Saturday, 9 May 2020

Athletic Intent

Coming to terms with the Fireblade...

The first couple of times I rode the Honda I found the riding position hanging over the gas tank somewhat extreme.  The bike was astonishingly light compared to others I've ridden (dirt bikes excepted), and changes directions like it's telepathic, though the clip on handlebars mean you don't get a lot of leverage when turning.

While the riding position is pretty extreme compared to the adventure and sports touring bikes I've ridden recently, it's the bike's geometry that really surprises.  The rake on the front wheel is nearly vertical, and feels like it's right under your hands rather than stretched out in front of you.  This results in those telepathic direction changes.


I've actually jumped on the Fireblade and had my groin seize and had to stop to stretch.  I've taken to doing some limbering up, Zombieland style, before I get moving on the Honda.  It's nothing that a bit of yoga doesn't address in my 50 year old self, but the 'Blade is an extreme thing that demands physical interaction; it reminds you that it's a SPORTS bike.

So, why be uncomfortable?  It might be argued that the CBR900RR is an appearance bike; something you put on to get attention, but that isn't why it's the way it is.  The 'Blade is built to explore the physical limits of what a motorcycle can do - it's the opposite of a cruiser, it's about the sport of motorcycling, not the appearance.  Every choice on the bike, including the riding position, is designed to maximize speed and agility.  The 'Blade is more of a boxing boot than a high heel.


One of the most shocking things about riding the Fireblade is its acceleration.  I've yet to own a bike where I can't turn the throttle to the stop opening it up... until the 'Blade.  It's so light it pulls strong through the first sixty-five hundred RPMs, but then it lunges to the redline in a startling manner.  Even in higher gears I haven't turned the throttle to the stop yet.

The CBR900RR is described as a bike that is engineered to exceed your abilities but is accessible enough to show you how to improve them, and that's just how it feels.  As someone who has gone out of his way to explore motorcycling, it checks a box for yet another aspect of the sport to discover.  I won't be putting big miles on the CBR, but they'll be highly intentional and informative ones.

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Motorcycle Diaries: Win Your 2020 Dream Ride

Motorcycle Diaries is a website that shares rides from people from around the world.  I've posted a number of Ontario specific rides on there.  They currently have a 2020 Dream Ride contest going on until April 30th, so here's my pitch.

My Moto-Bio:

I didn't come to motorcycling until later in life. When I was very young, maybe six years old?  I was at my grandparent's house in Sheringham, Norfolk in England one spring Saturday morning in 1975 when a group of vintage vehicles passed by on what was probably a rally.  I was the little blond kid standing on the railings by the side of the road waving at them as they thundered by, and many of them made a point of smiling and waving back, including a guy on a Triumph Speed Twin.  It was one of those flashbulb moments you never forget.  Nothing looked cooler than that bike and rider thrumming through the receding sea mist in the cool morning air.


Years later after immigrating to Canada, I was finally old enough to start considering driving and I immediately gravitated towards motorcycles, but my mother was strangely insistent that I not do that.   Even though we weren't well off my parents dug deep to help get me a car instead.  I got deep into cars owning a wide variety of vehicles, learning how to repair them and even pursuing performance driving courses and cart racing while living in Japan, but that bike itch was always there.

After my mum's suicide I discovered that my great aunt, with whom she shared a name, was an avid rider who was killed in a motorcycle accident a few years before I was born.  I also discovered that my mum's dad, who I was very close with growing up in Norfolk, was also an avid motorcyclist up until the death of his sister, which must have rocked the family since no one had even mentioned her to me.  I've never understood how an accident like that (an army truck accidentally pulled out into her, killing her instantly) warranted this kind of silence, but my mum's side of the family has always been... interesting.

Despite being a major part of the previous generation's lives, motorcycling had evidently became a taboo subject that left me ignorant to a deleted great aunt who I now feel a great affinity for and a love of my granddad's, who I thought I knew well.

