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!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Al-Can 2013

"Beginnings are a very delicate time..." --Princess Irulan, "Dune" (by Frank Herbert)

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end." --Closing Time, Semisonic

It was a bright, sunshiny day in May of 1988 when I stood outside Meade Senior High School with three of my best friends, Dave Pettyjohn, Lee McShane and Mark Perry, congratulating and high-fiving each other. Our commencement ceremony had just ended; the four of us were officially high school graduates. As we stood there in the sun, broad grins splitting our faces, I felt like the entire world was just waiting for me to reach out and take it. From the end of my high school tenure was birthed a whole new beginning, and I could make of this new beginning anything I wanted. Both my mood and my future, just like the weather that day, was bright and full of promise.

I am not exactly sure what caused this particular memory to surface as I turned north out of Glenallen, Alaska en route to Seattle, but I couldn't deny the appropriateness of it. Just as I had felt on my graduation day, I was filled with a sense that the world was waiting for me to make of it what I willed. I was leaving Alaska for close to a month, and the thin ribbon of asphalt stretching away into the rolling hills outside of Glenallen seduced me out of my beloved Alaska, promising new adventures once I crossed the Canadian border.

The plan had hatched just a few short months earlier. My step-daughter had been working on a Physician's Assistant certificate through the University of Washington, and she needed help watching her son Clark while she was there. Through some combination of miracles and divine intervention, I not only got my wife to agree to drive a motorhome down the Al-Can while I followed along on my motorcycle, but my wife and I also managed to convince our respective bosses to give us a little over three weeks of leave in which to make the trip. Now, after months of planning, the departure date had arrived, and we were off!

The first day was largely uneventful, although we left Anchorage about two hours behind schedule. As we hit the Glenn Highway, I chuckled as I realized I had the theme song from "Smokey and the Bandit" on my mind:
  East bound and down,
  Loaded up and truckin'.
  We gon' do what they said can't be done.
  We've got a long way to go,
  And a short time to get there...

How appropriate! I mused to myself.

The weather was clear, warm, and sunny, and the V-Strom performed flawlessly. The highway between Tok and the Canadian border meanders through valleys in a number of mountain ranges, and I was mesmerized by the scenery. Having grown up near the volcanic Towada Mountains in northern Honshu, Japan, I love the mountains, and never, ever tire of their beauty. However, the Alaska Department of Transportation has been busy maintaining the roads near Tok this year, and, much as I wanted to sightsee, I found that I had better keep my eyes on the road, as the asphalt was intermittently marred by swatches of gravel where the road crews were busy re-paving stretches of highway. One particular swatch of gravel felt unusually tricky, forcing me to throttle back to about 40-45 MPH. At a rest break a little ways up the road, my wife mentioned that the gravel in that particular section was soft, and about 2 to 3 inches deep. Oh...that explains a lot! Both motorcycle and RV survived the road construction, however, and after approximately nine hours and 430 miles, we crossed the Canadian border -- my first border crossing by motorcycle, and another item ticked off the motorcycling bucket list! -- and rolled into Beaver Creek, Yukon, where I was greatly surprised by the number and ferocity of mosquitoes. Having lived in Alaska since my first trip up the Al-Can in 1989, I am no stranger to mosquitoes, but I have never encountered more numerous nor more persistent mosquitoes than those that welcomed us to the Yukon.

The First Nations border guard was polite and friendly: "You're with them?" pointing to the RV ahead, containing my wife and twelve year old daughter.

"Yes, sir."

"Usually when I see a motorcycle carrying that much gear..." with a nod at the tent, sleeping bag and mattress pad strapped to the passenger seat of my bike, "...they aren't traveling with an RV."

"Once we reach Seattle, I am planning to take a couple of days and continue solo to Crater Lake, Oregon before returning back to Alaska with my family."

A nod. "Ah. Can you remove your helmet, please?"

Oh...yeah. I am wearing a helmet, aren't I? "Sure, sorry. Forgot I had it on."

"Thank you. Have a nice day."

Wednesday morning dawned clear, hot and sunny, just as the previous day had been. When I first drove the Al-Can in 1989, I remember being amazed and somewhat ashamed that the roads in the Yukon seemed to be so much better quality than the roads in Alaska. While there were long stretches of gravel in the Yukon, the paved sections were smooth, seamless, flawless asphalt, whereas the roads on the Alaska side of the border were patched and frost heaved. Not so this trip. Words fail me when I try to describe the asphalt we encountered near Beaver Creek. It wasn't pot-holed or frost heaved; it was something else. It was as if a giant child had dragged his fingers in the asphalt while it was still hot, leaving meandering grooves and ridges a foot wide and tens of feet long in the asphalt. I stood on my pegs and picked the smoothest path I could find; my wife did likewise, but in a 26 foot RV with a ten foot utility trailer behind, it was impossible for her to avoid all the ruts. Eventually, the bouncing and jostling collapsed the legs on the Weber grill that I had strapped down on the utility trailer, rendering it inoperative for the rest of the trip >:( Other than the poor roads, the ride was uneventful until we reached Kluane Lake, where I stopped to shoot a couple of photographs:

After Kluane Lake, we started skirting rain showers, getting sprinkled on a few times, but riding mostly in good weather. We stopped at an absolutely phenomenal pizza joint in Whitehorse for dinner, where I discovered how important it is to perform a pre-ride inspection, just like I used to do when flying airplanes. It was getting late, I was a bit fatigued, and after removing and stowing the carbon fiber side-stand plate that I use whenever I park on gravel, as well as the "Remove Before Flight" reminder flag for the brand new disk brake lock I had purchased for this trip, I fired up the engine, put the bike and gear, slowly let out the clutch and...stalled the engine. Wash, rinse, and repeat several times. I had the sinking feeling that I had a serious transmission problem. No matter how gently I feathered the clutch, the bike stalled with an ugly "thunk" sound. I called to my wife that I had a transmission problem, to which she sweetly replied, "Did you remove the disk brake lock?"


