Monday 28 March 2022

1971 Triumph Bonneville: More Bike Archeology from Tires, Wheel Restoration & Rear Brakes

I got the rear tire off the rim today in the ongoing '71 Bonneville project during a late March snowstorm. It had a Lien Shin tire on it. I'm unfamiliar with that brand and I can't find a heat pressed time stamp on it. Tires produced before the year 2000 use a 3 digit code that makes it difficult to determine which decade they were made in (first two digits are month of manufacture, last digit is the year). Tires after 2000 use a four digit code (week # of manufacture followed by a the last two digits of the year, ie: 0501 would be the fifth week of 2001).  A 511 would be the 51st week (December) of a year ending in 1, ie: 1981, 1991.

While I couldn't find a stamped date on the Lien Shin tire, there is a three digit date stamp on the Inoue front tire: 511.  Based on the bike's last sticker on the SATAN license plate ('84), this probably dates the front tire to the 51st week (December) of 1981.  I was 12 when this tire was manufactured.  I'm still amazed that it works at all and the inner tube holds pressure.

Taking a tire this old and stiff off was tricky, but as with the TIger tire change last year, a judicious application of heat really helps soften the rubber and makes removal easier, especially in the winter.  It was -17°C outside so I put the shop heater next to the tire and let it warm up, then removing it with the irons was pretty easy.

Once I had the old rubber out of the way, I went at the rim with a wire brush and it cleaned off the surface rust well.  Some SOS soap pads and then a bout with the pressure washer out in the snow storm and the rim came up nicely.

Next time I have some time and space I'll get the front tire removed and prep that too, then it'll be time to order some wheel hardware (bearings and brake pads).  With the wheels rebuild, I'll clean up the frame and repaint it and then it's time to start putting the rolling chassis back together.

While I had the wheels off I took the rear brake apart.  I keep being surprised by how simple this bike is.  The rear brake is a mechanical mechanism, no hydraulics in sight.  You press on that big brake lever (it's big because you need the mechanical advantage for it to work) and that pulls the rod connected to a spinner on the top of the rear brake drum.  The drum spins and applies the brake.  When you let go, a spring on the drum spinner disengages the brake.  You must get pretty good feel out of a direct mechanical system like this, and you're not carrying any extra weight from a hydraulic system (fluid container, piston, pipes, caliper cylinders, etc), but I bet you've gotta have big calves to lock it up.

I'm back at work this week so it might be a few days before I take another swing at it, but it's exciting to get to the point where the bike is enough pieces that I can see how it'll go back together again.

300kms in Two Days

It was a long winter this year, made particularly difficult by grinding through a second year of COVID19.  I find a great deal of satisfaction in spannering my own bikes, but that isn't an end in itself for me, riding is.  With a few days off work and the weather finally breaking, I got over 300kms while I could.  Both the nineteen year old Triumph Tiger and the twelve year old Kawasaki GTR1400 worked like a charm.

Guelph Lake is still frozen...

All photos taken with a Ricoh Theta 360 camera mounted on a flexible tripod and set to shoot automatically every 10 seconds.  I select the good'uns and sort them out using the Ricoh 360 camera software and Adobe Photoshop.  If you want a how-to, here's one:  Here're others!

That many-things-my-eyes-have-seen face!

Sunday 27 March 2022

1971 Triumph Bonneville Restoration Project: Frame Breakdown & Rear Brakes

I'd initially planned to do a rolling restoration of the 1971 Triumph Bonneville project, but the state of the engine and my desire to get it back to a place where I can enjoy an updated, dependable but mechanically sympathetic restoration (I want the bike to retain its patina, but I also want it to be dependable) made a rolling restoration impractical.  The engine is lined up for a new 750cc head and electronic ignition system, but before all of that I have to get the frame and wheels sorted out so that I can put the upgraded engine back into a sorted rolling chassis.

To that end, it was finally time to take it to pieces, which also gave me a lot of space back in the one car garage once the bike stand was stacked to the side:

The frame out means I don't need to fill half the garage with the bike stand.

Black rubber bands cover the frame to swingarm joints (to prevent water getting in?).

Way more space in the garage with the Bonnie in pieces.

With the bike in pieces, I'm restoring all parts that I can reuse.  This usually involves some WD40, a toothbrush or wire brush depending on how filthy it is, and then a dip in a hot ultrasonic bath for small pieces to get them back to fresh.

The front wheel Smiths speedometer.

Into the rear brakes. Like everything else on this old bike they are much simpler than modern hydraulic brakes.

Bringing old parts back from the brink is very satisfying.

The entire rear brake system - the brake lever is so long because it is the only mechanical advantage you have when applying the rear brakes.  Instead of using hydraulics to amplify your push on the pedal, the old Bonnie is a simple mechanical system.  You press the brake lever which pulls that long metal bar which rotates the top of the drums, pressing them into outside of the drum.  No hydraulics, and I bet you have to press that lever like you mean it to lock the rear wheel.

