January 13th, 2019. High of -21°C, low of -29. I’m months away from riding with months to go until I do again. This is as close as I can get to the saddle, some motorcycle digital art…
Now that the CBR900RR Fireblade project is sorted and on the road, I’m finding myself doing what the original intent was in getting it: learning from a different type of motorcycle. Unlike the heavy industry Kawasaki Concours, or the SUV of motorcycling Triumph Tiger, the ‘Blade was built to a different design brief. The other bikes were over engineered heavy to last, but the the Honda is a feather.
That philosophy is at odds with the heavy handed git who owned it before me and managed to maintain it into such a state of disrepair that it kept it off the road for years.
From the rear brake cylinder that was assembled backwards and over tightened, to the over tight wheels and the slipping clutch I’ve just adjusted to actually be at spec rather than over-tightened, I’m finding the Honda was a victim of a heavy hand and unsympathetic mechanical inclination.
When I was a teen my dad was talking me through a head gasket repair on one of my first cars. We weren’t minted, so the only way I was driving was if I could keep an old car on the road; mechanical training was an implicit part of vehicle ownership for me growing up. As we were tightening the head back on he made a point of talking me through the bolt pattern – always tightening opposite bolts so it would seat evenly, and then said something that I’ve never forgotten as we started tightening down the head: “always one tight, not too tight.” I guess the guy who abused this lovely piece of Honda engineering into years in a garage never got such good advice.
Mechanical sympathy is an important part of maintaining any machine, but especially a motorcycle, where if you are cack-handed you can end up seriously hurting yourself when it breaks. In that way, motorcycle mechanics are a lot like aircraft mechanics, it’s a do it right or it can go very wrong kind of situation.
Part of that sympathy is taking the time to understand what the engineers who designed the machine want you to do in terms of looking after it. In the case of the CBR900RR, Honda would like you to leave 10-20mm of play at the end of the clutch lever – this one was set so you could strum it like a guitar string. This play is to ensure that the clutch fully disengages when you let go of it. An over tightened clutch cable means it’s always set to be slightly pulling and engaging the clutch. Making it too tight isn’t just a failure of the hands, it’s a failure in thinking that wounds the machine. In this case, the over-tightened clutch cable explains why the ‘Blade was slipping RPMs when I opened it up. A sympathetically tuned motorbike will give you a purity of interaction that allows you to more fully understand the machine. This is one of the reasons why I value technical fluency so much, it puts your ability to operate technology into focus in a way that the technically ignorant will never realize.
Meanwhile, in the land of Tim where he’s trying to keep a 17 year old European and a 23 year old Japanese bike rolling during the perilously short Canadian riding season, the Tiger’s stalling when hot continues. I’ve ordered a replacement air idle control valve from Inglis Cycles, who have once again exceeded expectations during a pandemic by sourcing the part from Triumph in the UK and getting it to me in about a week.
One of the nice things about the Tiger is that it’s fuel injected, so all that carburetor management is taken care of, but the evil end of computerized fuel injection is that after seventy six thousand kilometres it’s finally gone wrong, and an electronic system like that can go wrong in a lot of different ways.
I’d never gotten into the Tuneboy Software that came with the Tiger (the original owner installed it along with a Power Commander), because if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But now that it’s broke, I got going on it the other evening. Getting into the bike via a computer was pretty cool. The software is Y2K retro-hip and the connection was straightforward. The 20+ pages of instructions weren’t really needed (I’m handy with computers). Windows 10 automatically recognizes what you’re plugging in (back in the day, WinXP would have needed drivers installed), and the software is responsive and quick to connect. It occasionally drops connection, but unplugging it and plugging it in again resolved that each time.
The compact disk (told ya, Y2K hip!) had all of the stock maps for my year of Triumph Tiger 955i engine on it, so I saved what was on there in case it was some kind of cool specialty map the previous owner had worked out (dude worked at a nuclear power plant, so don’t underestimate his tech skillz), and then I flashed it with the stock numbers, which took about 20 seconds and returned a confirmed result. There is a slight lag, but otherwise this is easy to use stuff.
