Dream Project Motorbikes

Some dream project bike builds…

Stock (before)

1970s Honda CB750 Cafe Racer Mod

I’d take the standard CB750, strip it down, refinish it and modify it into a cafe racer along the lines of this Dime City Cycle build.

I’d modernize the pieces that need modernizing.  This isn’t a period remake, it’s about creating something new with old bones.

A cafe racer build (after)

The CB750 that Dime City put together gives you an idea of what could be done in customizing an old CB750, but I’d do something different.

I’d hope to be able to pick up the bike for less than a couple of grand and then put at least that much into it again as I stripped it and put together a personally customized cafe racer.  The CB is a big bike, which would turn into a bike cafe racer for a big guy.

Being Austin – build my own Mondo Enduro Machine

Austin on his mighty Suzuki DR350

Find a Suzuki DR-350 or DR-400, hopefully one that’s been sleeping in a barn somewhere, clean off the straw and strip it down to nuts and bolts.  

In rebuilding it I’ll not only end up with a dependable long distance off roader, but I’ll also have laid hands on the entire thing before it inevitably breaks somewhere far from anywhere, meaning I’ll know how to get it going again.

Long distance and modernizing modifications would include a long range tank, updated suspension and an engine rebuild with performance carbs and a re-bored engine. 

Find a 1990s DR350 Suzuki dual sport
bike and prep it for long distance off
road work, Mondo Enduro-ize it!

The goal would be a minimalist go-anywhere machine that isn’t all about branding.  So many adventure bikes are all about the BMW-ness or whatever.  This bike would be a capable, light-weight all rounder that isn’t about advertising but all about going anywhere.

Anime Dreams: taking the bike I loved as a kid and building an anime custom

The bike that was on my wall when I was younger was the Honda Interceptor.  With a complex, powerful v-4 engine and the sharp edged eighties styling, this bike was the bomb.

I’d want to do a rebuilt / customization that keeps the feel of the bike but also feeds into the Japanese animation fixation I’ve had forever.

Influencing the build would be Akira and Robotech.  BBB-Bike has already done a Cyclone customization, which is a bit more comicon than I’d be aiming for.  

My Interceptor would still be an Interceptor, but with little tech-touches that bring out the anime in it.  LED lights, a customized, anime inspired seat/rear cowling and mirrors, that sort of thing.

Real Restoration: a Triumph Bonneville the same age I am

an new old Triumph Bonneville

Henry Cole did a restoration on a ’70 Triumph Bonneville in the last season of The Motorbike Show on ITV (not sure why ITV isn’t offering a webpage for that show, they should be).

What they started with

Henry and Peter Thorne (the restorer), of Aspire Restorations, take what can only be described as a complete wreck (a frame and fairly useless lump of engine) and completely rebuilt it.  It ends up pretty much being a new 1970 Triumph Bonneville.

I’d like to find a British bike built on the same day I was born (in the UK) and do a restoration on it, then we could both age gracefully together.

Changing Motorcycle Fork Oil

A three legged Tiger.

Changing fork oil turned out to be pretty straightforward.  The most time consuming part is removing any niggly body panels so you can get at the forks themselves.   Make sure you loosen the top fork plug before you remove the forks as you need the forks firmly held while you do that and the clamps on the bike are designed to do just that.  Once you’re there, undoing the clamps that hold the forks means they’ll slide right out, so be ready for that.

The spring on the Tiger is a
progressive rate unit – it is
sprung tighter the lower it

Once on the work bench it was a matter of taking off the rubber fork protectors and cleaning up the unit.  I then slowly removed the top of the fork using a 22mm ratchet while keeping pressure on.  The book said the cap is under ‘considerable’ pressure from the spring, but with the fork fully extended it released quite gently.  With the cap off I removed a spacer, a washer and the spring slowly as the fork is full of oil.  Pulling the spring out quickly means you’re pulling oil out and making a mess.  With the parts out I inverted the shock assembly and poured the old oil out into a measured container to see how much was in there and what condition is was in.

