Wednesday 27 January 2016

Motorcycle 3d Modelling

I'm teaching a class on 3d modelling in Blender next semester, so what better way to practice than on my partially taken apart for maintenance ZG1000?

The model was made with the Occipital Structure Sensor 3d Scanner.  I'm trying different editing programs.  I used the 3d Builder integrated into Windows 10 to edit out the extra bits captured by the scanner.  It's quite easy to use and has some pretty good editing tools.  If you're trying 3d modelling for the first time it's not a bad place to start (and it's included in Windows 10!).

The file is shared on Sketchfab, which I find to be an easy way to do presentation editing and sharing of a 3d model.  We're using Blender in class, so I'll be cranking out some Blender motorcycle models in the next couple of weeks.  The trick is going to be to get them looking life like rather than digitally modelled.  I wonder how you model patina...

Sunday 24 January 2016

Plugs, Calipers and Frozen Feet

The spark plug (bottom right) is easy to get to once
you remove the distributor caps mounted to the frame.
Yesterday began with a spark plug change on the Concours.  There are two (for lack of a better term) distributor caps (CoG got me sorted, they're coils!) in the shape of cylinders attached to the frame under the fuel tank.  Removing these makes for a fairly straightforward spark plug swap.  Someone had been in here before as one of the distributors wasn't properly attached to the frame (the rear bolt was seized).  With the unit removed it was relatively easy to free everything up in the vice.

I used to be pretty good at gapping plugs by eye, but I hadn't done it in a while.  I got better as I worked through the plugs and the last one only needed a minor adjustment.  The plugs all came out without issue and the new ones went in by hand and then got torqued to spec (14Nm).
The two middle plugs are tucked in behind the radiator and don't collect much road cruft.  The two on the outside
have a tougher life.   Other than being filthy, the plugs didn't show any internal issues.
With the plugs sorted and the under tank electrics cleaned and seated properly, I turned my attention to the rear brake caliper.  I've got a replacement metal brake line, so the old rusty rubber one is going in the spares bin.  The caliper came apart quite easily.  The rear brake on the Concours has always been excellent, but was starting to whine as the pads got thin.  With nothing seized and the main bits just needing a good cleaning, I think this will go back together nicely with new pads and brake lines.  I'd meant to order a caliper rebuild kit from Canada's Motorcycle, but my order got mixed up with a bearing puller I didn't need.  At least now I can tell you how good their return process is.

follow-up:  I requested a return on January 24th and got a shipping label in a reply email a day latter (which I thought was good).  I sent it off that day.  I just got a confirmation email today (Feb 3 - 10 days later) saying it will be another 3-6 days before I see a refund... and I'm charged seven bucks for returning it.  Compared to's over the top customer service (immediate, free returns, what can we do to prevent this happening in the future?), I'm left thinking twice about shopping on

While I'm waiting on the rear caliper rebuild kit I can do the fronts, which is what I'm aiming to get done today.  It's officially frickin cold outside (-20°C overnight, -12°C now), and even with the thick rubber mats I've got down in the garage and the heater going, I still ended up with foot cramps from the cold at the end of three hours in there yesterday.  Winter in Canada can get pretty tedious.  This is one of those days.  If someone called and said they could fly me somewhere warm to ride a bike next weekend, I'd be in heaven.

The two cylindrical distributor caps (COILS! bottom middle &
top right with the spark plug wires coming out of them)
are held down by two bolts.  Once removed from the
frame spark plug access is straight forward.
A longer view of the spark plug.

Wednesday 20 January 2016

Naked Concours

The Concours is a naked thing at the moment.  I'm under the fuel tank for the first time since I bought it.  I'm going after the spark plugs, but neither of my imperial spark plug removers would fit.  Kawasaki uses an 18mm metric socket.  Fortunately, Canadian Tire had that very thing in stock.

With the plugs changed it'll be time to start putting it back together.  I'm cleaning electrical terminals and torquing bolts to spec as I go.

The wheels are off, stripped and cleaned and ready for reconditioning at Fireball Coatings.  I'm hoping to get them over there this week.

What twenty year old Concours rims look like after you've had a go at them with SOS pads for an hour.

