Saturday 29 March 2014

Bikes v. Cars, the one we lose

Since I started riding last year I'm smitten with motorbikes.  I like old bikes, new bikes, sport bikes, adventure bikes, bikes with sidecars, hyperbikes, scamblers, cafe racers, touring bikes, low cc bikes, big cc bikes... I dig 'em all.  The motorbike offers a unique approach to efficiency and size in personal transportation that most other vehicles can't touch.  I'm not a big fan of choppers or Harley type cruisers, but I get the appeal.  One I don't get though is the CanAm Spyder.

A thirty-four thousand dollar tricycle?  I'd be sorely tempted to pocket five grand and buy a Mazda Miata.  The Mazda is cheaper, gets better gas mileage, corners better and goes significantly faster all while keeping you dry and carrying way more stuff.  It's not like the Miata is a slouch on the road either, it'll put a smile on your face in the curves.  The Mazda not only gets the wind in your face but in your hair too (you don't need a helmet).

One of the reasons I'm so fixated on bikes is that they outperform the most engaging experiences I've had driving cars.  As a sensory experience and a source of efficiency and power bikes take some beating, except in this case.  I don't mind trading some safety for that kind immersive, complex experience.  When it comes to Miatas and Spyders though the calculus clearly points to the four wheeler.

Thursday 27 March 2014

Mechanical Sympathy

At the end of a twisty road, deep in the hills, the shop of my dreams...
courtesy of, it's easy to play with, give it a whirl!
Since doing bodywork on my first bike, I've remembered how much I enjoy doing it.  The new shop will be a working paint shop with a booth and an oven capable of power coating parts.


Open faced paint booth:

Price:  $2599

PAASCHE HSSB-30-16 30" Paint Spray booth

Price: $525


DSA800SE-GL2 30L (8gal) 1600W dual 20/40KHz Ultrasonic parts cleaner

20 Gallon Heavy Duty  solvent parts cleaner


Anderson Motorcycle Stand

Industrial Air

60 Gallon Electric Air Compressor
24x27in footprint

accessories (hoses, connectors)

High Volume Low Pressure paint gun

California Air Tools SP-324 HVLP paint gun

Lincoln Electric Handy Mig Welder Kit

Lincoln Electric Cutwelder

$330+tanks $300

It's a work in progress.  Wouldn't this be a nice thing to retire into?

Monday 24 March 2014

Rearsets and Customizing how you sit on a bike

Stock Ninja on me
Unlike cars, a motorbike has a set position for all riders.  Can you imagine a car that had a seat without adjustment?  That's what sitting on a bike is like.  When one doesn't fit you make adjustments, unfortunately most of those adjustments are aftermarket choices.  If something doesn't fit, you customize.  This is yet another way bikes are different from cars.  Can you imagine if all car drivers had to customize their own vehicles?  There would be far fewer traffic jams...

Modified Ninja on me

If I make some minor adjustments to the rearsets (foot pegs and the frames they attach to) on my Ninja I can reduce my forward lean by almost half, relax my knee angle and make the bike a custom fit for me.  The other advantage of custom rearsets is that they allow you to focus the bike.  Instead of the stock 2-up rider/passenger rearsets, many are simplified, single rider kits that allow for adjustable footpegs that suit the rider's dimensions.

Modifying your rider position is a next level move in riding.  Don't be satisfied or dismiss a bike that feels a little out of sorts.  With some minor upgrades you can set your foot pegs and controls just where you want them.

Saturday 22 March 2014

Micro Ninja

I picked up a Celestron digital microscope/camera a few weeks ago.  These are surprisingly cheap and let you take some astonishing video and photography on a micro level you might not otherwise get to see with a normal camera and even the fanciest macro setup.  

The model I got takes 4mb images and does high-def video at high frame rates (for smooth slow motion).  After messing around with ice crystals and eyeballs I turned the it on the Ninja.

I've always thought the petal type rotors on the Ninja are a nice feature, and up close they take on an abstract modernism that is really beautiful.  I couldn't help but critically exam them while they were under the microscope, they seem to be wearing very evenly.

Looking at the chain up close was another matter.  What I thought was a clean, well lubricated chain didn't look so clean under a microscope.  The road grit that gets caught up in the lubricant is obvious at even low magnification.  I suppose the only time your chain looks nice is before you use it.

The radiator fins made another interesting closeup.  These look perfectly formed and even to the naked eye, but up close the folds in the cooling fins look like they were made by hand.  It's another world when you get to micro-photography.  No corrosion and they look to be wearing well though.

The small-print on the tires are very sharp considering that they are branded into rubber.  The sidewalls look to be in very clean shape after my first season too.

