How to Overcome a Challenge: Persistence, the Right Tools, and Asking for Help

BIG day in the garage yesterday. I’d like to start by saying, yesterday was a reminder that it’s nearly impossible to do this project 100% by yourself (without the right tools). Mounting the engine back in the frame is a 2 person job, and requires one of those people to be very strong. Balancing the bike while trying to mount the wheel on it is also impossible by yourself. I’m sure there are tools that would allow me to do this, but unfortunately those are likely very costly so I had to go without. SO…Shout out to Brendan, who got called away from his video gaming many times to come get me out of a sticky situation and help me, even though he really really didn’t want to. I would either be crying by myself in the garage or in the emergency room after having gotten hurt trying to do it myself without him. THANK YOU BRENDAN!! You’re the best.

Okay moving on. Yesterday started with Christmas (or Hanukkah or whatever gift-giving holiday you celebrate) in August. I stopped by Vespa Motorsport and redeemed my birthday gift from my dad, new tires. Kevin wasn’t there, but Robot (that’s his nickname) helped me out and he was super nice. There was also a nice guy in there (didn’t catch his name) working on a scooter who chatted with me about my project. He’s selling his 1980 Vespa and I want it so if anyone wants to get it for me, just send $3000 my way. So I walked out with new Michelin tires, inner tubes, and rims. When I got home, I also got my package I ordered from Scooter Mercato to add to my booty. I was so giddy I wasn’t even sure what to do with myself.

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I bought the carb cleaner and compressed air a little while ago at Home Depot. Ps. the carb cleaner has a warning on it that says, “Not suggested for fuel injected vehicles”….If you’re not familiar, a fuel injector replaces a carburetor, so this warning makes no sense.

Anyway, first up: Back brakes. Brakes SUCK to replace on these things. Is this how they are regularly serviced? Omg, I hate it. Basically these two horseshoe type things are held together with a very stiff spring, and you have to pull them apart and put them in place in order to get them on. I struggled with this and finally got the stupid things apart, but I couldn’t get it all the way on the shaft it needs to sit on. I had to get Brendan to help me hammer it in to place, after struggling with it for a while myself. Here they are:

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The little orange spot on the top right is from the towel I used to cover it with while hammering it in. I’m never taking those out again. Really dreading doing the front ones.

Next I put the cover back on and when it was time to put the pin in, it was all bent out of shape and nearly impossible to get back in. I ended up kind of jerry-rigging it by cutting it in half and bending it. It’s ugly, but it works, I guess.

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Next was the piece de resistance: Remounting the engine. The Vespa 90 is a stupidly designed scooter (sorry, Betty, love you anyway), where the engine is so difficult to access while mounted, making it really hard to put it back in. Basically, thank goodness I am married to someone who is strong with long arms. So long story short, Brendan held the engine in while I slipped the bolts in. That’s the short, pretty version of what it actually was like. I won’t get into the long ugly version, but I’m sure Brendan had a few moments of questioning if divorce was a good option at this point. Here she is, back in place:

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I’ve been really looking forward to this moment, but I gotta tell you, I’m really afraid that I did something wrong and will have to go back in there again. Fingers crossed that I don’t have to, because I’d like to stay married and I think Brendan is pretty done with taking that thing in and out at this point.

Next up: tires. The way you do this, is you first put the inner tube in (which comes flattened out), inflate it just a little, then put the rims on, then finish inflating it. Sounds easy, right? It’s not. Putting the rims on is really difficult and my tiny, un-calloused hands were not up for the task. To test Brendan’s love for me some more, I asked him for help. He did a great job, but I guess at some point decided he’d like to stay married to me and had to throw in the towel. At this point it was 6:30 pm on a Saturday evening and I was determined to get these tires on, so I started frantically calling tire shops that were still open to see if anyone could help. The guys over at Los Reyes Tire Shop told me they’d wait for me so I ran out the door and made it there 15 minutes before they closed. I figured they’d have some machine that could do this for them, but they didn’t, they’re just awesome and do it with their hands. They were asking what these were for and I showed them a picture of Betty. They asked who was working on that and I said, “me!”. They were like, “yeah, but who else?” and I was like, “just me!” (well, plus when Brendan helps me with little tasks, but I spared them the gory details). The guy asked how I knew what to do and I said just Youtube and manuals and his face seemed to change from confused to impressed and he said, “you’re very smart”. Thanks, man! Anyway, Alvaro was the one to help me with my tires (I just learned his name because his picture was on Yelp) and we got it done together. Super nice guys over there, hopefully I made some new friends.

