Oct 26, 2015

My Motorcycles: 1982 Yamaha XTZ550 Vision

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82xtzvision The Yamaha Vision was a great bike, for me. The picture above isn't really of the bike I owned. I snagged this picture from the Yamaha Vision Users webpage, because I never, ever, took a picture of my own '82 Vision. I can't explain why. (There's no accounting for when and why I might use a camera, because I really disliked taking pictures at almost any time. In the digital world, that's changed, but the hassle of carefully handling film and delivering it to a store for developing just didn't interest me.) My own '82 Vision had a Rifle fairing, which made the bike extremely comfortable and provided decent protection from rain and weather. Otherwise, it looked exactly like this bike. Bone stock. The only other modification I made to my '82 was a tapered headstock bearing to calm the bike's tendency to shake at higher speeds.

I owned this bike in Southern California, where it was an excellent compromise between road-worthiness and maneuverability. The Vision is reasonably light, moderately quick, powerful enough to carry two comfortably, a fuel miser (>55mpg for an easy 200 mile range), and has a narrow engine and transmission that is ideal for California's lane-splitting tactic. The motor was exceptional smooth and reliable and the riding position is a slightly aggressive mostly-upright neutral standard posture. The Vision was a terrific commuter bike.

A lot of the bad rap on the Vision was unearned. Some folks complained that the stator was under-designed and burned up easily. I put a lot of miles on two of these bikes and never had that problem. However, I am a believer in engineering specs and the standard text on lead-acid batteries gives them a two-year expected lifetime (regardless of warranty BS). I was religious about abandoning batteries on my Visions, as regularly as possible, every two years.

Another "flaw" was the starter O-ring. When you overfill the oil (even microscopically), this O-ring wouldn't stand up to the minor change in pressure and oil would flow into the starter motor. This happened on both of my Visions and I had the starter rebuilt each time.  After rebuilding the starter, I replaced the Yamaha O-ring with a comparable, but slightly heavier/thicker, part found at a local auto parts store and never had the problem again on either bike.

The final glitch in my Vision ownership was head-shake at medium speeds. It took a while to get decent advice on this, for the '82. A great mechanic, who was the head guy for Beach Yamaha in Huntington Beach, CA, recommended changing out the head bearings with tapered bearings. He did the work, on both bikes, and that permanently solved the problem.

I put about 60,000 miles on the '82 before selling it to a friend of a friend. It was still in great shape and ran flawlessly. The new owner promptly smashed the Rifle fairing with his garage door. He, mostly owned motorcycles for the pleasure of having possessions, so, for him, the bike was ruined. I doubt that it ever left his garage until he sold it. Weird.





Oct 19, 2015

My Motorcycles: 1980 Honda CX500

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cx500 It really irritates me that I don't have a picture of my burgundy CX500 Deluxe. It was my first street bike, since the 1963 Harley Sprint, and I put over 120,000 miles on the bike. The above picture is the right year, color, model, with the same luggage rack, and a Windjammer fairing that weighs almost as much as my current bike. So it will serve as my reminder of this great motorcycle. For what it's worth, I took the picture of this bike in June, 2000 in Minnesota (at Bob's Cycle Parts). The owner had about 70,000 miles on the bike and it was still going strong. If you can't tell from the picture, this CX500 was in beautiful shape.

I bought my 1980 CX500 for $800, cash, from a guy who was suffering the after-effects of divorce and needed the cash in the middle of winter, in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1982. You can imagine that he was desperate. I was the only prospective buyer he'd had in two months, so I got a great deal. He'd equipped the bike with an extra 200 pounds of chrome crap, which I immediately removed and replaced with the stock stuff. I sold the pile of chrome for $400 to a guy who was building a mini-Goldwing. When I first put the bike on the road, it had less than 1,500 miles on the odometer.

I rode the CX from Omaha to Orange County, California, for my first street bike trip. First, ever, of any length on pavement. In fact, I moved myself from Nebraska to California with what I could carry on that bike. And I carried a lot of stuff in saddlebags, a big Gerry backpack, and a duffle strapped over the tank. On that trip, I rode through fifty mile-an-hour crosswinds and four hundred miles of ice and snow in Kansas and Oklahoma. The fairing kept a little of the snow and ice off of me, although before I turned south in Kansas, I had a 1/2" layer of ice on the north facing (right) side of my rain gear.

