The Motorcycle Industry is in Real Trouble

Google ‘biker’ and you get a lot of pictures of old white guys.
Good luck selling them bikes in 20 years.

The other day a fellow rider on twitter shared a link to this article on how the motorcycle industry is in real trouble.  Among the litany of problems was the hyper conservative nature of the industry and its habitual focus on old white guys.  The biker image is a bastion of pre-Twenty First Century prejudices; women (unless they’re pillions and dressed like dolls) and non-white riders need not apply.  Groups like Bikers for Trump continue to find a comfortable place to operate within these old-school prejudices.  I’d suggest that an industry that wants to cling to this dying sense of privilege deserves to be in big trouble.

Of a less cut and dried nature (unless you’re clinging to colonial, white guy privilege) was the piece about how young people aren’t riding motorcycles or even driving cars as much any more.  I’d argue this is a larger and more difficult problem to solve.  I struggle daily with getting young people to engage with and master real world technical problems (it’s my day job).  I wasn’t at all surprised to see this as a conclusion from the research:

“…many millennial consumers were “bubble-wrapped for safety in their youth” or raised by overprotective parents who discouraged risk-taking”

A few years ago I suggested we start a motorcycle club at our school.  Some of our students go out and get their licenses and begin to ride and others dirt bike ride, so there would be interest.  We could use the experience and expertise of our teacher-riders to help students more safely and effectively take to two wheels.  The skills learned in maintaining and repairing motorcycles in our shop would mean safer vehicles for our students to use and an increase in technical skill.  They all sounds like good ideas, right?  It was nixed immediately: a hard no.  We run rugby teams and downhill ski race teams and go camping in bear country, but riding a motorcycle?  Way too dangerous.  I suggested that was exactly why we should do it, but still a hard no.

We need to bring back the kind of inclusive advertising
that worked for Honda so well over forty years ago.

There is, no doubt, a danger halo around motorcycling that is a big part of its mystique, but the operation of a motorcycle isn’t dangerous in and of itself.  Many riders like to play to this mystique, making it seem more edgy because that’s the image they want to convey, but it isn’t helping the sport.  That focus is also used to hyper masculinize the image of a motorcycle rider and plays to the conservatism that plagues the industry.  

It’s always a relief when someone subverts that tired, old stereotype

Enjoy having your assumptions subverted, it’s good for you.

Apart from the prejudices and mythology around motorcycling, we also have a new generation of people who aren’t taking up the sport, but then they aren’t taking up vehicle operation in general.

“For 16- through 44-year-olds, there was a continuous decrease in the percentage of
persons with a driver’s license for the years examined. For example, the
percentages for 20- to 24-year-olds in 1983, 2008, 2011, and 2014 were 91.8%,
82.0%, 79.7%, and 76.7%, respectively.”

There are a lot of social reasons for this to be happening.  More of us live in cities than ever before and driving in cities is misery.  Many jurisdictions don’t acknowledge the advantages of riding a bike in an urban environment either, making riding an even dimmer proposition than driving.  The independence afforded by vehicle operation that used to define coming of age as a teen has become increasingly expensive even as wealth has been concentrated in a smaller and smaller class of people; fewer rich get richer while more poor get poorer.  With money slipping out of the hands of a vanishing middle class, the idea of buying into the independence of operating your own vehicle becomes increasingly impossible for many youngsters, especially with systemic economic discrimination like insurance forcing them off the road.

There is a final piece to this perfect storm diminishing the motorcycle industry that I haven’t seen as much about.  Last night I watched Kingsmen: The Golden Circle, and like every other film I’ve seen in the past few years, it’s a few moments of acting tied together by ludicrous computer generated imaging.  When I was young I stumbled upon a Bruce Lee marathon late one night and got really fired up about it.  Watching Bruce do his thing was inspiring.  I’d make the argument that a generation brought up on fake, computer generated action wouldn’t feel that kind of inspiration to get out in the world and do things like do kung fu or ride a motorbike.

Marketing is happy to pick up this idea of showing you cars doing things they can’t actually do because you’re buying an idea.  How the car makes you feel is what makes it valuable, not what you can actually do with it.  Whether it’s Nissan pretending their cars are in Star Wars or Chevy pretending their cars are skateboards, the marketing and special effects departments are more than happy to sell you on an idea rather than engineering.  I won’t even get into Kia selling you on a car that will drive for you because you’d rather be daydreaming.

In this digital dream-time we’re all immersed in, you can you see why something as unforgiving and physically challenging as motorcycling might be one of the first casualties.  It’s going to be a long time if ever before we see accident avoidance on something as elemental as a motorbike.  For all those young drivers who expect their car to drive for them when they can’t be bothered to pay attention, this moves motorcycles even further away from the realm of possibility.  Coupled with the danger mythology many riders are guilty of promoting, it’s little wonder that motorcycles increasingly seem like something from another time and place.