Sunday 20 March 2022

Motorcycle Book Review: The Rudge Book Of The Road

I was reading Classic Bike Magazine last month and one of the auctioneers in the back of the mag suggested getting my hands on a copy of The Rudge Book Of The Road if you are looking for an historical read that'll get you through a long winter and prime you for the coming springtime.

I had a look around and finally found a 1926 version of the book on Amazon for about thirty five bucks.

If you have a thing for art deco drawings, the Rudge Book of the Road will scratch that itch!

My copy was once owned by.. a W. Chapman?
Reading a book that's almost 100 years old gives you a perspective on motorcycling that you might not have considered before.  At one point the author talks about how much Rudge has learned from building motor-bikes over the past 17 years.  I found myself becoming conscious decades of development that since went into my current 1971 Triumph Bonneville project and then continued on for decades more as found in my modern Triumph Tiger and Kawasaki Concours.  A bit of historical perspective is a powerful thing when you're hands on with the engineering found in modern motorbikes.  With nearly a century of continuous development, reading about motorcycling from the dawn of the sport is good mental exercise.

The Rudge Book of the Road takes me back to a time when my grandparents were children and, as a modern reader, I'm left struggling to find a frame of reference in our overcrowded and mechanized world.  There were a quarter as many people on the planet when this book was written and internal combustion engines were in an early phase of rapid development as they revolutionized and democratized travel for more than just the wealthy.  This book makes a point of recognizing this exciting period in history:

Traffic jams and the expectation that everyone be commuting in motor vehicles in an increasingly crowded and polluted world makes this perspective feel particularly alien in 2022.  Can you imagine thinking about motorbike travel like this?  If anyone could do it, it's motorcyclists - we may be one of the last vehicular subcultures that clings this kind of romance, even as the vast majority drive their appliances without a second thought for how they work or experiencing any inherent joy in the activity.

Having lived with rough 'colonials' for most of my life, some of the language in this very British book made me smile.  It was written for Rudge Whitworth as a sales tool but it leans toward the romance of riding as a theme throughout.  Rudge themselves lasted until 1946 before they stopped production, so you're reading a book by a company that hasn't existed in over seventy years, which further makes reading this feel like an echo from a distant and unknown past:

The state of the art in terms of motorcycle engineering was making major steps in the 1920s.  Earlier bikes had you oiling the motor as you rode it.  Too much and it would clog the spark plugs and leave you on the side of the road having to clean your plugs, a job most modern vehicle operators would have no idea how to do.  Too little oil and the engine would seize, possibly tossing you down the road.  This degree of involvement in motor vehicle operation was being phased out in the mid-nineteen-twenties bringing more people into the moto-fold.

The idea of sitting down with your new machine and understanding what it needs and how it works is a foreign one in 2022, but Rudge makes this process seem almost meditative.  The idea of lighting your pipe and comprehending your new machine in your shed still appeals to a few of us.  Perhaps this is another of those colonial distinctions.  I have no trouble finding programs on industrial history and engineering when I watch British television, but Canadians seem more focused on resource extraction and office work than they are with understanding how things work and then manufacturing them.  This sort of mechanical sympathy will sound particularly foreign to Canadian ears:

Sit on a can of gasoline and light your pipe!  Those were the days...

This old book doesn't limit itself to motorcycling mechanics.  If you've never camped before they offer advice for those new to sleeping on the ground.  Rudge made sidecar outfits and even a trailer/caravan for people interested in taking everything with them.

When your trusty leather bound Rudge Book of the Road isn't teaching you how to moto-camp, it's explaining how the roads you're riding on might be built on top of old Roman roads or how to identify the architecture of the historical buildings you're touring past.  This makes me wonder whether Rudge's target audience was perhaps a bit more educated than your typical rider, but it also makes me wonder if maybe people were just a bit smarter back then without a phone to immerse them in social media in all the time.

The book doesn't stop at camping or architecture and goes on to teach you how to forecast the weather, tell direction and even tells you where the biggest hills on the island are so you know what gear to tackle them with.  It then provides charts on when the sun rises and sets so you know when to turn on your new-fangled electrical light.  Rudges were one of the first to go electric.  A few years earlier you were lighting a gas powered lamp on your motor-bike before proceeding into the dusk on mostly unfinished roads (while remembering to give the top and some oil).  There are (many?) riders now who have never turned a wrench or put a wheel off pavement.

You'll learn more from doing things than you will from "all the books or professors in the world".  Something we've forgotten in our screen-fueled information revolution?

There is another chapter written by F.A. Longman, Rudge's rider in the 1927 Isle of Man TT road race.  He writes with a racer's urgency and puts you in the rider's seat as he talks you around the T.T. mountain course while it was still young and relatively new.  It's amazing how little has changed in the racer's mindset even while they're using machines that have only just recently become mechanically self contained.  They were seeing huge leaps in speed as technology improved and riders came to terms with what this new technology was capable of.