Once I got below Lubbock, Texas, the going was a lot easier. On the ride to California, I rode through a thousand miles of plus-110-degree Arizona and western New Mexico heat. The CX's temperature gauge didn't register any of that heat, at all. On the way from New Mexico to San Diego, I picked up two different Harley riders and lost them, as they had to stop for temperature related heat problems. I locked the throttle and cruised up the high desert like it was the easiest thing in the world to do on a motorcycle. It was years afterwards before I really understood how impressive that motorcycle really was.

For the next three years, I rode my CX everywhere, up and down the coast between central Baja Mexico and Oregon. Our bliss was interrupted by a timing chain tensioner failure, which I had repaired and redid myself. Once that was out of the way, every 8-10,000 miles the bike got new tires. Every 3,000 miles I changed the oil and checked the valve clearances. And I'd have trusted my life to the CX under any conditions.

This being my first street bike and my first real experience on pavement, I owned the CX for a while before taking on passengers. After 30,000 or so miles, my wife and I began to explore southern California on the CX. We rode that little bike, together, from Baja to central California. My daughters joined the adventure a few thousand miles later. When my brother came out from Kansas for a visit, he and I loaded our 390-combined pounds on to the 500 and took the bike to places we'd only seen in movies.

At 126,000 miles, I sold it to a friend who moved himself to Idaho on the bike. He'd have put a few more tens of thousands of miles on it, but he let it sit, unattended, in his garage for a winter and mice turned the wiring into nests. So the bike died an ignoble death at the paws and teeth of vermin.

Oct 12, 2015

My Motorcycles: 1975-76 OSSA dirt bikes



For two years in the mid-70's, I ran a microscopic dirt bike shop out of my garage, code name "Dirt Shop." My wife hated the name because she was constantly receiving packages at our home addressed to the Dirt Shop.  She thought the UPS guy might think the name reflected on her housekeeping. I didn't see the problem. We had two insanely active little girls, a house full of toys (the kids' and mine), and my wife is a sculptor and artist. My day job was servicing mobile electronic scales in cattle feedlots and grain mills. There was never a shortage of dirt in our household.

ossa_logo  I, mostly, fixed other guy's bikes to earn enough extra cash to support my own habit. On occasion, I found a sucker/customer for a line of Spanish motorcycles, OSSA, for which I had a wholesale deal from the Kansas City distributor. Most of the likely OSSA riders lived in Omaha or Lincoln, where there was already an OSSA dealer, but most dealerships actually needed to make money to maintain inventory. I found a few customers out in the sticks who would take that inventory off of the big city dealers' hands.  I didn't expect much out of my "dealership." I just wanted to get to fool with cool, new bikes and spend as little money as possible for the privilege.

I snagged the two pictures above from the net. Sorry, I lost the original links and haven't been able to reproduce the search since, so I can't give proper credit for the pictures. These are the two bikes I sold and enjoyed the most. I sold a couple, each, of the 125 and 250 Phantom motocrossers, a pair of Mick Andrews Replica Plonker trials bikes, and one 250 Pioneer enduro. I really thought I was doing my customers a favor, at the time. There was still some residual anti-Japanese Euro-arrogance still left in dirt biking and OSSA's were good, general purpose dirt bikes. The Phantoms were moderate suspension technology (canted and moved slightly forward) and a great rider could still hang in with the front of the pack. The Plonkers were not so easy to sell. They were under-powered, heavy, and hard to maintain. The Amal carbs were a detriment to all of the OSSA bikes, but the Plonker suffered the most from that primitive and unreliable hardware.  And trials was a sport that never caught on in the States.  The Pioneer was a really pointless motorcycle.  It wasn't a competitive hard-core enduro bike and it was not reliable enough to be considered a useful dual purpose bike.  To this day, I don't know why anyone would buy one.  But someone did.

ossphantom I rode almost every bike I sold, at least a few miles, before I found a buyer. Except for the 250 Phantoms, I usually had a bite before I placed my order but no money down. So, I got to play with the bikes like they were my own, because they were, until a buyer with cash appeared. I especially loved the Phantom 125, but never found the motivation to own one myself. The worst I ever did on an OSSA deal was break-even, including shipping, interest, and my setup labor. I thought that was as good as I could expect, considering the sloppy circumstances under which I operated.

