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Mechanical issue #2

December 8, 2006

Saturday is Yule Scoot, a Vespa Club ride that I volunteered to organize. Hey, at the moment, I have the time. I have plotted out a route, and today is the day to pre-run it.

Where previous Yule Scoots were alcohol-fueled mad dashes that ended up in bowling alleys, I’ve decided to make this edition an easy ride, so newbies and folks with 50cc bikes can participate. And this year, the original idea of collecting toys to donate to Children’s Hospital will be revived. Those who want to drink can do so at the ride’s end at Sunset Bowl in Ballard.

I’m on 145th Street in Shoreline, having discovered a section of road that looked really fun on the map turned out to be a potential nightmare for a group of scooters. I approach Greenwood Avenue, shifting into 4th gear. But a funny thing happens… the clutch lever stays squeezed.


I pull onto a sidewalk and stop, the PX sputtering and stalling. The clutch lever just moves on its own. There’s supposed to be a little metal knob in the hole near the clutch lever pivot screw. It’s gone.

I get down on my hands and knees to look at the attachment point for the other end of the clutch cable. That part’s okay; the pinch bolt and little rubber bellows are still there. I find what appears to be part of a brass rivet on the floorboard, so it appears the clutch cable broke on the handset end.

Time to call Roadside Assistenza. However, this time I don’t get Casey. I get a woman who answers “Motorcycle Towing.” Hmm. I tell her what’s wrong and where I am, and she says “Sorry sir, PX 150s aren’t eligible for towing.” Having begged to differ, she finally relented and said she’d call Big People and have them get back to me.

A few minutes later, Jeff calls. I explain the situation (and remind him the previous cable replacement was the shifter, not the clutch). Jeff says their driver is going to be tied up delivering bikes until 3:00 pm. It’s 11:30 am.

I say okay, trying to think of where to leave the bike, and where to catch a bus. A thought occurs to me: the PX 150 has a non-synchro gearbox. Race cars, like the Formula Dodge I drove at Skip Barber Racing School, have non-synchro gearboxes. Non-synchro gearboxes can be shifted without using the clutch.

Given a choice between hanging with the bike for four hours, or spending four hours on a bus, I decide to try to ride the bike, home at least, possibly to Big People.

I wheel the bike around the corner to Greenwood, which at this point slopes downhill, and has a bicycle lane. This would be a good place to try my theory. I can put the bike in neutral and start it with the kickstarter. The problem will be getting it into first gear without stalling it. That’s why I want to go downhill.

I start the bike, then start it rolling down the hill in neutral. Carefully, I put it into first gear. It goes fairly smoothly. I’m moving!

A gap opens up in the traffic, I give it some gas. Now, can I get second gear? Off the throttle, twist deliberately to neutral, then to second. Ker-choonk! Still moving, it’s still running! I crank some more throttle. Can I get third? Off the throttle, move carefully, bingo!

I can go about 30 mph without zinging the engine, and Greenwood is two lanes in each direction at this point, so anyone who has a problem with my lack of speed can easily pass. The nice thing about Greenwood is the long distances between traffic signals, at least north of Holman Road. I hit the green lights all the way to 85th; where the light turns red.

Can I downshift? I slow way down, and twist down to 2nd. Not smooth, but not so abrupt as to dump the bike. Next stop is neutral, so I can keep the engine running. And Greenwood is flat at 85th, so I can get moving with my legs.

A bit of a wheelie, but I can go when the light turns green. Into second, no problem, and the traffic is a bit slow going up the hill so I can leave it there until the road levels out. Get third again.

I am amazed at my luck in hitting green lights as I go south on Greenwood, then make the jog to Phinney. Around the corner at Woodland Park, I do a rolling stop at 50th and Fremont, making the right turn. I have to stop at 45th, but it’s flat, so no real problem. In fact, the light turns before I have to grab neutral, so the engine lugs just a bit, but I can keep going.

At this point I realize I can make it to Big People, so I cross the Fremont Bridge and go straight ahead to Dexter.

I hit the green light at Mercer, and was able to start smoothly at Denny. At this point, Dexter turns into 7th Avenue, and there is so little traffic I can crawl until the lights on the cross streets go green.

Westlake at 5th Avenue is my first real kerfauffle. It takes three tries to get the bike going, and once I do, I have to do the bob & weave to get around the trucks, the taxis and the clueless suburbanites. But I do it, my top speed being the magic 28 mph that gets you all the green lights on downtown Seattle’s one-way streets.

Before I know it, I’m at Dearborn. Airport Way is across the intersection, and at that point the distance between traffic signals is considerable.

It’s The Bridge, the one that curves over to Lucile Street. Big People is tantalyzingly close. I’ve done it! I probably could’ve gotten it into fourth gear and gone with the flow of traffic, but third is better, in case a downshift is called for.

I walk in the front door at Big People. “I thought you were stranded,” says Jeff.

I thought I was, too. Favicon

  1. joni permalink
    December 9, 2006 5:34 pm

    Not again!! @#%*&!!

  2. Chuck Pefley permalink
    December 9, 2006 5:49 pm

    Cool story, Orin. You might want to check you very last line which reads “I thought I was, tool”. Perhaps “tool” is intentional, but then again, perhaps not.

    See ya Tuesday

  3. December 9, 2006 8:46 pm

    Good catch, Chuck! I meant to say “too.” The error has been corrected.

  4. Christina permalink
    December 17, 2006 12:28 pm

    hi! interesting experience!

  5. Bruno permalink
    April 20, 2007 8:55 am

    Hey I just had the same experience! Rode that baby home and grabbed a new cable inner for $2.50. I took my time replacing it since it was the first time so it took almost an hour. When I have to do it again it should take about 15 minutes and that includes adjusting;^) I’m so glad I own a PX that I can fix myself. Cheers!

  6. April 20, 2007 12:03 pm

    Bruno, so am I! While the PX is under warranty, I will have it repaired by a dealer or authorized service center, but once the warranty expires, I’ll do all this stuff myself.

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