Saturday, 30 August 2014

Retro Moto Wish-List

Some retro-moto bits that I've come across that sparked the I want urge...

Austin Vince Custom Vintage Overalls!
Custom made by the man himself!  Vintage overalls in the colours of your choice.  I'm thinking blue with red and white stripes...

Bell Bullitt Retro-modern Helmet
If you've seen Rush then you know the look, and this modern remake of the classic Bell helmet catches it.


100mph t-shirt 'ton-tee'
Triumph looking logo but advertising the ton instead of a specific company... nice!


Vintage Race Fairing
I might be doing this a bit backwards, but I love old race faired bikes.  A 1970s Honda CB750 would get turned into a race replica and make an ideal vintage racing machine.  It all starts with a fairing!
~$200 (fairing)

Spartan Leather Vintage Race Suit

A tailored suit with race quality materials and armour.  As they say, less 'Ricky Racer' than your typical TRON styled current racing suits.  

$950+$260 in armour upgrades

I'm enjoying my current Kawi garage a great deal.  Fixing up the Concours and riding the Ninja is a good time, but I suppose we're all rooted in the aesthetics of our youth.  As a child growing up in rural England watching the height of the British motorcycle industry roll by in the early nineteen seventies, I tend to return to that look and the associated nostalgia.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Keith Code's Twist of the Wrist

A must read if you're serious about
understanding motorcycle dynamics
Reading Keith Code's Twist of the Wrist 2 on Kindle last night and came across this!  The part I'm in right now goes over how motorcycles tend to be self correcting (unlike cars).

When I bike starts to slide at the back it pushes the front wheel in the direction you want to go (unlike a car that pivots on the front wheels and requires you to counter steer into a slide).

The worst thing you can do on a bike is attempt to force a counter steer into the handlebars.  When you do this you're creating huge torsional pressure between the front and back of the bike.  The bike resolves this by snapping back violently, launching the rider over the high side of the bike leaned into a corner.

Code keeps drilling in the point that the bike wants to self correct.  If you're loose, relaxed and gentle with the controls the bike will bring itself back into alignment, even if the back wheel is sliding.

Even backing off the throttle suddenly on a rear wheel slide can cause a high side (you suddenly dump all the bike's weight onto the front wheel causing it to snap back).  It might seem counter-intuitive, but in a slide maintaining throttle and letting the bike sort itself out will resolve most slides.  It's a rider's involuntary reaction due to fear and a lack of understanding of how motorcycle dynamics work that result in most corner related crashes.

I've been making a point of practicing throttle control in corners, using lower approach speeds but rolling the throttle on with a light hand as early as possible to balance the weight of the bike 60/40 over the back wheel.  I'm amazed at how settled in a corner the Ninja is now.

Motorcycle dynamics are a completely different beast from car dynamics.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Sense of Accomplishment!

It's alive.... ALIVE!!!
After fiddling with the speedometer gear housing I was told to make sure I have the line on the back of the suspension and the housing lined up.  I put it back together that way and still didn't get anything, so I took it apart again and tried putting it on 180° from before and bingo, the speedo began to spin.  If you're having trouble with speedo gear housings, try putting it on the other way and turning it to line up with the fork housing mark.

Love that red - the Connie will be getting panels refinished
over the cold months...
All the gauges on the Connie work now, so I'm going to begin to reassemble it after changing out the oil and filter.  I'm hoping to have it back together in the next week or so and then I can take an honest run at a safety and see how it does.  Everything else seems to be in good form.  It starts at a touch of the button and idles steadily after a moment on choke.  The throttle is clear, sharp and very responsive now.  The
brakes feel strong and sure.  After reassembly and a final cleanup, hopefully it'll fly through safety and then I'll have to make some hard decisions about the Ninja.  

It would be nice to get some miles on the Connie before the snows fall.

New speedo cable runs in behind the bottom of the front shock from the right.  It reads accurately and runs quietly.

Hard not to love that big one litre engine... it burst to life with a growl and revs with surprising eagerness.  Smooth as butter too...

Everything comes to life and reads accurately now...

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Track Day Dreams Part 2

For a first trackday using an intermediary like Pro 6 Cycle gives you the support you'd need to ensure your bike is prepped well (they have tires, mechanics and other bits and pieces on hand).  Pro 6 runs track days at Calabogie Motorsports Park in Eastern Ontario.  It happens to be on the other side of some of the best riding roads in Ontario, and on the way to my buddy's house in Osgoode.
A couple of hours at speed on the highway and I'm up past
Gravenhurst and turning toward the Haliburton Highlands!
For me the trip is a Southern Ontario grind out and up the 400 before turning east to face some of the nicest roads in Ontario.  Giving three hours for the highway part, I'd aim to meet up with Jason somewhere in the highlands and then we could ride the twisties to Calabogie.