I've been riding now since 2014 and I'm on my seventh bike.  I've taken multiple advanced off road training courses and done some long, international trips, including a trip to the last MotoGP race at Indianapolis that had us ripping down the back straight of the historic Brick Yard on our own bikes - mine being an $800 field find I'd restored in my garage.

I've made a point of expanding my familiarity with different bikes by renting them and riding in places ranging from Pacific tsunami zones to the Superstition Mountains in Arizona, usually with my son on the back.  We've had some great adventures.  I've also made a point of becoming mechanically proficient with motorcycles, having just finished my latest restoration.

That's my bio.  Here's the dream ride:


In discovering my family history around motorcycling I also connected my grandfather's rather incredible Second World War tour of duty to riding where, among other things, he served in the RAF's motorbike stunt team.

Bill served as an MP in the RAF and travelled with the British Expeditionary Force to France in 1939 in order to repel the oncoming Nazi war machine.  When it all went wrong, Bill ended up trapped in occupied France for a number of weeks after Dunkirk before eventually finding his way back to the UK just in time to catch planes that fell out of the sky during the Battle of Britain.  He then went on to fight in Africa for several years, but it's his time in France during the 'Phoney War' and once the disastrous Battle of France began with the allied retreat that is the basis for my dream ride.

After some exhaustive research I discovered Bill's path through France from the autumn of 1939 to the spring of 1940.  My dream ride would be to follow in my granddad's footsteps on a period motorcycle through Northern France in the springtime, just as Bill did.




From letters to my grandmother and military records, I discovered that Bill was attached to RAF Squadron 73 who operated across Normandy and up to near the Belgian border over the winter of the Phoney War before being chased south under fire around Paris and through Ruaudin and Saint Nazaire before he finally found a boat back to Plymouth out of Brest, nearly two months after Dunkirk.  In the process he failed to get to the Lancastria with the rest of his squadron, the majority of whom died on it as it was sunk by dive bombers in Saint-Nazaire.

Being able to follow Bill's chaotic retreat with his squadron through France while finding evidence of the great conflict and seeing things he saw between moments of terror and heartache, and doing it on an RAF Norton H16 or a period Triumph Speed Twin would be a heart wrenching and mind blowing experience that would connect me back to a forgotten piece of family history on a number of levels.

What a dream ride that would be.

Sunday, 26 April 2020

Moto Anime: Bakuon!!

I've written about motorcycle related Japanese anime before, it's a whole sub genre of media from a country that is a motorcycle producing superpower with its own unique moto-culture.  You name the anime and there is probably a rider on the team who works in motorcycles somehow.  But there is one motorcycle anime where bikes aren't worked in, they're the main subject.  Bakuon!! tells the story of a group of high school girls who meet over a shared love of the sport.

Bakuon is Japanese onomatopoeia for the roar of a motorcycle's exhaust (the Japanese have some pretty funny word sounds).   In the opening of the show each of the main characters bond over their shared love of riding.  The experienced riders mentor the younger ones as they get their licenses and begin riding together, but don't assume this is a why so serious coming of age story.  Bakuon!! is edgy and laugh out loud funny.  Even non-riders would find this an accessible and funny thing to watch, but it'll challenge you.  Bakuon!! is shamelessly Japanese.  If you're unfamiliar with Japanese humour, which can feel very foreign to gaijin, this show might seem offensive.  All I can suggest is to maybe stow your Western superiority complex away and see if you can wrap your head around it.




Hane Chan is the character you follow into the story.  She's not really the main character, it's an ensemble,  but as a new rider trying to get her license you get to discover the joy of riding with her.  She also tends to explain to outsiders what craziness is going on in the group.  Her initial interest is sparked by her first day trying to ride her bicycle up the hill to her new school, and her actual interest in motorcycles is minimal, until she experiences riding for the first time:


How edgy is the humour?  At the riding school where Hane is getting her license she begins a conversation with the bike they lend her (as you do) who speaks to her with an older woman's voice. At one point Hane asks why the bike has such a masculine name when it has a woman's voice.  The bike tells her that because it's a practice bike at the academy it has had all the go-faster technology removed from it, so it was castrated.  When Hane discovers she's been riding a trans-gendered bike she just nods and goes about her day, as you do.  You might find this foreign in a Western mindset, but the lack of judgement around gender is refreshing.