I then played with the diagnostics tool for a bit, hoping for some data that will help me isolate the hot idle stalling fault. The software says there are no errors (promising that this is that mechanical failure then), and the only thing that looks out of place is a strange return on the engine temperature. It seems to read accurately and then show -40, even when the fan is coming on, but if the fan is coming on and the temperature gauge on the dash is reading normally, I suspect this is something to do with how the software syncs with the on board computer rather than an actual fault, but I’m going to keep it in mind.
The problem with an idle fault on a fuel injected bike is that the engine management system is taking in data from a number of sensors and using it to balance engine activity, like idling, based on that information. I’ve got the mechanical component that regulates idle on the bike incoming, and I hope that resolves the issue, but what I fear is that it’s something else, and with these complex electronics systems could mean that anything from a dozen different sensors or relays to a loose or broken wire. With any luck, it’s that idle air control valve and I’m back on the Tiger… and the Honda, just not at the same time.
There was a time when every motorcyclist was also an amateur mechanic. Getting your hands dirty was the only way to keep early motorcycles running. We’re over a century into the evolution of the motorized bike now and, as in all places, digitization has taken over. Modern mechanics are now called technicians and have to be as adept at communicating with the computers on a modern motorcycle as the old school types were at diagnosing a mechanical fault with their senses. Both are complicated, but in quite different ways. There are obvious advantages to modern bikes in terms of efficiency, ease of use and dependability, but motorcycling is inherently a compromise in convenience, and many of the iconoclasts who escape the clutches of automotive transport to ride in the wind question the replacement of human skill with automated assistance.
Back in the day the motorcyclist themselves performed many of the tasks that a modern day technician does, so what was left to the old school mechanic? What you’d typically find in a pre-war motorcycle repair shop looked more akin to a machinist’s bench than the antiseptic, electronically focused diagnostics bay of a modern day garage. That ability to manufacturer your own parts and diagnose problems without computer support, using only your senses and your hands might seem simplistic and archaic, but it was nothing of the sort. There is a secret art to working with pre-electronic, analogue motorcycles that trips up many modern technicians who, while adept in leveraging digital tools to diagnose digital machines and replace parts, struggle to diagnose and repair mechanical faults.
If you’re into restoring older machinery, this vanishing skill set is hard to come by, but I’m fortunate to live near one of these rare, independent, locally owned shops. Lloyd Gadd is the owner and operator of Mostly Ironheads in Elora, Ontario. With decades of experience in mechanics, he approaches motorcycle repair old school. His shop is part machinists, part mechanics and part historical ode to The Motor Company. Lloyd focuses on older Harley Davidsons, but as the name of the shop implies, it’s not an exclusive focus. Lloyd is also a qualified mechanic who can do everything from MoT safeties to changing a tire.
I was in there most recently getting last winter’s Fireblade project safetied, and in the process Lloyd’s prompt service got me looking at a better way to do motorcycle tires that will save me a significant amount of money. While I was over there I also did a round of photography to give you a sense of what goes on in this old school shop.
|Multiple engine rebuilds of air cooled Harley twins were ongoing in this small but dense workspace.|
|Unlike like most modern shops that simply refuse to work on long term mechanical or machinist driven repairs in favour of high turnover/quick to repair parts replacement, Mostly Ironheads will actually machine parts and rebuild a motor from the ground up.|
|It’s a whole other level of mechanical commitment when you are prepared to turn your own parts out.|
Lloyd has a number of customer projects on the go, and also makes a point of collecting older and vintage parts. If you’re fan of Harley Davidson you should make a point of riding up to Elora and checking out what’s on hand – in many cases you’ll see parts that are so rare that you may never have seen them before, even if you’re into classic hogs.
Lloyd told me the story of a 1950s Harley racing motor he’d come across. Only one of the two heads is accurate, but he’s on the lookout for a replacement – though seven decades old serviceable racing parts don’t survive well, as you can imagine. When he has this rare piece of motorcycling history back together it’ll be one of the few remaining complete Panhead racing motors in existence. You might think that’s a one off, but not in this shop. Even if you’re not into HD, this place is an ode to moto-mechanical history and worth a stop. Air cooled bikes have an aeronautical aesthetic to them that modern bikes often miss.
|The machining needed to sort this head out is impressive. It had worn down below spec so is now being built back up and reground to specifications. When you can machine your own parts, you’re as much an engineer as you are a mechanic.|
Being a restorer, Lloyd is always on the lookout for parts, and the shop is an ongoing work in progress, with parts coming in and getting sorted and stored until needed. Previous customers, online and estate sales and various other connections like the Harley Owners Group mean Mostly Ironheads are able to draw in older parts, often found in boxes of ‘stuff’ that get dropped off.
