Sunday, 11 April 2021

Tiger Tales: mileage and fuel maps

I'm still bedding in the Tiger after a lot of over-winter maintenance.  When I was having idling issues last year I messed around with the fuel mapping and upped all the idle speeds, but now that the idle's working perfectly I'm left thinking that this high idle is just wasting gas.  The first long ride of the year took me up to the edge of Georgian Bay to look at the water before coming back through the Grey Highlands and over the farm desert I live in to home.

That ends up being about 320kms and I topped the tank the day before and did it again today, so I have an accurate idea of how much fuel I used, which was 18.83 litres.  That works out to 5.72 litres per 100 kms or about 41 miles per gallon.  According to the interwebs, the 955i Tiger should be getting 5.6 litres/100kms or 39.5mpg, so the old Tiger is still coming in ahead of the factory expectations, and it's not like I'm light handed with it.

I turned the camera on when I got to Beaver Valley and Graham Hill:

...and then on up Beaver Valley to Thornbury Harbour:
Being landlocked is tough for a kid who grew up by the sea.  Georgian Bay isn't the sea, but it'll do.

...then it's down behind Blue 'Mountain' and through Singhampton to Duntroon near Creemore.

The twists and turns of Noisy River Road just outside of Creemore...

And the Noisy River itself - nice place to stop and have a break in COVID land where you can't stop anywhere else...

Yesterday I reset the fuel mapping for idle and enrichment and then took the bike out for a spin.  The engine was a bit inconsistent when I came off the gas, kind of like it was hunting on the overrun, but this seems to have fixed it.  Having too high idle settings on the fuel map can give you odd off-throttle behaviour as the bike attempts to hold the high idle even when you're slowing down.

With a new tank I'm thinking the mileage will be even better next time around.

Zero Sum Game: motorcycle restoration as a hobby

The Fireblade project motorcycle has moved on to its next owner.  It had been sitting in a garage for the better part of a decade before I got my hands on it; the result of a bitter divorce.  The fuel system was shot and had dumped gas into the engine.  It had just over twenty-five thousand kilometres on it, but hadn't been used in a long time.

Over the winter of 2019/20 I rebuilt the carburetors, resealed and sorted the fuel tank and got a new petcock, all of which conspired to put the otherwise eager Honda back on the road again.  When I checked the valves they were exactly in the middle of spec and some of the cleanest internal parts I've ever seen (thanks to the gasoline in the engine?).

Once the fuel system was sorted and the bike had a few sympathetic oil changes and other maintenance addressed (like new tires and a K&N air filter), it was licensed and put on the road where it performed flawlessly for a year.  When I sold it the odometer read just over twenty-seven thousand kilometres, so two thousand of them were mine.

The 'Blade was a lovely device.  If I didn't live in such a tedious place and ride-on track days were a possibility (they aren't anywhere in Ontario - the rare track-days that do exist are for rich people who trailer in race prepped bikes), I'd have hung on to this remarkable thing and let it do what it does best: explore the more extreme limits of motorcycling dynamics.

Trying to do that on the road makes no sense.  Ontario's roads are in atrocious shape thanks to our brutal seasons and lack of sane governance.  If you can find a piece that isn't falling to pieces, it's arrow straight because Southwestern Ontario is also geologically tedious.  We had a Californian trip a few years ago and drove up to Palomar Observatory outside of San Diego in the mountains.  Those are twelve miles of the most technically demanding roads I've ever seen.  That I had to drive them in a rented Toyota RAV4 is a crying shame.  If I lived anywhere near roads like that, owning the Fireblade would make some kind of sense, but I don't.

In our tedious, conservative province, this Honda Fireblade makes as much sense as owning a lion.  In three seconds it can take you from a standstill to jail time.  I only just discovered what happens to it at 8000RPM the week before I sold it.  Up until then I was astonished at how quickly it accelerated, but if you keep it cracked the madness becomes otherworldly.  The Honda Fireblade's athletic abilities make it a perilously expensive proposition in our police state and there is nowhere you can let it off leash to do what it was designed for (without buying a truck and trailer and stripping it back to being a race bike).

I was hoping to put racing stripes on it and really do it up, but then you have trouble selling it around
here where individualism is frowned upon.  Am I sad to see it go?  I honestly wrestled with the idea of waving off the buyer and keeping it, but instead decided to aim my limited space  toward another bike that would not only be more generally useful in the bland vastness of southwestern Ontario, but would also make me a better dad; the Fireblade is an inherently selfish thing.