An even edgier moment happens when the girls take a long trip up to Hokkaido.  When they reach the end of Japan they come across one of the teachers from their school who is attempting to commit suicide by jumping into the ocean because she's just broken up with another boyfriend.  She failed comedically (the point isn't a cliff and she falls onto rocks five feet below).  The girls take her back to their hotel where the teacher proceeds to get drunk and attempt to molest them.  At this point your appropriateness meter is probably pegged, but, as they do in all circumstances, the girls back each other up and get out of the situation themselves.  After that moment of girl-power the show signs off with them cleaning their bikes with their swim suits on.  Trying to keep up with the twists and turns in Bakuon!! is part of the challenge.

The humour in the show is unrelenting.  Each of the girls is smitten by a specific Japanese manufacturer (though Ducati sneaks in there too, but not without a lot of ribbing), and they're constantly giving each other a hard time over it.  At another point Suzunoki Rin, who tells a dramatic backstory about her accident prone father, has to explain how she has a Suzuki brand on her butt.  Physical humour operates on a different plane in Japanese culture.


In another episode Onsa, the Yamaha or nothing rider, accidentally licks Rin's drool (they both fall asleep on a train - it happens) and catches a Suzuki germ that makes her only like Suzukis.  This kind of brand fixation is a constant source of material in the show.  The only time it gets turned up even higher is when they make any reference to non-Japanese brands, who are all evidently incapable of making something that won't blow up on you regularly.  Considering the hard time they give each other, the shots at other manufacturers (like my beloved Triumph) comes across as funny rather than nasty.  If you're ever feeling hard done by when watching the show, at least you're not a bicyclist. They're relentless with the Tour de France types.

If you like motorcycles you'll love Bakuon!!  If you like anime you'll enjoy this show for its humour and a style that takes some interesting risks, like showing most men in the show without a face.  Yes, it can get edgy, but that tends to be a Western cultural dissonance thing more than any negative intent by the show.  The girls all play off each other for maximum comedic effect and the writing is willing to take unexpected turns to chase down a laugh, as it should.

As an anime with motorcycles but also about motorcycles, Bakuon!! offers you a deep dive into Japanese assumptions around riding that anyone on two wheels would find enlightening.  As a Japanese school girl anime it also breaks a lot of stereotypes.  A group of girls who ride makes this a feminist statement.  The girls are very self sufficient and never look to men or even adults for solutions.  The most skilled rider in the show is the untouchable club sempai (mentor) Raimu Kawasaki who always wears her helmet and never speaks, Top Gear Stig style.  At one point she lifts up her big Ninja effortlessly and frequently performs riding stunts that defy belief.  She was sitting in the school clubhouse alone when the girls show up and was evidently in the club when the school's current principal was at the school, she might not even be human!  I can't help but feel that she's presenting some autistic tendencies, further stretching the show's reach.

That Bakuon!! is also a comedy busts another malecentric stereotype.  If you can get your Japanese school girl mindset on (and everyone should), this'll amuse and entertain.  You should give it a watch.







You can watch Bakuon!! on Crunchyroll online.


Saturday, 11 April 2020

Finding My Way Back From The Dead (red)

What I miss most about STAY AT HOME pandemics:  Getting lost on unfamiliar roads...


I'm lost in the Grey Highlands on my way to Coffin Ridge Winery for a COVID-shutdown social-distancing/prohibition vibe pickup of some of their Back From The Dead Red.

I lost my internal compass on the unfamiliar, winding roads of Walter's Falls (though it could have been the meteorite buried under the town) and ended up in Bognor! It doesn't just sound like it's out of Lord of the Rings, it looks it too.  I guessed west when I should have turned east and found myself in the Bognor Marsh battling fetid, shambling swamp creatures like a later day knight aboard my trusty Tiger.