After teasing you with the Isle of Man TT, the RBotR then gives you some 1920s style advice on how to get ready to compete in trials and perhaps even go road racing with your motorbike:

Civilisation continues to makes fools of us all in 2022...

Give up the cigarettes and alcohol entirely, but do keep the pipe smoking!  Can you imagine modern, liability-driven manufacturers encouraging riders to do this sort of thing on their new motorbike?  It's difficult not to get swept up in the enthusiasm and possibility of riding at a time when it was still new to so many people, including the people who built the things!  The lack of caution is exhilarating.

The book ends with a complete set of colour maps of the United Kingdom, but not before it talks you through buying your Rudge (this is a marketing piece, remember?).  Your fifty pounds (about $1350CAD in today's dollars) gets you the base model of the Rudge Four - for ten pounds more you can get the sport model.  New bikes were much more accessible back in the day! 

The final gift this old book gives you is a list of future readings if you're interested in motorcycles and travelling on them:

Unknown Norfolk is on my shortlist.  I wonder how many places I'll recognize from growing up there fifty years later.

The Rudge Book of the Road was such an interesting read that I'm going to keep digging for some of these other historical moto-reading options.  The RbotR suggests slipping one of these in your (tweed?) jacket pocket to read when you get to your destination and finally put your feet up - with your pipe, of course - after another exhilarating day of riding in the dawn of motorcycling.

A more modern motorcyclist philosopher, Matt Crawford, described riding as "a beautiful war", the Rudge Book of the Road shows that it has always been thus.  If you ride, you'll find this a familiar and enjoyable refrain.

No rear suspension other than springs on the seat and a tank that hangs under the frame: state of the art motorcycle engineering in 1927 seems archaic but these machines were a huge step forward in dependability and hint at the evolution motorcycles would take.
Art deco inside cover wallpaper!

Riding in the dawn of motorcycling...

Wednesday 16 March 2022

1971 Triumph Bonneville Project: Engine Out

The weather's all over the place at the beginning of March this year.  Last weekend I had both road-ready bikes out for a shakedown, this weekend we're skiing in -20°C windchill; that's the road I was riding on last week.

As GP from Hammy Hamster would say, 'the elephants are against us.'  With the outside trying to kill us again, I'm focusing on doing a complete tear down of the 1971 Triumph Bonneville project.  I was originally going to see if I could get the bike in motion as it is, but a combination of factors including 1971 Triumph build quality and the early 80s muppet who tried and failed to turn the bike into a chopper's spannering skills have me now approaching this as a frame up restoration.

I've been working around the edges which has been good for reconnaissance in determining what state the bike is in, but now that I'm committed to doing the bike from the frame up the first job was to remove the bottom end of the motor and clear the way for a frame restoration:

The bottom end was surprisingly light and easy to lift out of the frame and none of the frame to engine bolts caused any problems.  Some were quite loose, so a frame up resto is making more and more sense as I don't trust anything the chopper muppet did to the bike circa 1983.

It was my first time into the rear drums and, like the fronts, they were age seized but otherwise not in terrible shape, though whenever I get into the dark places on this bike it looks like a scene out of Indiana Jones.

I've left the frame on the bench as I continue to strip it of accessories.  The last time I did some coating work on a project bike it was with Fireball Coatings in Elora but seven years on they seem to have evaporated.  I've been looking for alternate (and hopefully better) options and KC Coatings in Guelph looks promising.  I intend to get in touch with them and see if we can shot blast and powder coat the Bonneville frame, I just have to make sure they can do it on a complicated oil-in-frame design like this one.  Powder coating adds thickness and can cause problems with fasteners and fitting things back together so I need to find out if KC understands that and can can work with this one so that its mechanical pieces will still fit back together.

Following the frame I'll sort out both wheels (bearings, tires and inner tubes) before getting the rolling chassis back together and then rebuilding the motor with my swish new 750cc head.

Motor out and on a pop up workbench by the window.  It's lighter than it looks.
I set up the Black & Decker WorkMate by the back door to the garage to give me somewhere to work on the bottom end of the motor.  With the engine split and out of the frame, I can lift the parts off the bike around easily.  I might put the bench away and make some space while the project is in pieces.

Resources & Links

Power-coating Specialist in Guelph for the frame:

Where to find tires:

Revco is fantastic at shipping (even during a pandemic) and very transparent and communicative with delivery times.  Everything I've gotten from them has been expertly packed, is new stock (no old/new tires).  They know what they're doing with motorsport tires.

How to DIY your own fender:

If I had more space I'd have welding kit and an English Wheel set up in the workshop and get into a lot more fabrication.  I'd go digital too.  A industrial sized 3d printer would make me dangerous: