Friday, August 15, 2014

XS750 Project Part 25: On Rat Bikes, Abandoned Projects and Moving the Soul

I took an English class in college that was easily one of the biggest wastes of time in my entire college career. However, there was at least one grain of wisdom that the English professor teaching (ahem...) that class left with me: "A work of art is never completed," she said. "It is merely abandoned." Her point, of course, was that you can spend an entire lifetime rewriting, editing, altering, adjusting and perfecting your writing -- or any other art form, for that matter -- and there will still be something else in that work that you feel you can make better. Eventually, however, most artists (writers, painters, sculptors, whatever) grow tired with a particular piece of work, and move on to a new project.

Likewise, I have reached a point in my cafe racer project where, even though I know full well that the project is not complete, it is at least at a point where I can pull it out of the workshop and start enjoying it.

Don't be misled; it's still a rat bike in every sense of the word. The seat is a 1/2 inch thick sheet of foam rubber crudely carved (more or less) into shape and held on to the metal seat pan with bungie cords. The exhaust is shot and falling apart. The bike still idles at 4000 RPM once it has reached operating temperature, although I've got a lead on what needs to be done to fix that (thanks, Gatlyn!). The instrument cluster is dented, the triple trees are faded and rusting, and the idiot light panel is cracked and off-kilter. Nevertheless, it is at least ridable now, and I've been commuting around town on it every chance I get.

As I've said before, the V-Strom has been a great bike, and I am really glad that I bought it. It's rock solid, bulletproof, and as reliable as a bike can be. I've put just shy of 30,000 miles on it in the five summers I've owned it, and I fully intend to ride it into the ground; I don't expect that I will ever sell it.

However...have you ever had an itch where it doesn't matter where you scratch, you can't quite seem to reach it? You scratch here, but it's a little too low. You scratch a little higher, but that's not quite it either. You scratch to either side, but still miss the itch. Desperate now, you scratch all over, but every time, you get close...but not quite there. That's what the Strom has been like. It's a great bike, and I really enjoy riding it, but there's still something inexplicable that's missing when I ride it.

Then there's the Yamaha. Now that I've got it running, I think I've finally found what the V-Strom was missing: Character. Soul. That invisible, unquantifiable, visceral feeling of rightness that you can't explain to anyone else, but that you know and recognize the second it's there. The V-Strom is fast enough; in fact, I've ridden it about 10-20 MPH faster than I've (yet) gone on the Yamaha. It's a lot more comfortable than the Yam. I rode the Strom from Anchorage to Seattle and back, a round trip of 5,000 miles, at least according to the odometer (which, admittedly, includes commuting while in Seattle); the longest round-trip I've made on the bike I've named "Miami" ("My Yammy," lol) is 60 miles...and then I was a little stiff for two days afterwards! The Strom has never, ever stranded me anywhere (although I did trailer it back from Valdez this summer after what turned out to be a non-event -- the chain guard had loosened and was rubbing on the chain, but I thought it was bearing problems again), but I've had to call for a ride home once already while out on the Yammy, and I had to stop and troubleshoot on the side of the road once after the engine abruptly died on me. The Strom is more nimble, turns quicker and is more responsive to body language than the Yam. It also is lighter, has more range, carries more cargo, is more versatile, and starts with the push of a button every...single...time whereas the Yamaha is a cranky, cantankerous, kick-start-only machine, etc., etc., etc.

Yet somehow, despite all of the logical, rational, practical reasons why the Strom is a better bike -- and it is, no doubt about it -- the Yamaha still elicits more smiles per gallon than the V-Strom. When I want to unwind, it's the bike I gravitate towards, even in its present, unfinished state. When I close my eyes and picture myself shedding the stress of the day, the vision in my mind's eye is me astride the Yammy. The Strom transports the body, but the Yamaha transports the soul.

