Things we think of while riding down the road

Archive for February, 2009

Pack Rats…you gotta love ’em

cimg54302

Boxes and boxes of motorcycle parts stacked floor to ceiling, some have labels, most don’t. Frames and wheels hanging from the rafters, gas tanks here and there, a bunch of mufflers piled up in a corner along with a stack of tires that you would never ride on. There are motorcycle parts that haven’t seen the light of day since the Nixon administration. You’ve got  a few ‘project’ bikes scattered around that haven’t seen any ‘project’ since he brought them home and there may be a bike or two that actually run…well, if he had a battery for it. And then there is that one motorcycle that actually does run, has decent tires and he rides regularly. We all know someone like that.

cimg54071“Well,  this here’s a story about a man named Mel, a poor pack rat whose garage looked like hell”… , you gotta go with the Beverly Hillbillies theme here…Mel is the consummate pack rat, as a matter of fact I think he could get his own TV show on HGTV, ‘How to be a professional pack rat’.

Mel is my son’s Father in Law, a really great guy and I’m lucky to have him as a family member.  We didn’t  meet until the kids had decided to get married. “Uh Oh…guess we better meet the other side of the family”, over to the house for dinner we go. In typical guy fashion, we head out to the garage. Mel opens the door and I can’t see a thing. Not because the lights aren’t on, no…it’s because there is stuff floor to ceiling and wall to wall. From antique radios to junk picked up at yard sales and thrift shops, work benches covered with boxes of who knows what (even he doesn’t know!!) and some really cool motorcycles and motorcycle stuff.

Mel  told me about some of his motorcycling history and, as it turns out,we have a few mutual friends. We had a lot of fun talking about this bike and that bike. He points out the ’73 Ducati 750GT hanging from the rafters, but where’s the motor I ask? “um, it’s somewhere over there?” pointing in the direction of a stack of old marine radios. OK.  The conversation switches to radios for a while but I’m still looking for motorcycles.  I know there are some buried treasures somewhere in there.cimg5414

Last Wednesday I stopped by Mel’s to give him a manual for a Zenith Trans Oceanic radio that a friend had given me. I knew that Mel had a least a couple of these radios and would like the book.  When I pulled up to his house my eyes bulged out and my jaw dropped.  It looked like a quarter of his garage was in the driveway and in amongst the boxes and radios was… and you need to be sitting for this.. a Vincent Black Shadow, getting ready to be loaded into someone else’s truck, a Norton International also on it’s way to a new home and a beautiful Harley Davidson ‘K’ model just sitting there.  These were the treasures I knew were buried deep in that garage.

A little more digging turned up a ‘1976 BMW R90S that has been sitting for fifteen years, a Harley XR750 Flat Tracker in a few pieces (with hand cut Goodyear tires and all), a 1939 HRD Comet that needed some TLC and a hand built Schwinn Paramount racing bicycle.   Hanging in the rafters are gas tanks off Velocettes, Ducatis, a BSA and a brand new handbuilt aluminum tank for the XR750. Wheels with vintage exotic brakes, bits and pieces of exhaust systems and a fender or two for good measure.cimg5428

As Mel was searching for more parts for the Harley that was going to new home, he would come across something else special and every one of these parts came with a story. “This one was handmade for me by a guy in England, it’s the only one of it’s kind…” or, “ my friend met a guy at the Playboy Club in London and they rode out toCoventry to get this part and…”. The stories went on and I realized that though the parts had stories, the real story was Mel himself.