I'm afraid that I probably left the Central Nebraska area and dirt biking about the time my customers were due to need serious dealer support. I moved about 120 miles from where my shop had been and, over the course of the next three months, sold my own dirt bikes and stopped attending events. I have no idea what became of the bikes I sold. I know that OSSA bit the dust not that many years later, leaving some resentment among the few riders who'd stuck it out over the years. I still see OSSA fanatics and bikes at the vintage events, so I guess they didn't all explode into Hollywood flames when I abandoned ship.  I don't think anyone buying a bike out of my one car garage, behind my obviously low-income house, could have seriously thought I was FDIC insured.  On the other hand, nobody ever went broke underestimating the American consumer. 

That was a weird period in motorcycle history. The Boomers were at their peak, physically and culturally. We were riding a lot of motorcycles back then, on and off-road. Unless you've been to a 1970s event, it's hard to imagine how popular, well-attended, and disorganized those events were. It was the beginning of the end for an aspect of individual freedom in the United States, mostly due to overpopulation. A half-dozen years later, the boom crashed. We quit buying, riding, and caring about motorcycles, especially off-road motorcycles in the quantities that manufacturers enjoyed during those years. The world shed itself of a dozen motorcycle manufacturers and Japan ended up owning what was left of the market.

Ossa was a crappy company with non-existent customer or dealer support, but their bikes were interesting, competitive, and distinctive. Parts were hard to come by, bikes were delivered in non-functional condition, but there was something cool about being a dealer, even at the marginal level I experienced. Uncrating a new motorcycle, with an expectant customer either calling every couple of hours or breathing down my neck, is a lot of fun.






Little Terrors

Early last week, I was riding the WR to school in the morning (Yeah, I know that I’m old and should have managed to escape school by now.) and on the way up a long hill, into the sun, when the usual defogging-of-the-faceshield battle going on, a pickup rolled through a stop sign into my path. Thanks to the WR’s great brakes and maneuverability, I managed to get around the stopped pickup uneventfully and on my way undamaged. It didn’t seem odd to me that my heart rate stayed pretty much in it’s usual 70-89bpm territory of that I didn’t have the kind of delayed freaked out reaction that I might have experienced 50 years ago from the same kind of near-event.

At least not until I did experience a few moments of extreme tension an hour or so later. In the first hour of class, our instructor got himself tangled up in an electronics explanation and couldn’t escape from the series of questions his confusion inspired from the class. Eventually, he asked me to briefly explain passive high and low pass filters. I can do that fairly easily, but without drawing out a couple of circuits I can’t do it quickly. So, I mindlessly headed for the whiteboard and about half-way into my explanation I realized I was back at the front of a class. I am not a natural or comfortable performer. I taught college classes for 13 years, but led up to that slowly doing industry training mostly for small groups over my 40 year engineering career. The two year break between the end of my teaching career and that moment in front of 25 students had allowed me to return to my normal introverted, stage-shy self and by the time I was back at my seat my hands were shaking, my chest was pounding, and I was practically hyperventilating.

The conclusion is that I’d rather dodge pickups and SUVs and the rest of the brain-dead cager barrage than speak in public.

Oct 7, 2015

My Motorcycles: Pure Polaris Electric Scooter

And Now for Something Really Different


All Rights Reserved © 2001 Thomas W. Day

An absolutely valid rap "against" the bikes I usually ride is that nobody ever looks at my ride and I rarely hear "wow! what a cool looking bike."  If that bothered me, the Pure Polaris Electric Scooter would be the cure.  Polaris claims that this snazzy little unit will do up to 12 miles at speeds of 16-18mph.  I'll test that claim, later, by making the poor little Scooter lug my 200+ pound butt around town and country.

Early on, I thought I'd never find out what the average speed is over any distance beyond a couple hundred yards.  Take my first morning out, for example.  I made it two blocks when a semi driver passed me and stopped in the middle of the road so he could ask me how the Polaris was powered (electric motor) and what it's range was (how the hell would I know?) and what it weighed (59 pounds, without me).  Two blocks later, I almost passed two power-walking women before getting stopped to answer the same questions plus "where can we buy one? (see your nearest Polaris dealer or call the company in Medina).  Three blocks later, a guy in a Buick stopped me to ask about the range, the manufacturer, the cost, and to tell me he thought it would be a great vehicle to ride to his deer stand.  At the coffee shop, three blocks later, in a half hour I got to read two pages of my book while answering questions about the scooter from half of the people in the store.  The ride home was just as talkative.  A little more than six blocks, four stops, four conversations, and I should be getting a free Electric Scooter t-shirt from Polaris so that I can complete my rolling advertising campaign for the Electric Scooter.

Since you mostly know me as the Geezer and you know how naturally crotchety I am, here's where you should be expecting my long list of gripes on the Scooter.  I'd like to accommodate you, but so far I'm having too much fun with the damn thing.  So is my wife, and I guess I could complain about that.  When she's riding it, I'm not.  She's already imagining a business where she rents these things to companies for parades, as sort of a rolling signboard.  I suppose she'll expect me to wear a Shriner outfit and ride the Scooter to get the company . . . rolling.  I may not care about looking cool, but I'm definitely opposed to looking dorky.  Believe it or not, I have standards, they're just lower than average.

I first saw the Electric Scooter at a MN-Sportbike pre-event.  One of the sportbikers brought his Scooter along to get from one end of the track to the other without having to mess up his Nike's.  He offered a ride to anyone who wanted to play with it, but I was the only taker.  Now I know why.  Ride it and you gotta have one. 

He had pulled the seat off of his Scooter and was riding it skateboard style.  I, mostly, ride mine the same way.  My wife likes the seat.  I just feel slightly less like I'm posing as an invalid on a powered shopping cart when I'm standing.  (See what I mean about having standards?)  The seat is way too comfortable and it doesn't allow for drastic weight-shifting which makes getting over curb entrances, at top speed, a lot more interesting. 

The Polaris Scooter is suspended.  The suspension is slightly more elaborate than the typical kick scooter, but it's good enough to suck up sidewalk irregularities and sloped curb entrances.  I've been told that the Scooter works fairly well on dirt roads, too.  I haven't tried mine because I'm nearly over the weight limit just by wearing shoes.  Adding the resistance of dirt roads would probably trip the circuit breaker in a few minutes. 

The Scooter's brakes are more than adequate, a mountain bike V-brake on the front and a drum brake on the rear.  The rear brake is also connected to the engine cutoff, so you can't brake and throttle at the same time.  Sort of an idiot switch, I guess.  The controls are in a motorcycle layout, right side = front brake and left side = rear brake, so you won't have to waste time re-routing cables like you did with your mountain bike. 

Most of the Scooter's weight must be in the tires, batteries (and their bash-rail-protected steel case), and motor, since the frame is aluminum as are most of the other metal bits.  The unit folds into something that could be carried on to a bus or packed in the trunk of a Geo.  The seat and handlebar height are fully adjustable and the hardware is all high quality bicycle bits.  The throttle/battery capacity indicator is a thumb control dead-man switch control by the right-side grip. 

The battery easily charges overnight from near-dead and the manual claims that the battery will charge from 70% depleted to full in 6 hours.  The charger is a high-tech, light-weight unit that fits in a hiker's tailbag so you can carry it with you on longer trips (using your employer's AC to provide energy for the return trip, for example).  The connector is an XLR (standard audio connector) which is unusually durable and reliable for this purpose.  The connector on the battery-end of the charging connection has a cover which will provide a little protection from dirt but it's far from water-tight.

The owner's manual contains a bit of age discrimination, since Polaris states the bike is for "age 12 to 45" riders.  If I weren't old I wouldn't be the Geezer and I resent being told that I'm too ancient to play with a toy that is this much fun.  Repeal that limitation, Polaris Marketing/Legal department.  I'd sue, but I'll probably fall down and bust my hip between now and when I'd get to court and Polaris would get to use me for evidence that the manual's precautions are justified.

