Thursday, August 28, 2008

Wanted: a two-stroke rebellion

The following should send a shudder through the growing realm of scooterdom. At least two-stroke scooterdom.

I set out this morning on my scoot, a Chinese-built TN’G (for “twist – the accelerator —and go"). With its Italian pretensions, it’s called a “Milano.”

Needing gas, I told the 17-year-old attendant that about $2.25 worth of premium would fill’er up.

I really do try to say that and not sound smug but never quite pull it off.

As you will see, smugness can quickly turn to hubris on the road.

I set out down Barbur, down Naito, across the Morrison Bridge. I was set to rendezvous with my web master, Todd, at Down Capitol Highway, I scooted. Down Barbur, down NaitoPeete’s Coffee on Weidler, not far from Lloyd Center.

Six or so blocks from Peete’s, the scoot died without so much as a sputter or a cough. I coasted into a conveniently open parking place and tried kick starting the dead beast. Nothing. Not even a gasp.

No time to tinker with the thing, I fed the parking meter and set out with 10 minutes left to make it to Peete’s. I arrived 5 minutes late and sweaty. It was hot.

Meeting over, I returned to the parking place, tinkered, retinkered and gave up. I was about 10 blocks from Scooter Street, which sells TN’Gs. At times like this, topography becomes important. I detected a slight grade down from where I was to the distant garage. I coasted three blocks and pushed seven.

Bare-chested in the heat of his garage, Kevin, the mechanic and co-owner, idly puffed on his cigarette as I explained what had happened, starting with my filling the tank and ending with the scoot’s sudden shutdown.

He tried starting it. Nothing.

“I’ve seen four of these recently,” he said, the smoke from his cigarette spiraling upward. “I think it’s the ethanol. It mixes with the oil and attracts water in the tank and that gets into the engine. It can also rust the tank.” (Technical note: two-stroke engines require an oil-gas mixture.)

Thanks to City Commissioner Randy Leonard, Portland now requires 10 percent ethanol in gas sold in the city. It’s labeled as “E10” on the pumps.

“I can drain the fuel line and clean the fuel filter and nozzles, but I can’t get to the scooter for a few days. I’m backed up,” Kevin said, adding that he expected I could have the scoot back to me by September 9.

Scootermania has hit the city in this last summer of George Bush’s oily reign thanks to larceny at the pump. And now, of course, we are helping America’s farmers and agricultural cartels by driving up grain prices by requiring ethanol in the gas.

Meanwhile, the politics of ethanol has created a quiet little crisis in the two-stroke community — those of us who use the raspy little motors to power scooters, boats or chainsaws.

“So,” I said peering into an uncertain two-stroke future and asking the obvious, “after you fix this, what’s to prevent my being back here after my next E10 fill-up?”

Kevin vaguely suggested putting the gas in a special container and letting the ethanol settle out. That would presumably leave me to “cream” the unadulterated gas off the top.

Right, like curds and whey.

Why hadn’t I heard anything about all of this before? Why is there no outrage?

“No body cares about scooters,” offered Kevin, taking a final drag on his cigarette. “But just wait until the BMWs start breaking down.”

“A lot of good that does me now,” I said. “Aren’t the scooter dealers organized?”

“We hate each other,” he said. “There’s constant bad-mouthing.”

“Well,” I said sounding a bit Clark Kent-ish, “I’m a journalist and I’m going to look into this.”

“You should,” he said. “I’ll call you on the 9th or sooner if I can.”

And with that I set out hiking to my next appointment.

Back home after a long bus ride, I’ve learned more — most it from the Web. Surprisingly, I find no outrage. No lobbying. No one has taken up pitchforks — yet. If the revolt happens it will be an odd-ball, two-stroke coalition of loggers, boaters, water skiers and scooter owners.

Best to start with my own, so I clicked to the Oregon Scooter Club site, signed on and posed the obvious question: “Has anyone out there with a two-stroke engine had problems with the ethanol in the gas?”

I don’t know whether the response will be tumultuous or a feeble sputtering or both.

I do know that this has the feeling of being the beginning of something.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have found out the hard way, DO NOT use ethanol gas in a 2 stroke engine. It dries the rings, the oil will not mix with the gas and you will be rebuilding a top end quite often.

12:18 PM  

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