And in the end, that's why I ride. There's nothing logical or rational or practical about it. It's about feeding the soul and feeling alive. Both bikes fill needs that I have, so both bikes will continue to be ridden. Sometimes the mission will be practical, and I'll take the Strom. Sometimes the mission will be emotional, and I'll take the Yam. And if one or the other bike is down for maintenance, at least I won't be caging it during Alaska's all-too-short riding season ;)

Friday, June 20, 2014

XS750 Project Part 24: Brakes Working but Engine...Not So Much

For the second year in a row, I tried to have the XS ready for the Ride for Hope, a charity ride in which I like to participate. The cruiser crowd is usually well represented at the Ride to Hope, with a few large-displacement touring bikes in attendance as well. My Strom is typically an odd duck on this ride, as the Ride to Hope usually conflicts with the Dust to Dawson ride, and the ADV crowd usually opts for the D2D. No surprise, since Hope is only 80 miles from Anchorage -- barely a warm-up for ADV types. However, 80 miles would be a good run on a cafe racer, and I'm anxious to show off the XS, so I've been busy swapping out parts and trying to get the XS finished up in time for Saturday's (June 21) ride.

First, I found a pair of front brake calipers on E-Bay for a reasonable price, and managed to swap the new seals and stainless steel pistons out of the original calipers into the new E-Bay brakes. After a false start (I ended up needing to disassemble the calipers and take a brake hone to the cylinder), I finally got a pair of front brakes that no longer leak -- a major accomplishment, considering how many ways I've tried to repair the old calipers first. I wasn't happy with the stainless steel brake lines that run from the splitter to the calipers themselves, so I also ordered slightly longer Goodridge brake lines, and new bleeder check-valves (supposedly, they only allow fluid out, greatly simplifying the task of bleeding the brakes).

I also reworked the tail/brake lights and turn signals. I ended up cutting a few inches off of the metal seat pan to stiffen up the tail light/plate mount, since the old one seemed a bit flimsy and was too easy to bend.

I also spent some time working on a fiberglass seat and cafe hump to fit over the metal seat pan. After sculpting a gorgeous, work-of-art cafe hump out of florist's foam (if I do say so myself, lol), and laying up a couple of layers of fiberglass over the foam, I test fit the seat on the bike, and noticed that the hump was way too high for the lines of the bike. Over the winter, I found a post over at Bike Exif that describes the lines that make a good-looking cafe racer. The seat hump I had designed violated both the "Height" and "Swoop" guidelines in that post. I'm at least as much a rebel as anyone else, but...there's a reason those guidelines work, lol. I ended up taking my Lowe's dozuki saw knock-off to the hump, cutting it down so that it no longer looks out of place with tank on the bike. Unfortunately, there's still more finish work to be done on the seat before it's even close to being done.

Next, I replaced the stock vacuum-operated fuel petcocks with manual parts from Mike's XS, which solved the problem with fuel leaking from the tank. After several test runs in the driveway, then a quick ride in my neighborhood, I was satisfied that the petcocks were no longer leaking, that the carb floats were set correctly, and that they shut off the flow of fuel to the carbs properly once the float bowls filled.

Despite a persistent problem with idle on the bike -- once it warms up, it idles at 3500 - 4000 RPM and I can't figure out why -- I rode the bike to work one Friday morning. It started acting a little odd while sitting in traffic at lunch time, but ran great on the way home a few hours later, making me think that the engine was just getting a little too hot while idling at 4000RPM with no airflow over the engine. It is an air-cooled engine, after all. I installed new NGK BPR7 spark plugs while troubleshooting the high idle, mucked around with the idle mixture setting and idle adjust screw, but the bike still idled at 3500+ RPM. After reading everything I could find on-line about high idle on a carbureted motorcycle, I decided to add some Sea Foam to the tank, and run the bike on the highway for a while. As you can see in this video, the bike ran like a champ...

...until it abruptly stopped running altogether. After sitting on the side of the road for 10-15 minutes, I managed to get the bike restarted and limped back about two miles towards home before it died again. This time, I couldn't get it to start again, and I haven't been able to start it since (grrr!!!)

