The mechanical endeavor begins with two scooters/mopeds, both from the early 80s: a good time for mopeds, a bad time for hair. MopedArmy.com defines a moped technically as a motorized cycle with pedals, yet a scooter as a motorized cycle that allows for a step-thru seating. Thus, this gives rise to the somewhat often used phrase "NoPed" for those cycles that are to small to be motorcycles, don't have pedals and don't step-thru. So, technically speaking, the absurdly cheap cycles we recently acquired are "nopeds," but I think that's dumb and I will not use the word. On a side note, true barn finds are the way to go. Cheap, old, and just begging to have someone to hope in them again.
The two mopeds we bought are a 1980 Honda Express (NC50) and a 1982 Suzuki Shuttle (FA50). I call the latter the Subway Shuttle because the logo looks identical to the Subway logo, arrows and all. Both were advertised as running, but running rough. So, I snagged my dads truck and hauled out to Rockford, IL to pick them up and bring them home...in 100 degree weather...still with a proper broken leg...by myself. But hey, everyone's still alive so who's to care?
|Seller's photo: 1980 Honda Express (NC50)|
I brought them home, super excited, and my wife and I proceeded to start them up so she can experience the wonder that is moped. I'm a good 100 lbs over the weight limit, so I stayed off. We pulled out the Shuttle
kick vroom! starts right up. Pull out the Express (which has a spring-start, not a kick start) and crankcrankcrankcrankcrank pop!...nothing.
|Seller's photo: 1982 Suzuki Shuttle (FA50)|
Nettie was, needless to say, not happy. In the frustration of the moped not starting (and the YELLOW one at that) I had to admit to her that no, I had not actually seen the little parakeet yellow Honda Express run...and yes...I did pay more for it than I paid for the Duplo blue Suzuki Shuttle...
Honestly, the old Harley enthusiast with a braid down to the middle of his back seemed honest enough...right?
So, it happens that she went off to the trenches to sling coffee at unsuspecting not-so-Pleasant Prairie citizens, and I'm left with this tragically disappointing piece of parakeet paraphernalia. I tried cranking the spring-start again and again, only to have it turn and fail.
To be fair though, the Suzuki really did ride quite nice. It was also my wife's first real experience with two motorized wheels. My mother and I stood there watching her ride it up and down the street nervously: down and back
NERVOUS, down and back NERVOUS, down and back for a third time. This time though, she navigated the U-turn with confidence and when we saw her coming back towards us she was beaming. FREEDOM. And she's hooked.
And that to say that even though the yellow one didn't work, the day was not a complete waste. I did, however, take a coffee break (one of many in my daily regimen) and afterwards retreated to my mechanical sage: Grandpa. My grandpa is an odd yet incredibly awesome fellow. A bachelor for the first 40-odd years of his life he has not only built countless motors, machined an insane amount of gears and sprockets, but had also spent years illegally street racing in the backroads of Gurnee and Milburn. He even once drove from LA to Chicago by himself, non-stop, which I think is very impressive. Surprisingly he's only owned two bikes (not counting the Wizzer he rode between the ages of 11 and 15) in his entire life. The first was a 1957 Harley Sportster, purchased from a friend in '59,
|A wonderful specimen of 1957 Harley Davidson Sportster,|
not my grandpa's though....
and the second was a 1972 Suzuki GT750, white, fully dressed.
|1972 Suzuki GT750, also not an actual photo of my grandpa's,|
but close enough for comparison.
But alas, when I showed up at my grandpa's, he was on his way out and not able to come take a look at the Express. So I turned around confused and befuddled, scratching my head at what could possibly be wrong. At this point I still refused to believe that the old man with a braid had lied to me about the running moped. And as I pulled away from my grandparent's house I looked back at their 2 1/2 acres that I spent so many summers mowing. I remembered all the shades of red and brown my skin turned out there, and all the soul-searching I was able to do atop that rumbling red behemoth (it was while mowing that lawn that I first discovered I HAD to marry my now wife), and I remembered how much trouble my grandpa's...six? Was it six different mowers? Yes, how much trouble those SIX lawn mowers gave me, and how so often when I couldn't start them he would come out, laugh at me, and turn the petcock on...
For those of you who don't know, a petcock is a sort of valve thingy that stops or opens the gravitational flow of gasoline down to the engine/carburetor. Usually they have three settings: ON, OFF, and RESERVE which allows a small reservoir of gasoline to be accessed in the event that you are dumb enough to ride until you're out of gas. Now, aside from having a simply horrid name, this dastardly little valve or switch or whatever hates me. Or I hate it. Or somewhere, somehow my brain decided it shouldn't exist, and so without fail I will suck at starting some sort of machine multiple times a year because I forgot to turn on the petcock. Four years of of private preparatory school, and four years of higher education but no, I can't remember to turn it "On." Just dumb.
4th of July weekend we took both working bikes up to a cabin with the in-laws. Mind you, it's a three bedroom cabin. My wife and I, her parents, two sisters, three of her brothers, three of her brother's friends, two of the girl's friends, and a spare boyfriend. A little crowded, yes. But fun. Right on the lake so much of the time was spent between paddleboat races and moped races. The Express and Shuttle got up to 28mph and 25mph respectively. After about a half hour of running though, they both bogged down and died. Much like my old dog they ran quickly for short spurts, then require a good four or five hour nap and a whole lot of encouragement before they will do anything else.
After the weekend at the cabin, the restoration starts. Unfortunately we are starting a little backwards and in the negative, since we brought the Shuttle back sans one of the turn signals it had at the start of that trip. But nevermind that. The real work begins with the guts. And for now, we're just dealing with the guts of the Honda Express. Nothing but a good old-fashioned carb cleaning with a spare toothbrush will do. Tools required for this project are combination wrenches, ratchet and sockets, variously sized screwdrivers, an old guitar string, and the toothbrush. Ironically enough, despite a decent collection of carpentry tools that came about from a few years working construction, the only mechanics tools I had in my possession were the guitar string, toothbrush, and a socket-less ratchet which belonged to my father (sorry dad).
$50 of a bare essentials trip to Home Depot later, I was happy to find out that a carburetor looks a whole lot like the reservoir of a toilet. Some carburetor cleaning solution, brushbrushbrush the venturi, floss the jets gently with a high E-string off a Martin backpacker sitting in my office, and hey! it looked a whole lot better. Praise God for that Italian genius and his beautifully simple mechanism by which we can dispense air and gasoline at proper proportions. Why did we ever switch to fuel injectors? Don't tell me. I know, I just don't like them. A few more minutes and that little guy was re-installed, petcock ON, crankcrankcrankcrank
Ok, adjust the throttle and make sure the trottle stop is working correctly. Heh, who knew, right? Try again? crankcrankcrankcrank
pop!vroomvroomvroomvroomvroom. Say it with me: Vroom.
It is a thing of beauty, the simplicity of this machine. Years of neglect leaves it clogged up, dirty, unable to process. Eventually brought to a state where the only movement it will experience is fickle at best, even the slightest bit of pressure will shut it down. But you set it down, take it apart, and just spend a hour or so getting rid of all that crap that has gotten in the way, and yea...that little Honda Express purred like contented kitten on a warm laptop. Splendid.
|Seller photos, edited.|
"Even there, in the mines, underground, I may find a human heart in another convict and murderer by my side, and I may make friends with him, for even there one may live and love and suffer. One may thaw and revive a frozen heart in that convict, one may wait upon him for years, and at last bring up from the dark depths a lofty soul, a feeling, suffering creature; one may bring forth an angel, create...