“I worried over that blunder for an hour, and called myself a great many hard names, meantime.”
– Samuel Clemens, “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”
Here’s one I’ll never forget: While mounting the rear luggage rack, I managed to drive two bolts into the plastic gas tank of Linda’s Vespa.
It was both the simplest and greatest piece of mechanical idiocy I’ve ever done; I simply took the wrong bolts and unmindfully began screwing them into the threaded holes in the rear panel. They were metric M6 bolts, same diameter and thread count, just twice as long as needed.
I’m spinning them in by hand with an Allen wrench. They go in smoothly at first, then start to balk. I try a little more force, then back off and unscrew both.
That’s when I realize I’m using too-long bolts, precipitating one of those anguished head-in-your-hands moments of oh, sweet Jesus, I can’t believe this. I thought I was using the right ones. We’ve had her scooter a week and I’ve already ruined it.
I’d even been warned about it; I’d watched the Vespa Motorsport video on luggage rack installation1 and Robot2 mentions it at 6:38 into the video. “Had people put too long of a screw in there and puncture the gas tank, not a good thing,” he says. Oh, sweet Jesus.
It’s times like these you have to talk yourself off the ledge and I think about the passage in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in which author Robert Pirsig mentions an instruction sheet for putting together a bicycle.
“Assembly of Japanese bicycle require great peace of mind,” say the instructions, and Pirsig goes on about peace of mind and says “If you don’t have this when you start and maintain it while you’re working, you’re likely to build your personal problems right into the machine itself.”
It wasn’t a lack of serenity that caused the mistake; I simply picked up the wrong bolts. But maybe serenity includes acting properly within the moment, which I certainly was not doing.
So after a lengthy period of critically severe self-beratement, I move from Self Destruct to Damage Control mode and start to assess how bad it is. The gas level is low, so it’s not possible to check for leaks yet, but there’s no smell of fuel from the threaded holes.
I run a hand-held mechanic’s light on a flexible tube up inside the back fenders but see nothing. (I do relearn that Vespa buttons up everything very tight on its scooters and it’s impossible to get your hand around the tank, or even get a good view of it.) So I can’t feel or see what I did.
But I can shine the light down into the holes and see new thread lines scored into the plastic below. Online views of the fuel tank show the back is sculpted like a valley, so it appears I’ve cut a little into the valley walls, instead of boring directly into the tank itself.
I take one of Tera Nova’s reserve fuel bottles and fill the Vespa’s tank to the brim of the filler tube. And wait. No leaks.
That was on Aug. 18.
On Aug. 22, we ride out toward Deltaville, Virginia, as part-tank-test, part-get-the-mileage-up-to-600 for the service. Aside from the rain, everything is okay.
And finally, we take the Vespa back to Scoot Richmond on Saturday, Aug. 29, for the 600-mile work and ask the mechanics to check.
It’s impractical for them to remove the tank on the day we’re there – it’s a three-hour job, like most things Vespa – but they say they couldn’t see any leaks. “And since you haven’t seen anything, it’s probably okay,” says one. “Just keep an eye on it.”
I’m afraid I’ll do much more than that. I’ll be consumed, obsessed, haunted by it and I’ll carry the concern like Quasimodo’s hump. Maybe a new gas tank, installed in the fall, will restore my peace of mind.
1 – Vespa Motorsports how-to videos are top-notch, in my opinion.
2 – That’s his nom de guerre, I reckon.