Forgetting the old white guy thing for a minute (it’s going to go away on its own anyway), how can the industry get people back on motorcycles again?  The obvious first step is to make your advertising plausible and inclusive.  Don’t digitally animate anything.  Show riders of all types enjoying the elemental freedom of riding.  This doesn’t need to include jumping canyons or putting knees down; the joy of riding is a simple, accessible pleasure.  Show people commuting, going out on a date and otherwise living their lives.  Minimize the costuming, especially the pirate thing, emphasize how effective modern safety gear is.  Honda had this figured out decades ago and it prompted a renaissance in riding.  There is no reason why we couldn’t do it again.

Build bikes that appeal to all sorts of riders.  Smaller, easier to handle bikes for beginners that push technology to create something so efficient that it makes snooty hybrid car drivers look like diesel pigs.  A 100mpg bike is an immediate possibility.  A hybrid touring bike that gets mega mileage but can still move two up easily?  An all electric bike?    These things should be moved on aggressively. 

When coupled with a campaign to emphasize how efficient bikes can be at moving people around, especially in cities, it would play to the urbanization of our population instead of against it.  Motorized bikes are capable of moving people more effectively and efficiently than just about any other form of transportation, if we let them.  Why do you think crowded developing cities are so full of two wheelers?  Pressuring governments to recognize this and encourage two wheeling instead of vilifying it would be a great step forward.  Can you imagine how many people would flock to a motorcycle industry couched in marketing around environmentalism and the elemental thrill of riding as an escape from the digital miasma?  Escape the Matrix indeed.

Governments ignore a lot of research that clearly
demonstrate how efficient motorcycling can be,
especially in an urban environment.

Ontario offers thousands in incentives for people driving environmentally questionable hybrids.  What would happen if you got thousands back in incentives for buying a motorcycle that gets better mileage than a Prius?  There are a lot of them – my fourteen year old 955cc Tiger gets better mileage than the Toyota green flag waving hybrid and was way less damaging to manufacture.  Can you imagine how many more people would ride these environmentally minimalist machines in cities if they could lane split and move quickly to where they needed to be, reducing traffic and improving the flow for everyone?

Why not do one better and apply those incentives to emphasizing the power and importance of the rider?  Instead of advertising about how your car will drive for you because you’re too much of a drip to do it yourself, maybe motorcycling could emphasize the importance of the rider and include them in any upgrade.  How about training being automatically included when you buy a bike?  This would immediately result in lower accident rates and better insurance costs.  If you’re a beginner you get the training as a part of the purchase because you are immediately recognized as a vital part of the riding equation.  If you’re already experienced then an advanced riding course in the area of your choice (off-road, track, road) is included to continue your advancement in pursuit of mastery.  Motorcycle training courses blossom and grow and sales are encouraged.  How about industry and government formerly recognize the importance of the rider and collaborating to make riding the life-long learning opportunity that it should be; motorcycles become paradigms of skill, self-discovery and mastery.

Shows like Ride with Norman Reedus are gender and race
inclusive and celebratory of motorcycle culture in its many
forms.  We should be encouraging more shows like it.

De-snootying motorcycle culture, especially where it’s at its snootiest (North America) isn’t something to wonder about, it’s a marketing imperative.  Anyone out in the wind, even if they aren’t on a cruiser, is a part of the culture.  Scooters and three wheelers aren’t for losers, they’re a part of the sport that needs to be embraced and included.  Three wheels mean older riders and those less physically able can still enjoy being out in the wind, how is that a bad thing?  Next time someone gives you a wave from a trike, don’t be a jerk, wave back.

If the current motorcycling industry is unwilling to embrace the Twenty-First Century maybe they should be in real trouble.  There are always smaller concerns in the shadows waiting to step in and make changes where the established, conservative powers are not.  Business as usual is clearly not working.  Hopefully the industry that feeds our hobby will realize that and stop coddling Twentieth Century prejudices.  A brave new world of opportunities awaits them if they do.


No easy ride: Motorcycle industry is in deep trouble and needs help fast, panel agrees

The Decline of the Driver’s License
Fewer people of all ages are getting them, and it’s not quite clear why.

from Blogger

Motorbike media bits and pieces…

I came across some motorcycle media recently that is a nice diversion if you’re suffering from PMS. has a series of motorcycle short documentaries that will keep you rolling on two wheels, even if it’s vicariously.

The Women’s Motorcycle Exhibit video led me to the site;  much better than the floozy on a bike photography you usually see.  There is nothing sexier than a strong, capable woman riding a bike (as opposed to a skinny model draping herself on one).