Fortunately, the flush that covered my face was obscured by my helmet. "Ummm, no...I removed the, ah, reminder flag, but not, umm, the lock itself..." I mumbled. You see, I had cut the cord for the reminder flag about six inches too short to reach from the handlebars to the disk brake, so although I had remembered to remove the flag, I had forgotten to remove the object it was supposed to remind me of, namely, the disk brake lock itself. Feeling like a fool, I sheepishly removed the lock, kicked off Google Navigator on my cell phone (securely mounted on my handlebars) and...promptly took a wrong turn, resulting in a three mile detour through a residential area in Whitehorse. Finally, we found the Al-Can again, and raced off into darkening skies and increasingly strong winds. As we approached Marsh Lake, I pulled into a rest stop to don my rain gear before I got totally soaked, and sure enough, within half a mile...the rain stopped. We finally called it a night in Teslin, after a mere 383 miles taking almost nine hours on the road.

By the time we arrived, my low fuel light was flashing desperately for my attention, and I was beginning to wonder if I would be pushing the bike the last few miles. Pro-tip: when stopping for dinner in Whitehorse, make sure you take the time to fill your gas tank! A 'Strom has sufficient range to make it from Haines Junction to Teslin, but just barely.

Day three began with a hearty ham-and-egg sandwich and a decent cup of coffee at the Yukon Motel (and RV park) restaurant under, once again, clear, warm and sunny skies. I was a little nervous about today's ride, however, as the bridge just south of town is a steel grate bridge, and I have read a sufficient number of accounts of motorcyclists who had been unnerved by crossing such bridges on a bike. I would be crossing the bridge -- my first steel grate bridge on a bike -- with a full load of fuel in my 5.8 gallon gas tank, on a bike that is already top heavy, even without a full load of fuel. I topped off the tank anyway, gritted my teeth, and set off apprehensively. As I rolled onto the steel grate, I was pleasantly surprised by the bridge. Signs warned motorcyclists to "Use Extreme Caution!!!" (as if a motorcyclist should ever *NOT* use extreme caution on the road!), and prophecies of doom from countless other ride reports echoed in my head, but in all honesty, I found the steel grate bridge to be no worse than a gravel road, and in fact, arguably easier to ride than some gravel roads I've followed (Palmer Creek Road, I'm talking about you!). Yeah, it's a little squirrely, but not at all bad. If you can survive the construction to reach one of the several steel grate bridges you'll encounter on the Al-Can, you'll be fine. Just stand on the pegs, relax and let the bike wriggle under you; you'll be fine, I promise! :)

A few hours later, I found myself in a light rain again. We were only about twenty minutes outside of Watson Lake, and remembering how the rain had ended as soon as I put on my rain suit the day before, I decided to press on towards Watson Lake. For the next ten minutes, the rain steadily grew worse, until finally, beginning to be a bit chilled by the cool air, and worried that I wouldn't be able to maintain body heat if my leathers soaked through, I pulled over at a pull-out and donned the rain suit again. Five minutes rain. Sigh.

Day three was a short day, just over six hours of riding time, because our destination for the night was Liard Hot Springs, and we wanted to make sure we had enough time to enjoy the springs. After three days of riding, soaking in the hot water at Liard was incredible. We stayed in the springs until sundown, then reluctantly dragged ourselves out of the warm, relaxing embrace of the water and back to the RV for the night. I set my alarm for early the next morning to sneak back to the springs while everyone else was still asleep...

...but woke to the pitter-patter of rain drops on the roof. Cold, even snuggled under a blanket in the RV, I could not bring myself to don my clammy swim shorts and hike the half mile(-ish) back to the springs in the rain, so I slept in for another two hours. Evidently, the soporific properties of the hot springs affected my wife and daughter as well, because it was yet another two hours before they awoke. As they slowly clambered out of bed, I put on my riding gear and rain suit, then went outside to prepare for departure. My wife and I man-handled the utility trailer back onto the hitch of the RV, as the jack was not tall enough to lift the tongue over the hitch at the odd angle of the parking pad. Finally, the trailer was hitched, and I turned to finish getting the bike ready to go as my wife pulled out of the camp site in the RV.

I whirled back around as I heard an odd grating sound from the RV, discovering, to my horror, that we had neglected to raise the jack on the trailer. My wife had no idea that she was digging a furrow with the trailer as she drove out of our campsite and onto the road. I raced up near the passenger window -- no easy feat in full leathers and shin-high motorcycle boots -- and she started to slow down. I ran towards the back of the trailer to raise the jack when she started driving again. I slapped the side of the RV hard enough to leave a bruise on my palm to get her attention, and finally, she stopped.

