Sunday, 31 May 2015

Motorcycle Handling & Chassis Design

Tony Foale's brilliant engineering manual, Motorcycle Handling & Chassis Design, gives you an inside, technical look at how motorbikes operate.  It also gives you some idea of just how precarious the act of piloting a motorcycle is.  Much is said about how free people feel when riding and the physics behind flying on two wheels makes it that much more magical.

That first time you roll on the throttle and your feet leave the ground not to come back down again for miles, you get that sensation of flight.  Your senses are alive on a motorbike as the world makes itself felt in many different ways.

The naked exposure you feel when riding is obvious.  What is less obvious are the hidden forces at work that allow you to do crazy things like hang sideways while cornering.
Anyone who has seen a racing motorcycle suddenly hit the ground can speak to how suddenly these balancing forces can fall out of sync.  Foale's book is full of helpful diagrams that clarify some pretty arcane physics.

Cornering on a bike is one of the most complex and misunderstood aspects of riding.  Keith Code does a good job of explaining this in Twist of the Wrist.  Foale's approach is more interested in the mechanics of the machine and how it handles the forces working on it.

From a rider's perspective, corning is a balancing act, but from the suspension's perspective things get a lot heavier when you're bending into a corner.

Compared to a car, motorcycles have very different dynamics that often surprise riders when they are testing the extremes of two wheeled dynamics.  Reading Foale's book (though he pitches pretty hard) is worth it even if you're only getting a sense of just how differently the 'integrated system' that is a motorcycle works.

Foale also gets into the geometry of the motorcycle.  From wheelbase and centre of gravity to more complex issues like how suspension height changes those fundamental forces.  Of course, in a corner a the suspension is severely compressed, changing the bike's responses in dramatic ways.  You get a real sense of how connected and complicated the physics of riding is after reading this book.

The copy I read was the 2002 version, but he still managed to work some of the newer computer based analysis of motorcycle physics.  Static pressure and its role on aerodynamics is a relatively new aspect of motorcycle theory, but Foale covers it.
You can find the latest version of this technical manual online from Foale's website, but you can get a good idea of what it's all about from Google Books.  I'm curious enough about changes and updates that I think I'm going to spring for the new PDF ebook.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Road Trip Insanity

Over thirteen hundred kilometres in two days? Bring the pain!
I'm still looking for a DRZ-400.  I just found one way up in Thunder Bay.  Here's a stupid but interesting idea:  fly up Friday, pick up the bike Saturday morning and ride it home by Sunday night.

Leave Saturday morning from Thunder Bay and trace the north shore of Gitchegumee to Sault Ste. Marie where I'd overnight Saturday after my first nearly 700km day.

Sunday morning would have me up early to tackle the final 650kms home.  At least I'd be able to pass out on the ferry from Manitoulin to Tobermory.

Insane?  Probably, especially on a 400cc dual sport bike mainly designed for the dirt, but that's also what would make it interesting.

Pearson to Thunder Bay late on a Friday night, about three hundred bucks
It's nearly June and they are still below zero overnight in Thunder Bay, so it'd be a bag of layers I'd be bringing up with me.  The riding temperature range may go from around zero all the way up into the thirties, so flexibility is key!  A water proof duffel bag for the back of the bike would work as carry on luggage and a universal way to carry gear on the bike.

In that bag I'd chuck a helmet and goggles, a face scarf, motorcycle jacket, pants and rain gear.  I'd wear bike boots onto the plane.  Repair wise I'd bring a mini tool kit and some chain lube.  Clothing would have to be everything from polar fleece to thin cotton to cover the possible temperatures.

A nice, clean, low km bike ready for an insane trip home?
It's buying an unknown bike from a stranger, though this particular one is low kms and looks very well looked after.  There are things I could do to ensure the bike is ready to go.  With some emails between the seller I think I could convince them to prep the bike for the trip as part of the purchase price.  I'm not sure about the legal requirements but if they safety it and scan it to me I could appear up there with plates, ownership and insurance ready to go.

So what would this buy-a-bike-instant-road-trip insanity cost?  They are asking $3500 for this '07 Suzuki with 14,000kms on it.  I'd be ok with the asking price if it includes the safety and prep for the return trip.  On top of that I'm looking at about $300 for the flight up there, $300 for hotels on the way back down and sundry costs (gas, food, ferry, etc).  Lets say another $300.  Forty four hundred bucks for the DRZ I'm looking for and an insane road trip to boot from The North?  Sounds like a fun weekend!

If I had more disposable income I'd be dangerous!

