Wednesday, 28 September 2016

All Else Is Washed Away

I'm feeling listless and under
the weather, I know what'll
cheer me up...
A rough week at work discovering just how untrustworthy people can be had gotten me down.  On top of that (or perhaps because of it), I was fighting an imminent cold.  If you're reading this then you probably already know it's better in the wind, so I went looking for some.

I was originally thinking of pushing up to Beaver Valley, but it's a long slog across tedious Southwestern Ontario to get to any good bits, I wanted to get to twisty roads sooner.  The most direct route to the Niagara escarpment, one of the few places not tediously flat around here, is through Orangeville.

I fired the Tiger up and aimed it north east.  The air was cool, in the high teens Celsius, and the traffic light.  I dispatched appliance coloured (and shaped) minivans as I came upon them and quickly made my way over to The Escarpment.

Bypassing Orangeville, I rode past what must have been a forty pound beaver lying in the middle of the road.  This thing was big enough to knock someone off a bike or damage the underside of a car, but the Orangeville police officer fifty yards up the road running a a radar trap was more interested in revenue streams than road safety.  Stay classy Orangeville popo.

The only way to make a sign like that better is to
make the number on it bigger!
Hockley Road seldom has you up on the crown of your tire.  I was alone going east but was passed by several groups of bikes coming the other way from the GTA.  After the never ending flatness it was nice to drop down into the valley and lean.  Leaning on a motorbike is as close as you'll ever come to flying.  It feels more like flying than flying does.

When I'm riding all of the negative things my mind impulsively chews away on are washed away in the wind.  It's partly to do with the complexity of piloting a motorcycle.  You're deeply involved in the progress of the machine; hands, feet and whole body balance, so your mind is focused away from those nagging thoughts.  It's also partly to do with the sensory flow you experience.  The wind, the smell, the temperature, the sound and sights are powerful as they accelerate around you.  You are busy, involved, and the world demands to be experienced when you ride a motorbike.

Home made turkey pot pie
warmed me up.
After sixty plus kilometres of twisty roads I was ready for a break.  My hands were actually getting cold since I'd been spending my time weaving through shady, leafy green valleys.  Coming back down River Road, I stopped at the Terra Nova Public House for lunch.  It isn't cheap, but the food is locally sourced and well prepared.  Sitting in the sun on the patio watching the bikes go by is a nice way to spend an hour on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

With some hot food inside me, I was ready to leave these lovely roads and begin the long ride back into the agricultural desert in which I live.  I took my time heading toward Horning's Mills (where I once thought of buying a house), getting the corners right that I hadn't on the way in.  There is one particularly twisty section that has a decreasing radius corner that catches you out if you come in too hot.  On the way in I'd overcooked it and had to brake, on the way out it was a smooth, throttle only proposition.

There are a couple of more big sweepers passing north over Shelbourne on 17 through the wind mill fields, but after that things get pretty straight.  By this point I was loose and feelin' good.  On the straights I found curves in the form of mobile chicanes, and passed them.  It felt like I was in a time machine, I was home almost before I left.  Motorcycles can make even straight roads exciting if you approach them with gusto.

Once back the cold closed in and the nagging doubts returned.  If I could ride a bike forever, I'd always get to sit in that meditative saddle.  When I watch around the world trips on the TV I think the best part would be getting to be out in the wind every day, always seeing something different, having the world wash over you.  No wonder Ted Simon and others come back from their trips hearing the sound of one hand clapping.

Some spontaneous art from the ride...

Monday, 26 September 2016

Motorcycle Media: short films, documentaries & time travel on a Friday night

Friday night had me home alone in the first time in forever.  After a rough week at work I was wiped and on the verge of a cold, so it was a low impact night.  I went looking for some escapist media and stumbled upon EXIF's Top 6 Best Motorcycle Films.  I'd seen Shinya Kimura in The Greasy Hands Preachers, but I'd never seen the film that set him out as a motorcycle media icon, it's just shy of three minutes of perfection:

Shinya Kimura: Chabott Engineering

Another one I hadn't seen before that does a great job of capturing a northern motorcyclist's winter dilemma is Waiting out the Winter.  It's a short video, but it sets the mood of tinkering while we wait for the snow to recede in the frozen north wonderfully:

Waiting Out The Winter

WAITING OUT WINTER from Andrew David Watson on Vimeo.