The other precaution that seems a little paranoid is their warning against riding the Scooter downhill.  Unless you are a Flat Earth'er, it's hard to imagine a place you can ride where you're not either going uphill or downhill.  I see two possibilities regarding this contraindication: 1) it's a legal butt-covering tactic, 2) downhill operation could over-charge the battery.  In Amerika it's always reasonable to assume that any idiot who finds a way to go over the bars and bust his empty skull will immediately locate a lawyer and claim "manufacturer negligence."  However, I'd appreciate knowing if this warning is legal gibberish or some sort of limit on the Scooter's capability.  I've noticed that even when the battery is off and the handlebar kill switch is off, the charge-condition LEDs light up when the bike is pushed.  If the battery is getting a recharge from the motor during downhill operation, that recharge might be unregulated and could damage the battery or other circuitry.  I'll wait by the phone for a response to this question.  I'm reasonably patient about these things.  Ten minutes and no one has called, I give up.  I'll keep riding it up and down hills and I'll let you know how that works out for me.

Polaris is, apparently, a little confused about how they want to support the Electric Scooter.  Their marketing handout and the Pure Polaris website (http://www.purepolaris.com/) states that the unit comes with "a year limited warranty."  The owner's manual revises this number to 90 days.  I'm guessing the warranty is somewhere between 90 and 365 days (note: Polaris confirmed the one year limited warranty). In the end, the company simply pretended the scooter never existed and, to this day, their misnamed "Customer Service" department pantomimes shuffling through pages of manuals and computer screens before saying "We never sold an electric scooter."

Riding the Scooter is about as simple as two-wheeled riding gets.  The electric motor provides bags of torque.  When the battery is freshly charged it's not that difficult to life the front wheel on full power takeoffs.  You simply press the thumb control and go.  The Scooter is up to max speed about the time your foot hits the floorboard.  The belt-driven, 350W rare-earth magnet motor is quiet and amazingly powerful for its size. 

The 12" wheels roll over minor road irregularities and the suspension sucks up the rest.  The bike moves fast enough that you'll need to use countersteering techniques to turn quickly.  Standing or seated, the Scooter is agile and responsive, although you do have to get used to applying power a few seconds before you want it, because of the time-delay between the thumb control and a reaction from the motor. 

So far, I've learned these simple rules for my Scooter: 1) turn the freakin' battery switch off if you want the charger to do its job, 2) watch the weather, unless you want to walk home in the rain (electric motors and rain don't mix), 3) try to avoid police attention because nobody is sure how the law applies to this sort of vehicle, 4) use lots of body english to take advantage of the limited-travel suspension.  I've make three 10 mile, round-trip excursions on my Scooter and have returned with power to spare.  I'm about to test the unit on a home-to-work commute, but I'm building up to it since I haven't found an efficient, limited-traffic route as yet.  My bicycle has wasted away (while my belly is doing quite well, thanks for asking) because the Scooter is a lot more fun than the bike.  Any trip from home, shorter than ten miles, gets made on the Scooter.  It's more fun than the bike, more efficient than either the car or the motorcycle, and I'm starting to enjoy the attention.

I always assumed I'd give this to my grandson when he turned 13 and was old enough to ride it on the street legally. However, he snapped off the throttle lever practicing wheelies and snuck the scooter back into the garage without telling me about the damage or saving the broken part. Now, it's nearly impossible to ride and Polaris is doing a wonderful Sergeant Schultz imitation ("I know nothing.") and Wolfegang's window of opportunity and interest has past. The last time a motorcycle company ruined my investment in one of their products (1974 Suzuki RL250), it was 25 years before I tried another of their products. I'm not going to ride or live long enough to give Polaris a second chance.

2010 Postscript: Polaris has continued to disavow any knowledge of this vehicle since around 2004. Because of this review, I get emails from all of the company's victims/customers wanting to know where to buy parts for this little scooter. Through direct conversation with the company, I have been told "we never mad/sold anything like that." They are, obviously, either liars or fools. This was a high-end attempt to get into the electric runabout business (at $1,000 MSRP) and Polaris isn't fooling anyone by pretending to be ignorant. They were probably too late to the market with too little support and their usual marketing stupidity and decided to cut and run from the model without a thought in their tiny little marketing/sales heads about the customers they were abandoning. Sorry, guys. I can't help you fix your electric scooter and I can't find parts for my own. I desperately need a new throttle mechanism, but I'm out of luck and the scooter is stuck in my shop until I find a substitute or give up and toss it in the dumpster.

