The Professional

When an under funded amateur produces better results than professionals,
it calls into question the idea of where we find excellence.

I recently watched an interesting film on the Dakar Rally. In this film a skilled amateur takes on the most challenging endurance race in the world. Most competitors in this race are corporately funded professionals with teams of mechanics and loads of extra equipment, all designed to mitigate failure and ensure the success of the brand they represent. By contrast this guy struggled to find enough money to go, found a second hand motorcycle and proceeded to complete a race that many of those funded, enabled professionals did not. It got me thinking about where we find human excellence. I suspect it isn’t behind a professional pay-cheque.


The Blanchard quote in the picture above notes the difference between curiosity driven experience and results driven experience.  Curiosity might get you started, but at some point you’re probably going to want to judge your skills by harsher criteria than merely whether or not you feel like doing it.  Competition does this, but it does it in a very binary fashion producing as many winners as it does losers, especially in sports.

The professional athletes who perform in that binary competitive environment are often trotted out as examples of excellence.  When someone has a certain inclination everyone else gets quite excited by their talent, more so if it appears easy for them.  When a particularly coordinated young person shows an affinity for a sport they tend to get an awful lot of support even though the vast majority of them will never earn a penny playing it.

The few who break into the moneyed world of professional athletics tend to be so specialized, supported and hyped that their being there is more a matter of investment than it is of skill.  Moneyball does a good job of revealing this hype.  A draft pick with buzz can leverage ridiculous sums of money even though their fundamental skills (as show in statistics) are suspect.  Like most human activities, it’s what others think about you rather than what you are that matters.

I often wonder where professional athletes fell in society at any other time in history.  Within the confines of a carefully constructed game that they are ridiculously compensated for they are highly motivated and virtually infallible, but in more open ended, rigorous situations without the support and confined success criteria where would they be?

Games themselves are crafted to reduce chance and focus on very specific skills.  The less chance the better, really. Professional athletes are the people with natural reflexes and strength who are best able to thrive in that very restricted and focused environment.  We admire their commitment, but it’s a very blinkered existence that they live.

You hang on, no matter what, even when you shouldn’t

Watching something like the Dakar Rally puts the limited nature of most professional sports into context.  It is typical for more than half the competitors not to finish the race at all.  An average of two people die in the event each time it is run.  Attempting to do this race, even with full sponsorship, the latest equipment and years of training, is dangerous.  Trying to complete the race on a shoestring budget, alone, with second hand parts seems mad, but Dream Racer points to an aspect of human excellence we really don’t see in professional athletes.

At the end of the film the rider is in tears.  He is exhausted, battered and elated.  He has finished this gruelling race, but he has done something that dozens of fully supported professionals could not.  I find something like this a much better example of human potential than a win by a group of wickedly overpaid specialists versus another group of wickedly overpaid, myopic specialists.

Our societal love of professional athletes has wormed its way into the classroom as well.  We limit learning to clearly defined criteria and limit chance whenever possible.  We praise those students who find school easy whether it be through socio-economic advantage, family circumstance or natural ability.  With BYOD we encourage sponsorship of advantaged students and then praise their superiority over others (attend any graduation ceremony and enjoy the litany of awards all going to the same students).  We don’t value effort or imagination over defined results and we glorify instruction that emphasizes clarity and limited outcomes over non-linear, discovery based, often unexpected learning.  Bafflingly, we don’t rate learning itself, we rate static achievement.  The student who learns more and improves the most is inferior to the student who already knew the material and put in half an effort but scored higher on tests.

The professional student, like the professional athlete, is a myopic specialist who excels at a very limited set of skills.  Beyond the walls of a classroom those good-student habits won’t get them far in a world that demands resiliency, creativity and agility.  The most successful student is what we are trying to produce, and that student, like a professional athlete, trains exclusively in a specific set of skills in order to hit restricted, carefully defined outcomes.

Maybe that’s why watching something like Dream Racer resonated with me.  It was a man battling real-world limitations to enter a challenging competition that offers failure as the likely outcome.  When he achieves success in spite of everything against him, I got teary too.  Too bad we can’t offer failure as a likely option any more in the classroom.  It would make success that much sweeter and produce students who are genuinely proud of their accomplishments.

