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.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

It’s not that bad

We motorcyclists who occupy the northern part of North America lament the coming of winter, as inevitable as it is year after year. The days are shorter and colder and snow and ice cover the ground. Riding, unless equipped with studded tires and/or a sidecar and/or a death wish, is suspended for anywhere from 4 to 6 months as Mother Earth goes through her annual cleansing cycle.

In fact, listening to most bikers (indeed anyone whose passion is a summer activity of any sort) you’d think the apocalypse was upon us. But, in truth, winter holds its own sort of magic to enjoy. Like today.


The thermometer tells the tale. It’s currently –27C (-17F) but the air is still so the windchill is negligible, about -30C. At those temperatures exposed skin will freeze, they claim, in 10 to 30 minutes so dressing appropriately is critical.

All bundled up I head outdoors. Chimney smoke curls lazily towards a deep blue sky. The birds - woodpeckers, chickadees, finches, blue jays, and others - swarm the feeders in search of energy to survive the cold, their feathers puffed up to provide as much insulation as possible. The squirrels, usually found performing gymnastics around the bird feeders, are nowhere to be seen, burrowed away somewhere in a rotted tree or underground waiting for milder temperatures.

As I walk out to get the morning paper (about a mile, round trip) the only sounds I hear are the swishing of my jacket sleeves and the crunch of my boots in the snow. I marvel at the frost patterns on leaves and stare at ice-coated branches glinting in the sun. Nocturnal tracks of prey and predators crisscross the road, and a 3-foot imprint of spread wings in the snow signal the demise of some small critter at the claws of a barred owl, most likely. Even the ice on the lake is quiet today,waiting for a temperature change before starting up its own chorus of groans, cracks, and booms.


Yes it is cold, but so beautiful and peaceful that I can forget about riding for a while and just enjoy the season for what it is.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Product review – Thor Phase jacket

Like most of you, I expect, I am enamoured of the choices available through online shopping. However I have always been a bit reluctant, especially when it comes to clothing and similar items, to pay my money ‘on spec’, for a product sight unseen. While most vendors try hard to accurately describe their offerings, in my opinion nothing compares to a comprehensive review by an actual user, so when vendors reach out and ask me to review one of their products I am always happy to do so as long as I can share my observations, both good and bad, with others who may be considering a purchase.

Thor jacketJust before Christmas Motorcycle House asked if I would review one of their jackets. I agreed and the Thor Phase jacket arrived by post a few days ago.

Please note that this is not going to be an in-use review as it’s currently about –25C outside and the ground is covered by a foot or more of snow. Instead I’ll just deal with the 3 Fs - fit, features, and first impressions – but in reverse order.

First Impressions. 

I really liked the looks of this jacket when I opened the package. The gray striping gives it a classy appearance and the brand logos, while obvious, aren’t so blatant as to be distracting. It looks like a motorcycle jacket but could easily be worn as a casual jacket as well.

Although it is made of a heavy-duty 600-denier nylon it is also very light, tipping the scales at just 2 1/2 pounds. That’s about the same weight as my mesh jacket and significantly lighter than my other riding jackets. Partly that’s due to the fact that there is no armour in the jacket. There is also no provision to be able to add armour, which is likely not an issue for most riders but if you intended to wear it for some aggressive off-road riding it could be a factor.


The jacket has 2 side pockets and 2 breast pockets, all of which are decent sizes. There’s a small pocket on the sleeve with a clear window that could be used for something, although I’m not sure what – a ski pass? There’s also a small “internal fleece-lined audio pocket” which, at 5” X 3” isn’t large enough to hold very much; my cell phone, which is also my audio device, wouldn’t fit, let alone a wallet, or a pair of glasses. There is a large back pocket as well, which I’ll get to in a minute.

The nylon outer shell is supposed to be water repellent but without wearing it in the shower I can’t confirm how water repellent it really is. However water repellent jackets tend to get hot (especially black ones) and this jacket has some very large vents front and back that should funnel cool air around the body quite nicely (as long as it isn’t raining).

On really hot days you can zip off the arms, converting the jacket into a vest. The separated arms can then be stowed in the back pocket.

