Monday, March 23, 2015

How I spent my winter vacation

Remember back in grade school when one of the first assignments of the new school year in September was to write a report on “How I spent my summer vacation”?

I always had trouble with that as my summer vacations at that age were spent playing outside, mostly amusing myself by kicking an empty can up and down a dirt road, or maybe going for a swim down at the lake, or riding my bike when I had one. The stuff of a rural life back then during the Pleistocene was sorely lacking in excitement compared to schoolmates who actually ‘went away’ somewhere.  So let’s just say my report was usually pretty short and quite uninteresting.

Well in the intervening decades not much has changed, except that with retirement the summer vacation has now become the winter vacation – that 6 months when the roads are too snowy and icy to ride and the golf courses are all shut down. For a few years the missus and I tried Freeze Your Ass Off_w540_h407the ‘went away’ option but the weather never cooperated and, except for the lack of snow, freezing our asses off in Myrtle Beach, or Tampa, didn’t seem that much different from freezing our asses off at home in White Lake.

So this year, except for a brief trip to New York City (where we froze our asses off), we stayed home.

Reading the periodic updates of ScooterBob’s travels and about rides taken by blogging friends in more hospitable climes only did so much to manage the cabin fever. I needed something else to do and it wasn’t to take up year-round riding like Richard or Dom.

Fortunately the daughter had just moved into a new apartment and needed ‘a few things’ to finish it off. And since I needed ‘a few things’ to do she was more than willing to provide a list. (There’s ALWAYS a list.) So out came the woodworking tools, having been mostly neglected for the past few years, the dust was brushed off the various piles of lumber I had been saving for that someday special project, and I went to work. Here are some of the results:

Small chest – cherry.

Hall bench – pine and maple.

Laundry bin – cherry, maple, oak.

I’m an inveterate serial hobbyist, going full steam at one thing or another for a few years, then branching off to something else for a while, and then to yet something else again. In fact, the only ‘hobby’ that I have consistently enjoyed has been motorcycling, which may make it more lifestyle than hobby I suppose. But regardless, I guess it was just the right time to get back in touch with wood, and it felt great to be ‘hands on’ again.

Now for the next project. Where’s that list?

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Summer’s coming – where to ride?

They tell me (and I believe it to be true) that eventually this miserable winter will end and we’ll have some fine summer riding coming up. Which leads to the inevitable question: Do I want to do a road trip? And to where? Actually that’s 2 questions but they are pretty closely related so I’ll beg forgiveness.

If you are lost for ideas, the people over at Discovery News have a suggested route that will take you to all 48 contiguous states and provide an opportunity to visit 50 major landmarks such as the Grand Canyon, Fort Sumter, Mount Rushmore (and, presumably, countless lesser-known landmarks, large lobsters, Paul Bunyan statues, etc. that might be encountered en route). I’ve only seen 11 of the 50 designated sites, which I expect is probably close to the norm, so there are lots of new places to be visited out there.


To do the entire trip would take about 240 hours or so of driving, or 2 to 3 months depending on how big a hurry you are in. But since it’s a big loop you can start and end anywhere you like, chopping the route into a multi-year adventure if so inclined, or even a moto-blogger challenge of some sort.

Just something else to consider when making plans, especially if the Ashfall Fossil Beds in Nebraska are on your bucket list. (I had to look that one up – could be interesting.) .

(The route was calculated by doctoral student Randy Olson who’s qualifications seemed to be that he had previously developed a search strategy for finding Waldo. He describes that process here in some detail. Worth a read as well.)

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Attention test

Spend a minute watching this auto commercial for the new SKODA Fabia; your time won’t be wasted.

Interesting, isn’t it? It may only be a commercial but it provides a perfect example of what we’re up against on the roads. If that driver coming up to the intersection is so focused on watching the light to make sure he gets through on the green, or is concentrating on whether she has room to turn in front of the truck that’s right behind you, you simply will not register on their conscience.

I’ve blogged about this before (here and here) but it’s a message that deserves repeating again, and again, and again.

