Thursday 31 March 2016

Evolution of Motorcycle Ownership and a Triumphant Return

Back in August of 2014 I wanted to take a more active role in my motorcycle maintenance.  At that point I'd been riding for just over a year on my first bike, a very dependable 2007 Kawasaki Ninja 650r.  I learned a lot on that bike, but it was a turn-key experience, the bike needed very little in the way of maintenance.   

The Ninja went from flat black to metallic blue and orange.  It was the last bike I rode that people commented on (I'd often get a thumbs up or have someone stop and chat in a parking lot about how nice the bike looked, which was satisfying as I'd been instrumental in restoring it from angry-young-man flat black).  The Ninja was, without a doubt, a good introduction to motorcycling, and was the king of the roost for my first two seasons.

As a first bike, the Ninja led the way both on the road and at the top of the blog.

I wanted my next bike to be one that ran because of my mechanical skills rather than one that didn't need them.  I found a 1994 Kawasaki Concours sitting in some long grass about twenty minutes away.  I quickly discovered that sense of satisfaction I was looking for.  The Concours was an eager patient who rewarded a winter of mechanical work with a rock solid five thousand miles of riding the next summer.

The Concours has offered some memorable rides, especially looping Georgian Bay and riding on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  For a bike that looked like it was being permanently parked with only 25k on it, suddenly it was back in the game, going places other bikes only dream of.

That busy season of long rides took its toll on the Concours though.  It isn't a spring chicken and after having spent the better part of two years parked before I got to it many of the soft parts on the bike were getting brittle.  I parked the Concours early and began winter maintenance knowing that the bearings and brakes both needed attention only to miss out on a late season warm spell at the end of November and into December.  I took that one on the nose figuring that's what happens when you ride an old bike as your daily rider.

The header on this blog for the past eighteen months, but running a twenty-two year old bike as your daily rider
makes for frustrations.  Time to be less sentimental and more rational in how I manage my stable.

That summer we were touring on the Concours I picked up a KLX250 to experience off road riding, but doubling insurance costs for a bike that I only managed to get out on a handful of times didn't feel very efficient.  That I struggled to keep up with traffic on it didn't support the way I like to ride.  Motorcycles are open and unprotected, but they are also agile and powerful enough to get out of a tight squeeze - except when they aren't.  The Concours was always there and the preferred ride, owning the road when I was on it.  When I went out with my co-rider he also loved the big red Connie, not so much the rock hard, under-powered KLX (he only ever rode on it once for less than five minutes).

Over the winter I put some money into the Concours, doing up the rims and getting new tires.  With the rims off I also did the bearings and brakes.  As everything came back together again, suddenly the carburetors weren't cooperating.  They're since being rebuilt and the bike should be back together again this weekend, but instead of always being there, suddenly the Concours wasn't.  As winter receded I could hear other bikes growling down the road, but I was grounded (again), even though I was paying insurance on two machines and longing to get back out on the road after an always too long Canadian winter.

The KLX was the first to go.  I'd never really bonded with it and, even though I always figured I'd run this blog with my most recent bike in the graphic at the top, the KLX never made it there; it never felt like the main focus of my motorcycling.  In the same week my son's never-ridden PW-80 got sold, and suddenly I had some money aside.

Ready to go with a new header, but it never took.

As days of potential riding keep ticking by and the carburetor work drags on, the Concours started to feel like an expensive anchor rather than the wings of freedom.  I had a long talk with my wife about it.  She asked why I don't unload it and get something dependable.  Keep the old XS1100 for that sense of mechanical satisfaction, but have a bike that's ready to ride.  I think sentiment was paralyzing me.  Hearing a rational point of view with some perspective really helped.
Many moons ago,
a pre-digital Triumph

With cash in an envelope I began looking around.  Before Easter we weathered an ice storm, but only two days later it was suddenly in the teens Celsius and bikes could be heard thundering down the road.  Meanwhile I was waiting for yet more parts for the Concours.  Online I was looking at sensible all purpose bikes that would fit a big guy.  Vstroms and Versys (Versi?) came and went, but they felt like a generic (they are quite common) compromise, I wasn't excited about buying one.