By this point, the damage was done. The jack had kinked, preventing us from raising it, so I set to work with a socket set that I fortunately had had enough foresight to bring. Unfortunately, the kink was severe enough that I couldn't lift the jack through the tongue of the trailer, and we were blocking the road out of the campground. "Please, don't let another camper come through here until we have this fixed," I thought to myself...just as another camper came around the corner behind us.

The campers were a father and son from British Columbia, who were gentlemen in every sense of the word. "I work for a trucking company, and I see guys forget to raise the jack all the time," the son graciously stated. The father retrieved an axe from the car and tried to straighten the jack with the blunt end of the axe, but it wouldn't budge. Finally, after several false starts, we set the jack on the ground, and the father began hitting the tongue of the trailer, trying to force the kinked jack through the tongue. At last, we succeeded, but we had set the jack on the trailer wiring, slicing the ground wire in two.

"Sorry about that. I've got some wire strippers and electrical tape in the car," the father said.

I just laughed, shrugging his entirely unnecessary apology off. "If I hadn't forgotten to raise the jack, none of this would be an issue. I'm not at all worried about the wires."

We stripped the ends of the wires, twisted them together, wrapped them with electrical tape, and all was good. Blinkers worked, brake lights worked, and so thanking the two once again for their help, we set off down the highway in the rain.

A short time later, we stopped to refuel at an exceptionally nice lodge on the shores of Muncho Lake. As I topped off the tanks, I briefly reconsidered my decision to ride despite the rain and cold. We had the ability to trailer the bike, but I really wanted to ride all the way to Seattle, so I turned up the power on the heated grips a notch, and pointed the Strom eastward again.

Five minutes later, concerns about the weather were the last thing on my mind. I chuckled to myself as I grabbed a fistful of throttle at yet another "60kph" advisory hairpin turn overlooking Muncho Lake. I found that I could easily maintain the advisory speed limit -- in miles per hour, rather than the posted kilometers per hour.

Despite the rain, I was having the time of my life. The road itself was pure joy, dancing around the natural contours of the lake and the mountainside that rose from the shore, and Muncho Lake itself was stunning, with a blue-green tint unlike any other lake I have ever seen. I found myself imagining I was back in northern Japan, where I spent most of my adolescent and pre-teen years; the shoreline vaguely resembled stretches of the coast of Honshu near Aomori -- to this day, one of my favorite places on earth.

For 30 miles or so, the road weaved and twisted back upon itself, slowly, imperceptibly, gaining elevation, as the temperature, just as imperceptibly, dropped. Finally, having left the bliss of Muncho Lake Provincial Park far behind, I found myself entering Stone Mountain Provincial Park, and I realized with a start that I was thoroughly chilled to the bone, despite my wool base layer, full leathers, rain suit over the leathers and heated grips. My ankles and wrists were growing stiff with the cold, and I was no longer enjoying the ride. I began searching for a pull-out where I could flag my wife down and heat some water for coffee or tea to restore my core body temperature. Finally, near the summit, I spied a rest stop, and steered the Strom off the side of the road. Looking around, I realized that the parking area I had pulled into might be difficult for her to drive out of again, since she was maneuvering a 26 foot RV and pulling a ten foot utility trailer. Fortunately, on the other side of the road was a large, open, paved lot that she could easily fit into. I turned on my four-way flashers, then pointed her to the lot across the road as approached.

She didn't stop.

Furious -- and bordering on the early stages of hypothermia -- I punched the hazard light switch, stomped on the shift lever to drop into first gear, savagely wrenched the throttle to WFO and rocketed off down the road after my family. We continued down the highway, me fuming, my wife blissfully unaware, until we reached Fort Nelson. After making up, and establishing a better method of communicating in areas without cellular coverage :) (she thought I was waving her past, rather than pointing her to a better place to stop), we continued on to Fort St. John, firmly convinced that both the more southerly latitude and lower elevation meant that the worst was behind us.

Silly, silly me.

Watching both the gas gauge and the GPS slowly unwind, I foolishly decided not to fuel up as we drove past Sikanni Chief campground, the only fuel stop I knew of between Ft. Nelson and Ft. St. John. A few miles down the road, I began to realize that I would be running on empty by the time we arrived; strong enough headwinds or steep enough hills, of which there are plenty on this stretch of road, could mean the difference between riding into town or pushing the bike. We had five gallons of extra gas on the trailer, but I didn't know how much range the RV had, nor how much gas my wife still had in her tank, so I began searching in earnest for gas stations.

I finally found one on a hill, overlooking a set of ominous looking clouds giving birth to a gorgeous, intense rainbow. Unfortunately, the gas station was was the next one, and the one after that. Finally, we found an open gas station at Pink Mountain RV park. After topping off both vehicles, my wife asked if I minded if she started out while I went inside to pay. I agreed, since it was easy enough for me to catch up to her. In fact, I frequently found myself slowing to wait for her when the road grew either twisty or hilly, as the RV simply couldn't pace the bike on such roads. I had a good laugh when the poor cashier in the service station did a double take at the motorcyclist buying roughly twenty gallons of gasoline ("Yes, my motorcycle has long-range tanks," I teased, before explaining that I was also paying for the gas in my wife's RV). Finally, I raced off after my wife, hoping to catch up with her soon, as I really didn't like the look of the dissipating thunderstorm to the east. I soon found myself hunched over the gas tank, as the miles quickly ticked off on the odometer.