Those short films made a great appetizer, but I was looking for something a bit more long form.  If you're ever looking to pass a lazy hour or two in another time and place, Cycles South will take you to the early 1970s.  Like the '70s themselves, Cycles South looses the plot half way through, but discovers itself again before the end.  If you're delicate and can't handle the very non-politically correct sensibilities of the early 1970s, don't watch this, but if you can let it all go and are willing to exist in another time, Cycles South makes for a psychedelic road trip (man).  The whole thing is on Youtube in 15 minute segments, they connected together automatically with a few seconds of delay between, mercifully commercial free.

Google/Youtube lost its mind after I watched the series in order and started shooting motorcycle themed video at me from all directions.  Next up was Fifty Years of Kicks, a twenty minute documentary about two off road motorcyclists well into their seventies.  I wasn't initially hooked, but the quality of filming and the narrative they were building had me after a few minutes.  There is something about watching old guys fight the clock that is heroic.  It makes me want to celebrate any small victories they have before the inevitable happens.

Looking for something on the history of motorcycles I came across The History Channel's documentary on Youtube.  It's a bit wiz-bang flashy and over edited, but you get some Jay Leno, and the jet powered Y2K.  When they went from that to some Dodge Viper powered thing I began to think this was less about motorcycles and more about bored rich people.  I didn't get to the end of this one.

Have you ever wished you had an old, British uncle with an encyclopedic knowledge of motorbikes who would natter on about them indefinitely?  I was afraid Classic British Motorbikes: 100 Years of Motorcycling was going to be an advertisement for a dealership in England, but the big green Triumph Tiger in the opening moments kept me playing it.  This video takes place sometime in the early two thousands (hence my model of Tiger sitting in front of the dealership).  The idea was to invite in classic bikes and celebrate 100 years of motorbiking in Britain.  The camera work is amateur, as is the interviewing, but you'll still pick up a lot of history from the owners and the knowledgeable interviewer.

I watched until he interviewed the owner of the dealership who seemed entirely disinterested in the whole thing and was apparently running the family business because of his dad's love of bikes.  He made a stark contrast to the enthusiasm of every previous interview.  If you're interested in British bikes and especially their history, you'll enjoy this one (with a bit of fast forwarding).

It's amazing what motorcycle media you can dig up on the internet with a bit of luck.

Naked Connie

I put the Concours up for sale for a very reasonable $1200 and immediately got a bunch of low ball offers.  After a week of talking to cheap idiots I pulled it back off Kijiji, this bike deserves better than that.  I sympathize with people who can't afford the hobby, but I never agreed to support that charity.

Jeff's recent adventures with getting an old bike to modify into a cafe racer got me thinking about what a naked Concours might look like.  The ZG1000 is based on the Ninja sport bike (one of the reasons it's so agile), so as a donor bike it has a lot going for it.  I wasn't the first to wonder...

It shows how clean  you can make the engine and wiring without all the plastic covers, not radical enough though.

That's more like it!  The logo is a bit heavy handed though.  The rear seat frame is a bolt on piece.  Shortening the bike doesn't even require cutting.  The front end on this is also what I'm aiming for.

Love the paint on the gas tank.  It makes me look forward to stripping mine.  No airbox and exposed air filters are sweet.
Stripped down but looks half finished.

Front and rear fenders are sweet.  Suspended seat and tail look a bit awkward though.
I'm interested in a single seat saddle, not so much for a bobber look, but for a historical connection.

I stripped off the front fairings, mirrors and windshield.  That has to be about twenty pounds right there.  At the back I removed the pannier frames and the rear tail light assembly.  That'll be another easy ten pounds worth of odds and ends.  By the time I'm done, this bike will be an easy 100lbs lighter.

