Sunday 27 February 2022

With age comes wisdom, but age often comes alone

I'm up early on a Sunday morning out of a nightmare. It's a recurring one where I'm forced to do nonsensical things at work designed to run me into the ground and make me feel like my presence is meaningless and I don't matter. It's your typical lack-of-control nightmare and I always wake up from it in despair, but relieved that it isn't what's actually happening (at least not that badly).

I'm in that space late in my career when I want to direct rather than act but don't have the network around me that enables me to do that.  As I approach retirement I know more and more people who have crossed over into it.  I also know more people who are getting properly old and are struggling with the complications that brings.  Getting old is difficult and few people seem able to do it with any kind of grace.

Oscar Wilde's famous quote, ""With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone" comes close, but I'd reword it - I suspect most people aren't any wiser towards the end.  A few years ago we were working away on circuit building in class when one of the grade nines wondered out loud, "why is it that in movies old people always seem so wise and kind, but in real life they just kinda suck?"  This sparked a heated debate where many other students said that their grandparents were lovely, but when I asked them to name any other elderly people who were so giving and wonderful the room got silent.  It seems that only nepotism trumps the worst habits of aging.

As you get older it's difficult to retain a Yoda-like calm and act benevolently for the good of others without making it all about you.  You become less capable and have less of an impact in the world each year, usually while seeing your income decrease as well.  In those circumstances most people grasp for control and interfere with others in order to retain any kind of presence in a world that has passed them by.  I understand the impulse but I hope I'm not consumed by it.  The past few years have asked more of me than I have and I find myself ducking and covering when I used to be all-out in my teaching, but I hope my reflex to enable and empower others remains even as my ability to do it diminishes.


Getting old and retiring from riding has come up before in TMD.  A few years ago Jeff and I rescued a BMW from a retired rider which led to For Whom The Bell Tolls.  This guy had ridden the BMW home from a conference fifteen years earlier, parked it in his shed and it then sat there.  He finally sold it on to Jeff when he honestly told himself he was never going to ride again.  I get all Dylan Thomas about that and think I'll be riding to the end no matter what.  Twenty years of deterioration with no time in the wind at the end of life doesn't sound like living at all. 

Another time the Canada Moto-Guide wrote a strange obituary on a rider who crashed at over twice the legal limit on a rural backroad, suggesting that he was a motorcycling martyr rather than reckless rider who caused his own demise.  There is a different kind of abstract fatalism here that has more in common with the stingy pensioner than it does with those rare elders that have found and express wisdom even in their weakness.  Being honest is a big part of growing old or riding well.  Understanding your limitations honestly allows you to be genuine in your being in whatever state it's in.  There is an unfortunate arrogance around motorcycling (and aging) that often prevents us from thinking about either thing rationally and honestly.  If that's all true, then if I ever get to the point where I can't ride effectively I shouldn't.  That guy who sold Jeff the BMW was wiser than I.

I've tried to apply some eastern philosophy to my riding (and aging) on a number of occasions in order to manage the challenges both things create without devolving into dick-swinging nonsense.  Machismo, or just plain old gender-free arrogance, might move you up in the world of management but it doesn't make you a very nice human being.  I think I'd rather age honestly and retain my urge to mentor and support rather than force my way up the ladder in order to gain a fictional sense of control along with accompanying ego.  When it comes to directing, the only person I really want to direct is myself and I want to do it while enabling myself to act as genuinely and with as much fecundity as I'm able.  Perhaps then I can find myself old without finding myself frustrated and angry, hopefully while still riding.

Hasn't happened yet in 2022 and I'm missing the Frostbite.
This is the kind of thing I don't usually carry with me because I'd go out for a ride and ruminate on things until I found my quiet centre again, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance style, but I'm in another never-ending Canadian winter with COVID piled on top (and on the verge of WW3), and instead of being in the wind I'm stuck inside.  This is the only year in the past many where I haven't managed a cheeky February ride on a clear day.  Riding and aging are both very difficult things and doing them well is more than many people can manage, for me it's even worse when I can't get out into the wind.


