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Bike Profile - Posted 26th June 2009

Simson AWO425 Sport: Ghosts In The Machine
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Some people can have an adventure just popping out for a pack of frozen peas. Phil Speakman attempted something a little more daring on his 1950's era East German 250, to his cost...

'Hells bells, look at the time!'

Despite being on my holidays and having all the time in the world to prepare, somehow I'd faffed about all day; doing this and that and a little bit more of nothing. As 5pm neared, I still hadn't managed to get on my way.

Due to my late start, I'd opted for the shortest but steepest route to Seathwaite in the Duddon Valley via the infamous Wrynose Pass. At 9pm I still hadn't arrived at the MZ Riders' Club's Northwest section's spring camp and it was looking increasingly unlikely that I would ever make it.

I'd managed to reach just a couple of hundred yards short of the summit of Wrynose pass, before finally admitting that something was wrong. The stationary state of progress made it difficult to argue otherwise, forcing me to finally admit to myself that I'd lost my clutch.

Well, not me personally. No, I still retained my Darwinian evolution opposable digit ability to hold onto the handlebars with even greater dexterity than a rubber fingered Action Man with 'real gripping hands'.

Tendril of Ivy sneaks up on Simson from behind... Simson AWO425 Sport

However, my Simson AWO425 Sport's clutch was definitely not up to scratch. It would happily drive, but I couldn't disengage it. The actuating arm at the rear of the gearbox was flopping around aimlessly and the clutch cable had disconnected itself from the arm in apparent disgust with its lack of discipline. They obviously wanted nothing more to do with each other.

So there I was, stood on a 1:4 slope wondering what to do as darkness finally enveloped me. My lovely 425 Sport was broken and I was all alone in the middle of nowhere, experiencing a real 'quivery bottom lip' moment.

I'd already assessed my bleak situation and concluded that on this slope, recovery was improbable at best. Even in the unlikely event that I could manage to push the machine to the top of the pass, wasn't I only heading further away from possible assistance?

So what to do?

The wind whistled briskly around me as the stars took their first tentative peeks into the clearing night sky whilst clouds scudded beneath them in a headlong dash to be somewhere else. The temperature was dropping fast and the wind chill factor was eying me up with its schadenfreude gaze as a likely source of an evening's spiteful entertainment.

Turning to face the Ivy defeated it... Simson AWO425 Sport

I often find that it's at times such as this, when inspiration can come from the most unlikely of sources.

That night, mine came in the form of words of encouragement and defiance once uttered by the ubiquitous Marjorie Antrobus of Ambridge Village. Having stopped to assist a fellow fictional cast member, whose car had broken down with an electrical problem, Marjorie's inspirational message rang out across the Cumbrian landscape as a clarion call to my courage.

'I once drove a Land Rover half way across Kenya, stuck in third gear with no clutch, so I've no intention of being defeated by something as simple as this.'

Yes, I am fully aware that Marjorie Antrobus passed away some time ago. However, minor details such as being terminally written out of a BBC Radio 4 soap opera are not the sort of trifling insignificances that the likes of Marjorie Antrobus would allow to stand in her way.

Marjorie Antrobus was born into the final days of the British Empire and saw taking command in tricky situations as part of her remit. Steve Wilson, currently Somewhere In Africa with an almost-inactive Ariel, could do with a spot of Marjorie about him. Marjorie would tolerate no thoughts of defeat, nor feelings of apathy from those who had placed themselves under her protection. A majestic operator in a crisis, her authoritative words stung me into immediate action, causing my backbone to stiffen into a passing facsimile of those depicted in 1950's British movies.

'Thank you Marjorie, I needed that', I pronounced awkwardly through an unfamiliar 'Ice Cold in Alex' stiff upper lip.

With the ignition turned on, neutral found and vowels clipped, I kicked the bike back into life fleshly spurred on by Marjorie's infectious enthusiasm. I turned my back on the MZ Riders' camp and faced my AWO425 down the slope, with the sole intention of getting myself back towards Ambleside or failing that, rescue en-route.

Once underway, I gingerly attempted snicking the box into second and found it went in surprisingly well. As the steepness of the slope decreased I attempted shifting into third. That seemed to go smoothly too. This was even more encouraging.

At the bottom of the pass, I stalled the bike to a halt outside Fell Foot Farm, whose occupants had thoughtfully left an outside lamp burning solely for my benefit. Using my tools and the farm's generously radiating photons, I managed to reconnect the clutch cable with a feeling of self sufficient satisfaction and tried the lever.

It did nothing.

