All Rights Reserved © "Never argue with a fool; onlookers may not be able to tell the difference."
- Mark Twain I check the comments on this blog regularly. The idea is that we're going to have a conversation about the ideas I've presented. You should be aware of the fact that when someone emails me an interesting comment, the odds are good that I'll post that in the comments anonymously and reply to that comment on the blog rather than in email.
All Rights Reserved ©
"Never argue with a fool; onlookers may not be able to tell the difference." - Mark Twain
I check the comments on this blog regularly. The idea is that we're going to have a conversation about the ideas I've presented. You should be aware of the fact that when someone emails me an interesting comment, the odds are good that I'll post that in the comments anonymously and reply to that comment on the blog rather than in email.
Oct 26, 2015
My Motorcycles: 1982 Yamaha XTZ550 Vision
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
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 picture (above) 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 for my reminder of this great motorcycle. For what it's worth, I took the picture of this CX500 in June, 2000 in Minnesota (at Bob's Cycle Parts). This Deluxe had about 70,000 miles on the odometer 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 Deluxe 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. The motorcycle market had crashed by 1982 and nobody with any sense buys a motorcycle in Nebraska winters. 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 at about 50,000 miles, which I repaired myself, after first having the job botched by a local Honda dealer's service department. 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.
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.
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.
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
Parts Resolution Specialist
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).
2020 Postscript: This August, I decided I had too many electric bikes (and one scooter) in my garage. I put the Polaris scooter up on Craig's List and was swamped with emails and calls. A local guy bought it as a reward for his daughter's excellent academic performance and, last I heard, she was lovin' it. I hadn't fired it up for a couple of years when I made the decision to clean out the garage. It needed one new battery, some connector cleaning, a little cosmetic work, air in the tires, and it was good to go. I even took it for a ride with my GPS in hand to verify the scooter's top speed (14mph) for the Craig's List ad. I have some really good memories of this scooter, but I have moved on to eBikes.
Oct 5, 2015
My Motorcycles: 1974 Suzuki RL250 Trials
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.