Dec 27, 2008

Cheap Bike and Me Part IV

4:30AM came no more than an hour after I actually experienced sleep. I think I was shutting off the alarm before I realized I was standing. All my gear was prepared and I suited up before eating breakfast. My wife was coming along to hang with Tammy and Victor, at least for the morning, so she was up and a lot more perky than me. Parts of my brain were just getting used to living beside the dead cells I'd destroyed in the previous two days. Maybe the live cells were digesting the chemically destroyed dead ones and later events would be explained by that poorly considered biological activity. I got the GPS installed in my wife's car, gave her a short demo on how to follow it, and headed for the garage. 

With the car battery still hooked to the charger and jumpered to the bike battery, I gave the CB a kick and got . . . nothing. Not a burp. I tried my kick-lever-starter-button routine and the starter motor spun freely without making the slightest effort to turn the motor. I went back to futilely kicking the bike's lever for a few moments until the bike began to slip off of the centerstand. I moved it off of the centerstand to the sidestand and remembered that this bike had something that I haven't had to mess with on my own bikes for 15 years; an OFF position to the fuel petcock. I turned on the fuel, pumped the throttle, full-choked the carbs, and gave it a kick. The bike roared to life, then began to stall. I turned the choke off and the bike went back to a 4,000 rpm blast. I'd set the idle to about 2k out of concern for the rough sound of the lower idle action, but 4k was a lot more than I wanted to wrestle with on the road. Thinking about getting into my tool box and resetting the idle, I started to get off of the bike.

While this crap was going on, my wife was waiting in the car, watching her husband fool with a 37-year-old pile of junk, wondering why she had drug herself out of bed at 4:30 for this "experience." I couldn't have explained it to her, if I had tried. Mostly, I'd promised Vic and Sev that I'd have a bike for this damned event and I was going to have one if it killed me or made me more stupid. Later, 290 miles later, I'd learn why the morning started off the way it did. At 5AM, in the headlight lit garage, I was only confused.

When I put my weight on my left foot, it slid out from under me and the whole mess -- bike, battery cables, and all -- came down on me. Mad as hell, I picked up the bike, rewired the battery connections, kicked it back to life, knocked off the jumper cables, slammed the seat down, and roared out into my neighborhood on my pre-EPA, pre-DOT noise-regulated little red Honda, fumbling with the light switch in the morning dark.

I'd told my wife that I wanted to start out heading east on County Road C, avoiding the freeway until I had the feel of the bike. So she took that route, ignoring the British-accented GPS voice chanting "off route, recalculating" every block or two.

The CB's headlight was pathetic. At best, it lit about 30' of road, dimly, in a pattern about as wide as the back of my wife's Taurus. If this event involved night riding, I'd be leaving the bike on the side of the road and hitchhiking back home. I avoid riding at night, with real headlights. With 1971 bike lights, there would be no question of my giving up the competition in exchange for another day of life.

After a few miles of slow speed travel, I had the feel of the CB450: slightly heavy steering with a constant right pull, a vicious headshake with any deceleration or steady throttle which slackened a bit with acceleration, reasonably predictable brakes, a motor that felt deceptively strong but ran out of steam long before redline and at about 62mph, a clunky transmission, and a seriously uncomfortable seat. While riding the CB, I was constantly reminded of the Hyosung cruiser I'd test-ridden a few months back. The same unfinished, in-the-vicinity-of-right feel of the Korean bike was there in that old Honda. I almost felt some sympathy for Hyosung engineers, knowing that in 2008 they were starting at the same point where Honda was 37 years ago.

When I thought I knew the CB's handling problems, I told my wife "follow the GPS" to MMM's office. Following driving instructions has never been one of my wife's skills. We have 41 years of her being completely unable to follow simple driving direction, no matter how they are delivered, so I immediately recognized the flaw in my plan. I hadn't been to the MMM office often or recently and it was too dark for me to be able to read the map on my tankbag. I was stuck following her, but she was making random turns, constantly looping back on herself, and turning the opposite from the direction that I knew the GPS was directing her. As I helplessly rode behind this random motion vehicle, all those years of "turn right in two blocks" followed by an instant lane-change to the left and the associated immediate left turn, began to deteriorate my sleep-deprived, chemically-damaged patience.