I still had no functioning clutch actuating mechanism and after a brief inspection it became obvious that repair would necessitate a gearbox out solution. Somehow, I didn't think the occupants of Fell Foot Farm would appreciate the contents of my gearbox laid out neatly on their doorstep, so I decided against it.

Don't attempt this outside Fell Foot Farm in the dark... Simson AWO425 Sport engine and gearbox

I decided to pack my tools away briskly, not wishing to provoke Marjorie's ire any further. Then I kicked the bike into life once more and after a brief push, attempted to engage first. It went in perfectly, as did second, third and fourth. This was interesting, the clutch on a 425 appears to be little more than a tool for stopping safely and was otherwise completely superfluous as a gear change facilitator. I made progress with care, dropping down the box and slowing down gradually as I approached my first 'Give Way' junction, before finally launching myself and machine into the non-existent flow of traffic on the A593.

In this manner, I managed to get myself through Ambleside and all the way into Windermere, whereupon I stopped at a well lit petrol station and filled up, just in case. A full tank extended my range of options, as it was nearing ten thirty and most fuel stops were approaching closing time. Pushing the idling bike; I jumped aboard, before knocking it into first gear and sailing out onto the highway with a wild abandon born of riding a crash box with an accompanying deep bass 'bop, bop, bop' exhaust note.

'Maybe if I can get to the M6, that will make recovery quicker?', was my idea and once out of town on the A591, I pressed play on my IPod Shuffle and settled back to enjoy a random selection of musical entertainment.

By the time I'd reached the M6 motorway junction, all seemed to be going well just as a second inspirational message of the evening popped into my subconscious; courtesy of the 'Travelling Wilburies' song 'It's All Right'.

It did indeed appear 'All right, riding around in the breeze' and so, finding my spirits once more buoyed up by the interest that Roy Orbison and George Harrison were taking in my troubled journey, I made a bold move. Trusting in serendipity, I steered down the slip road and joined the M6 south.

The Simson's 12V headlamp provided excellent visibility even in the unlit sections, though I did have concerns for my small rear lamp, which although excellent could easily be lost amongst background lights. As my cruising speed on the 425 is only 50 to 55mph I began to wish that I'd chosen to wear a reflective waistcoat. In mitigation, I ensured that I regularly did a little weave within my lane, in order to draw attention to myself to any vehicles closing up on me.

Just to the south of Lancaster all was still going well. My hands had gone a neutral shade of numb and my knees were icing up nicely, but nothing too unpleasant and I'd found myself happily plodding along at the same speed as everyone else during a long stretch of well illuminated 50mph road works. Even when a lane closure was signalled, it was the outside lane closing down towards me and I didn't have to do anything other than be aware of my surroundings.

My 425 was motoring along swimmingly, despite me not having a working clutch, so what could go wrong?

'Motorway closed at junction 33', read the signpost.

'No! You're kidding, this is the M6, you can't just close it willy nilly. Not now, and not when I haven't got a clutch!'

It was at this journey ending moment that my fourth celebrity ghost chose his moment to make a brief but intensely dramatic appearance.

Wearing the guise of an angry young priest, shaking his fists in pent up rage and frustration in the very face of the spiteful all seeing omnipotence of the Highways Agency, Gene Hackman spat out his denunciation:

'We've come all this way, no thanks to you. We did it on our own, no help from you. We did ask you to fight for us but damn it, don't fight against us! Leave us alone!', he screamed into the wind before bravely launching himself into black space from the pillion seat of the good ship AWO Poseidon, grasping vainly at an overhead gantry.

It was this noble gesture of self-sacrifice in the face of certain death that encouraged me to continue with my adventure, regardless of any opposition from the all seeing Lords of the highways domain. I'd found my resolution newly emboldened and it was with a mood of grim determination that I made up my mind to get home with nothing more than imaginary celebrity assistance. I felt I owed it to the memory of the Reverend Frank Scott, that young priest tragically drowned on the southbound M6 during the summer blockbuster season of 1972.

Despite the motorway closure, the A6 south was relatively quiet and by slowing well in advance I was able to negotiate the traffic lights at Garstang without stopping. However, the crossroads at Broughton were an entirely different kettle of marine fauna. There was a half mile queue patiently waiting for passage through the junction and despite slowing and allowing cars to pass me, it became apparent that stopping appeared unavoidable.

As I approached the line of vehicles, at little more than walking pace on a fast tickover, an option presented itself to me as the best way of not disappointing the faith shown in me by my eclectic collection of celebrity supporters. The cycle lane was clear and so I steered along it, bop, bop, bopping my way slowly towards the front of the traffic. As the lights changed to green, a fortuitous gap opened up between a van and a HGV and I slipped back into the flow and through the crossroads in second gear.