2014 Postscript: Holy crap! I found a live person in Polaris' customer service and received this response:

Thank you for contacting Polaris. I apologize that you have had a poor experience with service parts for your electric scooter. Your model is called the EV Rider Xport SLX 707. This is a scooter with front and rear suspension and has the narrow tires. These scooters were made in the mid 2000’s and Polaris does not support these vehicles internally; however, service parts are available for the Polaris Electric Scooter directly from “Light Electric Vehicle Technologies.” They can be contacted at 1-888-743-3738 or levtservice@aol.com. [Talk to Shelly.]

Thank you for your inquiry,
Kyle
Parts Resolution Specialist
Polaris Industries
1-800-POLARIS

 
I don't know about the rest of Polaris Industries "Parts Resolution Specialists," but Kyle kicks ass. It took about a week and $24 (including shipping) for the throttle lever to arrive, a minute to install it, and our Polaris Electric Scooter/EV Rider Xport SLX 707 is back on the road. Many of the other parts for this scooter are common, like the batteries and drive belt, and the less common stuff may be in stock with Light Electric Vehicle Technologies (602 S 1st Ave, Pocatello, ID 83201 208-232-5515).

Oct 5, 2015

My Motorcycles: 1974 Suzuki RL250 Trials

rl250 The Suzuki RL250 was one of the few bikes I've owned that was a constant disappointment and a complete competitive disaster. The RL was an awful trialer, with little torque, a poor suspension, too much height, and poor reliability. It was my first trials bike and my first Suzuki. After the Rickman 125 ISDT, the RL250 was the second new bike I ever owned, and the last.

Since the bike sold so poorly, Suzuki dumped their inventory, in late 1974 for almost 1/3 what I paid for the bike. That left a taste in my mouth that has only recently mellowed, allowing me to buy my 1999 Suzuki SV650. My $1,100 investment was instantly devalued to something less than $400, the revised, devalued price of a new RL in 1975 & 1976 (it was still the 1974 model, but they dumped their mistake in Suzuki dealers for another two years).

The only reason I can think of for owning one of these things, today, would be as an example of 1970's crappy Japanese workmanship. The welds were embarrassing, a few weeks after buying the bike I re-welded a significant portion of the bike frame. There were spots where the welds actually missed the seam. It was probably one of the first Japanese production bikes with a chrome-moly frame and it showed their inexperience with their new welding equipment. Their faith in chrome-moly was dramatized by the spindly character of the RL250's frame. Several other RL250 sufferers discovered that hard riding of this bike would result in busted frame members and one co-Suzuki trialer managed to snap off the swingarm at its frame attachment point in a Nebraska event.

Since the bike was worthless as a trialer, I added a little padding to the seat and used it as a weird trail bike. It was more fun, with that intent, but still unreliable. If you dropped the bike on its left side, and the motor kept running, the main seal on the opposite side self-destructed. I've witnessed this a couple of times at recent "vintage" events and, apparently, there is still no fix for this sad design. The forks leaked constantly. The air box was far from water-tight. The suspension was awful, at best, for any purpose. The engine lacked torque and blew up if you tried to overcompensate with revs.

The only claim to fame Suzuki made for this bike was its inventory-dumping price. In mid-1975, I saw them, new, on showroom floors for $400. I believe it was only imported into the US in 1974, although it took dealers at least three years to unload the inventory.

I am amazed to see these things at vintage events, usually grossly overpriced and often in like-new condition. In competition, the rider will be an old geezer who decided to pretend a 1974 bike is a time machine he can use to recover some missing piece of his youth. Typically, the rider is stumbling through the course, missing corners, rolling over tape, hanging up on 6" logs, and sliding down hills heading for a painful high-side at the bottom. Anyone who can win a real trials event on the RL is, either, cherry-picking or an amazing rider. I've never seen anyone win on an RL, but some of the "vintage trials" events are so undemanding that I'm sure it's happened in the last few decades. 

The happy side of all this is that most of the current RL owners are retired executives or other idle rich characters. I couldn't wish a better bike on that class of scumbag.