A Short Story of a Man and His Petcock

or, A Tale of "Oops! Shit!"


(Petcock being one single word, mind you.)

Wednesday, 13 October, 1999

So I've noticed for a long time now that my dear rat-bike Concours ('86, with (some would say) mis-matched paint on the fuel tank) has left something of a petroleum distillate smell in my pant legs after many rides. I never thought much of it, figuring it was perhaps something like a little miniscule fuel leak or something funny with the carbs, or something. As I'm truly not a product of the carburetted era, I can easily attribute all sorts of bad things to the black magic that is "modern" carburetion. I'd even noticed after a while that the far left carb was pretty well coated in a rather yucky varnish, obvious proof that something was wrong with the damn thing. But hey, it still ran well as far I could tell, and it hadn't stranded me, and so on, so again, the hell with it. Fix it later.

Well, I got my Widder electric vest in the mail yesterday, and decided to hook it up for my trip (starting Thursday night) to the Feast in the East in Morganton, North Carolina. No problem. Took it for a ride (in a balmy 65 degree evening) to see if it worked, and to scuff in the brand-new front tire mounted earlier in the day. On setting "7" (of 7), the vest fairly well charred my skin through a cotton t-shirt. Excellent.

After the short ride, figured I'd take a look at the carb again, knowing the "little problem" had been getting worse recently. "Well damn, lookit that," I exclaimed, seeing fuel dripping not quite profusely from the bottom of the carb, where there was normally just a quiet little drop or two. "And, oh my, look at all this fuel covering the entire carb!" I thought, realizing that the problem clearly was a leaky seal at the top of the carb. "But then, why is there fuel ON TOP of the part that's leaking?" I wondered aloud. Ohhhhh. The fuel leak was from the dreaded Concours fuel petcock, of course. Oh well. But then I thought to start the bike and actually look at the leak. "Holy SHIT!" I swore, loud enough for the neighbors to be annoyed. Fuel literally spraying out of a convenient little "vent" hole in the side of the vacuum valve. I mean spraying, like I imagine it does inside the carbs, when everything's hunky-dorey. I imagined my fuel mileage would drop to 20mpg (from 40) if I tried to ride it too far. "Hey, this sucks!" I thought.

If I'd paid more attention to the COG list and the Concourier and maybe even The Best of Chalkdust, I might have known the immediate fix: bribe someone for their spare petcock and order yourself a new one through the mail. As it stands, Bryan Moody will be selling me one modified to be a manual operation petcock, eliminating the worry of the crap-design vacuum valve. (Bryan, besides being a COG Regional Director, great long-distance rider, and all-around good guy, is an utter professional, and I honestly don't know how he has time to modify a petcock when he's got a rally to run Saturday. (Honestly, he's got my money already, why bother with another victim of leaky Kawasaki vacuum valve petcocks?))

But still, I had no desire to ride to North Carolina all the while spewing fuel right next to my left leg. If nothing else, I can't imagine it does any good to the synthetic fibers in my riding pants. And it stinks enough to kill every living thing in the typical 5' x 10' motel room, which could be a problem for my riding partner, who I presume not to be the type to enjoy snorting gasoline fumes to get high.

"I can modify it myself!" I thought. A quick check on the COG website proved otherwise, since I don't even have a tap set, let alone a drill press or Dremel. It did, however get me thinking -- "Prime" works whether or not there's engine vacuum. But I recall it being bad to leave it on Prime when the bike's not actually running, hence those old petcocks with "On" and "Off" settings. So -- I'll modify it the quick and nasty way! To seal the leak, I'll use JB Weld -- silicone RTV disagrees with fuel, and JB Weld's the only other thing I've got. Now, I figure the JB Weld should go between the vacuum valve cover and the main body of the petcock. So I'll just dismantle the valve and JB Weld it together. Boom, done, easy.

As I eat some Haagen-Dazs straight out of the container, I contemplate for a moment: without the valve assembly to hold things shut in the "On" position, I'll basically have modified toe petcock to flow fuel all the time, no matter the petcock positi-- Shit! Sprint out to the garage to collect the valve bits, than back into the basement to take the thing apart (JB Weld thankfully not yet hard), put the valve bits in, and re-assemble. Whew. So now in "On" or "Reserve," the valve will be very much off. And if I want to ride far, I can switch it "Prime" to bypass that old valve. Damn, I think I could be a mechanic in Cuba now -- I'm digging deeper into the art of keeping a vehicle running without actually having the appropriate tools or spare parts on hand. (Soon, I'll be running used motor oil past the exhaust manifold and into the carbs in place of gasoline.)

Now I just have to wonder whether the damn thing's going to work. 'Cause if it doesn't, I don't think I can push a Concours the entire way to Morganton to get that modified petcock from Bryan.


Last updated: 13 October 99
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©1999 Andrew W. Duthie