What was freakier was looking at the micro-detail in the treads.  Motorcyclists have such tiny contact patches on the road, they tend to be much more tire focused than four wheeled vehicles.  With the naked eye the tires on the bike still look in great shape, but under the microscope they made me nervous.  Don't look at your bike tires under a microscope unless you've got a strong stomach:
That's the narrow end of one of the tread cuts on the rear tire (not quite a season old) of the Avon Storms on the Ninja.  Once again, they look in great shape to the naked eye, but tires are the sharp end of the spear on a bike and up close they show their wear in the tread grooves.  In this case it looks like the contact patch is in good shape but the rubber in the grooves has dried out.

As a photographic exercise the Celestron digital microscope/camera was a lot of fun to play with, and at only about fifty bucks it might also make a handy diagnostic tool (the photos are jpgs and the videos are avi, so you could easily share them with people too).  In video mode it could create high-def, high frame rate (slow motion) images as you scan over an area and show cracks or damage in fantastic detail.  It would be interesting to run this over internal engine parts after high mileage to get a sense of how they wear.

Friday 21 March 2014

One More Bike Is Never Enough

My cousin-in-law posted this on Facebook.  Funny how the proliferation of bikes is a common theme.  Few people are happy with just one, probably because one bike can't do it all and if you love to ride you probably want to ride in as many different circumstances as possible.

I've posted several times on bikes that have caught my eye and after realizing that there is math to support this I'm going to do it again!

Based on the bikes I've sat on at various shows over the winter these are the ones that felt special or stood out for me.  Given a chance I'd love to test ride them.

A big, naked Kawasaki Z1000

I wanted to love the Triumph Street Triple, or the Suzuki Gladius, but they felt on the small side.  I was also keen to try the Yamaha FZ-09, and while it fit ok it didn't offer much in the way of an emotional charge.  

As far as naked bikes go there was only one that felt special, and that was the Kawasaki Z1000.  The big, newly re-engineered Kawasaki has a kind of bonkers ode-to-Japanese-anime look that really gets to me.  That it also fit me nicely and offered an astounding openness (the dash all but disappears into the fairing), made it a love at first sight experience.  I'm still a few years away from a litre bike, but when I'm ready, this one is on the short list.

A need for speed

I went to shows this winter thinking I'm all about the adventure bike, but they aren't what got me going.  Sure, sitting on the big Ewan McGregor adventure BMW felt grand, but it didn't really get me excited.  I've always been a sports car goof, I guess I'm the same way about bikes.

What surprised me was sitting on the Suzuki Hayabusa.  This was another big bike that felt like it was proportioned right for me (6'3" 230lbs).  The mystical reputation of this speed machine as well as its visual presence surprised me.  It isn't a rational response (the BMW was much more sensible, which is saying something), but sitting on the 'Busa felt special.

That sport bike appeal rocked me again when I sat on the Kawasaki ZX-14R.  With Testarosa strakes over the air intakes and the way you fall into the bike, it quickened my pulse.  Once again, not a rational decision, but the emotion couldn't be denied.

I still want to expand my riding repertoire beyond sports bikes, but as the weather starts to warm up and the Ninja looks at me from the garage, I find myself not wanting to give it up for some blatting adventure bike that feels like it's on stilts.  I intend to find my way to a day or two of off-road training because it's a good way to better understand the physics of riding, but that feels like a rational choice, what I want to do is get some track time in.

In the future I may have a couple of three bikes in the garage.  I hope I'll love each one in a different way, but it looks like the sport bike may have a special place in my heart.  I guess I'm going to have to come to terms with being a big guy with a sports bike addiction.

Thursday 20 March 2014

Touring Ninja redux

I've been doing some research on a topbox for the Ninja again.  Having a permanent carrying option would allow me to make the bike more usable on long trips by giving me lockable storage on the bike.  It would also give my son a more comfortable and secure pillion with a backrest.  If I could take him with me on some extended day trips we'd be able to make some miles this summer.

I'd initially thought of getting a bigger bike for two upping with my son, but the cost of insurance on larger cc bikes for new riders and the doubling up of insurance when you own two bikes (though you can only ride one at a time) has put that on hold.  In the meantime, perhaps some storage on the Ninja would make it a bit more useful as a tourer.

Givi is pretty detailed in how to apply its luggage to my particular Ninja.  I went to them first to figure out what the hell the difference between monolock and monokey luggage is.  Basically, Givi monokey is the heavy duty kit and monolock is the light duty system.  Monokey can be switched between top and pannier duty as well as being built heavier and tougher.  Monolock is topcase only and meant for smaller bikes doing lighter duty.  Think monokey for a big touring bike with lots of luggage and monolock for sports bikes, smaller bikes and scooters.

Givi suggestions for a Ninja 650r '05-'08:

What I need for the Ninja Topbox:

Not bad for turning the Ninja into a two up tourer and long distance traveller.  I see some Givi luggage coming from A Viscous Cycle in the near future.

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Digital Motorcycle Reading

I just finished Nick Sander's Incredible Ride on an ipad mini and really enjoyed the experience.  The integrated digital media in the ebook drew a different picture of that trip compared to just a written narrative.  It wasn't always better (as deep and developed) as a well thought out narrative piece of prose but it offered an interesting reading experience in a different way.

I've tried reading digitally before with older ipads and other tablets but have been unsatisfied with the quality.  The Retina display on this Mini is a revelation though, it has better screen resolution than my 15" laptop; it's so sharp and clear that it's shocking!  I also find my eyes don't get tired reading off it (perhaps as a result of that clarity).  With all that in mind I started thinking about alternative ways to read my motorcycle media.

My Cycle Canada subscription is coming to an end and I want to renew, but I think I might go digital.  I'm also keen to get into Bike magazine and Adventure Bike Rider magazine, both UK titles that cost me $13+taxes a pop when I find them in a local store.  Rather than get stuck into another year of dead trees I tried reading digital samples on the ipad Mini.

Bike Magazine showed the multi-media possibilities of a digital magazine.  The embedded video and layers of information available in the digital copy were fantastic.  The high resolution images on that Retina display were jaw dropping.  There is no doubt the digital copy is the way to go, and at £48 for a year (£4/$7.40CAN per issue) it's a much better deal than the $15 with taxes I'm paying at Chapters for a paper copy.

ABR is an even better deal.  Instead of $15 an issue in Chapters I'm looking at £20 
($37CAN) for a year with access to all back issues.  I'm going to check out its digital content, but if it comes anywhere close to what Bike is doing then it too will be a no-brainer.

Cycle Canada was a bit more basic.  The online sample said it wasn't at full resolution, so it expects me to commit to digital without knowing what it will look like, which seems a bit weak. 

The only downside to the digital copy is that I can't settle into a hot bath with an ipad.  Maybe I'll re-up Cycle Canada on dead trees for a while longer so I have an amphibious option.

If you've tried digital and not liked it give it a go with Apple's Retina display, it might surprise you.  The additional depth and media you get from the digital copy only seals the deal.

Monday 17 March 2014

Riding Scottsdale

I just got invited to the Education Innovation Summit in Scottsdale at the end of the Easter weekend.  I get in early the day before so I'm thinking about getting myself on something appropriate for a lovely Sunday afternoon and evening around Scottsdale.  Eagle Rider has a place in Scottsdale and seems big on Harleys.  I'm not really a Harley guy, but when in Rome...

They have a little thing called a Harley Davidson Sportster 883, which seems ridiculously large for what it does, but then I guess that's kind of the point.  Riding around the hills near Phoenix would be a blast on a big blatting Harley.

Scottsdale area seems like a biker's paradise, with winding mountain roads and desert all around the city.  The Mesa, Globe, Punkin Center ride through Four Peaks Wilderness, Tonto National Forest and past Theodore Roosevelt Lake looks like a nice afternoon/evening ride on the big American bike.

Another great opportunity to expand my riding experience in an unexpected location, can't wait!  I only hope they have a sparkle purple Harley there waiting for me.

Saturday 15 March 2014


I've been a Japanese animation fan since way back.  I've been casting around for motorcycle related animation and discovered Rideback.  If you're a fan of science fiction based motorcycles and ingenues (in this case think Buffy the Vampire Slayer mixed with Black Swan and Pacific Rim), this will definitely do it for you.

It's 2020 in Japan and post-world war three.  The left over technology from the war is finding its way into civilian hands, the Rideback transformable motorcycle is one of those devices.

Rin, the main character, is a former ballet dancer who is one of the only people able to ride the machine without all the electronic supports in place.  I'm only a couple of episodes in, but the story is very coherent for a Japanese animation (they aren't always).  The main character is already well developed and they aren't shy about explaining the technology.

The story arc looks like it's headed for a large political showdown with a despotic government, but ingenues on transformable motorcycles are just what you need in those circumstances.

The animation (if you're into that sort of thing) is a modern mix of computer and cell and shows off some very complex physics as well as excellent detail.

If you like anime, you'll enjoy this series.  If you like anime and motorbikes this one is a must see.

Some Rideback links:
The Australian site (in English!)
The Japanese TV site
Rideback overview on wikipedia
Funimation, the North American anime company that brought Rideback in

You can do what I did and get it on Amazon.  It's also available on itunes or through the Funimation site.

Thanks for Nothing Toronto Spring Motorcycle Show

On March Break this week my family is hanging out with my buddy's family.  He has been riding for years but didn't actually take his bike out at all last year.  He's thinking about getting a new bike so I pull up the Toronto Spring Motorcycle Show online.  I tell him how much fun my son and I have had attending the mid-winter supershow and the manufacturer's show this year.  I suggest we all go down, four professionals who earn over $300,000 a year between them and their three kids.

Special Guests?  Anything about
My wife has doubts, the 'feel' of motorcycle shows online isn't always very friendly toward educated, professional women and she's also had concerns about our son going - it doesn't seem a very family friendly affair.  She pulls up the website to see what's going on there and this is what comes up.

Guess what?  We're not going to the Spring Motorcycle show.  My buddy with all that earning potential and a want for a new bike and his wife who is keen to adopt his old one but has no kit of her own aren't going.  My wife, who I think I can convince to get on two wheels if I can Vespa her up, isn't going and has had her suspicions confirmed yet again.  My son, who is on the verge of getting his first 50cc isn't going, and my buddy's kids, who are also two wheeled curious aren't going.

The irony is everything else on the site is actually motorcycle related and would have had us there, but you had to lead with the playboy model and list all the motorcycle related people below as an afterthought.  Not cool.

If motorcycling in North America would just grow up it would have a chance of becoming more mainstream and less an excuse for creepy old men to act like adolescents.  I live in hope.

Friday 14 March 2014

MotoGP And The Dragon's Tail

I noticed that the US MotoGP race is in August at Indianapolis this year.  I've never attended a MotoGP race before, but it makes a great excuse for a road trip!

Mapping it out in Google, I immediately extended the trip to hit the GP first and then continue on to the Tail of the Dragon before riding up the Blue Ridge Parkway and returning into Canada at the Thousand Islands.

The round trip would be just over thirty-five hundred kilometres.  The race happens over the weekend of August 8th to 10th, so leaving on the Thursday morning would get us there Friday afternoon, we could catch Saturday qualifying and then Sunday's race and leave Monday morning.  But rather than head back north we'd be heading south east for The Tail of the Dragon!

Working our way up the Appalachian Mountains, we'd go from the Tail to the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Skyline Parkway before pushing back north to re-cross into Canada at The Thousand Islands.

The trip consists of three high speed sections (Ontario to Indianapolis, Indianapolis to Knoxville and Front Royal VA to Thousand Islands), and some slow sections (Tale of the Dragon, Blue Ridge and Skyline Parkways).

With a three night stopover for the Indie race, the schedule falls into about a ten or eleven day trip:
Leave on the Thursday, get to Indianapolis on Friday afternoon, Saturday qualifying, Sunday races, Monday morning departure and cover some ground, Tail of the Dragon on Tuesday, Blue Ridge Parkway Wednesday & Thursday, Skyline on Friday and then the run north for the border, we'd be back in Canada  on Sunday, August 17th.
Tail of the Dragon in Tennessee.
Blue Ridge Parkway in the Appalachians.

This would be a MotoGP event at a legendary venue followed by some epic rides in mountains that we simply don't have in Ontario.  The start is by my place, the finish is by my buddy Jason's place.  He didn't take his bike out at all last year, I'm hoping this changes his mind.

Putting The Ninja Back Together

We had our first above zero day this week and I giddily began rebuilding the Ninja thinking that I'd have a chance to take it out soon.  It's been snowing all day today and all hope it lost, but when the sun was out I could finally get to the paint touch ups needed.  The insulated garage isn't ideal for painting if the outside temperature is under minus ten Celsius which it has been for most of the winter.

On my first day of spring I popped open the garage door and touched up the headlight cover and fuel tank, both of which had imperfections in my initial paint application.  Now that they're clean and perfect, I can rebuild the front end.

With the temperature up the paint cures on the body panels very smoothly.  It needs to be well above 10° Celsius for the paint not to bead and bubble on the surface.  The front fairing and fuel tank lay in the warm March sunlight and cured perfectly - it was about 20°C.  The Rustoleum paint on the right covers fantastically well.   If you're looking for paint that will cover smoothly on plastic and metal, this is the stuff.

I'm going to two tone the air intakes on the fairings following a design that more current Ninjas use.  Unfortunately I didn't heed my own advice and I rushed in there yesterday morning when it was still too cold and the paint beaded.  Today I'm going to be sanding it down so I can get a smooth coat on in the heat.

It was nice to have the garage open and to be finishing up the winter repairs, maintenance and body touch ups.  It's supposed to be a warm (by warm I mean above zero) day again today.  With the insulated shop and the sun shining in I should be able to finish up the paint and begin to rebuilt the frame on the bike.

While casting about for a fairingless streetfighter option for the bike I came across some cheap options for replacing fairings.  I'd still like to try and source some of the bodywork from the fairingless ER6N, but it wasn't available in Canada in 2007 and I'd have to go to Europe to find the pieces.  It looks like the fairingless bike has small plastic covers over the coolant tank and that's about it.