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The Moped Detective, a Philly Gad Mystery

by Mark Daniels

When acquiring a 'new' bike invariably requiring repair, part of the restoration game is trying to work out, in the midst of the dissembled decrepitude, the most probable cause for the final demise of the machine.  In this first case I bring you The Phillips Gadabout Mystery: a long dead Villiers 3K powered moped, largely complete and acclaimed as a runner but in semi-dismantled condition with the alloy frame trim and petrol tank removed. The missing petrol cap revealed heavily corroded internals to the tank, the bike's tatty original condition, May 1973 tax disc, generally heavy wear and rusty glassed-up mudguards suggested a long and honourable service life to an owner who used it for functional transport. The loose and worn stand barely supported it in a state of wavering equilibrium like Dali's "Slumber", and its rear wheel refused to rotate, requiring it to be carried to the van as another sick patient to the ambulance.

Working from front to back, the horrors began.  Loose spokes had been returned to tension of sorts by tweaking with pliers and the life of exhausted brake shoes extended by shimming of the cams!  The front wheel could be nearly turned through 45 degrees either side keeping straight bars due to extreme wear in the lower fork bushes, which could have implied it simply wore up beyond MoT capability.  After machining up a new fuel inlet on the carb to replace the rotted zinc spout the engine started readily and ran smoothly, hardly any terminal problems!

Then a hooded figure seems to beckon with his crooked finger: "Look inside my rear wheel hub, see the delights I have to offer!"  Irresistibly drawn to removing the drive chain and brake rod I find the rear wheel still refused to turn!

Battling off the brake plate revealed one of the aluminium brake shoes snapped clean in two to jam the works solid, so here at last was that vital piece of evidence to solve the case.

Setting the scene: the stoic Bert Bloggs, blue collar fitter at Colchester Lathe, set out late on his usual daily route to work starting the 7:15 day shift, when an Eastern National double-decker fails to spot the crouched figure approaching the crossroads at a full tilt of 35mph. Suddenly confronted by a green aluminium wall belching diesel and with a feeble shimmed-up front brake, stopping in time relied upon a quick appeal to the Almighty and superhuman back pedalling action.  The rear wheel locked up for the last time as Philly valiantly screeched to a stop, flat spotting her tyre, though without spilling her rider as the unmarked levers and handgrips bore evidence.

It was the final straw for the faithful Gad and though Bert may have fancied a new Puch Maxi, his wife convinced him it was time to use the Cortina, the way the roads were getting so busy by the early 70s.

The coroner records a verdict of misadventure on the heroic little Phillips after a long and honourable service.  Bert preserved his former mount in the shed for another two decades, but never effected its repair as new brake shoes had become unobtainable.  As the registration renewal date expired on the DVLC computer, Philly became spared the ravages of the number plate strippers and now survives to take to the road again in a new century, after 27 years in limbo.

Next issue The Moped Detective returns with another case - Who killed Norman Nippy?

First published - February 2000

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