Sunday 11 October 2015

La Belle France

Last weekend was Contixinong, a weekend of sloth and decadence based around the Normandy Beach B&B in Arromanches, France.

I decided that it would be a jolly wheeze to take the Ner-a-Car, the country roads in Normandy are exactly the sort of place that bimbling about on a Ner-a-Car would be fun. The B&B is only 20 miles along the coast from the Caen ferry port, which sounded well within scope.

However, the trip from home to the UK end of the ferry is mainly made up of roads very much of the type that the Ner-a-Car isn't fun on, and it's also 120 miles or so. In principle perfectly plausible by Ner-a-Car, but with a ferry to catch and an estimated journey time of at least 5 hours, not something that seemed tempting.

So I hit on the plan of depositing the Ner-a-Car in Gosport by van with mlh earlier in the week then coming down again on Thursday evening by R1, doing a bike swap, and catching the ferry that way. This arrangement meant that (in theory) I could catch the ferry even if I had to push the Device all the way. This was rather helped by the
fact that you are allowed to take motorcycles across on the Gosport foot ferry, across the mouth of Portsmouth Harbour.

So, the Ner-a-Car was deposited on tuesday night, arriving well after dark. On Thursday the trip was faster, simpler and had less faffing, so I arrived earlier, allowing ample time and daylight to check the Ner-a-Car, let mlh have a test ride, and then head off to be very early for the 2245 overnight ferry departure. The Ner-a-Car ran beautifully to the Gosport ferry, clocking a whopping 32mph on the speedo of the following car.

The bike attracted some attention from some people on the ferry. The more bizarre thing being mlh's observation about just how many people didn't even seem to notice it at all.

At the other side I waved adieu to mlh, started the bike and rode to the ferry, arriving rather early. Which at least gave me time to decide that the £68 for a cabin for the night suddenly seemed more acceptable than it had at ticket-buying time (only outside 4-berth cabins were available). An outside cabin is a very dubious benefit in
a ferry that departs and arrives in darkness. 
At 0600 the following morning I was awoken by the ship alarm with the offfer of breakfast, but decided to skip it, with the plan of joining in the breakfast at the B&B at my projected arrival time of 0900. 
I got a bit lost on the way out of the ferry port, and found myself heading south on the D514 dual carriageway. I have no idea why, I made a point of only turning right. I had considered ways to mount my GPS to the Ner-a-Car, but gave up and had decided to use my phone instead. More of that later.

Exiting to the right again onto the D35 found me heading towards Colleville-Montgomery and back on track.

At this point the Ner-a-Car was trundling along really quite nicely. And then suddenly it wasn't. It lost all power and coasted to a halt. Attempts to kick-start it back to life by the over-dressed rider (dressed for October, but the weather was warm and very sunny) who had skipped breakfast led to no signs of life from the bike, and a rather faint feeling for the rider, so I pushed the bike round the corner, took some layers off and started to investigate.

Because I am an imbecile I hadn't thought to bring any spare spark plugs, and as they are 18mm there seemed no real chance of finding any. I tried cleaning the plug, I took the plug apart and put it back together again (it's a screwed-together mica-insulated one) I put it back in again, and repeated the procedure a few dozen times, for want of any better ideas. Eventually I decided that perhaps the safety-gap in the magneto ha closed up again (there wasn't one originally, so I added one made out of a bit of bent wire) so I took the engine out for a look. This might seem a little extreme at the side of the road in foreign lands, but it is only one fuel union and 4 bolts, then it just lifts out.

I didn't have the right tools (C-spanner and puller) or even the wrong tools (hammer) to remove the flywheel, but I was able to unscrew the friction plate to see inside the magneto, and, of course, it looked fine.

So I put everything back together again, gave it a despairing prod on the starter, and it started.

Of course I wasn't dressed for biking at this point, and it stopped while I was packing up tools and re-dressing, but it did push-start again, and I set off once more. A couple of miles further down the road I came to an on-demand traffic light, where I thought I needed to turn left, but decided to check my phone/map to be sure. I stopped the engine, decided that left was correct. And failed to re-start the engine. A partial repeat of the previous process, and several attempts at push-starting left me feeling really rather hot and ill, so I parked up the bike outside a bar/tabac full of curious onlookers and bought a coffee.
At which point the bike fell over. But no real damage was done, and I was a little past caring.

After the coffee the bike still wouldn't start, so I pushed it round the corner in the vague direction of Arromanches, Mainly because I didn't like having an audience. The first place I stopped turned out to be in the way of old ladies
with wheelie-bags, and the second turned out to be in full sunlight. Eventually I crossed to road to a shady spot for a sulk.

