Thursday 29 January 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 26 January 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 15 January 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 14 January 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.