After an hour of thermal-noise motion, we were close to our destination but my wife kept hopping over the freeway and diving into deadend frontage roads. Finally, freaked-out, late, and driven almost nuts in frustration, I pulled in front of her and asked what the hell she was doing. "You said you didn't want to be on the freeway" was the response.

"I said, 'Follow the GPS,' didn't I?"

"Oh, yeah."

We, finally, hit the freeway for a few miles, turned off one exit past the one where I knew we should have exited, and turned . . . the wrong way. More random motion and wrong direction turns followed. I could imagine the GPS constantly repeating "off route, recalculating" and, before the recalculation was done, more random motion would set the routine off again. I managed to direct her into a mall parking lot, got into the car, pointed out the pink line telling her where the GPS wanted her to go, reminded her that she has to listen to the whole instruction before turning randomly, etc. I was still wearing my earplugs. I was frustrated and worn out. And pretty loud. My wife just blows me off,. Somebody didn't and called the police. We didn't get out of the parking lot before getting pulled over. After explaining our situation, separately, the cops gave us really bad directions to our destination. After we escaped from their interrogation, I called Victor and got more directions, which I forgot almost instantly.

And we took off, sort of following the GPS again. After correcting her from several false turns, we ended up on the right road going in the right direction. I chose that moment to give up on following her and, in the dawning light, I attempted to sort out where we were. She chose that moment to absolutely obey the GPS instructions and was on a mission to find our destination. We'd been going in circles for so long that I was lost, even when I sort of knew where we were. In the meantime, she'd found the house, spotted the other bikers, and come back for me while I was still wrestling with the map. Clearly, I wasn't operating at full capacity. I might have been there for another hour, staring at the meaningless squiggly lines on the map.

Dec 21, 2008

Cheap Bike and Me Part III

You may remember the tale of the Rat Bike from a while back. September, in fact. This is the whole, inside story of my part in that great event. MMM called this the "Cheap Bike Challenge." I agree there was a challenge.

I called Dana, the owner of the CB450, Wednesday night; three days before the event. Being a charter member of Minnesota Nice, Dana invited me over that night to look at the bike at his home in Bloomington; about 25 minutes south. It was truly in rat bike condition. The bike hadn't been ridden since Dana rode it from his parents' home to the shed in which it now resided, in 1987. On the upside, he said it mostly worked when he parked it. The tank had about an inch of stale fuel, but no rust. The engine had compression and turned over fairly normally. The forks obviously leaked and the boots were decomposing. The front brake demonstrated no signs of life. The tires were 20 years old and the rear was bald, while the front was just cracked and hard as bakelite. The odometer had logged 18,000 miles.

We settled on $200 for the bike, including Dana borrowing a trailer from a friend and towing the bike back to my house. After we got the bike unloaded and took care of the money changing and paperwork, he headed home and I started taking the bike apart. Figured out the seat latch, got the tank off, and took a walk around the bike looking for the problems I'd have to solve in the next two days. Dana had pulled the starter motor and the shaft had a fitting designed for another purpose. It took some torch work to get the fitting off. Once I removed the seat, I discovered (thankfully) the battery was gone and an electrical bit was missing. Late that evening, Dana called to say he'd forgotten to grab the starter solenoid. Later, I discovered the shift lever was missing.

Thursday, I set out to bring the motor to life. The first task was to pull and clean the carburetors and purge the tank of its varnish-like substance. As expected, the carbs were gummed to death. I soaked the pair in toxic carb cleaner chemicals for the morning and rinsed the tank out with kerosene followed by a few pints of fresh gas. My first expense of the project was new hoses for the fuel system, $7. Before reinstalling the tank, I pulled the petcock and discovered that it was clogged with about 2" of black fuzzy weirdness and the strainer was dissolved. So, I dumped the whole mess into the carb chemical tank for the evening. The front brake master cylinder was empty, so I filled it and tried to bleed the line. No luck. The garage will stink for weeks of carb chemicals and stale gas. I made a circle around the bike, identifying missing and loose bolts and replaced a bunch, including both front engine mount bolts. The rear mount was completely missing, so I'd have to hope the engine wouldn't shake itself free from the frame on the ride. I can't do anything about that today. I did a continuity check of the alternator and the charge selenium diode. All good, although the diode has a higher than expected forward drop. That might mean insufficient current flow to keep the battery topped when the lights are running. I'd love to do a top end check, valve clearances and such, but without a replacement gasket on hand, I'm going to chicken out.