I repeated the ritual extraction, dismantlement and replacement of the plug another half-dozen times or so, then eventually decided that perhaps I might get a better spark with a smaller spark-gap. I tried this, and it was no better.

So I decided to push it down the road to a roundabout where I should be able to determine my location, and call for help. Halfway I noted that I was on a downhill gradient, and decided to try bump starting. 
And much against expectation it started! I jumped aboard, wobbled out into the road, and set off.

The bike was running, but it wasn't running well. It would occasionally lose power, but I found that I could perk it up again by de-clutching and opening the extra-air all the way so that it revved fast and lean. Presumably this was cleaning up a fouled plug, caused by my now too-small spark gaps.

In this mode I managed to complete my journey. Arriving not only too late for breakfast, but also rather after lunchtime.

When plotting the plan I had imagined trundling into the courtyard to the amazement of the assembled Ixies. But by that point they had all gone to Bayeux, with the exception of Gordon, who was at least slightly surprised, if not actually amazed.

When the Bayeux contingent returned I was discussing how what I probably needed was a new plug, but that an 18mm was an unlikely thing to find on a saturday in a small seaside town. Then John realised that he know an old-vehicle fan, no more than a couple of hours' drive away. A phone call elicited the information that the guy was going out, but had some plugs, and would leave them on his doorstep for us.

Some considerable time and distance later (Thanks for the lift, John) we were back in Arromanches, where the new plugs were fitted to precisely no improvement at all.

At this point I seem to recall getting fed-up and wandering off to the beer fridge.

It seemed to amuse Orb somewhat to taunt me with "Ian Nichols would have thought of something by now" and I have to confess that that did prompt me to start to think of alternative ideas. The Ner-a-Car has a set of points, so in theory it should be possible to rig up a coil ignition system. Adrian, the proprietor of the B&B has a collection of
old cars, and so had a suitable coil.

I didn't fancy running battery current through the magneto primary, so decided that that needed to be disconnected prior to conversion. I pulled the engine out again, and the careful application of the wrong tool had the flywheel off pretty quickly.

I had a poke around with a multimeter, and things looked vaguely OK. 1 ohm primary, 3k secondary, no obvious  shorts. I then noticed that the wire that goes from the points to the condensor was badly frayed at the condensor, and down to only 2 strands. I decided to fix this as a first job, though I was pretty sure that 2 strands would be enough, so this wasn't likely to be the actual problem. However after re-soldering the wire and putting the flywheel back together we were greeted by quite a decent-looking spark even when just turning the flywheel round by hand.

So, I put the engine back in, and it started, and I went for a test run. There is a video somewhere of this test run. My excuse for setting off up the hill on the wrong side of the road is that I had a lot on my mind.

The test run wasn't a 100% success, the bike was behaving the way that it had on the previous day. But after a return to base and an enlargement of the spark gap, it ran very well indeed, and even wanted second "gear" up the hill. 

I put the bike away, considering "job done" and decided not to bother with the coil conversion (we hadn't found a source of a suitable battery anyway). And headed for the beer fridge.

The next day I topped up the fuel with some donated by Adrian, who also found some 2-stroke oil. Checked that the bike still started and headed for the beer fridge.

Monday was my departure day, and I was booked  on the 1630 ferry. A leisurely breakfast saw me prodding the starter at about 1030, and the bike starting second kick, and running beautifully. All the way to the courtyard gate, where it stopped, and wouldn't re-start. I cleaned the plug, and got a repeat of the same thing. The plug was looking _very_ oily. Also, by this point the kick-start return spring had broken, which wasn't helpful.

I concluded that perhaps the fuel I had used was already 2-stroke mix, and that I might have over-oiled it.   alternatively perhaps the oil was injector-specific. But this was just a guess, and possibly a wrong one. We measured the bike to see if it would fit in John's Volvo, or the B&B 4x4, and despite optimism on the parts of the vehicle owners, I could see that if we tried and failed then time would have been wasted and decided that picking up a hire van to take the bike to Caen was the more reliable solution. A brief moment of panic ensued when the Carrefour hire desk wouldn't take a UK license, but a second hire place would, an John kindly drove the van back to Arromanches where we loaded the bike and took it to Caen.

Some hours later, as I set off to push the bike to the ferry I decided to try a bump-start and it ran for 30 seconds. The same was true on arrival at Portsmouth, so I suppose that it still qualifies as a motorcycle...

Much pushing later and the bike was on mlh's bike trailer, locked up in Gosport, and I rode home on the R1. 


  1. Beautiful. My Great Uncle owned a Neracar dealership.

  2. Beautiful. My Great Uncle owned a Neracar dealership.