The other shorts were all new to me except for Long Live The Kings, which has since spawned The Greasy Hands Preachers.  The reviews for that film have suggested that it’s a shallow but pretty look at current motorbike customization trends.  I was hoping for something that plumbs the depths like Matt Crawford’s Shopclass As Soulcraft (a must read),  but it evidently isn’t that, though I’m still looking forward to seeing it.

I also found Brittown, a documentary about Meatball, a master mechanic and Triumph motorbike connoisseur out of California.  It’s a genuine look at a genuine fellow.  You’d be hard pressed to find any hipster bullshit in this video.

I also completed the set.  Having already seen Faster and Fastest, I was finally able to see The Doctor, The Tornado and The Kentucky Kid, the middle Motogp video in the trilogy.  It’s a close look at a single race at Leguna Seca.  The phoned in interviews are a bit low-rent, but the drama is as engaging as ever.  If you want to get into Motogp, these videos will give you the background you need to get right into next season.

In the meantime, the mighty Austin Vince put out Mini-Mondo, another motorbike short (poem!) that (hopefully) gets you out on two wheels and seeing what’s around you:

We’re buried in snow in mid-November and thoughts of riding are weeks behind me now, but at least the media I’m finding keeps the two wheel dreaming alive.

Answer Enright’s Questions!

Michael Enright is interviewing 4 “new” teachers on Sunday Edition today (though I’m not sure a year 7 teacher qualifies as new).  Here are the questions he asked these bright and shiny teachers from across Canada.  Once he settled them in, the discussion got real!

Being an interrogative, tarnished, unpicked teacher, I thought I’d throw in my two cents too!  Feel free to grab the questions and reply for yourself below…

Why did you become a teacher?
I got downsized 3 times in business, and started to get the sense that you’ll get used and tossed by business no matter how hard you work at it.  You’ll put in years above and beyond and get chucked when it suits them.  I’d taught in Japan for a couple of years and my wife was a teacher.  When the last downsize happened she encouraged me to go take teacher’s college in Ontario.  I didn’t like school, didn’t do particularly well at it, and still think it’s a bit of a holding cell for disenfranchised young citizens (if the voting age was changed to 16, graduation age would quickly follow it).

I’ve learned in many different environments from classrooms to online to machine shops.  In my experience classrooms tend to be more about control than learning.  Every year before I go back into the classroom I listen to Another Brick In The Wall, and then promise never to do that to anyone.  It’s very easy for education to become a mechanical system.

I love learning, and I see my students as people, not statistics.  I loved being Sensei in Japan, being ‘teacher’ in Canada isn’t quite as renowned, but I’m dedicated to my professional practice and believe that what I do matters.

Are you a minority in your field (gender? race? age?)  What’s that like?
I was the oldest in my teacher training program by many years.  Most of my colleagues were career eductionalists (public school straight into university straight into teacher’s college straight into teaching).  I often found myself applying experience to what was a challenging teaching program while the pro-students choked on the work loads.

I’ve often found it difficult to see eye to eye with how academic teachers do things.  But one of the most important things about teachers is that they represent all aspects of society.  If the only teachers students met were academic A+ average robots, many students would be alienated.  It’s important that we have a diverse teaching population for a diverse student population.  Mentors aren’t found in ranks of similar people.

Has being a teacher changed you?
I’ve really enjoyed building a profession knowing that I can commit myself to it and not get dumped because of a spreadsheet.  That sense of security allows me to do an important job well.  It allows me to justify the thousands of dollars I’ve spent on my own qualifications without fear that it may be wasted.  Teaching is a long view profession that I enjoy developing year after year.

There has been a lot of latitude in job options, so I’m never bored.  Teaching hasn’t changed me much, but I’ve finally found a profession that matches my intensity.  If it’s changed me at all, it’s made me a bit more reluctant to argue ideas (believe it or not), while I work out all sides of an issue.  Teaching makes you less likely to jump to conclusions.

Regionally, what’s challenging about your job?
On the edge of rural and urban Canada, I have a great deal of difficulty dealing with students driving to school with large rebel flags in their pickup trucks.  The overt racism can be shocking (though it tends to be repeated from the dinner table and is based more on a lack of experience than a sense of actual hatred).  I enjoy taking as many students as possible on field trips to Toronto – it’s good for them, though many fear they will be murdered.

Anyone spread too thin by teaching?
I tend to jump into breaches, suddenly find myself teaching pilot programs, heading departments, running sports and clubs, presenting at conferences, representing in the union… often all at the same time.  My wife teaches too, and between us I feel a great deal of tension wanting to participate in the full spectrum of teaching related work and keeping up with family commitments.

One of the hardest things I’ve found in teaching (I’m going into year 9) is the gearing.  You go at 110% all semester and then suddenly it’s exams.  In June it then means summer.  The change in gears is stressful, it’s hard to put it down, and it gets awfully heavy if you don’t.