Concours Carburetors: Prepping for rebuild

There are three rails holding the four carbs together on a Kawasaki ZG1000 Concours.  Two of them are structural and the other one holds the choke mechanism in place.  Taking them off a twenty two year old carburetor can be trying.  I ended up having to cut a line in one of the retaining bolts and put some heat on it to get it to let go, but all three pieces are out now.

With the four carbs separated I’m now waiting on the rebuild kits.  When they arrive I’ll rebuild each carb one at a time (so I don’t mix up parts).  All four carbs are cleaned up (a touch of carb cleaner and a toothbrush got 22 years of grime off) and awaiting some new gaskets, float adjusting and rebuilding.  While in there I’ll make sure the needles are in good shape and everything has the right geometry.

The first one will be exploratory and slow, by the fourth one I’ll be able to rebuild these things in my sleep!

The four carbs separated and cleaned.   Taking a twenty two year old carb apart takes some patience, and some heat.

Cleaned up and ready for a rebuild.
No lost parts this time – everything labelled and organized.
The choke rod (up and down to the right) partially removed – each carb
links to this plate which moves them all when the choke is pulled.

It only takes a bit of carb cleaner and a tooth brush to get the crud off. I blew it dry with the air line afterwards.
Caustic carb cleaner (it melted two pairs of latex gloves – for goodness sake, wear gloves!) isn’t recommended on the insides
– I’ll use a bit of gas and a clean toothbrush to make sure the innards are perfect when I get in there.

Some Kawasaki Concours ZG1000 carburetor links:

Pulling the Carbs

The Concours’ carburetor has become cursed by demons.  These carbs tend to not come back from sitting very well, though last year they didn’t have this problem.  When I put them away they were running well, but no longer.

Yesterday I pulled the tank again and went over the vacuum tubes in detail – no breaks, no problems.  After putting it all back together again I took it out and had the same hesitation on throttle and back firing.  The bike feels seriously down on power too.

I was hoping to send the carbs down to Shoodaben Engineering in Florida for a spa session with Steve.  His prices are more than fair, but after having an economist (whatever the hell that is) as a Prime Minister for eight years, Canada’s dollar is in the toilet and my $500US carb repair would cost north of $800 with shipping, customs and the exchange rate.  I paid $800Cdn for the bike in the first place.

So I’m rebuilding carbs!

In spite the many terrifying stories of carb removal on a Concours, I found the process pretty straight forward (thanks to Steve’s video).  Warm up the rubber on the airbox to carb, they get nice and soft, and you wiggle the whole thing free.  With the carb on the bench, parts are ordered ($200Cdn for 4 kits – 1 for each carb) and I’m beginning to break it down to rebuild each.

There is always one more thing…

The open road awaits, and it’s still waiting…

Recent frustrations with the twenty two year old Concours had me saying yesterday, “I like doing mechanical work, but sometimes I just want to go ride a fucking motorcycle.”  It was a day in the mid teens Celsius (almost 60 Fahrenheit), and the sound of motorcycle engines could be heard on distant roads.  After spending the winter redoing the brakes, wheels and bearings, I got the Concours back on its feet only to find the carburetor has gone off.  The bike is running lean, not fueling nicely and back-fires when coming off throttle.  Instead of going out for a ride on one of the first nice days of the year, I was popping and swearing my way up and down the road by my house trying to get the carb to play nice.

Some vacuum diagrams on there, but not where they go.  Another
suggestion for lean burning/back firing conditions (which I have) are
the air cut valve (highlighted).

Some research into Concours carbs produced a baffling array of opinion and vitriol.  It appears that no one who works at a dealership has the experience or time to do carbs properly any more, and the carbs on the Concours are fantastically complicated.

I’ve done carbs before on cars, and labyrinthine vacuum tubes aren’t a problem when you have a diagram to follow, but Clymers doesn’t include one in their manual (unless it’s for California bikes), and the Kawasaki diagrams show bits of vacuum diagram spread across the valve head blowup, the carb blow up, the fuel tank blowup, air box blow up and others.  Needless to say, trying to chase vacuum connections across half a dozen diagrams isn’t easy.