The oil came out looking pretty dark – the new stuff was completely transparent.  Since the previous owner didn’t appear to change the oil in the engine, I doubt fork oil ever got looked at; this stuff has probably been in there a while.  There was no corrosion in or on the forks themselves or on the internal components, so after a cleanup I poured 710ml of new fork oil into the fully compressed fork.  I had to raise the fork to install the spring, washer and spacer and then put the cap back on snug.  I later tightened it to torque specs when it was reinstalled on the bike.

Spring number two gave me about 660ml of oil after a good emptying.  The first one was at about 650ml.  It got refilled to 710mm of heavier 15 weight fork oil to reduce the floatiness of the front fork and deal with my weight better.  I’m looking forward to feeling the difference when the snows clear.

If you’ve got a bike with fairings I’d guess a fork oil change would take you an easy afternoon of work.  If you’ve got a naked bike then this is a matter of removing the front wheel and brake calipers, loosening the top cap, loosening two clamp bolts on the triple tree and handlebar clamps and sliding the fork out.  Removing the cap and internal components and emptying the old oil would only take about ten minutes per fork.  Refilling a compressed, empty fork with the required amount of fork oil and putting it all back together another ten minutes.  Once you were familiar with the process on your naked bike it wouldn’t take more than an hour to do a fork oil change – longer if you have a lot of finicky fairings to remove.

The left photo is of the fork assembly off the bike prior to removing the rubber fork gaiter (which cleaned up nicely with warm soap water and then some Armourall).  On the right:  all back together again.  The front wheel got regreased and cleaned up.  The speedo housing was especially mucky.

LINK to the specs research I did on fork oil changes on this particular Triumph Tiger.

The other fork had about 650ml in it – pretty black considering it was clear when it went in.


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West Coast Siren Call

I came up with the idea of setting up motorcycles down south in rental storage units to access over the winter a while back.  This is just the sort of thing I’d do if I had that kind of disposable money laying around.

To set up San Francisco bike storage I’d need to get an Ontario bike down there and parked up in the storage facility.  The idea is to have a ready to go bike that I can fly to with minimal luggage.  I’d eventually be able to fly in to San Francisco with only a carry on bag, take a cab to the storage unit and be on two wheels in one of the best motorcycling locations in the world within a few hours of flying out of the snowbelt.  For the setup I’d take known, works-for-me gear for the ride and then hang it up in the storage unit along with the bike.  Flights back at the moment are one stop, seven hours and about $700 Canadian.

The weather is already closing in here.  We’ve had dustings of snow multiple times.  This would be one of my last chances to make the ride out west before the white wall of winter descends on us.  In trying to make good time to SanFran, I’d also aim to get a motorcycling bucket list item done:  an Iron Butt thousand miles in twenty-four hours:

Day 1:  Elora to Hampton Inn Portage IL.  Just under 500 miles over the border and to the edge of Chicago.  Make sure everything is ready for the big push on Day 2 (the Iron Butt 1000 miles in 24 hours).  Make sure everything is good to go on the bike, get in early, eat and rest up for an early departure.

Day 2:  Portage IL to Denver, CO.  Be on the road by 5am for the big push west.  Cross Chicago before rush hour picks up and then thump across the plains.  1027 miles in 24 hours.  Get in to Denver overnight and then 2 days at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Denver Stapleton.

Day 3:  Rest day in Denver.

Day 4:  Denver to Grand Junction.  Into the Rockies, 333 miles to the Hampton Inn Grand Junction.  A lower mileage day means this should be as much about enjoying the mountains as it is about making time.

Day 5:  Grand Junction to Ely.  429 mountain miles to Ely and the Ramada by Wyndam Ely passing through 3 national parks, so it should be a pretty ride.

Day 6:  Ely NV to San Francisco.  554 mile day to wrap up the trip.  Get into San Francisco late, park up the bike and put everything into hibernation mode.  Load up a carry-on bag with the essentials and take a cab to the airport.  Retrace the four thousand plus miles back in five hours.

I should be able to take the bike out, park it up and be back home within a week, then I’ll have a bike on-call on the West Coast.

For this trip I need something that can cover big miles effectively but is still a useful tool on twisty roads.  The big Triumph Tiger 1200XRx is a long distance capable bike that fits a big guy like me.  It’s also easy to maintain (shaft drive, fuel injection) and comes with many long distance handy abilities like long suspension to soak up bad roads and luggage for the long trip.

