Showing posts sorted by relevance for query under dark skies. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query under dark skies. Sort by date Show all posts

Monday 16 November 2020

Motorbike Research from the 1920s, 30s and 40s for Under Dark Skies

I'm eighty-thousand words into writing a novel loosely based on my granddad's experience in World War Two.  He was in France in 1939 and 1940 during the Blitzkrieg and the Battle of France.  Weeks after Dunkirk he was still trying to make his way back to Britain from occupied France as continental Europe fell to the Nazis.

I've always found that period of the war interesting.  Germany had the initiative and everyone else was struggling to understand what armed conflict had evolved into after two decades of incredible industrial progress following the trenches of WW1.  The allies weren't proud of their losses early on and it has since become an embarrassing and forgotten period in history.  If you don't believe me, just look up how many movies and books came out of the final year of the war when the allies were winning.

The novel, tentatively called Under Dark Skies (though I'm not married to that title), tells the tale of my granddad's service in a Royal Air Force Hurricane squadron sent with the British Expeditionary Force to France to stop the inevitable German invasion.

I've tried to keep it as accurate as possible, but in the absence of any specific details (my grandfather was never vocal about his war experience), I'm taking some other influences and mixing them in, Quentin Tarantino style.  Inglorious Basterds is one of my favourite World War Two films and I love the liberties he took with history, so much so that it's tempting me to do the same.

Bill was a member of the RAF White Helmets and a handy gymnast back in the day.  I've taken his
hidden-to-me, life-long affection for motorcycling, mixed in a bit of Guy Martin and Steve McQueen, though I don't know that Bill's history needed it, but it's just how I like to write.  Back in university I got into a difficult to get into creative writing course.  Leon Rooke came in a few times to help us with our writing process and commented on my ability to convey action effectively.  I like flowing, scripted action and that is the backbone of this book.

The fictional Bill's war experience was also influenced by this news article I found in a 1941 newspaper about motorcycle based 'suicide squads' who wreaked havoc inside Nazi occupied Europe.

That's out of the Spokane Daily Chronical on Saturday, January 4th, 1941!

I've had a tough year at work and needed to find a way to work off frustration, so when I can't sleep at 5am in the morning I get up and escape into 1940 France, it's been a life saver.

One of the enjoyable side effects of writing an historical novel is that you end up doing a lot of research in order to look like you know what you're talking about.  I have an equivalent of a minor degree in history, but the digging you do when writing in a time period is much more nuanced, and this case, very motorbike focused.  Here are some of my favourite motorcycle specific research bits from writing this thing:

Motorcycle Focused Research from Under Dark Skies

1938 Triumph Speed Twin:  I was looking for a state-of the-art fast bike to use in France that would outrun a supercharged German Mercedes staff car (that was a good scene to write).  Triumph's Twin was a massive step toward modern motorcycles and an early candidate for the job, though not what I eventually settled on.

1930s supercharger speed record bike from Italy (I was looking up ideas for a customized 'uncatchable' suicide squad bike...

History of military motorcycles. 

Triumph 3HW, Triumph's WW2 bike has a history closely tied to company and Coventry's brutal experience in the war:  
Triumph History overall:

Inge Stoll: Bavarian motorcycle racer and sportswoman - I'm looking to diversify the cast a bit towards the end. It's hard to do in the British military of 1940:

Peugeot used to make motorcycles!  They were quite common in France in 1940 where I'm spending my time.  I needed a bike that a local would have, so I had a look at the Peugeot listings:
NSU was a German moto manufacturer.  German bikes have a very distinct style back then that was quite divergent from the lighter more handling focused British machines, though the NSU 351 OSL is a pretty little thing:

The operating manual for a T-100 Triumph Tiger!  I'm partial to Tigers and a chance to bring the T-100 that started the breed into the novel was too good to miss:  The original instruction manual is really handy when I'm writing about details on the bike, like where the controls are.  I could just make it up, but then I might as well have just written a book about moon nazis in rocket-ships.