Advertisements

These guys are sick

We here at Motoworld Central are not prejudiced at all. Got a motor in or on it? We love it. Gas, diesel, electric, we don’t care as long as it powers something fun. Over the course of time I have gone from a lawnmower engine powered mini-bike to a barn packed with thirteen motorcycles. A couple of boats along the way…a hole in the water you pour money into…electric trains all over the place, slot cars and I still have a ’63 Ford Fairlane hot rod parked in the driveway. But yesterday I met a group of guys who have a sickness worse than any of those I have…model airplane flyers.img_9692

My good friend and traveling partner Jeff is one of these guys. Jeff loves building, making, fixing, tinkering with any and everything. No wonder he’s high school shop teacher and handyman. Anyway…a couple of years ago he got into flying model airplanes. At first it was pretty innocent ” oh, I remember I had one of these when I was a kid and I thought it would be fun to do with Amy” . Reality check here…Amy, his daughter, has nothing to do with this, Jeff is a ‘gadget, gizmo, widget, what can I tinker with next’ junkie. Now, his shop is floor to ceiling airplanes and yesterday I learned that other motorcycling friends of mine have that same disease. I wore a necklace of garlic so I woudn’t catch the sickness.

The Channel Islands img_0012Condors Flying Club put on a classic old school style ‘all you can eat breakfast’ to raise money for some good cause or another and I volunteered to help cook. Yeah, I’m a sucker for that sort of thing and besides, I haven’t been around model airplanes at all since I was a kid and it sounded like fun. My how things have changed. It was quiet.

It was too quiet. Where are the planes flying? “Look up dummy and welcome to the 21st Century”. Model airplanes powered by electric motors. OK.  But wait, whats missing? There is something about the sound of a plane climbing and climbing and climbing then starting to spiral down, dead engine, and then at the last minute the engine starts again and the plane avoids a close encounter with the ground. That’s what’s missing, the ethereal experience of the sound of a motor.  img_9623 The planes were beautiful,the flying skills were wonderful to watch and it was just like sitting around at any motorcycle hangout and listening to riders talk about their motorcycles. There are guys having a great time flying their $200 airplane and guys crashing their $30,000 airplane. Just like a Sunday at the Rock Store, but with wings instead of wheels.


Motorcycle adventure or adventure on a motorcycle?

poster-1RIDING SOLO TO THE TOP OF THE WORLD
A movie made in the spirit of adventure  becoming an adventure of spirit.

I received a copy of a motorcycle travel movie a while back. I was asked to review it on my podcast. I was told it was from India. For the longest time I have wanted to ride a motorbike around India so I was very excited to get this movie and comment on it. I will tell you this right now, this movie is much more than I expected. I have reviewed other motorcycle travel movies and as we all know, some can hold our interest and some we fast forward through. And then there are those rare few that you can watch again and again. This is a film you will watch more than once.

Riding Solo To The Top Of The World is a one man production from start to finish in all aspects; planning, riding and filming. Gaurav Jani packed his camping gear and camera equipment, loaded it on his motorcycle and headed to the Himalayas. Now, this isn’t some ordinary dual-sport or adventure tourer he loaded everything onto…oh no. It is an Indian made 350 CC single cylinder Enfield road bike. This motorcycle has hardly changed in sixty years of production, proving you can’t keep a good design down. Gaurav had named his motorcycle ‘Loner’, reflecting what he says is much like his own personality and this trip.

The film starts with Gaurav sitting down in front of the camera telling us that he is about to “kickstart the most exciting journey of (his) life”. By the look on his face and the tone of his voice, you know he didn’t sleep that night.

The journey goes from Mumbai, India into the Himalayas to the Changthang Plateau on the Chinese border. The route will take Gaurav and Loner over the highest roads and mountain passes in the world.

As his ride begins in Mumbai, one thing stands out, the quality of the filming. I have seen motorcycle travel movies made with big crews, multiple cameras, chase vehicles and some even with big movie stars that don’t have this quality.  It is truly amazing for a one man show.

As Gaurav makes his journey not only does the scenery change but you can see the whole film change from a motorcycle adventure to an adventure on a motorcycle. Through villages where he stops to have modifications made to Loner, hemis-festival-1to once in twenty year festivals to days of rest in remote Himalayan outposts. I was mesmerized by the scenery and the tales that were being told. Crossing mountain passes at over 17,000 feet!!! I don’t think my modern motorcycles would make that, yet that little over burdened 350 single kept chugging along. And so did Gaurav. At times pushing his motorcycle up a rocky path, crossing rivers where the bridge was out, sleeping in the freezing Himalayan weather and dealing with altitude sickness,he could not give up. In the film he tells us that turning back would be easy, but that is not what he is here for.

