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Zen and the Art of Scooter Maintenance


jackm

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The 02 project is advancing from the first start last month with some off-season parts finds: the center, left and right front grilles, beltline trim pieces for the hood and trunk, side mirrors and a license plate light cover among various other bits.

 

I've got all of the running lights and turn signals working, and finally freed the stuck heater core valve, though the cable that opens and closes it came undone in the process. The heater fan doesn't work so I expect I will need to get the whole heater core out, and will use the excellent tutorial from the community as my guide.  Should I just find a rebuilt replacement or try my novice hand at renovating what I've got?

 

With the engine running so well, I was planning to focus on the brakes next, so that I can see how she runs overall. One drum was seized on the shoe, so fixing to replace the drums, cylinders, shoes and soft lines, a modest task for my first challenge.  The front disc rotors were pretty rusty when I took the pads out just to roll the car into the garage. Debating whether to replace them too or seeing if a little driving brings them back enough. Also need to check the gas tank and fuel line for sediment or corrosion, since I've only been running the engine off an external gas can to be safe.

 

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The red brake warning light, lower right, went out after topping off the reservoir

 

Meanwhile, I acquired a little side project, a 150cc Chinese scooter, from the same source that the 02 came from. In my 20s and 30s, I rode and wrenched on Vespas quite a bit, so recapturing some of that joy with this. I also appreciate how this small 4-stroke motorcycle -- a close knockoff of a Yamaha Zuma -- is a kind of two-wheel stand-in for the 02.  Featuring a basic carburetor, ignition system, disc/drum brakes and centrifugal clutch transmission, this companion machine is also a good distraction while the winter months limit work on the 02. The gy6 4T engine, a widely copied take on a Honda motor, is a nice miniature mill. There are so many brands (Tao Tao, Rocketa, Ice Bear) and even no-name machines like this one built around the engine design. 

 

It is easy to dismiss the Chinese copycat phenomenon as a pattern of intellectual property theft that extends to social media business models and other spheres of innovation. But in reading Kai-Fu Lee's book, AI Superpowers, I learned some of the back story on this replication trend. First, it may be rooted in older cultural habits of copying classic scholarly documents, a kind of imitation as practice. More important, that copying isn't viewed as the same kind of cheating or appropriation that it is from other cultural perspectives.  The book looks at the enormous rise of Chinese entrepreneurship over the last decades, and how that will impact the AI arms race, but with respect to the imitation game, Lee's notes that startups in China are battling each other, as much as foreign competitors, in an extraordinarily ruthless, thrive-or-die market. Copycatting and pirating of all kinds of physical and digital goods may strike people in other parts of the world as it does me, as wrong and unfair, but this at least puts the practice in more context.

 

Parts and expertise for Made-in-China scooters are readily available -- as they are with 2002s -- so I can already see the parallels and virtues of working on it to help get (back) up my shade tree mechanic curve. I did a fair amount of tinkering on various machines in my teens and early 20s, but this and the 02 are really my excuse to get back in that game. DIY is a very different, and much more feasible, game when you have the massive collective intelligence of a multimedia social Web in your pocket.

 

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So far, it's been an instructive diversion. With the help and resources of YouTube channels and Facebook groups -- who knew so many people played around with these Chinese copycats of Honda and Yamaha models? -- I've solved some of the initial issues related to the scooter having sat unused for a few years in a garage, including some carb cleaning and valve-lash adjusting. Many of these scooters get shipped directly to people from the factory with the valve clearance at zero, so for machines that are hard to start or don't idle well, one of the first things scooter fixers advise is to check and set the valve clearance. Scooter started and ran much better after that. 

 

As part of my restorative plan, which is ultimately about the personal journey that is integral with renewing the machine(s), I started to listen to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig on audiobook, mostly because that version was available from my local library via the Libby app. I was surprised to learn that it is the best-selling book on philosophy of all time. I loved the book in college, and knew that some of the themes and ideas about our relationship to technology were relevant to a writing project I'm pursuing around my 02 restoration, so figured taking it back in -- in a different media form and at a later stage in life -- was good exercise for that research and inspiration. On that research front, I'm equally interested in the stories others have accrued in their own 02 adventures. What is driving your interest in car restoration, and the art of 02 maintenance in particular?  I hope that kind of running dialogue becomes a regular feature of these posts.

 

One bit of inspiration I've already taken away from revisiting Pirsig's classic is the nickname that I think will stick for my 02: Phaedrus.

Edited by jackm

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