RAF bikes of WW2 (some good photos in there):

BMW bikes in WW2:
... and sometimes you want to know how they sound:
... which is just like Jeff's tractor!  I'm sure there's a BMW that doesn't sound like a tractor, but I've yet to find it.

1930s vintage motorbikes riding across France:
This one was handy from a bike and a geography angle.  A nicely nostalgic thing too.

Motorcycling in 1936:

Scottish Six Days Trial ended up playing a part in Bill's backstory (so there is a bit of Ross Noble inspiration in there too).  I liked the idea of Bill's amateur riding background somehow elevating him from lorry driving but didn't want the flash of road racing.  I get the sense that Bill's motorcycling was frowned upon by family and was never recognized as something that might improve his lot.  SSDT seemed like a good amateur-accessible option that demonstrated not just exceptional bike craft but also a toughness of spirit:

German women in the 1930s seem quite sports driven.  Ilse Thouret was another Bavarian motorbike racer who looked like a real tough nut:
Bill was a freemason so I'm thinking about bringing on of these women in as a daughter of one (freemasons were killed in death camps as jewish sympathizers).  If the Craft gives you the willies maybe you can take some consolation in knowing that Nazis hated it.

I was looking for a retired French moto-racer who could help Bill sort out a modified 'uncatchable' bike.  Louis Jeannin was one of few French winners, having won the 350cc championship in 1932, but I was reduced to wikipedia for the only mention of him:    
I ended up giving him a shop at 16/18 Rue de la République, 57240 Knutange, France where Bill goes to pick up a modified T-100.  Jeanin raced Jonghis, which I'd never heard of, though they have an interesting history:

1939 Tiger T100 for sale at Bonhams!  If the book does well and Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Ewan McGregor and Orlando Bloom all pick up the movie rights (they're all big bike nerds) then I'll get myself that T-100:

Looking for a cheap bike a lower class Cockney kid would ride and came across the BSA Blue Star thumper:
Banger’s bike at home: (est.) top speed 75mph.  Good nick name for a kid who rides a single cylinder banger.

1946 Triumph repair manual!  At the end of the war production lines were restarted with little updated because things were so exhausted.  This was a brilliant find as it details all sorts of bits and pieces that help me detail mechanical happenings accurately:

A Belgian sniper makes his way into the story and has become central to it.  I wanted him on something that spoke to Belgian industrial arts and came across the Gillet Herstal 720 AF - a state of the art machine that never saw wide production due to Belgium's invasion:
Gillet Herstal 720 AF motorcycle and sidecar (Belgian) a great Russian resource on motos of war!

A fantastically named French combination option: The Moto Gnome Rhone with Dragon Porte sidecar!

I was looking for an alternate German Sidecar combo since everything has been very BMW focused on
the German side, then I came across the Zündapp KS 750, a combination so good that the German government asked BMW to build it instead of its iconic boxer (BMW refused):
A fine example of German modernist design.  They're big and heavy though (over 30% heavier than the svelt Belgian Gillet Herstal combination).


Those are just the bike related links.  I have more than a dozen pages of links and notes on all
sorts of mad details.  At one point I got lost in WW2 vintage brass blowtorches (they're paraffin fueled!):

When I wasn't looking up details on British warplanes that simply didn't work well, like the Fairey Battle that I'd never heard of before, I was digging deep into fasteners used during WW2 (Germany was metric which is a problem if you're working on a German vehicle in a British hangar).

Writing UDS has been a great trip at a time when I'm frustrated by people's response to a crisis and can't go on any other trips anyway.  Thematically this erupts out of the text with regularity.  This weekend we're off to try and take out Luftwaffe high command at the HQ of Fliegerkorps VIII in Roumont Château, near Libramont in southern Belgium (check out May 26th).  At this point the story is writing itself and I'm often surprised at the direction it takes.  In my best moments I'm reading it as I write it, lost in time.

Sunday 18 September 2022

Moto-Media and Getting in Rides at the end of summer, 2022

Evening rides and changeable weather as the summer ends...

The Concours/1400GTR hanging out in a graveyard at sunset... as you do.