Sunday, 24 May 2015

MotoGP vs. Formula 1

A very expensive traffic jam
I just finished watching the F1 parade in Monte Carlo.  Watching the massive, modern F1 cars (so wide they practically fill the road) following each other through the streets of Monte Carlo reminded me why I've been watching MotoGP instead.  It's not uncommon to see multiple lead changes on a single lap in MotoGP, and dozens of mid-field overtakings during a race.  It's uncommon to see any lead changes in an F1 race and a driver climbing through the field has become a rarity.  At Monte Carlo this morning the only overtaking was political.

I started watching F1 during Michael Schumacher's rookie year and followed him all the way through his career.  My favourite race of his was '94 in Spain where he managed second place while stuck in one gear.  Spain a couple of years later was a master class in keeping an F1 car on the pavement in torrential rain.  While the engineering is interesting in F1 it's not why I watched it regularly for over two decades, it was because of the brilliance of the drivers.

I'm now into my second season of watching Motogp.  The first race I watched had a resurgent 34(!) year old Valentino Rossi chasing the astonishing Marc Marquez (beginning a record breaking run of wins) to a one two finish with multiple lead changes in a single lap.

It's hard to see just how much a MotoGP racer works their tires.
Slow motion is the way to go if you want to see just how much
they drift on a single wheel.

In one of the early races an announcer mentioned how in Formula One the car is the majority of the equation whereas in Motogp the rider is the key component.  From that moment on I made an effort to understand the complexities of riding a race bike.  Motosports that are decided by operator skill over engineering prowess (and budget) are what I'm into.  Schumi got that second place in Spain driving a second tier car.  When he started winning championships with a massive budget I was less interested.

Watching the parade around Monte Carlo reminded me of why I enjoy the bikes more.  With the rider such a big part of the equation, you'll see human excellence much more clearly on two wheels than you will with four. There is much less between a rider and the road than there is between a driver and the road.  While one is wrestling with their machine the other is setting suspension settings and adjusting engine maps.

With the Isle of Man TT coming up I'll also be able to see bikes battling on public roads just as the F1 cars didn't do on the streets of Monte Carlo. You see a lot of precision in Monte Carlo but you don't see the breath taking bravery that you'll see in the TT.  If you've never watched one before, give it a go.

This has me thinking about vehicle dynamics and the differences between motorcycles and cars... fodder for my next post...
From Tony Foale's Motorcycle Handling & Chasis Design: a must read if you're curious about motorbike dynamics

Some Links

Formula One vs. Motogp: vehicle comparison
F1 car mechanical and aerodynamic forces
Applying the fluid dynamics of F1 aerodynamics to motorcycle racing
The Physics of Motorbikes
Which is faster? F1 or MotoGP (by F1 fanatics)

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Money To Burn Wish List

Another wish list... we were talking about what we'd do with a lotto win while camping last weekend.  I'd be aiming to expand into road racing and off road riding.  Here's what my cost-no-object-moto-summer would look like.


I've been thinking about a Ford Transit van, Guy Martin style, but now I'm thinking about a trailer.  Stealth Trailers make an aluminium bike trailer that is pretty awesome.  It weighs about 1200lbs and carries another 1700lbs, so something with a three thousand pound towing capacity would manage it.  Fortunately, the Jeep Cherokee I'm currently fixated on can tow 4500lbs.

Trailer: ~$6000
Jeep:    ~$36500
I'd also pick up a custom pop up tent with Mechanical Sympathy printed on it.  They look like they go for about a thousand bucks plus whatever the custom screening costs.  Setup off the back of the trailer I'd have an instant pit stand.

Tent ~$1500


Track Bike (newer)

Kawasaki ZX-6R if I wanted to keep it Kawi as I have thus far.

Other short listed bikes would be the Honda CBR600RR or the Triumph Daytona 675R.  All three are mid-displacement bikes that would allow for an engrossing track experience.  A litre bike is a bit much for track day riding, unless you're either an ex-professional or compensating for something.

Price range (new) : $12,500 (Honda) to $14,500 (Triumph) with the Kawi in between.  I'd pick the one that fits best.  Rather than a new one I'd probably find a used one and then strip it down to race.  I could find a lightly used one of these for about six grand and spend another four to get it race ready.

Track Training & Track Days

 Racer5The three day intro-weekend would do the trick giving me the basics on a rented Honda.


Getting in some laps at Grand Bend...
$100 a pop x 5 a summer = $500

Pro6 Cycle track days at Calabogie
$350 a pop x3 a summer (x2 meet up with Jason) = $2100

Vintage Racer

Join the VRRA and take their racing school.

A mid-80s Honda Interceptor would be my classic bike of choice.  I couldn't care less how competitive it might be, this is an exercise in nostalgia.