After briefly joining the M55, I was soon back on the M6 and settling back down to coasting my way home in top gear as a collective message from The Young Dubliners popped up within my subconscious.

'Rooster of a fighting stock, will you let an Saxon cock cry out upon an Irish rock. Fly up and teach him manners!'

Erm, yes, thanks for that Gents. I'm not quite sure how the defeat of 3000 English soldiers at Glenmalure in 1580 was in any way relevant to my predicament but the more the merrier, I suppose?

Isn't it funny how the mind works at times such as these? Or is it just me?

As I passed the M58 junction, I felt its presence before I actually saw it. Something big, looming on the very edge of my awareness, something large, unseen, yet ominously threatening. I have experienced similar feelings in the past and it's never pleasant, knowing that one will soon have to grasp ones courage and actually look the danger head on, despite a seemingly inbuilt reluctance. Mental note to oneself, I really must fit some mirrors.

One previous time that springs to mind was at the end of a beautiful summer evening, with the sun shining directly in my eyes as I made my final approach onto runway 27 as pilot in command of my microlight aircraft. As I approached the threshold of the runway, that same fear of something very big in my close proximity crept upon me. I immediately looked down to see the wings of a 3 axis aircraft slip slowly not 6 feet beneath me on a shallower and slightly quicker approach. With the throttle floored and the control bar pushed out and to the right, I climbed as fast as I could to prevent myself dropping in as an unwelcome cockpit guest of the landing strip usurper below me.

That near-miss at a height of maybe 70 feet or so was the nearest I ever came to death as a pilot and I've no particular wish to repeat the episode. Stern words were subsequently exchanged with the other pilot, who appeared to think that joining the circuit and approaching in the traditional manner was somehow, 'only for others'.

As I reluctantly turned my head, the threatening shape resolved itself into the guise of a large Mercedes box van keeping pace alongside me, level with my shaft driven rear wheel. The driver was looking intently at my bike and by now, had been doing so for some considerable time. I nodded, he gave a thumbs up and after a momentary pause pulled ahead of me, slowly accelerating into the distance.

It was only then that I spotted the 'D' to the left of his number plate. The van's origins were German, hence I suppose his interest. I confess that it amuses me to imagine the phone calls he may have made the following day to his mates at home.


'Ein AWO Sport'


'Ja, ehrlich'

'Haben Sie getrunken?'

Horrible blue border removed from photo.... Simson AWO425 Sport - Jetz mit 15.5 PS!
Simson bits on

Let's be frank, 1950's Simsons aren't all that common a sight in unified Germany, never mind in south west Lancashire a little after midnight.

During our little digression, my AWO and me had progressed as far as the M62 westbound and ahead of me lay what could be my sternest challenge. Despite its proximity to my home, the threat came in the form of the dreaded Rainhill Stoops roundabout, that stock in trade of so many a BBC Radio traffic reporter. Four sets of unsleeping traffic lights which even at this ungodly hour would still require negotiating. Failure could well spell disaster as my legs were so cold as to seriously beg questions as to their ability to get me going again should I get it wrong and be forced to stop.

I carefully timed my exit up the slip road and onto the roundabout, that was the first set out of the way. The next set were green, I throttled up and roared through in third and hoped the third set would stay with me, they did. As I approached the fourth and final set, they changed to amber as I approached, but it was too late, I was committed now and through I went.

After shamelessly ignoring a temporary 100 yard contra-flow, sailing through on red along a stretch of road occupied only by myself, I pulled slowly into my cul-de-sac. Leaning forwards I gently slipped the bike from second into neutral using the hand lever, before pulling to a graceful halt. The clutch may well have failed and I hadn't succeeded in reaching my destination, but my AWO425 Sport had at least got me home again and without one single crunch of gears during the whole 100 mile journey from Wrynose.

This isn't right...

Subsequently; during discussions with friends, one opinion that was offered forth was that the clutch actuating rod had punched a hole through the centre of the clutch pressure plate. A phenomenon not unknown in older BMWs with a similar arrangement, or so I have been informed.

...And neither is this.

As it turned out, it was nothing so disastrous. At the very rear of the gearbox, located between clutch actuating arm and the clutch thrust rod is a thrust bearing. Mine had completely disintegrated, cage, balls, the lot. Hence the lack of thrust to operate the clutch.

Fingers crossed, it won't be long before my 1958 Simson AWO425 Sport is back where it belongs, provoking the casting of aspersions as to the sobriety of German van drivers.


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