Today I’m taking the fairing I just put on back off, removing the gas tank (again) and trying to make sense of the vacuum tubes.  If nothing obvious presents itself it’ll be time to remove the carbs and go deeper.  I just did something similar on the XS1100 in the fall.  I haven’t had time to work on it since because I’m spending all my garage time on the Concours.

I’m starting to think one project bike is enough.  The other one needs to be modern, dependable and there when I need it so I can, sometimes, you know, just go ride a damned bike.

Sources for Concours carburetor and vacuum information:

As usual, CoG is the place to go first:,11914.0.html

CoG wisdom on Concours carbs:
Normally it is caused by dirty carbs and and not being sync’d properly. The dirty part can be from just a few days of sitting due to the ethanol evaporating….

it’s very likely during the “cleaning” they did not dissassemble the air-cut valves from the 2 carb bodies prior to spraying with volatile carb cleaner. internal to each of those housings is a very delicate diphragm, not unlike the ones that lift the slides….during this process they damaged them, and at the least, never cleaned the rod attached to those diphragms that during decell, when the diphragm moves, opens a port to add fuel to the intake tract to preclude/prevent a “lean burn popping” upon decell. That is the sole purpose of those 2 valves, when they don’t function, you get this result.

Check the vacumn stuff like you already mentioned. I had a back fire for a while, peeked under the tank, found the rubber cap on the #3 carb was split. Just for the fun of it, replaced all the hoses while there, good to go now.

You Cannot do away with the reed valves entirely unless you tap the ports in the actual valve cover and thread in some set screws. The easier way here is to leave the reed valves and metal covers on the valve cover, and remove all the vacuum hosing associated with the pair valve. Go to your local auto parts store, and pick up three 5/8″ “heater core block off caps”. They look like big vacuum caps, and also some 3/16″ regular vacuum caps. Using the 5/8″ Cap off the 2 ports left on the valve cover, and insert one backwards into the airbox hole. Use the 3/16″ to block the intake ports.

Carbon KLX

Never a fan of the sticker covered MX look, I don’t care for
big, white, fridge-like panels designed to take numbers.

I can’t seem to own a bike without re-imagining it.  The Ninja went from flat black to blue and orange.  The Concours is continuing a transformation into gold and crimson.  Now it’s the KLX’s turn.

The white plastics on the KLX look cheap, appliance-like and nasty.  To rectify that I started looking for carbon pieces but they tend to be focused on sports bikes and I couldn’t find any KLX sets.  

I then looked for replacement plastics I could experiment with, but they aren’t cheap.  My next stop was sticker sets, which tend to be even more juvenile than the original graphics set-up (though the black metal one looked alright).  Why is everyone fixated on death imagery (skulls, bones, flaming effigies, etc.) on motorcycles?

A short term fix is to just focus on the offending pieces
(the headlight surround, fork protectors and rear side panels).

Amazing how five panels makes the bike look so different.

Longer term I’d like to learn how to form carbon fibre panels, but short term I’ve found a number of cheaper fixes to my aesthetics problem.

Canadian Tire sells the Dupli-Colour carbon fibre kit for about forty bucks.  It comes with two colours and a patterning cloth.  I should be able to sort out the natty white panels (two front fork guards, the headlight surround and the rear side panels) with that kit.  It’s a cheap, short term fix.

I was reading about a vinyl wrap project Performance Bike UK was doing last night.  They did the whole bike in vinyl, but you can pick up carbon fibre look vinyl for next to nothing.  Maybe I should try that instead of the paint.  After some looking up on I found some carbon fiber look vinyl wrap that will let me try out what PB did with their Suzuki on a smaller scale.  I also found some mirrors on hand that are much less derpy than the stock KLX mirror, and the

$45 for shipping on a $27 part?  Really Amazon?

price seemed reasonable until I got to checkout – this Amazon ‘retailer’ is charging $45 in shipping for a $27 part.  They can’t be selling too many of those.  Fortunately I found a similar mirror with reasonable shipping costs and ended up getting a body colour mirror, 4 rolls of carbon look vinyl and a vinyl applicator for the same price as that over inflated shipping price, taxes and delivery included.  Amazon is no longer Amazon, it’s a whole bunch of sometimes shady online sellers.  It’s more like ebay than Amazon of old.

