Little Nellie finally gives up, a long way from home

She finally broke. After 15,800km, Little Nellie had had enough.

Sunday was supposed to have been a quick blast to Batu Kikir, via Kuala Klawang, Titi Kong, and Simpang Pertang in the district of Jelebu in Negri Sembilan. We opened up the throttles at 2pm and had planned to be home by 8.30pm.

The twisties of Kuala Klawang soon gave way to the gentle, meandering tarmac and dead-on straights of Simpang Pertang, through quaint hamlets and villages scattered across the verdant valley. Clumps of fresh cow manure dot the asphalt, the offenders trudging slowly by the side of the road, never revealing who had actually done the dastardly deed.

Further up the road, just after a long, sweeping bend, a group of children were tending to a flock of sheep, scurrying and darting along the road and across an open field. The cold mountain air cascaded over us, blanketing us in a cool, soothing embrace.

By 6pm, we were already configuring our bikes and ourselves for the ride home. The end point was dialled in and the route would take us from Kuala Pilah to Seremban, via Ulu Bendul. The idea was to get some stick time on the back roads, and then hit the North-South Highway for the final dash.

Once we hit the highway, the throttle was pulled back all the way to the stops. We were averaging highway speeds consistently throughout, flying fangs out, balls to the wall.

After about 20 minutes of chugging along without a blip, I suddenly lurched forward. Almost instinctively, I glanced at my gauge and noticed the needle edging downwards. I was losing speed. But my throttle was still all the way back past the stops. It made no sense. The needle crept downwards, from 109kph down past 100kph, to 90kph, when it suddenly came back alive.

Odd, I thought. That’s never happened before. Nellie was now purring again, so I filed it under ‘a glitch’, an anomaly, and didn’t think much of it.

Thirty minutes later, it happened again. This time, the engine warning light came on. Again, the needle crept downward. This time, power came back on at 80kph. I eased off on the throttle a bit, gave it the ‘one potato, two potato, three potato’ count, and firewalled it. Once the needle hit 90kph, I again lost all power. The engine warning light refused to go away.

I had more than 50km to go to reach home, but by now, I was well and truly worried. I had lost ‘tally’ of my ride buddy Ahmad Razlan Alias, and wasn’t sure of what to do. My initial thought was to pull over and give Nellie the once-over. With the exception of her steadfast refusal to go beyond 80kph, the engine was running fine. There was no shake, shimmy, or bumps. There was no ‘bang’ associated with the sudden loss of power. No weird engine noises, no sickening grinding of metal-on-metal. I was not on fire, and a check of my rear view mirror showed no smoke pouring out of my rear end.

In the ensuing chaos of the exploding oxygen tank aboard the Apollo 13 flight to the moon in 1971, Nasa flight director Gene Kranz asked his flight controllers “What do we have on the spacecraft that’s good?”

Well… I still had a working engine. Nellie’s four stroke, single cylinder, SOHC, 3 valve powerplant wasn’t in great shape obviously, but it hadn’t given up on me. Yet.

I finally reached Razlan, who was waiting for me near a layby. By this time, I could only do 60kph. The minute I pegged 70kph on the clock, it would cut off and go back down again. I gave him a quick rundown of the situation and he took position off to my right, riding shotgun, as we crawled back to Kuala Lumpur.

Hairiest moments was when I had to cross with merging traffic on the Sepang highway. It had started to drizzle, visibility was still okay, but the road had become slick and slippery with rain and oil. I was definitely in a snakepit, and things were stacking up.

I managed to limp home and immediately made arrangements to send Little Nellie to ‘The Barn’ to solve the problem. I had prepared myself mentally for the possibility of a costly engine rebuild. When Alex the Vespa Wonderboy peeked into the engine bay, he immediately diagnosed the problem. A piece of plastic the size of a thumbnail that costs RM20 on the parts list had failed. He simply crimped the wires together and said, “Okeh… sulah siap”.

I’m already planning the next ride to give Little Nellie a proper shakedown…

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