You can find well kept ones for a couple of thousand dollars online.  Converting it to a race bike would cost that much again.

Road racing ain't cheap...

~$18,000 + race costs (tires, etc)


Suzuki DR-Z400S x2
Build out a couple of Suzukis, do some training, complete some multi-day enduro events.
~$7000 each + maintenance and upgrades


Trail Tours Dual Sport Training

Smart Adventures All Day Training

$2000 competition budget

Forty-two, eighteen and sixteen and a half thousand (~$76k) and I'd be having a very busy summer expanding my motorbiking repertoire both on and off road.  That's only a two thirds of the price of a new Range Rover!  What a deal!

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

PW80 is Rolling!

A fully functional stable!
After banging my head against a non-starting PW80 for the better part of two weeks I went back to basic troubleshooting.

The one thing I changed prior to it dying entirely was the spark plug.  The only NGK I could find was a BPR6HS, the bike is supposed to take a BP6HS.  The difference is a resistor which prevents feedback to electronic equipment in the system (important if you've got a machine that uses computers and other finicky components - the PW80 is nothing like that complicated).

I'd read that the resistor doesn't matter, but after swapping back to the old plug the bike fired up immediately.  I've got to look further into resistor effects on simple two stroke machines like the PW80, but the troubleshooting still stands: when you change something and it suddenly stops working, change it back even if you think it's supposed to be an improvement!

I'm going to regap and try the newer plug again, but if it kills it again I'll have to accept that the PW80 doesn't like (and doesn't need) a plug with a resistor in it.

After it was up and running we had a throttle lesson, walking next to the bike while my son got a feel for rolling on the throttle gently.  I then tore around in circles on it - it's a zippy little machine!

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Living On The Concours

It doesn't happen often, I'm usually the one taking the photos.
A student of mine saw me riding in to school from her school bus.
I've been riding the Concours for over a month now.  It came to me with a broken speedo reading 25073 miles.  Today it's 25784 on it - 711 miles so far.  With some commuting and longer trips in the mix I'm starting to get a good sense of what the bike is capable of.

My most recent refill took me 175 miles and took just over 20 litres to refill (pardon my half imperial/half metric measurements).  It looks like I'm getting about 41mpg out of it, which is quite a surprise considering how often I push the RPMs up (it just sounds so good doing it).  I've been told you can get up near 50mpg if you don't wring its neck, which should be doable if I'm on a longer road trip, especially if I'm covering miles at speed on the highway, which I never normally do.

The only time I pushed too hard was winding on the throttle when entering a main road a couple of weeks ago.  Being so torquey, the Connie broke loose on the back wheel when I rolled on the thottle.  I caught it in time but it was exciting!  Hooking up the bike and keeping it upright was surprisingly easy, this Kawasaki is remarkably responsive for how big it is.  Easing off the throttle and letting the tire reconnect was enough to get me straightened out and launched up the road right quick.  Other than that one bit of excitement the Concours has been an easy bike to live with.  It handles two up duty well, swallows the horrible roads around here with much better suspension than the Ninja had, and the engine has only gotten sweeter as I've started using it regularly.

With the Connie sorted I've been working on the rider too.  I started working on my weight in February when I was shocked to learn I was over two hundred and sixty pounds.  Most recently I was down to 248lbs, which is a 14lb drop, which isn't bad considering I'm exercising regularly and have put on some muscle as well.  I'm aiming for under 240, but I'm going to keep up the exercise and eating choices and just see where it lands me.  The goal is still to eventually head off to racing school and not look like a tool in one piece leathers.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

The Magic of Motorcycles

My son is a pretty shy guy, but he's an instant celebrity on the bike.  When we ride home kids who might not otherwise acknowledge him want a wave.  The bike seems to produce fame on demand!

On my way in this morning on the Concours a little girl went running down the sidewalk next to me waving and giggling insanely.  That kind of thing doesn't happen when I'm driving the mini-van.  Kids' eyes are drawn to motorbikes like they are to anything awesome.

Two hundred metres further down the road another kid riding his BMX bike gave me a serious nod and his gaze lingered.  Perhaps that's the magic of motorcycles, they are the adult evolution of what we loved to do as children. Kids can see themselves on a motorcycle because it's the technological enhancement of a device they are already familiar and in love with.  Adults in cages have no analog for children, but motorcycles are immediately familiar.

Unlike the desperately-seeking-cool types on cruisers, I'm always happy to grin back and wave.

You have to wonder how hard we work on kids to scare them out of getting around on two wheels as adults when it's such an intrinsic love for us when we're children.  For the lucky few who find themselves back on two wheels as adults the magic can keep happening for the rest of your life.

