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Bike Tale - First Posted 20th February 2004

The Toastmaster Challenge: Part The Eleventh

Is it The End? Or maybe the beginning of the end? Frank Westworth rediscovers Fear Of Finishing...

Being An Expert carries with it considerable responsibilities. For a start, Experts are masters of bodgery levels way beyond those of mere mortals. Experts are able to overcome all obstacles, and to boldly go where the sane would fear to tread. Experts can do anything! Well, almost anything. I, for example, while without doubt An Expert, particularly on the subject of wrecked and horribly mutilated Ariel twins, am lousy at soldering.

Nearly there...

Soldering is a black art. It is the stuff of nightmare and the late night shakes. The shakes induced by thoughts of soldering are worse than those induced by thoughts of starting a Velocette, and those are severe shakes indeed. Soldering is the sort of thing that other folk, non-experts to a man, are able to practice without apparent damage either to their sanity, their sleep patterns, or even to the bits and bats that they are joining together with solder.

As I've said before, the Toastmaster's new wiring harness is a thing of delight and wonder. Its wires go precisely where they should, they are generously cut and fitted with all the correct connectors. This is a Good Thing. Cheap replacement rear light units, however, are fitted with wiring of skimpy proportions and mysteriously and wrongly sized connectors. This is plainly a less good thing, and was causing me grief. Was I not prepping this, the final episode of the ripping, gripping Ariel resurrection shuffle? I did not need niggles; I needed completion! And so, gentle reader, do you (I suspect).

For the wires from the cheap, pattern, bought at an autojumble, rear light to mate satisfyingly and in a tight bit of penetration with the connector which so willingly accepted the rear light leads from the new wonder-loom, it was plain that I was going to be forced into exercising my weedy soldering skills. In short, I needed to remove the feeble tinny nipples from the bogus far-eastern light leads and then replace them with healthy upstanding Brit-pattern ones. Does this sound easy to you? Of course it does. A sub-normally intelligent chimp could do this with its eyes shut and while playing Elgar sonatas on the banjo. Sadly, I lacked both chimp and banjo. I had only Thor, King of Hammers, and a Woolworths soldering iron of dubious heating power.

Nonetheless, as I am An Expert, I clipped the feeble foreign nipples from the feeble foreign wires and stripped the feeble foreign insulation back, as Experts do. I was amazed by how few feeble strands of copper-ish wire lurked within the weedy plastic insulation. I poked them through my stout British brass nipples and was depressed when three of the five strands broke off. I realised that no Expert could ever resolve this, and reminded myself that my last conversation with CMES Sean had gleaned the information that these feeble foreign lights were no good anyway because they vibrated their bulbs to bits. This is because the bulbholder is attached directly to the mounting plate and therefore gets the bike's manly vibes transmitted directly to it. Unlike the suddenly and surprisingly excellent Lucas originals, which mounted the bulb in a sort of rubber dummy, thus preserving it from shocks. Lucas bits better than anything else? That was a shock, too!

Proper wiring. Shame about the focussing.

There is only one thing to do when faced with a failure like this: move swiftly on to something else. So I did. I offered up the (original, steel) rear number plate to the (repro, plastic) rear mudguard extension. It fitted. Hurrah! Four of the six mountings which fit the extension to the rest of the (original, steel) rear mudguard lined up. Any four. But not six, or even five. Who cares? Four is fine. Fibreglass is not heavy. Man.

By this stage I was itching to run the engine again. Although it may not seem like it to my regular reader (hello, mum) the last time the Toaster's engine ran was not in fact in 2003. It last ran in 2002. This mild strangeness is the result of the fact that I started this rebuild a very long time before I started the rebuild story. A very very long time. Thor, King of Hammers, was a callow youth when I started this rebuild. I have no idea what 'callow' means, either.

Running the engine requires several things. It requires sparks, which I have in great abundance, thanks to a magnificent magneto rebuild by Sean of CMES (I am still hoping that he will build me a real Lucas tail light, so need to nice him into submission). Running requires that petrol gets into the engine, and I can do this from a real genuine Ariel tank bought at an improbably bargain price and in stunning condition from John Budgen (I owe him so many favours that I'll have to nice him into a coma). But before fuel can get from the tank to the spangly new carb, bought at a bargain, etc price from Surrey Cycles (I may need a new carb for the next rebuild, too; you can never be too nice. I am A Real Expert at being nice), it needs to pass through a petrol tap, and down a petrol pipe. It does not need to leak all over the highly sparky magneto otherwise the bike might catch fire, and I have been there before. Profound sigh.

