The kindness of strangers

The GS has been playing up for a while. Matt and Stuart at North Oxford Garage have been fantastic – and patient – trying to diagnose an intermittent but vicious electrical problem where the bike simply refuses to start. It’ll crank – for hours – but won’t fire. It’s been back three times in all, and apart from the first bill (heavily discounted I suspect, given the time Stuart spent) I’ve not paid a penny. So it was time to say thank you.

I’d raided the Oxford Wine Company for a crate of Shotover Brewery’s “Scholar” and thought the least I could do was head it Matt and Stuart’s way. The Ural needed a run, and I thought it would be suitably inappropriate to park it outside the polished temple to techno-transport that is North Oxford BMW. So I loaded the beer into the sidecar, put the key in the ignition and turned the petrol tap.

Why is it always that the hard-to-get-to carb in the canyon between bike and sidecar is the one to play up? It was leaking petrol at the rate of about £1.30 a second.  C’est normal – probably a bit of grit in the needle chamber.

So, the ubiquitous Ural tool kit out, a bit of advanced contortionism from me, and the two screws holding the floatbowls were off. I emptied the bowl, checked the float and all seemed well. Nipped up the screws and headed for Oxford.

There are words one hopes not to hear while waiting for traffic lights to change. Eight of the least popular are “Is your bike supposed to be leaking petrol?” from a motorist in the parallel queue.
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No, it’s not. And it’s really not supposed to be leaking onto a hot exhaust pipe. Fuel tap and ignition off – rapidly. I reckon I can make it about 100 yards with no more fuel than is in the floatbowls, so dodge the lights and pull over.

Toolkit out again. More circus-skills getting the screwdriver onto the nearest screw. Floatbowl off again. All fine – but the float isn’t coming up far enough to cut off the flow, hence the mini Torrey Canyon of fuel.

This is a new problem. I have no idea what to do, so just stay there, arse up, head down near the carb, thinking.

“How’s the bike? Would you like a drink?”

Those eight words washed away the anxiety of the previous eight in a flood of kindness. From one of the houses I’ve crash-landed outside has come a girl to offer me a cuppa or see if I needed any help. How kind is that? If you’re reading this (highly unlikely) thank you – you did more than you know to restore my faith in people after a rather gnarly few weeks.

I suggest that although I’d love a cup of tea, I’d love a can of petrol and a box of Swan Vestas even more. She looks slightly confused, then gets the joke and – thankfully – laughs. I press on with wondering how the hell I’m going to stop a small fortune in inflammability draining onto the A415.

I start stripping the carb. This is new territory. Bowl and float are already off. Float anchor pin out (and safely put somewhere where it can’t get lost). Float needle and main jet out. Still no clue.

The best thing to do with problems like these (‘adaptive challenges’ my good friend Peter calls them) is to fill your head with the problem, then stop, do nothing and wait. Your brain will re-assemble the necessary bits and give you an answer. Works every time.

And, of course, it did this time too.

That little brass tang on the bottom of the float… if I bend it up a tad, it should make the float sit higher in the fuel bowl and cut off the flow from the jet. I give it just enough of a tweak to make it sit up and take notice. Then I start reassembling everything. Fortunately, the Ural’s designers equipped the bike with a tool roll that rolls out into a mat. Handy for kneeling on and a fine place to put delicate carb bits when you’re on the roadside.

Finally, everything is stuffed back – broadly – into the holes whence it came. I turn the petrol tap. I wait. It’ll take a few seconds for the floatbowl to fill again. I wait. A few seconds drags past. I wait.

No leak.

YEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!! That’s one of the reasons I love my misbegotten heap of a Ural so much. Yes, it does something annoying now and then, but, sooner or later and with a bit of thinking you can fix it. And you’ll have learned something.

I deliver the beer to Matt and ride back – leakless and smiling contentedly – to Witney. And, as I pass The Leys, there’s a group of young lads waving at the traffic, hoping for a wave back. They’re getting a few waves from the drivers, but when they see the Ural they go beserk, jumping and waving and whooping. I wave back. Of course. And I might have hiked the chair up for a few yards.  Maybe.

It’s a fine day.

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