Tag Archives: Motorcycle repair

Parking Lot Workshop, or: ‘Does That Look Like It’s Leaking/Bending/Going Flat to You?’

Charley did the most incredible bodge job, using about 40 cable ties to strap two wrenches as splints across the split in the frame.

– Ewan McGregor, “Long Way Round”

Not very pretty, but still pretty sturdy.

Saturday, Oct. 22 | Day 18: It wasn’t perfect, but I did manage a classic bodge job1 on Terra Nova’s sidestand2 when it started bending under all the weight I stupidly put on the bike.

After fueling up somewhere in Georgia on the way home, I suddenly stopped dead in my tracks and looked at the Yamaha — I mean, really looked at it — and I said to Linda, “Does that sidestand look like it’s bending?”

“Yes, it does,” she said.

It was a true son-of-a-bitch moment. Ever since the sins of the 2020 ride, when I failed to monitor the engine oil in Linda’s Vespa, I’ve been a religious convert to fanatically checking both motorcycles every morning during our long-distance tours.

The fervor was part of this year’s pilgrimage, but it wasn’t enough. As you’ll see, I still haven’t learned the art of packing light. (We’ll talk about that elsewhere.) I knew the Yamaha was overloaded but I didn’t think the sidestand would be affected.

We left the gas station and got to the hotel, where I conducted an internal all-night debate in my mind, serious as the Nuremberg Trials, on whether I should leave the sidestand for later or try to improvise a brace now.

Santee Hardware, with a kind, competent staff.

In the morning (shades of the St. Pete Beach Ace Hardware!) I found Santee Hardware3 about a half-mile away. They didn’t have any suitable angle iron but they did have 12-inch lengths of half-inch square solid steel rod I thought would work. The problem was, I needed a piece only 8 inches long.

“Can you cut 4 inches off of this?” I asked one of the guys who worked there.

“We don’t really do any cutting,” he said.

“Here’s the problem,” I said. “I’m on a motorcycle, on my way home to Virginia, and I need this to be 8 inches long for a brace. Can you help me out?”

He took the piece to a back room, put it in a vise and used a Sawzall to cut it. He even smoothed down the rough edges on a grinding wheel.

I bought the metal, a handful of hose clamps, and a 5/16 nut driver to tighten them down. “If this works, you won’t see me again,” I told the guy at the cash register and he laughed.

The six hose clamps may not look like much, but they’re strong.

I took it all out to Terra Nova in the parking lot next door and fashioned a brace to prevent the stand from further disfigurement. I rode back to the hotel feeling better.

Making repairs and checking oil and tires admittedly isn’t very exciting, but every motorcycle traveler/author scribbles something about maintenance. There’s something deeply self-satisfying about catching and fixing a mechanical problem that could have disrupted your ride.

In the unused parking lot next door.

Robert Pirsig, for example, writes about tuning up the engine of his Honda Super Hawk in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and describes his satisfaction in doing it right.

It’s another essential aspect of two-wheel travel, one of many that sets motorcycles apart from cars.

In a car, you can find suitable parts and oil just about anywhere, but if you have a motorcycle, or (God help us) an exotic motorbike or scooter like a Vespa, you have to prepare, pre-service, and carry what you need with you, including special made-for-motorcycle oil.

The portable AirHawk air pump, which plugged into Terra Nova’s power system, was perfect for keeping the tires inflated.

Otherwise, if you break down 300 miles from a Vespa dealer, you’re stuck4.

At home, I do motorcycle maintenance in the cozy confines of the phone-booth-size workshop at Starbase 8. While traveling on the road, other locales are pressed into service.


“For a temporary shop, your first consideration is to look around for the best available floor. It could be the pavement you’re parked on, the shoulder of the road, or a supermarket parking lot.”

– C. G. Masi, How to Set Up Your Motorcycle Workshop


In my case, that means commandeering parking lot spaces out in the good-weather open as I did in Santee, or (with the consent of bemused hotel clerks) driveways beneath grand entrance canopies.

So, using Terra Nova’s rear luggage plate as my workbench, I did my little daily reassuring rituals of checking oil levels and tire pressures and whatnot – everything except for the sidestand.

Tools on the rear rack.