A big Tiger in this format costs just over $24k Canadian.  It’s a pretty thing, I saw the new ones in the flesh at the Triumph Tiger ATLAK meet up last summer.  Many magazines describe the bike as very large, but I didn’t find it overwhelmingly so.  In fact, I was surprised at how svelte it was for a 1200cc adventure bike.

But there are some things about the big Tiger that I’m not a fan of.  I’ve never gotten excited about the big aluminum panniers thing on adventure bikes, or any bike for that matter.  I like the colour matched lucifer orange ones on my old Tiger.  I think the aluminum ones look half assed and unfinished, and I get to pay hundreds more for the privilege of having them because others think they’re a fashion item.

The other issue is a recent BIKE Magazine review in which their Tiger developed a number of electrical issues.  Whatever is waiting for me on the West Coast would need to work when I opened that storage unit roller door.  The Tiger is also a reasonably sensible choice, but it’d be nice to have something a bit more come-hither waiting for me in San-Fran.

For surprisingly similar money there is something that I’d describe as more of a dream bike:  the Kawasaki H2 supercharged demon bike in sport touring form.  The H2 SX is an efficient, powerful, supercharger-chirping-as-it-breaks-the-sound-barrier thing of beauty.  It weighs about as much as the big Tiger but produces prodigiously more power and looks like a Japanese super model.

On top of that it has beautifully designed and colour matched panniers that practically disappear into the stunning looks of the bike, rather than looking like tacked on, low-rent metal boxes.

Having the SX sitting in a storage unit in San Francisco would be a constant West Coast siren call.  If I wanted to go far, it could handle it, if I wanted to canyon carve in and around San-Fran, it’d do that to.

As much as I love adventure bikes for how well they fit me, I think I’d have the Kawasaki super model waiting for me on the west coast.  It’d be a blast to ride on the trip out there and would fit in with Californian bike culture much better.

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Canada Learning Code: Iterating a Romantic Engineering Process

We had a romantic Valentine’s Day evening after school on a Friday night at Canada Learning Code’s HTML/CSS Valentine’s Card coding nightCLC offers a lot of coding experiences for people who haven’t done it before.  You get a room full of volunteer experts who code all day for a living, which I found particularly interesting because I wanted to see how they solved problems.

The majority of people in the room had never looked behind the webpages they view every day, so the presentation started off with explanations of what Hypertext Markup Language and Cascading Style Sheets are (you’re using them now to read this).  From there we all installed ATOM, an HTML/CSS  editor, onto our laptops and got stuck in.

Coding can seem like an all or nothing proposition to people new to it.  Unlike written language, if you have a single error in code the whole thing can become unrunnable with no clear reason why.  Imagine writing an English essay and if you have a single grammar or spelling error the whole thing is nonsensical.  That’s the challenge of coding, but there are some supports you can put in place that help you deal with this absolutism, and CLC introduces you to all of them.

The ATOM IDE (integrated development environment – like a word-processor for coding) colour codes your text as you’re typing and offers suggestions.  It quickly lets you add and change what you’re working on.  When you save your code in ATOM you pivot over to your browser and refresh your page to see what’s changed.  

While coding is harsh when dealing with errors, a good IDE and that iterative approach of being able to quickly try something helps you work around those error landmines, but getting people into that mindset is tricky, especially after school where we tend to drive students toward one-try grading (quizzes, tests, exams, interviews, performances, pretty much everything we do in education).  As a result students have learned not to iterate.  If it doesn’t work at first you’ve failed, which is a disastrous approach to coding.  Recognizing the value of the engineering process and iteration was the biggest single takeaway for me at this event.

At one point Michelle Mabuyo, the lead of the KW Chapter of Canada Learning Code, ran into a problem with the animations we were running on our websites.  Without hesitation she immediately attacked the problem using the same engineering process I continually drill into my students.  As she iterated attempts at fixing the problem she kept escalating her scale, eventually reverse engineering the error out of the code from a known good, working program.

