Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The moped diaries, part 1

The moped is out.

I've been working up to it for some time, but today I made the decision not to use it. Some of you who read the last entry probably were wondering, "What does he need the moped for, anyway? He's got a motor home and a car. He can just drive the car back to the starting point, walk to the motor home and go back and pick up the car." Well, you're absolutely right about that, but let me back up and tell you how the idea started.

When I first began to conceive this plan to walk, I was thinking in terms of just a motor home and a moped. With just a motor home, I definitely would need some way to get back to the point where I would start walking each day. I thought of a moped because the idea of a motorized bike stuck in my mind. Something basically like a bicycle, but with some power for getting up hills and to save energy (mine, that is). I was thinking of a classic moped, like they used to have. Today, it turns out, the term "moped" applies to all kinds of what we used to call motor scooters--little Vespa-type deals that don't have pedals at all. That kind of vehicle didn't appeal to me much, and after some research I found out that the different states I would be travelling through had a variety of laws about small scooters. Depending on the size of the engine, in some places you needed insurance, and in some you didn't; in some places you needed to have them registered and plated, and in some you didn't; and in most places you needed a motorcycle endorsement on your license if the scooter was above 50 cc. It seemed like too much to worry about, and besides, I didn't want to spend the money, buy a helmet, and also figure out where I was going to keep the thing, or how to attach it to the motor home.

Then while searching on line I came across a place in Connecticut that sold kits with 2 cycle motors for mounting on bicycles, to convert them into mopeds, and they were only a couple hundred dollars. (I had already explored the electric bike conversion options, and they had two drawbacks, similar to the drawbacks of the all-electric cars: too expensive, and not enough range between charges. One really nice one out of Wisconsin was an electric motorized front wheel that could easily attach to almost any bike, powered by four power-tool type batteries. But it cost about $1000 and could only go about 20 miles at a little over 20 mph before the batteries needed to be recharged. Didn't seem practical, under the circumstances.) Anyway, I ordered the gas motor conversion kit, which promised around 125 mpg.

When it arrived, I quickly saw that I would need some help, since I am not much of a mechanic. So I enlisted my son Bill's assistance, and we managed, after some trial and error, to get it to fit on an old 27-inch 12-speed bike of his. Bill got everything hooked up the right way, and I made some modifications to the engine mounts to make them sturdier and replaced the curved racing handlebars with a set of straight handle bars, so I could reach the throttle and clutch more easily, and not have to reach way down like Lance Armstrong climbing the Alps whenever I wanted to give it some gas. Well, the moped worked, pretty much as it was supposed to. But inherent in the little putt-putt one-cylinder motor was a hell of a lot of vibration. It was like riding a giant weed wacker. There was so much vibration, in fact, that when I got off the thing after a couple of miles my hands were numb and I felt quite a bit like you feel when you get off a roller coaster ride. And the vibration has a tendency to loosen every nut and bolt on the bike, so they have to be checked and tightened frequently. Then there was the vibration from the seat, about which I won't say any more than that it wasn't as enjoyable as you might imagine such a thing to be. I just couldn't deal with the idea of 20 miles a day on that thing. Also, I burned my leg getting off one time, which I suppose is a risk you incur with any kind of motorbike. Last but not least was the fact that stopping it was a bit tricky. Since the left hand is busy with the clutch, which must be engaged to stop the engine from driving the chain, that leaves only one hand free to apply the regular bicycle brakes. I had the choice of which wheel to hook the right brake lever up to, and I chose the front, because of its much better stopping power. However, as all bike riders know, braking hard with just the front brake can be a bit risky. So, if you're careening along at a pretty good speed with this vibrating monster and all of a sudden you have to stop, you have to grab the clutch with your left hand, squeeze the brake with your right hand (but not too fast), and for good measure hit the kill switch button on the throttle with your right thumb to stop the motor. All at once. Somehow it just seemed like an accident waiting to happen.

I realized that I had continued to hold on to the idea of the moped even after I made the decision to tow my car along behind the motor home. But like a lot of things in life, the idea of the moped lingered long after its necessity had disappeared. It was a little like the story of the man who goes into a diner down south. He asks the waitress for ham and eggs. She says they're out of ham and eggs. He says, "But there's somebody next to me eating a ham sandwich, and somebody over there having egg salad. So how can you be out?" The waitress replies, "Oh, we got ham, and we got eggs, but we ain't got no grits!" The moped had become the grits.

No comments: