Monday, December 28, 2009

A Christmas sidetrip

I make no secret of the fact that I like to buy Christmas gifts, it's fun to stumble onto something that seems like the perfect thing for a friend or family member. For me, the gift giving thing is the best part of the holiday and I really don't think much about the gifts I might get. That aside, sometimes you get a gift from someone that is very cool, unexpected and really fits.

Enter the Lego model of Fallingwater. Anyone that knows me knows my love of architecture. I'm not going to waste a lot of bandwidth on the topic but I will say
A) I had no idea that Lego made things this cool
B) Building it was very enjoyable, it's been a long time since I played with Lego sets
C) It's going to look sweet on my desk

Thanks Fuzzmops !

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Get in gear, any gear will do - part one and a half...

In order to get some forward momentum and have a hope of catching up to the present day, we'll try shorter, less wordy posts :D

After getting the head onto to the workbench, I started to disassemble it. Am I the only person that hears "no disassemble number five!!" every time I type that word?

Anyway, I got out my trusty valve spring compressor and went to work.

I love this tool, if you are working on motorcycles, I highly recommend the OTC model 4572 spring compressor.

For less that $45, it's a screaming deal and the design works in very tight spots. Well worth the cash..

That's some carbon build up for just over 10,000 miles!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Get in gear, any gear will do - part one

This story will start in the past tense and pick up here in the present day...this little restoration project has been lurking round my houses for some time, read on:

About a thousand years ago, I bought a '77 CB400F from the original owner. It had just over 10,000 miles on the odometer and had been sitting in his shed for well over 20 years.
I'd nearly bought one as my first bike...probably should have as the CB750F I started on was much more machine than a beginner should have to man handle but, that's another story.
The 400F is one of those Honda stories that seems to repeat over and over. Critical success, modest sales, ultimately becomes a cult bike.

When I brought it home, you might say it was a "20 footer." From that distance, it looked like new.
Here it is the day I brought it home.
Up close, the ravages of less than ideal storage became apparent. The chrome on the wheels was beyond salvage, the fenders pitted and the right side of the frame was spotted and rusty where battery acid had spilled. Sounds bad but the upside was nearly perfect paint on the tank and side covers and the iconic four into one exhaust was in pretty good shape. What I had was a great place to start what they call a "sympathetic restoration" these days. I wanted to preserve as much of the original patina as possible but still have something I could be proud of when I parked it.

I was pleased to find the inside of the fuel tank was in great shape and not at all shocked to see the carbs filled with varnish.

Pulling the bike apart, I made a genuine effort to be very organized and label items as I went. This becomes pretty important to the story of this bike...

The carburetors were my first project and the tone of this effort was quickly set. The first of four came apart well enough, the dip tank did it's job and I was optimistic I'd be riding the 400 by spring. Then, I started into the second carb. Things went pear shaped in a hurry.

That little screw is inside the slide of carb number two. There are two small philips head screws inside to retain the needle. Actually, they are JIS philips head screws. At the time, I did not own a good set of JIS screw drivers. I do now.....
Now, this is where the story starts to take a tangent. In 2005, we decided it was time to buy a new house. This turned into building a new house, a nice project in some ways but the timing of things got tough. We were having trouble selling our home so when a good offer came in that required us to move before we finished our new place, we took it.

The 400F had been languishing in the garage for about nine months as I could not get that screw loose no matter what I tried. I bought a set of donor carbs on Ebay, a mistake as they were in pretty rough shape. The slides were in no condition to be re-used in my opinion. More than a little frustrated, I simply worked on other things.

So, well sell our home and move into an apartment. We rented a massive, and I mean massive storage unit where we put the majority of our belongings as well as two cars and my four motorcycles. If there is one thing worse than leaving a bike in pieces in your garage for a long time, surely it is moving a bike in pieces a few times. I'd had the carbs apart on the work bench, sitting in a big cafeteria tray and I simply moved them last and put them on a shelf in the storage unit.
Once the house was finished, we moved into the new place and all my toys stuff went into the new garage.
Then, I promptly ignored the 400F for 3 years. I would have a hard time explaining what finally moved me back into action but eventually I dug back into the carb slide problem.
It is funny how a lot of time away from a problem can make you more serene about it but I was in a better place mentally when I tackled it again. I built an extractor out of a left handed drill bit and out the screw came as though it was barely stuck.