I eventually fought my way out to the shores of Georgian Bay, looking north across the never ending grey water to the end of the world (or its equivalent in French River).  Coffin Ridge Winery, perched on the north facing edge of the Niagara Escarpment, was pandemic deserted but for a lone fellow looking over the vines in the bitter, overcast April wind blowing in off the bay.

Ironically, adventure is hard to come by in a stay-home pandemic shut down, but this gave me a much needed shot of it.

Kiri at Coffin Ridge was a delight to communicate with on email and had our order sitting on the red chair ready to go (I was only 20 minutes late, battling Bognorian Shambling Mounds not withstanding).

If you're riding in Southern Ontario and looking for a bit of adventure in your antiseptic COVID bubble, a ride into the Grey Highlands might just bring you back from the dead (red).  You can reach Kiri here.


A deserted Coffin Ridge Winery, just before the COVID zombie attack, but I can't talk about that, the government is involved.

Thornbury Harbour closed - no standing on the rocks communing with Georgian Bay for me this time. The GB Kraken must be getting lonely, and hungry...
The bizarrely Victorian and completely deserted hydro generation building in Beaver Valley, where I had a lonely stretch before being beset by a pack of OHM-wolves infected by the now feral electricity leaking out of the abandoned generator and into the surrounding wilderness.  Jerry Bruckheimer couldn't have done this spectacular battle justice, that beautiful brick building is now a smouldering ruin.  The Tiger and I barely escaped with our lives!

From the #covid19 closed Thornbury Harbour inland through Beaver Valley, with a brief comfort stop at the hydro generator before heading south west through Flesherton - I eventually had to turn the camera off due to rain.
#Theta360 on a flexible tripod attached to the wing mirror of my Triumph Tiger 955i. One timed photo every five seconds. #360Photos modified in Adobe #Photoshop into #LittlePlanet format and then formatted in Premiere Pro into a stop motion video. AIVA AI generated background music.
















Saturday, 4 April 2020

Jeep Motototing South

Over the winter we got whacked by a snow plough and the insurance rental ended up being a Jeep Wrangler 4 door. I worked in an automotive shop to pay for university and Jeeps usually involved bringing an umbrella with you because they leaked so much, but this 2019 model has evolved from that poorly made thing. The mileage was better than I thought it would be for a big six cylinder, but I also discovered they come with an even more efficient turbo four that manages mid-20s MPG.

While we had it I stuck it in four wheel drive and went over a mountain of snow in a parking lot that would have beached anything else - and it did it on all season tires! At another point I had to take about 1500lbs of ewaste out of the school I work at and the Jeep swallowed it all with ease and it didn't even seem to strain the suspension. On one particularly snowy night in an empty parking lot I four wheel drifted it and it felt surprisingly obliging doing something that athletic. I found the size of it also a nice surprise. I have to fold myself into the Mazda we have, but the Jeep felt like it fit.

What surprised me most about it was that it was genuinely enjoyable to drive.  Initially I found myself fighting the big wheels on the road, but once I came to trust the different driving dynamics of the thing I found it a comfortable long distance coverer.  Being up higher means I'm not getting all the slush in the face, which is nice too.  We never got to try the roof-removing modular nature of it because it was freezing, but that's another feather in its hat.  I've been four wheeling in a tiny hatchback for so long that driving just feels like tedium.  The Wrangler made driving feel like an event instead of just a necessity.

With that all swirling around in my head, I first looked up the Wrangler and found it cost sixty grand, which is ridiculous, but that turned out to be a leather clad special edition thing.  The one I'd be looking at comes in at about forty grand, about the same as our last car, and there are big discounts on them at the moment.  They've got one with all the needed options on for about $41K nearby.

Knowing how this thing handles loads, I started looking up bike hauling options with them.  MotoTote has a 600 pound trailer hitch mounted motorcycle carrier that the Jeep could easily manage for $569 (I'm assuming that's USD - so about $780CAD).  Also knowing its go anywhere cred and how big it is on the inside, I had images of my son and I taking it camping and off-roading.  A trailer with ATV and dirt bike on it would do us well.  Parking up in the wilderness and then camping out of the thing seems like a real possibility.  The Jeep's outdoor image means there is a rich aftermarket of related products, even roof mounted tents, though it doesn't need them.  The fold flat rear seats open up a massive back space that two sleeping bags could easily fit in.  A back attached tent makes a bit more sense in that case.

