Sunday, December 29, 2013


 When I got rid of my big touring rig I decided I still wanted something that would eat up miles of asphalt but have some power, decent handling and the ability to haul some stuff.  I spent a lot of time looking around for the right bike. There are a lot of bikes that would have fulfilled most of my requirements but not the requirement that it be a little unusual. I didn't want the same sport touring bike as the next guy. I wanted something you don't see everyday. I wanted to be able to pick it out of a crowd of bikes with ease.
 I was on a joy ride one day and found myself at a Ducati dealer. I couldn't find anything that interested me but before I could leave a salesman cornered me. I explained what I was looking for and we discussed my riding habits. The salesman claimed he had an Aprilia Futura that would be just right for me and we headed to the back shop to look at it.
 A what? I knew about Aprilia but I wasn't familiar with the different models.
 When I first saw it I really liked the color. We pushed the bike outside into the sunlight and I fell in love with the color. The angular lines, single sided swingarm and under tail exhaust all caught my attention.
 I thumbed the starter and brought the Rotax v-twin to life. It let out a pleasing roar. I was liking what I heard but none of this mattered if it rode like crap. The salesman gave me the green light for a test ride so I grabbed my helmet and took off.

 It most certainly did not ride like crap. This was a good handling bike with decent torque and the ability to haul a lot of stuff. This Italian beauty was as close to rare or exotic as I was going to get so after about an hour long test ride I returned to the dealer to negotiate the price. We came to an agreement and it was all mine.

 I put over seventy thousand miles on this bike. It only let me down twice in all those miles and once was a bad battery. The other was a bad side stand switch that I was able to bypass and continue on my way.
 One day last fall I had to travel the entire length of the state of Illinois. It was raining, I was cold and tensing up and getting sore. For two weeks after that ride I was still sore. I don't know why this ride was so much different but it marked the end of my desire to ride this bike. I finished the season on the LTD before its transformation to the rat turd. The following spring I didn't even run a tank of fuel through the Aprilia before selling it.
 The new owner is a friend of mine. When I mentioned the bike was for sale she said "I'll take it" before I ever gave her a price. This bike has that kind of effect on people.  A few months after the sale I met up with her. I always thought of the bike as a mean machine with a serious roar. She changed the image of the bike a bit by re-installing the baffles and adding a butterfly sticker on the back. She also named the bike "Little Annie".
  The sticker and the name were a bit of a shock but only for a nano-second. I know the bike will be well cared for and enjoyed.

 When I think of the different bikes I've had and their ability to eat up miles in a hurry, this bike was by far the best. My riding habits have changed a bit over the years. For a while it was all about how far I could go in a day. Now, I still ride all day but its more about enjoyment than distance. I've slowed down a bit to catch a whiff of the roses, but don't expect me to stop.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Packin Heavy

 I'm still thinking about Packing Light. The article JT wrote was excellent but keeps reminding me about how lousy I pack. I found this pic from about 10 years ago.

 I see I have all the essentials. My camping gear, cooler, folding chair and a three cylinder engine. I'm sure the saddle bags and tour pak are jammed full.
 Kinda top heavy. If the bike tipped over I would have to unload it to stand it back up.

 Later I decided I needed a trailer to haul all my stuff.

 I built it from a Fleet Farm trailer kit and a car top carrier. Its funny. If there is room for more stuff I will find stuff to put in there.
 Now for me, pulling a trailer was all about two things. First, I like all things related to motorcycling. This was an aspect of biking I had never tried before. I wanted to know what it was like. I met a lot of others that dragged trailers or campers and I had some fun. The second thing about towing is it allows you to do more things on two wheels that you would normally need a cage to do so that gives it big bonus points right there.
 Before I sold the big Kaw I was considering towing a small sport bike behind it. Looking back I'm glad I didn't go down that road.
 This year when I take off on the bike for 7-9 days I'm gonna force myself to pack everything I need on my sissy bar. No saddlebags or anything else. I know that for a lot of people this is easy but as you have just read I have a history of packin heavy. No longer will I be the guy you turn to for an extra pair of gloves, a snack or a roll of ass wipe. I will however, be carrying a digital volt meter and tire repair kit. These items have saved my butt enough times that I won't go on a long trip without them.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Workshop Wednesday-When Gremlins Strike