The entire rear frame that holds the panniers, seat and rear light assembly is bolted on under the seat.  Removing it seems pretty straightforward.  With the rear frame gone, the Concours starts to look more like a streetfighter than a sport tourer.  With the back end gone it was easy to remove the rear tire and get into the shaft drive which has been leaking.

While I was stripping things down I removed the bar risers, which lowered the controls a couple of inches and further lightened the bike.  With all the plastic and back end metal work off, the bike has already undergone a dramatic diet.  People tend to pick smaller, lighter bikes to cafe, but as I'm neither small nor light, the Concours makes for a big, muscly and quiet unique power cafe racer project.

With everything in the process of a strip down, I was easily able to get the back wheel off and uncover the shaft drive axle.  It's been leaking, but some research on CoG (the Concours Owners Group, which I just re-upped my membership on) suggested that a leaking shaft drive can be the result of over filling, which it was.  I'm going to clean it all up, fill it to spec and then keep an eye on it before I go all crazy tearing it down (which looks like a hassle because you've got to heat parts to get them apart).

I'm hanging on to the Concours because of some magic moments on it.  The sound of that engine at full song is exceptional.  The thought of giving it away after all the work done grates on my nerves as well, especially to some tool who is just looking for a handout (one guy, after trying to talk it down $500 then complained about the state of the fairing - screw him).  Had I sold the Connie I'd have gone looking for a bike I could strip down and customize.  Hanging on to the Concours means I'm doing that with a low mileage bike full of new parts.  One that I'm already really familiar with.

Since I'm not depending on the Concours to be my everything bike any more it can become a blank canvas, which is what I was looking for in the first place.  A stripped down, restyled Concours isn't going to be a Concours any more, but it is going to exploit that big Ninja engine and nimble handling it already had.  Best of all, I get to hang on to those fantastic gold rims, and build up a custom around them.  Much better that than my resurrected ZG1000 going to motorcycle welfare.

Even the instrument cowl is a big, heavy old thing.  I'm aiming for an analogue speedometer and then a
microprocessor controlled LCD screen.

Don't know if I'll keep the Ironman theme, but I might, it's eye catching.

Someone somewhere might be looking for just this thing!

All that weight hanging behind the rear wheel will be gone.  The Concours always felt frisky for a big
bike, I can't imagine what it'll feel like with all that weight gone.  A custom LED tail light in in the planning.

I'm going to take a note from Jeff and see if I can sell off parts others might need for their complete
Concours in order to help pay for the bits I need for mine.

Bar riser still on to the left, the one on the right is a couple of inches lower.
With the mystical, multi-talented Tiger on hand, the Concours can take its time becoming a specialist.
It seems happier with that prospect.  So am I.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

October 15th? Try a Long Distance Rally!

Many bikes of all shapes and sizes.  If you ride, a long distance
rally is a great way to meet new riders and challenge yourself.
Can you make your way to Woodstock, Ontario on October 15th?  The second ever Lobo Loco long distance motorcycle rally runs on that day.  I had a blast at the first one and want another go.

The rally is on the verge of getting enough people to run.  If you're in the North Eastern US, Quebec or Ontario or Michigan/Ohio, and can make it out to Woodstock, Ontario on October 15th, you won't be disappointed.

Give it a go, it's a blast!

You will find yourself in strange places you wouldn't otherwise stop in!

Things You Want To Do In Your 40s

Work for myself so I don't have to work for some myopic middle manager more interested in climbing than doing the right thing?  Yeah, that'd be nice.  Work on something as hard as I can knowing that no one else can walk in on a whim and derail it?  That'd be nice too.  Challenge my technical skills and develop my diverse talents to new levels of excellence?  That'd be awesome.  Have the means to fearlessly explore technology and the world around us?  Brilliant!