Since I started riding I've been on Triumph Canada's email list even though I've never come close to owning one (out of my league price-wise, no one else I know had one, no local dealer... pick your reason).  As a misguided teenager I purchased an utterly useless Triumph Spitfire, and in spite of that misery I've always had a soft spot for the brand (your adolescent brain makes your teenage experiences sparkle with emotion even when you're older, that's why we all still listen to the music from our teens).

A Tiger?  On Kijiji?  Must have
escaped from a zoo!
While trawling around on Kijiji looking at hordes of generic, look-a-like adventure bikes I came across an actual Tiger.  It was (as are all Triumphs I've mooned over) too expensive for me, but that Lucifer Orange (!) paint haunted me.

Another rare warm afternoon wafted by with the sounds of motorcycles on the road so I thought, what the hell, and emailed the owner.  He'd been sitting on the bike for the better part of two months with no calls.  He was going down to the Triumph dealer on Thursday to trade it in on a new Street Triple and knew he was going to get caned by them on the trade in price.  He emailed me back and said if I had three quarters of what he'd been asking, he'd rather sell it to me than give the dealer the satisfaction.  Suddenly this fantastic looking machine was plausible.

The garage is 100% more functional than it was last week,
100% more glamorous too!
A trip up to Ontario's West Coast and I got to meet a nice young man who was a recent UK immigrant and a nuclear operator at the Bruce Plant.  The bike was as advertised (well looked after, second owner, some minor cosmetic imperfections), and suddenly I owned a freaking 2003 Triumph Tiger 955i!

Most used bikes offer up some surprises when you first get them, and they usually aren't nice surprises.  The Ninja arrived with wonky handlebars the previous owner told me nothing about.  The XS1100 arrived with no valid ownership, something the previous owner failed to mention during the sale.  So far the Tiger has had nice surprises.  It arrived with a Triumph branded tank bag specific to the bike.  Oh, by the way, the previous owner said, the first owner put a Powercommander on it, and then he handed me the USB cable and software for it.  It had also been safetied in October, less than two hundred kilometres ago (paperwork included), so while I didn't buy it safetied, it shouldn't be difficult to do.  The bike has fifty thousand kilometres on it, but I then discovered that the first owner did two extended trips to Calgary and back (10k+ kms each time) - so even though it's got some miles on it, many of them are from long trips that produce minimal engine wear.  After giving it a clean the bike has no wonky bits under the seats or anywhere else.  I cannot wait to get riding it.

So, here I am at the beginning of a new era with my first European bike.  I've finally picked up a Triumph from the other side of the family tree (the bike and automobile manufacturing components of Triumph split in 1936), and I've got a bike I'm emotionally engaged with.  It might even be love!  Like the BMW I rented in Victoria, the controls seem to fit my hands and feet without feeling cramped and the riding position is wonderfully neutral.  When I'm in the saddle my feet are flat on the ground - just. Best of all, I don't look like a circus bear on a tricycle on it.

With the Concours officially decommissioned and awaiting (what are hopefully) the last parts it needs before being road worthy again, it's time to update the blog header:

What's next?  The Concours will be sold with only a modicum of sentiment, the Tiger will be safetied and on the road (it cost $90 a year more than the Concours to insure), and I'll enjoy having an operational, trustworthy machine made in the same place I was with lots of life left in it.  The fact that it was getting me thumbs up and one guy stopping to say what a nice bike it was when it was on the trailer on the way home doesn't hurt either.  Riding a tiger has a certain magic to it.

When I want to turn a wrench I'll work on the XS, getting it rolling again for the first time in years.  I'll get the ownership sorted on it (affidavits are required!) and eventually sell it without losing a penny, and then I'll go looking for my next project bike.  Maybe a scrambler Versys, maybe an old Interceptor, maybe something I haven't thought of yet.

Time for some unbridled Tiger enthusiasm!

Tyger Tyger, burning bright, 
In the forests of the night; 
What immortal hand or eye, 
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies. 
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain, 
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp, 
Dare its deadly terrors clasp! 