Nothing like a bit of poetry to create some perspective:

Do not go gentle into that good night

Dylan Thomas - 1914-1953

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1:

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there's the rub:
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause—there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th'oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of dispriz'd love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th'unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovere'd country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 4

Tao is empty (like a bowl). It may be used but its capacity is never exhausted
It is bottomless, perhaps the ancestor of all things.
It blunts its sharpness. It unties its tangles. It softens its light. It becomes one with the dusty world.
Deep and still, it appears to exist forever.
I do not know whose son it is. It seems to have existed before the Lord.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 5

Heaven and Earth are not humane. They regard all things a straw dogs.
The sage is not humane. He regards all people as straw dogs.
How Heaven and Earth are like a bellows. While vacuous, it is never exhausted. When active, it produces even more.
Much talk will of course come to a dead end. It is better to keep to the centre.

Saturday 26 February 2022

Zipper Replacement on a Motorcycle Jacket

Back in 2016 we did a winter family holiday to Las Vegas and then drove down to Phoenix.  While there my son and I rented a bike and rode the Superstition Mountains just east of the city.  Having done some research, I thought I'd try buying a leather bike jacket while down there as US prices tend to be much kinder than Canadian ones.  I ended up with a Bilt black leather bike jacket that I've used on cooler rides since.  It's not high tech protection wise but the leather is thick and the jacket is a solid thing.  It was the last of the 2014 designs and I got it on sale ($159!) as they were wrapping up their Christmas shopping season at the CycleGear shop in Mesa.  Your typical excellent American sales service too.

Since then I've done thousands of miles with the thing and it has always done the job.  It isn't well vented so it tends to do early spring/late fall duties.  This past fall on my last big ride of the year I was wearing it for the 270km ride up to Deerhurst Resort and then it handled a torrential downpour when I rode into Algonquin Park the next day.

It was all good until on the way home I undid the zipper and it came off in my hand when I stopped for a drink before heading back south.  I managed to get the zipper to reconnect so I wasn't flapping all the way back, but a broken zipper meant the jacket couldn't be used anymore, which made me sad.  What followed was a deep dive into zipper technology as I attempted to fix it.

A six year old leather jacket might not be my first choice when getting caught in a downpour, but it did the job!  The hotel room had a lot of drying leather hanging up in it when I got back.

Some online research had me filling my head with new zipper related vocabulary.  The retaining box on the jacket had come off when I pulled the zipper down.  Most of the online advice (which turned out to be right) suggested that you can't fix a broken box, it requires a zipper replacement, but on a thick leather jacket that seemed like a bit much.  Of course, Amazon sells crap that insinuates that you can fix a broken retaining box, so I wasted money buying that and then found that it wouldn't grip and simply didn't work, even after multiple attempts.

Top Tip:  don't waste your time trying to fix an old zipper.  It took some effort, but removing the old zipper and installing another is just some work and isn't impossible.

I finally ended up buying a quality YKK replacement zipper (after learning an awful lot about YKK zippers).  My crafty wife has all the sewing kit so she gave me a seam ripper that made removing the old thread very easy.  If you've got an exacto knife or craft blades and steady hands you could probably remove the thread that way, but the seam ripper does it without damaging the material.  With the old zipper removed and the outer leather separated from the inner liner, the jacket ended up sitting under my work table for a couple of weeks because the thought of pushing a needle through the leather seemed like a bit much, but it's no harder than other mechanical work (makes your hands ache though).

I got some heavy duty coat thread when I purchased the replacement zipper.  This stuff is nylon-rope strong which helped with the sewing, which I did by hand.  The stitching doesn't look like it's done by a machine but it's consistently spaced and didn't cause any pinch points up the zipper.

I came in through the back lining and out through the existing holes in the leather.  By separating the layers I was able to line up the needle with the holes and then it was just a matter of keeping everything straight as I worked my way up the zipper hole by hole.  Alanna suggested I start at the bottom and work up - that was good advice.

Using the existing holes on the thick hide is the trick.  You might be able to do this on a machine but I don't know how you'd do that as the jacket material is thick and you'd need to align the holes the machine is punching with what is currently there.  Doing it by hand is a bit tedious but it works and means you're not punching any new holes in anything.