Almost done here, people, stay with me. Lastly I wanted to put the back tire on so I could but Betty back on her kickstand. I tried doing this myself, but the engine was really weighing one side down and the jack was not stable enough to support me trying to put the tire on, so once again I had to call Brendan in to help me hold Betty steady while I put the tire on. I’m sure when he was done there he went to call a few divorce lawyers in town. Ultimately I got it on and voila, Betty is back on her kickstand with a brand new back tire!

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(I have to finish putting a few bolts on, Brendan was running out of patience so I said I’d just do it later). Note that the exhaust has a piece broken off (not from me) that holds it to the frame, away from the tire. Currently it is rubbing on the tire, so I will have to figure out how to attach it to the frame. Right now I’m thinking zip ties, but if you have a less ghetto suggestion, let me know.

If you’re still here, now comes the slightly disappointing part. I went to test the compression, the thing I’ve been waiting for. After replacing the piston, rings, gasket, etc. I figured I had to get great compression. The disappointment is….it’s the same. I’m not sure if I’m missing something here, but that didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. I’m just grateful it wasn’t 0, but I was still a little bummed. Oh well. As for the spark, I can’t test for that yet because I have to put the junction box back together, but I’m not feeling particularly hopeful about that for some reason. I will keep you posted.

Overall, yesterday I faced a lot of challenges one after another, and I feel really proud of myself that I overcame all of them. In that sense, I feel that is what I have learned the most from doing this project. My attitude on challenges has changed from “I can’t do this” to “There is a way to get this done, and I will find it”. Sometimes the answer is persistence, sometimes it’s getting the right tool, and sometimes it’s asking for help. To me, this is the greatest lesson I could have learned on my journey to becoming an engineer. I can truly see the change in my thinking, and I feel really proud of myself for how far I have come.

Thanks for reading! 🙂

 

Quick Update 3

I know it’s been a little while since I’ve posted, so figured I’d keep everyone in the loop. Yesterday I purchased a few things online from Scooter Mercato  and I’m waiting for that to get here before I can do much (I love Vespa Motorsport, but I was sick of making the drive downtown after work and last time I went they didn’t have my part so I decided to go the slow but lazy route this time. Plus while Vespa Motorsport is amazing, they are a little pricey so figured I’d save a few bucks on stuff I felt confident ordering myself). I got back brake shoes, an air filter, and a carburetor rebuilding (gasket) kit. I feel pretty good that I’ve been gaining enough confidence to order parts online without consulting anyone about what I need. I’m wrapping my head around what needs to happen in what order. I also am going to go out and buy some carburetor cleaner and compressed air, which I will need when I rebuild the carb. So here is my plan for next steps:

  1. Install back brakes.
  2. Remount engine onto frame.
  3. Test compression (excited for this part).
  4. Test for spark. (If no spark, I think I will first look into replacing the wires that connect in the junction box, because I just looked at those and realized they may be the problem. If that doesn’t fix it then I will go under the flywheel and work with the stator).
  5. Clean/rebuild carburetor and install air filter.
  6. Start replacing cables.
  7. Continue to buy/clean up/replace parts for fuel intake, since I know there are a few pieces missing there.

Today I put the kickstarter back on which was a small, yet satisfying task. Feels good to start putting things back together. Looking forward to getting my goodies in the mail!

The Biggest Day of Learning Yet

I got to spend some quality time with Betty yesterday and made some good progress and learned a ton. And you know how we learn best? We make mistakes. More on that in a bit.

First up, I went out and bought a 23 mm socket wrench (which apparently is an unusual size because Home Depot doesn’t carry them) so that I could take off the nut to access the brake shoes. The whole assembly of this part of the scooter I really liked, as it’s very simple. Here is what I found when I removed the cover:

Those babies have seen better days. This is underneath the plate on the opposite side from the flywheel:

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Here is a cropped image showing the outside. So the nut in the middle has a pin in it, and then it unscrews to release the plate (not sure what else to call it other than “plate”). The back wheel attaches to the outside of the plate. This plate is held on to the middle shaft by straight “threads” so that when the shaft spins, the plate spins (and therefore the wheel spins). I believe the way that the brakes work is that when the operating lever is pulled (by pressing the brake pedal with your right foot. Assuming the cable is connected…which currently it is not…), the shoes spread apart and push against the sides of the plate, causing it to slow. Overall a really simple design and I enjoyed being able to see it.

Back to the actual work. The brake shoes are removed by first removing little clips that hold them on, then lifting the shoes (one at a time) from either end while releasing one end from the shaft it’s on (seen at the top of the first pictures). This was much easier said than done. These shoes were so old and dirty I first had to dig around just to find the clips. I ended up having to take wrenches and pry these things off. I wouldn’t be surprised if I spent close to 45 minutes just trying to do this. They were so stuck that the first one ended up breaking, so I guess I’ll be getting new brake shoes…

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Next up was the mistake. I’m not going to get into the details, but long story short, I got oil in the intake/combustion chamber. Basically the mistake happened by blindly listening to advice, and not thinking it through. I was really kicking myself and worried I made a really bad error, and had no one to blame but myself. I figured in the best case scenario I would get a ton of black smoke initially as the oil burned off, and then it would be okay. In the worst case scenario I should just give up on moving forward. After some pouting I realized that 2-stroke engines take a fuel/oil mixture anyway, so it may not have been much of a mistake at all! I let the excess drip out, so hopefully at the worst I’ll get a bit of black smoke. I’m not familiar with 2 stroke engines much, so if indeed I’ve made a terrible mistake, please let me know.

Okay, after the bad news, some good news; I put the new piston/cylinder assembly back together! It went surprisingly well and I had almost no issues. A welcome change from taking all of this stuff apart. Here she is:

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I just need to get a 11 mm wrench (because apparently I don’t have one?) to tighten up those bottom bolts and we should be good to go. Really excited to test compression again.

So before I put the engine back in I’ve got to get new brake shoes and put those in, and then I should be ready to put the engine back on the frame! If anyone has suggestions on other things I should do while it’s still out, speak now or forever hold your piece. I’m feeling great about the progress I’ve made and what I’ve learned. Yesterday I truly got my hands dirty and I feel like I’ve come a long way. Mistakes were made and I’m learning from them, which was all part of the plan. Thanks for keeping up with my progress!

Ps. We’re watching Keara again and she was there to offer moral support:

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Out With The Old, In With The New

Just wanted to share a quick update: My new piston is in! Vespa Motorsport hooked me up with (and by “hooked me up with” I mean, “sold me”) a new piston, rings, circlips, gasket, and rebored the cylinder barrel to make sure it was all a good fit. Ps. the gasket is paper, how crazy is that? Why did I think it would be metal? Paper seems like a weird choice. Anyway, here are the goods:

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They also did a really nice job of cleaning up the cylinder head and barrel; Thanks guys! The piston has an arrow pointing which direction faces the exhaust, because apparently putting it in backwards can cause you to lose power really fast.

I’m looking forward to putting it all back together, but first I have to go to the store to get some 2-stroke oil for lubricating.

Also, my birthday just passed and I got some very nice gifts from my loving family members who are so wonderful and supportive of my Vespa undertaking! My dad printed me this homemade certificate:

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(Maybe I should take him up on that new Vespa offer?) My in-laws got me a gift certificate to Vespa Motorsport (that will be used quickly!) and my husband got me a helmet!! (My mom is also wonderful and got me something too, but it wasn’t Vespa related. Love you, Mom). I’m worried I won’t be able to wear the helmet for a while but Brendan said he believed in me that I can make Betty run and was worried about my safety. He’s truly the best. I make fun of him a lot but come on, could he be any greater? The helmet might be a little small so I’ll take a picture when I find the right fit. My family is the best. How did I get so lucky?!

