Thursday, March 28, 2013

First-World Problems

I was talking to a friend of mine a while ago about the problems he was having with his fleet of motor vehicles. He needed to charge the battery and change the oil on his motorcycle. He would need to get his RV ready for summer soon. The canopy on his boat had been crushed by the weight of snow over the winter, and would need to be replaced. His SUV was having some mechanical difficulties, and his wife's car was in the shop, too.

I'm in a very similar situation myself. I own two motorcycles, a '77 Yamaha XS750 that I'm rebuilding into a cafe racer, and a '09 Suzuki V-Strom 650 that is my "let's go exploring" bike. Spring is almost here, but neither bike is rideable at the moment. The Yamaha has been significantly disassembled during the rebuild process, and it will need a lot of work before it's ready to hit the streets again. The V-Strom is in much better shape, but it needs a new front sprocket, new wheel bearings, a new chain, and some work on the front tire (I can't get the bead to seat to save my life). Likewise, my Nissan Frontier is having some drive-line problems. It's running, but it's making some noises and is occasionally snatching when I'm in stop-and-go traffic. My wife's Ford F-150 is also acting up; she'll be taking it to the shop later today.

After my friend finished his litany of mechanical gremlins, he kind of gave me a wry smile and made a comment about "First-world problems."

Yeah, we've got it tough, don't we? I currently own five motor vehicles, only one of which -- my wife's '77 CB750A -- is running properly right now. The repair bills to get the vehicles working again sure are adding up. Man, it totally sucks to be me...

Unless you're the child in Honduras with Pepsi bottles tied to your feet for shoes...

Or the mom in Somalia who has no idea how she is going to feed her five children today...

Or one of the children in Uganda who has been forced into either prostitution or the army by the LRA...

Or one of the babies in Mozambique who was left to die at the dump because his mom already has more children than she can support...

As I was griping about having to spend $200 on a new chain and sprockets for my V-Strom last night, it occurred to me just how lucky I am to have such problems. For those of you living in a modern, Western culture -- and if you're reading this blog, I can just about guarantee that that includes you by virtue of the fact that you are sitting at a computer in the first place -- congratulations! You are one of the wealthiest people in the world. If you are starting to feel frustrated by your circumstances, consider that your problems would probably be considered blessings by much of the rest of the world. After all, you won't need $200 worth of parts to get your motorcycle back on the road this spring, if you weren't wealthy enough to own a motorcycle in the first place.

Amirite? ;)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Still the Season for Wrenching...Fortunately

The XS750 project is officially on hold for now.

There's still a lot more work to do (and a lot of money to be spent, sigh...) before the XS750 is ready to hit the road. However, spring is here, and while the roads in Anchorage are still under about a foot of fresh new snow, courtesy of a storm that hit over the weekend, it won't be long until it's time to get the bikes out on the road again. However, since the Yamaha won't be ready at the first blush of spring, I need to finish up all of the maintenance that I have been putting off on the Wee-Strom over the last year.

The first order of business is the rear wheel bearings. I'm not yet certain that those were the source of the odd squeaking noises that I heard on the Strom near the end of last summer, but I suspect it is. Wheel bearings are cheap (although the bearing removal tool wasn't), and the OEM bearings are only sealed on the outside, so last fall, I picked up a set of All-Balls sealed bearings to replace the OEM bearings. Popping out the old bearings in the rear wheel was beyond simple with the Pit Posse kit (for better instructions that I can provide, see this post over at the V-Strom Riders International forum). However, the Pit Posse kit doesn't include a drift for the larger diameter bearing in the cush drive (grrr...). Fortunately, I found a shop here in town that is willing to pop that bearing out for me. Once that's done, I'll need to find a threaded rod and some 1 3/4&qout; (+/-1/8") large-area washers to gently pull the bearings into the hub. You don't want to just press-fit them and tighten up the axle, because that puts the load on the inner races, rather than the outer races that are being compressed into the hub. The bearings are plenty strong radially, but they aren't designed to withstand shear between the inner and outer races, and therefore, using the axle to pull the inner races together can lead to premature bearing failure.

Photo of the rear wheel hub with the cush drive and inner bearing removed.

The running wisdom over at Stromtroopers is that a chain and sprockets should last between 20K and 25K miles. At 16K+ miles on the odometer, I'm starting to get close to the 20K mark, and while I've been pretty good about keeping the chain lubed, I haven't been quite so good about keeping it clean, and sand is a pretty effective abrasive, so I thought I'd look into a new chain and sprockets while I was prepping the bike for the new riding season.

The rear sprocket doesn't look too bad, and the chain hasn't been stretching much...

...but daaaaaaang! The front sprocket has got a pretty wicked hook on it!