This Month's Wish List

This changes moment to moment, but based on bikes I've actually thrown a leg over, and the shear avalanche of reports on the Ninja H2, I've got a couple of new machines on my wish list.

Sport Tourer:  Honda VFR800

It's a jewel like machine with beautiful finish.  It'll run all day, has a magic variable valve engine, and can corner with the best of them.  It also hits a nostalgic button with me.


Bonkers Super Bike:  Kawasaki Ninja H2

A supercharger?  200+ horsepower?  It has wings for godsake!  It's a technological tour-de-force and one of a kind.  I used to be all wobbly over Hayabusas, but the H2 is a daring step in another direction.  It ain't cheap, but it'll be collectable one day.  If I were ever to do Bonneville, this'd be the bike to bring.


Off-road ready Dual Sport: CCM 450 Adventure

A light-weight, off-road capable dual sport bike with a bullet-proof BMW engine that can handle everything from actually adventuring off road to long distance travel.  It's the bike that would get me coast to coast to coast in Canada.

$10,000 ?

Wow, that is a well groomed man.

Back To Basics:  Ducati Scrambler

An air cooled single that does the business and reminds you what motorbiking is all about.  Just you and the wind.  It's light, engaging and charismatic.  I'm in even if I do have trouble connecting with the demographic they are aiming at.  Under all the marketing the Scrambler is a lovely little machine that does the business.

Urban Enduro $9995

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

A Honda Wander

Ah, to pretend to be Marquez...
I finally found KW Honda today!  It's hidden around back of the big Honda car dealer peddling bland people movers.  If you head around back you find Repsol themed race bikes and jewel like VFRs.

On a much needed lunch break from Skills Ontario provincial championships with thousands of boisterous teenagers watching a few hundred wonderfully talented ones, I got some head space wandering through the Hondas.

The bike I longed for as a teenager was the VFR750, so I was hoping to find its spiritual successor at the Honda dealer, and I wasn't disappointed.  

The white VFR800 they had on the floor was breathtaking.  The paint has a subtle pearl iridescence that gives it fantastic depth.  Every detail of the machine has a finished quality to it that I've found lacking in a lot of other bikes; it's a bike worthy of desire.

Stealth fighter cool front end on the VFR800...


They had a number of older Hondas as well, including this astonishing 1970s CBX with a massive air cooled six in it!

If I had thirteen grand to throw around a VFR would be in the garage right quick.  Sitting on it, my legs are about as folded as the Concours, I'm leaned forward more but it's a substantial bike, I don't feel like a circus bear on it.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Yamaha PW80

After doing a partial dismantling of my son's new (to us) '04 Yamaha PW80, I put it back together again and learned a valuable lesson in dirt bike ownership:  always turn off the fuel tap.  Other than carb pressure and gravity, there is nothing else stopping your garage from smelling like gas and a puddle forming.

The second dismantling came when it wouldn't start after the flood.  The spark plug was always dodgy, so I've gotten a pair of new ones (no problem finding them at Canadian Tire).

Good advice, straight from Yamaha
A tiny amount of Googling found me the Yamaha shop/operating manual, that covers everything from not carrying dogs on the bike with you to how to tear down the engine.

This is such a simple machine that it's a great way to get a handle on the basic motorbike system.  If you want to get handy with bike maintenance, start with a dirt bike (I started with a Concours...).

The next strip down has been more comprehensive, though to remove the tank, fairings and seat takes all of seven bolts.  The air filter was pretty bad with chunks of mud in the air box.  It's a shame that people treat a bike like that then just chuck in storage.  Why not clean it first?  In any case it's clean now.

The metal shop at school
sorted out the broken muffler.
I've got a busy hands afternoon after work checking the new plugs for spark (it's definitely getting gas) and putting it back together again knowing that I've taken it right down to the engine.  With how it took off last weekend (I impromtu wheelied down the driveway thinking it would barely be able to move me on it), I'm looking forward to seeing how spunky it is with a complete tune up.

With a new plug in it has strong spark - the carb is stinking of gas and it still won't start.  Time to pull the carburetor and sort it out before giving it another go.  Leaving it open overnight doesn't appear to have done it any favours.

The unhappy carburator
A Yamaha PW80 down to the mechanicals

I've got to get my mits on a me-sized dirt bike so we can go into the woods together up at the inlaw's cottage.  That DR600 Dakar is still for sale, I wonder if he'd take a grand for it.  It's a bit more than a mid-sized dirt bike, but it would do the business and also eventually adventure bike for me too.

It'd make a good Swiss army knife bike.