I've been playing with some design concepts for the WW2 historical fiction novel, Under Dark Skies (coming soon!).  I'm currently working on dividing the original manuscript into three young adult sized novels.  

I'm always looking for period bike images.  Never know when I might be able to use them for a reference on an original drawing.  I've been up to those too, creating scenes from the novel:

t-shirt transparency

Sketched variation -  I might have put my face on that subconsciously.

... and some sketched (pen and ink) scenes from the novel:

Here's a mock-up book cover concept based on a 1940s comic book style:

I've been monkeying around with the blog logo too:


... and may eventually put a t-shirt out:


We managed an afternoon at SMART Adventures before the end of the summer:

It's never a bad time, but I went in the 'expert' group which consisted of a dad who wanted his son on a bike that was too big for him.  The kid came off it so often that it became tedious, so we rode back to base and he switched to a smaller bike and then fell off that a lot too.  We still got some good trail riding in and our instructor (Louise) was fantastic, but 'expert'?  Not so much.  We spent a sizable portion of our very short 3 hours picking this kid up or riding back and forth for his various equipment change needs.  His finally move was to ride into a massive puddle and drop the bike in the middle of it, causing us to spent 20 minutes getting it out and then following him and his dad as they two-upped back to the office.

I'm not sure how to address that as I've been going to SMART for a long time and I did have a good afternoon, but when I'm paying quite a lot of money for three hours of riding and almost a third of it is taken up with catering to what was clearly a non-expert rider, I'm left feeling (for the first time ) like I didn't get my money's worth.


We went to Stratford yesterday to Perth County Moto's 5th anniversary.  T'was a good time.  If you find your way to Stratford, Ontario at any point, look them up, they're right downtown: 

I got myself a vintage style dirt tracker team sweater (they're like rugby jerseys) for a good price!

I haven't been spending much time in the garage beyond upkeep and maintenance on the two operational bikes.  I'm saving the Bonneville project for the cold months when I need to keep my hands busy and riding is far away, though I did start re-assembling the frame (seemed like a logical place to start).

The oil filters came in for the end of year oil change (I always put in fresh oil and filter and run them through before the big hibernation).  It's a depressing delivery, but I've still got another six weeks or so before the snows fall.  With the filters I got some tank pads to stop myself sliding around on the Concours.

Next week we're aiming for the Wine y Cheese Rally on September 24th.  We're going to head down to St. Catherines on the Friday and then be up and at it by 7am on Saturday morning.  This is the only rally we've been able to line up this busy summer, so I'm looking forward to it.  We've been fettling the Concours to make it as functional and capable as possible for this long haul.  We finished our last one on the Tiger last summer, so I'm not even super concerned with finishing so much as I am just having a good time with it.  Signups still seem to be available, so if you're looking for an excuse to ride and ride next weekend (cooler temps but the weather looks good), then give it a go.

Gotta get time in the saddle in before the snows fall!

Monday 24 July 2023

Guest Post: Wolfe and the IBR Parts 4-6

 The Iron Butt Rally is long distance motorcycling's most challenging endurance event. It runs once every two years in the continental US and Lobo Loco Rally Master, Wolfe Bonham, is a veteran of the event. Wolfe ran the 2023 IBR and has been sharing his ride on Facebook, but he said he's OK with guest posting on TMD, so here is parts 4-6! Eleven thousand miles in eleven days? Enjoy!

Parts 1-3 can be found here.

Part Four - IBR 2023

The Heavens Open up

Heading southbound it isn't long before I encounter my first of many mechanical issues.  I notice my windscreen is getting closer and closer to my cell phone.  I had adjusted it yesterday and it becomes apparent I didn't torque down my Tobinator tight enough.  I jump off at the next exit and waste 10 minutes getting it done right.  This will be one of many roadside repairs in my near future. 

Back on I-79 and it's not long before I realize I'm running short on fuel much sooner than expected.  I check my Garmin for the next available fuel and am once again off the highway.  My auxiliary fuel cell is transferring fuel much slower than anticipated and I make a mental note to turn the transfer valve on sooner.  On the upside this exit has a Jersey Mike's, so I quickly snag a Bingo location while off the highway with a quick iced tea.

