On my rides around the city delivering food I get to see some pretty awesome views I would probably miss otherwise.
But this year is an El Nino year and for us that means a super rainy summer. El Nino pushes the northern Australian weather south to Sydney, so we get all the tropical rainstorms and unrelenting gushing rain for days at a time. It doesn’t really get cold though. 20 degrees Celsius is considered Summer in London after all!
But it makes Deliveroo riding hell! Drenched in gushing rain and hail stones the size of my thumb I get soaked to the bone and my boots are veritable water reservoirs within minutes. And after finally swimming home along roads that have turned into knee deep rivers, my gear doesn’t dry out for days as it’s so humid here, even on sunny days.
So one day Lea started voicing her discontent. The engine was making an awful, sporadic rattling sound. At first I thought I was imagining it, but over the days it got louder and louder. Something was up!
And I had a pretty good idea what it could be. As bullet proof as these little Honda engines are supposed to be, they have been fitted with a rather inferior cam chain tensioner.
(For those of you who care: The cam chain transfers the motion created by the combustion to allow the cam shafts to open the valves at the right time – first the inlet valves that let the fuel mixture in, then the exhaust valves to let the fumes from the explosion out. If that chain is lose, it can jump along the sprockets on the cam shafts and the timing will be off. So now the valves open and close at the wrong time and the piston can hit a valve, bending it. If you are lucky, the engine simply seizes and stops. If you’re unlucky, bits can explode through the side wall of the engine and you need a new one. All this drama can be prevented with the cam chain tensioner, which ensures the chain sits tightly on the sprockets and can’t jump.)
There is supposedly a $3 fix. Get a longer bolt and screw it into the tensioner a little further than the original, pushing the tensioner a little further into the chain making it nice and tight again. Easy! So I got a bolt and on a sunny afternoon followed the excellent instructions I had found online: screw bolt in finger tight, then reverse a 1/4 turn. Run engine. If still noisy, tighten in a further 1/8 of a turn.
Only my tensioner housing was a little corroded and I had to use a spanner. So what is finger tight? As far as the original bolt goes in plus a tiny bit? The engine was still noisy so I kept tightening the bolt tiny bit by tiny bit. No improvement. Took it back out and fitted the old bolt again. Only now I had a horrid tinking noise too!
That was one of those heart-sinks-into-the-bottom-of-your-pants moments where the pure dread that something really bad has happened takes over. And it was all my fault too. In vain hope I tentatively turned the engine over one more time. But the horrid noise made me hit the kill switch immediately.
Now what? I was supposed to be at work riding for Deliveroo! I’d already called them that I was going to be an hour late. That was two hours ago! I called Aidan at the office. He said I could borrow Pippa. Phew. That way I could at least make it for the evening shift.
Removing the entire cam chain tensioner revealed what an idiot I had been. I had screwed the bolt in so far, that I’d blown the tensioner apart…. and all into the engine! Pieces of metal in the engine can cause all sorts of trouble! Shit! I ordered a new tensioner and changed the oil and filter. But None of the pieces came out!
Nothing to it, but to open the engine. I had enough time after all. This very bike does not exist in Australia so all parts have to be shipped in and take their sweet time. I checked the valve clearances while I was at it.
But I still only found two tiny pieces. Comparing them to the broken tensioner revealed that there must be lots more. So I decided to open the clutch cover too. That way I could check the condition of the cam chain too. Over time they wear and stretch a little but this one seemed to have a few more miles left in it.
Now I had to order and wait for a new clutch cover gasket too. Meanwhile I kept borrowing Pippa. Shit for Aidan to be left without bike. But it was either that or I can’t work… After the little Lea Pips is a behemoth to heave about the city, but I soon leaned how to handle the big bike again.
Pippa endured the silly Christmas decorations and worked for her living for a change.
I never found the rest of the metal pieces and was ready to curl up and cry. Short of taking the entire engine out of the bike and splitting it (read: taking it apart into all its components) there was no way to find them. It’s a huge job requiring a proper workshop and lots of time and money. All of which I didn’t have!
I went to see Eric with an idea in my head that maybe he would let me use his workshop and perhaps help me with the tricky bits. Remember him? The guy that fitted Lea’s Deliveroo box. He is an awesomely experienced mechanic operating a workshop inside a storage unit nearby. And he is also the nicest, unluckiest bastard I know. The day I first spoke to him he abruptly ended the call saying “I have to go, I’ve got someone dying in hospital!” That was his girlfriend’s mum. I am not sure how the lady is doing now. I don’t dare ask.
This time when I popped over, he had his foot in a cast: “Dropped a washing machine on it!” Upon hearing about my cam chain tensioner dilemma he told me it wasn’t all that bad. It is made from non-ferrous metal and very brittle. So chances are whatever bits are left in the engine will get ground up in the gears and pulverised before they can do any harm. I really hope he’s right!!!
So when the parts finally arrived, I painstakingly scraped the old gasket off, which takes hours as you can’t use a screw driver in case you scratch groves into the engine casings that will let oil leak through. I put Lea back together and topped up the coolant and oil. She was ready to go. I tentatively hit the starter button, standing back as far as possible half expecting it all to blow up.
But nothing happened. Only a faint whimper from the starter motor. The battery was dead! So back to Eric’s to have him charge it up. I got back home only to discover an oil leak! What a waste of brand new oil and coolant! But there was nothing to it, I had to take it all apart again. Turned out the new gasket had got stuck wrong…. With a lot of fiddling and some good luck I managed to fit it properly, sealing the engine without having to resort to messy gasket goo 🙂
And wasting that new oil had one advantage… another of those metal pieces had washed out! Luckily I still had Pippa so I raced from petrol station to petrol station til I found one that had the right kind of oil. It’s hard to come by apparently. Back home I put the battery back in and realised that I’ve lost one of the special nuts that you use to screw all the cables tight to the battery terminal. I knew there was a reason I usually put the bolt straight back in!
Of course Eric had long gone home. I searched through my magic tin of oddities. Lots of battery bolt but none that would fit. In the end I found a normal nut and filed it down to fit. It took a while so Aidan got home from work just in time to help me start Lea up. The carb had flooded and it took a few attempts, but Aidan’s magic throttle hand did the trick. The engine sounded good 🙂
It got dark while I was bolting the brake, foot peg and fairings back on and I struggled to see what I was doing, holding the torch with my teeth. Too late for a test drive. The next day it was back to work Deliveroo riding through thunder and hail storms, swimming from restaurants to customers. Lea didn’t miss a beat 🙂