They're off to Fireball for a two stage gold/candy coat finish.  They look better than they have in years already, I can't imagine what they'll look like when I get 'em back!

The stripped bike is letting me get to pretty much everything.  I found the two cut-off gas tank ventilation pipes, which will get properly re-attached again.

Last but not least will be calliper rebuilds and braided metal lines for the rear brake and clutch (which have been waiting until some down time to install - I was loath to do it while I could be out riding).

It will all go back together on new tires and renewed rims ready for the season to begin as soon as the rain washes all the salt and other winter crap off the road.

If I lived somewhere more temperate I'd need two bikes so that I could rotate one out of operation for this kind of work.  Canada obliges by making it miserable outside for four months of the year.

Monday 18 January 2016

Doing a Dangerous Thing Well (or not)

The rolling hills mean short sight lines and lightened
suspension. Patchy pavement means a rough ride.
Lots of corners means you're depending on the sides
of your tires. The Bush Highway is a demanding ride. 
After our horse ride in the Arizona desert we took the rental SUV down the Bush Highway and into Apache Junction for dinner.  Over one of the many hills we came upon a dozen emergency vehicles with lights blazing.  The road was closed down to one lane.

As we crept past we cleared the ambulance in the middle of the road and a rider came into view.  He was sitting in the middle of the pavement my son and I had ridden down a couple of days before, his GSX-R a pile of broken plastic and bent metal on the gravel shoulder.  He'd obviously been thrown clear of it.

He was sitting up because he was wearing a full helmet, armoured leather jacket, pants and boots.  ATGATT meant this was an expensive crash, but not an overly injurious one, he looked winded and freaked out, but paramedics won't have you sitting up unless they've ruled out a lot of more serious injuries.

Helmets are optional in Arizona.  If this guy had come off at the speed he was travelling (he ended up a good sixty feet away from the bike) without a helmet he wouldn't have been sitting up.  He also would've left a lot of skin on the pavement if he wasn't wearing armoured gear.  As it was he looked cut free.

There might be a sport bike argument to be made here.  Cruiser riders may ride around in t-shirts and no helmet in Arizona, but then they don't try and tackle the bumpy, undulating Bush Highway at high speed either.  If you're going to ride a sports bike aggressively, full gear seems like an obvious thing to do.  Exploring the limits of said sports bike on a bumpy, poorly maintained desert road with a patina of sand on it might not be such a bright idea either; that's what track days are for.

I didn't start riding until my forties.  I could have started in my twenties when I had fewer responsibilities and much more free time, but a bad crash at work put me off it again.  Every time I see a rider down my heart jumps into my throat.  I want them to be ok, but I also don't want it to be the result of a stupid decision they made.  Every time that happens someone like me is shaken off the idea of riding, which means they are missing out on a magical experience.

Saturday 16 January 2016

Horse Power

This is Butch, he's kind of a jerk.
While in Arizona we went out horseback riding for a couple of hours.  I hadn't ridden a horse since I was a kid (almost forty years ago - back then they were tiny prehistoric horses).  I got Butch, who liked to eat a lot and thought it a good idea to stick his nose up the horse in front's ass to get it back to the paddock early for lunch.  He managed to piss off half a dozen horses doing this.

I ended up with mighty sore knees because I kept weight on the stirrups for the entire ride.  Partly because it was suggested and partly because it took weight off the horse's back.

Working with an animal is a very different process than inhabiting a machine.  I imagine that developing a longer term relationship with the creature eases the guilt I was feeling over using the animal.  If I knew that Butch enjoyed taking people out and going for a walk I'd have been a lot happier with bothering him with it.  His habit of rushing the other horses suggested that he wasn't enjoying hauling my heaviness around though.

How different is riding a horse from asking a taxi to drive you somewhere?  In both cases you're paying an organization to provide an animal that will transport you (one a horse, the other a machine assisted human).  In the case of the taxi driver you can at least communicate with them and get a sense of their willingness to do the work.  You can probably do that with the horse too, but the non-verbal communication takes longer to figure out.