Lloyd mentioned a customer who dropped off a box of stuff while clearing out space at home. In the process of going through it they discovered an unopened complete carburetor assembly still in the original factory packaging from the mid-sixties! There is a joy in bringing a piece of history like this back to life, and the joy is alive and well at Mostly Ironheads. If you’re in Southern Ontario, it’s an easy ride up north of Guelph to the shop.
|This is that racing motor – one of the heads is incorrect, but the rest is intact and very rare!|
These are the cam lobes for that racing head compared to a typical one. Not only is the racing cam lobe lighter with hollowed shaft, but it’s also heavier duty in terms of strength. Here and here are good primers on cam profiles if you’re curious. Whereas the right side regular cam is designed for long term use and efficiency, the more radical racing came on the left is designed to stay open longer, rev high and produce more power, though it wouldn’t idle well, get good mileage or run smoothly. But when you’re aiming for all out speed, you’ll put up with that just so you can wind it up and go. You’re unlikely to see mechanical history like this anywhere else in Ontario.
I’m sitting here listening to CBC’s Sunday Edition doing an interview with an ethics adviser for a California university. Her description of cheating isn’t one of deceit and intent, it’s one of accidental opportunism. She argues that students often don’t even realize they are cheating.
In another section of the interview a university student says that it isn’t the student’s fault, they are victims of the ease of technology. These two ideas are closely linked; accidental cheating and technological access to information. In both cases, ethical choice is removed from the ‘victim’. This is a pretty weak ethical argument. Because something is easy and readily available, it should be done? If you see a person put an ipad on a park bench and then get distracted for a few minutes, do you walk off with it? According the this victim mentality you would have no choice. The fact that all of your friends have stolen ipads from the park only makes it more acceptable.
When I think about my own university experience, it didn’t even occur to me to cheat, because of my sheer awesomeness. My arrogance ensured that I would never even consider putting in someone else’s work for my own, but then I was there to develop my own thinking. I’d walked away from a lucrative career in order to push my limits. Most of the kids I was in university with (typically 4-5 years younger than I was, many of whom dropped out) were there because they couldn’t think of anywhere else to go. You didn’t get a clear sense of who the real learning disciples were until third or forth year.
Later in the same episode, they mention that the vast majority of students in university now are there because they want a higher standard of income, they’re there for the payoff at the end. If university is really all about the money, then perhaps their victim mentality is simply the best way to morally justify taking everything you can while doing as little as possible. University should, perhaps, follow SNL’s angle from so long ago and simply accept what it is becoming.
|AMPA: redemocratizing OSSTF|
I shouldn’t write about politics. As a field of human endeavor it demonstrates some of our most unflattering qualities, but AMPA approaches and I can’t pass up another opportunity to seek a higher standard of conduct from my union.
We were fooled once in District 18 by what might be described kindly as a disorganized vote, but what I fear was a Machiavellian attempt to withhold information in order to secure the desired ‘yes’ outcome. In seeking to redress this wrong we tried contacting Provincial Executive only to have our concerns fall on deaf ears. We attempted to make an AMPA resolution only to have it gutted.
Since then we’ve begun an OLRB complaint that is now moving into a review phase. Throughout this process OSSTF has lawyered up (a profoundly satisfying use of our dues), and has been completely unwilling to even talk about the obvious problems around the ratification of our contract. The fact that we had to go to the OLRB, and the fact that it’s gone this far is both sad and distressing. Wouldn’t it be nice if our union had internal oversight? Wouldn’t it be nice if our union actually addressed member’s concerns (and not by the people who caused the concerns in the first place).
|It’s cold outside, but it’s warm in bed with the OLP|
Many of the Provincial Executive who were the architects of our vote, people who tossed out our own constitutional codes of conduct either through sheer incompetence or malicious intent, are now running for positions at AMPA. When I read their advertising, how they claim to support the grass roots membership, how they stand for the highest ideals of OSSTF, I wonder when they had the change of heart. Was it after misleading and withholding information from D18 members prior to our constitutionally invalid vote? Was it after deciding to donate money to the Ontario Liberal Party even while encouraging members to demonstrate out front of the leadership convention? Was it after deciding to throw out what little political action we’d been able to muster around extracurriculars based on nothing whatsoever from the new Premier?
