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Bike Tale - First Posted 8th April 2004

The Toastmaster Challenge: Part The Twelfth

The End. It's been over a year, but now The End is finally at hand. Frank Westworth rides his rebuild...

The Toastmaster saga started in a pub. I know you'll find this hard to believe, but before I started this rebuild I was known to take a drop or two of soothing libation, and it was while my mind was distracted and diffused by a lunchtime pint or two that I stumbled over the grand notion of tackling a really difficult rebuild. Not something simple and cheap, like a Square Four which had been buried in pieces in a ditch beside the briny ocean for several decades, but a real challenge. I was talking to a man called Sam, and he had just such a challenge at home. The rest is history.

The Toastmaster saga has ended in a pub. Although I attained teatotality while wrestling with the buckled wreckage of a once-proud Ariel, somehow drinking has regained its appeal now it's
… sort of … finished. I wonder why?

Finishing any long-term project is a worrying thing, even for Experts like myself. I mean; what if it refuses to start - even worse; what if it refuses to start in front of Herself With Camera? Could I stand the humiliation? The embarrassment? I made an excuse, and trolled off to The Shed while pretending that I was off shopping for secret surprises for Herself and the cat. It must have made some sense at the time…

You know what happens. I'd intended to whip the Toaster from its perch on the most excellent elevated workbench, kick it briskly into life and rasp off around the industrial estate where The Shed is currently located. However, Mysterious Richard, the worryingly cheerful soul who produces obscure but expensive and perfectly formed bits of plastic in the next unit (and who wants me to build a New Shed pronto so he can occupy my temporary Shed unit - keep up at the back) sent round a minion with a mug of tea. While only a true fool would attempt to drink tea while riding a motorcycle, a lesser fool can pretend to fling the spanners and sup at the same time. So I did. I checked that the tiny modern battery (which lurks within the fake hard rubber battery box) was holding a charge. Of course it wasn't. It was new; what was I thinking of?

But you do not need a charged battery to fire up a healthy Huntmaster! I grinned, supped some more, and removed the parts of the plastic FERC I'd been struggling to fit. The problem with plastic fake FERCs is that they require mechanical genius to fit and seal. And although I am of course an Expert, I am no genius. And in any case, the most excellent John Budgen (01242 621495) had called up to say that he'd acquired a genuine tin FERC, and I could pick it up - in exchange for just a few folding beer vouchers - next time we met. Who needs a plastic FERC when you can do it with tin? Not me, and that's for sure.

(NB: confused by the FERC? Try the message board where someone might take pity on you and shed a little light upon your darkness. TP)

I grinned some more, and supped some more. This tea might have been deepest brown builder's brew, but by Harry it was good! Next I checked that the earthing to the horrid fake repro rear light assembly was sound, so that even though I might be arrested for riding without a FERC, or indeed a care, I would at least escape transportation to the penal colonies for riding without a brake light.

Of course the earthing was poor. Of course there was but a weedy and feeble glow from the horrid fake repro rear light, and when I stepped daintily upon the back brake pedal and energised the other filament, of course all the lights went out with a faint 'pop'. Isn't that just the way of things?

But I didn't care; I was carefree. Had not the most splendid CMES Sean promised me a genuine built-from-spares Lucas rear light assembly? I might find myself aboard some smelly cruise ship, en route to an enforced new life in the colonies for major lighting offences, but at least I'd be happy in the knowledge that by the time I got back in a century or so there'd be a new Lucas light waiting patiently for me.

Rarely has a piece of bent old tin made a grown man so happy.And there's another thing. The tea was getting cool by now, but I was well into the swing of doing nothing useful while putting off the awful attempting-to-start-the-bike moment! The other thing was that while I'd been wasting potentially profitable working hours by surfing through the eBay on-line auction house, I'd spotted a genuine tin Ariel rear mudguard tailpiece, complete with Ariel badge and number plate housing - and I'd bid for it - and I'd won it - and I was sat admiring it, here in The Shed! Who needs a fake plastic rear mudguard extension which frustrates all my attempts at getting a rear light earth point; who needs that when they've got a genuine original bit of only slightly rusty Ariel tinware with which to replace it? Not me, buster, not me.

