Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Pack Rat

 Last time I posted I hinted that the trunk on the Ultra may be a mess. This is what it looked like last time I opened it and decided it needed help.

 At first it doesn't look terrible but then I pulled everything out.

 Thats a lot of stuff. There are a lot of things I want for a road trip but also a lot of stuff that isn't needed. I probably don't need that souvenir shot glass or two identical stubby screwdrivers.
 I do need eye glasses. I've got backup sunglasses, clear glasses for night, clear goggles for rain and yellow glasses for gloomy days. For whatever reason I also have five sets of reading glasses. I think I can cut that back to just one plus an emergency spare...just in case.

 The stuff in yellow are the glasses. The stuff in the bags circled in red is all related to the air ride suspension. I put it in there after the install "just in case" but never needed it. There is also an air filter/water separator in that pile that I never got around to installing. I'm glad I'm typing this out cuz I just remembered why the stubby screwdrivers are in there. One is needed for cleaning the "up" valve of my air ride. How two got in there is a mystery.

The stuff in purple is just some hand tools and the long phillips is needed to remove the seat.
 Theres a set of playing cards that get used once a year while on vacation. Also two remote alarm sensors that tell me when someone is dickin around with my bike. Two cuz I thought I lost one. Turns out I just misplaced it and found it again after the second one was ordered. Can't seem to find the charger though.
 OMG I found two more pair of glasses in the top travel case. One went straight in the shit can due to scratches on the lens. Lets see, what else. How 'bout a 1/2" drive ratchet with no sockets or a wire terminal crimper but no connectors to crimp.
 There are a few things in this mess I find quite necessary and have saved my keister more than once. I have a 12 volt air compressor, a hand pump and tire repair plugs. Also there are some fuses and a flashlight. And as usual, I have an extra set of gloves.

 Ahh thats better. I think I may have just shaved a half second off my quarter mile time! Not all of it went back in the trunk but most of it is on the bike. I moved a bunch of stuff to the left saddlebag which I consider a storage locker for inclement weather gear, cleaners/rags and now some spare parts. That bag hangs low and is kinda a pain to access anyway. The right saddle bag is used for daily needs and now the trunk can share some of that load.


Sunday, July 28, 2019

Twenty One Days...

  ...Till I leave for vacation. I've been going to the same area with the same guys for about 19 years now so there are no more "pre-vacation jitters". If I glance at a map well thats fine. If I don't then thats fine too. Really all I need to do is make sure the bike is ready to go so I took some time yesterday to change the oil in the Ultra.
 I rode to the next town over where there are at least two auto parts stores open. The first stop usually stocks my go to oil and thats Mobil 1 Full Synthetic. Unfortunately the shelf was empty of what I wanted and the only motorcycle oil they had that was a Lucas product. I'm sure its fine oil but I kinda wanted the Mobil product. You know there are so many different oils I could use because this won't be anywhere near a clutch but we all have our favorites, most of them work, and it just boils down to what makes us feel good. The other factor was that the store was packed. There were two registers running with half a dozen knuckleheads in each line and both the workers were on the phones. I could tell by their conversations and the frustration on the faces of the knuckleheads that there would be a long wait. I left to take my chances at the other store.

 I guess they just stay open on Saturdays to offer refuge to guys like me that don't want to deal with the knuckleheads cuz at first I thought they were closed but when I pulled on the handle, the door came open. I was the only one in the store so got great service. We talked about bikes and oil and the weather and upcoming vacations and just had a grand ole time. They were out of Mobil 1 and a Valvoline product they've apparently sold a lot of, but I wanted to get this oil change done so I spent the few extra bucks per quart for Amsoil. Is it a better oil? Maybe, if you believe all the tests shown online. Is it worth the extra money? Maybe, if you extend the oil change interval like they claim you can then its actually cheaper.

 I think its probably best to just pick whatever oil you like and change it often. That is as long as the oil is rated for your situation.
 I've got a few more things to do on the bike like change out the trans and primary oils and put an eyeball on that primary chain tensioner. I just have a weird feeling about it. I also notice that my rain sock is saturated with oil again and is starting to fall apart at the seams. I'll investigate if that can be purchased separately and wash this one for now. The air filter will also get washed and re-oiled.
 Probably the biggest maintenance requirement right now is cleaning out the trunk. Theres a lot of "what if" stuff in there. I'll report on that next time.


Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Random Pics

 Normally I work on Wednesdays blog on Tuesday night. The problem this time is that I fell asleep in my recliner watching reruns of Columbo and forgot all about the blog. Usually I have a few generic blogs loaded in the chamber just for this type of emergency but I've been slacking lately and fired all those rounds. That means you get random phone pics today.
 Help settle an argument. If a length of chain is broken into two pieces, is it still one chain that is just broken, or is it now two chains?

  I get to work on all kinds of stuff. I had ice for the test run but none of the good stuff that should have gone along with it.

 There is about an 1/8" layer of dirt built up on that choke plate. Thats just the stuff that stuck. Imagine how much passed in the engine. I know not everyone is mechanically inclined but servicing an air filter really is the most basic of tasks, especially on a chainsaw.


 Automowers are wonderful devices but you need to be careful what you park in their path. This one is wedged under a trailer.

 No its not a fifth wheel hitch on a robot mower. This mower wedged itself under that draw bar till the hitch pushed down on the mowers stop button. Tending to these little problems is way better than sitting on a mower to cut the grass so I don't complain.
 I'm outta time and have to get to work.


Sunday, July 21, 2019

Dodging Rain Clouds

 Yesterday I woke up to 83 degrees and dark overcast skies. At first you might think that going for a ride may be questionable due to threatening rain but for me this is the perfect riding conditions. Temps were warm but at hiway speed are perfect. The sun hiding behind clouds means no shadows and very consistent visibility. That also means there are no hidden dangers in dark corners as I sweep through the country back road twisties that I've plotted out in my head over the last forty years. To a lesser extent, wet roads also mean less dust, pollen and for some reason less bugs.

 A quick look at the radar revealed a big red blob of nastiness encompassing the entire lower half of Minnesota and heading my way. I decided that there was a three hour window if I didn't want to get wet. I chose the Ultra for this ride just in case. It already has all my wet weather gear in it and offers decent protection from the elements. The sporty doesn't offer me much more than the middle finger in terms of rain protection.

 I don't seek out the rain and I try to avoid it when riding but if its gonna rain then so be it. I once started an Iron Butt ride in the rain. That ride was over 1100 miles in 19 hours and half of it was in the rain. One time while on vacation I led a group ride where it started to rain. It was coming down pretty hard even by my standards and I never stopped. I know a few people weren't too happy with me at the time and they bailed out but as I think about the people that followed me, it turns out they are the ones I still vacation with every year. Birds of a feather ride together or however that saying goes.

 That three hour window was just about what I needed to run down to the casino in Wisconsin Dells and try my luck. As it turns out I found a machine that wasn't very hungry and actually paid me back more than I put in to it. Not a lot but enough to pay for fuel and dinner. I may have stayed longer to "re-invest" but I got a glance out the window and noticed it was pretty dark outside. Once out to the bike I scanned the sky and determined it would be wise to don the rain gear.

 I like this kind of riding. The weather is questionable with gusts of wind bending the trees and fast moving clouds continually changing my perspective on what may come next. The roads were wet and I could tell from leaves and sticks on the road that a wicked front must have just passed through. The road was still steaming and my bike was kicking up its own spray from the wetness. My one hour route would be mostly back roads with only two small towns to pass through. Out in the open I scan the skies for signs of a storm and try to adjust my route and timing to avoid getting wet. I guess its a game because as I said, I already had the gear on and don't mind the rain.
 I could feel the temps dropping the further north I rode. It was now fifteen degrees cooler than when I left the house and I could tell I was creeping up on the back side of the storm. There wasn't a road to turn off onto to scooch around the rain so I decided the thing to do was stop and smell the roses. When I saw a small boat landing in the marsh I decided to check it out and waste some time. I thought I could take some of those nature shots my wife is always posting on facebook but I don't see things through the lens the same way she does.

  I'm not sure who's using this boat landing cuz its a bit rough.

 I wouldn't think the water level would be low because we've had a wet spring/early summer until the last week.

 This is the bottom of the landing. Your basic f150 isn't launching shit in this muck. There was a time when I would have gone out and bought a boat just to have an excuse to launch it and monster truck through this mess. That time has passed. Not sure why.

