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Harley-Davidson MT350E Army Bike (part 3)

The Army surplus Snarley was parked up for a while, and then it got grubby once again. Rowena Hoseason suffers a chain reaction...

The Snarley fell victim to a paradox last summer. Could've been worse, could've been involved in a nasty incident involving a parakeet and some paraquat and then I'd have the RSPCA after me. But no, a motorcycling paradox saw the stalwart RealClassic staffbike Harley-Davidson MT350E (the E is important if you can't kickstart with your left leg) securely moored in the garage all last summer. It's normally the other way around -- come the summer all the motorbikes rush out for fun and frolics in the sun. First hint of rain and they run away again, protecting their precious metals against pestilence and plague.

Much bigger than you think, these ex-army bikes. Here we see how it blocks both lanes of this busy dual carriageway.

But we got the Snarley in the first place to use all through the winter. And so we did. Then the good weather arrived, the lanes dried out, the leaves blew away and the floods passed us by. All that meant it was safe to ride the shiny-shiny, really classic old bikes for a while, the ones with chrome and steel and alloy all exposed to the elements. The A65 is OK to use in almost any weather, but cleaning anything was never my strong point, thus the old 'uns tend to be most used once the daffs are done and Spring is sprung. So with the big yellowy thing in the sky blazing away, practicality was abandoned and the ex-Army bike sat in the garage, looking a little sad. Ahhhh.

But then it rained! Well, it was inevitable that it would rain again. And out came the Snarl to travel the 10 mile round trip to pick up a packet of frozen peas. (That's not a literal packet of frozen peas, you understand, but a metaphorical packet of frozen peas. Frozen peas could be anything which requires the use of a motorcycle for an otherwise uninteresting trip. Frozen peas have been pints of milk, bacon baps and dodgy horror movies on DVD in the past, but I don't recall an instance when they've actually been frozen peas).

Blessed be the battery-charger, for I am crap at kick-starting with my left leg. I know I could stand next to the bike and use my right leg but that's like trying to write upside-down (try it). After 24 hours on charge -- these weren't urgent frozen peas, you understand -- the Snarley fired up on the button. I've heard grim things about the 500cc Rotax-engined bikes which have been equipped with electric starters -- the Matchless version is supposed to be Nowt But Trouble, and the Armstrong one gets mixed reviews. But on the 350, with its lower compression, the motor spins freely and is chuffing before you've had a chance to take your thumb off the button. Even after the bike's been stood awhile.

15kg per side. That's a lot of frozen peas, metaphorical or otherwise.

Rode into town. Took four miles of the five miles trip to get back into the swing of riding a bike with virtually no power, conventional telescopic forks, bugger all brakes (compared to the ones on the BMW), ferocious brakes (compared to the ones on the A65), and the suspension of a powered-up pogo stick. Strolled around town, beaming like a pillock. Rode home again, sans peas (but of course).

Ka-Clang! Ka-Clang! Uh-oh, that's the noise of a drive chain slapping. I know that noise when I hear it. More than once in my riding career it has been followed by the noise of a drive chain departing, then the noise of a Rowena blaspheming at full volume, and then the noise of a phone call to the RAC. Blimey -- had I put the Snarley away without bothering to adjust its chain? Surely not. Who'd do such a thing. Etc.

But every time I went over a bump the damn thing was slapping away like a Deutsche boy in lederhosen. Dammit; I hate adjusting chains. That's why the Beemer hasn't even got one. And look, the chain on the Snarley is even on the wrong side! Bloody Europeans; they drive on the wrong side of the road and they put the drive chains on the wrong side of the bike, chunter, grumble...

Heaved Snarl onto centrestand. Called big bloke to do technical stuff. Spent ages pratting around with knackered split pin and adjusters and move-it-one-more-notch and no-that's-too-much and all that tedious stuff which has nothing whatsoever to do with riding a damn motorcycle. Dammit. Finally got the chain to something like the right adjustment with each side more-or-less even, so we tightened it all back up, walloped the dodgy split-pin back into place (didn't have a new metric one handy. Ahem) and bounced the Snarl of its centrestand.

Instantly the chain sprang taut, so tight that it threatened to snap there and then. Eek. Now I have been known to slightly over-tighten a chain in my time, and to ease its passage with a little extra lube rather than go through the whole process all over again, but even I couldn't bodge this. I wasn't even sure that the engine had the power to turn a chain that tight. What had happened...?

What had happened was that the 'chain slipper', which is unmentioned in the Army manual and which is attached to the centrestand, had sprung back into place and taken all of the slack out of the chain. It was doing its job. With the bike off the stand and with the slipper in place, the chain did not need adjusting. At all.

Is that MOD issue olive green chain lube? Rubber centre-stand stop. Nice.

So we mauled the split pin around some more, higgled and jiggled and re-set the adjusters, and left the chain pretty much the way it was before we started all this mucking about. Great.

So what had made the chain slap so much then? I didn't imagine it.

Looked closely at the centrestand -- which we now understand plays an important role in keeping the drive chain at the correct tension. On one side there was a perfectly functional spring. On the other... a twisted piece of bent metal which might once have been a spring but certainly wasn't now. So the stand was fine at a standstill (sorry...) where the single spring could take the strain, but on the move and travelling over the humps and bumps of Salopia, it was flapping around like a good 'un. And with the stand flapping about, the chain slapped in sympathy.

All explained. No need to do anything to chain; simply apply time-honoured cure of bungee to centrestand, and make mental note to purchase a centrestand spring next time we go to an autojumble. Heck, maybe I'll push the boat out and get two new springs. And perhaps another bungee. Might come in useful in my Snarling toolkit.

Classy ventilated rust disguiser is standard issue.You'll be glad to know that this highly technical mechanism for keeping the centrestand safely retracted worked to my entire satisfaction right until the moment that an MoT was needed. At that point we sidled out of the bike shop, mumbling 'could you just fit a spring while you're at it...' and sloped off for a cup of coffee, leaving Ian-the-ever-patient at Church Stretton Motorcycles with the fiddly job of replacing the spring. He didn't even charge for it. What a nice man!

And that's it. A tale of woe and disaster, of mechanical mishap and mayhem this most certainly is not. Despite my least attentions and the occasional application of an Optimate (I don't trust them I don't), the Snarley remains defiantly reliable. It's bouncy, it's slow, the disc brake scares me senseless for two opposing reasons depending on which other bike I've just been riding, and it attracts more attention than any other motorcycle I ride. If 10% of the people who look at it and ask me questions actually buy one of these then I could keep an Army surplus store in business.

For tales of breakdowns, heroic rescues, the AA and all of that you'll just have to wait. My Triumph X-75 Hurricane has just been mended. Mended again. Again again. Now thereby hangs a tale...

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