With more cash on hand I’d like to swap out knobblies for something more road focused and dualsport/scramblery.  Having the knobblies around for intentionally deep off-roading will be good, but I think I’d use the bike a lot more if I could get places without the tires slapping the pavement like wet squid suckers.

Canada’s Motorcycle has Shinko 705s in the right sizes for under one hundred bucks each.  Two hundred and fifty bucks in and my carbon fibre KLX will be a step closer to the more road friendly scrambler I’ve been dreaming of.

Further research unearthed some pretty cool options.  This twin light headlamp seems pretty Airwolf cool.

Acerbis does a variety of front ends for enduro/dual sport bikes, like this Cyclops one.  


I installed Counteract balancing beads on the slowly-being-rebuilt Concours today.  If you’re impatient you’ll find the installation process a bit tedious, but the technology sure is cool.

Some have complained of liquid based self-balancing processes damage the tire, but the Counteract beads are micro-sized, synthetic beads that migrate to the out of balance side of the tire through static and centrifugal force.  Since they’re internal it means there are no unsightly weights stuck to my lovely new tires.  The claim is that these beads work better than weights as they adapt to the changing conditions throughout the life of the tire.  I’m hoping that they work as well as advertised.

On a cold, windy Saturday in February, I put the beads in through the valve stem using the provided small, plastic bottle, you keep gently squeezing air into the tube which pushes the beads into the tire…

The kit comes with valve stems and fancy caps as well.  Once I’ve had the new tires out on the road I’ll update this with an assessment of how well they work.

Update:  it’s late March and I’ve had a couple of chances to take the bike out.  I’m surprised at how well the beads work.  The wheels start off smooth and only seem to get smoother the faster you go.  Once I’ve gotten the carbs sorted I’ll be able to give a more accurate description, but early indicators are good.

Cabin Fever

I might be getting a bit jumpy waiting for spring…

I tried starting up the KLX on Wednesday when it was 15°C.  I thought I might ride across town to pick up my son from daycare, but I couldn’t get it going.

Today I got it going by giving it a blast of quick start with the air cleaner box open.

Consumerist Learning

I tried carrots, sticks and begging. I offered repeated hands-on opportunities with thousands of dollars of equipment (that I maintain just for their use), access to the latest industry standard training methods and information, flexible deadlines, and just about everything else imaginable. We’re at semester’s end and I’m exhausted trying to get students to take an active role in their learning.

As consumerist thinking gets more deeply embedded in our culture more and more students think I’m some kind of educational store clerk who isn’t doing a good job of serving them. The only relationship they can understand me having with them in the classroom is that of an employee. This isn’t only a student perception. Many of the powers that be would love to see a de-professionalization of the teaching profession (it’s cheaper!). This is a current social trend.

Disaffected students looking to control how I assess them fall into two camps: the risk averse academic and an exciting new kind of student: the five-oh (a term coined by seniors at my school for a student who is aiming for a grade in the forties because they know it’ll be rounded up to a pass). You don’t have to do an awful lot to get a mark in the forties. You can miss weeks of class, not hand in major assignments and fail tests but still pull off a forty. You also tend to do a wonderful job of poisoning a classroom when this is your approach.

What drove me around the bend this week was several of these poisonous five-oh’s approaching me to complain about their term grade. One seventeen year old who had missed three weeks of class and failed to hand in multiple unit summatives, all while playing games on the class PC and ignoring instruction even when he was there, approached me to demand an explanation for his terrible grade. It was somehow my fault that he categorically refused to do anything useful. I suggested we look at his participation in the current group-study project for the final exam. He hadn’t even signed up for it – he is nothing if not consistent. I told him something that’s as much a survival mechanism for me as it should be a consolation for him:

“look, you don’t care. You seem to be OK with that, and I can live with it too, but not if you’re going to come up here whining about grades you haven’t earned. The grade you have is charity, but you come up here demanding more. If you’d have put in any kind of effort at all I’d be doing back-flips trying to help you, but you didn’t, and you still aren’t. Your grade is reflection of your terrible work ethic. I don’t know what you know, but what I’ve seen suggests it isn’t much. That’s also a result of your work ethic. Are we done here?”