The scenery is breathtaking. From wooded mountains and villages to desolate high mountains with nary a tree in sight. At times you feel like Gaurav is riding on the moon. But the scenery is only a part of this film. As Gaurav continues on he spends more time in small, for lack of a better word, outposts. Shepherd camps. Nomadic people that herd sheep up and down the mountains. These people become friends and take him in. It’s almost becoming a National Geographic special! Each time Gaurav leaves an outpost he takes something of the people with him and leaves something of himself behind.

It is a spectacular trip built on an adventurous spirit and became an adventure of spirit. Gaurav will never forget the people he  has met along the way and they will not forget the young man that came all that way on his motorcycle. When you watch his film, you won’t forget him either.

The film is available through Gaurav’s website www.dirttrackproductions.com I am eagerly awaiting his latest film, ‘One Crazy Ride’ and if it is nearly as entertaining as ‘Riding Solo…’, well, it will be worth the wait.


Stop on a dime and get nine cents change. Pt1

OK boys and girls, how many of you live where your bike is parked for the winter? Let’s see a show of hands. One, two, three…wow… too many to count. Now here is where I could gloat…living in So Cal and riding year round… but I won’t. I’m your friend, I’m here to help.  Our last podcast (www.themotoworld.libsyn.com) we reviewed motorcycle video games; good fun but only for a little while. Some of us have project bikes to build…I’m working on my Honda 350 Cafe Racer… and we all have maintenance work to do. Whats your project? I have a good one for you and actually, it’s the most important maintenance project you can do.

phpthumb_generated_thumbnailjpegStop!!! Literally.  It’s time to either upgrade your brakes or simply service your current braking system.  Brakes are something we take for granted until they don’t work. But you’re thinking “my brakes work fine, I’ve had no problems…I’d rather put a pipe on, change the bars,  powdercoat or chrome the frame, install a GPS, buy some new saddlebags and maybe a new set of tires.” Yeah OK, lets try this again…It doesn’t matter how fast you can go if you can’t stop when you need to.  Let’s make your bike stop better. And, besides, it’s a good winter project.

My day job has had me working with motorcycle brakes for a long time and I’m always amazed at how little riders know about their brakes. From how they work to how to use them. There are a number of riding schools that can teach you how to use your brakes and those lessons are valuable but, most ‘stock’ brake systems are lacking performance. Brake upgrades are easy and not too expensive.

Let’s start with the biggest improvement you can make to your motorcycle, install a set of braided steel brake lines. You will not believe the improvement in performance and feel. Honest. The stock rubber brake lines are junk, jettison them as fast as you can. When you buy a new or used motorcycle, the very first thing you should do is replace the brake lines!standard-galfer-ss-line-kit

Motorcycle brakes 101. What happens when squeeze the brake lever?  Class?..Anyone?…Anyone?  Here’s the basics of your brake system..pull on the brake lever or step on the pedal, fluid is forced from the master cylinder down to the caliper to squeeze the pads onto the rotor and, voila..your motorcycle slows down. Nice. Now picture this, when you send fluid down the stock rubber lines the first thing that happens is that as the pressure increases the rubber expands, kind of like a balloon, then…the fluid heads to the caliper and the general feeling at the lever is vague.

Picture number two; you squeeze the brake lever and your bike slows down faster than it ever has..even better than when it was new!! Stainless lines don’t  expand, they transmit the energy right now, right to the caliper, right to your disc and you came to a stop a lot sooner than you used to. Nicer. Then there is the feel at the brake lever. Positive and predictable. Nicer still. The ability to modulate your brakes entering the corner, mid corner and exiting the corner is crucial to confidence in your riding. You know exacxtly how the brakes are working, no mushiness, no vagueness, just positive feel at your fingertips.

