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30th September 2015

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Famous Last Words 32: Repair or Replace?

We live in a disposable world. A strange notion to those who restore old motorcycles, like Frank Westworth...

There was a major tragedy in The Shed the other week. Not one of your common-or-garden snapped big end or pathetic holed piston events, either. No, this was a tool failure, a scary thing indeed for shed dwellers. I am a pedant – and much else – and I always purchase decent tools. By his tools shall you judge a man, as someone somewhere might once have said. Be that as it may, I needed to inflate the tyres on one of my 100% reliable rotary Nortons, and to do this I turned at once to my trusty foot pump.

Being a traditionalist as well as some sort of empire loyalist, I have been a faithful pumper of Draper foot pumps for as long as I can remember pumping tyres by foot, rather than by a hand plunger-thing. The exercise is good for a fellow of a certain age, and a calorie burned is one less to clog the arteries. Draper pumps feature a union flag, so I can feel vaguely and guiltily jingoistic. In any case, they are also blue, which matches the décor. These things may be important.

Famous Last Words 32: Repair or Replace?
Replacements, on ...

After less than five years of steady use – I appear to spend more time pumping tyres than changing oils – the pump failed. This is an outrage. Five years? Modern rubbish.

The failed component is the connector, the strange over-centre clip device which locks the pump hose to the tyre valve. It connected fine. As soon as pressure was applied, it flew off again. And again. It is difficult to hold the valve together by hand while pumping by foot. Try it. This was tiresome, as well as contorting. I consulted a well-known auction site to discover whether I could acquire a replacement hose assembly. I could. Hurrah. Delight all round. Had I possessed a union flag and a flagpole, I would have run one up the other so the neighbours could have shared in my rejoicing. Sadly, I have neither flag, pole nor neighbours, so an opportunity to spread a little delight was lost.

The price was OK, too. At least, it was until I observed that for only slightly less money I could purchase an entire new pump. I looked further, incredulity replacing exhaustion from the failed pumping. And it instantly became worse. For less than the price asked for a piece of rubber hose with a pair of connectors, I could buy a complete foot pump, visually identical to my prestigious Draper item, and which boasted its own hose. But worse: I could also buy an electric pump for the same price as the foot operated device. How can this be?

Famous Last Words 32: Repair or Replace?

What is the correct course of action here? The only sane path to tread is of course to buy the electric pump, leave it inflating my tyres for me while I sip a daiquiri or consider the nature of the universe, or something, but is that actually a sensible result? A £6.99 electric pump is a great bargain if it lasts for five years; it’s rather less of a whizzo purchase if it expires after a week, leaving me to trawl the local tool shop, eventually buying a new Draper foot pump for about £19.99 and telling myself that yes of course I do believe that it will last for ten years of energetic foot-stomping.

And so it is with parts for our elderly and cantankerous motorcycles. When a com-ponent fails – as I believe they do on all motorcycles apart from rotary Nortons* – then we are faced with the foot pump dilemma. Do we replace the failed component with something costing 99p on eBay and suspend disbelief in its reliability, fit and service life? Do we buy the correct part, made to the correct spec by a skilled man / woman / other who knows what they’re doing and which carries a guarantee because it’s sourced from a trader with a good reputation? Or do we fit that 99p component, then stick the entire motorcycle into the anonymity which is an auction and just get rid of the thing?

Questions, questions. It’s all too much. Bring back solid tyres. All of our two-wheeled problems would be solved…

Famous Last Words 32: Repair or Replace?

*That is a clear and deliberate use of irony, in case you were wondering…


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