I bought myself some JIS drivers and went after the other carbs.
In pretty short order, they looked like this

What was really remarkable was the fact I'd not lost a single part in the entire time they had been apart..

It was starting to feel like a fun project again so I stood back and reviewed my options. I'd collected a lot of NOS and reproduction parts to replace the ugly stuff but a rear fender was impossible to find. I bought a "perfect" one from Ebay and wound up with another, albeit slightly better than my original, dud. Ok, off to the chrome plate shop with you then. In the meantime, I had to sort out how deep into things I wanted to get. I knew the bike had been sitting for a long time. I knew it was a Honda and I could likely get it running by slapping the carbs back on it and filling the tank. I also knew, from experience, that all those old gaskets and seals would leak, probably sooner than later. If I wanted a reliable bike, the engine was coming apart. Besides, this way I could rehab the finish on the engine.

Pulling the engine is really not a major moment. Unhook the wires and hoses, pull the exhaust and unbolt the mounts. Easy. Except for this. That's the screw that holds the tach drive cable in place.

I spent three hours getting that screw out on the day I found out I might have a nasty little cancer. It was a good diversion, I suppose but truly strange in the way it went. After literally trying every trick in the book, I was about to break down and drill the thing completely out. The trouble with doing that is the location of the screw. It's easy enough to get to but it is set into the upper half of the cylinder head, at an angle, in a very thin casting. The odds of destroying the surrounding part seemed pretty high. So, I took one more crack at it with a small punch and hammer and it backed out as though it had never been stuck.

Fast forward a few months and I've had a little surgery and no cancer, Yeah!

Back to work on the 400F and it's time to get the damn engine out. To pull the engine cleanly, we needed to remove the oil filter housing and the oil pan. Wanna guess how that went?

That's the center bolt for the oil filter housing. I am quite proficient at stuck fastener removal by now. I've taken to referring to this project as the "stripped head special."
To be fair, the previous owner had obviously over tightened the bolt and rounded the head. He'd included a new bolt with the bike and I now know why .

With that mess out of the way, I could finally get the engine out of the frame, and darned if that didn't go fairly well.


Once I started to pull the engine apart, my decision to do so looked better and better. Check out the 30 year old sludge on that pick up tube!

Also, the spark plugs were really tight coming out. I knew as they turned, a lot of corrosion was being dumped into the cylinders.

While I could have blown that out, mostly, I was not going to get all this carbon out of the combustion pockets..

After years and years, I was finally starting to get somewhere.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A little perspective..

Some unusually warm weather afforded me the opportunity to go for a nice ride, no heated gear required. Since the Tuono offers little in the way of protection from the elements, it's not my first choice on cold, windy days. Today was not cold nor windy so playing with my Italian toy made perfect sense. It was also a great reminder that while California truly is an awesome riding location...I don't have it all that bad back east

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

California 09 - winners and losers

Whew, good, bad or otherwise, I actually finished a ride report and within a month of the ride itself. You can't know how good that feels. It's not terribly good, but I can check it off as complete at least :D

After I got back to Dubbelju, the process of unpacking the bike, pulling my GPS and generally getting my big duffle full of my stuff served to distract me from the little feelings of melancholy that pop up at the end of the ride.
I had a nice time in San Francisco before I got on the plane home so it wasn't until I was parked at the gate, waiting for my flight that the whole, "wow, it's over" thing happened. Six days is far from an epic ride but it is long enough to fall into a groove and I love the ride, sleep, repeat tempo. I'd covered 2200 miles, the majority of them almost perfect in one way or another. Something like 480 miles on the longest day...very manageable and relaxing.

It had been an exceptional trip.

So, let's thank the stars of the show and give the few downers the credit they deserve.


Hey, let's be honest, I am not a fan of people most days. I am functionally social but that doesn't mean I like it :D If I spend more than 5 minutes talking to you, I really like you. If I spend days riding with you and I am still talking to're one in 100 million. I had the good fortune to ride a few days with two of those folks. No drama, no effort, no scary "WTF are you doing?" moments. Sweet. The fact that they put up with me without any obvious signs of distress was just icing on the cake.

Motorcycle rentals from real motorcyclists. I completely recommend these guys if you are renting in California. Nice selection of well maintained bikes, fair rates, cool location. Besides, the bay area is just about perfect to start a ride from .