 It was a cool fall morning. Dan and I were weaving our way through some southern Wisconsin twisties on our way to the Slimey Crud Run. I was on an Aprilia Futura and he was on a Triumph Speed Triple. We were each doing our own thing and there was a big gap between us. Every now and again I would check the mirror and see him back there. After a few more miles of this Dan suddenly disappeared from my radar. I slowed down during a long straight section hoping to see him round the last corner but it never happened. When I turned around to find him I was glad to see he was vertical. Dan was the victim of road gremlins. In this case it was a flat rear tire.
 I asked him what the plan was. He said something about a friend and a trailer. We were quite a way from home and that would eat up the rest of the morning and kill the plan for slimey crud. I let him sweat it out a for a minute before I opened a saddlebag and offered a plug kit and compressor. We fixed the tire and continued on with our adventure.
 This isn't the first time having a compressor has saved the day. I bet most people would choose to carry one if it didn't take up any room. Well, it's gonna take up some room but there is a way to make them smaller.

 This is a basic el cheapo compressor I picked up at the hardware store. Its a smaller unit but way too big to be hauling around on a bike.

 If you remove the working parts from the case you'll see that the compressor is actually pretty small. I've placed a cassette next to it for size reference. For you youngsters out there, a cassette tape was a device that would store music. You could get a whole album on one and it was only the size of a large smart phone.

 If you want it even smaller, the gauge can be removed as I've done here. The power plug could be removed also or converted to something that plugs into your bike.
 I've seen it take anywhere from three to seven minutes to fill a rear tire depending on the compressor and size of tire. There are a few precautions you need to take when using this. First, you'll notice all the working bits are exposed so keep it out of the dirt. Also, keep your fingers away from the big gear on the crank. Finally, this thing will get hot.
 This will fit into a ziploc sandwich bag. I try to always have one with me, but I admit that's not always the case. Luckily I've always had one when gremlins strike.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

'67 BSA Big, Bold, Powerful!

 When I was young and first got interested in bikes one of the first projects was a '67 BSA Lightning. This was a bike my father purchased from a neighbor for $50. I remember carrying boxes of bike parts home. We had no idea what the bike was supposed to look like until we saw a pic in a workshop manual.

 A lot of time was spent on this motor. Partially for my benefit to learn about engines and part because as I now know, if you are working on a Brit bike for the first time there are a few things you need to wrap your head around. Lucas electrical, how to set the timing and British Standard to name a few.
 The cylinders were honed and oversized pistons and rings were installed along with all the other usual things done during a rebuild. We had such a hard time getting this engine running and spent a lot of time second guessing ourselves and double checking our work. I remember taking turns with my brother pushing the bike in gear trying to get the bike to fire up. We would try kick starting the bike with nothing to show for our efforts except a sore leg. Oh sure once in a while it would burp at us for a few seconds or even allow a short 50 foot blast up the drive, but that was about it.
 Other projects came and went. Seasons came and went. The BSA sat waiting in the corner of a few different garages. It sat eleven years before one day my dad asked me if I wanted it. I had eleven years of gear head experience behind me and felt I was ready to take on this project that had kicked my ass as a wrenching wannabe.
 When I was a kid I understood ignition systems from a text book viewpoint. Now I understood them from experience. It didn't take long to get the bike running but something else was going on with this beast. I could never get it to run smooth.
 After a few days of messing around with it after work I was starting to get goofy about this project. Was it gonna kick my ass again?
 I kicked the bike over and she came to life but ran crappy. Then it would run good, then bad again. I had a furnace fan blowing cool air over the motor so it wouldn't over heat. I pretended the air from the fan was the wind blowing my hair back. I leaned to the left then the right as if I were racing through an S curve. No bikes in my mirrors, I must be in the lead. A gentle sweeper to the right and she's purring like a kitten. Get on the brakes and scrub off some speed for the next left hander. Push hard on the left bar... Hey, what just happened? When I leaned left it ran like crap. When I leaned right it cleared up. After a few more laps on my pretend race track I was certain the bike was flooding one cylinder when I leaned left. Even if I only leaned a very small amount.
 Back on Earth after a little investigating I discovered a casting flaw in one of the Amal carbs. There was a small hole right about at the top of the fuel level in the bowl. Fuel was spilling from the bowl directly into the venturi. I used some JB Weld epoxy to plug the hole and an hour later I was riding the bike around the parking lot. It ran dang near perfect. Whodathunkit.
 I rode 200 miles on the bike before a bearing in the trans siezed up. Well, I rode 196 miles. I pushed it the last 4 miles home.
 That was over 20 years ago. I haven't had it running since then. I have worked on it a bit but only enough to figure out what was wrong and what was needed to fix it. I think I even bought a bunch of parts for it. I'll have to go out in the shed and take a peek. Every year I say that this is the year I will put it back together. Every year passes without that happening. This year I was getting serious about the bike and decided to borrow an inspection camera from Al. Unfortunately the camera showed what I feared. All that kicking and push starting attempts without decent oil circulation created some scoring in the cylinders.

