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Spare Parts: I had one just like her

By Ernie Copper

We love our bikes. When they’re broken, our outlook on everything can change. This love transcends marques and can be shared by bike owners of all makes and models, even though American-made bike owners are affected more severely. Recently, I wrote in these pages about my father’s attempts to re-fire his ailing Motobecane moped. Though far from a Harley, his Motobecane keeps his knees in the breeze, and at age 81 it was enough to scratch his two-wheeled itch.

The ’ped inexplicably died about nine months ago and was passed from shop to shop looking for a solution to its unidentifiable malady. In a funk over it, he had a brief affair with a CT90 to keep the French moped off his mind, but it never did stop the ache in his heart left by the moped when she gave up the ghost. I suppose comparing the CT90 to the moped was something like comparing a tractor to a sewing machine. Her demise was not a catastrophic failure, rather a silent fading away. No smoke, no “boom,” just the eerie silence of a non-functioning machine. It’s one of the worst non-sounds on earth. It ate away at him as he passed the bike from garage to garage until finally he took it home and leaned it in the shed, unable to bring himself to junk her.

Finding an independent shop owner who will take the time for an 81-year-old man and an old, oddball moped with no shop manual these days is not easy. But eventually, Dad visited Ralph Mercer, an old Triumph dealer, who referred him to Grove City Motorsports, where the head mechanic and self-identified “grumpy owner” agreed to have a look at the lightweight French machine. My dad set up the details and dropped off the bike. After having it for less than week, shop owner Rick Thompson called him to tell him it was running again and he could pick it up. What was wrong is not really important, save for the fact that it involved left-handed threads, some welding and old-fashioned, independent thinking to repair a failing part. That all added up to success.

I took time to run up with Dad to pickup the Motobecane and that’s when I met Rick. As it turns out, Rick took on the job because he “had one just like it” when he was a kid. Dad’s was in great shape, aside from not running, so he figured it was worth the effort.

The store is modest, with various bikes and accessories for sale in the showroom. According to his business card, Rick has “over 40 years of experience, good and bad.” I like a sense of humor on a business card. In fact, just having a business card is a big step toward gaining my confidence these days. The shop in back has several lifts and the smell of petroleum products permeates the air. Everything from flat-track bikes to dirt bikes to vintage Triumphs had their souls bared the day I was there.

Rick fondly remembered his moped after demonstrating the effectiveness of his repair, reiterating that that was what really led him to take a shot at fixing Dad’s. There aren’t many people around today who have the basic mechanical knowledge and desire to look at something, understand what makes it work and do what’s needed to render it useful again. It’s a dying art and there’s no money in it. Unfortunately, the answer you get from many people when you drag in an odd piece is that it’s not worth fixing. When they say that, they must be talking only in terms of dollars and cents. The experience of hanging out in a shop—any shop—and bench racing, even if it is about an old moped, is priceless. And hearing the excitement of an 81-year-old man as he recounts his most recent 10-mile moped run is even better.

Diagnostics wasn’t always done by hooking an engine up to a computer and looking at the data that spewed forth. It once involved looking, listening and thinking about the whole process.

As long as there are shop owners like Rick around, the past will be preserved for the future of motorcycling. And if that makes the owner a little grumpy, well, that will be just like old times, too. Thanks to independent shop owners everywhere for stepping in when there’s little or no money in it.

 

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