My next fuel stop snags the ever present Waffle House chain, but then I see the storms building across my path.  The next 2 days will have me ride through no less than 7 severe thunderstorms.

Crossing on HWY 19 the weather changes. What had been a rather warm afternoon suddenly becomes very cold, and the skies open up.

Prior to the rally I had discovered that my now 6 year old Klim Carlsbad riding suit was no longer shedding water like it used.  I had followed their instructions to re-water proof the outfit, but this would be the first real test.

Eventually the rain was becoming so heavy that my wheels were parting puddles deep enough to send spray up to my knees.  Worried about hydroplaning I spied an upcoming Bojangles on the next exit.   That's when I also noticed I had an oil pressure light glaring at me on the dash.

It looked like a brief break would allow this storm to pass.  I could get an actual meal, dry my gear, and look into my oil situation.  

Under the awning of the gas station next to the restaurant I could see my oil levels were good.  I guessed the only thing to do was continue riding and watch the engine temp.  If it began to rise I'd know that oil wasn't getting to all the needed spots.

Soldiering on I was getting really tight on time to make The Varsity restaurant in Atlanta, GA before they closed at 9pm.  This chain is on the bingo card, but only available in the Atlanta area.  I figured this would likely be my only trip through Atlanta on the rally, so I had to get it today.

This would mean passing up on visiting a Pal's Sudden Service bingo restaurant en route.  I figured I'd be able to find one later in the Rally as they are more common.... spoiler alert... I didn't, and it would cost me blacking out the entire card!  Day 1 decisions can have a cascading effect, like the butterfly that flapped its wings in Central America 3 days ago that is now causing the storms in the southern USA I'm now riding through.

My route to Atlanta only diverged enough to snag the high point value giant peach water tower in Gaffney, SC that was featured on the rally poster.

I called ahead to The Varsity to make sure they didn't have any ideas of closing early, threw away another planned stop at a Whataburger location, hauled ass to downtown Atlanta where Cherrelle was waiting to close with my peach lemonade already poured!  Phew... and it was refreshing too.

Also in the downtown was a metal peach sculpture that proved tricky to find a spot to park to take the photo.  After doing a couple of laps around the nearby stadium I figured using one of the hotel lots was the only real option... and low and behold, I run into Jeffrey Gebler pulling out of one.  He let's me know he had greased the valet with a few dollars to let him park there.  I quickly followed suit.  

On returning to my bike a group of high school students and their teacher were checking out my bike.  They were in town on a skills competition for, of all things, motorcycle and small engine repair.  I took a few moments to chat with them and show them the live tracking.  We wished each other good luck in our competitions and I headed out of Atlanta for Florida. 

This final stretch of the night had me in more thunderstorms and it was becoming quite obvious that my Klim gear was indeed no longer waterproof.  More concerning was the amount of water now pooling in my Sidi Adventure Goretex boots from running down the back of my calves.

Watching the tracker I knew most Florida bound riders had pulled off for the night, and I could see they were snug out of the weather in hotels along I-75S.

I was determined to push further and arrived at the Florida welcome center rest area where I curled up on a picnic table under an awning for 2 hours sleep...

Or so I thought...

Part Five - IBR 2023

The Struggle is Real

I wake up to the sound of distant thunder. A quick look at my weather app shows another massive storm about to roll through, and the winds are picking up.  I doubt I'll stay dry under this little park awning so I head for the shelter of the nearby welcome center.  Inside I chat with a very friendly security guard as we watch the rain flying sideways and palm trees bending in the wind.  I hit up the snack machine for dinner/breakfast, then make the call that I might as well be putting on some miles if I'm no longer sleeping.

I make my way through several clusters of storms on the way to Cedar Key in the dark.  It should be just after sunrise when I arrive.

Suddenly my lights pick up movement from the ditch. An armadillo is attempting to cross the road, and given the wet conditions there's very little I can do but brace for impact.  I've always feared hitting one of these after seeing one destroy a wheel well and fender of an RV as a child.  I expect it to be like hitting a rolling bowling ball.  Bam!