One feature I really liked is the rear cargo pocket that allows you to transform your jacket into a fanny-pack. Simply turn the pocket inside out and stuff the jacket into it. It even has a strap so you can fasten it around your waist and carry/wear it rather than simply leaving it draped over the seat of your bike or fumbling with a jacket lock. “This is cool”, I thought, until I tried it. The attached strap, at maximum extension, will only fit around a 34” waist. That leaves me out along with all of my friends and pretty much anyone who would wear a size large of anything. The jacket is also a very tight fit in the pocket, so there isn’t room to slide your gloves in there as well. In both cases another couple of inches would make a big difference. (Yes, yes, I know.)


At 6’ 1” and 165 pounds I have a thin build, generally taking a medium-tall size in jackets, if I can find them. Since tall sizes are almost non-existent in motorcycle gear I usually opt for a large to give me the sleeve length and body length I want, and accept a slightly roomier torso than I need. So I ordered a large.

The body size was fine, with lots of space for an extra sweater or heated vest or what have you, but the overall length was more suited to someone in the 5’9” to about 5’11” height range. For me the sleeves are about 2” too short, ending above the wrist bone. Likewise the body fit more like a short jacket than what I would consider a normal motorcycle jacket length. Even for a regular size both dimensions were shorter than I expected.

I generally like the Motorcycle House product line and especially products from their sister company, Viking Bags (which I have reviewed here and here) so I was disappointed in this jacket. As a light riding jacket it has lots going for it although silly manufacturing shortcuts (like a too-short waist strap and a too-small inside breast pocket) are unnecessary irritants. And even though the Phase jacket is positioned as “The perfect jacket for all-around riding” the lack of body armour could be an issue if you are into any sort of aggressive off-roading, or someone who is avidly ATGATT.

Finally, if you are a taller rider you should definitely look at alternatives as you will find the sleeves and body too short to be comfortable.

Bottom line: Motorcycle House has lots of great jackets with plenty of blogger peer reviews extolling their benefits, but this particular jacket, in my opinion, is, regrettably, not up to their usual standards.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Escape from Camp 14

I’ll read anything that looks interesting. Thrillers. History. Politics. Science. Doesn’t matter. And so if there’s one thing that’s certain in life beyond death and taxes it’s that there will be a book – or, even better, several – under the Christmas tree each year.

Camp 14And one of those books this year was “Escape from Camp 14”. (There wasn’t a single mention of a motorcycle anywhere in the book but I thought it important enough to put this brief review online so that any of you that might be interested will pick it up and read it.)

If you’re not familiar with the book, the subtitle spells it out pretty clearly: “One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West”.

I’ve never really paid much attention to North Korea. Sure I’ll shake my head at yet another crazy pronouncement from Dear Leader, and worry for a few seconds every time he rattles his sabre at South Korea, Japan, or the US (“The Great Satan”). I am also minimally aware of the deprivations faced by the general population, the continued malnourishment of the citizenry, and the continuous brainwashing practiced by its leaders, but have no sense of how anything I can do would make the slightest bit of difference. I may actually watch “The Interview” some day just to see what all the fuss was about and to poke a symbolic stick in the eye of Kim Jong Un, but that’s about it.

But this book made me angry. Angry that such a depraved regime could still exist in the 21st century. Angry that people could be (legally) treated worse than animals by sadistic overseers (for example, one of the camp’s 10 rules was “Anyone who does not acknowledge his sins … will be shot immediately.”). Angry that China (no bastion of human rights itself, but a beacon of light compared to North Korea) would continue to prop up such a brutal regime. Angry that a man can reach adulthood knowing only fear and without any concept of love, sharing, or even closeness to another human being. And angry that there seems so little the West can do about it.

This is a small book – only 200 pages – and an easy read (“easy” in the sense that I finished it in a day; not the subject matter which is most decidedly NOT an easy read). The author takes the reader through the horrors of life (a misnomer if there ever was one) in Camp 14, Shin’s daring escape, his bewilderment at finding a world outside the fence he never knew existed, his psychological scars, and ultimately to his current situation where he continues to struggle with feelings, emotions, and his personal sense of guilt.

It’s a powerful book, and certainly worth a read. Highly recommended.