Betty Gets a Bath

Holy shit guys, did you know there was an engine underneath that pile of dirt?! All it took was a little simple green mixed with water, 3 toothbrushes, and lots and lots of scrubbing. Before:

After:

Not perfect, but waaaay better. I figure at the end of the day it’s an engine that does not get seen, so a little dirt is alright. I have to admit, I really enjoying doing that. Even if my arm does feel like jelly.

Also, I found this “A” painted on the engine? Anyone know what that’s about?

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I also found this little Piaggio symbol:

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Betty Gets a New Piston

Happy to report more progress has been made! I started today by first deciding today would be the day that I got those circlips out. Reminder, this is what those look like:

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It’s that little circular clip thing in the middle of the piston. After trying with pliers few more times, I asked Brendan to try and he couldn’t do it so I said, “ugh fine” and went to Home Depot to buy the proper tool. They only had one kind and it was $30 and I’ll likely never use it again but whatever, I bought it and used it and IT WORKED!

Sometimes I guess it’s worth it to buy the right tool for a job. Even with the proper tool, it was really hard to remove. When I finally got it out I literally said out loud to myself, “ahh yessss”. I will also note that it felt weirdly similar to playing the game “Operation”.

The next part of the task was to push a pin out through the piston. Here is a picture of what is going on in there:

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You have to push the gudgeon pin through the connecting rod in order to slide the piston off. So with one circlip out, I flipped it over and took a flat head screwdriver and tried pushing the gudgeon pin out while supporting the piston with my other hand. I did get it to move a bit, but it didn’t seem to want to budge after that. I called Brendan in and he held the piston and screwdriver, while I hit the end of the screwdriver with a hammer to get it out. This was absolutely a 2 person task. After lots of hammering and positioning, we got it!

As you can see, the piston is pretty scratched up. I’m told that this is due to seizing, which makes me worried that that might happen again? Guess I’ll have to go look into what causes an engine to seize…

Anyway, I brought in the piston (and accessories), cylinder barrel, and cylinder head into Vespa Motorsport today since I learned they actually are open Saturday afternoons. Kevin was there to greet me again and told me I’d need a new piston and the cylinder was in pretty good shape, but they’d still rebore it to make sure the new piston fit properly. They’re also going to help me smooth out the cylinder head. So I left the cylinder barrel and head there and took my junk piston home, and my new/improved parts should be done later this week. I can’t wait to see what kind of compression I get after this. Lastly, I bought myself this little figurine because it’s cute and I like cute things:

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It’s not the same model as Betty but it was as close as I could get.While I wait for her new parts I think it’s time to do some cleaning!

 

Momentum

Today was my best day in the garage yet! Things are really starting to pick up as it becomes clear what needs to get done and I feel more confident about how to do it. I’m about ready to quit my internship and work on Betty full time for the rest of the summer! (Just kidding, everyone, not going to do that).

Okay, first up I assembled the rest of my new HT coil. Got the little spark plug clip on the wire (this was mildly annoying to do), put the cap on (luckily I remembered to do that first), and transferred over the little clips that hold the wires together.

Looking good!

While that felt pretty satisfying, that was not what made today so great. After I got warmed up with the HT coil, I moved on to tackle the cylinder barrel. It took a little elbow grease, but after removing the 4 bolts at the base of the barrel (much easier said than done), the barrel popped right off! This was absolutely the coolest part for me so far.

Some thoughts:

  • I put a towel under the piston to support it because I read that’s important. It’s orange by accident.
  • The gasket at the base is much thinner than I expected it to be. It’s almost like a sticker. I expected it to be more rigid.
  • I also expected the rings on the piston to be rubber and rounded. Instead they are metal and flat, and they can move around on the piston.
  • Overall it seems to be in pretty good shape, hopefully not much will need to be done to it.