Fortunately, Bike Bandit had steel front and rear sprockets for the V-Strom from JT Sprockets for a very reasonable price. I've been enjoying the moto-gymkhana thing, as well as playing around on unimproved gravel roads every chance I get, so I went with the stock (15 tooth) front and a slightly larger (48 tooth, vs. stock 47 tooth) rear sprocket for the bike to give me a little better torque, acceleration, and low-speed control, albeit at slightly higher revs -- and therefore, most likely at the cost of some degree of smoothness -- on the highway. Honestly, going from a 47 tooth rear sprocket to a 48 tooth rear sprocket shouldn't make a lot of difference; I'm kind of skeptical whether or not I'll even notice. Unfortunately, it's best to change your chain($$$) with your sprockets, so I ordered a new Ek 525 X-Ring chain and screw-type master link, as well.

And that's how the poor Wee beastie sits tonight, as I get ready for bed. The front tire still needs to have the bead set. The rear wheel needs to have the bearings pressed in place. The cush drive needs to have the old bearing removed and a new bearing pressed into place. The Wee desperately needs a new front sprocket, it probably needs a new chain and it maybe needs a new rear sprocket...and then, there's the yearly maintenance items like air filter, oil and oil filter o_O

Monday, March 25, 2013

"See a Need, Fill a Need"

When my daughter Kylie was born, my wife and I suddenly found that our video collection changed from "The Matrix" and "I, Robot" to "Finding Nemo" and "Monsters, Inc." This wasn't all bad; I actually enjoyed many of the movies that we bought for our daughter. I particularly enjoyed "Robots," in which the main character, Rodney, learns that the best way to be successful is, "See a need, fill a need." That is, if you find a niche market that nobody is filling, rather than whine about it, do something yourself to fill that need. To that end, I have recently found myself wondering if I am alone in wishing for a motorcycle that no one seems to make?

I love "adventure" motorcycling. Long before I earned my motorcycle endorsement, I was drawn to the brawny look of BMW's GS series motorcycles. Those bikes just looked like they could handle any kind of terrain that the rider threw at them. However, when I began seriously looking for a ride myself back in 2009, I was somewhat disappointed with the specs of the Beemers. The G650GS seemed to be too short, and I was concerned about the vibes from a single-cylinder engine for the long-haul rides I wanted to make. The 1200GS was just too much, in just about every respect -- too heavy, too big, two expensive, and too complex. It is a technological tour-de-force with electrically adjustable everything, but I really didn't want to find myself stuck halfway up the Haul Road with an electronically adjustable suspension that wouldn't adjust out of a freeway setting. Furthermore, I read a lot of criticism about the maintenance costs of the bike. The F800GS looked to be much more reasonable, but it was still basically a street bike in hiking boots :) Yamaha had not yet introduced the Super Tenere Stateside, but even if they had, it had some of the same problems as the big Beemer -- too big and too expensive (although by all reports, it's an exceptionally good bike).

Suzuki and Kawasaki were a little closer to what I wanted with the DR650 and KLR650, respectively. These two bikes were the opposite end of the spectrum from the bigger BMW bikes. Small and roughly 400 pounds, wet, with for-real dirt bike suspensions, these were both very capable bikes. Unfortunately, they were also very underpowered thumpers, and like the G650GS, I was concerned about being able to comfortably ride the highways for long distances. Yes, people have ridden very long distances on both of these bikes -- far longer than I have ridden, in fact -- but neither the Suzuki nor the Kawasaki are ideal for long stretches of slab.

Consequently, I ended up buying my V-Strom 650, which in truth has proven to be a pretty good bike for my riding style. However, as good as it is, it could be...well, better. For one thing, even though it's a tall bike, ground clearance isn't great for off-road adventures. I've high-centered on rocks a couple of times -- fortunately, my skidplate protected the oil pan and exhaust pipes -- even though I've never taken it truly "off-road." Furthermore, the cast aluminum wheels are less than ideal for an "Adventure" bike, especially since the front is only nineteen inches in diameter, rather than twenty-one as found on most *really* dirt-worthy bikes (DR650, KLR650, KTM990 Adv, etc.). Even worse, the Strom is rather top-heavy, as well as just plain heavy. It's fine once you are moving on pavement, but it's tippy enough that it just gets uncomfortable on sketchy terrain like mud or steep, rough, rocky roads. And even though I've never had much of a problem picking it up on those few times (only three!) that I've dropped it, I can see how it would be tough to right on steep, rugged terrain (or mud), especially if fully kitted out for a multi-day trip. Finally, the suspension is adequate, but not great. I've bottomed out the front forks on a gravel road(!) at about 35MPH, and while you can adjust preload, you cannot adjust rebound or compression damping. The suspension could be greatly improved with some help from Race-Tech Suspension if one were willing to throw enough money at it, but you would still have a top-heavy bike without sufficient suspension travel or ground clearance.