 Also, this area that appears to be shiny concerns me. I think its actually rust pitting from sitting so long. Its not above the scored areas so it must have come after the 200 mile fling and wasn't the reason for the scoring. My bad for not fogging the cylinder better. I guess it really doesn't matter because it has to come apart either way.
 I'll get a better look at it when I tear it down this winter. Next year is the year I ride again...

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Workshop Wednesday-5 Speed Shovel

 Gear Head. A person very interested in all things mechanical. I'm a gear head and I have the need to create things, tinker or just take stuff apart to see how it works. It's worked ok for me. I make a living fixing stuff. Oddly, I also make a living killing stuff.
 I don't have unlimited funds so most of my projects are done on a budget or with whatever is available at the time. For me, if I get started on an idea I need to follow through with it even if its stupid or I know it will fail. It's the only way to get it out of my head. Successful projects are either used by myself or sold/traded. Unsuccessful projects are recycled or tossed in the scrap metal dumpster. I have this rule. If something I make sits around unused for a year then it gets tossed unless its really cool then it gets another year.
   I'm not a big fan of shoveling the driveway. Some people are but they have a whole different set of issues than I do. I like to think of ways to make life easier. Maybe I'm lazy.
 I have a snowblower. It works pretty good when we get a few inches of snow or more but when there is less than that it doesn't blow the snow very far. I found an old snow blower where the auger and impeller were shot but the motor and drive were ok. This was to be the base for my gas powered shovel.

I bet this isn't what you were expecting to see when you read the title "5 speed shovel".

  I can't remember if he gave it to me or we made a trade but I got this 30" blade from Al. I simply removed the blower, made a bracket that allows the blade to float up and down and attached the blade.

 It works pretty good but could still use a little tweaking. I plan to make something that will allow easier angling of the blade. Maybe the same style crank a snow blower chute uses. I also want to add some weight so I can use it in deeper snow if I have to. Lucky for me, Al was cleaning his garage the other day and found some nice weights he knew would work on here.
 This idea is out of my head and the project works good enough to have saved itself from the scrap metal dumpster.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

'59 cadillac vs. Sputnik 1

 Well I picked up some tail lights for the sportster. They are '59 cadillac copies. I really like this style bullet light. To do them justice I felt the need to make a special mount for them. When I started making the mounts I wasn't really sure how they would look but I knew what I had available for material so I had a general idea.

 I started by making a base plate for each light. The size of the plate was determined by the size of the largest hole saw I had available. That really is the theme for most of what I do. I get an idea and then wander around the shop looking for something that will accomplish the task. Low budget.
 I wanted to use 1/4" rod to connect the base plate to the bike. The reason for this is because if the light was bumped the rod would bend or flex before the light breaks. That's the plan anyway.