Lastly I tried removing the piston, however I was having a lot of trouble and decided to call it a day before it ended on a frustrating note. Basically there are these weird clips holding it in that are really tiny and difficult to remove. You can see one of them here:

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In the center hole there is this horseshoe-looking thing, that is it. I’m supposed to take tiny pliers and squeeze it together and pull them out, but it’s easier said than done. I tried heating it up with a hairdryer (which also happens to be orange) and it still didn’t work. I figure I’ll probably get it another day, it’ll just take a few tries. I’m mostly worried about causing damage since this area seems so delicate. If you’re curious how to remove the piston, I found this video to be a helpful visual: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEF_SIUYlSk

Note that I did not listen to that with sound on or watch the whole thing so I have no idea how good the rest of it is.

My next task is to remove the piston and then I’m going to head back to the shop so they can have a look and tell me if the cylinder needs to be re-bored or anything, plus I can buy a new gasket and rings and what not. I’m not planning on going any farther into the engine for now, so after that hopefully it’ll be reassembly time…

Overall a great day and I’m feeling really positive about how far I’ve come and how much I’ve learned. If anything, I think I’ve overcome a lot of self-doubting which has been a really valuable lesson for me and will serve me well through the rest of this project (and life!). This blog has been a very honest, vulnerable look at my journey and I appreciate everyone’s support thus far.

Ps. My birthday is in 2 weeks and you know every girl’s dream is to get scooter parts for her birthday… 😉

Back From The Store

Got some goodies at Vespa Motorsport today! I came in with parts in hand and Kevin remembered me from when I stopped in back in March or April to talk about where to get started. I guess there aren’t a lot of 5’4″ girls who come in holding vintage Vespa parts? Anyway, he was super helpful as he was last time, and I walked away with some new toys.

First up I got a new HT coil assembly. I’m hoping this will allow me to get a spark. Kevin helped me replace one of the wires that doesn’t come in the box and put a new rubber end on it. He also let me know that I could reuse the little clips from mine, but warned that they don’t make the rubber pieces anymore so to be careful when removing them (thanks, Kevin!).

I also got a new clip that goes on the spark plug (I get to reuse my old cap because it’s in pretty good shape), but I’m nervous about attaching it to the wire. Anyone have suggestions or am I overthinking it? Here is the old one and the new one:

Follow up question: The connector is obviously too narrow right now to attach to the spark plug. Am I supposed to just pull it apart a little to make it wider?

Okay, next up I got a set of new cables for when I’m ready for that. I figure it’s probably easier to thread those through while the engine is out, so I’ll likely want to do that before I put it back in.

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I’m not even going to open that bag right now cause I have no idea how to deal with those things, but I guess I’ll just have to figure it out…as always.

Lastly, I did not buy a new cylinder head, but instead I’m going to fix up mine. To jog everyone’s memory, here it is:

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First of all, Kevin told me this is a higher quality one that allows for higher compression (woohoo!). He also told me to use something to rub on the surface that will make it smooth and give it a better seal. For the life of me I cannot remember what that substance is called, but I’m pretty sure it’s mentioned in one of my manuals so I’ll figure it out. He also said it wasn’t a big deal that the entire piece was a bit warped, as long as that inner surface is round and smooth. So I’ll have to clean that out.

And that’s it! I definitely have my work cut out for me, which is good. Aside from the tasks previously mentioned, I also need to take the cylinder barrel off so that I can inspect that and replace the rings and gasket, which Keven said will give me that higher compression that I’m looking for. After I get all that replaced and put back together, I’m thinking I’ll at least thread the cables through and then put the engine back in. That way I can test for compression and a spark more easily since it’s hard to kick the kickstarter when it’s lying on a table. Also, if I don’t end up getting a spark I’ll have to go under the flywheel, which will probably be easier while the engine is mounted on the frame. I’m sort of hoping I don’t have to do that, but I do think it’s pretty standard when working on a scooter so maybe it’s inevitable. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. Clearly I have a lot of work to do and as we all know by know, there will likely be some other issue that comes up along the way.

A Peek Inside

I’m sorry I haven’t updated in a while. Truthfully, I think deep down I’m feeling kind of intimidated by the next steps so I’ve been hesitant to get back in the garage. It’s also been hot and I’ve been tired so those were factors too. Today Brendan was out of town and I had nothing to do so I ended up sitting around until 2 pm until I finally was convinced to sit down with Betty. No major updates, but got to look inside the cylinder today, which was exciting for me.