When I got to the top I tucked the zipper (I couldn't get one the exact length of the old one so got one about half an inch too long) into the collar which had been separated when I removed the zipper thread.  With the top of the zipper tucked into the collar, I sewed everything up using the existing holes in the leather.  Once again, separating the material let me align the needle with each hole one by one.

The final product zips up like new and has no pinching or clumping on the front of the jacket.  Sewing in the other side was easy.  I separated the zipper once one side was in and then  did the other just the same way.  By the time I was wrapping it up I'd gotten quick at it.

Alanna had a thick needle and that strong thread really helped the process.  With a leather jacket the trick is to use the existing holes in the material rather than trying to punch new ones, which in my case meant doing it by hand.  The end result is that my old leather jacket, which now has some nice patina on it, is back in service and ready for the 2022 riding season, should this never ending winter end.

If you lose a zipper on your favourite old motorbike jacket, don't toss it out.  A replacement zipper is less than $15 (CAD) and with thread and other odds and ends you should be able to replace that tired zipper with something that'll let you enjoy your well loved leather jacket for years to come.

Saturday 19 February 2022

650cc Air Cooled Triumph Bonneville Exhaust and Seat Options

More 1971 Triumph Bonneville restoration project research (all prices courtesy of BritCycle):

High pipes:

721-T74X exhaust pipes - $304.51/pair.
711-709669/9670 mufflers - $486.00/pair.
2x 742-158 clamps - $16.61 ea.
70-9673 “H” connector - $72.28.
2x 742-112 clamps - $16.61 ea.
TOTAL:  $930

Plus associated bracketry and hardware, etc if needed. The one item we’ll have difficulty sourcing will be the ‘chip basket’ heatshield; our manufacturer of those long since retired.

Looking like Steve McQueen on a scrambler styled Bonneville costs extra!  Britcycle said they might have some scratched and dented options on sale, but those aren't regular stock (obviously).

Stock(ish) exhaust system:

721-T79 exhaust pipes - $289.02/pair.
712-102 Dunstall decibel replica mufflers - $330.32/pair.
70-9888 balance tube - $29.09.
2x 742-138 clamps - $16.61 ea.
TOTAL:  $683

What I'd really like to do is form my own pipes, but I don't have the space, equipment or time to do that.  For this project I think I'll use it as a learning process and get this particular Bonneville cleaned up and mechanically sorted and leave the radical customizations to a future time when I'm loaded, have lots of free time and a much bigger workshop with a full range of tooling in it.

I think stock is the way I'll go on exhausts...

As far as seats go, BritCycle has just the sort of thing I'm looking for: 

The only thing that might knock it out of contention is if, price and fit-wise, Corbin's customizable seat is in the ballpark.  It says they might fit a '71 but they're mainly for '72 Triumph twins and up.

Quality (made in England) newly manufactured seats specific to the oil in frame 650 twins run at about $500US ($612CAD) - I'm not sure what Britcycle's go for.  The customizable (and probably higher quality) Corbin is $618US ($788CAD).  There are cheaper options manufactured in India & China to less exacting standards to consider too.  I'll be keeping that all in mind as I juggle seat options and make a decision.

Friday 18 February 2022

Old Bikes Tell A Story

I took the big SLR into the shop for some closeups.  These are photos from the 1971 Triumph Bonneville T120 project currently in process.

Call it patina, or scars, but the years on an old bike tell a story...

The 'spare' cylinder sleeves after some clean up.

Orange was the colour of panic in the early 80s.  The cylinder head was covered in this stuff in an attempt to seal a leaky motor during the aborted chopper phase of this bike's life.

That's the motor stamping (from Jan-Feb 1971).

Lucas! The Prince of Darkness™

My kind of still life.

Patina that tells a tale.

Thursday 17 February 2022

1971 OiF Triumph Bonneville Restoration: a seized top end

The old Triumph motor has refused to turn ever since I picked it up in the fall.  Every attempt at cycling the engine has failed so last weekend I dug into the top end, which turned out to be much more difficult than it needed to be.

Many moons ago I was putting myself through university by working as the service manager at an automotive shop.  One of our technicians, Jeff, always cheerfully described a situation where you're up against parts that don't want to move as a 'bend the fuck out of it' situation.  I'm no fan of pointless violence when it comes to mechanics, but there does come a point where you've either got to 'give 'er' (another of his favourite sayings) or give up.

Your mood when performing mechanical taks seeps into the machine.  If you're angry when you do repairs, that anger ends up in the mechanical work you're doing, which usually doesn't end well.  A Zen approach to mechanics usually creates a zen machine that doesn't emit the drama that an angry machine will.  Having said all of that, I'd pretty much emptied my swearing vocab by the time I had untangled this Triumph twin on Sunday.

Having never worked on this kind of motor before, I was lucky enough to get a spare head and cylinder sleeve when I got the bike, so rather than go in blind I disassembled the spare unit first to see how it all went together.

I continue to enjoy working on this pre-digital, very mechanical motorbike.  While it isn't as efficient and exact as a modern bike, there is something very satisfying about getting the mechanical bits lined up so that they work together.  When it's finally running it'll feel like I've rebuilt a Swiss watch.

With the practice head disassembled, I began removing the head on the bike.  It came apart as my reconnaissance suggested it would and looked mechanically sound with no discolouration or obvious wear.  The bad news came as I finally got down to the head gasket.

The right hand cylinder looked fantastic, but the left side was a mess with a thick layer of corrosion and an obviously seized-in-the-sleeve cylinder.  I'd expect to see something like this on a water cooled engine when the head gasket has failed allowing water and coolant into the cylinder, but this is an air cooled unit with no coolant in sight.  My best guess is someone left the spark plug out in a damp environment for an extended period of time letting moisture in to disastrous effect.  It's amazing what a bit of laziness or stupidity can be amplified into over time.

With a cylinder seized in the sleeve, I was left in a bind (see what I did there?).  I left it soaking in brake fluid overnight (I'd tried WD40 previously), but the next day it was just as stuck.  I applied heat, and then tried to lever the head off the cylinder to no effect, which led to that Jeff moment where I had to decide how far I'm willing to go to win (the answer is: all the way, in case you were wondering).

What followed was longer and longer breaker bars to apply more leverage, mixed with some applied heat from the propane torch.  What finally ended up working after a couple of hours of swearing and sweat was applying heat, inserting a long piece of wood to lever the head up while applying some focused violence to the cylinder top.  Millimetre by millimetre the cylinder sleeve eased up until the head finally came free, which was good because I was all out of swear words by that point.

I was rewarded with a couple of nice observations once the damned thing came off.  Firstly, the bottom end moved very smoothly for a motor that hasn't spun in 30 years.  There is no play or noise in the big end as it turns.  Secondly, the kickstarter I rebuilt the other week works perfectly, engaging and spinning the motor when applied and not interfering when left, which was satisfying.

Looking at the jammed cylinder, it looks heat seized with burn marks all over the inside and physical damage up the side.  If replacements aren't crazy, I might use the spare head I've got to get things into motion, but if it's going to cost a lot to the replace these bits I think I'm looking at a more aggressive customization option:  a 750cc big-bore kit.

Dropping $1000 into a broken motor seems extreme (it is extreme), but I've had to recalibrate my what-I'm-willing-to-pay index throughout this project; vintage ain't cheap.  If it's going to cost the better part of $500 to get the motor back to stock, why not get all new parts and get an engine upgrade in the process?

Before: sleeves like that usually slide off.  Cylinders are snug but not stuck.

After: a couple of sweaty, intense hours later.  It was a satisfying win.

I've done a number of projects now where I get a sidelined bike back on the road, the most recent of which was a '97 Honda Fireblade, but I've never had to do a complete engine rebuild.  Unlike some of my more fraught earlier mechanical work on the only bike I owned that was keeping me from the far-too-short Canadian riding season, I can take my time with the Bonnie and go all the way if it needs it and I'm up for it.  The only thing producing drag is my inherent cheapness.