I'd finished the tea by now, so I tottered to foot and ambled next door to return the mug. It was dark. How did this happen? One minute it was bright but chilly, and the next it was pitch black and sub-zero. Now, as well as being An Expert, I am of course A Motorbicycling Superhero who cares not one jot for arctic riding conditions - show me an icy lake to bathe in and I'll show you … never mind. Let's not go there.

Wondering what the time was, I switched on the allegedly mobile telephonic communicator, which astounded me by ringing, all on its own. It plays The Ride Of The Valkyries, y'know; a sombre and appropriate choice of anthem given that the caller turned out to be The Better Half, who was so concerned at my prolonged absence that she sounded almost cross. And the shops were shut, so my shopping-for-presents excuse was looking flimsy at best. Sigh. Lock up. Go home…

…and return a few days later, complete with Better Half and camera, but with no workable excuses for the inevitable failure of the Toastmaster to fire up. It was more likely to spontaneously combust than fire up, in my view, and I was starting to think that the whole prolonged active rebuild had never been a good idea.

Even my best attempt at a final convincing excuse had failed. Unknown to me, the Better Half had put a can full of petrol into the boot of The Mighty Panzer and brought it with us. She'd even remembered to charge the camera's battery. Faced with such terrifying efficiency, there was only one thing to do. So I did it.

No, gentle reader, I did not break down and weep, nor did I rend my flesh and howl at the moon, although I have felt like doing exactly that on several occasions over the last several years…

He's smiling now, but will it start?

What I did was add petrol. Then I tried to close the patrol cap. I said 'try' because once I'd fitted the new and very technical (and most speedily supplied by the nice men at Draganfly Motorcycles) spire nuts which retain the front of the handsome strip which graces the last of the Ariel 4-stroke fuel tanks, covering both the welded seams and the single bolt fixing gubbins, it became suddenly plain that that same strip was wedged against the rim of the fuel filler, and that the cap couldn't shut. I didn't care; a loose fuel cap was the least of my worries. I held the fuel cap on by willpower alone. We Experts can do anything!

Next; check the oil level in the (temporary; used only while I waited for the real one to return) oil tank (the real one had returned in an unusable condition, as you will recall - but only if you have more memory capacity than an entire herd of tremulous pachyderms). I could see no oil, and a finger thrust deeply into the oil tank was oil-free and pink when subsequently extracted. I added some oil.

Meanwhile, the intelligent part of the family (that'll be Herself, not the cat) was becoming restive at my procrastination. Would I, she suggested, kindly hurry up and cease with the pratting about? I grinned in what I hoped was an heroic kind of way and wheeled the motorcycle from the bench. And then outside. And then I rested it on its stand. And turned on the fuel. Which flowed through my spond-new but apparently incorrect-for-the-year fuel tap and into the equally new carb.

I eased the engine through a priming kick, to make sure that there was some fuel in the combustion chambers when I kicked the engine up in earnest. There was a mysterious rumbling noise and I discovered that I was shaking. Was this fear? Were terrible things happening to my digestion?

No, in fact. The awful but inescapable truth was that the engine was running. I hadn't meant it to, and in fact I'd doubted that it ever would, but internal combustion was undeniably taking place. The Better Half's normally cheerful expression had been replaced by something new. It looked like hero-worship! I beamed, valiantly attempting to project an air of calm and unshakable confidence. The Ariel carried on running. This was becoming a worry. None of my bikes does this. They cough; they splutter, they wheeze … and then they stall, and I wheel them into the corner of The Shed and dream up exotic and entertaining excuses for their failure. What my bikes do not do is sit there rumbling in a manly and relaxed manner while not leaking oil nor vibrating the rider to a jelly.

I carried on beaming. The Ariel carried on running. The Better Half ceased to gaze adoringly and brandished the camera. I knew that the moment I released the throttle the engine would stall, never to run again. I stuck a Turkish Harley-Davidson cap onto my head, slapped what I hoped was an heroic expression upon my chops, hoiked aboard, upped the revs and pulled in the clutch; flicked the gear lever with my toe and eased out the clutch…

And stood still in a faintly embarrassed roar as the revs died away. But I am An Expert, as I've said many times, so I knew what to do: I pulled the clutch in again, lifted the gear lever and eased the clutch out again while holding the lever in the first gear position.