$1.3 million doesn't sound like a lot of money but it would mean a thousand bucks a week until I'm 75 years old.  Somebody better at math and competent with investments could probably figure out a more accurate, lower amount that would do the same thing.  It's comfortably middle-class, but I don't really dream of being rich, I dream of being free from work to pursue my passions.  If I could pull that off what would I do with my time?  It's kind of like retirement, but I want to do it now while I'm still able to do something useful with it.  I don't think I ever want to retire.
Mechanical Sympathy would expand and become an
income stream of its own. It would be the centre of
an online media onslaught!

Here's what I'd aim at if I weren't busy pulling the plough:


Writer:  I'd exercise the English degree and write, but not in a specific genre.  I'd pursue motorcycle and travel writing more aggressively.  I'd be happiest freelancing and working once or twice a month on assignment with the occasional larger travel project which would lead to a book.  Lois Pryce is a role model.  While that wasn't happening I'd be writing fictional novels.  It would be nice to work for established publications, but developing my own brand online would allow for more control over what I'm creating.  I've been working in large bureaucracies for too long.

If it's new and technically challenging I'm into it. 
Having access to that kind of kit is exciting.
I like to be surprised by what new tech can do.
Photographer:  The goal would be to have the work pay for the gear, and the gear I'm looking for is pretty technical.  I'd like to have professional quality photo and video gear on hand, as well as technically challenging tools like aerial drones, full spectrum and 360° virtual reality cameras to test limits and produce original, even experimental work.  If it's new and technically challenging I'm into it, especially if it probably won't work the first time.

Digital Media:  Exploring digital media has long been an interest (I teach it now).  Having access to the latest tech, not to consume but to experiment and explore, would be fantastic.  Projects would include VR environment building in CAD and simulation, as well as immersive media creation.  I'm working on a VR research project in school at the moment.  I feel like major breakthroughs are currently happening there.  What we have in ten years will make our screen use today look archaic.


I got into 3d scanning last year.  The resolution isn't
spectacular, but it's amazing what you can do with
a simple 3d scanner on an ipad.
Mechanic:  I've dusted off old mechanical skills with motorcycling, along with some long unused artistic urges.  Customizing motorbikes is an elegant way to combine left brained aesthetic creativity with right brained mechanical expertise; it's a whole brain hobby!  Having enough time, space and money on hand to chase down old bikes and see customizations through to completion would be grist for the writing and photography mill.

Digital Engineering:  I'm especially interested in micro-manufacturing using digital tools.  Multi-axis milling machines using CAD models offer new avenues into high-tech customization.  3d printers are making advances every day.  Being able to print my own fairing designs would be brilliant.  Being able to print my own designs with dragon scales would be even better.

An opportunity to borrow new technology and see what it is capable of would also be grist for writing and media creation.  If in the process I happened to get very good at producing customized parts, I'd lease the gear and get to it.  As prices fall on what was once expensive industrial grade equipment and digital management makes high tolerance production available to everyone, a new post-industrial age of customization will emerge.

Kawasaki's H2 supercharger impeller is a thing of beauty.
The technology that built it is becoming more accessible every day.

With table top laser cutters and various other digital tools becoming commonplace, the chance to explore these technologies without safety nannies hand wringing from above would be delightful.  The home garage of the future is going to be a magical place of customized, personal manufacturing.  It would be a blast to have the time and means to explore it.

I really do enjoy teaching, but the vampiric bureaucracies that manage it make working in education feel like giving blood; you're doing a good thing but you always come out feeling drained.  I'd happily take in apprentices on my own terms and genuinely enjoy helping them discover and develop their talents, I just wouldn't want to do it in an institution of learning.

One of the things I want to do in my forties is stop others from diluting my focus and wasting my time with their own mediocre expectations.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

A Quick Motorcycle Chain Switch

After previous experiences breaking and installing motorcycle chains I figured this time it would be fairly straightforward thanks to a good tool and knowing what I'm doing.  The Tiger's chain had a pretty severe tight spot in it. When I set the tight spot to spec (40mm of slack), the loose part was wobbling around with twice that.  If I set the loose part to spec the tight part would rumble on the sprockets.  You could actually feel the difference in chain tension under acceleration as a surge.

