She described to us six lanes’ worth of unadulterated fear, populated exclusively by motorists whose driving education had been paid for by the blood of pedestrians.
— Jeff Deck, The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time
 Heading towards Solo after catching up with a local club

Heading towards Solo after catching up with a local club

I rode from Pronorgo into Solo. I always find more difficult to find accommodation in large cities than I do the small towns.  Whenever you ask for a guesthouse the locals always want to point you towards a large hotel. My usual process is to find a net connection/free wifi spot; find the name of a guest house in the next few cities and sketch a mud map and address into my moleskin notebook. With no GPS and a phone that doesn't work this tends to get me there... most of the time. The larger the city though, the more difficult it is to track down the small guesthouses which tend to be tucked away in a back alley.

 A Java funeral 

A Java funeral 

Driving around Solo trying to find a guest house my bike kept spluttering at the stop lights. Each time it would take more and more kicks to fire into life again. Even then it was still misfiring until the next set of lights. After the 5th time this happened, the bike just plain refused to start again. 

As I had done so many times before, I pushed it to the side of the road, grabbed my tool roll and started to work though my trouble shooting process. 

  • Pull the fuel line from the carburettor and check if there is fuel running to the carb.
  • Check to see if there is power and a full circuit when I hit the ignition. 
  • Pull the spark plug and check the state of the (terminal plug???). Is it clean or oily? 
  • Place the spark plug on the engine case and give it a kick - making sure you don’t grab the metal part or else you will get a friendly boot of current. 
  • Check to see the strength of the spark. 
  • Check oil level. 
  • Check to see if points and timing are correct. 
  • Check engine compression with the thumb over the spark hole. 
  • Check if my thumb now smells like petrol or if it’s oily. 
  • If the bike has cooled by now check the tappets and valve clearance. 

The bike passed all of my usual checks, however the spark was weak and plug was filthy. I scrubbed it with a steel brush as best I could then asked the restaurant behind me if I could use their gas stove to burn off any excess oil on the plug.  With my lack of Bahasa it took a while to explain what I wanted until I eventually just moved the large pot out of the way using my jacket as an oven mitt and held out the plug over the blue flame.   Once I replaced the still warm spark plug, my bike still refused to start. As a last ditch effort I tried to push start it. It spluttered, fired twice then died. The sun had set, the mosquitoes were out and I had no backup beer in my top bag. A horrible situation to be in. 

I made the call that there was nothing more I could do on the side of the road and started pushing my bike to where I thought the guest house was. I have spent a fair amount of time pushing my bike but with the bags on the back it is always an awkward experience. There is a certain amount of defeat involved in pushing a busted bike which only adds to what is rarely a fun time. If you ever want to know the incline grade of even the slightest hill - try pushing a 250 kilo bike up it.  I find it varies from “this blows” to “f*ck this - will insurance pay out if I drop my lit zippo in the tank?”.

Before I had a chance to pull out my zippo on a steep incline, a guy on a custom scrambler pulled up. It was a local made Honda with a highpipe, custom seat and bare metal polished tank - simple but effective mods to a bike. 

“Where are you going? I will give you a push.” 

I smiled. I told him I wasn't really sure but I thought it was over there-ish while pointing vaguely in the direction I was heading. 

He jumped on his bike and stuck his leg out to push on the pillion peg. I don’t know why Dad and I didn’t try this in Australia. It is far more effective than using a rope. That’s just my opinion but I do know I tend to crash when I use a rope.  We made it to the guest house slowly, but without a problem - impressive. 

 Danang's custom scrambler 

Danang's custom scrambler 

Once we got to the guest house Danang my new friend and I had a chat about cafe racers, old bikes (he used to own a BSA), travel and Sydney (he had just finished working for four years on the large cruise ships that would pull into Sydney harbour). After a shared beer he moved on and I went to sleep. 

I woke up late the next day and looked at my bike, sitting there with an unknown problem in the courtyard of this guesthouse off a back alley. Oil was dripping and staining the floor as it had all the way from Sydney.  I pulled out my tools and my bible (the well-thumbed and oily Enfield workshop manual). I decided to have another coffee; then read a book for a while; then check the packing on my bags; basically anything that wasn’t working on the bike. I really wasn't in the mood for it. While sipping my second coffee Danang turned up again on his bike and asked if I had got the bike working yet, clearly noting how relaxed I looked sitting next to my intact bike with a book and coffee. 

“Ahh… not yet, just reading up on possible issues” I lied feeling guilty about my wasted morning. “I am just about to get into it” as I put down my non-Enfield book and went to my tool roll. 

“I have some time off if you would like some company” 

Someone to look over my shoulder, making sure that I was working on the bike and not just slacking around in Solo was certainly what I needed. Plus it’s always nice to have someone to share bikes stories while wrenching.

I pulled out the carb and gave it a proper clean - still not starting. 

I cleaned the points and made sure the gap was correct. 

When it comes to bikes there is a saying “if you have a spark, fuel and compression…something should happen.”  I had all three of those but still no “something”. 

Still no love - I was lost. Like I tend to do when I get stuck in such a situation, I turned to the internet - I asked my riding buddies back homes and they suggested the things I had already tried. 

Danang got off his phone. He said he used to be a member of the “Old Motorcycle Club” and that he has told the club about my situation and they should be here soon. When a mechanic turned up riding in the sidecar of a rat WLA 1940's Harley I figured I was in good hands. 

 It's hard to be concerned when your mechanic turns up in a 60 year old sidecar rig

It's hard to be concerned when your mechanic turns up in a 60 year old sidecar rig

The guys loved that there was someone trying to ride from Sydney to London on such an old bike. The mechanic pulled the spark plug and sent one of the boys to go fetch a new one (I was out). He pulled and cleaned the carbs and reset the points again (setting points or tappets or anything fine like that has never been a strong point of mine). Once back together he kicked the bike. I won’t say that I was relieved that it didn’t start but I am glad he had gone through the same steps as me and come to the same conclusion. The bike should have started - but it didn’t. 

Reaching for my circuit tester he started working on the wiring. Now I should say, as a blanket rule - I just don’t get electronics on bikes. When an engine is broken you can usually pick what the issue is rather quickly.  Is there a hole in your piston, a broken valve - you can see these issues. Electronics is kind of a dark art. There may be a problem but you can’t see it and it could be anywhere and it’s very difficult to find. It turns out my battery was stuffed. There was enough current to push a bit of spark when it was kicked but not enough to fire it into life. A quick phone call later a guy turned up with a Harley battery from his shop. Of course the large battery didn’t fit into my battery holder but that was nothing that couldn’t be fixed with the backside of my hatchet, brute force to bend the battery holder and a bunch of heavy duty zip ties. 

The bike fired up with amazing strength on the first kick. 

 The Solo old motorcycle club - Once again the local clubs got me further down the road. 

The Solo old motorcycle club - Once again the local clubs got me further down the road. 

The bike was running and the club was stoked to be able to get me back on the road. Teddy (the gentleman with the WLA sidecar) invited me back to his house for dinner with his family as they broke fasting for the day.  I love side cars; always have. So I jumped in his unsuspensioned  rigid rig as he took off into the traffic towards his house. 

 I walked with a limp for a week when I tried to kickstart my bike with thongs and it backfired. 

I walked with a limp for a week when I tried to kickstart my bike with thongs and it backfired. 

As much as I may complain about the old bike, if I hadn’t been pushing it on the side of the road there is no way I would have got a chance to ride in this painfully spine jolting vintage sidecar that I loved.  The stupidly big smile on my face said it all. 

 I was smiling just before this however he had just hit a bump. 

I was smiling just before this however he had just hit a bump.