I dodged a bullet today…..
After breakfast at the hotel, Robin left for her conference and I headed back to Oyster Bay Bridge to retrieve the windbreaker we left there. This was uneventful enough, although I had to mush around a bit to find my way out of Charlottetown and onto the correct route. I got back to Charlottetown about fifteen minutes late, but Robin’s conference ran overtime, so that worked out fine.
From there the plan was to return to New Brunswick and head south to Hopewell Rocks and Fundy National Park. Charlottetown is about an hour from the Confederation Bridge, where we paid the toll and crossed the bridge back to New Brunswick.
About five miles after the bridge on the Transcanada Highway, traveling about 65MPH, the Vespa made a sudden loud noise and lurched violently forward, almost throwing me into the windshield. It then began rapidly to decelerate in pulses as though the brakes were being grabbed in rhythmic sequence, and the engine raced hard even as the bike was slowing down. It was only my white-knuckled death grip on the handlebars that kept me from a high-speed, over the handlebars crash — that and the fact that whatever was happening, was happening on a straightaway; I am quite certain that if this had happened in a curve, with the bike leaned over at the speed I was going, I’d be writing this from a hospital bed at best, and at worst……well, we’re trying not to think about that.
As it was, although the engine responded to the throttle, it was immediately obvious that the throttle was no longer connected to the rear wheel — no matter how far I twisted it, the bike would not move forward. I had no choice but to coast it to the side of the Transcanada, park it and get off.
One of the things we swear by on these scooter trips, which we use anytime we are scootering together (near or far) is a set of Sena-5 wireless helmet radios. These have been a godsend many times, and today was no exception, as I immediately radioed Robin to tell her the Vespa was dead in the road. She turned around and drove back down the breakdown lane to join me just past exit 47 and Cape Tormentine.
My first move was to break out the Atlantic Canada motorcycle guide and look for nearby dealers. We found two in Moncton but neither of them serviced Vespas and so they refused to help, although one of them did recommend another place to try. At that point I remembered that we have Allstate Motor Club membership, and so I called them while Robin phoned the third garage, who agreed to look at the bike tomorrow. The Motor Club, meanwhile, was excellent, arranging for a tow truck to come and take me and the Vespa into Moncton to the garage. My only complaint about the Motor Club is it seemed to take them a really long time to figure out where we were, and then to find a nearby towing company — I’m not exaggerating when I say I was on the phone the better part of an hour with them, much of it waiting on hold in the fescue beside the Transcanada. However, the lady was very good — in fact, she told me how to find my exact location (latitude and longitude) via GPS. I was not aware that if you have a smartphone, you can open the google maps app and touch the “my location” tab, and it will tell you exactly where on the planet you are. Good to know!
Anyway, after about an hour on the phone, the lady assured me she had a tow truck coming and it would arrive in an hour. So, we waited beside the Transcanada, with semi trucks blowing past……
Robin (whose bike has performed flawlessly) finally decided to go back to exit 47 and try to find a convenience store to get us some food. After a half an hour or so, she returned to say there was nothing at exit 47 and she was going back to the Confederation Bridge. Another 45 minutes and she returned with some very welcome sandwiches and chips, as it was now about 4PM and we had not eaten since breakfast at the hotel.
To their credit, almost exactly an hour after my call to Allstate ended, my phone rang — it was Allstate calling back to see if our situation had been resolved. When I told them it hadn’t (by now we had been waiting 90 minutes for the tow truck), I was connected to another service agent, who checked on the tow truck, gave them our phone number, and reported that the truck had left an hour ago and should be arriving very shortly. And sure enough, in about ten minutes, the guy arrived, from Summerside on Prince Edward Island. I learned from him later that he was, in fact, the nearest tow company to us — to get a truck from Moncton would have been almost double the distance.
Anyway, this guy was great — very nice guy and knew exactly what he was doing.
On the ride into Moncton, with Robin following behind on her scooter (and me wearing my motorcycle helmet in the truck so she and I could talk via Sena), I learned that the tow guy had worked in Calgary on the oil fields, had worked as a paver on the highways, and was something of a mechanic himself. When he heard my story, he surmised that the new drive belt which I’d had installed in Maine last week had been stretched and damaged a few days ago when the rear brake had seized up; he thought that the engine, pulling against the brake, had made the variators overheat and melt the belt, so it stretched and slipped off its anchors. This is consistent with my experience and would explain why, though the engine ran, the bike would not move forward under its own power. It would also explain why I noticed bunches of fabric fluff sticking out of the engine, back while I was waiting for the tow truck.
He also said I was very lucky that the belt had only stretched, and not broken, for apparently a broken belt simply locks up the rear wheel! At 65MPH, that is a recipe for catastrophe! So I am sitting here typing this and feeling extremely lucky that my guardian angel had been on duty today. And imagine if the belt had broken five miles earlier, on the Confederation Bridge, with no shoulder to pull onto! What a mess that would have been!
Well, the guy delivered us as promised (and $200 later) to the service station in Moncton. This is a very sketchy-looking place in a run-down building with a small sign outside advertising repair of BMW and Honda motorcycles. I had no choice but to leave the Vespa there and hope it would still be there tomorrow. Robin had the brilliant idea, once we noticed the fabric fluff and thought about drive belts, to call our dealer in Maine and have them overnight a new belt to the Moncton dealer. This we did, and they assured us they would do their best to get it here tomorrow.
Amazingly, there was a hotel just a block from the repair place, and they had a vacancy, so here we are in downtown Moncton. We checked in, went for a nice supper at a nearby grill, and scoped out the “tidal bore” on the way back to the hotel. This is apparently a Moncton landmark, with the tide rapidly flooding the local river every time it comes in. We missed the evening tide by a half hour or so, and will try to see the morning tide tomorrow.
The service garage opens at 9AM tomorrow, and we will be there to see what the story is. The best outcome would be if they can just fix it, although I am not confident about this as they are not a Vespa dealer and likely will not have parts (except the belt, IF it arrives tomorrow). But if the belt tore up a bunch of other stuff in the engine, the prospects of getting it fixed seem low. We have been discussing what to do in that event. The tow guy thought they could fix it, but he said there was a train station nearby and maybe we could get it shipped home that way if not. Robin thought of calling my brother, who manages trucking for a large business, to see if he had any trucks coming this way that could pick it up. It’s also possible that they can fix it, but at a cost beyond which the bike is worth — so what then? It is also a remarkable coincidence that there is a car rental place within walking distance of our hotel, so at least we’ll have a way out of here if repairs cannot be made.
I am therefore not at all sure about our schedule going forward. We cannot stay here another night because apparently there is a big car show coming into town and every room is reserved. We would still like to finish our trip to Hopewell Rocks and Fundy National Park, and that’s still an option if we can leave tomorrow (one way or the other). As a concrete-sequential kind of guy, it is very difficult for me, not knowing what is coming next….
But I suppose we are getting ahead of ourselves. For now we are just grateful to be safe, with decent lodging and all in one piece. When I think of how badly this could have gone, I have to shudder. Looks like God is looking out for us. Thanks and Amen.