 Back on the bike I pretty much followed the back side of that storm right to my house. It was a great ride and it turns out I didn't need the rain gear but somehow I suspect if I hadn't put it on things would have been different.


Wednesday, July 17, 2019


 This isn't about layers like an onion or how to dress in cold weather. The layers I'm talking about today are layers of noise. Not a mix of instruments in an orchestra creating wonderful music but an annoying sound masking an annoying sound masking an annoying sound and so on. On a solid mount v-twin motorcycle, especially of the Harley variety, you get lots of vibration and that equals noise. My Sportster is one such animal and while it won't shake the bar out of your hand, it will buzz hard enough that loc-tite is needed on most of the hardware.

 As reported, I've been riding this beast a lot lately and all that noise has been making me crazy. I fix one thing only to hear something else. I finally figured out that the biggest noise I had was a combo platter of noises all stacked on top of each other like a hero sandwich.

 I was tooling down the hiway and at a certain rpm a big buzz erupted. I set my hand on the center console and the buzz quieted. Huh, that seems like a simple fix and the next time I had a chance I added a plastic trim strip around the console and tightened the screws down better. Turns out that was just the top layer of noise because on my test flight I got a muted version of the same noise. I squeezed my knees against the tank and it subdued the vibes so remounting the tank went on my to-do list.

 Remounting the tank went exactly opposite of how one would think it should go. When I first put it on there I had used some rubber on the front mount to soak up the vibes. This time I replaced the rubber with aluminum tube shims and made the mount solid. Guess what. That quieted down the tank buzz and I did a full tank test ride so I know its not a layer of noise related to fuel level. It sounded good from full to dang near empty. It did something else. It allowed me to hear another annoyance that was going on. It was a noise not related to engine speed but rather bumps in the road. You'd think I could just park the bike and start wiggling things to figure out what was loose. Wrong. Nothing appeared loose until one day I was at a buddys house. We were standing next to the bike shootin the shit when I kicked the front tire. Thats the noise! I did it a few more times and realized it was the brake pad rattling in the caliper. During my next maintenance session at home I disassembled the caliper and rebent the spring to put more tension on the floating pad. This helped a little with the noise and a lot with my sanity. I was relieved to have removed another layer of noise but alas it also revealed the fact that there was at least one more noise related to hitting a bump.

 The noise sounded like it was coming from the front until on one ride when I leaned way back and hung my head down low. I could hear that the noise was in fact coming from the rear and was most likely chain slap. I knew the chain was on the loose side and adjusting it was on the list but I didn't think it was loose enough to slap the chain guard or engine case. I think the reason its so sensitive to adjustment may be cuz this is a conversion. The engine was belt drive and the bike was chain. When that engine was swapped into this frame I put a gear on in place of the belt pulley. I'm not sure if the diameter of that gear makes clearance an issue but after the chain adjustment, my noise went away. Its not the last layer of noise but its the last one I need to fix to keep my sanity. Besides the rush of the wind and the rumble of the pipes I have a very mellow driveline hum that only is audible under load. Maybe something from the transmission? Maybe a wheel bearing? Maybe its just the sound all these pieces make when acting upon each other. No matter because for now I'm just gonna enjoy the peace and quiet that a big bore sportster offers.


Sunday, July 14, 2019


 Last week I talked to you about my challenges getting the sportster on the road. Now that its road worthy I've been riding it much more than the Ultra. Its just nice to change things up and I do like the lighter weight.
 Lets back up a bit and talk about my history with this bike. About six years ago a coworker of my wife was selling this '89 Sportster and my wife decided it would make a wonderful anniversary gift for me. She was right. I like bikes and I like project bikes even better. Shes my favorite.

 The bike went through a lot of visual changes but the first thing that needed to be done was make it reliable. The original 883 four speed had a bad transmission bearing coming through the case. Turns out the wisest fix was to swap in a modern five speed engine. I found an 883 on ebay and installed a Hammer Performance 1250 big bore kit. Now I had reliability and a little "git up and go"!

  I rode the bike down to the Smoky Mountains at least once but I think maybe twice. On one of those trips the height of that sissy bar along with a duffle bag caused the frame to crack. Fortunately a local hillbilly welder got me back on the road. When I got home I shortened that sissy bar. You can see the before and after heights in the above pics.