I installed the starter, more for the necessary sealing than because I expected it to be useful as a starter. When I put juice to the starter, the big gear it drove just spun disconnected from the engine. I hit the internet and found a storehouse of useless information about the history of the undoubtedly important-to-mankind CB450. Eventually, I also found an owner's manual, which listed a collection of routines for starting the bike that all seemed odd. More searching and I found that the starter gear had a clutch, located behind the gear and the alternator. That clutch was the cause of a lot of Honda owner misery and explained my starter's lack of connection to the motor. It's nearly midnight and I'm done for the day.

Tomorrow, I'll have to take the master cylinder apart and see why it appears to be pressure-less. Dana said it was working when he parked the bike. Maybe I'll luck out. So far, my luck has been mediocre.

Friday, most things went well for me. I pulled the petcock from the stinking chemicals and found it to be good; and clean. Back on the tank it went. The tank went back on the bike. The new supply hoses were all strung and I checked the tank for flow and the carburetors for the rare instance of float jet and needle similarity. Both carbs held fuel and there were no signs of flow in the clear fuel lines once the bowls were full. Amazing, probably the first occurrence of this miracle in the history of Klein carbs.

I tried kicking it over, without a battery, and had no luck. I decided either the charging system was toast or the bike needed some assistance from the battery for spark juice. I'm due in Bloomington to pick up the shift lever and the starter solenoid and a receipt for the bike during Dana's short lunch break. I thing, from exposure to the garage chemicals, I'm slightly stoned because I have never felt so unfocused on the motorcycle. Traffic is heavy and that adds to the terror. How do people ride drunk? This trip has scared the crap out of me. Two hours later, I'm back to work. Installing the solenoid gets the bike almost ready to try to fire up. Before that, I have to flush the engine, install fresh oil, and clean the centripetal filter. That's done in another hour and it's time to try the motor.

I hooked up a car battery to the system and test the starter motor. It spins, but doesn't spin the motor. I tried kick starting the bike, about two dozen kicks worth, and only get an occasional burping for my money. However, I sort of discovered the routine for the starter. If I bump the starter button while slowly turning the engine with the kick-lever, the starter clutch will catch and spin the engine. Usually, it would catch for a second and let go, but once it caught and spun the engine several revolutions and the engine fired up. Now, I know I have spark and fuel. Not enough fuel, apparently, so I applied a little starter fluid to the carbs while doing my starter button and kick-lever balancing act. After a few tries, the bike fires and stays running. I let it run for a several minutes, to let the engine get to operating temperature, before shutting it down and checking for fluid leaks. The bottom of the motor is dry, the carb floats still seal, and seriously noxious fumes are coming from the exhaust. I'm not leaking oil, but I suspect I'm burning quite a bit.

No time for analysis, I'm off to Fleet Farm for a battery (after hitting up the usual suspects on the local MC web for a used battery for a day or two). An hour burned getting and filling the battery and the charging routine burns a couple of hours while I work on other problems.

My two biggest remaining problems are title and license documentation and the lack of a front brake. The title crap is the hardest of the two, so I'm off to the DMV. Two hours later, at 5PM on the dot, I have paperwork and am out $40-some bucks for my bucket of bolts. It's really hard to remember why I wanted to do this after spending time with government employees. They were specially jacked about the fact that this bike hadn't seen a license plate or taxman since 1985. I didn't know there were so many supervisors in Roseville, until my DMV'er started asking for advice.

