Backfire

Friday, June 28
Louisville, Kentucky
89° Low Humidity, Crystal Clear

After returning from South Carolina and unpacking, I dove back into working on Ruby. She had been sitting in the back of Jane’s manufacturing business. (Jane makes a unique wheelchair. Check them out at: Merlexi Wheelchairs)

Ruby sat among cardboard boxes and wooden pallets waiting to be broken down and recycled. (Boxes or Ruby or both?) She dried out like an exiled drunk while I was away. She started right up, but idled unevenly.

I fiddled with some wiring and the engine stopped immediately. There was a short. I reworked the wiring, adding some insulation and wrapping it in tape. Not perfect, but substantially better, I turned my attention to changing the oil, checking the transmission oil, cleaning the air filter, and adding some Gumout fuel system cleaner to the gas tank. Finally I cleaned the entire bike. When you are this kind to a mechanical object it should respond to your desires quickly and obediently. Ruby did. She started immediately.

Getting Ruby out of the work area was interesting. There is a loading dock about six feet off the ground. Trucks with hydraulic platforms back up to it. There is no ramp. I ended up clearing a path through the warehouse and pushing the bike through the front of the building, through the front office, and out the front door. Ruby sat shining in the humid sunshine.

My test drives started small and grew progressively longer, first around the parking lot, then down the street, then out into the country, and finally a 40 mile out-n-back into the countryside. Ruby was idling oddly. I turned the throttle set screw in a quarter turn. That improved things, but if I came to a quick stop the engine would cut out. It would immediately start again when I tried it. I stopped coming to quick stops.

Driving out in the country, away from the metro traffic and commercial buildings, was refreshing. Ruby handled well. Road construction stopped traffic and Ruby sat idling as she should. It was sunny, I was happy.

On the way back I had a two mile stretch on a highway with heavy traffic. It was downhill. I opened Ruby up to 60 miles per hour. She cruised at a high rpm without vibration. I rolled to a stop at a red traffic light while Ruby’s rpms calmed down and the engine idled appropriately. I was very pleased.

I turned left for a short ride to a country lane about a quarter mile away. Then it happened. The engine backfired. Never has a small single cylinder engine backfired on me. It misfired again. It cut out. I was coasting. I pulled off the road into tall grass next to a deer carcass. It smelled. Flies buzzed around. Traffic flew by inches away.

When traffic lightened I pushed the bike out of the grass, past the carcass, and onto pavement. I had about an eighth of a mile to go, a little downhill to a large gas station. I made it physically unscathed, I cannot comment on my mental state. I have no objectivity.

I rolled Ruby into a shady spot under a tree next to the gas/convenience station. I turned the key and pushed the start button. Whirring, but not starting. I stopped and went inside for refreshment. A few minutes later I returned with an Arnold Palmer ice tea. Ruby sat sparkling in the light looking ready to bolt over the horizon. I pulled out my Swiss Army knife with its handy screw driver blades. All my tools were in the warehouse. I unscrewed the plate in front of the engine exposing the spark plug area. I fiddle with the plug connection and then reached my fingers up inside where the newly wrapped wires lay. I tickled them.

A push of the start button and the engine fired up immediately. Hosanna. I finished the ice tea smug with my abilities to get Ruby running.

About the backfire, here’s my theory: Gumout plus high & hot rpms caused gunk in the engine to come loose and ignite. It’s like a cat with a hairball, at first nothing then coughing and choking and finally a clear passageway. I drove feline Ruby back to L-ville without another incident.

Time to repack and get back on the road.

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