 The bike has been pretty reliable and I remember only two times it let me down. Both were related to using a cheap toggle switch as a main power switch. I've gone back to the factory key switch and haven't had any more problems. 
 The latest look is basic black. It was supposed to be true fire flames on black but I never got good enough at painting flames to do it. I'll keep practicing and get something on there. I can always paint over it like I've done may times before.

 Like I said before, I've been riding this bike all week and enjoying it. The solid mounted engine creates a lot of vibes throughout the bike and they have been driving me nuts. I was able to take care of some front caliper rattle but I need to better mount the fuel tank. It doesn't belong on this bike and its solid mounting is creating some rattle noises that are louder than the exhaust. It really only happens at certain rpm's so fixing it has been low on the list. 
 One big difference between commuting on this bike verses the Ultra is carrying capacity. On the sporty if I want to haul something it has to be in a bacpac.

  During a recent ride I stopped along the road and shot a quick video. The shaking license plate kinda gives you and idea of how much this thing vibrates. 

 I have to go to work this morning. Its 60 degrees out there and I know the Ultra would be a warmer ride but I'll take the Sportster. If nothing else, the wind slap in the face will wake me up.


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Squish 3.0

 Squish version 1.0 has been reborn as Mowby Dick, the Automower that cuts my lawn. He started life cutting grass at the shop but some contractors backed over him with their skid loader, hence the name Squish. I think that was the first one we named. Squish 2.0 has never been squashed but he replaced the first Squish so version 2 was a natural. We have a lot of mowers out their and calling them by their pet names makes identifying them easier.
 I suppose the longer I'm involved with Automowers, the more I'll see this. Its a smashed mower and whether its rebuilt or not it will forever be referred to as Squish 3.0.

 These things are built of a durable material capable of withstanding everything Mother Nature can throw at them short of a falling tree limb. That material is plastic. Its light weight and high strength along with some flexibility make it ideal for this type of equipment. I remember when I was a kid, if something new came out and was made of plastic we just assumed it was junk. Maybe it was but plastic has come a long way. One thing its not capable of in this configuration is supporting the weight of a car. This poor machine was backed over in an accident that never should have happened when a car backed deep into the lawn to get turned around. Schtuff happens and I'm not here to judge anyone, just report the outcome. 

 You might think it doesn't look that bad but the fact is that every major piece of the body is damaged, along with much of the internal gizmos. 

 I don't know yet what the fate of this machine will be but I suspect once all the junk pieces are tossed out, what remains will just be a few spare parts. In fact, from a repair/replace cost standpoint, its totaled.
Rest In Pieces Squish 3.0.


Sunday, July 7, 2019

Sportster Challenges

 Having that day off during the week really screwed up my sense of when the weekend would be here. Friday felt like a Monday so when Saturday got here and I didn't have to work, I wasn't prepared. Fortunately, adjusting to having a day off is a pretty easy task, but how would I spend the day? Earlier in the week I took care of that misfire in the BMW. I also scheduled an appointment for new tires and an alignment. The big ass station wagon got a little attention when I replaced a sticking caliper and brake pads on Thursday. My wife is nursing a sore knee so I had much of the day to myself and decided I wanted to take that sporty for a ride. The only way that was gonna happen was if I forgot about painting flames and just assembled it with what I had.