I desperately hope AMPA delegates remember these things when considering what direction our union should go from here. OSSTF is the membership. Apathy and an overly friendly relationship with this government have resulted in some embarrassing, un-OSSTF like behavior from the very people who are supposed to be the face of our organization. Here is hoping that AMPA restores some much needed credibility, transparency and humility to our union.
I just came across some dream project bikes. There are a pile of ’80s Honda Interceptors online this week, and an interesting little VT500.
Low mileage but not in working condition, just what I need to break down and rebuild!
For $700 there is a higher mileage but better cared for Interceptor just up in Angus that comes with all the shop manuals.
Or I can drop $700 on bits and pieces in Kitchener and put an Interceptor back together again, because dude took it apart and now has a garage full of unspecified parts. Brilliant. Seven hundred bucks might be a bit much to clean out his garage, though it’s close by and it’d be easy to go pick up. Might be a good choice further down the road, but not for a first project bike.
Another possibility is the Honda VT500. This air cooled beauty is in great shape and would be a fantastic starting point for a cafe racer build. It’s been well taken care of and I could probably ride it home from out Brockville way.
Lots of possibilities on Kijiji this month…
The other week I was out for a short ride up and down the river on a swelteringly hot day. On my way back home I was accelerating out of the small hamlet of Inverhaugh when I noticed a bike down on the side of the road and the rider standing there looking at it.
I immediately checked my six (empty road) and indicated to pull over. I stopped about 50 feet up the road from the downed rider and walked back.
|Rider down, would you stop? The four guys in front of me on Harleys didn’t – though the nice couple in the Ford did…|
The rider turned out to be Natalie, a 20-something on her first bike, a Ninja 300. She couldn’t lift the bike, which had fallen when she stopped to check directions, so I helped her get it back on its feet. All was good except a bent shift leaver which was pushed in to the point where it was interfering with the frame – we couldn’t get the bike in gear which means she couldn’t ride home.
If I’m going any distance I have a tool kit on the bike, but this being a short ride, I wasn’t so equipped. Natalie had been out all day in the sweltering heat and had elected to head home rather than stop with the group she was with for a late lunch. Exhaustion (no doubt some of it heat related) and a moment of broken concentration conspired against her and the bike tipped over.
A car with a couple in it has stopped so I asked if they had a tire iron I could use to gently bend the shift lever out. I didn’t want to yank on it too hard for fear of damaging the seals. There was fresh oil around the lever, so I was worried that it had already been damaged in the fall. The couple didn’t have a tire iron – but I suspect it was more a case of they didn’t know what that was or where to find it. With no one else stopping in spite of frequent traffic and our options limited, Natalie called one of the riders she’d been with who was only 10 minutes away, back in Elora at a restaurant.
A few minutes later, under the sweltering sun, a Suzuki Hayabusa showed up with a “fuck fear” sticker on the windshield. The hard man riding it hopped off and went about yanking on the gear lever until it was clear enough to move freely – he seemed determined to resolve things quickly. I told Natalie and her friend that if they needed any assistance I was only 10 minutes away in Elora and they would be welcome to come by if they needed tools, and then I left.
As I pulled away all I could hear were stereotypes ringing in my ears. I’d initially seen a sports bike down and a rider in sporting gear on the side of the road and had to fight an involuntary prejudice that they’d been assing around and tossed themselves at the countryside. That, of course, wasn’t what had happened at all – it was a case of a fairly new rider doing too many miles in tough conditions and underestimating how physically demanding that can be. We all do that to start off with – I told Natalie how I’d dropped my first bike several times while trying to do too many things at once.
Then there was the moment as I approached when I thought, hmm, that’s a mighty small fellow, before I realized I was approaching a female rider who was looking frustrated and overwhelmed. My wife later asked if I was worried about stopping and making her uncomfortable. That hadn’t occurred to me at all, but perhaps it should have. Considering the circumstances, I think safety trumps any worries about chivalry or chauvinism.
When the ‘fuck fear’ ‘Busa showed up with rider to match, I was again fighting that sense of stereotyping, but he had cut out on everyone else and a much needed late lunch to get out there and help his friend. All the tattoos and attitude couldn’t hide that sense of kindness.