It's a cool thing that could make the long wished for trip south in the winter a possibility.


COVID19 Rapid Restoration: Fireblade for the first time since Obama was President

The Fireblade project has come together nicely thanks to the strangeness we all find ourselves in with the COVID19 pandemic.  With a suddenly extended March Break, I was able to sort out the fairings, get the LED indicators wired up and finalize all the plumbing for fuel delivery.  It was all fiddly, last minute stuff, but with the time in hand it was easy to sort.  The adjustable indicator relay got wet when I cleaned up the bike which prevented the LEDs from flashing, so it got waterproofed and sealed.  The first ride was enlightening...

360° Video from RICOH THETA. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

That's the first time it's been running since Obama was in office.  It's a very different thing from other bikes I've owned.  I'm a big guy and 50 years old, but the yoga helps with the flexibility needed to ride this machine.  The foot pegs are significantly higher than anything I've owned before, and I'm leaning forward over the gas tank in a much more prone position than on the Tiger.  I was very conscious of the clip-on handlebars and the lack of leverage you have when cornering - steering on an adventure bike is much easier because you've got big, wide bars that offer a lot of pull.  The Fireblade was so much harder to turn (the weight of leaning forward doesn't help) that I actually thought the steering was obstructed, but it wasn't, it's just a lack of leverage.

After the first ride I thought, 'this thing is virtually unrideable!'  But as I was working out the details and getting used to it the riding position started to make a different kind of sense; I think this bike can teach me things.  The centre of gravity is so low, and the bike is so much lighter (over 40 kilos!) than my Triumph Tiger, while producing thirty more horsepower, that it's a significantly different riding experience.  I wouldn't want to go touring with it, but for an athletic afternoon out on nearby twisty roads, it's the instrument of choice.

The inline four cylinder 918cc engine makes a glorious noise when you crack the throttle, and the 'Blade is responsive in a way that makes any other bike I've ridden feel heavy - that's something I could get used to.  On subsequent rides I got my legs into the cutouts on the tank and once locked in place the whole thing suddenly clicked.  It'll take all the core work I've got to work with it, but this machine expects you to take riding as a sport rather than a leisure activity.

So far I'm at $1200 for the bike delivered, $250 in taxes and registration, $280 for a replacement carburetor which I cannibalized with the one I had to create a working one (if anyone needs late 90s CBR900 carb parts, get in touch), and another $200 in parts that included the shop manual, oil and filters and the LED lights.  All in I think I'm at about $2000 on the road and running like it's new again.  Looking up CBR900RRs online, a one a year older model with three times the kilometres is on for $2800.  Low mileage mint ones are going for $6-7000.  I think I could sell it in a year for a thousand more than I put into it.

When the pandemic happened here just before March Break I took home the Structure Sensor 3d scanner and did some scans, which is what you're looking at here...





It's very satisfying to bring the 'Blade back to life.  Now that the mechanicals are in order I'm thinking about racing stripes.  Amazon has some well reviewed ones on for a good price, I'll give them a go rather than painting them on.

Unfortunately I'm stuck for getting the bike safetied and registered on the road because everything is closed at the moment.  I'll spend the time making sure everything is order and looking to the aesthetic details and hopefully I'll be able to put the bike on the road when we put society back in motion again in May.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

KDF: Kingfisher Digital Foundry

In my day job I'm a high school computer engineering teacher.  The subject is still relatively new and covers a ridiculous range of differing technologies, all lumped under 'computer technology' because they all have some vague connection to it.  While teaching it in class can be demanding, the upside is that in the decade I've been working away at it I've become familiar with technology well beyond my background in IT.  From electronics engineering to 3d modelling and 3d printing, I've had a front row seat to the evolution of digital technology as it rapidly expands and evolves in the 21st Century.

