“There are no small parts, only small actors.”
– Konstantin Stanislavski
I signed up for the 2023 Scooter Cannonball1 – a scooter-only, 8-day event covering 3,170 miles – on June 25, the day registration opened, and the same day I tried to fire up Linda’s Vespa 300 GTS and found it wouldn’t start.
It was irony of the highest sort, since the Cannonball is a long-distance event in which participants ride scooters of 300ccs (or less) across the country. Scooters aren’t really meant for that type of distance and riders typically do scooter maintenance in hotel parking lots at night.
So the work of getting her Vespa back online became a learning experience, a dry run of sorts for the Cannonball, since breakdowns are common during the event. Riders are expected to at least attempt to make their own repairs, though fellow competitors often offer help2.
The Vespa hadn’t been run in a while. I pulled the Dow cover, rolled it from underneath the patio overhang and turned the key.
The system initialized: the dash lights came on, the fuel pump pumped, but when I hit the starter button, I was rewarded with only a single click from somewhere in the engine.
One tries to be rational and methodical in times like these but I couldn’t help but think: “What if this were happening at a hotel in Guymon, Oklahoma, in the morning?3 What would I do?”
I charged up the battery, tried the starter again without success, and found the battery level had fallen again. From experience with Endurance’s battery, I figured that was the problem.
We dashed to La Moto Washington before they closed and got a new battery, which didn’t solve the problem. So I was feeling rather clueless.
I started searching online for solutions and to watch Robot’s instructional videos on scooterwest.com5. I traced the clicking to the starter relay under the saddle and checked it by swapping out the relay from Erebus, which has the same engine as Linda’s Vespa.
Erebus fired up, but the other Vespa didn’t. So it wasn’t the starter relay.
I started poking about the engine, looking to check the spark plug and spied a rubber sparkplug-like boot and pried it off, only to see a stud, a nut and the business end of a broken ring terminal, a dime-sized fitting used here to connect a wire to the engine block. Could this be it?
I modified a ring terminal from a box of spare parts, fitted it on the engine, and tried the starter button. The Vespa cranked over and started.
I don’t know what I felt more: relief or amazement at discovering the problem. I have to permanently mount a ring terminal to the engine wire, but that shouldn’t be much of a problem. And now we even have a spare battery.
1 – I wrote about the Cannonball in 2021 for USA Today online4. It’s one of my favorite stories; I enjoyed talking with nearly a dozen riders, a good group of folks. After some internal deliberation, I decided to sign up myself, though I have a long way to go before I’m actually ready.
2 – It’s part of the camaraderie of the event. Seriously, it’s a wonderful thing to see.
3 – Guymon is one of the overnight stops on the 2023 route. It’s in the Panhandle.
4 – The story was well-received by scooter riders, but readers really liked Veronica Bravo’s illustrations, which are really good.
5 – Robot has no doubt helped thousands of Vespa riders take care of their scooters.