In actual fact it was more like a large raccoon.  Sorry little dude. 

I pass by 2 other riders heading back out of of the Key that must've passed me while I napped.  It's quite windy with the nearby storms and i struggle a bit with the rally flag.

From here I'm off to New Orleans.  The morning is chilly and my gear is still soaked. As I get close to Tallahassee it starts to warm up and the sun is out.  I stand up on my pegs to get my gear in the wind to help it dry out.  It's working, except my boots are still swamped.

....OK OK... the clutch.  For the past day all I can smell when at lower speeds is burnt clutch.  I've made the decision to shift the bike to neutral anytime I'm stopped at a light to help preserve it as much as possible.   This goes against everything we teach as motorcycle instructors.  I'm also being as gentle as possible going through the gears when accelerating.  Between it, an oil pressure light, my slow to transfer auxiliary fuel tank, and wet gear, the first 24 hours has kept me on my toes. 

... back to Day 2.

As I get to Mobile the temps soar.  It's over 100F and extremely humid.  I snag a Whataburger for my Bingo card and to cool off.  I've been carefully watching my engine temp, and given how hot it is outside, if my oil pressure sensor warning was accurate the engine should be running extremely hot.  It's not.  In fact, it sounds great at speed,  although now at idle I'm starting to notice a concerning rough vibration throughout the bike.  I probably should have performed a valve adjustment before leaving Canada.   Great!  One more thing to nag at my mind for the next 9 days.

Leaving Mobile they are thunderstorms popping up everywhere due to the heat and humidity.  Coming through Gulfport and Biloxi I'm faced with 2 of the worst.  Visibility becomes almost zero, signs everywhere warn of flash flood areas,  and I'm trying to position myself behind transport trucks so they can part the water as much as possible to keep me from hydroplaning.  I'm standing on the pegs,  hazard lights on, crawling at less than 20 mph.  My mind keeps telling me this is too dangerous, but there really is nowhere to go. My mind also tells me that we're "the World's Toughest Motorcycle Riders".  The words of one of my famous instructors,  Simon Pavey come to mind.  "Have a spoonful of concrete and harden the 'f' up!".  I soldier on towards New Orleans. 

The weather breaks for a bit and I'm able to snag a CookOut, Popeyes, and Sonic, all at the same highway exit. There is another storm front about to descend onto New Orleans, though, and it's a doozy.  The I-70 bridge is so windy I have the bike leaned at almost 45 degrees and I'm getting tossed back and forth in my lane.  Fortunately there aren't a lot of other idiots out here on the bridge in this weather, so I'm not worried about hitting another vehicle.  At worst I'll get to go for a swim over the railing! 

Into the city and I'm trying to stay ahead of the front.  I quickly snag my photo and head west.  Twice the winds in town almost knock the bike over at traffic lights, and several signs are blown off buildings.  I need to get out before this hits.  With some creative moves at traffic lights I'm back on the highway towards Baton Rouge where I have a Weinerschnitzel bingo restaurant as my target.

Arriving there my weather radar shows a potential tornado, and the staff offer to let me park the bike under their drive-thru shelter. We all watch my radar in hopes it won't be too bad.  It passes on the other side of the river, less than 2 miles from us!

I thank them and soldier on toward Lafayette. It appears the storms are behind me for today.  I snag the Crawfish Capitol sign, and head towards Houston.   Other than the interrupted nap in Florida I've now been riding for 32 hours straight.   I plan to pull my mandatory rest in Houston after snagging another 2 bingo restaurants. 

That night in the hotel room I remove my boots to assess the damage.  36 hours of wet feet and hot, sweaty conditions has led to Trench Foot.  If I can't sort this out I'm afraid I won't make the next 9 days.

Part Six - IBR 2023

Reality Setting In

The alarm goes off far too early and I'm donning still wet gear.  This doesn't bode well for my feet, but there's little I can do at this point. Stepping outside at 4am I'm hit with a wall of hot, humid air. My glasses instantly fog up, as does my visor even with pinlocks.