So, back out to the garage and more troubleshooting. I connected my ohmmeter to the primary leads of each ignition coil and measured the resistance. According to the fine folks at Yamaha Triples, the primaries on the '77 XS750 should measure 4 ohms +/-20%. I measured 6.5, 5.0 and 6.4 on coils 1, 2 and 3 respectively -- that's 62%, 25% and 60% out of spec, respectively. Then, I measured resistance from the primary to the output of each coil. Per the spec, that should be 11K ohms (+/-20%), and I measured 10.4K, 10.2K, and 10.5K on each coil, which is well within spec. Just to verify my tests, I also tried sparking from a plug to the engine ground while kicking the kickstarter -- it sparked, but didn't seem particularly strong. After testing the coils, I ordered replacements and new spark plug wires from Mike's XS as well as new points and condensers from Bike Bandit. We'll see if the makes any difference, but for now -- for the second year in a row -- the XS isn't quite ready for the Ride to Hope, so I'll be riding the Strom again. But at least *it* has heated grips! :)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

ADV Pulse Survey -- Rebutting the ADV Stereotype

Just completed a survey over at ADV Pulse about whether or not so-called "Adventure" and/or "Adventure Touring" bikes are the SUV's (read "vehicles for poseurs who like to pretend they are more rugged than they really are") of today. I can't answer for anyone else, but I've taken my Strom -- certainly not the most off-road capable ADV bike on the market -- to some pretty rugged unmaintained roads...:

...even if I do ride it on pavement or maintained dirt/gravel roads 90% of the time:

One question they didn't ask, but I wish they had, is "would you spend more time off-road if your bike had features that made it more capable off-road?" (my answer would be yes). For example, if my Strom had a longer travel suspension, a little more ground clearance and a lower c.g., I'd probably be a lot more adventurous on it. Yes, that raises the question, "so why didn't I get a KLR or DR650?" to which I would reply, "because it's a long way on pavement between places I wanted to visit in my home state of Alaska, so the Strom seemed better suited for the type of riding I would typically be doing." Additionally, while the KLR is, by all accounts, a very capable bike, it was just lacking the excitement factor I wanted in a motorcycle. While my Strom might not be as capable as the KLR once the pavement ends, it gets a lot more smiles per gallon on pavement than I expected from the Kawasaki.

That, basically, is the essence of the "Adventure" motorcycle paradox: manufacturers build motorcycles that meet the "90% of the time needs" of motorcycle riders (i.e., pavement-oriented), while "Adventure" riders like myself dream of the 10% of the time we are going some place really cool (i.e., unmaintained 4x4 trails and such). However, because the bikes we own are strongly biased towards the pavement, we don't explore the really cool places as often as we'd like. Manufacturers see that most "ADV" bikes rarely travel off-road, and continue to bias their "ADV" offerings for the street. Wash, rinse, and repeat as required.

You can see this with the newer bikes being introduced to the market. The BMW 1200GS is the flagship of the Adventure Touring world, but honestly, how many of us would really take a 600 pound, $20,000+ dollar motorcycle on a rugged trail where the likelihood of dropping and damaging the bike is extremely high? Yet all of the major manufacturers are introducing bikes that are more like the 1200GS than the DR650 or KLR650: Ducati's Multistrada, the new KTM 1190, the Triumph Tiger 1200, Yamaha's Super Tenere are all strongly road-biased. Honda's two "Adventure" bikes and the new Suzuki DL1000 V-Strom are "Adventure" in name only.

Ideally, I'd like something very similar to the Husqvarna 650 Trail or the Tenere 660 (not available here in the U.S., @#&$%!!!) but with a twin-cylinder engine. Since it doesn't exist (and the Triumph Tiger 800XC wasn't available in 2010, when I bought my bike), I settled for the best compromise I could find at the time, a 2009 Suzuki DL650. Because it is a compromise, I don't spend as much time on rugged trails as I would like.

If only the manufacturers would build a small, light, off-road capable twin for the U.S. market...