I’ve had half a dozen distinct careers… none have been remotely as emotionally, physically and intellectually exhausting as teaching.  If you’re at work, you’re full on, all the time.  There are no easy days when you feel like taking it slow.  If you’re away, you’re still planning all the work, so you’re never really off.  When you are there, you’re surrounded by people, an unfortunate percentage of whom are of questionable personal hygiene.  You get sick a lot.  You make your family sick a lot.  All while going 100%, all the time.

Are we asking teachers to do too much?
“no average Ontarian would expect a 5.5% pay hike in these economic times, 
just because they took the summer off and refused to negotiate”

  • Average Ontarians don’t have 5+ years of higher education.
  • The vast majority of teachers don’t take the summer off.
  • Teacher’s didn’t refuse the negotiate, the government did and then created an illegal forced contract that has since been struck down.

If their bosses are going to publicly humiliate them and ignore the actual job in favor of public illusions about the profession, then yes, we are asking teachers to do too much without recognizing what the job actually is.  I have been teaching for 8 years and have yet to have a ‘summer off’.  I know some teachers do walk away and do nothing, but many more don’t.  If you’re going to represent a profession by their worst members, no job in the world is going to look appealing.  Teachers don’t mind doing the extra work, they tend to do it for the right reasons (passion), but not if it’s going to be used against them, which it has been.

How do you deal with the bureaucracy?
Cautiously, especially now that I understand I work for a ministry that is run by morally bankrupt vote grabbers who stand for nothing and are willing to toss any ideal they claim to represent into the fire if they think it’ll satisfy the mob.

I’ve found my school admin to be relatively easy to work with.  The vast majority are professional and dedicated to fair, reasonable work.  I’m finding the larger, political structures to be somewhat less trustworthy.

What is the relationship between teachers and the ministry (bureaucracy)?
See above.  No real problems until this year.  We do our job very well, they support us, we look fantastic in UN rankings of world education systems.  Apparently we can trash that if it means winning a single by-election.  Now I am trying not to be hostile, though it is hard when your boss openly lies about you in the media.

Yes, going to school this year has been overshadowed by some very negative politics.  The only thing I find more frustrating are head-in-the-sand teachers who refuse to acknowledge anything about it.  It affects them, but they think they’re above it.  How they can call themselves genuine when they are willfully ignorant of the hypocrisy hurting their profession is annoying.  Meanwhile, they appear to be content letting other people throw themselves into a fight that will benefit them while they do nothing about it.  I wonder how they teach students about democracies and human rights, it isn’t through example.

Do teachers drive students to do well in standardized testing?  Is it a race?
I hate that they do, but they do.  Test scores have dictated where I live, which makes me sad.  Not all schools are created equally, and people grasp at anything to distinguish them.  I’m an advocate of saving the millions we spend a year on testing by cancelling it.  The only way we can get better is by NOT following bad US habits down the toilet.  Simplifying learning into standardized testing is beneath the standard we’ve set for ourselves.

How do you handle parents with unreal expectations?  or an abiding dislike of teachers?
The second bit I get a lot of around this very conservative (never been anything else) riding.  As a general rule I try and deal directly with students, my covenant is with them.  Having said that, I use technology to try and make my teaching as radically transparent as possible.  If there are no surprises, there are usually no complaints.

I also approach teaching trying not to prejudice students.  I’ve seen too many teachers gossip about a student and destroy any chance for them to build a new relationship with a different teacher.  I’ve had very good relationships with students who have been nightmares for others.  I try to avoid that kind of talk – it leads to confrontations with parents.

Even the most hateful parent won’t have a complaint if I’m straight up and direct with the student and them about what a course is and how to do well in it.  The fact that I can talk to them from their own experiences (not just as an Ed-bot) doesn’t hurt either.  It’s a lot easier to commiserate with someone who has been downsized when you’ve experienced it yourself.  The shiny educationalist would find that challenging.

“You don’t know what it’s like out there, you’ve never worked
in the private sector, They expect results! (shudder)”.


CLICK HERE to listen to the original interviews.  As mentioned, once they get settled in and get past the bright, shiny stuff, it gets real!

Here are the questions boiled down.  Feel free to copy and paste in to go face to face with Enright yourself!

Why did you become a teacher?
Are you a minority in your field (gender? race? age?)  What’s that like?
Has being a teacher changed you?
Regionally, what’s challenging about your job?
Anyone else spread too thin by teaching?
Are we asking teachers to do too much?
How do you deal with the bureaucracy?
What is the relationship between teachers and the ministry?
Do teachers drive students to do well in standardized testing?  Is it a race?
How do you handle parents with unreal expectations?  or an abiding dislike of teachers?

Out On Me Mota!

