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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Zen and the art of Mobylette repair

Zen and the art of Mobylette repair

I have always been keen on restoring old things. These have ranged from a 1929 DeSoto,

a 1957 MGA to a 1967 Hillman Arrow.

In Phnom Penh, there is no shortage of old things in urgent need of restoration.

Most of the cars on the road for a start.

A manageable project has been afforded, however, by the presence in Phnom Penh of

large numbers of a trusty old moped, the redoubtable Mobylette.

Large numbers, you may chortle, I never see any! No, the reason is that when you

are sailing blithely along on your Honda Dream Two or in your nondescript white sedan,

you never notice the old sky blue bike parked on the side of the road, the owner

swearing as he sticks another bit of fencing wire into its workings.

That's a Mobylette.

They are almost invariably ridden by older Vietnamese or Chinese gentlemen. Only

their generation being true connoisseurs of classic motorcycle enginnering.

The Mobylette was made in France, of course, from the years 1949 to 1964. They were

made with very little modification for fifteen years.

It is a two stroke, 49cc moped without gears or clutch. They are your classic start

and go bike.

They will do a steady 30kph and if pressed will do 40kph. Ignore the 90kph maximum

speed suggested by the speedometer. No way, except possibly from a considerable height.

With the noise they make going at 40 you wouldn't want to risk anything faster, and

then there's the risk of the motorbike shaking to pieces at that speed.

Now that you have the inklings of a passion to restore one of these noble bikes to

its former glory, you may well be asking, where to find a suitable candidate?

Well, all you need do is spot one, approach the rider and offer him $50 on a get

off/get on basis. You will be pleasantly surprised. They are all for sale! No messy

paperwork, no haggling, no trips to the Motor Registry for inspections. Because they

are under 50cc, they need not be registered at all and for some bizarre reason, every

Mobylette owner dreams of owning a Dream too.

Next comes the tricky bit.

Restoring a Mobylette is aided by the fact that they are comparatively simple beasts,

but is hampered by the fact that there are no manuals that I know of (at least in

English) and parts are very difficult to find.

This is where a working knowledge of meditation and intuition, the basic precepts

of Zen Buddhism can come in handy.

With some perserverance, tires can be found in the vicinity of the Capitol Hotel,

brake cables at the Russian Market, sundry parts at the Motorcycle Market at Tuol

Kork. It also helps to have a spare bike to cannibalize and to examine as a pattern.

After dismantling, the main parts of my bike were painted expertly by a paint shop

near the Sharaton Hotel and an elderly Vietnamese mechanic. Mr Long, on Mao Tse Tung

Boulevard, preserves the art of Mobylette repair and assisted where my mechanical

skills were not up to the job.

The cost of the restoration has been minimal. $100 for the bike (yes, I was ripped

off!), $20 for tires, $70 for painting, $60 for miscellaneous parts, with a total

cost of about $250. For that I have a more or less reliable, slow, classic moped

to run around town on.

Operating the bike is a pleasure with which I have yet to become fully conversant.

Getting to my place of work used to involve zipping down Norodom at quarter past

seven in the morning. Gone is this vicarious pleasure. I must share Street 63 with

the hoi polloi of Dream riders. That is, unless I can persuade the police along Norodom

that there are at least 125cc of engine concealed in my moped. Perhaps my chances

would be enhanced if I purchased those very practical leather thongs that practically

every Rebel has streaming from its handlebars. - by Dharma Spokes.

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