First I started by removing the exhaust. Not exciting so didn’t take a picture. Next I noticed that there was a massive dead spider right on the bolt head that I needed to unscrew. Like I said, Brendan isn’t around so I woman’d-up and grabbed the vacuum and got rid of the sucker. (If that didn’t work I was gonna throw in the towel cause ain’t no way I was going to put my hand near that thing). I unscrewed the 4 bolts holding on the cylinder head by going a half turn each and switching in diagonal order, as my manual told me. The head came right off and voila, the piston!

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This was pretty exciting for me because while I know how an engine works, I’ve never actually looked inside a cylinder (which was the point of this project!). Very cool. I was expecting there to be a gasket between the cylinder barrel and the head, but there isn’t which was surprising. Guess that’s why I couldn’t find that part anywhere, ha! Here’s the cylinder head:

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It’s clearly very warped and old and likely needs to be replaced, but I read that they’re pretty cheap/easy to replace. It looks like there was some leakage, so hopefully a replacement will give me better compression. This was also really cool for me to see, especially the dome shape on top and the carbon deposits.

Next I tried getting the cylinder barrel off but it was really stuck and I might be missing a bolt or something to unscrew, so I decided not to push it. The piston does move in there, which is good, and at first glance the inside of the cylinder seems to be in pretty good shape (no visible scratches). I’m sure the piston rings would like to be replaced, so I may try to get the barrel off to check on that. Otherwise they’ll just have to deal. Inside:

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I ended up wrapping a paper towel around the cylinder to keep stuff from getting in it while it’s exposed. I’m not sure if I needed to do that, but it seems like a clean/delicate environment so I figured better safe than sorry.

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I think my next step needs to be to head to the store and get some parts. If I’m going to take the flywheel off and look at the stator (not sure what I would do with it…), I’ll need a tool or two for removing the flywheel (a flywheel puller and a tool to keep it from rotating). I’m also thinking about bringing the magneto in to see if I can replace it or what I should do with it, because I feel like that may be what I need to get a spark but I’m really not sure. Unfortunately the local shop isn’t open on Sundays and only for a few hours on Saturday mornings, so I have to find a time after work during the week. Hopefully I can find some time/energy this week.

It’s the little things

This won’t mean much to anyone else, but it means a lot to me – I got the oil to drain! And I got a part [partially] off that I need to replace! Neither are very big feats, but remember that I’m keeping the dreams small these days.

I’m going out of town this weekend (Conn reunion!) and was feeling majorly bummed to have to leave Betty on such a low note. So I went in the garage and just looked at her, and then figured I might as well try to remove the oil plug. Yesterday I couldn’t find a wrench that fit so today I grabbed a pair of pliers and whaddya know, it moves! And there’s oil in there! Just to have some tiny reminder that this could potentially be a functioning machine was such a relief. The bolt is marked “olio”. Cute.

Next I noticed that there were two screws holding on this piece where some wires go that I want to replace, so after some maneuvering to remove them (there’s a nut wedged in a small space on the back and I only have 2 hands!), I got the piece off! The wire is still attached on the other side and I’m not sure how to remove that yet, but for now I’ll bask in the small amount of glory that this gave me.

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Lastly, I thought maybe I’d be able to get that cylinder cover off too. I  was on a roll and thought, maybe this is my day. But the Vespa gods reminded me that greed is a sin and that I would not be getting that cover off today. You win this time, Vespa gods. I was able to twist it around a lot and get a feel for how it’s in there. Here’s an image from the top of how much it will twist, even though it won’t come out:

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So overall not the most exciting things to get done, but to me they felt like great victories. Obviously a Vespa veteran would have gotten this done months ago, but I’m not a veteran and that’s okay. For starters, today was a reminder never to give up, but it’s okay to step away and come back. Also, I’ve never drained the oil out of a vehicle before, so that was actually a little exciting. Now I guess I have to go dispose of that properly…

Thanks for all the encouragement and sticking with me, folks. Will be back next week after I relive my college days at my reunion this weekend.