The Connie at the covered bridge in West Montrose

Finally got out for an hour today.  Only about 5°C, but sunny.  With a sweater and my swish new jacket I was comfortable behind the Concours’ fairing.  At speed on back roads you only get a bit of wind around the head.  Your hands are protected by the wing mirrors and the rest of you is behind fairing.  The Connie is comfy in the cold.

The bike feels very light once it’s in motion, very flickable.  I’m coming off a Ninja 650r, so I’m riding 350 more ccs, two more cylinders and one hundred more pounds of bike, but the Concours feels quick.  It doesn’t spring forward with a banshee’s wail in the upper rev range in the startling way that the NInja did, but it’s not nearly so peaky either.  It also has suspension more than up the task of dealing with Canadian roads.  Where the Ninja used to rattle my teeth over a pothole, the Connie manages to swallow the worst of it while still feeling very connected to the pavement.

The Concours pulls with urgency off idle, but that urgency becomes an avalanche of torque as the revs rise.  I gave it the mustard off one stop light and was shocked with how quickly 100km/h appeared.  Both bikes are quick, but I always assumed the bullet shaped, lighter, sportier Ninja would have been the quicker of the two, that stop light torque avalanche made me doubt that.  I ended up looking up the stats on both bikes.

The bikes are coming out of hibernation in Canada – like this
little jewel of a Honda with not a spot of rust on it.

The Ninja 650r does a 12.06s quarter mile at 108.79mph, the Connie edges it the quarter with a 12 flat at 109mph!

While almost identical, how they do it isn’t.  The Ninja needs a lot of throttle and a glib clutch to hook it up in the top half of the rev range, and then judicious gear changes to keep you in the top four thousand RPM through many gears.  It’s a thrilling, high tension rush up through the gears.  With the Concours you drop the clutch at about four thousand RPM and the motor just picks up the bike with no wallow and storms to the redline.  A single gear change gets you up to legal limits.  Where the Ninja had that intoxicating banshee wail, the Concours has a baritone bark that becomes a godlike roll of thunder.  I used to think the Concours inline four wasn’t as happy a creature as the Ninja’s parallel twin, but after hearing the big-four warm and in voice today I’m starting to think she just sings a different tune, but it’s no less happy.

The ride was only about an hour, but I went from constantly comparing the experience to my dear, departed Ninja to wondering just what the Concours is capable of.  As a shakedown after a long winter of maintenance, it has begun the process of rebuilding my confidence in this new machine.

What Does A Self Regulated Person Look Like?

Another one of those why I listen to CBC radio moments this morning.  Day Six interviewed Cody Wilson about his 3d printed gun – a weapon that you can manufacture out of plastic on a 3d printer.  Here is another example of the internet bypassing governments and regulations while radically empowering individuals with information.  If you have a few minutes listen to the conversation, Bambury really tries to get around the subject and Wilson is more than willing to address it head on.

It doesn’t matter what information wants,
in a digital world it is free, this is a simple fact

In a world where information is free whether we want it to be or not, and where the former owners of information (governments, corporations) find that they can’t regulate, control or censor it, where are we left when the means of manufacturing is removed from the moneyed classes as well?

3d printing is tumbling in price.  Wilson posted his gun design online last week only to have to withdraw it this week under a request from the U.S. State Department.  Wilson did withdraw the download, but it doesn’t matter, it’s out there now.  Copies of copies of copies spread across the internet.  No government can stop it, no corporation can prevent it, the information now has a life of its own online.  As Wilson mentions in the interview, this is just information, what people choose to do with it is their choice… and there are many easier ways to get your hands on better guns, especially in America, so if someone is going to use this to commit violence, they are doing it for a very specific political reason.

As a philosophical action, posting these plans online asks questions about a not too distant future where

The dawn of wiki-weapons

you will be able to build anything you like at your desk in much the same way you can print anything you want now.  Printing presses, once the domain of industrial giants, became democratized; small item manufacture is about to go the same way.  What does the world look like when anyone can design (and freely share) a lethal weapon, and anyone could build it without serial numbers or identifying marks of any kind?

They use a term radical libertarianism in the interview.  The digital space is the new frontier, and on that frontier stand the usual early adopters, the same kind of people that colonized North America, with the same mindset; staunch individualists who have moved into the power vacuum of the internet and pushed technology into areas that make traditional powers very nervous.

Is this madness?  Is radically empowered individualism nerve wracking?  I’d say yes, because the vast majority of people, if given that kind of power, wouldn’t do anything good with it.  While most of us are waiting to be told what to do with our new found freedom of information, radicals like Cody Wilson are taking what is already at hand and acting on it.

To paraphrase a famous evolutionary biologist, the future is not only stranger than we imagine, it’s stranger than we can imagine.  I don’t know what a world where anyone can build whatever they want looks like, but as Wilson said, short of turning off the internet, you can’t stop the spread of information, and the internet has quickly made itself essential in this new age.  Turning it off isn’t really an option any more, and should we want to?