The other benefit of this front row seat is that I've gotten to work with some skilled teachers with diverse technical backgrounds.  From Jeff who was working in CAD and 3d industrial design when most people didn't have a computer to Katy the engineer who was one of the only people in our school board who could get the first generation of 3d printers dependable enough to actually use in class, I know some very technically adept adults.

Then there are my graduates, who have gone off to work in fields ranging from robotics and industrial engineering to electronics, IT and computer science; I know years of very technically advanced young adults who bring a staggering array of expertise and intelligence to the table.

On this cold and rainy March Break Tuesday in the middle of the COVID-19 epidemic, I'm wondering how we could leverage all that expertise and create a niche product that could serve a number of different markets.

I recently found myself frustrated by a lack of parts for the late '90s Honda Fireblade I was restoring.  Knowing that Katy has been using 3d printing to create prototypes in her class, including printing in flexible materials, I was wondering why no one has filled this gap as business proposition.  To replace one perished airbox rubber tube I would have had to pay to get four them shipped from a place in the UK at over €100; no one in North America had one.  I suspect Jeff could have made an accurate model in an hour and then Katy could have printed it in about 30 minutes.  We'd then have that model on hand if it was ever ordered again and could be filling individual orders for them in thirty minutes.  At $20 plus shipping for the part we'd be offering rare parts that meet specific needs for way less than the market is willing or able to at the moment.  For ten bucks more we could put initials or a symbol on a printed piece to satisfy the customizers.  Beyond the capital costs of getting the 3d printer needed, printing a part we had a model for is a quick and easy process and would only require maybe $5 in parts and power.

There are other angles to this besides micro-manufacturing old, out of production parts.  We could also create small batch bespoke parts for companies building prototypes.  By rapidly producing accurate, high tolerance parts, we'd also be creating a library of digital 3d model files that could also be part of the service. Those models could then go on be used in production.

Beyond the out-of-production parts market and assisting companies in with their prototyping needs, there is also the opportunity to pursue bespoke custom parts.  Within five minutes of the first time I saw 3d printed additive manufacturing technology, I started thinking about custom motorcycle fairings.  The default at the moment is to stamp out cheap copies of fairings, but it wouldn't cost much more to digitally redesign unique 3d variants of fairings and sell those, it would just need a large format printer.  Variations in ducting for people wanting to fit a turbocharger?  No problem.  Want to get really crazy?  A dragon scale fairing for a Game of Thrones fan?  This is a 3d printed fairing with scales that have depth and texture.  It would take custom motorcycle design to the next level, especially with a sympathetic paint job on top.

As far as the technology needed to create our digital foundry, I'm partial to the Formlabs 3d printers because they look like something out of Terminator.  They also produce very high resolution models. Their new 3L large format printer comes close to being able to make detailed, high resolution models almost up to a cubic foot in size.



The process of additive manufacturing (3d printing) is surging forward.  It isn't quite ready for the range of parts I have in mind, which would include being able to print 3d flexible parts that are fuel resistant, but this is more a chemical engineering bottleneck than anything else, and chemistry these days is rocketing ahead


I'm hoping that just as I'm ready to retire from teaching, micro-manufacturing will have caught up and I can retire right into another profession making locally developed and manufactured bespoke components in a micro-manufacturing facility of my own, Big Hero 6 style.


Front right is a holographic desktop and keyboard - not quite there yet, but I've got physical hardware that does the same job now.  The blue thing in the back right corner is a large format 3d printer - in the film he prints everything from carbon fibre armour to metal mechanical parts.  This kind of localized production will be the norm rather than the exception in the next couple of decades.  You can watch Big Hero 6 on Disney - I highly recommend it.
***

This isn't the first time I've kicked around the idea of applying emerging digital technologies to mechanics and manufacturing:

Yesterday I was out in the garage using a Structure Sensor to 3d model my motorcycles, there are so many things we could do digitally with mechanical engineering and manufacturing: