Monday 17 January 2022

How Bespoke is Too Bespoke?

Owning a Fireblade checked a box, taught me
many things and was a zero cost experience!
I always try to balance out bike projects so that I land in the black on them.  I've gotten pretty good at this.  The Fireblade Project cost me about $2300 all in and then I got to ride it for a season before selling it for $2500, which I then put towards the Concours14.  Even with fancy seats, windshields and other gubbins, the Connie only owes me about $7000.  Older model, double the mileage bikes are going for eight grand, so I'm still ahead there too.

People who throw big money down on customization that they like seem to think other people will pay extra to adopt their choices and tastes, which never made a lot of sense to me.  This goes for houses or in vehicles - just because you're willing to pay a premium to get a certain look, doesn't mean anyone else is, and expecting them to shell out for your choices is a bit naive.

The Concours was a cagey purchase that
still has me well in the black.
What does always sell is functionality.  As much as I'd like to get all romantic and throw money at the old Triumph I'm restoring, I'm more interested in making it work, and then riding it.  To that end, I'm not interested in creating a perfect replica of a 1971 Triumph Bonneville to put in shows, so modern touches (especially when they're more cost effective than stock-at-all-cost options) are something I have no trouble with.  A bike that starts easily and runs sweetly sells itself much more quickly than a cantankerous but period correct trailer queen.  One's a motorcycle, the other is art, and art is notoriously in the eye of the beholder.

One of the reasons I've always gravitated toward cheap and cheerful 80s and 90s Japanese restos was because the parts are usually easy to find, including hard parts from a breaker if needed, and they're as cheap as chips to buy because people tended to use them rather than put them up on a pedestal.

My first brush with 'vintage' (I think a 51 year old air-cooled Triumph from before the collapse of the British bike industry qualifies as vintage) has me wondering if my approach still works.  The cost of parts is much higher than more recent Japanese bikes and this particular Bonneville was half taken apart by a muppet who wanted to be in Easy Rider, so I'm constantly finding parts missing or incorrect.  I'm also struggling with missing non-metric tools after having owned metric bikes my entire life.

When I'm reading Practical Sportbikes I enjoy the articles on DIY and the stories of scratchers who got a machine put together with their own hands.  When they run one of the 'specials' articles where it's a rich guy with clean hands throwing money at a project, I lose interest quickly.  Classic Bike Magazine is similar.  When they're talking about an owner keeping an old machine running on ingenuity and guile, I'm all in, but the minute it's a millionaire adding to his collection with another bespoke machine put together by someone else, I've lost interest.

I just finished Guy Martin's new book, Dead Men Don't Tell Tales, and Guy ends the latest one talking about trying to find what makes him happy.  This requires a fair bit of self awareness - something that most people don't have.  Guy's particularly difficult in that he will often act on an urge that turns out to be incorrect, but, as he says in the book, he's evolving.

There's a scene in Guy's Garage where Cammy, his professional race mechanic mate, knows how to fix the car they're working on but Guy has his own ideas and keeps bashing away at it wrong.  Rather than push the point, Cammy backs off and waits for Guy to realize he's using the wrong tool for the job.

Guy is critical of Cammy for being slack in his approach to work in the book, but I'm left wondering if the truth isn't somewhere in between:  what looks like a lack of effort from Guy's point of view is actually a better use of his energy from the professional race mechanic's point of view.  There's more to all this than just jumping in to the physical labour, you need to be exercising the grey matter too.

What I'm taking from this latest round of Guy Martin media is that you're more likely to stay engaged with and finish big projects if they make sense to you.  To that end, I spent yesterday working out why the kickstarter on the Bonneville wasn't working (the muppet had put it in backwards).

The goal is still to have gone through the whole bike and have it back in working order without breaking the bank.  The amount spent on it matters less than whether or not the project is in the black.  If a functional '71 Bonneville is worth about five grand, then that's what I'll work to on the budget, while keeping an eye on what engages me most about all this:  putting a sidelined bike back into service again... and then riding it!

This morning I'm looking at Motogadget's mo.Unit Blue and considering how to best tackle a 51 year old wiring loom that looks to be in good shape but should probably get rebuilt if dependability is the goal.  An ignition powered by bluetooth on a smartphone is just the kind of steampunk anachronism that a riding focused buyer would dig.  That it's also invisible means it won't hurt the look of the bike (the only change is the ignition key isn't there).