Day one would get me into the Highlands.  Day two would be riding twisties.  Day three would be the track day at Calabogie and Day four would be the return ride home.

To prep for the track day I'd swap out coolant for distilled water at home before the trip and practice stripping the bike down (covering and disconnecting lights, removing mirrors).  I'd also strip the bike back as light as possible, removing the passenger pegs for single pegs, the toolkit, any extra attachments at all.

I'd get a big duffle to carry my gear for the track day (I'd carry rain gear and clothes in a separate, smaller bag).  The track duffle would have to be big enough to carry track leathers, tools, a bike stand and the parts needed to prep the bike.  The idea would be to get to the track and be able to open up the bag and prep the bike quickly and efficiently.

The trackday bag would open up trackdays around Ontario, and once I'd experienced how the pros at Pro 6 Cycle do it, I'd be able to prep better for future days.

I'm a ways away from this at the moment.  Here's a wish list of needed bits and pieces:

A Vicious Cycle
Firstgear-Torrent waterproof duffel = 40l... should carry everything needed for a trackday...

Alpinestars S-MX-5 Boots

Alpinestars GP PRO one piece leather suit
Size 50 - this one's a bit tricky.  I'm everything from a 2-4x (tall, long in the body, shorter in the leg and triangle shaped)
$857 (on sale!)

A full body suit is going to be a tricky proposition off the rack.  There are some custom options out there, but you're buying from the other side of the world and I imagine returning a poorly done suit would be next to impossible.  That TopGearLeather site offers custom race suits for less than the off the rack retail suits (~$600), but caveat emptor (they may be awesome, I don't know).
Alpinestars GP PLUS gloves

Schuberth SR1 Stealth Helmet

Vortex V3 rear bike stand

$90 (+$70 wheel kit)

So I'm looking at about $2600 worth of riding kit before I even start considering the bike, and I'd want to consider the bike.  I'd start with the current Ninja 650r and build up experience and certifications, but I'd eventually like to get into The Vintage Road Racing Association.  The dream would be race prepping a 1980s Honda Interceptor (strip lights and extras, whittle it down the bare minimum, race prep the engine), and race it!

Racing ain't cheap.  I'd be dangerous if I had a lot of money and free time on my hands.  Since the summer's almost over and I'm back to the classroom, I'm hoping to put together (Kijiji, ebay, whatever cheap alternative I can find) the bits I need to get myself on a track next year.

If I can't arrange the equipment, I might (make a big) ask for the Racer5 3-stage introduction program.  It's one hell of a birthday present, but if supported track days cost you about $250 a pop anyway, paying an extra hundred to rent someone else's bike and get close instruction seems like one hell of a deal.


I tried on the Joe Rocket race suit at Royal Distributing the other day.  It was a 46.  It fit at the shoulders and waist/legs, but it was too short in the body.  If I were proportioned properly I'd be about 5'11", but with this long body I'm 6'3", my inseam is only 32".  I'm hoping a 48 is a bit longer in the body, and would be a loose fit everywhere else.  I wish there were more local places I could go try race suits on.  If RD gets a 48 in, that might end my quest for a suit for now.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Getting Connie Back On Her Feet

The front wheel is off to replace
the speedometer gear housing.
So far the cost in parts has been only about $85 for a new speedometer gear from my local Kawi dealer: Two Wheel Motorsport.  Other than that it's been a matter of checking connections and adjusting some poorly run throttle cables.

The gas gauge (reading low/inaccurately) was a loose electrical connection under the tank, cleaned up and connected properly it took about five minutes.  The temperature gauge was similar, just cleaning connections at the sensor (on the left side of the radiator) resolved that.

The speedo was a bit of a puzzle.  I got a new cable assuming the old one has seized (only about ten bucks), but it didn't resolve the issue.  Putting a drill on the cable had the speedometer showing 70km/hr accurately.  The odometer and trip meter both register too, so it wasn't an issue with the gauges.  I looked at the speedo gear housing in the front hub and it didn't spin even when the wheel was.  Robert on the Two Wheel parts desk said these seize up if not lubricated well - they also seize up if the bike wasn't run for a while (as mine wasn't).  He said to make sure I grease the end well when I install the new one.