When the stars threw down their spears 
And water'd heaven with their tears: 
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright, 
In the forests of the night: 
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Monday 28 March 2016

Parts on Order Makes me Stop & Consider

Over the Easter long weekend I've rebuilt four carbs and put them back together again.  Unfortunately they won't go back on nicely thanks to two decade old rubber boots, so they're on order.  It's nice to have a forced day off.

If you're ever rebuilding carbs on a ZG1000, and the airbox on it is more than ten years old, it's a good idea to get some airbox ducts (that connect the airbox to the carbs).  Supple, soft rubber is important when connecting these up.  I tried for a frustrating couple of hours to get them to join properly.  This is especially difficult when the inner boots are rock hard, even when warmed up.  Steve suggests new carb boots to cut down on swearing, he ain't kidding:

Sixty bucks and should be here by
I contacted my local dealer and they can have boots here by Wednesday.  They're charging less than they are going for on ebay or online retailers.  Score one for my local.  Sixty bucks means less swearing and an easy install.  Wayne, the Yoda-like parts guy at Two Wheel, says you're lucky to get two decades out of a set as they harden over time and eventually split.

With the weather going sideways again, there won't be much of a chance to ride any time soon.  Hopefully this means I can get this odyssey finished and the bike back on the road by the time the weather clears again.

The airbox ducts/boots that need replacing - the old ones are not only beaten up, but they've gone hard.
Even putting heat on them doesn't soften them up.  Note the flat spots up by the airbox that show you which
way to turn the boots.
Heating up the airbox boots - but they're too old!
A big empty where the airbox and carbs usually go

This ordeal has me rethinking things.  My wife suggested I unload everything except the old XS1100 and buy a regular motorbike that is more dependable.  When I started riding I got a dependable bike that just needed some cosmetic work.  It was so dependable it was tedious.  Since then I've gone back in time and enjoyed the world of carburetion and two decade old rubber, perhaps a bit more than I wanted to.

I genuinely enjoy mechanics, but never when there is a time demand on it.  I've already missed three riding opportunities because of the stuttering Concours, and this irks me.  The idea of wiping the slate clean and moving forward appeals.  I started riding late and moving through a number of bikes seems like a way to catch up on my lack of experience.  Maybe it is time to put sentiment down and move on.  I didn't start riding to watch the few lovely days we have in a too-short riding season pass me by.

A Tiger?  In my garage?

The little Yamaha and the KLX are gone now, netting me about $3000.  As it happens, a 2003 Triumph Tiger is available just over an hour away for about that much.  Come the end of the week I might be able to say, "a tiger?  In my garage?  Must have escaped from a zoo!"

Texas Meandering & a Better Idea

While the ice-storm of certain doom forms outside, I'm watching Qatar qualifying and daydreaming about making a MotoGP race this year.  The only one on my continent runs in a few weeks in Texas.  This has me reviewing my Texas Ironbutt dreams.

I'd originally gone for an Ironbutt on the way down and a shorter finish up the next day.  If I could push the limits I could condensify it even further (making it more excitingly possible!).

It's just short of a twenty-four hour ride to Texas from here.  An early wake-up Friday and I could do the Ironbutt to late Friday night (60mph avg for 17 hours 4am-9pm would do it).  The last five hundred miles after an early wake up should get me to Austin on Saturday by about 2pm... just in time for qualifying.  A good sleep Saturday night and then I'm at the race Sunday.  It wraps up about 4pm.  A good push to 10pm should put me a third of the way back, I could finish up the rest on Monday.  In theory, only two days off work!

I could fly down and back if I was loaded, but a quick look around found a flight out of Detroit (4 hour drive away) leaving Friday at 10:30am and getting in to Austin just before 3pm.  Flying out of the local airport meant layovers and a long time waiting.

I found a KTM 390 Duke to rent for the four days from Lone Star Moto Rentals.  I think i could fit riding gear in carry on luggage, so there'd be no waiting for luggage and I could be in and out of the airports quickly enough.  With the bike rental, hotels and flights I'd be looking at about $3000.