 One last effort to make a Rustoleum paint job look a bit more presentable. I Followed up the buffing compound with a coat of wax. You know the hardest part of this job was finding all the parts and hardware. It came apart over a year ago and stuff was scattered all over the shop and garage.
 Once the tank and front fender were mounted I ran the Ultra to the gas station for a gallon of fuel. What a jungle it was in town. The flea market drew an unusually large crowd and the idiots were out in full force. Our street has no consistency in which intersections have stop signs or no stop right of way. Ya just have to ride assuming no one is gonna stop and that approach served me well when an Illinois plated SUV blew a stop sign and would have monster trucked me if I hadn't been prepared.
 I thought the next hurdle would be dealing with a varnished carb cuz to be honest I don't remember using stabil or properly draining anything. It turned out my battery that had showed it took a full charge didn't have the amperage to crank the engine. This meant I was taking a second ride on the Ultra, this time a forty mile round trip to the parts store for a $90 battery.
 Replacing the old battery fixed my problem and I was finally able to go for a ride, or so I thought. I pulled in the clutch and tried to drop the beast into first gear but just got some nasty grinding. How does a clutch cable go out of adjustment while just sitting in a living room? Dunno but grabbed a couple of half inch wrenches and made the adjustment. My next attempt to go for a ride resulted in a squeal from the clutch and the same from the rear tire. Ahh, things are back to the way they were when I parked it!
 I think its the closeness a rider has to the machine and environment that draws me to bikes. Maybe also in some part the chance that things can get interesting in a hurry if they don't go as expected. I had a low speed miss that cleared up after a few hiway miles. I suspect a fouled spark plug was the culprit. The lack of a fairing allows everything mother nature has to offer to slam you in the face and chest. I guess I like that, at least when the weather is nice. The light weight compared to my Ultra makes throwing this bike around kinda fun. Its called a sportster but I know its not a sport bike. Still, its a refreshing change to the bigger bike. All the effort getting the bike running was worth it and I am looking forward to another ride today.


Wednesday, July 3, 2019

BMW Maintenance

 My wifes Beemer has been experiencing a misfire and fixing it finally came up on the Honey-Do list. The plan was to drive her car into work and hook it up to a big dollar fancy schmancy code scanner we have there. Well don't cha know, it would read all the codes on that car except the engine codes, and let me tell you that car has the ability to code anything. I think I saw one in there for dog crap in the tire treads. Anyway, maybe its the software or maybe I did something wrong but what matters is that I wasn't able to pinpoint which cylinder had the misfire. Sunday morning I went on Amazon and ordered six ignition coils for only $130 which I thought was a good deal especially considering that when I got them they were the same as the factory originals. I also ordered some platinum spark plugs. Did I need six coils? No. Was replacing all six a sure way to get rid of the bad one? Yes. I understand these things eat coils so lets call it preventative medicine.
 Monday while at work my wife texts me that the parts are in. I mean I want to support the local brick and mortar stores but how can you beat that? One day, parts at my door step, no driving or calling, only a 5 minute investment of my time. Today I'll stop at the local parts store and buy a caliper for the big ass station wagon so some of my vast fortune is spent locally.
 When I got home my wife asks how the car is running. I thought it was fine but to be fair the problem was only under light load and my ride home was mostly heavy load. Zip Zip! I don't like to be passed.

 The biggest part of the job is removing all the plastic pieces that pretty up the engine compartment. I don't like them, They hide all the mechanical bits and make working on these things a drag. Maybe BMW thinks all this prettiness sells cars. I dunno. If you cant appreciate the looks of the engine on its own then leave the hood down. I mean there isn't even a freakin dip stick under there so why does suit and tie guy need to even look at it. Some day only a dealer will be able to open the hood.

 Replacing six coils and spark plugs wasn't that big of a job. I did find five BMW/NGK spark plugs and one odd brand plug. That odd plug looked shady and I suspect the coil over that plug was my only problem. I'll keep the rest for spares. I got everything swapped out, put back all the prettiness and slammed the hood with confidence. My wife was sitting in the car and as I walked past her I asked her to start it up and get the a/c rolling while I washed my hands. She pushed to start button and it just cranked. No start. My wife knows me pretty well and when the F-bombs started flying, she backed off and just let me work it out.
 The First thing I had to do was pull all that frickin plastic prettiness off of the engine again. It went faster this time because I now had some practice at doing this but still it was getting less and less pretty. I couldn't find any electrical connections knocked off and was really starting to worry what the hell I could have screwed up. Eventually I started removing wiring harnesses from the new coils.

 When you push the wire connector into that plug on the coil, the top lever flips down and cam locks the harness in place. Turns out if you don't initially push that connector in far enough it will still draw the connector in, just not far enough. It feels seated and there is no slop but its not actually connected. Why they designed them to be able to be connected wrong is a mystery to me. I mean we put men on the moon decades ago, mold a piece of plastic so morons like me can get it right the first time. I corrected my mistake on all six cylinders.
 This time I asked my wife to start the car before the pretty plastic went in place. Half a revolution later she fired and was purring like a kitten. Now I decorated it with all the plastic bits and this time slammed the hood with relief.
 My reward was being chauffeured to the ice cream shop for a sunday. Works for me!