Don’t misunderstand, I’m not excusing anyone’s inattentiveness and bad driving, but being forewarned is, as they say, forearmed. Knowing how we all ‘see’ the world around us under certain conditions might some day save your life.

Something to think about as we slowly emerge from our winter cocoons to start a new riding season.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

I have a project!

What is winter good for if not to provide us with free time to do ‘stuff’ to our motorcycles? I have been pretty busy in the shop doing various things but I was beginning to think I’d make it through to spring without a bike project.  Then I came across this post over at Richard’s where he described modifying his GoPro case to allow the camera to be run off bike power.

Brilliant! No more missed opportunities because of a dead battery, no more pulling off onto the shoulder to dig out a replacement battery, and, as a bonus, no more having to pull the camera from the case to upload videos. All I needed was a spare case and a power point of some sort.

It turns out the case was easy as they already make them with an open side for exactly this purpose, and my eBay friends in Thailand will send one to me no problem, free shipping, for the princely sum of $13 (Cdn). Done! 691-657_BShould be here in a few weeks.

Now all I have to do is decide what type of power point I want to install. There is no shortage of options so I can see myself spending more than a few minutes navigating my way through online catalogues looking for that perfect solution. But there’s no rush as it feels like this winter will be with us for quite a while yet.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

How to spend a dreary winter day

Yesterday morning dawned bright and cold, –40 to be exact. At –40 it doesn’t matter whether you are using the Celsius or Fahrenheit scale – they cross over at –40 which, in anyone’s experience, is just damned cold. Today was milder (only –16C) but windy and snowing so not all that pleasant either. So what to do? Why, go to the motorcycle show, of course!

And so I slipped and slid my way (on 4 wheels) into Ottawa to attend the 2015 International Motorcycle Show. Truth be told I wasn’t really sure it would be worth the trip as I’d been pretty disappointed the last time I went. But I’m glad I did as the show had improved a lot and was much better than expected.

There seemed to be more dealers in attendance, and they all had lots of bikes on display, including some of their used inventory. The custom bike exhibits were more expansive and well laid out to afford good views of some of the artwork on display. And, for the SOA fans, there was even an autograph signing by Chibs and Bobby – for a fee, of course.

There weren’t many aftermarket vendors there, but in the past I’ve found their offerings to be mostly old stock that they were trying to finally get rid of, so they weren’t missed by me. But one group that I’ve always enjoyed seeing that wasn’t there this year is the vintage bike owners. Usually the CVMG (Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group)  could be counted on to have a dozen or so of their prime specimens on display, and I would usually meet a couple of people I know at their exhibit. Too bad. I hope they’ll be back.

As mentioned, the dealers were well represented and I (along with many others) got to try on various bikes for size. (Sorry to have to use internet photos, but crowds around these bikes made getting pictures difficult.) Having long lusted after a new Triumph Bonneville I had to give it a go. Immediate flashback to the sixties: uncomfortable slab seat, narrow tank and bars, and a sit-up-and-beg riding position. I think I’ve moved on.

MH6_MY14_Bonneville_MM_RHS(Photo: Internet)

Enough nostalgia, on to the BMWs. The adventure tourers and the sports bikes did nothing for me, but the K 1600 GTL felt like I was sitting in my La-Z-Boy at home. Beautifully balanced, perfect ergonomics (for me, at least), I could easily envision myself heading out to the wet coast in a series of 600 mile days. Very, very nice indeed, but what would I do with all my Harley tee-shirts?

normal_36(Photo: Internet)

The Ducatis were next. The last time I actually rode one was decades ago and it was a Desmo 450cc single. Well, we’ve come a long way since then baby and now the pride of the pack is the Ducati Monster 1200 S. With that almost-cafe racer positioning and some incredible Italian engineering between my knees I had visions of tearing up the twisties at an outrageous clip. Then I remembered how many birthdays I’ve experienced and disembarked, slowly, with a hint of regret.