The tool I got last time was quick to set up.  The blue 500 size chain pin pusher slotted right in out of the handle where it had been sitting since my last chain change on the Ninja over two years ago.

The Tiger chain is a 535 sized chain (wider than the Ninja's, but the same pitch length between the links - the Ninja was a 520 chain).  
With the pin pusher piece in place I tightened the outer bolt with a 10mm ratchet and it easily pushed the pins out of the old master link with only mild force on a small ratchet.

With the old chain removed I spent some time cleaning up the sprockets, which were in great condition.  The front sprocket was packed with years of gum from chain lube and it took a while to get it all out, first with a screwdriver and afterwards wiping it up with some WD40.  With it all cleaned off it looked like a bit of rust had found its way onto the front sprocket.

The rear sprocket was only covered in chain oil remnants and cleaning it up was easily done.

If you're not yahooing around and yanking on your chain like a madman all the time sprockets tend to last, especially big, beefy 535 wide ones; this bike has only been owned by gentlemen.  I might swap out the rear 46 tooth sprocket for a 47 tooth one to lower the revs slightly on the next chain, but that's years down the road, and with the sprockets in good shape, it seemed silly to do a full switch now.

A master link came with the chain which is a bit off-putting because Fortnine immediately filled the screen with master links after I purchased the chain, which I took to mean I needed one.  I guess I'll hang on to it, but if the chain I'm buying comes with it letting me know seems like the polite thing to do rather than encouraging an upsell.

The master link that came with the chain had an interesting process for installation.  I'm told this is quite common on bicycles now.  The master link pins have a threaded piece on the end of them.  You thread the long pins on the chain and then alternate tighten the bolts until they won't go any further.

This snugs the outer piece of the master link onto the pins.  When you're done you back off the nuts a few turns and then break them off with a pair of pliers.  It worked well.

A chain so new it's still covered in the wax it was packaged in to stop rust.
With the new chain set to 35mm of sag top and bottom and lubricated with chain wax (preferred because it doesn't make a gooey mess of things, sticks to the chain well and is also a lovely honey colour), it was time for a test ride.  A twenty minute ride in the setting sun up to 100kms per hour demonstrated all sorts of improvement.  The surging feeling was gone making the bike much smoother under acceleration.  In corners that surging could destabalize the bike, it doesn't any more.  The new chain is also noticably quieter.

This time round I think the actual chain removal and installation took about 40 minutes moving slowly and deliberately.  The cleanup of the front sprocket was what took the most time, though it probably did a lot to quiet the new chain (not running through a tunnel of goop on each revolution has to be better).

While I had the tools out I finished the counteract balancing beads install I started earlier in the week by doing the back tire as well.  With beads now in the front and rear tires vibrations through the handlebars are gone and the whole bike is rattle free at speed.  I never really got to try them out on the Concours, but what little I did seemed to work, and seeing as the beads are cheaper than taking in tires to get balanced anyway, why not?  I'm glad I did.

The Tiger is now as arrow straight and smooth as it can be.  It was a joy to ride it home as the sun set on Sunday evening.

Monday, 19 September 2016


Costello's BMW is a thing of beauty.
Digging out an old BMW from the woods the other day was an emotional roller coaster.  What we ended up finding wasn't what we thought it was though.  Jeff's original plan was to find an old air head BMW and convert it into a cafe racer.  Bill Costello's wonderful example was what motivated him aesthetically.  BMW turned out a lot of air cooled boxers before recently adopting an air/water cooled combo.  You think it'd be easy to pick one out to strip apart back to basics.

Turns out that isn't the case.  As we wheeled the old R100RT out of the shed we were struck with a custom paint job and some interesting looking badges.  It turns out that in 1983 BMW Motorrad was celebrating its 60th anniversary and produced 300 special edition machines, and we were looking at one of them that had been sitting in a shed for eleven years.

It took a few hours to get back with the bike, but once in the driveway we were looking it over by flashlight, trying to get a handle on what it was that we'd recovered from the grips of time.