The Wee-Strom is good, but like the F800GS, it's really just a gussied-up street bike. What I really want is a lighter V-Twin with spoked wheels (21 inch up front, 17 in the rear), and a longer, higher quality, adjustable suspension. About the closest thing that I am aware of that exists today is Triumph's 800XC. Honestly, if that bike had been available in 2010 when I bought my Wee, I'd probably be a Triumph rider today. However, even the Triumph's suspension isn't quite up to dirt bike standards (220mm travel front, vs. 300mm for several of the KTM models I've scoped out lately), and it's only five pounds lighter than my DL650K9.

All of which brings me to my main point. Am I just a one-off? Are most riders content with the line in the sand between true street-legal, off-road bikes (KTM690 Enduro, DR650, KLR650) and street bikes with dirt-bike pretensions like the BMW GS series, the V-Stroms, and even the Triumph 800XC? Or are there others who would like to have a twin-cylinder dirt bike that is comfortable enough to ride 500-1000 miles on the slab, but light and manageable to take well off the beaten path when the asphalt ends? Something like the KTM 690 Enduro or Husqvarna TR650 Terra with the V-Strom 650's engine would be great.

If only I had the skills to build a bike from scratch...

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Tires and Tools

Spring is quickly approaching, and neither of my bikes are ready for the new riding season yet. Fortunately, I got a chance to head back out into the garage last weekend and today. Unfortnately, I am not really any closer to riding than I was before going out in the fact, the V-Strom is less rideable now than it was last week :(

After getting back from my trip up Trapper Creek/Petersville Road last summer, I found that my front tire had a slow leak, so last Sunday, I removed the front wheel, filled a bath tub with water, and looked for bubbles. After some searching, I found that the rim and tire sidewall weren't completely sealing on the left-hand side of the wheel -- I'd get a small bubble every ten seconds or so. That was actually good news, since I had been afraid that I might have cracked the wheel on a really hard bump that I hit at about 35 MPH. From what I could tell, there was no actual damage; just the tire wasn't completely sealing with the sidewall. So, I pulled the tire, cleaned up the inside of the rim a bit, cleaned up the tire sidewall a bit, then put it all back together.

The bead wouldn't seat.

I tried using more Windex to lube the tire. Huh-uh. I wrapped the tire with a ratchet strap. Nope. I set the tire between a pair of 500W halogen lamps to heat it up and make it more pliable. Yeah, no.

Having reached the limit of my patience, I did what any self-respecting, back-yard motorcycle mechanic would do: I put the V-Strom tire aside and turned my attention to the XS750's front tire. The old tire came off easily enough, and I soon filled the new tire with baby powder, inserted the new tube inside the brand new Conti Go! tire, and reinstalled the new tire and tube on the rim. However, when I fired up the air compressor, it did not sound good at all. Nevertheless, it made pressure, and so I attempted to seat the bead on the XS750's front tire.

This was not shaping up to be a good day.

The tire would start to inflate, but wouldn't hold air. I noticed I could feel a draft when I pulled the chuck off of the valve stem, so I pulled the valve core out and tried using the old valve core from old tube. No dice. However, I noticed that baby powder was blowing out of the gap between the sidewall and the rim when I would try to inflate the tire. Unfortunately, at this point, my compressor stopped compressing.

Did I mention that this was not shaping up to be a good day?

Okay, I've got a cheap tire inflator; let's give that a try.

Nope. I tried inflating the tire for about an hour, and every time, it would start to inflate, but would go flat again as soon as I disconnected the air pump. This was seventh tire I had ever installed, and apparently, the first tube that I've ever pinched (granted, three of those seven tires were tubeless, but...).

I stayed out of the garage for the rest of the week, frustrated with my inability to seat the bead on my V-Strom and my new-found ability to pinch tubes on the XS750. Not that it would have done much good to go into the garage anyway, since I needed a new tube before I could revisit the XS750 and a new air compressor before I could attempt to seat the bead on the V-Strom again.

However, this afternoon, I found myself at Home Depot, where I found a nice looking, reasonably priced, two-gallon compressor. It followed me home; can I keep it? ;)

Nevertheless, despite another two or three hours sweating over the V-Strom tire, I still can't get the bead set. I looked up advice on ADV Rider and Stromtroopers. I tried some of the advice I found, but I draw the line at igniting ether or propane inside the tire -- that's got "bad idea" written all over it! I even removed and reinstalled the tire and I removed the valve core to let more air in quicker, but I cannot get the bead to seat. I think Tuesday, I'll take the tire to the Suzuki dealer and see if they can get it to seat; I need a new air and oil filter, as well as a couple of quarts of oil, anyway.

On a positive note, I did get a few more parts for the XS750 in the mail recently. My EBC brake pads arrived, as did another pair of turn signals (see my original write up on them in this post here) and exhaust gaskets. Work on the rebuild continues, albeit slowly.