By comparison the ride down would be $1000 in hotels, $200 in gas and I wouldn't be herded onto a plane at any point.  Call me perverse but were I to go, I'd ride down.

Having said all that, I'd rather spend a thousand bucks on Racer5's introductory track riding program. I could buy some quality race kit that'd do for years and still come in at less than this abbreviated weekend. It'd be nice to see the MotoGP boys doing their thing again, but short of an unlimited budget it doesn't make much sense.

Saturday 26 March 2016

Icy Days & Carburetors

It's been ice-storm icy here
Without warm weather beckoning (we've been in the middle of an ice-storm here) I'm in less of a panic about not having a bike to ride.  With an extended long weekend thanks to power failures and such, I've been hammering through four carb rebuilds.

The K&L kit I got came with a new bowl gasket, new pilot jet, washer and o-ring, and a new float jet.  Breaking down each carburetor one at a time (so I don't mix up parts), I cleaned out the carbs and blew them out with compressed air and then put them back together with the new parts.

Those little rubber bits
get crusty after 22 years
on a bike...
Adjustment wise I reset the float height (17mms with the float unweighted - held sideways).  I also reset the pilot jets to two turns out from snug.  The pilot jets varied from almost five turns out to under three turns out.  I'm curious to see how this affects fueling.  The manual suggested resetting them to what they were, and I did record them, but the factory setting is 2 turns from snug, so that's what I reset them to.  I'm not sure why I'd reset them to what they were when they weren't working well.

The carb rebuilds weren't particularly difficult, but they were a bit tedious (you're basically doing the same thing four times).  Things have ground to a halt again as I've found that I need o-rings to replace the old, broken ones that sealed the fuel lines between carbs.  With some new o-rings I should be good to put them all back together again and re-vacuum tube them with new tubing.

Rebuilding the first carb - it took a bit longer as it was more exploratory

The second videos hows the final two carbs and then discovering the need for o-rings -both videos are based on photos taken every 10 seconds compressed into a video running at one photo every 1/10th of second.

As an aside, I thought it would be a good idea to go through, but they seem to have pulled back from offering Canadian customers a clear view of their prices.  You used to be able to buy in Canadian dollars and there were no surprises.  When you buy now they charge in U$D, so you've got to do some math to figure out how they compare to Canadian retailers.  It looked like they came out about twenty bucks ahead of an equivalent Canadian order, until I got the COD message with border taxes.  Suddenly that twenty bucks turned into paying an extra ten.  I liked, their customer service went above and beyond, but their lack of clarity around pricing of orders to Canada puts them in the same category as any other US distributor.  I'm not happy with's 'easy' returns (they charge you for shipping), but I'm not playing roulette with customs costs again.  I'm afraid that's the last time I'll use motorcyclesuperstore.  I need to start looking into other Canadian based motorcycle retailers.

Two down, two to go...
The pilot jet (centre) - has a spring, washer and o-ring underneath.
The float bowl off and being cleaned out - the floats are held in a pin at the bottom - the float jet hooks on a tab in the middle

Carb Photos:

Sunday 20 March 2016

Bye Bye KLX

Selling a bike is always difficult.  In the case of the KLX it happened very quickly.  It didn't cost me anything to own it (what I got for it covers what I paid for it including the safety).

Unlike the Ninja before it, the KLX didn't get much seat time with me so I don't have a strong emotional bond with it.  I also didn't modify it at all, though I was tempted to.

In a funk the other week because I couldn't go for a ride on one of the first ride-able days of the year, my wife suggested I get rid of some bikes and get something dependable.  If I have to pivot around a bike, it would be the Concours (I'm emotionally invested).  It's a bit much to ask a 22 year old bike to be a daily rider, but that's what I was doing.  The goal now is to have two bikes:  the Concours and something newer and more dependable that can do commuting duties when needed but also offers me a different kind of ride than the big two-up friendly Concours.

I'm still fixated on a Versys.  There are a number ranging from just over $3000 for '07s to up in the 5ks for a 3-4 year old model.  If it is the all purpose/dependable machine I'm looking for, then a KLE will soon replace the KLX.  Having said that, this is an opportunity to consider a wide range of general purpose machinery, and I should take it.

