Thursday, August 14, 2014

A lesson in MV

I'll share a little more detail on the recent transmission issue I experienced.

It's important to tell this story because riding a motorbike and driving a car are totally different experiences and what you learned driving a car is only vaguely helpful when you ride a motorbike.

Cars are ubiquitous and you're never that far from a dealer.  It's a whole other story with motorbikes, and perhaps more so with Vespas.

There are a good number of reliable Vespa dealers around, but nothing compared to Ford, or GM, or Chrysler dealerships, not to mention Canadian Tire dealers.

I had recently noticed a little more noise from the transmission when I coasted to a stop.  Nothing worrisome mind you.  Just a little change in the song.  As if they added another tom-tom to an already well-kitted percussion section.  Definitely not like adding a couple of tambourines or a cow-bell though.  So nothing really worrisome, just the slightest, most nuanced change is all.

In my experience this is one of those things that separate most men, from most women.  By the time some people first notice a strange sound emanating from their machinery, it's gotten to the point where many of us would gape incredulously at the sound, and then head straight for the tool box at a decent trot.  Not all the early noticers are men, and not all the oblivious souls are women, that's for sure, but the odds are...  OK... I'm already in hot water in some some quarters, so I'd better get back to the story.  One last word, I can't resist.  Don't believe me? Tune in to a few episodes of Car Talk on NPR.

A weird thing happened next.  I pulled into my usual parking space at work.  I hit the kill switch, then switched off the ignition (yes, I usually use the kill switch, it's a topic for another time).

I felt the bike was a little too far forward in the parking space.  Normally I could easily roll it back with next to no effort.  Not the case this time.  The bike was stuck in drive.  The transmission on the Vespa is a continuously variable automatic transmission, so being stuck in drive isn't like being in first gear with the clutch out.  You can still move the bike, but there's substantial resistance.

I fired up the bike again and then switched it off, thinking that something that needed to go 'thunk' hadn't, and it needed another try.  No luck.  Same behaviour as before.

With the bike on the centre stand I fired it up again.  The rear wheel normally spins freely when the motor's running and the bike is on the centre stand, but you can easily stop it with your foot.  I rested my foot lightly on the spinning tire's sidewall.  The resistance was too strong and there was no way to stop the wheel.  Applying the rear brake did the trick though.

With the rear brake applied everything seemed and sounded OK.  But clearly something wasn't right.

So what does one do in a situation like that?

I had just had the belt changed and the transmission inspected and cleaned earlier in the summer by the dealer.  If there was a transmission issue now, it was possible that the dealer messed up the servicing.  If that was the case I needed to know.  I also needed to find out whether riding the bike at all was an option.  And finally I needed the problem fixed by the end of the day, ideally.

If you own anything even slightly complex and slightly exotic (in my opinion a Vespa qualifies on both counts), and if you aren't what motorcyclists like to call a 'wrencher' in your own right, not only do you need a good mechanic, you need independent expertise.

By the time I was six strides away from my bike, I had a plan.

I considered my transmission issue potentially complicated and expensive.  Could it be diagnosed accurately and quickly?  I had every reason to think so. Step one: reach out to

Here's my initial post:
Let's see the MV results, shall we?
Forty-two minutes to solve an otherwise perplexing problem with contributions from the U.K., North Carolina, and Oregon.  Now that's amazing.

Armed with the MV diagnosis, I called the dealer.  I explained the situation to François, the head of the service department at Vespa Montréal, and said I thought the nut holding the clutch might be loose.  He readily agreed that the loose clutch nut was the likely culprit.  He felt I could ride the bike safely to the dealer.  He offered to free up the service time to solve the problem in time for my evening commute.

The twenty minute ride to the dealer was uneventful, though when I stopped on level ground, the bike was clearly pulling forward.  As soon as one of the lifts freed up, my bike received the attention it needed.

After I whiled away some time in the showroom responding to e-mails and chatting with Paul and a customer, François emerged from the service bay wiping his hands thoughtfully on a shop rag and looking like a surgeon after a successful something-ectomy.  Unable to maintain the suspense for very long, he cracked a boyish grin, confirmed that the diagnosis was bang-on the money, that the nut had been loose, was now tight, that everything was ship shape with the drive train, and I could ride home when ready.  Thanks Vespa Montréal!

And what can you say about the good folks on  There aren't nearly enough adjectives to describe the value they bring to the table, and not nearly enough adjectives to explain the peace of mind they give me.

Thanks ModernVespa!

You own a Vespa and you aren't yet a member of  What are you waiting for?


RichardM said...

Now my question is why did the nut loosen? Didn't get torqued properly during the service? No lock-tite or mechanical lock used? Whatever the base cause was, it does highlight why I prefer to work on things myself. Having worked in the auto repair business myself, I would not trust anyone getting paid by the job (as opposed to by the hour).

Nice that you found an online community that works for you. Most are filled with opinions rather than useful information.

Unknown said...


so glad it was, more or less, a painless repair. Could have been worse. You are also lucky to have competent service near you. Others may not be so lucky

bob: riding the wet coast

Coop a.k.a. Coopdway said...

I'm right with Robert's response. It's warm enough around here right now so like you, I'll refrain from entering ''Hot water" but will congratulate you on perceiving and recognizing that something was different. We all tune in to different things; it was a really good time for you to be aware of what you were.

We all need help from service people at one point or another, trust with competent people is necessary.

Glad that you're back on the road.

P.S. I'm a member of MV, just haven't visited lately.

VStar Lady said...

David, I have to say the men in my family are the most likely to miss subtle changes (in a vehicle's sounds, in their mother's voice and life in general) that being said, there is nothing better than having a good mechanic nearby. I have one for the four wheels and two for the two wheels (two because I like them both and tend to like to split my business - and they appreciate it.) And I've been lucky on the road finding good Yamaha dealers. (I tend to near panic if I notice something even slightly askew and rush to the mechanic to have it checked out, sometimes I even have an opinion on what it might be; much better at guessing for the four wheels though.)

David Masse said...

Richard there is no doubt that doing your own repair work is preferable. If you are competent that is. I know it isn't that complicated to master a single machine, but I'm just not there yet.

MV is a special place. It's moderated by very dedicated volunteers, the members are unusually knowledgeable and smart, and inappropriate behaviour meets with swift and effective resolution. It just works.

David Masse said...

Very lucky, I know.

You'll soon be re-united with your Corvette and joining an epic parade. I can't imagine what that's going to be like.

David Masse said...

Doug when you blog it's the blog that get's the lion's share of attention. Forums are social media outlets that demand less and are easier to tend to. If you only have one bike, and it's a Vespa, MV is indispensable. It's also a fun place to gather and share a mutual obsession.

David Masse said...

Karen, women who ride are a tiny minority. It's risky business, that's true, but the risk is manageable. Older riders tend to manage the risk well. To do that means paying very close attention to the road, the ride, the bike, and tradfic. That virtually eliminates the differences between men and women who ride. Or so it seems.

Women who tour are in a class by themselves. Women who tour solo are truly, truly special.

kz1000st said...

Many of the scooter forums are also helpful in that way. With so many similar engines in any given group there will always be somebody who has had the same thing happen to them. Good thinking on your part to be a member and going to MV for help.

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