Then there were the ten or so cruisers that puttered by without stopping or even slowing down to see if everyone was alright. These are the hard core types in leather who go on and on about how nice bikers actually are and how they always stop to help a fellow rider. Perhaps these brotherly and sisterly biker types were all late for some kind of pirate fancy dress party; there was another stereotype broken – or perhaps they only help their own subculture.
Any time I see a rider on the side of the road I slow and give them a tentative thumbs up, which they have so far always returned. If they didn’t, I’d stop to see if I could help. This doesn’t have anything to do with a magical bikers code of conduct or chest thumping self-righteousness. If someone on a motorcycle (any motorcycle, it doesn’t have to be made in Milwaukee) is stuck on the side of the road, they can’t sit in a safety cage and they’re at the mercy of the elements. Leaving them out there because you’re too selfish or lazy to stop is both dangerous and cowardly; riding by like you didn’t see it makes you a giant tool, even if you do like to strut around telling everyone what a paragon of virtue you are.
I’ve no regrets about stopping. I’ll keep doing it because it’s what everyone should do.
I‘ll come straight out and tell you that I’m an avid video game player, have been since I got hooked on Donkey Kong Jr. when I was ten years old. From dotty eight bit graphics on my first Vic 20 to the Pentium 4 powerhouses and monster video cards on my home network today, I’m a technology junkie of the highest order. A simple decision by my parents set me down the path of intelligent adoption early in my experience: I begged for an Intellivision, they got me a Vic20. Suddenly I’m programming instead of mind numbing button pushing – I’m a creator not just a user. Twenty years later I’m working as a systems trainer and technician.
From that brief biography I give you my reaction to the documentary called “First Person Shooter” I saw on CTV last Sunday (www.firstpersonshooter.tv/index.html), created by Robin Benger, a TV producer and film maker. Rather than simply trying to scare you while appearing to keep a semblance of veracity and professional indifference, I’ll try and unpack all of the assumptions and the real intent behind this lightly veiled propaganda. In its desperate attempts to stay on top I find the current popular media (and in this case medium of television itself) taking poorly researched, rather desperate shots at the latest distractions. In the case of “First Person Shooter” the father of a child deeply addicted to a game called “Counter Strike” uses his own medium (he is a television producer and film maker) to analyze and ultimately criticize his child’s dependency on media.
The general issue of addiction can be dealt with in fairly specific terms. Game playing, even in its most chronic form certainly can’t be quantified as a physical addiction. At best it can be described as a reinforced behaviour. What reinforces the behaviour of a chronic player, a need for control, expression, respect? Online playing is not just the wave of the future any more, it is here today. Community, interaction and team building are a huge part of the modern online gaming experience. A child addicted to this is a child addicted to a need to belong; not exactly a damning statement; and one that prompts the question: why are these things so lacking in his non-virtual existence?
What is especially laughable about Mr. Benger’s documentary is that he uses his medium of television to debunk a new and competing medium for media. I wonder if he is more upset that his child is having trouble prioritizing his life or that he isn’t supporting Mr. Benger’s own media infatuation. The question of what benefits television has in attacking a competing medium must be an integral part of this examination.
There is a small step between an addictive personality and an obsessive one and in either case they can lead to amazing, expression or discovery. The price people pay for this kind of infatuation can also lead them to depression and ultimately make them unable to support their need. In short if you’re shooting for a small target like genius you will often miss and the results aren’t pretty. If a child becomes so infatuated something that it consumes their lives, it seems to me the best way to push through it is to assist them in swallowing too much. They’ll eventually force themselves away from it and in doing so their rejection of the infatuation will surely be more meaningful.
In the meantime we’ve got something like video games, that many older people simply don’t accept. They find it threatening, difficult to understand and so place a low value on it. As a gamer (with a fine arts background and an honours degree in English and Philosophy) that gaming has been churning out exceptional pieces of art for many years now. As the technology continues to improve the media presented on it will only become more immersive and meaningful. Whereas once printing allowed for the widespread, sedentary activity of reading for the masses, and movie and television furthered the trend towards sedentary, cerebral entertainment, video gaming has reintroduced the entertainee as an active participant in the process. In doing so it promises to further enhance our ability to express and understand our selves and the reality around us; the goal of any media.