I don't worry about my largeness (6'3" 240lbs) hurting a motorcycle but it was on my mind with the horse, even though they gave me one of the biggest ones they had.  My animal empathy is overdeveloped, no doubt, but even with a machine I still sympathize with its situation, it's one of the reasons I take care of mine so diligently.  With an animal I'm unfamiliar with I'm not clear on our relationship.  If the animal doesn't want to be there it sours the experience.  Put another way, I've never met a motorcycle that wasn't eager to be ridden - it's their purpose.  We might have domesticated horses but their reason for being isn't to carry people around.

While machines may have their problems they have also offered us an opportunity to stop using many animals as chattel for our own ends.

I enjoyed the horse ride and I'd do it again, but it would be nice to better understand the horse and their situation.  Knowing that a horse was excited to see me and go out would go a long way toward enjoying the ride more in the same way that taking out an excited dog for a walk is a positive process.  Two days before our rental horse ride I took a rental motorcycle out for the day and didn't have anything like the same moral quandary, though perhaps I should have.

It's wonderfully quiet out on a horse in the desert.

Thursday 14 January 2016

Very Superstitious: Riding The Superstition Mountains of Arizona

Arizona roads are magical.
I'm getting suspicious as I ride out of Scottsdale into the desert and see signs saying I'm entering Phoenix.  My son and I are riding in December, not something we usually achieve in Canada.  Our rental is a Kawasaki Concours14 from  We pull over into a gas station to pick up some water we needed anyway then turn around and start heading the right way.  I'm dataless and gpsless and we're heading deep into the mountains a couple of days after Christmas.

Soon enough we're out of the urban sprawl of Phoenix and feeling the cool desert breeze as we head north on Highway 87 through scattered saguaro cactus.  I have that realization I often get when I haven't been in the saddle in a while: wow, do I love riding a motorbike!  The vulnerability, the sensory overload and the speed conspire to make a rush of adrenaline that opens you up to this overwhelming experience even more.  I've tried many things, some of them not particularly good for me, but nothing, and I mean nothing, feels better than disappearing down the road on two wheels.

Once clear of traffic lights I immediately get lost in the winding corners and elevation changes of the Bush Highway.  The bike is leaning left and right, feeling weightless under me and eager to spring forward at the twist of the throttle.  My twenty year old Concours at home under a blanket in the garage does a good job with a thousand ccs, this newer fourteen-hundred cc machine is a revelation, even two up.

The Ride:  350+kms through the Superstition Mountains
A couple of weeks after our ride our
route was buried in a foot of snow.
We leave the traffic lights of the city behind and immediately find ourselves amongst ranches and desert aficionados hauling everything from ATVs and Dakar looking off-roaders to boats and bicycles.  It's the end of December but it's still 16°C on the digital dash and people are making use of their time off after Christmas. 

The Bush Highway turns back toward the sprawl, so after crossing Usurer's Pass we drop down to Highway 60 in Apache Junction having bypassed miles of Mesan strip malls.   Highway 60 is empty and arrow straight.  What would you do on a 160 horsepower bike you've never ridden before?  I do it.  In what feels like moments we're leaving the desert floor behind us and climbing into the Superstition Mountains.  I feel like I'm sitting on a Saturn V in a full stage one burn.

The ride into the Superstition
Mountains is elevating.
We're both wearing fleeces and leathers and it was comfortable on the warm desert floor, however the mountains ahead are looking mighty foreboding.  We started our ride in Scottsdale at just over a thousand feet above sea level, but the road to Globe is going to take us up to almost five thousand feet and we can feel the temperature plunging as we climb.

I've wanted to ride this road to Globe since driving it in a miserly Nissan rental car years before.  It's twenty five miles of being on the side of your tires.  You're only upright as you're switching sides.  The temperature drops and snow begins to appear in shady patches on the side of the road.  We surge ever upward in a cocoon of still air.  The Concours' fairing is keeping the worst of it at bay while that mighty engine makes short work of any moving chicanes in front of us.  Would I like to ride this road on a sport bike?  Sure, but the big Kawi makes it easy to enjoy two up with luggage.

As is the way with winding roads I get to the end of them in a trance, and always earlier than I think I should.  By this point we're both cold regardless of what we're wearing and fairings.  The outside temperature in Globe is 4°C.  We jump off the bike at the Copper Bistro and stamp some feeling back into our legs.  Walking into the restaurant we're met with the incredulous stares of the locals.

"Kinda cold to be out on a bike, ain't it?"
"We're Canadian."
The old timer at the bar gives us a look like he understands why we're out but still pities us for doing it.  We can't help being what we are.

Do not mess with the Globe popo.
We warm up to a damn fine burgers and fries.  Max likes the splotches of copper made into art on the wall.  Globe is home to one of the biggest copper mines in America and the locals have that toughness that you see in people who don't sit at a desk for a living.  The Globe Police department comes in for lunch, men with no necks who look like they stay in shape by managing the miners on Friday nights.  You wouldn't want to mess with these guys.

Warmed up, we're back on the bike and filling up before ducking out of Globe on the 188 into the Tonto Basin, a two thousand foot drop down from where we had lunch.  In warmer weather the 188 is busy with boat haulers heading to the lake behind the Roosevelt dam, but today the road is ours.

Roosevelt Dam, a nice stop and the beginning of the rather
bananas Apache Trail - an astonishing road but not the sort
of thing
 you'd want to two up on a Concours.
We wind down into the Basin and see the big saguaro cactus return.  The temperature is back into double digits and we're at our ease following the twisties on an empty road.  We meet the odd bundled up motorcyclist coming the other way and get the universal wave, but otherwise it's wonderfully quiet.

We pull into Roosevelt Dam for a stretch and a drink of water before following 188 to its end at Highway 87.  Our animal sighting luck kicks in at this point.  As we're kitting up to leave the dam a bald eagle flies over it and down the Salt River looking a scene out of a movie.

By this point it's mid-afternoon and we're both wind blown, dehydrated and a bit achy from the swings in temperature, and I've got the trickiest part of the ride coming up.  I've driven the 87 in a car and know what's coming.  We pull up to make sure our ATGATT is airtight and for me to get my head on straight for a high speed decent on a fast two lane highway down the side of a mountain range.

Have a stretch and get your head on straight for the ride back
to Phoenix.  The locals don't take this road slowly.
The first time I drove the 87 toward Phoenix from Payson I was astonished to see large trucks towing full sized boats blow past me at better than eighty miles an hour.  This road moves and none of it is straight.  Some of the corners feel like they last forever and they all generally lead straight into another corner.  For a guy from Southern Ontario, home of boring, straight roads, this isn't business as usual.

The Concours surges down the highway and I drop into the flow of traffic.  Leaning into corners for up to thirty seconds at a time has me concentrating on perfect arcs and not being happy with the results.  How often do you get to describe high speed arcs for an hour at a time?  I'm feeling rusty, frustrated and want to find a way to smooth out my mid-corner corrections.  Fortunately I'd been reading Total Control by Lee Parks on Kindle and found his advice about one handed steering to be the solution to my broken corners.

Total Control by Lee Parks - it's exhaustive in its description of motorcycle physics.  I wouldn't call it light reading,
but that one bit on steering input made me a better rider instantly.
Lee's advice is to only push on the inside handlebar when in a corner.  This causes the bike to counter steer deeper into the corner with very little effort and much finer control from the rider.  I wouldn't normally get much of a chance to play with this on Southern Ontario roads but Arizona was made for this sort of thing!  That one piece of advice got me down the 87 with significantly fewer sore muscles.  By the time I was getting to the bottom of the Superstition Mountains I'd had many long corners to test and refine my technique and my arcs were more precise and less meandering as a result.

The Concours is back in the lot next to this ridiculous thing.
I'd take two wheels over anything else any day.
We roll back into Scottsdale afternoon traffic like two cowboys who have just time travelled back from the Old West.  The suddenly onslaught of traffic is a bit overwhelming.  After a last fill up (the gas station attendant has a starry eyed look at the bike) we return the Concours to AZrides and get checked out in a matter of seconds.

