The Whizzer

March 3, 2010 by  
Filed under Features

By J. R. Roseberry
Once in awhile–though increasingly less frequently–something brings out the kid in an old curmudgeon like me.
That happened recently when I spotted a motorized bicycle parked beside the post office.

It sparked instant memories of a Whizzer motorbike a fellow student rode when I attended junior high school in Pensacola, Fla. more than a half century ago.

He was a pimply faced, rail thin, nerdy type boy with thick glasses and few redeeming qualities beyond the fact that he rode that Whizzer to school every day.

Boy, did I envy the guy.

The one year I spent in Pensacola at the age of 13 turned out to be pivotal in my life and recalling the “Whizzer” conjured up sweet memories.

That’s when my sister’s best girlfriend, two years my senior and drop dead gorgeous, stayed overnight at our house. After everyone else was asleep she sneaked into my room, knelt beside my bed, and taught me how to French kiss.
It was an experience I savored for years and I still quiver a little with the recollection.

This was also the year I almost got in a fight with Jimmy Ripolo, the toughest and most popular boy in school. He challenged me to step outside when his girlfriend, the junior high queen, asked me to escort her home after we took a single spin around the floor at a school dance.

Fortuitously, for me at least, a teacher broke it up and friends pulled us apart just after I followed him out for what I was sure would be my doomsday.

After that, his girlfriend Jean and I became an item for the rest of the year.

I moved away that summer and Jimmy and I never did duke it out.

Anyway, when I spotted the Whizzer look alike bike at the post office I decided it was time I had one of my own.

Looking up Whizzer motorbike on the Internet I found a couple of classic 50 year old models selling for several thousand dollars, but no current manufacturer.

Serendipitously, I spotted several sites selling bicycle motor kits, some of which looked very much like the Whizzer I remembered and, despite the fact that I’m by no means a mechanic, I ordered one.

While awaiting its arrival, I acquired an old beach bike for free. It was about what you’d expect for that price – a rusted out piece of junk that needed new tires, wheels and pedals, among other things. What attracted me was its foot operated coaster brakes which eliminate the clutter of brake and gear shift controls on the handlebars of modern multi-speed bicycles. I had sanded off most of the rust, repainted the frame and replaced wheels, tires and pedals by the time the conversion kit arrived.

At first glance, the kit box seemed to contain an infinite number of alien space ship parts, but I managed to identify a gas tank, bicycle chain and muffler.

Once all the parts were spread across the floor, I found several barely legible sheets of paper containing what appeared to be–written in badly broken English–a rudimentary description of how the installation should proceed.

After trying to reconcile its constantly conflicting directions–ultimately trying both ways to see which worked–I finally got everything in what appeared to be its proper place.

The hardest part was installing the rear wheel sprocket, a complicated design requiring meticulous alignment and insertion of a dozen bolts through tiny holes in a sequence of metal plates and heavy rubber gaskets. To do this I had to repeatedly squeeze my hand between the spokes to attach every bolt, washer and nut.

After installing the sprocket, I had to remove it, then attach it again, then remove it and attach it once more before finally subduing my suicidal thoughts and getting it to function properly. The bleeding from repeatedly scraping the skin from my knuckles poking them through those narrow spokes resulted in only small stains on the rug. The entire project was completed in a week and was accomplished with nothing more than a pair of pliers, screwdriver, crescent wrench, and a tourniquet to stop the bleeding.

Immediately after finishing the job–despite unusually frigid weather and only partially functional hands–I pushed my creation outside and, following instructions, pedaled down the street to get it started.

Gas leaked profusely from the carburetor, but other than that, nothing much happened. I tried it again, and again, and again, but, again, I had only a trail of gas, a heaving chest and trembling legs to show for my efforts.

Then I enlisted the aid of my neighbor Tony, a nice guy half my age, who pedaled a lot longer and faster than I, but got the same result. Tony said the carburetor was faulty and to send it back to the manufacturer. I tried to do that but got no response to either my e-mail queries or phone calls, despite a half dozen attempts to reach the company.

As a last resort, I hauled the bike to Freddie’s Garage where Roger, who’s a helluva mechanic, took one look at it and said the carburetor was installed sideways causing it to spill gas and eliminating any chance of functioning properly.
Loosening a single screw, he turned it to the proper position and started it right up.

Remember, I told you I’m not a mechanic.

The bike is fun to ride and I derive some satisfaction out of knowing I completed the project by myself aside from Roger’s key role. It will go 35 mph–about as fast as I want or the island speed limit allows–and requires no tags or helmet (although wearing one is probably a good idea) because it’s considered a moped with an engine rating of under 49cc. It also gets 150 miles per gallon, prompting a wider smile each time the cost of gas goes up.

But the best thing about the bike is that it has finally assuaged my yearning for that Whizzer. and resurrected the sweet memory of my first French kiss.

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