I didn't realize it in the growing dusk, but the dark visor on my helmet was becoming increasingly obscured by the spray kicked up from the traffic ahead of me. Finally, I noticed an odd looking patch of road ahead. "Is that concrete?" I wondered. "Are they doing construction here?" Then I realized the magnitude of my error. Not concrete, rather the road was coated with a sheet of hail that had melted and compacted to form rime ice.

Did I mention that I was riding at...ummm...perhaps a slightly higher speed than was wise on wet roads, near dusk, in the vicinity of a thundertorm? Okay, maybe I was riding at a pace that would have been, ahem, brisk even under perfect weather conditions.

The bike did a little dance underneath me, slid off of the ice into the ruts that four-wheeled traffic had carved in the ice, then regained its composure and continued down the road as if nothing had happened. Needless to say, I slacked off the pace a bit (okay, a lot!), and caught up with my wife around the next bend. I flashed her a thumb's up as I passed her at a very sedate, very conservative 45 MPH, and we continued on -- slowly -- until a very long, very tiring, very stressful day four ended roughly an hour later in a crowded RV park in Charlie Lake, just outside of Ft. St. John.

For the second day in a row, I awoke to the tick-tick-ticking of rain on the ceiling of the RV. As I got dressed and sucked down a cup of instant coffee, the rain slackened off, then quit entirely. Nonetheless, remembering the cold, miserable ride of the day before, I pulled the rain gear over my leathers as we headed west out of Charlie Lake towards Chetwynd. Just a few miles out of Charlie Lake, we entered some of the steepest grades of the trip, as the highway wove around the mountains near the Fraser River. I wondered about the story behind a multitude of signs protesting a proposed dam; I wasn't certain, but if I understood some of the signs correctly, the dam would (or at least could) result in many of the farms becoming submerged under ten to fifteen feet of water. I silently wished the farmers luck in their battle to save their homes, and continued on my way.

After several hours, and gas stops at numerous small Canadian towns -- including one stop where I dropped my helmet and broke the clear visor >:( -- we pulled into the outskirts of Quesnel, where we stopped for the night at 10 Mile Lake Provincial Park, one of my favorite stops of the trip. After spending three out of the four nights so far on the road in RV parks, the quiet and peace of the Canadian Provincial park on night five was a nice change of pace.

Before leaving Anchorage, I had spent quite a while on Google Maps and the Alaska Milepost trying to plot the route for the last leg. However, I was a little confused by the route near Cache Creek. The course I ended up plotting turned off of 97 shortly before reaching Cache Creek, and followed 99 to Lillooet, then turned onto 12 until reaching Lytton. When we reached the intersection of 97 and 99, I pulled over to discuss the route with my wife, and we decided that this was indeed the route we wanted to take. From the comfort of my sofa two months later, I can honestly say that I am very glad we followed this route. This was, by far, the highlight of the whole trip. CA-99 wound and twisted as it followed a mountain valley, slowly increasing in elevation. From the vegetation, I could tell we were entering a more arid part of Canada, even though a gorgeous river twisted through the valley floor next to the highway. Soon, the valley floor widened, as did the river, emptying into a long, narrow, sinuous lake. It was all I could do to keep my eyes on the road, entranced by the beauty of the valley. Before long, lake became river once again, and the road, already as much fun as a motorcyclist could hope for began to tie itself in knots. My speed dropped from 55 MPH to 35 MPH, and the grin I wore threatened to split my face in two. The highway climbed into the mountains like an asphalt serpent, coiling back upon itself. I soon found myself behind a BMW GS, two-up and loaded with gear. They were traveling a little slower than I would have been, but honestly -- and surprisingly -- I didn't care. I was so enthralled with the high desert beauty around me, that for once in my life, I didn't want to race at top speed.

I was in motorcycle heaven.

Finally, spying a pull-out over an exceptionally beautiful point high above the river, I stopped to snap a couple of photos:

Soon enough, it was time to leave, and after taking one wrong turn (the route didn't actually pass through Lillooet, but rather continues past the turn-off, on the opposite side of the river from town), we continued on to Lytton. CA-12 to Lytton, however, climbed up into the mountains, and very obviously didn't see much traffic. At one point, the road narrowed to a single lane over a steep cliff with no guard rails between the asphalt and the drop-off. It wasn't a problem for me on the bike, but caused my wife in the RV some concern when she encountered a Jeep Grand Cherokee coming the other way (she nicknamed the road "the donkey trail," in reference to the narrow, winding trails descending into the Grand Canyon).

By approximately 5:00 p.m., we stopped for gas in Lytton, and my wife pulled out the travel plan I had created before leaving.

"Mike! Do you realize we still have five hours to Seattle?!?!"