Got into rebuilding the Amal carbs only to discover the muppet who took them apart before didn't install any of the air slider hardware for the choke, so now I'm hunting for hard parts for 51 year old carbs... in a pandemic.  Note my anemic imperial socket wrench set.

Ready to go and then stopped - neither carb has the air slider or hardware in it.  I'd normally call around to the local breakers, find a donor set of carbs and then keep them handy for situations like this.  That isn't an option with a 51 year old British bike.

It's coming along - slower than I'd like, but it's coming along.  When it seems too much I remind myself why I'm doing it: one day soon that engine will turn over for the first time in decades and shortly after that I'll be out riding the thing!

Sunday 9 January 2022

Brake System Maintenance on a C14 Kawasaki Concours

 I'm busy in the garage these days with the on-going 50 year old Triumph Bonneville restoration project.  It's a big project that will take some time to sort out, but it's -20°C outside with snow squall warnings of 20cm of snow coming, which means it's also regular maintenance time on the two running bikes in the stable.

Tiger's back in hibernation after last week's sprockets & chain maintenance, waiting for a break in another never-ending winter of COVID for a chance to ride.

Last week the Tiger got new chain and sprockets.  I hadn't done the sprockets on it since getting it over 5 years and 40k ago, so I figured it was time when I noticed the latest chain had stretch in it that made it impossible to set the sag properly.  This week it's all about the Concours.

I got the Connie last spring in the middle of the second lockdown.  My son and I rented a van and drove down to The Beaches in Toronto and picked it up from its second owner who hadn't been riding it for several years.  It's a very low mileage bike (under 30k when I picked it up), but I like to cover all the basic maintenance so I can set a 'zero point' for future work.

As you would expect from Kawasaki Heavy Industries, the brakes on the GTR1400/C14 Concours are superbly engineered Nissin calipers.  I'd picked up the pads last summer but they hung on the wall until now because I was putting miles on the thing.  I did find the brakes were squeaking a bit, suggesting the calipers weren't releasing properly - something that can happen in a bike that sits for several seasons.  Like I said before, I don't like riding a bike where I'm not sure of the maintenance, especially on brakes, so it was due.

Doing the pads on the Concours is remarkably easy.  You don't need to remove any body panels and everything is very accessible.  Undo the pin that holds the pads and spring that holds them in and then everything comes apart in your hands.  The pins were rough and there was some odd gunk stuck in the front right caliper.  I cleaned everything up and lubed it and then slotted the new pads into place with the now lubed pins (I think it's a #5 hex head that does the trick).  All very logical.

If you're looking for torque settings for the
brakes on a Kawasaki GTR1400/Concours
C14, here they are.
The rears are just as easy and a similar design with the same pin and caliper bolt sizes (everything is hex metric).  The back was as mucky as the front and I went to lengths to clean up the pressurized caliper slider and lube the pins and areas where the pads move.  The action immediately felt better afterwards.

Last spring when I got the bike I had to sort out a leak in the hydraulic clutch which resulted in entirely new DOT 4 brake fluid (what the Connie uses in both clutch and brakes).  Changing up your brake fluid removes impurities and moisture that can eventually cause real corrosion headaches in your brake system, so after doing the pads I changed up the brakes fluid on both front and rear systems.  The only fluid change left now on the Concours is the antifreeze.  I'll do that at the end of next season.  When I tested it the fluid it was still bright green, looked new and showed good temperature range.

Getting all the air out of the hydraulic clutch so that it felt tight and had positive action was a real pain in the ass last spring.  The good new is that this air-line powered vacuum system did the trick then (it's not crazy expensive) and takes the headache out of bleeding anything with steady, controllable suction.

In the case of the brake system, I set up the vacuum bleeder and then kept adding fluid in the reservoir at the top until it came out clear (the used stuff was darker and cloudier - it looked almost like water once the new stuff made an appearance.

Just a note:  don't keep brake fluid laying around open.  It collects moisture and goes off pretty quickly.  As with all brake fluid changes, I opened the bottle and then immediately used it this time.

The front brakes took less than 10 minutes to completely bleed of old fluid and the rears even less.  If you're doing your own brake/hydraulic fluid maintenance with any kind of regularity, let that hand-pump go and get one of these things (assuming you have an air compressor of course).