Installing new lines is really easy. Buy the new line kit from your local shop or online store, it should have all the parts you will need…lines, bolts and washers. Get a new bottle of high quality brake fluid, DOT4 or 5.1. Don’t use the one sitting on your shelf since last time you added a bit a year ago. Next, read the installation directions. This is not a piece of IKEA furniture, it’s your life so a couple of minutes reading the manufacturers instructions is a good thing.

Remove the old lines and pay attention to the routing. Some aftermarket line kits have different routing and some are the same as OEM so just look carefully at what you had and what you now have. One thing to add here; always disconnect the brake lines first at the calipers and let them drain out before you disconnect at the the master cylinder and always cover any painted surface with a towel or rag so you don’t accidentally drip brake fluid (which could eat your paint job) on your bike.

After the old brake lines are off install the new lines. But wait….now is the time to make sure you have your routing correct. Hook everything up but don’t tighten everything down just yet. Once the lines are on, move the suspension up and down..no binding?..good. Now move the steering left to right; again, no binding?…good. If your bike has a fairing, the lines aren’t catching anywhere?…good. Looks like you’re set to finish the job.

Before you tighten down all the bolts be aware of one VERY important thing…some aftermarket brakeline companies have different torque spec’s than the motorcycle manufacturer. Back to step one…read the directions.  Many Aftermarket companies use aluminum bolts instead of steel so the torque specs are often times much lower and ‘Armstrong’ torque wrenches aren’t very valid. Make sure you have a good torque wrench and use it per the directions.

Everything is all hooked up, it doesn’t bind and now it’s time for fluid. A good high quality Dot 4 or Dot 5.1 and you are ready. Fill and bleed the system..this is where it is good to have a friend.  But let’s say you don’t have any friends, I have a solution for you, remember, I’m here to help.  The EZ Bleeder. a90f_21We have all used or heard about the Mighty Vac to suck the air out of your brake system but the EZ Bleeder does it just the opposite. The EZ Bleeder ‘pushes’ the air out of the system. It’s simply a syringe you fill up with brake fluid, attach it to the caliper and push fluid ‘UP’. Air likes to go up. System is bled in no time and you are ready to go riding.

A word of caution here…your brakes are going to be a bit more sensitive than they were before. Take a few miles to get used to the new feeling and the improved stopping power. Don’t go grabbing a handfull of brake like you used to, you might just find yourself, well…

Next up will be installing new brake pads..there’s more to it than sliding new pads in and this something you want to do yourself..don’t leave it to the dealer.


Going fast at night

Opening Day. In Baseball it’s in April, my brother and I alternate between Angel Stadium and Dodger Stadium each year. We don’t care where we sit, we don’t care who wins…well, we care a little bit…we simply enjoy being there for opening day, it’s an event that is bigger than the game. In motorcycle racing it’s Daytona. Opening Day for those of the two wheel persuasion. Last year was my first trip to Daytona. Two weeks of working with racers and race teams. It truly is a scene much bigger than the event itself. Vintage races, endurance races, high dollar factory teams and lowly privateers just happy to be there.

“Headlights??…we don’t need no stinking headlights!!”

The big event is the Daytona 200. 200 miles on the legendary banking of Daytona Motor Speedway.. The only AMA ‘ endurance race’ on the calendar. This year, the new owners of the racing series have thrown a new twist to the classic race..let’s run it at…Night??!! Light up the track and send the racers out, hey it worked for MotoGP last year in Quatar, why not in Florida??!! Good thinking boys. Move Supercross to the daytime, they get more spectators than the roadrace does, and put the 200 on in the evening. It’s better TV because it’s different. I like it. The MotoGP pilots and the AMA riders are racing on well lit tracks..they won’t be running headlights. At the Dunlop tire testing sessions last month the racers all went out at night and liked it. They liked the difference. I talked with a couple of different racers and after getting past the initial weirdness, the common comment was ‘fun’. But, let’s say you are racing the Bridgestone / WERA Endurance series and a couple of the races take you into the night. Not all tracks are  lit up…most aren’t. Now what to do. You my friend need lights, and good ones at that. Turn 8 at Willow Springs comes up really fast… really, really fast, and I’m sure you have a turn at your track that does too. You have logged many miles on that track and you know exactly where your braking markers are, your turn in points and when to get back on the gas…but,it changes at night. Racing at night requires adjusting your motorcycle and yourself.