 These are the pieces that bolt to the bike. Here I am drilling for the 1/4" rod. I still don't know what bends I will be making in the rod to locate the base plates.

 I've decided that these are all the pieces I will use to make one side. Notice the picture and the actual plate I made don't match. That's because I still don't have a clear vision of where this is going. That's really the creative process, don't you think? I like to follow through with this process no matter how weird it seems as I'm doing it. If I hate it I can always throw it away and do something different.

 OK so I've had several glasses of gin tonight but this thing really reminds me of the Sputnik 1 satellite. Maybe my brain is just in that gear because of the rocket style tail lights. Maybe its because when I was a kid all things related to outer space interested me.

  I know. Holy crap! Beam me up Scotty!

  If I'm gonna keep these on here I need to make some kind of cover for the base plate where the wires come out. It just popped into my head that I'm gonna have to buy a converter to integrate the turn signals and brake lights.

 The sissy bar appears crooked because nothing is bolted down tight yet. I still need to take it all apart to paint the fender and the new light mounts. I also have to come up with a license plate holder. I'm also thinking I need to turn the bike around in my little shop. The front end is being neglected.

 Like it or hate it, doesn't matter. This is a bike I will ride daily and haul stuff with. It needs to be comfortable, reliable and somewhat practical. When I started this project some of my goals were to make this thing functional and look like my own. I think I've accomplished that.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Workshop Wednesday-New Tractor

 This blog isn't just about bikes. Its also about other things that interest me of a mechanical nature. I may also throw in a few personal observations from time to time about stupid crap I see or do.
 I have been posting on Sundays and Wednesdays. I'm gonna try to keep Sundays posts about bikes. Wednesdays posts may wander into other areas. I was thinking I need a name like "Workshop Wednesday" or "Wing Nut Wednesday" then the title of the post. I'm open to suggestions. My daughter suggested Willy Wonka Wednesday because things get crazy around here. We're seeking professional help for her.

 My employer, from here on referred to as "the boss", decided one of our tractors was ready to be replaced so he traded it in on a new John Deere 3520. This is a nice size machine as it can handle most attachments pretty easily and also trailers easily. This will be a rental machine next spring but not until we break it in this winter pushing snow. It was decided that we put a Blizzard SpeedWing blade on it and also some weights. Making the mounts to do this would be my job.

 When I start a project like this I like to hold the pieces in place and visualize whats needed to mount it there. The piece on the jack is the push bar for the plow. I need to build a fixture to mount it to the tractor.

 It took me a full morning of cutting, welding and drilling but this mount should be plenty strong. There is also a bar that will run all the way to the rear of the tractor to help sturdy things up.

 It all fits together quite neatly. I took advantage of an open slot in the dash panel to make a bracket for the plow controller. These days they offer controllers in joysticks or hand held units. Some people argue the hand helds are the best and they are by far the most popular. I hate them. I like to be able to reach to the same spot every time and know the controller will be there. If I try to use a hand held I am always dropping or losing it. I'll set it down to use the phone or shift the truck or run the salter and when I look for it again it has somehow worked its way down between the seats or worse. The cord gets tangled around my leg or the seat belt and I waste a lot of time messing around with it when I should be getting work done. I think its gremlins. For that reason I mounted this hand held unit in a spot that it can be used as a fixed unit or be taken off the bracket and used as gremlin bait.
 The next step is to add some weight over the front tires so this tractor will be able to steer with a blade full of snow.

 The first step was to remove the mounts for the loader bucket. I then made a cardboard template of the 100 pound weights I was to use and then decided on a size for this upright piece.

A little more cutting, welding and head scratching and I had a plan for the bracket. One piece isn't shown in this pic. I knew what I wanted but this was clearly a "design as you go" project. Ya I know its just a bracket but I didn't want it to fail.