With the brakes sorted on the Concours and the sprockets and chain on the Tiger, both are waiting for a break in the weather for a cheeky winter ride to kick off the 2022 season.  As long as I'm not trying to navigate ice on the road, I'm good to go.  An above zero day and some dry pavement is all I need

Now that the regular movers (I was going to call them new but the Tiger is almost 20 years old and the Connie turned ten last year) are sorted out maintenance wise, it's back to the old Bonneville project.  Next up I'm rebuilding the two Amal carbs, then it's rebuilding the ignition system and then (hopefully) hearing the old thing bark for the first time in decades.

Sometimes the Bonneville can feel like it's too big to manage, it needs so much, but with two other working machines I'm never going to be angry with it not being ready, though I would love to have it running in time for The Distinguished Gentleman's Ride on May 22nd.  A '71 Bonneville with some early 70s retro style would be a blast.

Monday 3 January 2022

Love It When They Do This


This popped up on my Facebook feed.  I actually contacted the local dealer about this one last year and asked if he'd consider $6500 - he couldn't be bothered to email me back even to barter; love that arrogance.

This is a first gen Concours C14 with almost 60,000 kms on it.  I ended up picking up a second gen C14 that was two years newer with half the kilometers on it for $5500.  I had to put a bit of time in on it sorting out the electric windscreen, a clutch gasket and picking it up and safetying it.  $5500 for the bike, $120 for the rental van to get it, $20 in parts (from Two Wheel!) and $90 to get it safetied with a $715 tax bill still had it all costing me less than $6500 on the road.  Thanks to that price they'll be looking at over $300 more just in taxes for the lucky new owner.

Even with my fancy German windshield and American saddle I'm still coming out ahead.  Prefer the colour on mine too.

Sunday 2 January 2022

Changing Motorcycle Chain And Sprockets

I've done chains before but not sprockets.  It's a fairly straightforward bit of work you can do yourself in your shed/garage.  In this case I'm doing both sprockets and chain on my 2003 Triumph Tiger 955i which has over 80k on it.

With the bike on its centre stand I removed the rear tire.

I picked up a chain breaking and installation tool a couple of years ago and it has more than paid for itself.  It has pin sets that push chain pins out to break the chain (it keeps all the hardware in the handle so for the two+ years I don't use it I'm not losing parts).

It also has drop in pads that let me press new rivet chain connectors together.

The new vs. the old front sprocket.  The new one is 19 teeth, the old one 18.

The new front sprocket on the motor.  These are the parts I used:

RK 530 MAX-O O-Ring Chain Natural 114            $101.99
JT Steel Rear Sprocket 46T (530) JTR2010.46    $74.99
JT Steel Front Sprocket 19T (530) - JTF11           $80.19 (all prices CAD)

The '03 Tiger takes a 114 link chain, a 46 tooth rear sprocket and an 18 tooth front sprocket stock.  I saw a suggestion online that going to a 19 tooth front sprocket calms down the bike a touch (it can be jumpy off the line) while also revving a touch slower while cruising which should improve mileage a bit.

Not bad for the original stock rear wheel with over 80k on it, eh?  If you think modern Triumphs aren't well put together, this one was, and with quality parts.
I've had these on the bike since I got it over 30k ago.  Still not in terrible shape.  I've seen sprockets torn to shreds - some people must be very heavy handed on the controls to strip a socket like that.  I've had the Tiger pulling the front wheel off the ground under acceleration so it's not like I'm soft with it (it's getting this drive train maintenance because the old chain had stretched in places).  I'm curious to see and hear how the new parts work.

The new chain and sprockets on.

The connecting link (see it?) is pressed into place with the DRC chain tool which also pushes links together as well as pulling them apart..

The many directions and warnings on the back of the chain box.
The Tiger had a deep maintenance last year, so this year it only needed the chain & sprockets.  It's back under the blanket waiting for a break in the snow for a cheeky early-spring ride.  Next up is doing the brakes on the Kawasaki, then I'm into rebuilding the Amal carbs on the 50 year old Bonneville winter project.

If you're looking for torque settings and parts details for a 2003 Triumph Tiger 955i while doing a sprocket and chain, here they are:

  1. chain sag:  35-40mm
  2. drive chain adjuster (the clamp on the adjustable rings in the swingarm):  35Nm
  3. rear sprocket nuts:  85Nm
  4. front sprocket nut:  132Nm
  5. rear wheel axle bolt:  85Nm
  6. 530 chain with 114 links (if that seems confusing, check THIS out)
  7. 18 tooth front sprocket (though 19 is recommended)
  8. 46 tooth rear sprocket