If Practical Sportsbikes thinks it's the number one 90s
sportsbike, then it is! They helped me sort out the fuel system!
I bought the sidelined 'Blade for $1000 and then paid an extra hundred to get it delivered to me.  The new tires ($400) and a set of replacement carbs ($250) that I mainly needed to replace hard parts, along with the carb kit and other rubber replacement parts as well as multiple oil changes and filters, and some replacement LED lights for the broken stock ones, pushed my cost for the bike up to about $2000.

It cost me $500 for insurance for the year - mainly because I don't think my company (who doesn't usually do bikes but do mine because I've been with them for over 30 years) didn't realize what it was.  I sold the bike for $2500 as is, though it's currently fully operational and road legal, which means I got to ride the best bike of its generation and something I wished I'd owned in university when I was younger, fitter and more flexible for no cost.

That (of course) doesn't consider my time, but this is a hobby and if I can make it a zero sum hobby then I'm much less likely to feel guilty about it.  I'm going to miss the Fireblade, it was a lovely thing that spoke to me.  Having a 23 year old Japanese super-model whispering in your ear as you ride along was thrilling and I'm going to miss it.  Should I eventually find myself living somewhere where a sportsbike makes some kind of sense and where I can exercise it as intended on a track, I'll be quick to rejoin the tribe.


In the meantime I contacted a fellow in Toronto who has a latest-generation Kawasaki Concours 14 that he couldn't sell in the fall (I was in-line but the 'Blade failed to sell so I didn't go for it).  He still has the Concours and we're lining up a cash sale for next weekend.  My first three bikes were Kawasakis and this would be my second Concours.  I've owned a first gen C-10 and my son and I rode a first gen C-14 through the Superstition Mountains in Arizona, but this one's a gen-2 C-14 Concours, which makes it one of the only bikes out there that can comfortably carry my now-adult-sized son and I two up.

I've always been drawn to Kawasaki engineering and I like their style.  This one is very low mileage (only about 30k) and needs some TLC (the owner is older and dropped it while stationary which is why he's moving it on).  Once sorted this Connie will have a lot of life left in it.

What makes it particularly useful to me is that it's a capable sport-touring machine that's built like a brick shit house, can cover the endless miles we face in Canada and can still entertain in the corners.  It also happens to be powered by the same motor that drives the ZX-14R hyperbike.  It may sound juvenile but I grew up in the 1980s and they had me at Testarossa strakes!

One of the side benefits of Concours ownership is that they have one of the most active and engaging clubs around: the mighty COG (Concours Owners Group).  I got stickered and t-shirted up with them as a full member when I got my first Connie, but have since been exploring other bikes.  I'm looking forward to re-engaging with them when I'm a Concours owner again.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries has weight in Japan!

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Motorcycle Brake Bleeding Tricks

The Tiger's been through some deep spa treatment this winter and it's all worked out very well, except for the rear brakes.  I have a good vacuum hand pump and have done all sorts of brake bleeding without issues, including the fronts on the Tiger which now stoppie on a two finger pull (Hel brake lines are next level!), but these rears defy bleeding.

I started looking into possible internal leaks and failed seals when Jeff the moto-Jedi, who now lives four thousand kilometres away on Canada's beautiful west coast, suggested detaching the caliper and hanging it down low so air has another way to escape.  With the caliper hanging upside down and low down, I re-bled the system and it immediately firmed up.

If you're having trouble getting air out of your brake lines, change the geometry of what you're working on and bleed again.  I figured my good hand pump and would pull fluid through the system well enough to move any bubbles, but there is no substitute for geometry... or gravity.

Top Tip:  if you're having trouble bleeding a system, take the calipers off and try them in a different position.  The Tiger's rear brake is as tight as a drum now.

Friday, 2 April 2021

Finding Meaning on Two Wheels: a philosophy of motorcycling

My professional life is kicking the shit out of me this year, so when the never ending winter of COVID finally ended and the roads cleared so that I could ride again it felt like coming up for air after a winter underwater.  It isn't too far a reach to say that riding feels like breathing to me.

I'm in the process of buying another bike, one big enough for my son and I to go on rides again with, and the current owner said he'd never ride again.  I can't imagine a situation where I'd ever say that.  You sometimes hear stories of elderly senior citizens who still ride.  That'll be me, or I won't be a senior citizen.

In the professional reflections blog I've been thinking about full commitment and how a job that encourages it can make you your best self.  It's a lasting sadness that so many people see work as purgatory rather than an opportunity to find their better selves.