 The finished bracket and weights. The large bolt locks the weights to the bracket.
 The boss suggested each bracket was overkill for 300 pounds of weight. Maybe so but I like to think its one less thing that will give us problems this winter. I hate down time that could have been avoided. I hate gremlins too.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Packing Light

  Recently there have been a few discussions about packing habits on bikes. I tend to bring more stuff than I ever use and then don't have enough room for the stuff I need. As it turns out, I'm not the only one that feels the need to bring stuff "just in case they need it".
 My friend JT of JBMFT pointed out that I'm doing something wrong so I asked him to set me straight. The following is an article he wrote describing some of his packing strategies. Thanks JT.

Packing Light
Packing for a motorcycle trip is an interesting proposition. Ask ten different people and you'll get ten different answers. There is a science to packing for a trip. In all of my travels and trips I have developed a system that works well for me. Some friends have described it as "packing light". Here are some of the strategies I use to get the most out of my pack so I can worry less and enjoy more.
 Of all the bikes I have had, only two had saddlebags. Even when I had them, my strategy was to pack just one pack really well. This is in case I end up parking my bike in one place and hiking to camp in another. I am very fond of backpacking bags. I gravitate towards the ones with lots of compartments. This not only gives you extra space outside the inner compartment, it also allows everything to have its own place. For example, when I need my cooking stuff I know exactly where to find it. No digging around in one big interior space. This is important to me in pack selection. It might not be to you.

JT's nine day pack. (part of my problem comes in when I try to pack for varying weather conditions. I've rode with JT and he has a much higher tolerance for crappy weather than I do-Scott)

On that note, packing should begin with knowing the type of trip you are taking and your own wants and needs. What can you leave behind? What can't you live without? I have a friend who has sleep apnea and has to travel with his CPAP machine. His concerns, needs and method are vastly different from mine. Similarly, in the summer I camp in a hammock. This means no tent, no ground tarp, no air pad for sleeping, etc. It does mean straps and a rain fly.
 Knowing your needs before you start is a must. On my first cross country trip I packed almost twice as much stuff as I needed. Looking back, I cannot believe I carried as much as I did. It is important to realize that you do not need nearly as much as you think you do. After that first trip I sold that big backpack and used the profits to buy a smaller pack that would carry what I realistically needed. I still feel like I over pack. One recent change I determined to make is my sleeping bag. I traditionally carry a pretty beefy bag even on my summer trips. One of my travel companions used a stand-alone sleeping bag liner on our last summer trip and was just fine. My bulky bag added a ton to my pack. His liner fit in the palm of his hand. Next time, I'll save weight and space by traveling with a liner like that.

  Having the right gear for the trip is very important. This is probably why I have three packs, two tents, three sleeping bags, two camp stoves, etc. My winter bag is overkill for summer trips. I need a bag liner like my friend had. For the type of food prep I do on the road, I don't need a big stove. If you are hotel camping or planning on eating all your meals out, you don't need a stove at all. The right tool for you is a credit card. Thinking about all of this beforehand will make you pack accordingly.
 I am also a big fan of items that do more than one job. The right multitool, like a Gerber or Leatherman, can tackle a handful of jobs and should certainly be in your pack. P-38 can openers are a great example of a little item with many uses. I keep one in my wallet. Hand sanitizer is another. Put some on a cotton ball and it is an excellent fire starter. This keeps me from having to pack other fire starters. Most good camp soaps will wash most anything, including you. The minty variety can even be used as toothpaste. You'll find lots of items can meet several purposes. A dopp kit is one area that I do not scrimp. Cleanliness and comfort go hand in hand for me. I'll usually pack soap, deodorant, toothpaste, floss, Gold Bond, meds, band aids and a small sewing kit. Notice I didn't say shampoo. I use soap to wash my hair on the road. I also carry a few disposable toothbrush things just in case and a small pack and body wipes in case things get really funky but I don't have access to a shower. I have an excellent camp towel that packs down small. Anything that you plan on taking, find the smallest one you can. My towel packs down to the size of a tennis ball. My cutlery kit is the size of a pocketknife. When available, carry travel versions of any necessities. Don't be afraid to pack small and throw things away. I like coffee in the morning. Instead of a jar of instant I pack the single serving packets. I don't carry a separate cup for coffee either, I make it in my water bottle and rinse it out when I am done. I count out prescriptions and only carry what I need and throw them all in a single container.

