index   Go to the Archive index

1,000 suburban miles on a Puch Maxi

Martin Wikner

Having just completed restoring to concours condition a Norman Nippy, I had decided that to use it on a daily basis, albeit in the summer months, would be only to see my prized possession deteriorate before my eyes.  So what was I to do, get something else I thought but this time no full restoration, just something that could be used for everyday commuting on the busy streets of South London with the minimum of fuss - not for riding down country lanes on sunny Sunday afternoons in the summer.  I set myself the challenge of purchasing a moped which must not be less than 25 years old, getting it fettled and road legal within 2 weeks, and then completing 1,000 miles going mainly to and from work.  "Why?" you may ask... to that I have no answer.

I immediately set to work scanning the small ads in the back of the latest edition of Buzzing magazine that had just dropped through my letter box that morning.  I soon spotted what I was looking for: a 1974 Puch Maxi S.  Now, I had not owned one of these machines before but I could well remember them from the late sixties & early seventies.  I could even recall reading an article on one intrepid owner who took his machine to Turkey and back.  The main gist of that article was how good and strong the engine had been; that had to be a reason to go and at least view this particular Puch Maxi.  The owner was contacted and, yes, it was still for sale but it needed a little sorting as it had been standing in his storage shed for some 15 years.  Oh well, nothing ventured nothing gained.  We set off with trailer in tow in high hopes... well my hopes slightly higher than my wife's.  Upon arrival, we viewed this rather sad looking machine, it was, however, complete and with relevant documents ie: the V5.  The tyres were perished, it was dirty and much of the chrome work was covered with light surface rust - the result of storage in changeable temperature conditions over 15 years.  The engine, however, turned over and it seemed had been protected by a large residue of oily filth stuck to every part of it.  A deal was struck and the Puch, the wife and I made our way home.

Once back home in the garage, a quick and partial strip down of the engine revealed just why the bike had fallen out of use all those years ago: it was quite simply coked-up completely.  Obviously the power, what there was, began to fade away until the machine would hardly run so the owner abandoned it to the back of his shed and there it stayed.  The exhaust port on the barrel was almost completely sealed bar a small pinhole, and the exhaust was twice as heavy as it should have been.  So the big clean up started - the engine was removed along with wheels and tyres and brakes.  A quick strum through Buzzing found a good source of Puch spares: tyres, inner tubes, brake shoes, head and barrel gaskets and a new petrol tap were ordered and arrived with in 4 days.  I was still on target for the 2-week turnaround from semi-derelict to road legal suburban commuter transport.

The reassembly went without a problem, fuel was added and with the third revolution of the pedal crank the Puch Maxi burst into life.  A quick test ride followed to make sure all systems were functioning properly.  Everything A-OK, right, now off to get a MoT.  I took it down to the local motor cycle dealer and was told to come back in an hour; the young mechanic lad followed me out of the shop to wheel it in said, "What is it?" and "Where are the keys" and "How do you start it?"  A lesson was given on the start up procedures and I bade him farewell.  I wandered away with some misgivings as to his intelligence but put it down to the fact that he had been born after kick starts and such like were, by and large, a thing of the past and the only effort needed to start up motorised two-wheeled transport was the use of the right thumb pressing a button to engage the starter motor.

One hour later I reported back to the shop exuding a bright and cheerful smile, hoping all had gone well with the test.  The young lad said that he was only halfway through and things were not going well and he was making a list.  "What do you mean, a list?" I cried.  He went on to tell me about minuscule faults of wheels being millimetres out of true, no brake light and anyway the horn does not work. "The horn does work" I said, "No it doesn't" he said, "Yes it does" I said, "Prove it" he said.  I jumped aboard started it up and quickly realised that he had the lights switched on; with a deft flick of the switch that he did not notice I pressed the horn button and the rasping duck-like noise emitted.  "There you are" I said triumphantly.  "Doesn't matter, it has still failed" he muttered dejectedly.  By now my good-natured smile had disappeared and after I had informed him that this machine was on the road doing good service long before he was born or thought of, and he should conduct the MoT test according to the age of the machine, not consider it as a plastic wrapped superbike in for its first test.  We were getting nowhere fast and the atmosphere was somewhat frosty, so it was agreed that I would pay half the test fee, as that is as far as he had got and I would take the moped home and think about it, and this I did.

Well you can't be beaten can you?  I had to find someone that would conduct a proper MoT test but bearing in mind that the machine came from an era of 27 years ago.  I found a second-hand bike dealer who did MoTs so took the plunge again.  They said that they could not promise anything but they would have a look, they also understood that a moped of that age was not always fitted with a brake light.  Things looked more promising but the mechanic did mutter as he took my little machine into the workshop that he thought that they threw the last of these things away in the seventies.  Well it failed the test, but on something that I agreed with and I could fix, the suspension on the front forks seemed seized.  This was soon rectified and so back to the bike shop for a retest.  This time I heard the mechanic mutter to his mate "There is that sad bloke here with that damned moped again".  I pretended not to hear.  This time he even put the thing on a bike version of a rolling road to check the brakes and, to my amazement, it passed.

I rode home with a sense of elation I had achieved what I had set out to do with 2 days to spare.  Tax was purchased and the Puch Maxi was pressed into every day service 8 miles to work and 8 miles back and various other journeys, you know, down the bank, buy some milk, etc.  Now I could seriously evaluate what riding to work in April 2001 was like on a 27-year-old moped.  Could it cut the mustard with everyday traffic in the London suburbs?  Whatever happened I was not going to give up and 1,000 miles were going to be covered through hell or high water.

To be continued...

In the next edition read all about Martin's exciting experiences in the London traffic!  Street cred there is nothing like!

The saga continued...

You may have read in the last issue of the trials and tribulations I went through to get my Puch Maxi back on the road, so now how did it perform in its suburban commuter transport role?  If you are thinking that this will be a tale of mechanical malfunctions and breakdown, you are wrong.  The only maintenance I had to do during the 1,000 miles was a chain and brake adjustment and that was all, nothing else.  However, there are other tales to tell.

After the Puch became road legal it was put to work in April and with the weather becoming warmer and what, incidentally, went on to become quite a nice summer by English standards, all was well.  I started to enjoy using it.  The first problem arose when the fuel tank emptied for the first time.  I realised that as petrol stations no longer have 2-stroke self-mixing oil in that dispensing drum that they used to have some thirty years ago, I would have to mix my own fuel and keep a stock of it at home, not really a problem.  The fact that the Puch Maxi's fuel tank was abysmally small and contained at my rough estimation just over a third of a gallon meant that my mileage range was very small - 42 miles was the very maximum I could achieve from full up to bone dry.  So to be safe I re-fuelled after thirty miles, which believe you me, came round all too quickly.  I was always having to work out my distances knowing my only fuel oasis was my garage at home.  After a while this became tiresome, yes you may say why not fuel at petrol stations?  Well this can become a messy sticky and smelly experience mixing a third of a gallon with oil in a small tank that you can hardly get the nozzle in the neck of, which then has the propensity of burping fuel all over your trousers - not to mention riding around with a plastic bottle of 2-stroke mixing oil oozing into your pocket!

Well enough said on the fuel issue.  The next problem was a personal one and this was of embarrassment.  Now I feel that I am a pretty hardy old soul where nothing much bothers me and I don't dwell on what people think of me or what I do.  But over the weeks of running the Puch I gradually became aware that people were looking at me on this machine and that I was either the subject of derision, disgust or just a plain laughing stock.  At first I thought to hell with everybody, I don't care what they think, but when this goes on week in week out it begins to play on your mind.  Firstly I would gaze at myself as I rode along in shop windows to see if I looked ridiculous, and no, I reckoned I looked OK, but still I was aware of people looking.  You know the situation; you are sitting in heavy traffic when you become aware of the passenger in the car on your right looking at your machine.  Then their eyes gradually look upwards and focus on you and then after a long and withering gaze they turn and mutter something to their companion who is driving, and then the driver cranes his neck around the passenger and repeats the process.  "What are they saying?" you ask yourself?  Hell, a moped is not that an unusual sight is it?  Children were another problem, always pointing at me and then asking their oh-so-knowledgeable parents about something.  Older children at bus stops all laughed and a group of youths threw a stone at me.  Why?  I don't suppose I will ever know...

By now the mileage was ticking by and the summer was in full swing.  I should be enjoying this ... or was I?  The performance of the bike was causing me a certain amount of concern, not that in any way was it under performing, because it was achieving its maximum speed with no problem.  It was the initial get away that was in my mind a point of danger.  Now I am not new to motor cycling, far from it; in a 32 year driving and riding career I have been fortunate to sample most forms of two and four wheeled transport, from the exotic to the bizarre.  The problem is that the world has moved on and so have all methods of transport.  I know that we all like to harp back to the "good old days", but to be faced with having to use something from those days every day as opposed to an occasional outing on a sunny Sunday; most people would opt for the modern equivalent.  This was now the problem that I was facing.  The current crop of ultra modern twist and go two-wheeled transport, ie: scooters and such like really do just that.  I could not compete in the traffic light grand prix; these scooters were off the mark and into the distance before I could get going properly.  Yes, over a long distance I could haul them in as they are limited to 30 mph, and I could achieve 35 mph, but this was of no matter.  The rest of the traffic wanted to set off when the traffic lights went green, not be held up until my bike wheezed into action.  So I found myself taking to cycle lanes to avoid hindering and annoying motorists trying to get to work.  The downside of this was that some motorists seemed to think I was an irrelevance being so slow and proceeded to muscle past and try to elbow me off the road.  One particular incident with a metallic green Vauxhall Carlton, with an overweight slob of a cigar smoking driver (yes he knows who he is) forced me against the kerb with my mirror and handlebar grip rattling down the side of his windows.  He did stop and get out surveyed his car, and seeing that there was no damage got back in and drove off.  What could I do?  I just sat and glared at him, I felt murderous I wanted to pick the whole damn bike up and chuck it through his windscreen, but later moderated my feelings just hoping that he went down with a particularly virulent bout of an E-Coli infection.

In a period of about four months I reckon that I had more near misses and dangerous situations arise through purely not having the initial acceleration to move out of the way or into another position.  Remember, I am talking about heavy traffic conditions; I am not as incident prone as this article may seem.

Summer turned to autumn and I had nearly done it.  Mechanically the bike had not missed a beat.  I was confident in its reliability, together we had been through most things - sun, wind and rain... no problem.  Now a new problem reared its head.  The evenings were getting darker, and if I was travelling home from work any later than usual, I felt that I was now in mortal danger; quite simply the Puch's lights were not good enough, or not up to modern standards shall we say.  They functioned OK, turned on and off and dipped but the volume of illumination they sent out can only be described as good as a feeble candle, in fact at tick over you could hardly tell if the rear light was working at all.  This coupled with my initial acceleration problems in heavy traffic in the rain, was to say the least, not wise - that is to say, if I wanted to stay alive long enough to collect my pension.  So for the last two weeks until I reached the magic 1,000 miles, I  remedied the situation partially, by strapping on a bicycle lamp to the rear carrier!

In the third week in October I reached my goal, 1,000 commuting miles.  I had done what I set out to do.  Did I enjoy it?

I have mixed feelings, but probably the answer is no.  Would I do it again?  The answer is definitely no.  What of the bike?  Well, it now resides in the back of the garage, grubby but still in fine running order.  Will it venture out again?  Maybe, but this time on club events or even something more adventurous like John o'Groats to Lands End, but that's for the future.

My overall impression is that mopeds from the past are great, as long as you remember that they came from a somewhat gentler era.  But by and large they cannot compete with their modern day equivalents, or the hustle and bustle of today's traffic conditions. So perhaps a fitting retirement for these sometimes-weary machines is outings on sunny days down quiet country lanes.

First published, December 2001 and April 2002

index   Go to the Archive index