Well lubed and routed properly, the
throttle cable snaps back perfectly.
The new part should be here Friday.  The local dealer cost about five bucks more than online, but didn't charge me thirty plus bucks in shipping and customs costs, so that's a clear win for buying OEM parts from your local dealer.

The sticking throttle was a matter of taking the cable ends apart at the handlebar and lubing and re-routing them properly - the return cable didn't look like it was installed properly on the higher-rise custom bars on the bike.  After lubing the cables and cleaning the handlebar mechanism I routed the return cable in the proper spot behind the pull cable.  It was tricky getting it all back together again, but once it was done up the throttle was tight, smooth and snapped back like a champ.

I'm hoping to have the speedo done in the next couple of days and then put the bike together for a safety next week.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Twist of the Throttle

The cornering bible... 
I'm currently reading Keith Code's Twist of the Wrist.  I've been looking for an intelligent description of motorcycle operation that accurately explains the dynamics of two wheeled riding (which differs significantly from three and four wheeled operation).

I listened to an interview with a senior Honda engineer (I can't remember where) and he said that after World War 2 the engineers that couldn't go into aviation (because of the U.S. embargo that prevented a Japanese aviation industry from re-inventing Zeroes) went into motorcycle engineering because the dynamics are similar (motorcycles work in 3 dimensions like airplanes).  Victory in World War 2 meant the end of allied motorcycling manufacturing as they knew it... an irony of victory, but I digress.

The Ninja takes a breather at Higher Ground, the lovely
coffee shop at the top of the Forks of the Credit in Belfountain.
Professor Code's book explains the dynamics of motorcycle riding in better detail than anything else I've found.  The video explains the psychology and physics of riding and dismisses many of the misconceptions.  

I spent this afternoon riding over to one of the few curvy roads in the farming desert I live in to practice my throttle control and make a conscious assessment of my fear reactions to riding.  I'm determined to get rid of the 'chicken strips' on my tyres.  I got down to my peg feelers on a couple of the long corners, finally.

The distance between driving a multi-wheeled vehicle (which I've got a lot of experience on) and two wheeled vehicles is massive.  You have to fight a lot of habit and psychology to give the bike what it needs to corner well; the dynamics are completely different and counter-intuitive if you're overly four wheel focused.  Even the process of approaching and exiting a corner is much more complex on the multi-axis two wheeled conveyance.  Driving and riding are two very different processes, and I'm frankly enjoying the complexity of the simplicity of two wheels by comparison.

Reading/watching Twist of the Wrist should be a requirement for anyone wanting to take on motorbiking, it'll make you aware of the mechanics of riding.  

I really need a track day, not for the speed but for the ability to focus on process without worrying if the person coming the other way is texting.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Are you ready for your fitting? Tailored Motorbikes & Micro-manufacturing...

I just read a good article in Motorcycle Mojo called, "Building The Perfect Bike."  In the article the author supposed that since no 'off the rack' bike fits properly, he would give himself a new bike budget, buy a lightly used machine and create a custom-fit.  His exercise made for an interesting process, and he got closer to a custom fit, but it's still far from a tailored motorbike.
Cycle-Ergo lets you quickly
assess a bike's fit, and allows
for modifications to control

I've used Cycle Ergo to great effect when considering off-the-rack bikes for fit, but you have to wonder how long it will be before we migrate from mass-produced, generic machines to personalized/tailored ones.  In that future Cycle Ergo two point oh will 3d scan you and get your performance needs and produce a custom machine specifically for you.

My day job is as head of technology at our local high school.  My focus there is in information technology and electronics.  I work closely with our technology design teacher who has a background in robotics.  We've both watched the rise of specialized manufacturing with great interest.  Our labs have taken on 3d printers, digital routers and five axis digital CnC machines in response to this evolution in manufacturing.  The prices on these devices have dropped dramatically over the past few years.  It won't be far off when you'll be able to custom build parts from scratch for a fraction of what it used to cost.

Computer controlled, small scale manufacturing will radically change our understanding of what have always been industrial scale production processes.  I suspect that in the future most of the manufacturing process will decentralize from factories and into regional shops that can produce customization on a scale unimaginable to 20th Century industrialists.

Some of the very high end motorcycle manufacturers are already embracing the idea of tailoring a machine to the rider.  Even a tiny volume manufacturer like Brough Superior can now consider machining all its own pieces in response to individual customer demand.  As the costs of personalized machining come down, the idea of a tailored motorbike will become the standard rather than the exception.

When you can cut your own pieces,
you can build your imagination.
One of the unseen hands that is encouraging the latest surge in the customized motorcycle scene is access to machining and manufacturing processes that used to only make sense in thousand plus unit runs.  You can build an astonishingly well built customized machine nowadays because you can build the bits you need for it to your own specifications.  Custom builders are a step toward truly individualized production.

