time showing me how my shiny new, Kenny Roberts-a-like, Yamaha FS1E worked, as well as insisting I did a rider training course, before being let loose on the public highway.  Prior to that my pulling-away technique had been to wing-ding-ding the engine rapidly before dumping the clutch.  An interesting prospect in stop-start traffic to say the least. 

Apart from setting a long standing personal trend by crashing on my very first day, whilst riding in the snow, (it’s a bummer having a birthday in January in the UK) I fared pretty well…well, apart from the time I ran that girl over in the high street while I was bunking off school and broke all the bones in my arm, and a kneecap on the kerb.  But let’s not dwell on that. 

I also got reasonably handy at looking after the thing and would regularly strip my little yellow machine down for a weekend’s de-coking, for it was rumoured that as many as one horsepowers could be liberated by such pursuits.  Many’s the time I’d stick a raw spud up the end of the exhaust pipe and proceed to fill it with a caustic soda mixture so strong that a whiff of it would melt your eyeballs and turn your skin to soap.  I also became massively OCD-ish about cleaning the thing - not something to be taken lightly in the UK, where the winter lasts 11 months, the roads are almost permanently white with a crust of Council-deployed salt many inches deep, and the average temperature in February is so low that if you throw up from a standing position your spew, on it’s journey betwixt gob and gutter, will take on all the properties of a frozen diced-carrot pizza.  My scarred knuckles still bear testament to the many hours of scrubbing hard-to-get-to-places-on-motorcycles with totally numb hands.

This level of attention I paid to my steed was in stark contrast to that of one of my biking mates, who got his hands on an immaculate Suzuki AP50 on his 16th birthday.  He was an exceptionally brilliant rider right off the bat and in short order had scraped the end of the pedals down to a razors edge that Boadicea would have been proud of.  He was soon riding around on one wheel while the rest of us were still wobbling about on two.  In fact I distinctly remember sitting at a crossroads one day, waiting for the lights to change, when he appeared from my right, rode right across the junction and disappeared up the road to my left, all on one wheel: impressive.

However, he had so little idea of how his bike worked, or how to maintain it, that it nearly defies the meagre abilities of the English language to express it.  His level of mechanical sympathy was so lacking that it became a thing of legend among us over the following years, and whatever he was riding was always a total bag of bolts held together with duct tape, rust and a good degree of luck. 

But perhaps an example from his early days will best prove the point and serve to indicate his massive lack of respect for reciprocating parts of all kinds.  From day one, his near-new AP50 rapidly attempted to return to its constituent elements, largely as a result of the aforementioned salt, coupled with a cleaning regime that involved leaving the bike out in the rain as often as possible.  The clanking of the rust-red chain against the centre stand heralded his arrival by some minutes wherever we went, only slightly masked by the ludicrous racket emanating from his baffle-less exhaust (for it was equally rumoured that almost undetectable power gains could be garnered by such an exercise).

The fact that he even had any forward motion at all was impressive enough given that, If the teeth on the sprockets weren’t worn to velociraptor like hooks, it was only because they had been reduced to barely detectable bumps. Many’s the time he would jog along next to the bike, engine running and in gear, just to have enough momentum to allow the chain to find some traction on the smooth-as-a-babys-bum sprocket when he finally jumped on. The cables also had so much slack in them that the levers on the ‘bars flapped about like flags in a breeze and the moving parts they were attached to didn’t really move anyway.

To begin with, at least, the Suzuki’s engine seemed like a good'un and as I recall it was the fastest of all the 'peds we were running at the time. Eventually, however, it slowly began to overheat every time he went out on the thing. With monotonous regularity the poor engine would cook itself to the point that it would simply groan to a standstill at the side of the road: whereupon a frustrating amount of time would be spent waiting for it to cool-down enough to be restarted. Which, amazingly, it always would. 

So, and here’s the good bit, rather than figure out what was causing the overheating problem and get it fixed, he decided that the best course of action would be to fill his rather voluminous white top-box with water before every ride. Then, when the inevitable happened and the bike moaned to a halt, he would simply open said 'box and proceed to throw water from a plastic beaker (which he had cunningly brought along, for he was no fool) over the near molten engine, in a bid to accelerate its cooling process and allow him to be on his way sooner rather than later. In a very rudimentary way he had invented the world’s first water-cooled moped. 

The resulting clouds of steam were epic, but did at least serve to clean some of the salt off the engine casings. How the barrel didn’t explode into a million pieces in his face I’ll never know, but he rode like this for what seems, in my memory at least, to be months. To follow him, waddling about like a buffoon, with close to 15 litres of water hanging out behind the rear axle was a sight to behold. When that 15-kilos of ballast sloshed about mid-corner, the bike would shake it’s head violently for some number of minutes as he fought to get the thing under control: especially difficult as the front wheel was hardly touching the floor anyway. Obviously many, many crashes occurred, and in the end the massive, yet flimsy, fibreglass box sprung a few leaks here and there: the sprinkler-like effect of water pissing out on either side as he rode along only adding to the hilarity of the whole situation, and wetting the legs of many startled pedestrians into the bargain. Oh how we laughed as we rode through the town centre watching the bemused and be-wetted folk looking around in confusion, wondering where the sideways rain had come from

Even though I was enjoying the whole Fawlty Towers-ness of it greatly, in the end I offered to have a look at the abused Suzuki for him: although in truth I didn’t have much of a clue as to what the problem was either. I checked the engine oil and found it to be a bit low of course, so topped it up. I fiddled with the spark-plug, probably sprayed some WD40 in the plug-cap (as that seemed to be a thing people did), and checked the exhaust didn’t have a banana stuffed up it (as that also seemed to be a thing people did: the stuffing, not the looking). I looked in the petrol tank to see if it was full of rainwater and, in an act of inspired mechanical genius, checked that the feeder pipe from the 2-stroke oil tank wasn’t kinked or disconnected. 

It was about this time I noticed there was nothing in the oil tank, and by nothing I mean it exhibited all the bone-dryness of that typically associated with regions of the Sahara. If Lawrence Olivier had emerged from it through a shimmering heat haze astride a camel I would not have been unduly surprised.


“When did you last put any oil in here?” I asked. 
With not a hint of shame he replied, “Er, I don’t even know what that is so…never.”

So, to recap: he had ridden, for perhaps half a year, on a 2-stroke motorcycle without a drop of oil being added to the fuel. He had overheated the engine to the point of failure countless times and then proceeded to cool it down by slinging freezing-cold water at it: and the bloody thing still ran faultlessly for another year after we topped it up. 
All I can say is that Suzuki must have made bloody bullet-proof engines back then, and if he hadn’t finally crashed the bike to smithereens trying to get his knee down whilst wearing a highly protective pair of school trousers and a duffel coat, it would probably still be running today.