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Early Season Ride up to Hatcher Pass

When I was a child, my family lived in Northern Japan. One of our frequent day trips was to drive to the Towada Mountains, a volcanic range of mountains, one of which had a caldera lake, with an absolutely spectacular gorge carved by the Oirase River which flowed from the lake to the ocean below and to the east. To this day, it's one of my favorite places on earth; perhaps my very favorite, even. I remember traveling up into the mountains near the caldera lake one winter afternoon, and being amazed. The snowplows had done an amazing job of keeping the road clear -- but on either side of the road were vertical walls of snow towering way over our heads. It was an impressive sight, to say the least.

So, when a co-worker told me he had recently tried to drive over Hatcher Pass between Willow and Palmer, Alaska, and had run into walls of snow that sounded like the ones from my childhood in Japan, I decided I needed to take a trip out to Hatcher Pass to see it (again) for myself.

My co-worker had driven up from the Willow side, and maybe the Palmer side was just a little warmer and received a little more sun than the Willow side. Or maybe, I just waited too long to head out to the Pass. Whatever the reason, I didn't find ten-foot-high walls of snow on either side of the road, but it was a great day for a ride, anyway. The weather was beautiful -- warm, sunny, mild winds -- and the trees were just starting to bud, filling the air with the delicious aroma of spring (cottonwoods are a pain in the backside come mid-summer, but they smell wonderful in early May!). Even though the snow wasn't as high on the sides of the road as I expected, there was still too much snow near the summit for either the Pass itself or Archangel Valley to be opened yet...which is not at all unexpected, as the Pass usually doesn't open until around the 4th of July. Nevertheless, if you are visiting Alaska by motorcycle (or even by car), I'd still recommend a trip up to Hatcher Pass, if you find yourself in the Mat-Su Valley. Like the Towada Range in Japan, it's one of my favorite places to spend a sunny summer day.

Friday, February 14, 2014

XS750 Restoration Project Part...I Don't Remember Anymore -- Shock Upgrades

It's been a while since I've last updated the XS750 project pages, mostly because it's been really cold in the garage and I've been lazy ;) However, a week or two ago, I replaced the (ancient) stock rear brake line with a Goodridge braided stainless line that I picked up from Bike Bandit. Even better, yesterday, the slightly longer (330mm vs. OEM 320mm) Hagon 2810 shocks I ordered finally arrived:

Installation was a breeze:
Pull the old shocks...

Shocks removed...

Left side Hagons in place...

...and the right side.

That's it! I now have a little more clearance between the wheel and frame.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Fricken' Awesome!

My wife recently found a video (sorry, I don't have the link or I'd paste it here) that I found really intriguing, and then today, I ran across the same story from a link at Yamaha Triples.

This is SO many levels of awesome!

Out of curiosity, I followed a link to B.A.C.A.'s web page, where they have a list of local chapters, and...

Crap. No Alaska chapter >:(

Could a scrawny (6-foot-0, 180 pounds) ADV-type start a chapter up here, I wonder??? Anyone else here in AK interested in signing up?

Edit: I contacted the national organization, and they put me in touch with a guy here in my local area who used to be a member in the Lower-48. Everything is still in the planning stages now -- nothing is for certain, yet -- but it looks like we might have enough interested folks to get a chapter started up here! I'll keep the blog updated if (and "as") things start happening.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

New Bearings -- Again -- New Brake Pads -- Again -- and a Four Letter S-Word

I installed a set of All-Balls wheel bearings this spring, just before the snow melted. Happy to have replaced the "sealed on one side" OEM bearings with higher quality, fully sealed bearings, I fully expected not to need to dig into the rear wheel bearings for another 50 - 75,000 miles.

Silly me.

On Friday, the week before Halloween, I walked out to my bike at lunch, and found this: rust all over my wheel hub, axle, axle spacer and swingarm. Are you <expletive deleted> kidding me?!?! Yeah, I rode to Seattle this summer, but I've still put less than 10,000 miles on the bike since I installed the bearings, and this was the driest, warmest summer I remember since I moved to Anchorage in 1989. Fortunately, I haven't yet installed the All-Balls bearings I purchased for the front wheel, and it's safe to say I won't be installing them now, either.