It turns out we were done there.

Less bothersome because they don’t actively work to dismantle the entire learning apparatus of education is the risk-averse academic. I’ve run into ‘you don’t teach properly‘ frustrated student thinking before. This is inevitably spouted by a relatively successful student who has been taught to be a passive consumer of learning in an overly structured and systemic classroom. These students tend to be academic kids who have figured out the game, and like the five-oh, they are looking to exploit it while doing as little as possible themselves. You give me pointless, linear, obvious information, I consume it then regurgitate it for you. You think I’m very smart and give me an ‘A’.

Marking exams the other day I came across just such a ‘you didn’t teach us anything’, they got this in the response section:
“I didn’t really teach you?  I have provided you with gigs and gigs of material and thousands of dollars of hands on equipment in an environment designed to support everyone from experienced to brand new learners. If you think learning is someone putting ideas in your head you’ve misunderstood learning (telling people what to think is indoctrination). You learn when you internalize information, and that happens best when you are the one discovering it.  You can’t own knowledge you haven’t earned.  Learning isn’t a handout, you’re not a passive consumer of learning, it’s an active endeavour on the part of the student.  If you’re waiting for someone else to tell you what to think, you aren’t learning anything at all.”
This is a relatively successful student who refused to make mistakes and sat there passively, waiting for clarity. Clarity means getting concise, linear directions that make clear a pointless exercise (so you can follow the pattern and get an ‘A’). Guess what his parents do for a living? Yep, they’re teachers. Fortunately for him (if not for learning itself), he’ll find many teachers more than happy to play the game with him. I encourage and reward failure and admire brave attempts at understanding stochastic processes that defy easy description. I guess I’m a nightmare of a teacher.
Between the insidious five-ohs and the ever-so-smart risk-aversers, I’m exhausted.  I’d day dream (as other high school teachers do) about teaching in post secondary, but this consumerist thinking has infected it too, with helicopter parents demanding to know what they’re paying for when their university child (in their twenties) gets a low grade.  I’d prefer to teach high school anyway, you get to help a student find their way from the ground up.  When it works it’s very rewarding.
Thank goodness ‘tech millionaires’ (the same people who have monetized your attention) have a solution to one of the last non-economic human relationships left in Western culture (I bet it involves monetizing the teacher-student relationship somehow!)

You’d think that teaching an optional subject like computer technology would get you out of the five-oh infection, but thanks to guidance dropping kids into a class they have no background in just to fill up their time tables, and the five-ohs themselves seeking out courses that they think will be easy (computer engineering?  that’s video games, right?), I’ve had a rough semester.  The next one doesn’t  look much better since I’ve already found half a dozen students parachuted into senior computer engineering classes without the required requisite (computer engineering?  that’s playing video games, right?).


I’ve spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of my own time getting comp-tech certified as a teacher and building a department up. This year is the first time I’m teaching a full schedule of computer-technology courses, but half way through it I find myself wishing I’d never left teaching English. I thought that teaching computer technology (a passion I’ve had since I was a child) would be thrilling, a chance to help other kids like I was develop into capable engineers and technicians, but between risk averse passivity and the rising tide of learning poisonous five-ohs, I’m left gasping for air.

Motorcycle 3d Modelling

I’m teaching a class on 3d modelling in Blender next semester, so what better way to practice than on my partially taken apart for maintenance ZG1000?

The model was made with the Occipital Structure Sensor 3d Scanner.  I’m trying different editing programs.  I used the 3d Builder integrated into Windows 10 to edit out the extra bits captured by the scanner.  It’s quite easy to use and has some pretty good editing tools.  If you’re trying 3d modelling for the first time it’s not a bad place to start (and it’s included in Windows 10!).

The file is shared on Sketchfab, which I find to be an easy way to do presentation editing and sharing of a 3d model.  We’re using Blender in class, so I’ll be cranking out some Blender motorcycle models in the next couple of weeks.  The trick is going to be to get them looking life like rather than digitally modelled.  I wonder how you model patina…