Motorcycle Media

I’ve been perusing the youtubes for motorcycle related videos and came across a couple of humdingers.  The first is BLAZER, a short (16mins) motorcycle mood piece based on a quote from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  If you’ve got the patience for it, Blazer builds from a joyous ride in the country to that moment we’ve all experienced where the machine you love becomes your worst enemy.  The conversation between the biker and his old Triumph is one anyone with an older and/or dodgy vehicle has had.

Don’t be internet impatient and you’ll enjoy where this goes.  The production values are excellent.

The second is another atmospheric piece (I’m a media arts teacher, what can I say?  I love moody artsie shorts!)   This one is about a bike mechanic in London (UK).  It follows not only his work but his ethos.  This piece not only follows the art of the mechanic, but it also follows the art of the craftsman.  Once again, if you’re an internet twitch addict you’ll find this long and boring, but if you can lose yourself in a narrative, this one is lovely.

video missing (and since I didn’t title this years ago, I can’t find another link now 🙁

The next is another fantastic video production that catches the raw, wild feeling of riding.  Cafe bike based and focused on friends completing a bike journey together, the video uses strong visual editing and audio to put you into their saddles.

This video uses music as effectively as BLAZER to put you into a motorcycle riding frame of mind.

If you’re looking for a more documentary approach, the Classic Motorcycles documentary series will give you an accessible review of the beginnings of such classic British marquees as Ariel.

(edit:  not sure if this is that – no specific title so again I’m flying blind)

Open these up in the full youtube window and you’ll get suggestions down the right side about similar videos.  You’ll discover a wealth of motor cycle culture well beyond the frantic, herd minded focus on current motorcycle news.

Sourcing Parts and Kawasaki Master Brake Cylinders

The rear brake light I ordered on Amazon in December decided to show up today.   I’m going to pass it on to Jeff’s BMW cafe racer project and I think I’m done with four month delivery times from Amazon.  Time to source my parts elsewhere I think.  I’m curious to see how soon the rear brake light I got instead from eBay takes.  I have a feeling it’s going to make the Amazon Marketplace delivery times look sketchy.

Meanwhile, a coolant overflow tank and master brake cylinder kit arrived for the Concours in a timely fashion from Fortnine.  I wish they’d start stocking customization pieces like those all in one LED lighting systems.

The tank looks like it’ll fit nicely on the battery case.  It isn’t as big as the stock one, but the stock one isn’t that big anyway.  I’ve routed the coolant overflow tube and it fits nicely down the spine of the bike.  Where it’s placed means the overflow pipe can stick out the side and not dump in the path of the rear tire.

The master brake cylinder kit took a bit of work to get into.  Getting it off the bike was easy enough, but getting the compression ring out took some fiddling.  I’ve replaced the rubbers on the cylinder and I’m ready to put it back together again, but the kit came with 2 copper rings that don’t seem to be on the original, so I’m going to figure out where they go before I reassemble.

Brake handle and electronic switch removal was straightforward.  The only tricky bit was the snap ring that holds in the master cylinder.  Compressing the cylinder while getting a pair of compression pliers in there
to squeeze the ring into the groove on the cylinder is swear worthy.

The old outer gasket was in pieces before I even started pulling it out.  Rubbers don’t typically last 24 years.
Fancy people pay for that kinda patina – mine comes virtue of the bike being 23 years old and Canadian.

The old gaskets and spring on the cylinder

New gaskets and springs ready to install – as soon as I figure out where the copper rings go.

I don’t see copper rings on there anywhere.  I’m still not sure why the
All Balls Racing master cylinder kit has them, but have them it does.

from Blogger

Drowning In Christmas

It’s that time of year again.  Guidance has sent out the annual email imploring for teachers to keep an eye out for students who are being crushed under the weight of Christmas.  Students aren’t the only ones.

The people giddiest about Christmas seem to be the ones who least need it.  The giant family Christmases enjoyed by big happy families do a great job of emphasizing what many others don’t have.  The kids most excited about presents are the ones most likely to receive them.  As a socio-economic division, Christmas does a wonderful job of reminding many people of what they don’t have.

When you see students getting more and more brittle and tense about the oncoming holiday, you have to wonder what they are looking forward to when that last bell rings and they are ‘on holiday’ for two weeks.

The manic happiness that a seeming majority feel at this time of year drives many of us who are just hoping to survive Christmas underground.

I received a lifeline in an unexpected place this year.  At yoga on Monday after Shavasana our instructor talked about the kind of ‘radical self love’ that comes from taking a moment for yourself during this highly pressurized holiday season to find calmness.  In looking after yourself you end up looking after those around you.