Watching someone who is good at something turn it on and do their thing is something I really enjoy.  Michelle wasn’t aiming to put on an engineering show, this was supposed to be a gentle introduction to web development, but an error made her kick it up a gear and engineer a solution in real time.  My best seniors get to this point by the end of high school, and when they do I know they’re ready to tackle whatever post secondary is going to throw at them.

At one point Muhammad, a software engineer from Google who was volunteering at this event, came by to see how I was doing.  He doesn’t spend any time in HTML at Google, but once you understand how code works, you can move laterally into other languages quite quickly.  I was trying to do something with the falling hearts animations that was a bit beyond the instructions, so he said what I always say, “look it up!”  I told him about the Futurama Fry meme and he laughed because he has a copy pinned up by his desk… and he’s a software engineer!

That self deprecating piece is something that people who are good at something tend towards.  The cocky types tend to be way back in the Dunning-Kruger effect.  People who are good at something tend to be aware of how difficult it is and are more likely to take a more humble approach.

I really enjoyed our nerdy Friday night Valentine’s Day at Canada Learning Code.  I always doubt myself coming in to something like this (my comp-sci teacher did a number on me in high school), but coding (at least when you’re doing it as something other than an academic exercise) isn’t about mathematical perfection, though that was how it was portrayed in my high school comp-sci classes before I dropped them.  Coding is an applied process; it’s about an experimental, agile, iterative mindset and never taking your eye off the goal of a functioning solution.  From that point of view, coding is little different than tuning the carburetor on my motorcycle.

I have no doubt that I could get more fluent in coding, but it’s a small part of the many subjects I juggle when teaching Ontario’s vague and encompassing computer engineering curriculum.  In the meantime, I’ve got the agility and experience to quickly find solutions and modify them to work, and I need to acknowledge those skills.  From that I could quickly develop the familiarity with coding needed to do it with less lookup.  As a goal for my students, that’s an achievable, applied target, and not something to be ashamed of.

As we were wrapping things up another of the volunteers came by and commented on how much he liked the flip-card 3d effect in HTML.  I asked him how it worked and you can guess what he said… look it up!  So I did, and was able to get it working in about 5 minutes at the end of the session.

Coding is an opportunity to take risks and not worry about failing because iterating your way out of a problem is the solution.  I only wish more computer science teachers would take that approach in Ontario classrooms.

If you get a chance, go to a Canada Learning Code workshop.  They have specific meetings for girls, kids, women, teachers and teens, so you can always find a comfortable fit.

At the end of this particular meeting they also offered some pathways for people looking for a career change, which is a whole other angle to thisCoding familiarity is a vital employment skill these days.

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Toronto Zoo Photography

The trick to zoo photography is to catch your subject without the enclosure, which becomes an exercise in framing.  The Toronto Zoo is a particular nice place to do zoo photography because of the quality of the enclosures.  It also happens to have one of the finest plant collections in the world, so if you like taking photos of plants it’s brilliant.

These were taken in the summer of 2012 using the Olympus EPL-3 PEN micro four thirds camera.

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If you had £70k to spend on a car, which would you choose? Much more than a car!

£70k?  Yikes, that’s $121,026 Canadian!  If I can opt out of the dick swinging options above, here’s how I’d spend my hundred-and-twenty-K on things with four wheels, and two:

Mazda 2019 MX-5 RF GT
$44,870 CAD
That’s a GT model with bells and whistles.  Put me on a twisty mountain road in this and your typical knuckle dragger in one of Top Gear’s choices and I bet I’m the first one to the end… and I won’t be sending it in for service and repairs every five minutes – and it looks spectacular!

RAM ProMaster Van
$44,625 + $15,375 upfit = $60,000
If you’ve read this blog before you know I’ve got a Guy Martin/van obsession that often coincides with a mid-Canadian-winter psychotic episode (I’m getting close now) involving escaping south with a bike in the back for a chance to get on two wheels again.  The Ram’s a funky van.  I’d keep back another $15,000 to upfit it into a long distance camper/bike hauler/multi-use vehicle.

That puts me at about $105,000 Canadian with two new, very different vehicles.  What to do with the other sixteen thousand?

Suzuki DR650SE
$6000 (!)
They’re on sale at the moment and a rock solid piece of off the tarmac ready kit.  It’ll keep up with traffic on the road (unlike the KLX250 didn’t) and take me anywhere – including expanding the short Canadian riding season by tackling the odd bit of snow.  I might look into some enduro competition with it too.  It’s be a rough and ready option in situations where I’d be worried about a more road ready bike.

I’ve still got ten grand to play with and I’ve already had more fun than any of the try-hard Top Gear choices.  Time for something really frivolous that’ll be as fast or faster than any of Porsche/Renault/Lamborghini nonsense that kicked this off.

’08 Suzuki Hayabusa
The first thing I stumble across on Kijiji is a $7000 ’08 Suzuki Hayabusa.  Odd that Suzuki is the only Japanese manufacturer I’ve never owned and I’ve got two on the list this afternoon.

I’ve got a thing for orange bikes, and this one looks a peach – older rider, low mileage for the year and well looked after.

I’d hold back the other three grand just to make sure this is faster than anything on Top Gear’s list because I like to be Tom… Petty.

If I had £70k to spend on a car?  I’d buy a nice car, a useful van and two awesome and very different motorcycles!  Why be dull?

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Elspeth Beard’s Lone Rider

I just finished Elspeth Beard’s Lone Rider on Kindle.  In the early 1980s Elspeth rode around the world on her already well used BMW.  I’m a big fan of neuro-atypical voices in writing being one myself.  As a dyslexic (who I also suspect is on the ASD spectrum) who struggled in school, Elspeth isn’t your typical writer’s voice, and the book is all the better for it.

From her struggles with family and friends when preparing for her around the world ride decades before it became a television opportunity, to her honest observations of what it was (is?) like to travel solo as a woman, you get a sometimes painfully transparent look at the emotion and effort stirred up by such a massive undertaking.  The repeated machismo she runs into in the motorcycling community in 1980s London is frustrating.  What’s more frustrating is that it hasn’t changed as much as it should have in the past thirty years.

The way that Elspeth describes the eccentricities of her dad and herself, I suspect they both live somewhere on the ASD spectrum (something I empathize with).  This atypical way of thinking, in addition to her dyslexia, gives her descriptions of the cultures she is riding through a degree of perspective and originality missing in other travel books.

Travellers tend to throw on the rose coloured glasses when describing India, ignoring the difficulties of trying to move across a continent with well over a billion people on it.  Elspeth’s experiences, exacerbated by her gender, along with her brutal honesty, give you what is probably the most accurate description of riding in India you’ll ever read; no rose tinted glasses on here.  From the fumbling sexual advances of men stuck in the middle ages to breath taking child cruelty, Elspeth’s wide open eyes see it all and she doesn’t shy away from telling you about it.

I would highly recommend this book if you enjoy motorcycling, travel writing and/or feminism and aren’t frightened off by people who think differently.  It doesn’t read like your typical motorcycle travel book, but Elspeth wasn’t just riding, she was also elbow deep in keeping an already old, high mileage 1970s BMW running through sandstorms, biblical rain and everything in between.  If you have any mechanical sympathy at all, Elspeth scratches that itch too.

As much as I enjoyed the travel writing, what I missed most at the end of the book was Elspeth’s unique way of seeing the world.  Her struggles understanding people and dealing with bureaucracies, especially with her wit and dry humour, are often hilarious, disheartening and hopeful all at the same time.

I’d urge you to give this book a read, it’s available on Amazon as an ebook for less than ten bucks Canadian.  When the movie comes out in a couple of years, I hope they give it the nuance and depth it deserves.  Elspeth provides a voice and insight into a lot more than just her gender.

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When the Pupil is Ready, The Master Will Appear

From a Zen Koan, anyone who has attempted to gain mastery
in something has probably experienced this to some degree,

but it doesn’t usually happen in the education system.

I always have my ear to the ground, waiting to hear from a student who wants something more than curriculum.  On a good year I’m lucky to find one or two students who are looking for a career rather than a credit.

I came across this saying the other week and it got me thinking about that hope I hold out for ready pupils.  Teachers are paid to deliver curriculum whether students are ready or not (though the good ones try to minimize this friction); students are mandated to be there.  The option to be formally uneducated isn’t available in Ontario nowadays, we’ve institutionalized education into a mandatory process.  This regimented system reduces student readiness to engagement and throws the concept of patiently waiting for student readiness out the window.  That patience suggests a process where student learning is the main focus.  Have we lost the freedom to patiently wait for student readiness to the systemic efficiencies of regimented grading?

That a teacher will appear when you need them to advance your learning is a wonderful thought.  It suggests that teaching is implied in mastery, which isn’t the case nowadays.  In a time before mastery was monetized, keeping it alive by passing on skills rather than maximizing personal income was a big part of mastery.  Waiting on student readiness also places great value on the student, making their preparedness the priority in learning.  Engagement isn’t an issue with the student who seeks a teacher.  Perhaps the issue is that we’re buried in teachers nowadays.

That the teacher-student relationship has been subverted by the education system is old news.  Historically, learning was an experience unique to each individual, usually prompted by innate skill and desire.  Systematizing education might mean more people get educated, but not in with the same rigour and certainly not for the same reasons.

Perhaps the most damaging aspect of systemic education is the externalization and abstraction of learning criteria.  By setting standards and holding students to them we create a system that has measurable criteria for curriculum, teacher and standards effectiveness.  We do this to create the appearance of academic credibility, so learning is not the focus of this kind of education, system integrity is.  This modern approach to learning creates a strange distance in the classroom from learning which has led to such insightful comments as, “Those who can do, those who can’t teach.”

When the Zen koan that kicked this off was written a thousand years ago people who taught did so from their own mastery and were driven to do it to keep their expertise alive. Students were driven to learn from a radical sense of self preservation; their learning was central to their lives and livelihood.  Teaching wasn’t considered a skill in itself, but was an important tool to keep mastery alive.  When we separate teaching from mastery, as helpful as that is for school systems to generate curriculum, qualify teachers and graduate students, it leads us to a strange place where teaching and learning have little to do personally with the people in the classroom.  Education has only evolved into this odd system in the past two centuries. 

For the vast majority of human history education has been a bespoke experience, unique to the individual.  It didn’t happen on a rigid timeline overseen by bureaucrats, and it often didn’t happen at all.  When it did happen it was focused on mastery learning, which couldn’t happen until the student was ready for it.  That kind of patience is missing from our classrooms and is one of the main reasons it feels so forced, and fake.

Imagining that pre-industrial intensely personal world of learning from our perspective way up here in the regimented twenty-first Century is difficult, yet it is how human beings learned for millennia.  In that long ago world many people were left behind, but for the few who were driven to achieve excellence the master would appear when needed.

Perseverance & Patience

Steady on, it’s not that bad.  I shall persevere!

The never ending tale of Concours carburetors continues.  My most recent attempt was to check the fuel amounts in each bowl and then reinstall and test (I’m getting very quick at this).

Once again the old Connie coughs and backfires and dies on throttle application.  The removals and re-installations have upset the old connectors between the carbs, which have developed a gas leak, so the whole thing came off (again) and is now apart on the work bench (again).

I contacted the local Kawasaki dealer for parts last weekend, but they’ve been radio silent.  The parts I need were easy enough to find, but maybe 22 year old carb bits aren’t sexy enough to warrant a timely reply.  Maybe I should have ordered them online, in spite of a number of magazines lamenting people’s lack of support for local motorcycle dealers.  Had I ordered them online they’d probably have been here by now.  Instead I’m left wondering if I can even get these parts.

The goal now is to take each carb apart, double check float depths and ensure all the internal jets and such are properly installed, then it’ll all go back together again with new connecting pieces and go back on the bike (again).  With any luck I’ll get some sort of clue that I’m moving in the right direction.  That’s been the most frustrating part of this process.  I make changes and there is no change when I fire it up.  Whatever the problem is, I haven’t come close to touching it yet.  At least a fuel leak is an obvious and easy fix.

Any day now…

Niagara Falls In Winter

Niagara Falls on a quiet Sunday at the end of January.  Most photos taken with a Canon T6i using a prime lens or the stock telephoto…

Except for this one, it was taken with a Ricoh ThetaV 360 camera.

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