The Japanese are much better at this than westerners are.  They don't wish each other good luck when doing something difficult, they simply say, "gambate!" or 'do your best!'  And that effort is what is respected regardless of outcome.  They make effort a socially appreciated thing where western cultures tend to fixate on winning.  There is a great scene in the Tokyo Ghoul anime where the bad guy is dying after a vicious fight.  He's an evil, cannibal ghoul so there aren't many redeeming features there, but everyone stops to listen respectfully to his last words because he put up such an epic fight.  We're all too busy trying to win to care about anything like that.  We'd vilify and belittle him rather than respect the effort.  This makes us remarkably unhappy because the problem with competition is that there is always a loser.

When you're approaching an activity that makes full use of your facilities you get lost in it.  It doesn't limit you, it expands you, makes you better.  Motorcycling is a technically complex, physically and mentally demanding activity that asks a lot of you, but the rewards are worth the risks.

If you're Simon Pavey or Guy Martin or Valentino Rossi, you race because that's where you have to get to in order to find the edge of your skills and give you that sense of complete immersion.  The leading edge of my own motorcycling has also moved on.  Where I'd once be happy with commuting on a small bike, I'm now working my way through ownership of different kinds of bikes and wish to expand further.  The limits I'm seeking in motorcycling aren't just in riding, but also in mechanics.  It's for that reason that I find events like the Dakar, especially when someone like Lyndon Poskitt does it in the malle moto class, so fascinating.  They're combining that technical skill with riding ability in a way that most racers can't or won't.

My work is usually able to give me enough latitude to fully immerse myself, but this year COVID has made it a broken thing unable to do anything well.  It has changed from an opportunity to seek excellence to never ending triage in mediocrity.  This has me asking hard questions about what I'd do if I didn't need the money it provides.  These are questions you should ask yourself before retirement, but they're also questions you should ask yourself when you're in danger of getting mired in work that doesn't let you find your best self.

Watching Ride With Norman Reedus last week, he was on the South Island of New Zealand where he had a chat with a young man from Canada who had opened up a business there.  One of his reasons for living where he does was that there had to be good riding roads easily accessible nearby.  This means he can explore riding in challenging circumstances, which seems like enlightenment to me.

In my final years of teaching I hope I can rediscover that sense of energizing peak performance that improves rather than limits me, and if not there then in another job that gives me the latitude I need to chase excellence while supporting my family.  Should I ever get to the point where I don't need to spend my days working for someone else, then it'll be time to move to a place where I can explore riding more fully.

That somewhere would have easy to access track days that let me explore riding dynamics at the edge of road riding, complex local roads that make me a better rider and off road opportunities that let me explore riding in a variety of unpaved situations.  Where I am now offers none of these things.  I'd also have the means to develop my mechanical skills to the limit.  I'm fortunate in that I have such a rich hobby and sport to explore.  I feel sorry for those that don't.

Motorcycle Media Review: Itchy Boots Vlog and Social Media Supporting Professional Travel

I can't say I'm a big fan of the YOOTOOB.  I make a point of not reading the comments because they're some of the most asinine on the internet, but something caught me recently and now I"m a regular watcher.

Noraly Schoenmaker started a video blog called Itchy Boots in 2017 and has been a professional traveller ever since.  She has ridden tens of thousands of kilometres on a variety of bikes on many continents:

Noraly hits all the social media portals, so you can find her Instagram and elsewhere, but YouTube is where she video-blogs and what got me hooked was both her personality and her technical expertise.  I can't stand YouTube videos for all the preening and wasted time telling me shit I don't care about.  Trying to watch a how-to video on TOOB is infuriating and ends up with me giving up and trying to find the information elsewhere.

You don't need to worry about any of that with Noraly.  She edits tight and even her music and post-processing work has a professional sheen to it.  It plays at least as well as Long Way Up or another big budget stars-on-bikes production, but it's all just her.  The fact that she's festooned with GoPros and has her audio properly balanced while even throwing in drone footage has me loving the technical proficiency; this is travel video as it was meant to be done!  Even the music's good!

She was in South America when COVID kicked off and ended up getting repatriated to the Netherlands where she attempted to keep travel blogging from home, but you can imagine how that went.  If, like me, you pick this up with her deciding to press on regardless of COVID, you'll start season 5 with her getting herself sorted out and going to South Africa:

As a cure for the COVID travel blues, this is pure gold.  She finds herself a bike in Jo-Berg and before you know it you're with her on South African dirt roads seeing an amazing menagerie of spectacular wildlife in surreal scenery.  If you've missed travel, this'll immerse you in it again in an intimate way.