Christmas is all about giving, but sometimes the best thing you can give is taking a moment to restore your own sanity.  Everyone around you will thank you for it.

One Bike To Rule Them All!

I think I need 3 bikes, a road bike, an off road/scrappy bike and a touring bike that lets me 2 up easily.  The wee garage would easily swallow this stable.  The Ninja was $3500.  I think I could cover the other two for $4500.  Keeping the bike stable at half what our cheapest car cost seems reasonable.

The Ninja is the sport bike… $3500
This Kawasaki Concourse was $2500 in the summer.  With a pillion seat-back it would make a great long distance shared riding bike.

If I could pick up a good dual purpose bike for under $2000, I’d be able to fill out the stable for about $8000 (£5000).  This KLR fits the bill, though I’d be longing to paint it (not a problem).

Unless I can find a way to throw legs over as many bikes as I can, I can’t see another way to get an idea of how various bikes ride.  Finding a bike that does everything is a fool’s errand.  Bikes that claim to do this are a series of compromises.  The key to riding a variety of styles is to ride a variety of bikes.
The first bike that would suffer in a diversified garage would be the somewhat sensible all round Ninja.  In its place I’d be looking for a naked streefighter… a Triumph Speed Triple would be on my short list.
Motorbike show NOTE:  I had a chat with Riders Plus Insurance.  They insured me in my first year of riding and were helpful and efficient.  This time round I was curious about how insuring multiple bikes work.  They told me that buying a second bike means you’re doubling your insurance payments.  This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me as I can only ride one bike at a time.  I expected something like you’re insured at the rate of whatever the highest cost bike is plus 10% for the paperwork on the other bike.  What I was told was that you get a 10% discount on your second bike and pay another full set of insurance on it… which makes owning multiple bikes not really financially viable, so that dream goes down the toilet.

My First Honda: Fireblade!

I’ve had a pretty diverse group of R&R  (repair & recover) motorcycles to date.  My first R&R bike was the Kawasaki Concours ZG1000 back in 2014.  Purchased for eight hundred bucks and cut out of long grass to get it out of the field it was in, the Concours got sorted over the winter and put back on the road where it took us to Indianapolis and put over twenty thousand kilometres on it before I sold it on for what I purchased it for this past summer.

The Concours became my riding bike and I sold on the Ninja.  Eventually a KLX250 off road bike came into the garage, but didn’t last long as I struggled to find ways to use it in Ontario: land of no fun.  That led to a too-quick purchase of a Yamaha XS1100 from an entirely dodgy kid that led me into the headaches of sorting ownership.

So far I’ve been able to make money on my R&R projects, Shed and Buried style, but I don’t make it easy on myself.  Both the Concours and the XS1100 were big, four carburetor bikes with spaghetti loads of vacuum tubes and complex wiring.  I’ve taken my time looking for the next project and tried to look for something simple, air cooled and single cylinder, but bikes like that don’t come up often.  As the summer fades and winter approaches, it was time to commit to a new R&R project.

This 1997 Honda CBR900RR Fireblade came up on Facebook buy and sell.  I’ve found the local nature of Facebook’s marketplace offers up interesting opportunities that you don’t find on the hardened semi-pro sellers of Kijiji and Autotrader, where you are much more likely to find shady characters who sell a lot of crap.  This twenty-two year old non-running Honda got me curious enough to contact the seller in Alliston.

It turns out the bike had gotten tangled in a divorce and was then sidelined.  It was eventually used to settle debts between the estranged couple, but now it belonged to a non-rider with no mechanical experience who just wanted it gone.  Her new partner was trying to sell it for her, but with it not running he wasn’t getting any calls.  A late nineties CBR in safetied, running condition was going for about $4000, he was asking $1200 for this one as is.

We exchanged a number of emails, both of us cautious as we’d both met idiots from online sales (it turns out the internet is actually full of idiots).  As we got to know each other I asked increasingly direct questions – was is repainted to hide crash damage? (no, the former owner didn’t like the stickered stock look)  – why is it in this state?  (where I got the bad karma backstory this bike was unfortunately wrapped up in).  The last problem to solve was how to get it here.

During our give and take the seller offered me the bike for $1200 instead of $1300, and then said he could trailer it down to my place for $100, so I got it at asking price with a $100 delivery charge.  The bike showed up and we had a good chat and ended up being given a milk crate full of pears from his parent’s farm too.  Bonus Honda pears – good deal.  This low mileage, non-runner seemed like a steal upon first look.  The paint’s a bit rough, but for a 20+ year old low mileage bike, she cleaned up a treat.

I was told the bike was a non-runner due to the carbs.  As I got into the bike mechanically I figured I’d look at the fuel system as a whole rather than only looking solely at the carb since I didn’t know how long it had been sitting.  I’m glad I did.  The fuel tank had a worrying amount of rust in it.  I talked to people on the Practical Sportsbike Magazine Facebook group (one of my go-to bike magazines and a great place to talk to DIY types) and got suggestions around various acid etching and chemical routes.