Baxter Springs, KS. Route 66 during the nine day Oklahoma is OK trip.

  Before you start packing, do some homework on the areas you'll be traveling in. Chances are someone has gone before you and you'll be able to read about anything special you would need. Over time, you'll learn what works best for you and what you need and what you do not. Again, do not be afraid to jettison as you go. Throw things away if you must or ship them home. In case your situation finds you on the opposite end of the spectrum, unless you are riding in some really remote places you can always get what you need on the way.
 No matter how you do it, pack a bag and get out and ride. Even if you go nuts overpacking or forget everything, you'll be happy you did.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Winter Is Here

 We're still tooling up equipment at the shop in preparation for snow plowing season. There have been a few slippery days when I went out salting but no pushing yet. Its this time of year when I need to get my head in the game and think about the tools available to me and safely using them. A while back I posted about a pic I look at to keep myself in check. I have a few for the winter season too.

 I bet I've plowed this drive fifty times. What you can't see is a row of rocks on the left edge of the drive. I accidentally touched one of them with the snow plow and it upset the truck just enough that I went into a slide. This is a U shaped drive and I already had dumped a little bit of salt on the bottom near the garage door. This was supposed to prevent the problem I had of sliding into the door but my slide started too close to the top of the drive and I gained a lot of speed on the way down. There wasn't enough snow to build up in the blade and slow me down and I wasn't able to make the turn. The result was a broke ass garage. If I would have plowed up from the bottom I would have also had a broke ass salt spreader.

 A few years back under a different employer I had a plow route that included a lot a steep drives. Word got around that I was willing to do these drives with a truck and I ended up doing some of the worst drives in the area. Hey, I was getting paid to go 4-wheelin!

 These two pics are the same drive. I would get stuck down here everytime I tried to plow it. Even though I would drop salt on the way down there were two off-camber sharp turns where the blade wouldn't scrape clean. This meant to get back up the hill I needed to do some shoveling and haul a bunch of salt in a bucket. I don't miss this drive. It was exciting for a while but really a lot of BS. These days the excitement comes from trying to manage a crew and get everything done on time. Nothing steeper than a loading dock for me.
 If you're out there dealing with snow I wish you luck. May your salter never freeze up and your blade raise every time you hit the button. If you're traveling, be aware of the plow trucks. Most of them are in a hurry to complete their routes on time and many have poor visibility when backing up. Remember that a lot of these independent guys are out there twelve hours or more. They are tired and frustrated because there are always cars parked in the wrong spot. It might do you well to cut them a little slack.
 Enjoy the snow and have a safe winter!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Timing Cover

 Yesterday was to be a shop cleaning day. I did get some cleaning done but what I really wanted to do was work on the sportster. I needed a quick project to fit in between the ritual of returning tools to their home and gathering up scraps of steel that didn't make it on the bike. I wanted to make my own timing cover and that seemed like a quick easy task.

 I started by removing the original cover and tracing its size onto a thin piece of sheet metal.

 Nothing fancy here.
 I took it to the grinder and got it close to the final size.

 The belt/disc sander was used to bring it down to final size. I then marked and drilled the two holes that will be used to rivet the cover to the housing.

 The next step was to bastardize a few "Greasy Shop Rag" stickers so they would form a circle rather than their original oval shape. The piece I applied them to is a magnetic backed vinyl sheet. The only reason I used this stuff is because it was white and I didn't have any white paint but I did have some spray adhesive. Anyway, then it was sprayed with clear coat.

 This sheet was cut to size and glued to the sheet metal piece I created earlier.

 Now I have a one of a kind timing cover, at least until I make one for the Rat Turd.  I've gotten some feedback on the stickers. It seems many of my friends think they're cool but the female fans not so much. I guess guys think poop is funnier than girls think it is.
 Listen, I have a lot of these stickers. If you want some just ask.