We had already been on the road for six hours, not including a lunch stop, and thought we were no more than an hour or two from our destination for the day. I double checked the trip plan, Google Maps, and the Alaska Milepost, and finally decided that she was right. We were a lot farther from our night's stop than we thought. We hastily departed the gas station in Lytton, and raced towards Abbottsford, B.C., hoping to make up as much time as possible, since the scenic route past Lillooet had cost us a lot of time. We barely noticed the stunning scenery between Lytton and Abbottsford. Boston Bar, Yale, Hope...all of the little towns along the Fraser River passed in a blur, as we raced the setting sun to Seattle.

Reaching Abbottsford, I turned south a little earlier than I intended, crossing the border into Washington at Sumas. Unlike his counterpart at Beaver Creek, the American CBP official was curt, direct and assertive almost to the point of being rude, until the end of the interview.

"So you're with the RV behind you?"

"Yes, sir."

"Why not just trailer the bike and ride with them?"

"I've flown the Al-Can in small airplanes three times, and I've driven it in a car another three times, but I've never ridden it on a bike before," I answered, once again at a bit of a loss to explain why I, like most motorcyclists I know, do what we do.


I shrugged. "Ummm...that's it..."

A broad grin split the CBP agent's face.

"No, how was it?"

I laughed, spying the KLR 650 parked near his booth, and finally catching his drift. "It was awesome," I gushed.

He waved me through with a huge smile, vicariously enjoying the trip seemingly as much as I had. "Have a good one!"

I relaxed, oddly comforted to be back in the U.S. again...until I checked my GPS. It was getting late, almost eight o'clock, and the sun would be setting soon. As I mentioned earlier, I had broken my clear visor in Canada, and was riding with my dark, tinted visor on the helmet. Sunset would be soon, and we still had an hour and a half, maybe even two hours, until we reached Seattle, and even then, we still had to find the RV park where we would be staying. My wife and I wound through the farmlands of Sumas and the surrounding communities, until finally reaching I-5. A half hour later, I watched the sun set over the western horizon, and realized that I would be riding in the dark with my tinted visor, despite my best efforts to reach Seattle before sunset. My step-daughter started school the next morning, so we had to be in Seattle tonight -- stopping short wasn't an option -- so, I gritted my teeth and pressed on in the dark.

Tired, stressed, and unable to see much other than headlights of the vehicles around me, my wife and I raced down I-5 at speeds I'd rather not confess in print, my motorcycle so close to the bumper of the trailer that I knew I'd never stop in time if she slammed on the brakes. However, I didn't dare increase the following distance between us, as my wife had the turn-by-turn directions printed on a sheet of paper in the RV (I thought -- it turns out they had blown out of my daughter's open window before we crossed the border into Washington). Eventually, my wife called my cell phone (plumbed into my helmet with BlueTooth), where I discovered that I couldn't navigate with GPS while on a phone call, as my GPS was Google Navigator on my phone, and the phone call took over the screen. We agreed that I would take the lead, and we would only call when absolutely necessary so that I could still navigate.

The last hour into Seattle is best forgotten. I have never been so anxious to get off a motorcycle. Unable to see in the dark, in an unfamiliar town, following GPS directions to an RV park I have never visited, riding in more traffic than we ever see in Alaska, and exhausted by over thirteen hours on the bike -- when we only expected to spend eight -- we finally pulled into the RV park at 10:30 Sunday night.

My wife, who truthfully does an exceptional job driving the RV, hates to back into parking spaces, and simply refuses to do so when pulling a trailer. As good as she is driving large vehicles, my wife's brain cannot make sense of the way a trailer reacts to steering inputs, so backing a trailer into a parking spot is my job. However, by the time we reached the RV park, I was so fried, I couldn't hardly figure out how to work the latches on my motorcycle boots. Fortunately, the husband of the RV park owner, one of the friendliest and most helpful men I have ever met, walked me through parking the RV and trailer in our spot. Without him, I think I would have simply nosed into the spot. No joke. And with that, after six days on the road, we finally reached Seattle.

Entire photo gallery from this trip here.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

XS750 Project, Part 22 -- It Runs, But...

w00t!!! After wrenching on the bike all winter long, I fired the bike up the other day, and it runs!!! I had to adjust the idle to keep it from dieing if I took my hand off the throttle (which is the reason for the awkward point of view in the video), but that was an easy fix. However, if it's not obvious in the video, there's still a *LOT* of work to be done before I'm ready to ride off into the sun on the cafe racer. So, having yet another beautiful weekend to pull the bike out into the driveway, I started trying to address some of the remaining issues.

First, I CANNOT get the <many, many expletives deleted> LH front brake to quit leaking. I've tried crush washers, epoxy, and I even tried solder today to keep the brake fluid from weeping around the threads of the screw that I'm using to fill the bleeder hole, but nothing works. However, I came up with an ingenious solution, I think: remove the LH brake entirely. The rear brakes work and the RH front brake isn't leaking (knock on wood!) after filling the bleeder hole with epoxy, so I removed the LH brake. I'll see if I can find someone with a TIG welder to fill the bleeder hole with aluminum, but until then, I'm going to try having only one front brake.