I went out to Canadian Tire aiming to get some industrial grade hydrochloric acid but found Metal Rescue Rust Remover, a water based environmentally friendly solution that neutralizes rust and prevents more from forming.  It also helps the tank retain its structural integrity whereas acid eats holes in it.  My first go at a motorcycle tank cleaning (I’ve been lucky so far and not had to deal with it) went well.  I left the chemical in the tank for about six hours before recovering it back into the bottle (it can be reused).  With the tank sorted it was time to look at the rest.

The vacuum operated fuel pump in the bottom of the tank was clogged and a mess, but it too cleaned up nicely.  With the big end of the fuel system sorted out, I turned to the carbs.

Compared to the buried in the frame carbs on the Concours and XS1100, the Honda’s are a joy to access.  Having seen the mess that was the rest of the fuel system, I figured the carbs were crammed full of guck, and they were.  The only other issues seemed to be more about mechanical cack-handedness than wear.

Once on the bench I’ve been able to isolate some obvious problems.  I found a spring laying under the carbs on the engine case.  If you’re fixing a carb it generally helps to use all the parts.  I also found that one of the choke pins were broken, so the choke was only working on three of the four carbs, and the choke cable itself wasn’t attached correctly, so the choke was only moving about 2/3rds of the distance it should.  These are all things that would prevent the bike from starting properly.

Yesterday I took the float bowls off and had a look at the bottom end of the carbs.  The ethanol in modern fuel is not a good mix with older fuel systems, like carburetors.  Not only can it eat away at the rubber and gaskets in older systems not designed for it, but it can also leave varnish, and worst of all, it’s a water absorber, so it can lead to corrosion in older, gravity fed systems.  If there was ever evidence of modern ethanol based fuels making a mess of a carburetor, it was here in this old Fireblade, where every carb bowl was worse off than the one before it.

Thanks to some judicious use of carb-cleaner, they cleaned up nicely, but does ethanol ever do a job on mechanical fuel delivery systems!  Fortunately, if I stick with super unleaded from most stations in Canada, it means I’m not running any in this old bike from now on.

I run super in my bikes anyway because they’re very fuel efficient anyway so it doesn’t cost much and, at least on the Tiger, the power commander means I can maximize power out of it.  For the Honda or any other carb fueled bike, you should be running super just to stay away from the ethanol.

Today I’m going to pull the tops of the carbs and have a look at the state of things (I’m hoping better than below) and finish cleaning them.  I’m also going to see if I can fix that broken choke pin on carb 4 or else I’m going to have to track down the part.  Bikebandit has it for $50US, but no one else seems to have one available.

There are other bits and pieces in this poorly looked after carb that are suspect.  Rather than use boot clamps to attach the carb to the engine, the muppet who owned it before me appears to have put some kind of rubber sealant on them and attempted to ‘glue’ them to the block.  This is stupid in all sorts of ways.  Bits of this rubber seal would deteriorate in the gasoline rich air-fuel mix and get sucked into the engine, and there is no mechanical connection ensuring the carbs are tight and leak free to the engine.  For a system that runs on vacuum, this is a disaster.

The boots have cleaned up nicely, so I also need to source some ring clamps for them.  The Honda specific ones are hard to find, but I’m hoping I can find some aircraft grade ones that are an engineering match and easier to source.  Oetiker Clamps, ironically based in Alliston where the Honda came from, do some nice, high quality options that I should be able to fit.

So much of mechanics come back to common sense.  The guy who owned this before seems to have had a startling lack of it.  I’m hoping for $1200+$500 in parts I can get this Honda humming and ride it for a year before seeing if I can double my money on it (unless we bond).  Safetied bikes of similar vintage with twice the mileage are going for four grand.  Even with all the work done so far, the bike hasn’t cost me a penny in parts and I may be within spitting distance of sorting out this abused Fireblade.


One of the tricky bits of working on old bikes is getting the documentation you need to work on them accurately.  The internet is a gold mine for this.  If you’re working on a late ’90s Honda CBR900RR Fireblade, you’ll find this handy:

1996/7 Honda CBR900RR Owner’s Manual:

It has lots of good technical graphics in addition to all the specs you need.


I was also able to source the Haynes Manual for this bike from Fortnine on sale for only $35.  Most other places were over $40US, so finding that on sale was a good first step in this project.

At the moment I’ve got emails out to The Bike Yard in Caledon and Oetiker Clamps in Alliston.  With any luck I can source the bits I need and have this Honda purring even before the snow starts to fly, then I can spend the winter sorting out the other fluids and maintenance before it hits the road in the spring.

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