Back at the garage, I attach my new plates and tear off the front brake and master cylinder. All are filled with a brown goop that resembles mud soaked in fish snot. I pulled the brake mechanism apart and cleaned and greased the bits. A can of brake cleaner and the fish snot is gone, replaced by DOT3 brake fluid and sixty-zillion hand pumps later I have front brakes.

The battery is charged and installed. The bike fires on the first kick, a half-dozen times in a row. I rode it to the local gas station at 11PM, filled it up and returned it to the garage. After an hour loading the converted Sears-saw-to-faux-GIVI tailbox with tools, gear, maps, and stuff, I went inside and loaded some data into my Garmin 2620 for the next morning's trip to MMM's headquarters. Totally stoned by chemical fumes, I fell into something a little like sleep and more like a neural-hemorrhaged coma.

Dec 5, 2008

All the News that Didn't Fit (December)

A New Land Speed Record
Rocky Robinson and Mike Akatiff's Top 1 ACK Attack team reset the FIM (Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme) motorcycle land-speed record with an average speed of 360.913 mph. The deed was done at the Bonneville Salt Flats on Sept. 26. The TOP 1 ACK Attack motorcycle streamliner took back a record the team had for just two days in 2006. The same week, tthe 4,000hp Burkland Streamliner set the FIA category A, group 1, class 11 record with a 415.896mph run. Check out to see what 360mph looks like.

Team USA Wins Again
James Stewart, Ryan Villopoto and Tim Ferry brought home the Chamberlain Trophy at the 2008 Red Bull FIM Motocross of Nations in Donington Park, Great Britain. The US racers won the overall team championship for a record 19th time.

HD “Build It and Win It”
Starting October 15, 2008, Harley-Davidson builders can take a shot at winning a custom 2009 model Harley-Davidson motorcycle by entering the “Build It and Win It Sweepstakes.” presented by Harley-Davidson Genuine Motor Accessories.

What Happens When You Let Ike Decide
Thanks to Hurricane Ike, the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) announced a new date for the Lone Star Rally: Dec. 11-14 in Galveston, Texas.

Buell Does 125,000
“On Wednesday, Nov.12, 2008, at 8 a.m. central time, Buell rolled out their 125,000th motorcycle, a 2009 white 1125R bound for Australia.” Way to go, Eric!

Free Scooter Parking in Cincinatti
In October, the city of Cincinatti created special downtown motorized scooter, motoped and motorcycle parking spaces. At least until spring, the scooter spaces are free. In a moment of incredible bureaucratic insight, the city realized that four bikes can fit into one cage space. In a press release, City Manager Milton Dohoney said, "Making downtown greener and more user-friendly is very exciting, and adds an important element in meeting the needs of our residents, visitors and office workers."

YouTube and the Long Eyes of the Law
A Oxfordshire, England biker, 28-year-old Sandor Ferenci, discovered that advertising your hooliganism can have repercussions. Ferenci posted a YouTube video of himself stunting and riding in excess of 200mph on public roads. When a motorist contacted the police to complain about his antics, the police showed up at Ferenci's door. The genius biker asked the cops if they'd seen his video. They hadn't, but they followed up and the result was Ferenci's conviction for “two counts of dangerous driving” and a 12 week jail sentence.
Biker with a Media Cause
Christopher Coppola (Nick Cage’s brother and Francis Ford Coppola’s nephew and the self-proclaimed “family pirate”) is taking his chopper, fringe, leather, and armored bandana into the Heartland promoting Project Accessible Hollywood ( “Project Accessible Hollywood (PAH) seeks to educate people and communities on using simple digital media while encouraging them to express themselves artistically.”

Track Day Truck
Toyota and Ducati ganged up to create the ultimate track day concept vehicle. The “Tundra Ducati Desmosedici” is based on a Tundra CrewMax and sports a 6.5-foot bed equipment and tool storage, flip-up bed-sides, a Rampage motorized loading ramp, “and gets a full range of TRD performance parts and a Fast Ed's Interiors treatment.” The truck also has accessory power and battery charging solar panels. The truck was highlighted at the Las Vegas 2008 SEMA show.