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Karma chameleon

September 18, 2008

Yesterday, I’m boppin’ down Eastlake on the GTS, not a care in the world. Suddenly, it hesitates. It sputters. It goes blea-blea-BLEAH!, and the engine quits. What the @#$%?

I pull to the side of the street, and try to restart it. The instrument cluster lights up brightly, the starter cranks, but the engine won’t fire. Again I say, what the @#$%?

I’m not inclined to panic. In situations like this, my brain shifts into kind of an overdrive disaster mode that was finely honed during my time as a race car crew person and owner of my own race car. I’ll need to decide what to do with the bike now, what needs to be done in the next several hours, and what the ultimate resolution needs to be.

Luckily, this is nothing like a race car coming into the pits with a shredded tire and deranged bodywork. I’m on top of a downhill slope, and not far from the intersection with Fairview. Traffic is light, so I can let the bike coast downhill to the big asphalt triangle between the credit union and Kemore Air. It should be possible to safely stash the bike somewhere in that area.

There’s a sidewalk on the credit union’s south side with a nice, GTS-sized empty space between two parked cars. Okay, the first problem is solved. I need to go home, and wouldn’t you know I’m a short walk north of the Fred Hutch SLUT stop. Take the SLUT downtown, catch a 56 bus at 1st & Pike, and you’re in West Seattle in no time. The bus stops at Admiral & California, which is only a few blocks from home.

I need to add a stop at AAA to my list of errands, and the Escape desperately needs a bath anyway, so I’ll take it. I’d let my AAA membership lapse a while back, and while I thought about reinstating it (the PLUS RV membership level includes motorcycle towing) prior to the Oregon Road Trip, I never got around to it. When you consider how much getting your ride towed can cost, AAA is a screamin’ deal. Even if you never have to get towed, you can easily get back the cost of your membership with other discounts on, well, everything.

So, I’m all signed up. Big People says breakdowns are handled on a first-come, first-served basis, and as swamped as they are right now, could make no guarantees on when they could get to the GTS. Well, if it won’t start, there’s not much I could do with it, anyway. Jeff said to check to see if the spark plug connector had worked loose, a known issue with GTSs. The battery seems fine, given that all the lights shine brightly and the starter works.

The GTS should be fine where it is overnight; there were no posted parking restrictions. I’ll come back for it in the morning.

Getting to the GTS will be the reverse of getting home: walk to Admiral, take the 56 downtown, and the SLUT to Fred Hutch. The bus part will be good intel for when I start a Monday-night class downtown. Exorbitant parking rates and predatory parking enforcement make taking a vehicle to downtown Seattle a scenario best avoided. Yeah, you have to walk a few blocks between the two, but that only seems to be a problem for Seattleites. Chicagoans, Bostonians and Parisians seem not to mind a short stroll between transportation modes.

The 56 bus is late. I don’t know why Metro bothers to print bus schedules—the buses come when they come. It arrives about five minutes behind schedule, not a problem since I have no appointments or other requirements to be anywhere at any particular time.

Midday might not be a true indication of how long the trip actually takes, but we were downtown quickly and directly. And it was nice to discover the ramp behind the fire station at Chelan Avenue leads onto the high-level West Seattle Bridge. I can do the West Seattle Bridge now. I have a GTS. Or I will when it runs again.

Walking from the Pike Place Market, I spy the Red streetcar at Westlake. I hear the bell ring, which usually means it’s about to leave, but it goes nowhere. Okay, it might still be possible to catch this one. If not, it’s a 15-minute wait for the next one. That’s why you see people running to catch public transportation in Seattle; you have to, unless you like long waits for the next bus or train.

I’m glad I don’t have to use 5th Avenue to get to work, because SDOT’s asphalt-eater has chewed it up real good. Hopping over the cratered pavement, I sneak between the cars and hop onto the streetcar.

The contrast between transit modes was remarkable. The bus was crowded, noisy, its windows and other surfaces marked with graffiti, many of its passengers seeming not to bathe regularly and talking loudly about, well, nothing. The SLUT was quiet, clean, free of defacement. And mostly empty. And free because my transfer from the bus is a valid fare.

At Fred Hutch, the cheery synthetic female voice on the PA system reminds everyone to get off because this is the end of the line. A large group of people with Fred Hutch badges were waiting on the platform, probably to go to lunch downtown. That’s what Seattle got for $52 million; an easy way for office workers to go to lunch. But it also got a stranded scooterist to and fro, not once, but twice, so I’ve developed a greater affection for it.

Thankfully, the GTS is right where I left it, upright and intact. I insert the key and turn it to “on;” the instrument cluster lights up, as it’s supposed to. I squeeze the right handgrip and push the starter button with my right thumb. The starter cranks, but the engine does not fire.

Okay, call AAA, they’ll have a tow truck out there in less than an hour. They’ll drop it off at Big People, and I’ll be back to one scooter for a while. Okay, whatever.

I sigh, then something John, the GTS’ previous owner, said when I was about to take it for a test ride pops into my head. “You can use the left brake lever, in case you need to give it gas,” he said. That’s true, but I’ve always been really cool starting modern scooters, using one hand to squeeze and press. And with inienzione elettronica, you’re not supposed to need to add throttle, you just turn the key or hit the button.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before, since it was a problem in early days with the ET4: I squeeze the left brake lever, crank the throttle all the way open, and hit the starter button.