The rush hour drive home in the rental SUV is tedious and slow, but that blast in the mountains cleared out the cobwebs.  The ZG1400 made an interesting comparison with my ZG1000.  I found the newer bike a comfortable and agile machine, but the whining of electronics didn't thrill me, and the tightness of the foot controls were awkward.  Because this is someone else's bike they made choices (like ridiculously high risers) that I wouldn't have.  None of these things spoiled the ride, and the biblical power of the ZG1400 motor is something that needs to be felt to be believed.  This taste of ZG1400 makes me wonder how I'd fettle my own.  Thoughts of a ZG1400 swirl in my mind as I roll along with the commuters into the setting sun.

ZG1400s for sale (they aren't $800 like my old ZG1000 was)...
2008 with 100k on it:  $8600 (really?)
2008 with 63k on it:   $7850
2008 with 13k on it:   $8900 
2009 with 72k on it:   $7000
2013 with 8k on it:    $13,000
2015 with <1k on it:   $13,500
new 2016:              $18,000

Photos from the helmet cam.  It was supposed to be video but I didn't set it up right.  I guess I'll have to go back and do it again.  I'm most sorry you can't hear the sound of a ZG1400 engine singing in the tunnel...
The Bush Highway

The tunnel out of Superior - the Concours' engine was a spine tingling howl!

The road to Globe

The never straight 87 back to Scottsdale - 3300 feet down to the desert floor, none of it straight... at 80mph.

Dropping down into the Tonto Basin

188 into the Roosevelt Dam
The Apache Trail a couple of days later in the rental car...
Back of the Roosevelt Dam before tackling the Apache Trail.
Roosevelt Dam
Sunset on the Apache Trail
Maybe on a dual sport or adventure bike?  Not on a Concours.  Apache Trail is a couple of hours of hair raising corners with no crash barriers, washboard gravel  and thousand foot drops.  A brilliant road, if you're brave enough!

Ride Maps

The actual trip:

The original plan:

A bit less: the Superstition loop with a jaunt up to the interesting bit of Hwy 60 - though mileage wise this is pretty close to the full monty below. it doesn't include AZride's Bushy bypass...

Getting to the twisty bits (hitting the interesting bit of 60 before coming back):

The full monty: what I would have aimed for solo

Wednesday 13 January 2016

Frank Lloyd Wright's House

Lloyd Wright's only motorbike... he designed 70 odd cars though.
What does Frank Lloyd Wright have to do with motorcycles?  Well, he designed one.  In addition to that one 1930s Harley he also designed dozens of cars, including some pretty iconic ones like the VW Mini-Bus and the original gullwing Mercedes 300.

I went on a tour around Wright's house, Taliesin West, in Scottsdale and was blown away by this polymath's genius.  I'm not that sharp, maybe just bright enough to recognize genius, but it leaves me in awe.  I always end up leaving places like Taliesin West thinking that a big part of genius is just not giving a shit about what other people think.  Free from social constraints, geniuses are able to follow their urges and amaze the rest of us with their discoveries.  Just don't get too close to one.

It's covered in soot because it
belches fire...
From reading Nietzsche to wandering around the Van Gogh Museum to seeing the world Wright made for himself, you can't help but wonder what it must be like to be that free of social expectation.  That freedom is what Wright exploits to create an aesthetic that is truly iconic and unique.

Being free from the shackles of society, Wright, like Van Gogh and Nietzsche, make a real mess of their lives.  It's in that glorious mess that their genius is realized.

Our tour guide told us the story of Taliesin's water.  They used to haul it up onto the plateau where it's located (miles from the Scottsdale of the day).  Wright decided he wanted a well dug so he called a guy up and had him dig even though the guy had been up on the ridge before and knew there was no water to be had up there.  

At 200 feet the well digger stopped.  He didn't have the gear to go any further.  Wright made a fuss and told the guy to go and get what he needed to go deeper.  He finally struck water at almost 500 feet, and Taliesin has had its own water supply ever since (it's wonderfully cold and tastes fantastic).  Wright never paid the well digger.

You have to wonder how many people geniuses use and throw away in order to express their genius.  The social calculus of genius is interesting - many people continue to benefit from Wright's genius.  The people close to him who paid for it are all forgotten and long gone.

The house that Frank built (and didn't pay for),