Nothing. The engine rumbled merrily away, and I became conscious that the afternoon sunlight was fading away in a mysterious cloud. The mysterious cloud was surrounding only me, however, and after a moment of panic I understood that neither the bike nor I were on fire; the mysterious cloud was a cloud of smoke from oil burning off the cylinder head fins…

Herself was by now rapidly assuming an air of impatience. I waggled the gear lever frantically - hard to do while maintaining an air of optimistic nonchalance. There was suddenly a great crunching and I whipped the clutch back in. The engine rumbled merrily away. The smoke cloud became ever-denser. The great crunching was familiar; it was the sound of two gears engaging at the same time. This is disadvantageous from a forward motion perspective, and is equally unhappy from a what it does to the gearbox perspective, too. If I'd had a hand free I would have scratched my head. But I had no free hands. There I sat, engine rumbling merrily away, at least two gears engaged, and surrounded by a vast, malodorous and sooty cloud. My air of calm was fast becoming unconvincing. Mysterious Richard had come out to watch, as had several small boys, one of them proffering a fresh cup of what may have been tea in my direction. I was without hands, and running out of time. Herself was starting to tap her feet; never a good sign.

My balance was going: my left hand was holding the clutch; my right hand was holding the front brake and throttle, and my right foot was holding the gear lever. I started to feel as though we were toppling to the right and fast as a flash, with the lightning reflexes for which I've never been famous, I stamped my right foot to the ground. The gear lever sprang back with a gentle click, and a small voice whispered in my ear that I had found neutral. At that point my pleasure at finding neutral was equivalent to Columbus's pleasure when he discovered the New World and potatoes, and I smiled. A small voice whispered in my ear that I had found neutral. I knew that. The small voice became a big voice and bellowed into my ear that I had found neutral. The voice belonged to the Better Half, who was pointing at the gear indicator on the side of Mr Burman's fine gearbox. I released the clutch. We had found neutral. We didn't fall over. Things were looking up.

I pulled in the clutch again, clouds of acrid smoke drifting on the pleasant Cornish afternoon breeze, and selected first gear. I eased out the clutch and the old Ariel set off across the industrial estate as though it had never been destroyed, rebuilt, incinerated and rebuilt again. The engine rumbled away, the speedo needle flickered past the first tenth of a mile in half a decade, and we shifted into second. Then into third, and then into top.

It lives! It fails to break down!

Shifted back down to first to perform a controlled, feet-up lock-stopped U-turn at the end of the road, and rode back. Turned lazy circles for the camera. The smoke cleared, the ammeter showed a charge, the sun shone down and there was a gentle tinkle from below. I ignored it. The battery fell off…

I rode sedately and with a winning grin back into The Shed, battery bouncing along at the end of its leads, like an oddly cubic puppy tugging at its leash. But that was OK, because Herself was on the other side of the bike and could not see the disaster taking place…

Back inside The Shed, I rode straight into the wall, because the brakes are entirely ineffective. I didn't care. The Toastmaster had done really well, and the project was complete. The Shed filled with an unfamiliar air of hot oil and calm. Even Herself was beaming. It was a grand moment.

So. It's off for an MoT, a free tax disc and a summer of Arieling, then? Well yes it is, but not aboard the Toastmaster…

Two things. There have been too many shortcuts, too many little bodges. I want to keep this bike for ever, and I want it to be right. I have a new front mudguard and a tin rear guard to paint and fit along with the steel FERC. I want to fit the new spacer behind the engine sprocket so the clutch chainwheel doesn't wear out really rapidly, and I want to get the correct oil tank stoved and fitted. I may even repaint the fuel tank and send the horn off to Taff the Horns for expert attention.

And in any case, just when things were looking dreadful several months ago, SuperJohn, editor of the Ariel OC's glorious and inspiring magazine, Cheval de Fer, revealed the whereabouts of another Huntmaster. A green Huntmaster which had belonged to a deceased club member, a Huntmaster which was well-known and a veteran of many club events and long distance travels.

I now have that Huntmaster sat next to the Toastmaster. I like riding the leprous green one; it has a working front brake, an air of great world-weariness and a hideous top box. We were made for each other…

Is this the end?

The alternative ending, if the engine hadn't started...

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