Admire the battery box...Ariel, being masters of all things, did not employ the weedy feeble petrol taps so popular with lesser marques, like BSA and Norton, to name but two. Nope, they uses a marvellous vast affair which is now unobtainable by mortal man. It is so unobtainable that even the utterly stalwart and endlessly patient guys at Draganfly (OK; you can fill in the rest of the compliments and the reason for them yourself) couldn't supply me with one. Indeed, there has even been bleak discussion about exactly these fuel taps on the Ariel club's splendidly vigourous e-list.

I had two options, then. First I could refurbish the original tap which came with the Toasty relic. The tap had survived the fire with just the loss of the corks in its plunger valves. But it had not survived being sand blasted when some cretin ('hem) forgot to take it off the original useless petrol tank when he took it in for blasting. So I cleaned the tap a lot. Left it to soak in petrol for a month or two, to encourage the departure of any residual blaster's sand, bought a new pair of valves, with nice new corks and fitted them. They worked a treat. No fuel leaks through these then!

But there was (of course) a problem. Firstly, the tap had somehow lost its filter gauze. Second, and very mysteriously, the brass thread of the tap was now somehow slightly the wrong size for the replacement tank. Baffling. Draganfly supplied me with a new lever-operated tap, complete with an adaptor (remember her?) to fit the Ariel tank. The adaptor fit the tank perfectly, so there was something Not Right with my original tap. Despair. Go home, drink tea. Curse a bit in a sort of disinterested way. I want to ride my Ariel. I am fed up that I can't ride my Ariel.

Then two mighty events took place. I went to the last show/jumble of 2003 at Malvern. Had a great time, mainly pretending to know about bikes while judging the concours with The Toaster. It was blairing down with rain so there were unusually few folk there. At one of the (outdoor, muddy, under-visited) trade stands was a man selling carbs and other bits of fuel systems. He had two of the rare taps. I stared. His two taps were new. I stared more. His taps cost £35 each, which is why I bought only one of them. If I'd bought the other I could have sold it for £70 to a fellow Ariel clubman, thus making my own new tap free. But I didn't. I could claim high moral reasons here, but in fact I just didn't have seventy quid. So it goes.

Proper fuel tap, proper fuel pipe, proper fuel pipe clip, improbably clean carb...

The second mighty event was that my (young, improbably handsome) brother came to visit, and as he rebuilds vast clocks (the sort that sit atop high towers in remote windy places, not those which sit atop mantlepeices) it was at once obvious to me that he was just the chap to help me with soldering. He understands soldering, does my bro, even though he lives in Cumbria and rides a Yamaha.

Bro gazed glumly at my collection of un-solderable wires, bullet connections and the like. He took up my soldering iron with a sigh so profound that passing tax collectors burst into tears of sympathy. His shoulders slumped. His eyes started to leak…

'Why don't you connect up your fuel system?' he mumbled, not unkindly. 'This won't take long…' His air of fatigue condensed in The Shed like ruined dreams.

So I did. New tap fitted old tank perfectly, and crushable washers sealed the joint. New petrol pipe and new clips fitted between tank and carb, and there were no leaks there, either.

Bro finished soldering in seconds. Remarkable. How does he do that?

I added fuel to the tank. Opened the fuel tap. Tickled the carb. Eased the engine over a few times, to get fuel into the combustion chambers. The phone rang, it was Rowena, the Rather Fairer Half.

'Your tea is on fire,' she snapped, without a trace of humour. 'Are you going to eat it, or am I feeding it to the cats?'

It may have been fear for the cats which got bro and I from The Shed to the tea table in record time, but then again … it might not.

Next month: The Final Final Episode. Does it run? Does it ride? Is it finished? Have we won the lottery? What's that smoke?

Despite Rowena using his legs for firewood, Frank remained remarkably cheerful.

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