The Return of Wally Crankset
He'd always been a schemer. Wally had a brand-new plan to "save America from the clutches of multi-national oil companies, wacko environmentalists, and 'furriners'". For Wally, 'furriners' included anyone north of Kansas and east of the Mississippi. Some people described him as quaintly provincial, but those of us who knew him well simply said he was barking mad.
The latest scheme would revolutionize travel and, by the happiest of coincidences, make Wally a very rich man indeed. He described it as a power-assisted bicycle that would be capable of interstate speeds.
"Wally", I said, "That's a motorcycle. We already have lots of them."
"This is BETTER!" he insisted. "Motorcycles are big and heavy by comparison, and they use too much fuel. My idea is something more like a bicycle, but with a specialized motor attached."
"That's a moped."
"No, no, no! It's NOT a moped. It's faster than a moped but it won't require a license like a motorcycle!"
I considered this with some trepidation. The last time Wally persuaded me that one of his schemes wouldn't require licensing, Broken Elbow was over-run by agents from the FCC and the FAA after one of his electronic devices re-routed air traffic over much of the central US. He claimed it was just a misunderstanding, but he rapidly decamped for Mexico anyway. This lead to further misunderstandings and some animosity because the device was sitting in MY garage.
He explained that this new idea involved a conventional gasoline engine that would drive the rear wheel via a belt or chain. "Just like a moped!", I exclaimed. He glared, but went on to illustrate the genius of his new idea, a second, smaller motor from a leaf blower that would put pressurized air into the main motor and provide additional cooling. The main motor would be under the 50cc limit, making it a motorized bicycle in the eyes of the law.
I allowed that it was nutty, but it might work.
"It might work?" he yelled. "It does work! I've already built it and it's in the back of my van. I've ridden it around the neighborhood a few times, but now I want to try it out on the open road, and I need your help."
We walked out to the van. I was anxious to see his creation, but in the pit of my stomach, something churned over and over. I'd felt this before when Wally presented one of his schemes, and although it seemed like butterflies of excitement, these butterflies had lead wings, crushing hangovers, and generally bad attitudes. Some of them carried knives. The rest smoked cigarettes and used my gut as an ashtray.
Wally's contraption was better than I'd imagined. He'd worked out a double cable mechanism to control both throttles from a single hand control. A nicely crafted sheet metal shroud encased the main drive motor, and I could see the stamping had a bulge for the intake. The shroud connected to what Wally referred to as the 'turbo' motor with a short piece of Plexiglas tubing. All this sat atop the rear wheel of an old racing bicycle. Wally had the sense to replace the racing tires with some stouter ones. They looked to be about 32mm, and the bike had good brakes with fresh brake pads. It was a single speed conversion and still retained the dropped handlebars.
Since he was determined to ride this thing at speed, I asked if he had a full-face helmet, preferably one lined with a thick layer of aluminum foil.
"Do you think it would help?" he asked earnestly. On second thought, maybe I needed a tin-foil hat, if only to avoid being sucked into another of his schemes.
"I want to take this out on the road and open her up!" Wally yelled as he primed the motors and pulled the starting cords. An ungodly wail split the air. Dogs howled all over the neighborhood. I could only squint, but closing my eyes didn't help to reduce the din. "Follow me in the van in case I break down!"
"But Wally...." It was too late. He'd already cracked the throttle, setting off another round of pitiful howls from the dogs. I started down the hill in the van. He was waiting at the four-lane, where he turned and headed toward the interstate! This was definitely not good.
Sure enough, Wally turned up the ramp onto the highway, opened the throttle, and rapidly pulled away from me. I could only think that the combination of two motors, a lightweight bike and an aero position aided considerably in attaining higher speeds. In fact, Wally shot out onto the road, passed several cars, and continued to accelerate! The bike was a rocket! I began to wonder about the speed rating of bicycle tires.
He topped out at around 85 mph after a mile or so. The bike ran smoothly and Wally didn't have any obvious control problems. Then just short of the 96th Street overpass, there were a couple little puffs of smoke. The engine coughed and caught fire! But it didn't slow down. Wally was twisting the throttle closed, obviously beginning to panic, but twisting the throttle had no effect.
The cops had a speed trap set up at 96th Street that day. I spotted the flashing lights closing rapidly in the rear view mirror. Naturally, I slowed down to let them by, then took the next off ramp. Wally continued on north toward Kansas, trailing a plume of fire and smoke, as well as several police cars with lights and sirens blaring.
I put Wally's van in the garage and threw a tarp over it. Then I turned out all the lights and sat in the darkened house, listening to the telephone ring now and then. I wouldn't answer it. The cops arrived on my doorstep, but found a dark house with no one to answer the doorbell. They went away. I figured Wally didn't make it to Mexico this time, and I'm NOT going down to the police station to bail him out!