And, of course, all the new Harley models, especially the Road King and Electra Glide – both on my when-I-win-the-lottery list. Maybe even this CVO model for a cool 46 grand, plus taxes. (Worth every penny ‘cause I really like the paint scheme.)

When I go to these shows I also like to see what I can’t see in the showrooms, so I’m always attracted to the custom bikes. While I’d never own one (Two thoughts always come to mind. First, that looks really uncomfortable to ride. And, second, how much would it cost to fix a stone chip in the paint?) I do admire the creativity and artistry involved.

Also got to check out some of the 3-wheeled offerings although I don’t think I’m quite there yet. But, to be fair, I’ve never ridden one either. Who knows, maybe it would be love at first sight ride.

So, I managed to escape this year’s seemingly endless winter for several hours, dream a little bit, immerse myself in all things motorcycle, and see Chibs and Bobby on the show floor (when I didn’t have my camera ready, of course). All that and I got in on a senior’s discount! Not a bad day.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

It works!

There may be snow on the ground and it may be –30C out there but don’t let that fool you, gardening season is not that far away. And if the calendar wasn’t a good enough indicator the almost daily arrival of seeds, plant catalogues, and various and sundry gardening magazines provides proof positive that we’ll soon be working in the dirt again.

And so it is time to get the garden tiller working. It was always really hard to start, and then, right in the middle of the fall clean-up, it quit. I couldn’t get it running again so into the shed it went, another problem to be dealt with “some day”. Bought well used for a song 7 or 8 years ago it doesn’t owe me a dime, but I’m loathe to throw anything out if it can be fixed. I also love tearing stuff apart just to see how it works. (And sometimes I can even get it back together again.)

At the very least I expected an ignition problem and that the coil was going bad. Soon enough that was confirmed but before spending any money on replacement electrical parts I wanted to make sure the engine itself was in reasonable condition.  Enter my brand new leak down tester.

Snapshot 2 (29-01-2015 7-44 PM)Snapshot 3 (29-01-2015 7-47 PM)With everything hooked up and pressure being applied at 30 psi, the pressure drop was about 5 psi, or about 16% - 18%. Since the test was done on a cold engine (should really be at operating temperature) the leakage measured will be somewhat higher due to the greater cold clearances in these small air-cooled engines. So let’s call it 15%. Is that good or bad? General guidelines are that a brand new engine might read anything from 5% to 10%, over 20% shows significant wear on some internal parts (likely valves or rings), and over 30% means you’re probably looking at a complete rebuild. So I’m quite happy and satisfied that there are no major surprises inside the chamber that will keep this engine from providing a few more seasons of good service once the electrical issues are remedied.

The tester did its job, and I can see it getting a LOT of use from now on.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Another tool for the box

One of the standard diagnostic tests for engine health is the compression test where a pressure gauge (compression tester) is inserted into the spark plug hole, the engine is turned over at high speed, and the resulting compression reading provides an indication into the condition of the combustion chamber. If the compression is too low you might have a leaking valve, worn piston rings, a scored cylinder wall, a leaking head gasket, or a cracked piston, any of which would result in low or no power from that cylinder.

However compression testers don’t work very well on small engines, or engines that are pull start such as lawn mowers, snow blowers, etc., engines I often find myself working on. They also don’t do much to help isolate the problem other than to tell you, “something’s wrong in there”. Enter the leak  down tester which doesn’t require the engine to be turned over and which also helps identify the specific problem causing the compression loss.

You can buy a leak down tester for anywhere from $100 up, which was more than I could justify, so I went looking for options and found a whole series of YouTube and Instructables guides to building your own. And it turns out I had all the key components already and was missing only a few smaller pieces and connectors, solved by a quick trip to Canadian Tire and Home Depot. After a bit of light machining and assembly I now have my very own leak down tester for about $15 over and above the bits and pieces from my never-throw-anything-out bins.


As soon as the temperatures rise above the current –20s (brrrrrrr…) I have a couple of small engines I can’t wait to try it out on.