Next, I needed to finish up the wiring on the rear of the bike, so after pulling the LH front brake, I set out to get the tail light/brake light and turn signals wired up. Unfortunately, I discovered two problems, once the wiring was done: the turn signals don't flash, and the front turn signals wouldn't light up at all. The flashing I understand, and the solution was (well..."will be") simple. The new turn signals don't draw as much current as the old turn signals, so I need a solid-state flasher. I had already bought a flasher to use with LED-based turn signals, but it wasn't compatible with my wiring harness. I didn't feel like wiring up a new harness, so instead, I went back to Superbright LEDs and ordered a compatible (I hope...) flasher. The second problem is proving to be a little more difficult to resolve. After poking around the wiring inside the headlamp housing for a bit, I discovered that the filament on one of the turn signals had broken. Remember, these are brand new turn signals, and when I originally bought them, I tried to remove the lamp to install an LED in its place, but failed. Having nothing to lose, I tried again to remove the lamp, this time being a little more aggressive, and I was, in fact, successful. Unfortunately, my local auto parts supplier didn't have a match for the tiny little bulb that was installed in the turn signal. Fortunately, Superbright LEDs had what I think is a match, so I will be replacing the bulbs with LEDs after all. My opinions on that are somewhat mixed, though. I wanted LEDs in the first place, but sheesh...I've never even used the friggin' turn signals and I'm already replacing bulbs(!). Honestly...I'm a bit torqued over it.

I also need to finish the seat before I can ride the bike, so I set out to remedy that problem, too. Originally, I intended to build something like a flat-tracker seat, which would allow me to carry a passenger. Then, I wanted to make a fiberglass solo cowl shaped like the archetypal cafe racer "hump" which I could install when I was by myself. However, relocating the license plate and lights above the seat pan changed my plans slightly. I decided to build a very small cowl that was more or less similar to the cowl that was originally installed on the bike, and possibly make a truncated cafe racer "hump" to fit over the vestigial cowl when I'm riding solo. To make the minimalist cowl, I used the same process I used to make the side covers:

Glue blocks of foam together with spray adhesive, and test fit on the back of the seat pan. Mark the outline of the license plate and tail lights with a Sharpie.

Lay out the shape of the front of the cowl. I used the old trick of marking evenly spaced dots along the vertical edge of the foam blocks, then an equal number of evenly spaced dots across the top edge of the blocks, and finally drawing straight lines to connect the dots on the sides to the dots along the top to approximate a curve. It worked beautifully, IMHO :)

Cut and sand to shape...

...cover with blue painter's tape...

...and paste wax to act as a release agent, then glass it up. I didn't shoot a photo of the first layer of glass, but I'll try to get some shots tomorrow or Monday, when I add another couple of layers (since this hump will be acting as a back rest for the passenger, I'll be using more layers of glass than the I used on the side covers to make it stiffer and stronger).

Finally, I started going through the bike, making some of the adjustments called out in the maintenance schedule, like adjusting the clutch and clutch cable, checking and adjusting throttle cable play, adjusting the idle setting (which I believe I mentioned earlier), etc. This fixed a problem I had noticed before firing up the engine the first time: pulling the clutch lever didn't seem to fully release the transmission. I couldn't move the bike in gear, even though I was pulling on the clutch for all I was worth.

Oh, last issue. The starter button is 100% inop. I don't know if I really care, however, since I'd already considered removing the starter entirely. It's extra weight and necessitates a larger, more powerful (read: heavier) battery. On the flip side, it must have taken me 15 to 20 minutes to get it started the first time, lol. It's been better since then, but still nowhere near as easy to start as the push-button V-Strom :D For now, I'll probably ignore the problem with the starter button, but leave the starter motor in place. If I find that kick-starting the bike all the time is no big deal, I may look into pulling the starter and putting in a smaller battery next winter. If I'm fed up with kick-starting the bike this summer, on the other hand, I'll troubleshoot the starter button and leave the starter motor in place.

All in all, it was a good day, and I'm getting ever closer to taking the bike out for a spin. Man, I can't wait!

Monday, June 10, 2013

XS750 Project, Part 21 -- 90 Per Cent Done, 90 Per Cent to Go

Before I bought my first motorcycle, I was into airplanes. I earned my private pilot's license in 1991, then spent the next several years pining for an airplane of my own. However, I really couldn't manage to get terribly excited over most of the small, single-engine "General Aviation" airplanes available at the time. What I really longed for was one of the kit planes that were just beginning to take the aviation world by storm. I ended up buying plans for two airplanes, a fiberglass Dragonfly and a tube-and-fabric Sonerai II. I eventually even started cutting out wing ribs for the Sonerai before deciding that metal work was not really my thing. Anyway, after years of pouring through the latest edition of Kitplanes magazine, I learned that airplane homebuilders had a saying: "90% done, 90% to go," meaning that, after the airplane was almost completely built -- looking like it was ready to fly any day -- the builders often discovered that the last ten per cent of the work left on the airplane easily took as long, if not longer, than assembling the raw foam, fiberglass, steel tube, aluminum angle, or wooden frame had taken. Making something that resembled an airplane was often much easier, and much more immediately rewarding, than the detail work of fleshing out the airplane and installing all of the interior systems.

I think I have reached the "90% done, 90% to go," milestone on the XS750 project. It now looks like a bike. The exhaust has been reconnected,

seat pan
...the seat pan and tail light mounts have been fabricated and painted, the electrical system has been mostly reconnected, the battery box has been reinstalled,

fuel tank
...the frame and fuel tank have been painted, carbs have been reinstalled, fuel and vacuum lines have been reattached, throttle and clutch cables are reconnected,

headlight bucket
the headlight bucket and turn signals are reattached and wired up. In fact, it was close enough to being done that yesterday, I reconnected the freshly charged battery and had planned to fire up the bike just to let the engine run for a bit.