Running wisdom at Stromtroopers is that you can get higher-quality bearings from the local bearing shop than either the OEM Suzuki bearings or in the All-Balls kit, so I ran to Alaska Bearing and purchased all new bearings for the bike (plus a couple of bearings for the XS750 project). The total bill: $60, which considering that the All-Balls front and rear wheel bearing kits for the DL650 alone are $30 each, is a pretty good deal.

The bearing installation itself was no big deal, but when reinstalling the wheel back on the bike, I had a bit of a problem getting all the parts to line up while the brake caliper was installed on the bracket that fits between the wheel and swingarm. It's always kind of a pain, and I usually end up dropping the axle spacer a half-dozen times or so -- which means it picks up a lot of dirt and grit, since my garage floor gets pretty nasty while I'm working on the bike, and therefore, I end up cleaning and re-greasing the axle spacer over and over and over and... -- so I decided to try something new this time. Rather than fight with calipers and spacers and the wheel and the axle, I decided to simply remove the caliper while I reinstalled the wheel. Sure enough, that made installation a lot easier...until I tried to reinstall the caliper. It was late, I was tired, and I should have called it a night, but instead, I tried to get the caliper installed first. Bad call, that. There are two bolts that affix the caliper to the mounting bracket, and I managed to torque one too much, snapping it in half >:( and cross-threading the other one. Yeah, that was easier, grrr!!!

Well, I needed a new set of brake pads (again), so I visited my local go-to guys to order a new set of brake pads, and see if they could get replacements for the two bolts I had munged up the night before. Go-Pro was no-go on the bolts, but they said they could order new pads for me. I asked them to go ahead and order the pads, then I ran by my local Suzuki dealer for the bolts -- yep, special order, too. Meanwhile, my bike is sitting on jack stands in my garage during an unseasonably warm, completely unexpected extended riding season. While I can sometimes keep riding through Halloween, I don't believe I have never been able to ride in November, and now that the weather is finally nice enough to ride in November, the Strom is down with maintenance issues while I'm waiting on parts :roll_eyes:

After a week, I paid another visit to Go-Pro, and was told the pads hadn't arrived yet, but that they should be in "later today or tomorrow." Okay, no problem. I ended up getting sick over the following weekend, and therefore, I didn't get a chance to drop by either Go-Pro or the Suzuki dealer until yesterday, a full second week since ordering both the pads and bolts. Sure enough, the Suzuki dealer had my bolts, but GoPro...sigh..."We just placed the order on the 5th (of November -- yesterday was the 8th). They won't be here until at least next week." WT*?!?! I placed the <expletive deleted> order two weeks ago and you just ordered the parts from your vendor three days ago? And my bike has been up on jack stands in the garage for two weeks during cool, but ridable, weather while you guys have been sitting on your thumbs?!?!

I was NOT a happy camper.

Fortunately, I had gone to Go-Pro before going to the Suzuki dealer, and the Suzuki dealer had the exact pads I wanted in stock. Pads in hand, last night, I went back out to the garage to replace the two bolts and the brake pads, with the intention of taking the Strom out one more time (at least) this morning, for what might be the latest-in-the-year ride I've ever made.

Isn't there an aphorism about "best laid plans..." or something to that effect?

I woke up this morning, got dressed, made some coffee and oatmeal for breakfast, and as I was eating, my daughter called my attention to the weather outside:

What the hail? You're kidding me, right? We've had two weeks of unseasonably good riding weather while my bike has been up on jack stands, and less than twelve hours after I get the bearings and brake pad repairs wrapped up, it's SNOWING outside? Okay, fine; it's hail, not snow, but the effect on my plans is exactly the same. I'd be insane to try to go for a ride in that, especially since the rear tire is getting seriously worn after the Al-Can trip this summer.

Ah, screw it. I went for a ride anyway -- to the end of the gravel road I live on -- and the Strom did fine :) It wasn't as long a ride as I had planned, and it sure wasn't as fast a ride as I had planned, but whatever: I got to ride!