The Bike - R1200R Elleventy-billion times improved over the R1150 it replaces. Smooth, good power, solid handling - much more nimble than my K bike, and a comfortable seat. Burned zero oil in 2200 hard miles...for a rental with over 30k miles, impressive. The bike would be the perfect only bike for someone. Probably not me. I rode my Daytona for the first time in a while this past Sunday; that would be the perfect only bike for me...thank god I don't have to have just one. A basic bike with hardbags and heated grips sure does make sense though...
Now, this Canbus bullshit, that needs to just stop. A fuse is a very good way to protect a circuit. I do not need the HAL9000 to decide whether or not I should freeze my ass off in the middle of nowhere. Consider this my virtual one finger salute.
The other fly in the cycle ointment was the ZTechink barndoor mounted to the triple tree. It did a fine job providing protection but it made the steering heavy at the point where I pulled over to make sure I did not have a low rear tire. Crosswinds did a nice job of grabbing the top of the thing making steering through windy corners exciting. The winds in Death Valley were a real joy.

The Gear - Gerbings, I love you. Please consider this a virtual hug for all the pleasant things you do for me on two wheels. I've tried other brands but Gerbings is my choice.

Olympia textile riding gear - I have moved almost exclusively to riding in leather. That said, there are advantages to touring in textile and the cost/quality/perfomance of Olympia brand seems to work well for me. Not that the jacket is waterproof or anything but when I find one that truly is, I may faint from shock.

Alpinestars SMX4 with goretex - I didn't need waterproof on this trip but knowing that they are sure makes packing them easy. Comfy on long days and very protective.

Schuberth Helmet - Awesomely quiet, claimed to be safer than all the rest, difficult for most to pronounce. Perfect.

Garmin Zumo - Oh the invective I have hurled at the smug British bitch contained within it's ruggedized and waterproof housing. The cradle still offers static which I must remedy with napkins used as shims but having an MP3 player integrated into the thing clamped to the handlebars is sweet. As for actual navigation, the bag is mixed. I now make plans on paper and use the Zumo as a scrolling roadmap. I did build a few routes and with auto-recalc turned off, it was far less annoying. Still, Mapsource is an annoying piece of shit and I haven't the patience to spend hours squinting to build a route. I used the dead reckoning method of navigation for years and the Zumo is a great partner for that.

I'd considered typing more about the location of this ride but geez, you have to be sick of me lavishing praise on California riding by now.

Can't wait to go back

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

California 09 - Day six

Me "Ya know, it's really not too bad out there."
Ed "Looks cold."
Me "Nah, it looks worse than it is."

I am a bit optimistic when I've had a good night's sleep, I will admit that. I'd woken up before the alarm feeling rested for once. A quick shower and I was prowling the parking lot in a pair of shorts. Pure momentum on my part as a second trip outdoors revealed a slightly less warm reality. Ok, so it was 35 degrees, at least the winds were gone.

At some point during the very cold and windy night, this bike arrived. Made us laugh imagining the gritty, aged rider in the thin leather jacket he'd been riding in since 1978.

The night prior, our route planning amounted to checking to see if the northern routes through Yosemite were open. We'd hoped to ride north, then west eventually separating with Ed heading back to LA and me to San Francisco. But, since all of those routes were closed due to snow, it was back down 395 and then west on 178 for me and south on 14 for Ed.
Standing in the parking lot, considering the temps for the morning, it was Ed that convinced me to do some parking lot mods and get my Gerbings some reliable power.
Thanks! Oh, the day was so much better with a little heat in my jacket.
While riding south from Lone Pines, we had a chance to indulge our weakness for silly roadside attractions.
Nitro girl score!

Funny little playground out back and two very oversized kids

A few miles down the road and it was time for a goodbyes. Once again, a great ride with a good friend. No effort, no drama just good moto fun. Thanks Ed
Two days of riding had passed quickly, as they always do and I was back on my own.
Riding west on 178, the winds abated, my heated liner heating, I found my pace moving back into the fun zone. I should have stopped to take this picture just a bit further down the road where the Joshua trees completely covered the desert.

They are remarkable in person...
The other remarkable part of this day is how many really great roads I managed to ride. 178 was yet another California roller coaster, elevation changes, switch backs, sweepers...seriously, it's as though the roads were designed by a motorcyclist.

There are not many pictures from the rest of my last day riding. As I left the mountains of behind me and rode into Bakersfield, it looked as though I'd need the slab to make time...6 pm was looming and I had a fair amount of ground to cover. After a quick shopping to secure some fresh boxers and socks, I forged ahead on 99 to 46 to 5. Ugh. The winds found me again as I fought my way north. By mid-day it was starting to feel like the fun was over. My mind drifted back to work and the things I needed to get done and the list of projects unfinished at home... no, no, no, this was not how I wanted to spend my last afternoon on the bike. Remembering that my flight was now less than 24 hours away, I decided to pull off at the next exit and check into my flight. Standing in a wind blown parking lot, laptop open on the seat of the bike, I made the decision to have a little more fun before the day came to an end. Turns out, I had picked exactly the right exit. 198 looked like a good ride towards Coalinga and I could work a nice route from there through Hollister, saving me from more interstate highway pain. I would wind up riding a bit of 25 that I'd ridden earlier in the week but it was a dandy bit of asphalt the first time so no worries there. I just needed to keep the pace up and I felt sure I could make it to Dubbelju by 6.
Oh, am I glad I made the decision to take that route. Riding away from 5 on 198, the winds settled down, the sun shone and I rode. Hard and fast with little traffic, I made time to Coalinga and had a fantastic time doing it. At this point in the ride report, I am out of adjectives to describe the roads. I will simply say the trip from 5 to Hollister was better than I had hoped for. Arriving at the edge of town, I stopped for this pic and then peeked around the downtown area.

Time growing short, I couldn't spend any time playing tourist. Instead, I bought some gas and headed to San Francisco. The Bay Bridge was under repair so naturally, I'd be headed into the city during rush hour with an extra bit o' joy. Good thing lane splitting is so much fun. I pulled into Dubbelju with exactly 8 minutes to spare.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

California 09 - Day five

I woke up on Wednesday early, even though we'd been out pretty late the night before. There's just something about a day on two wheels that makes getting out of bed so much easier. It's not that I was in a hurry, I was just up and ready. I loaded my rented pony as Ed collected a few things he'd need for an overnight. Milling around his garage, it would have been easy for me to drift into tinkering...I'd really wanted to have a closer look at the Ruckus and there are a couple of older dirt bikes and...
I knew I just needed to look away. Motorcycles have a way of distracting me and I was here to ride.
After a quick errand to free up Ed's schedule we headed north out of Los Angeles. Without much discussion, the plan seemed set, Death Valley, then north, grab a room, ride a bit of Yosemite and go our separate ways. I needed to be back in San Francisco by 6pm Thursday and Ed had to return to his day to day in LA.

It took very little time for the pleasant temps and gentle breezes to become strong winds and 45 degrees.

It is a funny thing, this desire not to hold up the other guy on a ride. Independently, we were freezing our asses off but neither wanted to slow the train down. Finally, not knowing Ed was uncomfortable, I decided I needed to put the liner in my jacket...and I mean NEEDED. Turns out, he was in the same boat. Motorcyclists need some sort of universal "I am cold, pull over before I get hypothermia" hand signal.
As I pulled the Gerbings liner from my bags, I wondered why I'd resisted just stripping the plug off and running a wire right to the battery, you know, while I was standing in Ed's garage. I try very hard to resist the urge to fiddle with things while on a ride, but this was a simple deal. Ah well, perhaps with the bike at full chat, the computer will permit the couple of amps needed to preserve me from freezing. Once the Canbus shuts the outlet down, the only way to get power back is to restart the bike. I still wanted power for my GPS so if I was not going to get heat, I'd need to power cycle the bike. Once again, not wanting to hold up the train, I figured I'd just do it in traffic.
I let Ed know that I intended to experiment so if he saw me shut the bike off while we were on the freeway, not to worry. Yeah, I know, genius move. The bad news, still no heat. The good news, I did not crash while restarting the bike on the move.

A minor mechanical delay is one of those things you can count on experiencing if you spend enough time on riding. I know there is no "perfect" spot for thing to go wrong but you just have to laugh at the time and place these things seem to strike.

Uphill, in traffic and the sidestand switch decided to flake out. Since the switch controls the ignition, it was a bit more than an annoying light flickering on the dash. Right here, I could easily insert a "ha, how 'bout those unreliable Italian bikes" comment but, this Aprilia has big miles on it, miles accumulated by riding all manner of conditions. (edit: that would be 70,000 miles! ) Funny, I don't really mind this sort of thing, it just comes with the territory. Pack a few simple tools, some zip ties and tape and you can usually work things out.
A few minutes effort had Ed's bike off under it's own power, and we were enjoying the high winds buffeting us as we made our way north on the slab. Nothing like riding sideways for a few hours to keep life exciting.
At long last, we reached the exit for Baker, CA and the end of our interstate route. Lunch, fuel and a quick look at the California highway dept website and we were ready to do a little moto-sight seeing.

Behold, the giant thermometer. This was the warmest we'd be for most of the day.

No, we did not stay here. Someone needs to track down the story on this one.

Route 127, while not the best road I'd ridden in California, was a welcome change of pace from the monotony of the interstate. A quick 60 miles had us in position to make a choice of routes through Death Valley.

I'd grabbed one of those goofy travel books for California....and here I am reading it in earnest for the first time. 178 seemed to be the way to go so away we went.
We found the sign so clearly this was the way to go :D

I'd explain this pose, if I could....

As we entered the park, I could not help but smile. Riding here was 80 percent whim on my part, something I'd wanted to see as an adult and here we were, two guys on motorcycles fighting wind gusts and sands just so I could take a look around. This picture does little to illustrate the winds and blowing sands we were riding in.

It was alternately, a beautiful, sunny day and a total PIA windy, chilly day as we wove our way in and out of the mountains that served to protect us from the wall of winds and sand. Death Valley is a lunar landscape with a narrow strip of asphalt running through it. On hot days, I can imagine the stifling nature of the high rock walls but on this day they provided a welcome respite from mother nature.

At one point, as the winds blew hard and I literally felt sand pushing past the seal on my faceshield, Ed pulled over, wondering aloud if we should reconsider our plans. A few quick words later, we were back on our way. We'd never actually said, "oh hell no, let's keep going" but somehow we both knew. Later, when Ed would ask me if I'd have kept going were I alone, I had to smile. Clearly, he was concerned about me and my desire to ride in those conditions. Laughing, I told him I never turn back. Kindred spirits we are, no question about it.

Leading the train for a bit, I chose to stop at one of the "tourist" locations. This part of my trip was a sightseeing sort of thing, so why not?

Welcome to Badwater Basin, 280 feet below sea level

George approves....

What was so remarkable about this spot was how serene and quiet it was here. Warm, sunny, gentle breeze.... like we'd stepped into another place and time.
Riding out of the parking area, it took no time at all to return to the windy, chilly day we'd left just a few miles ago. From here, it was a long ride to the top of Death Valley and ultimately the road to a room for the night. Knowing we were running short on daylight, we pushed on, making decent time given the conditions. After fueling up, we motored on to Stovepipe Wells. I have no preset list of things I buy on a trip but I do like to find a little something to bring back for my daughter and as my friend Rachel is quick to point out, post cards are always the best pictures you can get. A cream soda, trinkets and a Death Valley sticker procured, we spent a minute laughing about the day and the trip ahead. We were at least 80 miles from a clean room and a bed, the sun was setting, my heated liner was inop and the winds were far from dying down. My reaction? I think I giggled.

That ain't fog in the background.

Spurred on our way by a shop employee shooing us off the sidewalk of the general store, we rode north into the twilight. It was a beautiful ride and had I been more settled on the bike, it would have been perfect. After a day of buffeting winds, it was hard to relax and enjoy the twisting roads out of the park. Still, it was awesome.

From here, it was a twisting ride in the dark to Rt 395 and the promise of dinner and a bed.
As an aside, if you stop and ask my opinion about going left or right, understand you should likely select the opposite of what I pick. After a minor detour and an extra 20 miles of cold, blowing ride, we arrived in Lone Pines, CA. A room secured at the Dow Villa Motel, Ed kindly bought me dinner and a glass of wine.
Back at the motel, we spent a few minutes looking at the day's pictures and routes for the next day. It took no time for sleep to find us both.
450 miles of wacky fun behind us, we drifted off, me dreaming of my last day riding California.