Scooter breakdowns camaraderie and friendship – Belgium | FEATURE
Here’s a little story about scootering and the way our investment in friendships, life and the scene we all love has shaped the way things pan out. Even when the odds are stacked against us. Recently we went to Belgium to the Ardennes for a little invite-only rally. We’re not going to feature that rally because it’s only a 200-capacity event and not open to everybody but the journey and happenings along the way make it all the more interesting.
Before we’d even got to Hull for the overnight party boat to Zeebrugge one of our friends from the West Midlands had terminally seized his Lambretta. Luckily our club back up van (driven by Shaun for this trip) turned around and went to collect Karl and Jackie. He took them to Hull and dropped them straight off at Jon Drury’s house (another friend who lives in Hull and would be travelling with us). Once they realised the scooter couldn’t be fixed in time Jon dragged his trusty old Series 2, ‘Black Pearl’ out of the garage and lent it to Sarah for the trip, whilst Sarah lent Karl and Jackie her PX. It’s acts of kindness like this that make the world go around.
Passed the port?
Meanwhile at the ferry port another friend, Begsey tried to check in, only to discover that he’d accidentally brought his wife’s passport with him instead of his own. He’d ridden from the other side of Wrexham and didn’t have time to go back and swap it so had to make the sorry journey home alone. He was offered a lift in a car the following day but refused – he’d ride there or not go at all. Incidentally, another friend heading to the Channel Tunnel on Friday also brought the wrong passport with her and had to go home to exchange it (silly Sally). Make sure you double check in future.
Once on the other side, all was going well initially but with around 20 scooters in our group, there’s always going to be the odd problem. My Series 1 was one of the first, with an exhaust gasket giving up the ghost. I’d not got a spare BGM gasket with me but Matty leant me one of his, so me and Shaun could replace it in the services. The exhaust hadn’t been off for a couple of years and we ended up hammering it off in the end, it was tighter than a nun’s chuff.
With the scooter back together (a bigger job than usual because we had to drop the rear suspension to take the cowling off to get in at it) we were back on the road… for a bit. Until my carb dropped off on the motorway, the others carried on, thinking it was a quick fix. Shaun was behind me in the van at the time so offered some protection and a high-viz vest whilst we put it back together. To make matters worse my ‘spare’ carb rubber was worn and worse than the dodgy one I already had on but after swapping it the other way around (inlet on to carb end) we managed to get it to stay on.
Tip: Always have a brand new carb rubber with you…
A few miles further on whilst following the sat nav I ended up missing the infamous Brussels ring road and headed straight into the centre of Brussels instead, with Linsey following on her Series 2. The van wasn’t behind us, he’d gone back to sort club member, Daz out with a puncture after spotting him just where the ring road splits. The next thing we’re heading inadvertently into the 2.5km long Leopold II tunnel that goes underneath the city, hoping my carb doesn’t drop off again inside.
Thankfully we exited without incident and found ourselves accidentally parked right outside the heavily guarded and fortified American Embassy trying to suss out how to get out of the city (without being shot by some trigger-happy soldier). Taking a positive from the unplanned excursion we decided it might be the last time we’re allowed to ride a classic scooter through Brussels so enjoyed the sights and found the exit eventually. If only those Belgians had built a ring road?!
An intermittent problem with Linsey’s scooter meant we needed to stop and change a plug and HT cap before getting back on the road. We’d been riding around Brussels for ages so expected to be the last of our group in the area, so we were thankful to see Shaun parked on the hard shoulder again a few miles further on. He was just putting Matty’s SX into the van after a seizure (scooter, rather than rider).
Well blow me
Not long after that we pulled into the services and noticed my exhaust was blowing again, a quick look revealed a sheared exhaust stud this time. Not good. We’d probably damaged it getting the exhaust off earlier. So that went in the van and I jumped on Linsey’s scooter to ride the final 65 miles to the rally.
We’d all had a long day and it was getting close to 5 pm when we arrived at the site but as soon as we got there both scooters were out of the van. Matty’s was soon stripped to reveal a knackered piston. He borrowed a new piston from Tez, albeit not quite the one he needed as it turned out. Shaun and Neil rebuilt it, whilst other friends offered typical words of ‘encouragement’ and support…
Roger and out
Shaun then had to drive back about 20 miles to pick Roger from the Dirty Mills up with his stricken Piaggio Hexagon and huge wooden sidecar contraption/death trap. Roger’s wheel bearing had collapsed, probably due to the excess weight of the trees needed to build the thing. Shaun unbolted the sidecar and managed to squeeze the scooter and combo into his Transit sideways before heading back to the site. Luckily by chance, Shaun also had a spare wheel bearing in his toolbox so Roger fitted that and could ride home again on Sunday.
Once Matty’s SX was rebuilt they tried kicking it up, bumping it and swearing a bit but it rattled like a junkie on methadone once it finally fired up. The borrowed undersized piston was slapping like a bitch and reluctantly after trying unsuccessfully to get the scooter going again on Saturday morning, the scooter was put back in the van. Matty borrowed Staff’s Series 1 to ride home on Sunday, although he broke that one as well…
Meanwhile, I’m laying on the floor stripping my barrel off to assess the damage. The stud had sheared clean off and left nothing to grip, we didn’t have a drill or stud extractors but hoped we might get a local garage/mechanic to help on Saturday morning. I cleared up, got changed and had a great night.