I had a moment last year in the first lockdown where I was in Google Earth in VR on the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa trying to remind myself that the rest of the world was still out there.  I had a jarring moment when the sign on Google Earth said that the park might be closed due to COVID.  Not only is the world out there, but it's covered in COVID.

Noraly might be taking a risk, but travelling around the world solo on a motorbike is risky and if we only let risk dictate our lives then what tedious and barren lives they'd be.  If you feel the pull of the nomad inside give Noraly's vlog a watch, I betcha you'll get hooked.

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Ready For The Off: off-roading by bike and Jeep

A tread lightly off road system that would let us explore places off the beaten path:

Wrangler 4xe hybrid Jeep

This crazy thing gets almost 50mpg!  It also has good towing capacity and legendary off road ability.  We had one as a rental last year and they are versatile, overengineered and astonishing off road.


Only take a couple of minutes to pop up, has cool things like integral LED lighting and folds into a solid roof mounted case that keeps it safe and aerodynamic on the move.

It only weighs 176lbs (so as much as a passenger), but makes you entirely capable of pulling up and stopping in a pretty spot and making it home.  In COVID world being able to stop in an empty bit of nature is the key to being to travel anywhere at all.

In something as versatile as the Wrangler there are few places you couldn't get to before making it home for the night.

$2500USD  ($3125CAD)

CRF250F Honda Off Road Specialist

Super light at 120kg (265lbs) the CRF250F is a light weight dirtbike that is so light that we could hang two off the back bumper and still come in under the dual carrier weight limit.

$5650 x 2

Two CRF250Fs weigh in at 530lbs fully fueled.  With no fuel in them they'd be a full hundred pounds under the 600lb weight limit on the Black Widow Aluminum Double Motorcycle Carrier, which means we'd just be a Jeep without a trailer.

$330USD ($415CAD)

But now I'm thinking the Wrangler doesn't have the tongue weight requirements to handle two bikes.

The Jeep Gladiator could do it, but it doesn't come with the 4xe option (yet!).  A top of the line Gladiator comes in just under sixty-grand.  While it doesn't offer 4xe yet, it would mean no trailer towing.  I wonder if a Gladiator would be more efficient than a Wrangler 4xe towing a trailer.  With bikes in the bed this'd do it without the extras.

If I have to trailer then this'd be the one to go with.  It folds up and stands up to take up less space when not in use, comes with all the holders you need and is a well built thing that would work as a bike hauler.  With this I'm back to the Wrangler 4xe to move the bikes around when needed.

$3,099.00USD  $3900CAD

Where am I at with a super fuel-efficient off road and bike logistics system?

Wrangler 4xe  $58,000
Trailer             $3900
CRF250F x2   $11300
Roof Tent        $3125
... which is about the price of a mid-sized BMW SUV (X5)  Seems like a lot of bang for the buck when you look at it that way.  Uses way less gasoline too.

No more begging for time at the family cottage - we could just be out there, COVID or not.

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Tiger Triage

I sometimes find myself embroiled in politics. I hate politics. It's one of those things that even when you do it really well the results are always a disappointment. Working with people is frustrating and exhausting. My wife suggested that if I wasn't enjoying it that I should stop and do something else, so I did.

Out in the garage I flipped on the tunes, got the Tiger up on a 2x4 on its centre stand so it's a bit higher up and put a car battery on the back so the front tire tipped up in the air well clear of the floor. The speedometer wasn't reading anything so I slipped the front wheel forward off the axle bolt and double checked everything.

The speedo mechanism (#15 in the pic) has that spacer (#14) facing in from the outside.  That diagram isn't great (the speedo unit is shown as backwards on there (the wider side goes in, not out as that picture suggests).

#14 spacer was in backwards but more importantly the speedometer unit wasn't mounted on the splines sticking out #7 in the diagram.  Those splines fit into gaps in the speedo housing and I'd missed them when I installed it.

With the speedometer unit lined up on the splines properly and the spacer in the right way around the whole thing went back together and I immediately had responsive speedometer again.

The engine light was still on so I threw the exhaust hose on (it's a bit of aluminum duct), plugged in the TuneBoy engine management system and ran the engine for a few minutes to see what codes it picked up.

