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#324 We’ll Always Have Paris

Hearts are nearly broken when one rider discovers his bike has developed a serious case of the vapours at the CVMG vintage rally.

I always have a good time at the Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group’s annual national rally in Paris, Ontario. Every year is different, though the location remains the same. Paris sounds exotic, doesn’t it? It’s a small town just outside Brantford, and it’s biker friendly. They have yard sales when we come!
This year there were 844 registered to camp, which is double what there used to be. It could be a dying event, but somehow it’s not. Families like the Pooles have been coming longer than I have. The next generation and the next keep showing up, with an impressive collection of ‘runners’ that we all get to enjoy.
It’s on Father’s Day, every year. Come on Saturday. It’s packed! There are so many independent vendors and only a few commercial ones. Private sellers bring a truck or trailer with all sorts of things parts, bikes, clothing, tools, manuals and more to sell or trade. Some bring a few bikes and ride one in the Reliability Run. It’s wonderful watching old bikes running around the Paris Fairground. We get to hear and well as see them. My fave this year was a Matchless with a chrome gas tank. Now that was shiny!

A head-counted 2,700 people came on day passes. That means nearly that many bikes were parked outside the event. That parking lot is one to see. It’s a great place to meet other riders, find bikes like yours own and see new designs in tank and saddlebags. Some are vintage, some modern, and some are in between.

I enjoy seeing my friends there year after year, though in the last few years, some who I’ve seen for 35 years have gone from camping to just coming for the day and now aren’t coming at all. This is what happens when you make friends with people who are 10 or 15 years older than you. What to do now? Make new friends! But that’s not always easy—except at the CVMG’s annual rally. I make new friends every year.

This year was no exception. I’ve been camping with a new friend whose cube van has become my tent. I show up with a sleeping bag. Nice. Rain’s not an issue. I have a stable location. And he always brings some interesting little bike for me to ride around the rally site. This year it was a folding Italian bike called a Di Blasi that weighs 70 pounds dry and fits in a large suitcase. Made in 1980, the 49cc automatic was twist throttle and go. I noticed a lot of little bikes running around the rally site this year.

Next to our group were two new guys, new in that they’ve never camped there before. One has been a repeat day visitor, and this year showed up with two absolutely pristine Honda CB 750s that he trailered in. His best friend of more than 20 years rode a mint 1982 GL 1100cc Gold Wing. They camped in the trailer beside us.

Saturday morning of the CVMG Rally I woke up. Barely. I had a small kettle to make tea, but my friends are all coffee drinkers (who were sleeping). I decided to run to Tim Hortons. But, the guy next door came over to ask if I’d heard or seen anything the night before. Well, there was the guitar, some singing, and later, snoring. Why? Had someone vandalized his bike? He thought that was the case. This seemed most odd. He said someone had punched in both sides of his gas tank. I told him people don’t do that here. It seemed a few other people he’d spoken to said the same thing. And when he showed me his tank, it was as he described. Based on the dents I imagined someone sitting on the rear seat, making fists, and pounding from behind. But why?

I don’t know how it was that my brain worked, but I asked if it could be a vapour lock. He looked at me but didn’t understand. Somewhere in my mind I was visualizing the jerry can of gas I sometimes have in the back yard, or the windshield washer fluid jug. Both expand significantly in the heat, and it had been wicked hot. I hadn’t had my morning tea yet, but I tried to explain that sometimes, back when I rode old British bikes, we’d have a problem and the bike would die on the side of the road. Of the many things we’d check, one was the gas cap because sometimes the polishing process left too much Autosol in the vent hole, and it would plug. We’d take the cap off, blow into it, and if we couldn’t blow through, we knew.

Jack Wilson opened the metal flap over the gas cap of his absolutely pristine black with red accents 1978 Honda CB 750 F Super Sport. It had been freshly painted, and there were shiny pipes and mufflers, and the original chrome on the engine that he’s owned and restored over the past year. He tried to open the gas cap but couldn’t. This is where it got interesting. I watched his face. He knew how much force it normally took to undo the gas cap. Yet it wasn’t budging. I could see an idea forming on his face. It couldn’t be. Could it? He twisted more and still, nothing. Then he twisted harder, and sure enough, he broke the vapour lock. At that moment there was a popping sound as part of the tank released. There was a stunned look on the face of a man I barely knew, but his sad face turned into a great big happy stupified grin. No one had hurt his precious motorcycle. No one would deliberately do such a thing at this rally. He took the gas cap and found he could not blow through the vent hole. Mystery solved.

I returned with coffee and advice from another biker at Tim Hortons, which was to put the cap back on—the advice proved to be sound. Within a couple hours the half full tank had expanded, with no visible damage.

I learned that Jack is an automotive appraiser who worked in collision repair shops nearly 40 years. And in 46 years of riding, he’s never had a vapour lock. Mind you, this one was rather extreme. Friend Kevan Rossiter was pleased to see Jack smiling again, but plans to get a lot of mileage out of this story.
Back home from the CVMG rally, I told the story to my neighbour Cam Bateman, who builds custom bikes for a hobby. Before I got to the punch line he said, “vapour lock?” He told me that “newer” Japanese bikes have been upgraded with a hose off the tank for exactly that reason, and that he had a problem with an old bike that wouldn’t run until he opened the gas cap. He discovered the vent line was blocked.

And so it seems I was in the right place at the right time to be the one to make a good impression, or rather, to help rectify one. We’ve got a fun story, and new friends for next year.


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