Monday, February 28, 2011

More sickness in the family.

As Jill has described in more detail then I'm sure you wanted to know I was laid up for a couple of days and our departure date from San Pedro was put back to Saturday 19th February. The day duly arrived, Jill checked out of her accommodation and started to pack up while I prepared Nancy, checking oil and types etc. Before loading everything on I thought I would just get the engine warm , but as Nancy had been standing for a couple of weeks the battery after a few cranks was soon unable to turn the engine over as the clock takes the edge of the power. (must remember to disconnect in the future!) No problem I thought I'll push it down the street, which is a lot easier than trying to use the kick start. Sitting at the bottom of rather a long hill with still no life in Nancy things were not looking good, and that was just the thought for having to push it back up the hill! Arriving back at my residence I started to take Nancy apart and quickly found there was no spark.
By this time the word had spread around town that there was a broken down Gringo and soon everybody who thought they knew anything about bikes, and those who didn't know anything but had an uncle who lived 30 miles away who had a distant relative who was a mechanic, were there to offer advice, pull at anything that looked like it might come loose with excessive force and explain to me in Spanish, which I couldn’t clearly understand, that the problem was to do with a switch on the dashboard that I had disconnected 2 months previously. I was open to any suggestions as I have never really understood how electricity goes round corners, let alone makes a bike work. My training had been with Mr Lucas, the 'Prince of darkness' and if he couldn't get things to work what hope did I have! There was a bike mechanic in town called Walter so we pushed Nancy up another hill to his shop, where another crowd quickly gathered. Out came the electrical testing gear, a length of wire that various parts of the electrical system were grounded, with the result that sparks flew at the appropriate places. The problem was narrowed down to the 'bean can', a sensor that picks up the timing of the bike and gives out a pulse making the coils fire, or the control box, both of which were electronic parts that were not fixable but would have to be replaced. Walter's dad Walter then arrived, who though not a mechanic, had a reputation of being able to get anything to go having been brought up on Model 'T' Fords. Before I could blink he had stripped a wire and connected it directly to the battery. Luckily no damage but a stripped wire occurred and after showing him that there was voltage at that point anyway with the help of my voltmeter, he retired back to work on whatever he was doing before he stripped the wire. Jill had managed to find Mike, a friendly American we had met a few days earlier, who had an old BM and was a mechanic by trade. He confirmed that the problem was to do with the electronic parts, which was reassuring to know, albeit not fixable, and before anybody else started to fiddle with Nancy we pushed her back to my residence. I spent soon time at the Café Atitlan surfing the net looking for fixes
and although there was some advice on how to rebuild the 'bean can' they all came with serious mental health warnings. Just as we were going out that night Chino turned up saying he was an auto electrical engineer and could he help. Unable to say 'no' as I still lacked any certainty about my ability we arranged to meet the following morning at 0900. The first 5 minutes of meeting anybody are always the most telling and always the most disregarded. When an auto electrical engineers first tool that he pulls out of his bag is a hammer I should have listened to my intuition, but I still was overwhelmed by hope that the problem might be fixable. Chino soon became convinced that the problem was to do with the kill switch because as you switched it on and off there was a spark. Trying to explain to him in my very limited Spanish (Yes I hadn't become fluent in my 2 weeks of classes) that the kill switch grounded the coils sending a pulse to the spark plugs confirming that it was the 'bean can' and not the control box that had failed wasn't easy to get across. Even showing him the wiring diagram, that he kept turning upside down, I couldn't convince him and just before he was about to cut a wire to the kill switch I said 'that was enough'. Undeterred he said he would go off and get a 'timing light', returning in about 10 minutes with a friend who looked about 13 and was, on further Spanish explanation, the 'light of auto electrical problems' in San Pedro and not a 'timing light'. A common translation mistake I am told amongst beginners in the Spanish language like myself. To give him his credit within 10 minutes he confirmed that it was the 'bean can' that was at fault, but not before he found that if you turned the engine over with the starter and then flicked the kill switch on and off you got the most explosive back fire as the coils grounded. Turning around I saw that he was trying to take the 'bean can' apart on a sandy driveway. The can has many small springs and weights in it to do the advance as well as the sensor and I was able to stop him before thing went flying in all directions. That was enough and saying how grateful I was that Nancy was still in one piece figuratively, I paid them for their time and they rushed off leaving me to clear up. I then realised that not only had it cost me money but it had also cost me an Allen Key, which for somebody whose main tool is a hammer must have been a great prize. The lesson of this story: Trust my intuition and have faith in my own ability as a amateur mechanic.


  1. Do you know David, I have been there....knowing that all around you is talking cr**p but you still let them at your precious possessions knowing that in your heart that they have no idea! Its very hard though not to accept their ''hospitality''. Heres hoping it all gets sorted out soon, but it makes you slow down doesnt it, whilst you get ya wallet nicked!!

  2. Well we're still here in San Pedro la Laguna. Nine days after posting, our bike parts are stranded in the Midlands UK, it seems we think courtesy of Customs. Anyway so much for a swift delivery by DHL/Parcels-2-Go -hope they are getting on to it!! Nevertheless we are blessed by being in a delightful little town learning Spanish :)

  3. Funnily enough I always find I'm the chap biffing up with a handy hammer: "Hello I used to be House Captain of Hammering...they you are now you've got two slightly smaller widgets. Pip, pip".