When I turned the ignition key, there were no lights on the instrument panel at all, nor did pressing the starter button elicit any motion in the engine. As far as I could tell, there were no electrons flowing in the electrical system whatsoever, not even the click of a relay.

At this point, it looks like motorcycle, but the list of details left on the punch-list is daunting. The front brakes still don't work (I think the E-bay FZR750 master cylinder isn't working properly, so a replacement from Mike's XS is on the way). I still have to replace the exhaust gaskets (I couldn't remove them while the engine was cold; I intend to try again after running the engine to see if the heat will make the exhaust flanges expand enough to slip the gaskets out). I still need to connect the crankcase breather filter and route the breather line somewhere.

tail lights
I also need to wire up the tail lights, brake lights and rear turn signals, as well as pad and upholster the seat. Once all of that is done, there is also the periodic maintenance that may or may not be due (engine oil change, final drive oil change, spark plug replacement, etc.), but that I intend to complete, just to be sure that the required maintenance is up to date.

Oh, yeah...and get the electrical system working. Without spark, none of the rest of the work matters. A cafe racer is nothing more than a steel and rubber sculpture if the engine doesn't run. I suspect that for the next several days, I'll be spending some quality time in the garage with a multimeter and test probe trying to trace down the point where the electrons are going AWOL.

Should be fun!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

XS750 Project -- Part 20: It's a Roller!!!

There is a quote attributed to Thomas Edison that I really like: "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that do not work. Taking a cue from Edison, I seem to have found 10,000 or so ideas, while converting an XS750 to a cafe racer, that do not work.

First, the awesome fuel filters I picked up at O'Reilly's auto don't fit between the fuel petcocks and the fuel manifold on the carbs. The outlet on the petcocks points towards the center of the bike, and therefore, the length of the fuel filters means that fuel will have to flow upwards to the carbs. Since the carbs are gravity fed, I'm not convinced that the fuel will actually make it to the carbs, especially when the tank is nearly empty. Consequently, I removed the filters and ran the fuel lines directly to the carbs. The petcocks already have fine mesh screens over the inlets. Yamaha obviously thought that would be enough filtration, so I'll go with their design.

Second, once I installed the rear wheel, I found that the tail light/brake light/turn signal/license plate hangar rubs on the tire. As I was fabricating the part, I was concerned about clearance, and now that the rear tire is reinstalled, it looks like my concerns were well founded. Even with no load on the shocks, the license plate touches the rear tire. I'll have to find a way to point the plate upwards, rather than hanging it underneath the seat. On a positive note, I salvaged a thicker metal strip from the OEM license plate hangar that should work better for securing the tail lights. The tail light bracket I fabricated was a little flimsy; the OEM piece is much beefier. However, I'll have to ream the mounting holes a little bit to get the 10mm bolts on the turn signals to fit.

Third, after priming the fiberglass side panels, I sprayed them with several coats of Duplicolor "Stainless Steel" paint, then tried to put a layer of Duplicolor "Shadow" paint to match the effect I intend for the gas tank. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like the Stainless Steel and Shadow paints are compatible. When I applied the Shadow paint over the Stainless Steel paint, the Shadow paint spotted, looking like snakeskin or fish scales. It could be a cool effect, if that's what I wanted, but...well...that isn't what I wanted ;) I ended up covering over the Shadow paint with more Stainless Steel, but that was a mistake, too. Today or tomorrow, I'll fix it properly by sanding off everything down to the primer and starting over.

And, of course, I have already written about my attempts to fabricate a gasket for the fuel tank filler opening...

...the front brake issues...

...the Emgo pod filters, and...

...the "Angel Eyes" turn signal/brake lights.

It can be frustrating to waste money on parts that you end up not using, not mention the hours (and hours...) spent fabricating pieces only to find out that your idea won't work, and you'll have to start all over again. However, that's just part of the process, and honestly, part of the fun. In fact, it's such a time-honored tradition, that engineers (the professional kind, not just us back-yard mechanics!) came up with a term for it:


And despite the setbacks, I have made some real, definitive, measureable progress on the bike over the Memorial Day weekend. As shown in the photo at the top of this blog entry, the XS750 is now a roller! After painting the frame this weekend, I reached a point where I could start putting pieces back ON the bike, instead of just taking pieces off. I installed the rear wheel, the rear brake, the electrical box...

...and the rear "fender," which made me very happy. Finally, it's starting to look like a motorcycle again instead of a collection of dusty scrap cluttering up my garage :) The best part is, now that I'm starting to see my vision materialize, I'm getting stoked to finish up the project! I want to have it ready to run in...25 days?...something like that, anyway. Last week, I wasn't certain I would make my deadline, but now, I think that maybe I can :)

Wish me luck!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

XS750 Project, Part 19 -- Some Welding and More Fiberglass Work

Just a quick update, tonight. My MIG welder arrived yesterday, and after a few practice welds, I decided to try to weld the cross-brace on the frame:

I obviously need practice, but it will do for now (and yes, I used the angle grinder to clean it up a little lot). Another photo:

I also tried to revisit the RTV silicone fuel cap gasket. I think we can add this...: the list of ideas that seemed better in my head than they were in reality. Not sure what I'll try next.