But the oil was easy. Terra Nova had been fully serviced5 before we left and her oil level never changed. The Vespa was a different story; the oil consumption varied based on the speed at which we’d traveled the day before. A faster pace guaranteed more oil usage.

That’s because Linda has a 2020 Vespa with a 300cc HPE, a high-performance engine that puts out about 24 hp6 and burns a lot of oil during its 6,000-mile break-in period. The consumption is a bit startling until you get used to it.

Motorcycles and scooters require the aforementioned motorbike-specific oil so I carried about a pint for Terra Nova and a quart and a half for the Vespa. I brought along funnels, shop rags, and enough plastic storage bags to choke a Safeway7.

Scrap cardboard to minimize oil drops.

I also took care to scrounge pieces of used cardboard for the inevitable oil drips of the dipstick and funnel, not wanting to leave oily stains on nice clean pavements and irritate the hotel folks who graciously let us park there.

You wouldn’t want any engine oil on those bricks, for example.

So the oil was okay. The only surprise came after we got home and I started looking at replacement sidestands and discovering some of them had pre-formed bends. Even past photos of Terra Nova indicate, from certain angles, that some sort of bend was already there.

I don’t know for sure yet, but I’m tempted to say the stand had a bend that was later made worse by the luggage weight.

But the inner glow of bodge-jobbing the sidestand — a sort of Pirsig Zen Buddhist calm satisfaction, I suppose — stayed with me for the ride home and after.


1Bodge job is British term that means temporary repair. A botched job, on the other hand, is a screwed-up affair.

2 — Or a kickstand, as some philistines would call it.

3 — In Santee, South Carolina, a great hardware store.

4 — I suppose you could put car oil into your motorcycle just to get it to safety, if you had approximate viscosity and synthetic content and nothing else was available. Still, the thought of an engine tearing itself up from insufficient lubrication is enough to cause cardiac arrest in a rider. That’s why I willingly carry all that rather heavy oil.

5 — And I have the bill from the Yamaha dealer to prove it. You’d think I was paying off the national debt of France or something.

6 — Which makes it Vespa’s most powerful engine these days.

7 — Maybe all that stuff conspired to help bend the sidestand.

But They Did Get Us Home

Oct. 1 | Six days later: We got back on Sept. 25, having traveled 2,896 miles in about 18 days – 17 days, 22 hours, 19 minutes, to be exact. The bikes ran well, but not without complications.

On the return leg in Decaturville, Tenn., the Vespa’s speedometer and odometer died, the needle comatose at zero, making me suspect I had not tightened the speedometer cable while installing the new windscreen back home.


I tore into the headlight nacelle – again – at Starbase Nashville, Linda’s parents’ home, only to discover the cable was attached but broken. The four closest shops told me the part would have to be special-ordered. I decided we could go without, promising to replace it once we got home.

Again underway, outside of Ashland, Ky., the Vespa began to hesitate a bit, a microsecond of indecision when Linda accelerated on long downhill runs. It was annoying but not particularly troublesome if it did not get worse.


We made it home without further incident, arriving after dark, exhausted. I pulled everything off the bikes and put the shrouds on. I left them in the driveway like that for six days, as we went back to work, paid bills, and sorted through our gear.

With time to breathe, I walked the Vespa to its parking spot out back (making mental notes on what it needed) climbed aboard Terra Nova, turned the key, and hit the starter button.

The engine cranked, but did not fire. Wait, what?

I switched off, waited a bit, and tried again. Same thing. Well, that’s never happened before.

Just for chuckles, I tried the Vespa. It fired right up.


I could not get upset — still can’t. The bikes had done what we’d asked on five consecutive longrides without so much as a cough. So I dare not complain when my motorcycle strands me in my own driveway at the end of a ride. Of all places to break down, that has to be the best.

And finally, as if to emphasize end of mission, I had to cut the lawn, which resembled a rain forest after three weeks of neglect. But the Briggs & Stratton needed gas, so I poured some of Terra Nova’s precious 93 octane reserve into the definitely-not-a-motorcycle lawnmower engine. It fired right up, too.

Addendum: I went to the online Yamaha Super Tenere forum and found Terra Nova probably has a problem with its ECU — engine control unit, the bike’s computer. I charged the battery and started the engine using a multi-step process of ignition key and kill switch manipulation. Later, it started normally when the weather warmed up. So she’s mobile, but there’s more to be done.