Damned if the thing didn’t fire right up. And idle contentedly.

I shut it off, and try starting it the usual way. Fired right up.

One more time. Fired right up again. I left the engine running, and called AAA back. Don’t need the tow truck, thanks anyway.

I’m not sure why I brought a helmet with me, but I’m glad I did. Let’s ride home, I think. Big People will pick up your bike, for a fee, and the abode is much closer to their shop.

The GTS sputters again, near Joey’s on Fairview. Pull into the curb cut, crank the throttle, hit the start button. Fires right up again. At least I know how to deal with this, and worst case, I can get to a much closer place from which to have it towed. I’m taking the surface route back to West Seattle, as much because it’s cold and I’m only wearing a light jacket as not wanting to be stranded on a 50-mph freeway.

There’s no more sputtering. The GTS runs contentedly all the way to Freshy’s. I relate my tale to Amber, who says it’s Karma, for sure. For sure. Favicon

  1. September 19, 2008 8:19 am


    i’m glad your GTS finally started. usually things happen in the most inconvenient places, at least you had public transit. wonder what happened ? perhaps water in the gas ? try gas line antifreeze.

    this post was very suspenseful, you should try writing a mystery novel.


  2. September 19, 2008 10:11 am

    bob, I rode the GTS to Renton today and it ran flawlessly—started on the first hit, maintained 50 mph on Airport Way and SR 900, accelerated strongly from stoplights.

    Your thought about water in the gas echos mine. Or maybe it was some other impurity. The other possibility might be a computer glitch that worked itself out.

    Right now, all is well. All I can do is keep an eye on it…

  3. conchscooter permalink
    September 19, 2008 4:25 pm

    This gives me the creeps because that is how the CDI collar started to go on mine and became more frequent until that was the that. The CDI is the elctronic box on the steering head that responds to the electronic input from the key and”releases” the ignition allowing the scooter to start. Or a fuel injection relay. That came later. I got sick of not knowing if I could get to work or home. ( I have a trailer that my wife would bring to me to get the GTS home each time.)
    Best wishes.

  4. September 19, 2008 6:52 pm

    Well, I did a bunch more riding after getting back from Renton, with no problems at all. Did 50-60 mph from The Junction to Northgate, taking the high-level WS bridge, the Viaduct and Aurora. Totally effortless and smooth. A day or two prior to the failure on Eastlake, it would hiccup occasionally… a little hesitation like a misfire. I didn’t think much of it, since the GTS seems to have a lot compression braking ability, and it was going down a hill. I dunno. About all I can do at this point is keep riding it and see if anything more develops. I’m canceling the trip to Tri-Cities, however…

  5. Jack Monaghan permalink
    September 19, 2008 7:40 pm

    I have a 2006 GTS that I had ridden for about 130 miles in June to the 2% Inland Invasion. Bike ran flawlessly. I parked it in my garage and when I tried to start it about a week later cranky crank crank but no start. Not even a sound of trying to start. Checked for spark (and the loose plug connector which I previously had problems with last year) and had good spark at the plug. Switched plug – same problem. At this point I was stumped so towed the bike to Spokane Vespa. The electronic diagnosis showed a fault which they said was a bad fuel injecter and (here’s the bad part) bad fuel pump. Cost to R & R both parts $555.00! Bike had 2750 miles on it and believe me I baby it! All other services done per schedule, synthetic lubes and nothing but premium. No explanation as to cause but my research shows that Piaggio has had trouble with defective fuel pumps from the MFG. Some have been covered under warranty. Mine hasn’t been so far. Hope you aren’t having a similar problem but I’d hate to see you stranded in the desert on the way to Bachus Raucus. If you make it, I’ll be there on mine and we can compare notes. Good luck!

  6. September 19, 2008 7:56 pm

    Jack, thanks for relating your experience. Thing is, the majority of people I know who have GTSs have had no problems at all, and they’ve ridden their bikes thousands of miles. Certainly, the number of folks who’ve had problems is disturbing, and were I running Piaggio I would do what Honda and Volkswagen did when problems cropped up with the original Civic and original Rabbit respectively, that is, solve the problems by whatever means necessary, at no cost to the owners of the affected vehicles. Trouble is, for most scooter manufacturers, the U.S. and Canada are very small potatoes, sales-wise, compared to Europe and Asia.

    To anyone thinking about getting a GTS, I would say get the AAA PLUS RV membership, and plump for the extended warranty. GTs seem not to have had the issues GTSs have experienced, and they are nice rides. Yeah, they got a carburetor instead of EFI, but that might give more peace of mind.

    As I say, at this point I’m thinking it was an impurity in the gas. We’ll see what happens…

  7. September 20, 2008 6:15 pm

    If I’d have bought a GT and been happy with less acceleration and 55/60 mpg I’d probably still be riding it. My Bonneville has carbs and not much electronic at all and it runs like a champ at 16,000 miles. I am off EFI for the time being. The lack of trust thing kills me.

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