I'm still intent on making sure the project pays for itself.  It doesn't have to pay me for my time, this is a hobby, but when I sell a restored machine and it balances the books in terms of purchase price and parts, I find that inherently satisfying; it means my hobby is a zero-sum game.  The Bonnie currently owes me $1500 for the bike and spares and another $500 in parts so far.  Rebuilt in running shape (but customized and I'd say pretty fugly) similar Bonnies are asking $7500.  If I can mechanically restore this bike to good running order and clean it up, a $5000 budget should see me well into the black.

Now to decide how to drop the next three grand on this thing...

Some other photos from the work this past weekend:

Seized cylinder soaking in brake fluid overnight.

First look at the head gasket after getting the cylinder sleeve off.

A disappointing first look into the heart of the Triumph.

This is the head on the bike motor.  The other head must be from an earlier machine, or it's missing parts.  Those risers with bolt holes in the top were on the '71 top end but not on the other one, which looks to be an earlier unit (Triumph built the 650 twin for many years).

I get a great deal of satisfaction from cleaning up the old parts on the wheel in the shop.  This is an exhaust clamp, lovely patina!

This is the 'practice' top end on the bench.  Unlike other top ends I've been in (my 'modern' Triumph Tiger, the Fireblade, etc), this isn't an overhead cam motor.  It uses push rods to operate the valves from down below (they're dead centre in the photo).

Tuesday 1 February 2022

Triumph Tiger 955i Fuel Injector Cleaning

We're seeing temperatures in the low -20s these days and waves of snow passing through creating banks that are hard to see over.  To quote the Penguins of Madagascar...

The roads themselves are sanded and snow covered too.  We've got a major storm rolling in tonight that looks like it'll pitch another 48 hours of the white stuff at us.

At this time of year I tend to be in a mood as it's been far too long since I've leaned into any corners.  Compounding the lack of riding is the tricky nature of trying to find parts for the old Triumph Bonneville in order to keep that project purring along.  What parts there are pretty damned expensive too.  I'll get back into it soon enough, but in the meantime I thought I'd give the new (er) Triumph's fuel injectors a cleaning.

I've been in and out of the Tiger so many times that it's second nature.  The tank removal process (which is pretty complicated involving removing 4 panels and many awkward fasteners) can be done (blindfolded!) in about 10 minutes.

Last year I installed a new regulator/rectifier, but didn't install it properly because I didn't want to dismantle the whole lot.  The first job was to properly fasten it down.

The second job was to remove the fuel rail.  This is easy on the 955i Tiger (two bolts), but one was threaded (having a 19 year old bike as my regular runner does produce some headaches).  A cunningly installed second nut on the back of the threaded one had it all back together tight though.

For the fuel injectors I heated up the ultrasonic cleaner to 65°C and ran the vibrations for 20
minutes before cleaning them up with fuel cleaner.  The injector nozzles are very fine, so even a small piece of gunk getting past the fuel filter could cause headaches.

Once cleaned and sorted I press fitted the injectors back into the rail and reinstalled it back onto the bike.  The injectors press fit (there are thick rubber gaskets on each end) into the metal injector body on the bike too.  The only tricky bit was sorting out that threaded mounting bolt, but there is space behind the rail for a second nut and it did the trick.  While I was in there I cleaned all the electrical connections and put dielectric grease on the connectors to keep everything neat and dry.

It all went back together well and I had the tank back on and the Tiger back in hibernation before it knew what had happened to it.  I'm hoping the cleaning sorts a slow starting issue that developed after I solved the stalling issue last summer.

The old Tiger's fuel injection is one of the crankiest things about it.  Early mechanical fuel injection is famously, um, personality ridden.  The latest (delightful?) bit of character is having to lean on the starter motor for several seconds before it fires.  It used to fire at the touch of the starter, so I'm hoping to get that back again.

We're in the middle of semester turnover and I haven't had time to chase the old Triumph parts guys (who like to do things old school on a telephone), but that's next on the list of things to do before the weather breaks and I can lean into a corner again.