Preparing for the WERA 24 hour race at Willow Springs a few years ago, my team and I started working on ourselves before working on the bike. We are blessed with a having one of the best canyon roads in California in our backyard, we ride it regularly and know it as well as we know Willow Springs.

“ I wear my sunglasses at night”

…a cheesy crappy song at best , but…great training for racing at night. My friend Pete Christiansen, one of WSMC’s finest, and I started riding HWY33 at night with sunglasses on, no kidding. Scary at first but when you start letting everything flow...”Luke..use The Force..” it all works. We got to the point that we could ride the canyon at about 90% of our normal pace. But, let’s add in the mechanicals to keep things in balance. Better bulbs , brighter bulbs..” hey there’s my turn in point”…make all the difference in the world. But setting up your race bike for them can be a bit of a challenge. Your race bodywork isn’t designed for headlights..do you go back to the stock front fairing and all it’s additional weight? Cut holes in your high zoot Airtech fairing? mount lights off to the sides? Decision, decisions… Our team opted for remounting the stock front fairing and the bracketing to have lights in in  the easiest manner. We didn’t worry so much about the weight..this was a 24 hour race..longevity was more important than sprint speed. After the first test at night, we figured we wanted more light. We had already put big watt bulbs in the stock lights, PIAA driving lights were next on the shopping list. Easy mounting and wiring and WOW…I can see all the way to Arizona!!! But… …Not for very long. Here’s the one thing we forgot about and you shouldn’t…the bikes charging system. How much juice does your bike put out?? Will it power the bike and a lot of lights?? In our case..not quite enough. Here is where a really good story comes into this bunch of drivel…

My good friend, Evans Brasfield (www.evansbrasfield.com), magazine writer, photographer and roadracer along with his team were riding a Kawasaki EX500 in the WERA 24 hour race at Willow Springs …brave men. Yeah, they blew up a couple of motors over the course of a day, but they had the coolest lighting system of anybody. We all know what a Kawasaki EX500 is, 500CC twin cylinder little hot rod (now the Ninja 500) , basic bike with minimal bodywork. You got your headlight in the fairing but it’s kinda weak at best. So, what do you you do to race this little speedster at night?…BIG ASS driving lights mounted like Mickey Mouse ears on the front fairing. Uh, Ok…but if a 600CC four cylinder machine has trouble powering a couple small additional driving lights, how’s this little twin going to run two really big driving lights. Sheer genius, or brain damage…a flourescent light fixture ballast mounted in the fairing. How it actually works I have no idea and I don’t care but it was really neat. But wait…there’s more and you have to use your imagination for this part. These big ‘ol, they belong on a Baja truck, lights are not aimed straight ahead, oh no…they are pointed outward at about forty five degrees…looked really weird going down the straightaway but when you tip the bike into a turn, wow!! the driving lights REALLY lit up the turn. Cool. You could see a long way through the turn. Thank you Evans. Our Yamaha was quite a bit faster but every now and then in the middle of the night I would catch up with Evans and crew then follow them through a couple of turns just to give my eyes a rest. These guys really did have a cool set up. Crappy motors, but cool lights. So, this years Daytona will be run ‘under the lights’ not ‘with lights’. But if you are going to race at night, make sure your electrical system is up to the task. Oh, and more thing. Once you get used to racing at night, you will be amazed at how fast you can go. Average lap times at night were less than two seconds off daytime lap times, in a couple of cases night speeds were even faster. I think those guys were vampires…yeah Pete, I’m talkin’ about you…