Rather than plugging my dimensions into a database of bikes, one day soon I'll be plugging my dimensions and performance needs into a blank template and watching the perfect bike form around me.  The seat would be designed for my backside, the handlebar grips built to fit my hands.  The system would then CAD/CAM out all the parts and custom produce everything from the frame to engine components, all to my specific needs.  The distinction between OEM and aftermarket will disappear, there will only be builders.

Now *that* would be a perfectly tailored bike!

Thursday, 14 August 2014

A Day In The Shop

I took a day off from the enormous deck I've been building to work on the Concours.  After the initial clean up I got the instrument cluster off in preparation for a new speedo cable.  This looks like a pretty easy job.  The cluster is only held on with two bolts and the speedo cable runs directly from it to the front tire.  You slot the ends of the cable in and do them up and you're off to the races.  Replacement cables only run you about ten bucks.

'94 Concours clutch lever assembly.  Those
little bolts that hold on the cover are 4mm
and hard to source (not much in the way of
metric bolts around here).  The clutch lever
meets up with a pin and various odds and
ends that connect it to the reservoir.
I've also removed the rather sad looking handlebar end weights and looked at the clutch lever.  The former owner said it was missing a grommet, but it looks like other odds and ends are missing as well from the lever assembly, which is remarkably fine boned.  I've looked up prices online, but there don't seem to be any Canadian online parts sellers that work in this kind of OEM detail.

Considering the relatively low cost of the odds and ends I need (about $30), it seems silly to buy American and deal with customs hassles and shipping costs that almost equal the cost of the parts.  Even with dealer markup, my local Kawi dealer should be able to beat the shipping markup.

I finally got to the various fairing bits and panniers and they look to be in good shape after I got the cobwebs, mud and grime off them.

The current plan is to get the speedo operational, check other details and then put her back together again and take her in for a safety check.  If all goes well there I'll begin the process of putting her back on the road.  With any luck I'll get some miles on before the snow falls and then spend the winter stripping her down for a paint job.

The instrument cluster is a simple removal, two bolts
underneath hold the unit to a subframe.  The whole
thing is connected to the speedo cable out the bottom
and a couple of wiring harnesses out the side.
Many bits and pieces make up a
Kawasaki Concours.  The instrument

bezel (middle) cleaned up nicely after
a soak in some armourall.

I finally got the Connie up on the centre stand.  If there is a trick to that I'd love to hear it.  I ended up putting a wooden
ramp out back and man-handling it up it in order to get the stand down.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Concours Owners Group

I've been told that one of the best parts of owning a Concours is the Concours Owners Group.  I just signed up for a year's membership and I'm already overwhelmed by all the information in the forum.

Looking at the calendar, there is a local meeting tomorrow only a 45 minute ride away.  For a group that covers a huge geographical area, they offer a chance to meet face to face  around the corner; very cool.

Between COG and the huge aftermarket available, it looks like the Concours is the canvas I've been looking for.

Connie's Home

It's a very Kawasaki garage!
The Concours is home.  After a long bath (engine cleaner and a deep rinse) she fired right up.  I like this bike, even when it's covered in cobwebs and has been sitting outside for a year unridden it's still got fight in it.  The engine has gobs of torque and pulls hard.  The controls are stiff, but the gear changes are very smooth.  Shaft drive seems like magic.

So far she seems to be as advertised: good mechanicals but a mess aesthetically.  Over the next few days I'll be breaking her down and seeing what needs doing.  Hopefully there won't be any surprises.

It's a two bike garage now...
The Connie cleans up nicely


Sunday, 10 August 2014


cob-webs and rust...
  The Kawasaki Concours was a rough looking old thing, but very mechanically sound.  It only has 56k on it and was tight, dry and sounded strong.  The owner was a long time rider who is being sidelined by arthritis, he knows how to look after a bike.  Mechanically this Connie is well cared for, it's just a cosmetic mess.  I'm good at cosmetic messes.  I offered him $800 and he says OK.  Hopefully I'll have it home next time I post.

I'm going to be spending some time stripping this old girl down and cleaning her up.

In the meantime I think I'm going to take a friend's advice, get both bikes!  My current plan is to transition to the Connie from the Ninja at the end of this season, sell the Ninja and go looking for that Interceptor of my dreams.  Since the Ninja was a much newer bike, I think I'll be able to diversify my two wheel portfolio without putting any more money into it.