Now to get the XS1100 running so I can sell it and look to create a more ride-able stable of bikes.  Looking at the brakes yesterday, I suspect the XS is need of some pretty serious fettling before it'll roll anywhere.

The calipers are unseized and rebuilt.  Now I'm looking for the source of the leak in the master cylinder.  With the front brakes sorted I'm going to try and fire up this dinosaur.  A running bike sells for way more than a door stop, and I want to hear it running before I let it go.

If next fall I'm putting the Concours and a more modern dependable bike to sleep and wheeling a winter project bike into the garage, I'll be in my happy place.  A winter project like this!

Friday 18 March 2016

Scrambling Versys Thoughts

Some home-made Versys diagrams of what a high/scrambler
type exhaust might look like - it looks good!  I have to wonder
why Kawasaki never did this with the bike...
A more all round capable Versys...

The asymmetrical nature of the rear shock (only visible from the right side of the bike) means that, aesthetically, a high pipe might look balanced running up the left/empty side.

The pipes and muffler are all usually mounted at the bottom - not ideal for off roading where soft exhaust components can get pounded flat.  Having them wrap around the left hand side of the bike and finish up under the rear frame means a protected exhaust.  I've always wanted to try custom exhaust building, this might be my chance.

Pipes and muffler out of the way mean more ground clearance even with a steel skid plate installed.

At five kilos lighter and with a four horsepower bump, the Akropovic tail pipe for the ER6 motor (what the Versys has a version of) would lower weight while offering a gain in power.  The titanium tail pipe would also look good while not taking up too much space under the rear fender.

Creating a custom metal heat shield around the pipe would protect from burns while also protecting the pipe.  Most scrambler style/high exhaust pipe use this as an excuse to decorate.  The ER6 parallel twin is a very efficient and cool running engine.  Even the exhausts don't get nuclear hot.  With some careful routing and smart use of heat shields, this should be doable.

The new exhaust might upend the fueling, so this would be an ideal opportunity to try out a Power Commander and get into computerized fueling control for the first time.

The next step would be to find some scramblery tires.  A road focused tire with some off road capability would do the trick.  Fortunately, Pirelli's MT-60 dual sport tire not only gives the Versys some real off road capability, but it also improves road handling over the stock tires.  They come in Versys stock sizes (120/70-R17 fronts and 160/60-R17 rears) and cost about five hundred bucks for the pair online.

At under four hundred pounds the Versys is already a light machine.  The goal would be to make changes that don't add significantly to the weight.  This light weight, multi-purpose Versys makes for an interesting Swiss-Army knife of a bike.

You'd be hard pressed to find a
more neutral riding position.
A 1 inch seat rise only makes it
more relaxed and usable.
A taller rider online said that increasing his seat height made the bike an ideal long distance tool.  A number of places seem to offer that very modification.

The stock windshield is a bit weedy as well.  I got a Givi windshield for the Concours and think it a great piece of kit.  The Givi item for the Versys is slightly taller than stock (not a problem, I'll look over it anyway), but looks good.

The only other thing I would add is a top box, allowing for carrying smaller items while keeping the bike as narrow as possible.  I installed a Givi topbox on the Ninja and it worked well without being too bulky.  It also allowed my pillion a place to rest against.

I've found well used ('07, 80+k kms) Versys for $2800, and much less used ('09, <10k) Versys for $4500 online.  If I can unload the KLX for $2500, my son's little Yamaha for $600 and the XS1100 for $1000, that'll give me about $4000 to put into a relatively new, dependable, fuel injected bike that I can then begin modifying!

The mods listed here are as follows:
Custom pipe         =  tbd - most of this would be diy
Akropovic exhaust   = ~$500
Power Commander     = ~$400
Pirelli MT-60 tires = ~$500
Custom seat rebuild = ~$700
Givi windshield     = ~$180
Givi topbox & hw    = ~$400
                      $2680 + diy exhaust piping            
Twisted Throttle's Versys ADV makes me want to add to this.

More Versatile Versys Links