TuneBoy is a plug in and see what's going on in your bike's computer tool that I've found very easy to use.  It comes with the adapter head that fits on to the output plug under the seat on the bike.  Plug that in and the other end into USB on a computer (I have one wall mounted in the garage) and then open up the software and you can see what your computer sees.  Lots of people get anxious about working with computerized bikes but TuneBoy makes it accessible.

The opening 'screen' is pretty disco (in a 1990s/early 2k kind of app design way).

The computer had collected a pile of errors.  These old Triumph computers will eventually dump the codes if they don't keep seeing an error, but it takes a while.

I took the gas tank off for the thousandth time (I'm WIlliams F1 Team pitstop fast at it now) and cleaned and checked all the connections.  I also pulled the air temperature sensor and cleaned it up in case it was clogged.

With all the connections cleaned the computer still had the errors in memory so I reset it (you can do that in the TuneBoy program) and then reset everything and fired it up again.

With the computer reset I let it idle for a few minutes and it threw no new errors up, and the engine light had gone off!  I took it out for another spin around the road in front of the house and it's now error free.  The engine light is off, the brakes have sharpened up and the speedometer works.  The Tiger is now five by five.  All the new parts are making it work better than it did and all the teething issues from the BIG COVID WINTER MAINTENANCE OF 20/21 are resolved.

It's a glorious thing!  Engine feels strong and certain with none of the stalling issues or hesitancy from last year.  All the cosmetic work makes the bike look much younger than its 18 years and over eight-thousand kilometers.

We're supposed to have a couple of sunny but cool days coming up.  I'm hoping I can get out and rediscover this wonderfully versatile and increasingly unique machine.

Sunday, 14 March 2021

Tiger Testing After A Winter of Deep Maintenance

Road testing the Tiger on a cold (-3°C) day after a winter of deep maintenance.

The Good Stuff:
  • the swingarm maintenance has transformed the rear suspension!  Unseized bearings mean the back end is supple and responsive now
  • the front forks and steering feel brand new thanks to fork servicing and pulling the steering apart and re-greasing everything
  • the new tires are spectacular! The old Michelins still looked ok but they were badly squared off and made the bike hesitant to turn - it drops into turns like a gymnast now!
  • the deep cleaning on the fuel injection system has worked a charm.  It idles well and the fueling is excellent.
  • the cosmetic touch-ups make the bike look much younger than it's 18 years and over 80k kms
  • the new indicators suit the bike way better and work perfectly
  • new horn is loud and works well
The Bad Stuff:
  • I've bled the front brakes and they're tight now, but after repeatedly bleeding the rears they're still not what they were, though they do now produce some stopping power.  I need to check for any leaks and bleed again.
  • The speedo doesn't show speed!  This has never been a problem before.  I'm going to check the connection to the gauge because I was knocking it around and might have knocked it loose
    • speedo step two will be to raise the front end, remove the front tire and check how I installed the speedo unit - it only goes on one way so I'm not sure how that could be wrong but if the gauge check doesn't do anything that's the next step
  • The engine light is on!  Though the engine feels fantastic, sounds great and the fuel injection which was problematic last year idles steady and fuels very smoothly.  The simple computer in the bike sometimes needs a few runnings to clear an error after a long time unpowered (like the 99 day Canadian winter break we had this long, cold, COVID-winter)

The bike goes and works better than it did in many regards before the winter-maintenance.  A couple of details and it seems ready to take on another short Canadian riding season.  I'm still hoping to hit 100k the year the bike turns 20 years old (2023).

Photos are all taken with a Ricoh ThetaV 360 camera wrapped around the wing mirror with a flexible tripod.  The camera is set to take a photo every four seconds then I just go for a ride and see what I caught when I get back.  Photos were edited in the Ricoh software and then touched up in Adobe Lightroom.

Tuesday, 9 March 2021

Like finally being able to take a breath after four months of holding it...

Last ride:  Nov 30th, 2020.  First ride:  March 9th, 2021.  That's 99 days off two-wheels!  This is the face you make when you're sidelined for that long over an interminable COVID-winter:

Took the Fireblade down the still partially frozen Grand River a ways.  It's as fiery and bladey as it was before it hibernated for the winter.

When I got back I was frozen solid but wanted to see if the Tiger was operational:

It started well and ran more smoothly than usual suggesting that my fuel injector deep cleaning has made things work better.  The brakes still need some TLC though  The fronts are coming on but the rears are completely flat, so some more bleeding is in my future.