So far I've had to throw away WVSP - 539 pts, TNGA - 586 pts, and a Pal's bingo restaurant. I realize to safely make the group photo bonus in Kansas by 3pm I'll also now need to throw out TXHU for another 556 pts.  That puts me almost 2000 points off my plan due to weather delays and mechanical concerns.  Leg 1 isn't going to plan... and it's about to get worse.

I get through Houston before most people are up and set my sights just north of Austin for Ding Dong, TX.  Austin traffic slows me down a bit more than expected, along with a missed highway exit.  I'm getting concerned if I'll make the group photo.  At this point I have 30 minutes to spare, but I'll need at least 3 fuel stops, as well as dealing with Dallas and Tulsa traffic.

Apart from a few construction slow downs I get through Dallas in decent time, despite hitting the ring highways at rush hour.  Thankfully there is an HOV system.  But I'm down to less than 15 minutes to spare for the 1632 point group photo.  I'm sweating, both because of the stress and 100+F temperatures.  At least it's not raining any longer, but I can feel my feet continuing to deteriorate in my boots.

As I get closer to Sherman, TX my phone alerts me to a traffic slowdown for construction.  It's going to add 33 minutes.  That's not acceptable. As the slowdown begins I head for the shoulder with hazard lights on.  It's backed up way too far to run the shoulder all the way through it, despite having the excuse of an air cooled bike that will certainly overheat in traffic like this.  Then I see a parallel service road divided from me by a ditch and patch of grass.  Well, I am on a GS...

Even using all these tactics by the time I'm north of the construction my Garmins indicate I'll be 10 minutes late to the group photo.  I doubt I can make that up, and I still need to battle through Tulsa.   It's time for another change of plans.

The RallyMaster Jeff Earls is a genius at making aspects of the rally just barely attainable. Riders going to the group photo in Kansas at 3pm would have very little to do afterwards except ride to the Tulsa checkpoint 2 hours south, arriving 3 hours early.  The bonus- extra rest.  However,  there is a little 702 point location just west of Oklahoma City.  If you run the calculations you *could* immediately leave the group photo, struggle through Tulsa and OKC rush hour traffic, twice, once each direction, and arrive at CP1 10 minutes late.  At 20 points per minute penalty you lose 200 points, but still net 500.  A reasonable gamble... but everyone else would gain 3 hours more rest.

I had planned to make this gamble, but now that I won't even make the group photo, I plug OKER-702 pts into my Garmins and divert away from Kansas.  I'll snag OKC early and head to the checkpoint.  I've now thrown away almost 4000 points.  My thoughts turn from top 10 to just finisher status.  It's a tough pill to swallow this early in the event.

En route I stop by a drug store for some Epsom salts, anti-fungal powder, and medicated creams.  I need to get serious about my feet.  I'm concerned this is turning into a staph infection, and that would certainly mean a DNF.

As I'm eastbound on I-44 I see 2 rally bikes hauling ass westbound.  Only 2 brave souls opt to try to snag OKER after the group photo.  I stand on my pegs, salute them as they go by, and give them a heroic fist pump.  Go boys go!

If you're into this (and how could you not be), Wolfe did a full sixteen part breakdown of the incredible long distance rally that is the IBR. You can find him on Facebook here.

If you're looking for a start in long distance rallying, Wolfe rally-masters Lobo Loco Rallies.

Here is Lobo Loco Rally's Facebook page:

Iron Butt did a nod to Wolfe's Lobo Loco (crazy wolf) rallies here.

... and (of course) you can find some Lobo Loco Ralliage on TMD here:

This has me thinking about what it takes to take a run at the IBR, but I suspect it's even more complicated than Wolfe lets on. I'm also curious about what it costs to do the thing. Fuel, hotels and the rest can't be cheap, and I'm also curious about some housekeeping items like: how do you wear ear plugs for weeks at a time without getting ear infections?

There is more to this long distance rally caper than just the willipower to do it. I'll ask and see if I can get any more details out of him.