The Vespa rides again

Or, I ride the Vespa again.

I got the SIP ignition kit installed, which vastly improved the electrical situation. The original 6V AC magneto system gave a dull glow from the tail light (there is no brake light on this scooter) and a headlight that was adequate for very low speed riding around the neighborhood at night, but nothing else. Turning on the headlight with the engine at idle was not a good idea. Now I’ve got 12V AC, a nice bright tail light, bright halogen headlight, everything works – even at idle.

I also took the opportunity to clean out and de-rust the gas tank, and clean the carburetor and replace the gaskets again. Though I don’t have the original, marginally effective choke connected, it still starts and runs well. I put a new exhaust with an expansion chamber on it — it sounds about the same as before, but seems to have a bit more “oomph” than it did. Still not a race bike by any measure! I think it could whip the average Power Wheels though.

I’ve ridden it on a few laps around the neighborhood, and even on a few errands to the stores that I can get to without riding on a major road. It does reasonably well, with a top speed of maybe 40 if you have enough road to get there.

Unfortunately it’s now developed a fuel leak, which I suspect is the fuel tap at the bottom of the tank. I’ll try tightening it up but I’ll probably need to replace the gasket. I want to get that done before this Saturday, when I’d like to ride it in the neighborhood July 4th parade.

Resurrecting the Vespa (again)

The Vespa scooter (a 1955 Vespa VL1, if you’re not familiar) has been parked in the hangar for several years now. I don’t really remember how long, exactly, but the license plate expired in 2018 so it was around then. I’d ridden it a couple of times around the airport, but several years ago it refused to start and I hadn’t figured out why. I knew it was ignition related, and I was holding off until I could find the CDI ignition kit I knew I’d bought and install that. In August of 2021 I cleaned out the gas tank (the gas had gone very bad) and carb, and got it running — but it refused to start more than once without taking the flywheel off. I eventually put it more-or-less back together and there it’s sat since.

Well, the day came when we got a letter from the airport authority demanding that we get a bunch of stuff out of the hangar – including the scooter. In the process I managed to find the CDI kit. Unfortunately, I then discovered that it’s a complete pile of shit from a horrible now-defunct Vietnamese supplier. They couldn’t even drill four holes in a square to fit the fan. I don’t think I’ll be using it.

On the bright side, I did discover the cause of the ignition problems — a broken wire on the condenser. A lot has changed in the marketplace since the last time I needed to buy scooter parts for this rare old scoot, and I ended up ordering a bunch of parts from Germany to fix the ignition as well as a bunch of other things that needed fixing. When the parts arrived, I replaced the points and condenser, but didn’t even bother to set timing or point gap before seeing if that made a difference. Miraculously, the gas was not bad enough to cause problems. I squirted a bit into the carb and the old gal started and ran on the first kick. There is a Santa Claus!

Now I’m going through doing some post-restoration work that has been deferred for far too long. I’ve installed new shift cables (the old ones were too short and hit the legshield when turning). I removed the grips, cleaned everything up, lubed and re-installed. I put in a new clutch inner cable and put on the new spare tire carrier I finally found (these didn’t exist a few years ago). I’m replacing the rubber bits that I bought from various places back when I first finished up the restoration; they were made from some horrible shitty rubber that either just dried out and crumbled, or turned into a mess of stuff that looked like someone had hit it with a torch. Some of the wiring has proven inadequate; I’m replacing the wires to the headlamp assembly. Along the way I also cleaned up the carb and fuel system again, replaced the gearbox oil (and the oil seal), and I’m about to see why the steering stops don’t appear to be working on either side.

SIP Scootershop has proven to be my new go-to source for a lot of things, though Scooter Mercato has some good stuff as well. Some of the old places I’ve used either don’t exist any more or have far less inventory available for the old widebody Vespas. I get it; there are a lot more 60s and 70s and later scoots out there than the ’46-’55 models. I’m just glad there are places picking up the slack, even if they are nearly all in Europe.

A long weekend

As I sit here Monday morning, I have little twinges to remind me of the weekend.  I almost feel like we got some things accomplished.  Kim & Stu called yesterday morning to invite us along on a motorcycle ride, but we decided to stay home and get some much needed work done in the yard instead.  It was perfect weather for either, and we really needed to get ready for winter.  The roads will still be there next time it’s a beautiful day.  We did see them Friday evening, went over for wine and cheese and some great conversation.  We really need to do that more often.

My shoulders and arms are feeling a little used from the leaf raking, as well as from pullig the cord in futile attempts to re-start the leaf blower that I’m afraid I killed.  Rob had filled the 2-stroke gas can, and I forgot that he’d done that and I had not not yet put the oil in it.  As a result, the leaf blower ran at full throttle with no oil until it croaked.  Twice.  Now it has no compression to speak of and won’t start.  Crap.  The rest of the leaves got raked the old fashioned way, and of course the back yard is already covered again.  Got the lawn mowed, Lisa did the front and side flower beds, Rob cut the spirea bushes out back down to the ground.  We have 14 or 15 bags of yard waste now.

With Rob’s help I got the work shop more or less cleaned up, at least the half with the work bench.  I can see the top of the bench now, and have it cleared off so I can assemble keyers again.  There is a lot more work to be done, of course, but it’s looking a lot better.

Pete was home for a few hours, and we got the new tires mounted on the Cougar so he can get around this winter.  Sent him back to Hastings with a load of food, of course.  The new tail light is on the Vespa, and I got to take it out for an extended ride around the neighborhood.  It’s running great now, started on the first kick once and doesn’t take more than a few any time.  All I need to do now is get the plate and I can ride it outside of the neighborhood without worrying about the gendarmerie.  I think, though, that I may be re-wiring the little guy this winter.  I suspect I may not have things quite right yet.

All in all it was a long, but very productive weekend.

Nebraska City ride today

Well, I fear Lisa and I have taken what may be the last ride of the year.  Unless it warms up some, anyway.  We had a pretty nice ride down to Kimmel Orchard.  We split some apple pie, had coffee & hot cider and picked up some of their salsa and a couple other things.  The ride back was getting pretty damn cold, but we made it home safe & sound.

Along the way we met a few new people, had some nice conversation, saw the remaining fall colors.  The rain and all didn’t help much in that regard, but still — it was nice to get out and enjoy the day.

Riding the Vespa

Well, I got a chance to take the Vespa out this morning and put a couple of miles on the old girl.  I’d had her out a couple of weeks ago when we were watching Natalie for the day; Lisa wanted me to take her for a ride, which we did.  She liked it, and so did I – since it started up pretty easily and ran well.  I had to replace the fuel line after the first ride, it was hard as a rock and shook loose, but aside from that things were grand.

Today it started with a little encouragement, ran pretty well, and I rode all over the neighborhood.  The whole time I was enjoying the ride, I was also making a mental list of things I needed to do to get the scooter reliable enough for longer rides around town.

  • No taillight.  I need to look into that, not sure if my custom LED tail light is kaput or just not getting power.  Either way, I have a new repro of the larger assembly here.  It’s of horrible quality and needs to be completely re-done on the outside, but the guts seem serviceable. Update: The LED light was completely blown.  The new housing is fixed and ready for paint, and bulbs are on their way from Scooterworks.
  • It needs a new fuel line some time in the next year or so, before this one hardens up.  The stuff Scooterworks sells as fuel line…  well, it sucks.
  • A new gas cap gasket would be good.  Scooterworks strikes again.  Why the hell would you sell a gas cap gasket that’s not gasoline-proof?
  • I really need to look into the brakes.  I think one is dragging, which doesn’t help matters any.
  • A rear view mirror or two would be a very welcome addition.
  • Timing, yet again.  A couple degrees more advance will make it a LOT easier and faster to start!!!  If ScootRS ever has the VL1 CDI 12V conversion kit again, I’m buying one.  Period.
  • A couple of scratches need to be touched up, yet again.
  • I really do need to finish the last of the floor rails.  Of course NOW I can buy a complete set for the VL1, instead of cobbling something else up to make it work.  But I’ve already spent enough on the floor rails I’m not doing it again from scratch.
  • One of these days I would like to re-run the gear shift and clutch cables, and adjust the clutch.  I want to get rid of the CLUNK when shifting into first, and be able to turn the handlebars all the way to the right without the cables hitting the legshield.  The parts are cheap enough at a bike shop, and I think using heat-shrink tubing would be just the trick to get the old cables to drag the new jackets through.
  • I’m still not sure whether the odometer is registering miles or kilometers.  At some point I want to either ride a measured distance and figure it out, or take a GPS along for a ride and compare it to the odometer.
  • It needs current tags.  I think I’ll see about getting historical plates so I don’t have to hassle with it every year.

Busy day!

Got up early this morning to make it out to the Ak-Sar-Ben Amateur Radio Club’s hamfest.  It was pretty much a bust as far as sales, and to be perfectly honest it was about as small and sparsely attended as any I have seen.  Still, it was nice to see some of the guys, and I did pick up a couple of cheap LED flashlights.

Got home and put a coat of clear polyurethane on the new desk.  I hope it’s the last coat, but I’m not too confident about that.  It’s looking pretty well, the 400 grit sanding between coats of clear satin are doing wonders for the finish.  I’m hoping to get it brought up and put together tonight.

Then I mowed the lawn, front & back, and trimmed some tree branches that were hanging too low to suit me.  Our grand-niece Natalie was over for a while, so I pulled the Vespa out & we went for a little putt around the neighborhood…  her first time on a scooter, I’m sure!  The Vespa ran surprisingly well, and started right up the second time after I fixed a bad fuel line.  I think I’m going to put historical plates on it so it stays registered.

Weather sucks.

Well, it looks like the weather forecast was off by a day. I had been hoping to get the bike out this afternoon for a little while, but it’s nasty and has been raining off and on since last night. I suppose if I were really dedicated I could gear up and ride in it anyway… but I think I’ll stay in and work on the new desk instead.  I’ve got about one more day before it’s ready, I think, just the clear coating and final assembly left to do. That sucker is huge.  I have emailed the pearl supplier to see if I can use the pearl treatment in brush-on clear, or if I need to spray it.

Things We Learned On The Road

After riding over 2600 miles over the course of our 10-day road trip to Charlotte and Charleston, there are a number of lessons we learned.

Double-check the mileage between your hotels.  Nothing sucks quite like having reservations 50 miles past where you planned to make them, and 45 miles past your comfortable riding limit.

GPS is nice, but it’s also a good idea to print out or write down directions just in case.

When your route takes you through a major city, allow some extra time (and hassle) for detours.  Try to avoid arriving right at rush hour, it sucks. Continue reading “Things We Learned On The Road”

Saw an interesting wreck tonight.

Lisa & I were out in front of our hotel in Charlotte while I was cleaning up the poor, abused, filthy Ultra. We saw some twit trying to figure out how to do a wheelie in the street out front. About 10 minutes later, there’s a big noise from the parking lot of the TGI Friday’s next door, engine screaming followed by the sight of something on the far end of the parking lot rocketing along and slamming into something. Hard. Lisa and I went to see what happened, since we’re both over 40 and first aid trained.

The poor bastard had somehow managed to low-side across the parking lot Continue reading “Saw an interesting wreck tonight.”