Finally, I am trying to finish up the fiberglass side panels, so tonight, I mixed up another batch of polyester resin and got to work patching up areas that were a little thin from sanding, where the fiberglass didn't follow compound curves quite as well as I had hoped, and where air bubbles had left voids:

Unfortunately, my baseboard heaters were leaking, so I had to turn off the heat to my garage last weekend. I haven't fixed the heat yet, but c'mon, it's the middle of May, so it should be warm enough anyway...right?

Yeah, no. When I left for work this morning, it was 31 degrees (F), and snowing!!!. To get the garage warm enough for the polyester resin to cure, I brought a couple of 500W halogen lights over near my work bench. I'd rather have the baseboard heat, but these will do for now.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

XS750 Restoration, Part 18 -- Stripping in the Driveway

One of the milestones on my project plan that must be completed before most of the other milestones can be met is stripping the gas tank. I've been at work on that particular milestone for months now, and to tell the truth, I'm really getting tired of looking at an ALMOST stripped gas tank every time I walk out into the garage :) So, having some extra time today, I dragged the tank out into the driveway, and starting stripping (paint, that is). I bought some chemical stripper and a "toothbrush" (well, it looks like one, anyway) with steel bristles at O'Reilley's the other day, so I liberally covered the gas tank with the stripper, let it sit for 15 minutes or so, then started scrubbing on the tank with the brush. I made some progress, but not as much as I expected. I applied more stripper, let it sit, and scrubbed again.

And again...

And yet again.

I was making progress, but after what I had read on-line about the stuff I bought, I was honestly kind of disappointed with the chemical stripper. It just didn't seem to be dissolving the paint very well.

That's when I noticed that the can I bought said, "Adhesive and Decal Remover" (facepalm). The cans look identical, and they are made by the same company, but this was not what I needed. I wiped as much of the stuff off of the tank as I could, and tried pouring some MEK that I had from another project a few years back on the gas tank. It worked about as well as the decal and adhesive remover. I grabbed my cordless drill and wire wheel, and started scrubbing at the tank. I made some progress, but by the time I had drained both batteries, I still had a lot of old paint left on the tank. Finally, I decided to do it right, so I went back into town and bought the right stuff to use on my tank, and what a difference THAT made! The chemical stripper and wire "toothbrush" cleaned almost all of the paint off of the tank in about an hour. There are still a few places inside the "tunnel" and in crevices around the gas cap hinge and lock where I still have a bit of paint to clean out, but the tank is easily 90+% done, now.

I also made some progress on the license plate, tail light and turn signal hangar, which I fabricated from two pieces of mild steel sheet. To make the part, I started by tracing a license plate onto the steel sheet. Then, I traced the outline of the taillight above the license plate. Next, I measured a one inch high by...ummm...eleven inches, I think?...strip of steel, and added a tab, seven inches wide and about three inches high, to mount the completed hangar onto the seat pan. I cut the pieces out of the steel sheet with my angle grinder (quickly becoming one of my favorite tools!), marked the holes to mount the license plate, and drilled the bolt holes. I bent all the pieces to shape over a 1x1 block of wood, and this is the result. I'm reasonably happy with it, although I think I might need to add some gussets on the tabs that hold the turn signals. The steel is thin enough that those tabs bend pretty easily.

Edit: Don't try what I describe next!!! It doesn't work, and the RTV will plug up the vent in the fuel cap, which will cause your engine to die on you due to fuel starvation!

Emboldened by my success with the license plate/tail light hangar, and still really needing a gasket to seal between the gas cap and the gas tank filler opening, I decided to try to form a gasket out of RTV silicone. I've looked on-line, and the gas cap gaskets are not available as a stand-alone item; you can only get one if you buy the entire gas cap. I mean, how hard could it be...right?

So, I cut a plastic shopping bag into a a flat sheet of plastic, folded it until it was just a bit larger than the filler opening in the gas tank, duct taped it over the filler opening, squirted a huge glob of silicone onto the plastic, carefully placed the gas cap onto the blob of silicone, duct taped it in place and let it sit overnight. I checked it the next day after work...but it wasn't fully cured yet, so I put the cap back in place and gave it a couple more days...

Each step of the process...:

...and the final result: Ugh...that looks like crap! I think the steel cap would seal better than that, lol! I might try again, using considerably less silicone, or I might just go to Alaska Rubber and see if they have a sheet of rubber that I could cut to fit. We'll see.

While I was at O'Reilley's buying decal remover (sigh...), I found a couple of very nice looking chrome-and-glass fuel filters. I connected the filters up to the 5/16" fuel line I bought the other day, and connected the other end of the fuel line up to the fuel petcocks. I then used the old 1/4" braided steel fuel lines I bought last fall to connect the vacuum input on the petcocks. Looks pretty sharp; can't wait to get the tank painted and reinstalled on the bike so I can hook the lines up to the carbs!

And that's the progress on the XS750 cafe racer project tonight. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to revisit the front brakes and can start getting the frame and the tank painted so I can start putting pieces back together soon! 'Til then, keep the rubber side down!