Saturday – power to the people
Belgian scooterist, Mike came to me at breakfast the following morning and said he’d take me to try and find a garage. Another mate, Toby, had noticed a VW garage in the local town so we decided to try there first. Thankfully not only was the main dealer open but they also had quite a few classic VWs, and Porches knocking around so it looked promising. After lots of head shaking, gallic sighing and a few shoulder shrugs they agreed to try and get the stud out for me (thanks to Mike’s impressive grasp of the French language, he’s pretty fluent…). 20 minutes later and the stud has been drilled out by hand and the thread re-tapped. Well worth the 26€ they charged. I was soon on my way back to the site to put it back together. Another borrowed exhaust gasket (cheers Matty), a borrowed stud from Bainsey, some Loctite and with the help of Tony, lots of banter from the audience and the odd beer or two the scooter was back in one piece by just after lunchtime and ready for the ride home on Sunday.
You know that frantic searching through bags you do when everybody is ready to set off home and you can’t find the key to a lock? A lock that attaches your scooter to another scooter? That was what fellow club member Daz had on the Sunday morning as he emptied his bags on the courtyard where the scooters were parked. You could see laid-back Daz sweating as he realised he was doomed and him and Steve were going nowhere fast.
Luckily for him there was a maintenance man on site who brought out an angle grinder. The scary thing is it took less than 15 seconds to cut the lock clean off. It was a stark reminder that one chain/lock isn’t enough to slow down a thief.
Ghent or bust
Sunday eleven of us were splitting away from the rest of the group and heading to Ghent for the night. The van and the rest of the gang headed back to Zeebrugge for the ferry. We’d had an uneventful journey until 22 miles away from Ghent when Tez pulled on to the hard shoulder. His carb had dropped off, a quick fix – or so we thought. Carb back on and it wouldn’t start, after the usual checks we started to suspect something more sinister and set about stripping the top end off his Mugello.
Tez’s cylinder head was visibly damaged and the piston beyond repair. Meanwhile, the girls were laying down enjoying the rest and a bit of late afternoon sunshine. The barrel itself was usable, with only a nick out of one of the ports. We couldn’t see what had caused the damage though until Steve checked the crank. The big end had shot its load. Game over. Luckily Tez’s AA cover gave him some basic recovery, basic as in they’d take him to the nearest garage. We left him once help was on the way and headed for the hotel.
After we left, a police car, fire engine and ambulance came screaming into the layby where Tez & Tracey were laid down next to the scattered innards of his Lambretta. Another motorist had reported a crash and bodies lay on the road. Thankfully they were fine about it all.
After bribing the recovery driver with €30 he reluctantly dropped them off at the hotel in Ghent.
Closed to traffic
We had a nightmare getting into Ghent, all the roads were closed to traffic in the centre until 6 pm so we ended up driving around in circles for ages, eventually going off-piste, ignoring the police/road signs/one-way streets and tram lines to get to the hotel, where we were allowed to wheel the scooters through the posh glass lobby and into a safe courtyard.
This deserves a Jupiler
Before the AA had even picked Tez up we were sat drinking a couple of cold Jupilers at the hotel. Inspired by alcohol, Neil remembered he’d met a scooterist from Ghent at a previous EuroLambretta. A quick Facebook message to Lars from the comfort of an al-fresco rattan chair and he agreed to pick Tez up the following lunchtime and trailer him to the ferry port. Another random act of kindness by a fellow scooterist.
Toyota to the rescue
Aside from our troubles, other friends also had problems. With a blown piston for Loz, resulting in his SX being dumped on its side in the back of French scooterist, Piko’s Toyota Prius to get him back to the ferry. Piko drove 3/4 of an hour from his home in Lille, then another hour and a half to take Loz to Calais.
Ann blew a huge hole in her Dragster exhaust. That was bodged roadside by fellow scooterists, then welded by a BMW garage and all was looking good until her engine casing snapped in half the next day. Mark from our club also blew a piston and wasn’t allowed on the Euro Tunnel (you can’t push a vehicle on to the train), he was helped out by the Ilkeston Britannia on the motorway and was taken on the chunnel by a friend in a van.
Strength through adversity
Barrie and crew from Bolton also spent 8 hours on an industrial estate replacing the crank on a Lambretta, finally getting it back on the road and able to make the rally. Plus there was a whole load of other issues along the way. The good thing is that we just get on and overcome problems, bodge things if it’ll help, laugh in the face of adversity and don’t let the hassle and expense of a breakdown ruin a trip. A typical holidaymaker in a car with a minor breakdown would be upset if they had to bodge or mend it at the side of the road, for us it’s part and parcel of what we do.
All in all a journey made is much more memorable with a few mishaps and adventures, made possible with the help and camaraderie of the scootering worldwide network. Remember the next time you could help out a stricken scooter rider, do your best. It’s what makes our world go round and one day it could be you that needs help.
Life would no doubt be much easier if we had a ‘normal’ hobby but it would also be a much more boring existence.
Back up van
Special thanks must go out to Shaun for going above and beyond the call of duty. Picking up associates and strangers along the way. Going out of his way and retracing his route to pick other troubled scooterists up, lending tools, parts, advice and fixing scooters until it got dark and generally doing a fantastic job.
Breakdowns and drama
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