The next morning over coffee a discussion started around just how special this anniversary model might be.  It took Jim showing up with a cell phone that actually worked at the cottage (thanks Bell) to get online and begin filling in the gaps.

As the rain thundered down outside we discovered that these bikes often sell for three times what Jeff had bought it for.  On top of that a lot of BMW aficionados are against pulling apart and cafe-ing older BMWs, especially anniversary specials.  This left us in an awkward place.  Do you cut it to pieces and build the cafe racer you've been dreaming of building, or do you restore what might be a valuable piece of history?

If you're going to run into problems buying an old bike, this is a good one to have.

Putting air in the tires for the first time in a long time, they held it too!

A CRV, the perfect off road towing vehicle!
It took a lot of pushing to get it that far.

Ever wondered what eleven years of dirt looks like?  Like that.

Lots of nice details on this old BMW

Sunday, 18 September 2016

For Whom The Bell Tolls

Once you've discovered riding a motorcycle, especially if you do it later in life as I have, you quickly come to realize that this isn't something you'll be able to do forever.  Motorcycling is physically and mentally demanding and you'd be crazy to do it without your faculties intact.  The thought of not being able to ride after discovering how freeing it is isn't a comfortable one.  If you get so decrepit that you can't do the things you love, what's the point of being here?  Melissa Holbrook Pierson does a wonderful job of conveying that feeling in The Man Who Would Stop at Nothing.  If you're looking for a pensive, profound motorcycle themed read, that one will do it for you.


The other day my buddy Jeff was finally able to make a deal for an old BMW R100RT that has been sitting in a shed in the woods for over a decade.  My son Max and I burned out of school on Friday afternoon and followed Jeff and his lovely wife up to their cottage on the shores of Lake Huron.

A neighbour five minutes down the road had purchased this BMW back in 1999 and had ridden it until 2005.  On a cool September day eleven years ago he rode back to Kincardine from a conference in Peterborough and parked the bike, it hasn't run since.  Jeff discovered the bike a year ago while over there at a garage sale, but the old fellow didn't want to part with it.  There was hope that he'd eventually get it out, clean it up and feel the wind in his beard again.  Jeff gently persisted, letting him know that if he ever did decide to sell it he had a buyer.

While over there getting the bike out of a shed hundreds of yards back in thick trees the owner told me, "I came to the realization that I'm not riding any bike, let alone this bike.  When that happened I finally decided to let it go."  He's still physically active even though that activity has landed him with metal pins where his bones used to be.  Struggling against old age is a pointless exercise, but I was right there with him - I'll be him in thirty years if I'm here at all.  The real tragedy is that he's as sharp as a whip; the mind is willing but the flesh is weak.

We were both enjoying the stories he was telling of how he went down to North Carolina to pick up the bike, and what it was like to bring it back across the border in the pre-internet age.  This guy had always wanted a BMW but when he was younger he couldn't afford it; this was his dream machine but it has been sitting in a shed as the seasons spin by outside, alone but for the sound of creeping rust.  It turns out this Bimmer was Jeff's dream machine as a young man as well, but you can't buy a $3500 bike when you're making six bucks an hour.  You can when you're older and it's under a decade of grime though.

We were both so excited going over there to get this bike out of the woods, but Jeff had said the owner was having a hard time doing it and our excitement quickly turned to ambivalence and then reflection as we heard the story of how it ended up parked under the trees.  While we struggled with conflicting feelings we were at least confident in the fact that we could bring this old machine back to the world.  Machines can sometimes offer this kind of immortality.

If you never take any risks and lead a sedentary life of caution, being old is just another day.  If you get out there and live, perhaps the memories of that life well lived, the chances you've taken and the adventures you've had will make easing into old age possible, even rewarding.  To me motorcycles are a symbol of that belief.  I hope anyone who has ever looked at me with a disapproving frown when it comes to riding is very comfortable in their old age.

Knowing me I'm going to be very bad at old age if I get there at all, but I'm trying to take care of that now, on two wheels.