Saturday, March 19, 2011

Speed Sucks

One of the frustrations of riding the R1200RT is adhering to the posted speed limits. It's bad enough that local constabularies have become the de facto doughnut tax collectors, but the RT makes it that much more difficult to avoid paying that tax. Before all the authoritarian but holes scream forth about young married couples and their kids, let me clarify a few things. One, Iowa is so bad with cops ticketing people for tax collection that the state graces two speeding tickets a year if they are under 10 mph over the speed limit. That means they don't count towards taking your license away. This is because no one would have a license after a couple years. It's that bad.

Two, on many roads speed limits are kept low to increase revenue. Roads can be certified for speed limit and in some cases, local municipalities won't do it because they will lose revenue. So, if you get a speech about safety, bullocks. As someone once said, follow the money. I see roads in Iowa that are semi-divided with 2-3 lanes on each side and the speed limit is 35-40 mph.  Anyway, back to my problem. The problem is, the RT is geared tall and built for the Autobahn. Hit 5th gear and I have to use cruise control to keep the speed down on the interstate. Same with local roads with other gears. I like to use the higher gears to keep the revs down and the gas mileage up, but still, the bike wants to do 80+ when the open road arrives, moreover, I think 110 all day is doable. I never had this issue with the Nomad. The Nomad topped out around 105, so the bike was in it's element between 65-80. It didn't want to or have to go faster. For some reason the silver Teutonic missile has other ideas. I swear, I can hear the bike (in a German accent): Don't be a girlie man, twist the f@#king throttle you weakling! 

The biggest problem and therefore roadblock to higher speed limits in the US is driver training. Driving as more of a right than gun ownership and you'd think it was an amendment in the constitution. If you look at the land of the Autobahn, they have fairly rigorous requirements for riding a motorcycle. From what I understand, a rider has to take 6 hours of theory and a minimum of 12 hours of practicum, 5 hours on the road, 4 hours on the Autobahn and 3 hours of night riding. These are minimums and the cost of the school is €1500-2000. In many European countries, licenses are tiered. You may get a motorcycle license, but it is limited to an engine size until you have enough time on it to graduate to the next size. I believe they do this in Britain, where everyone has to start out on a 125 or 250. Pity the poor bike of that size with me on it.

As libertarian as I am, I would be ok with stricter licensing requirements if we had higher speed limits. I would pay for the training and obviously go through it myself as well. I think we could benefit from it as well, but the biggest objection is the compulsory nature of it. In the state I currently reside, Iowa, there is no helmet law. In as much as it may seem that driving seems to be a constitutional right, try making riders wear helmets here. You'd have a mutiny on your hands. May be the best solution is to have it as an option. Want to ride fast? Go through the extensive training and get a special tag for your license plate and endorsement on your license. People as such could ride the higher speeds in such lanes allotted for that purpose. That said, while we are on the subject of lanes, I will say that commercial trucks should be limited to not being allowed in the left lane. They aren't in NY, they shouldn't everywhere. It clogs up the roads and makes it more dangerous.

So, am I closer to solving my speed issue on my new bike? Not really. What it comes down to is a conscious effort to rein myself in within the rules that everyone else abides by. Will I work to change rules? Sure, but until then, I will try to keep the RT on the simmer burner and keep myself from paying the doughnut tax.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Bar Risers

I added risers to my RT last week. They were one of my birthday presents. I ordered them from eBay, and as you can see, they are reasonably priced. Installation took all of 10 minutes and I used a torque wrench as well. Bolts were torqued to 14 ft/lbs as directed by the cognoscenti. My only complaint was that there were no directions or specs of any kind shipped with the riders. The risers are knock off of Moto-techniques and a little cheaper to boot.

My first ride with them was Friday, the 11th. What a difference! The ride felt more like a UJM than a sport tourer. Think of a R1200GSA. It seemed easy to ride and handle as I sit straight up or nearly so now. I would also say that with the risers I put less weight on my hands and wrists, which leads to a more neutral feel and less numbness as I am not gripping as tightly. For some reason as more weight is on my wrists and hands, my grip tightens more.

All in all, it was a good upgrade. The disappointment came with the Calsci windscreen I ordered. I ordered an XL windscreen from them and it came with a slight crack in one of the holes for the mounting screw and it looked like it had marks as if it had been on a bike. I sent it back and hope to get a replacement soon. The owner of Calsi said:

"Since we have our trade policy, some of our windshields have been mounted and ridden for a couple miles. We don't throw them away.

I will take him at his word and hope for the best. I've received very good reports from those that use Calsci windscreens and from my research, there does not seem to be incidents of the struts breaking with a Calsci windscreen installed like there is with Cee Baileys.  Some will say that Cee Baileys is made of polycarbonate as opposed to acrylic, but I have not read of any problems because of this. I also like the fact that Calsci seems to use science in their designs as opposed to aesthetics. I could be wrong, but everyone I have read that owns one says the efficacy against turbulence with a Calsci is second to none.

That said, the weather is getting better and I plan on riding more, trying to get some mileage on the bike. Right now I am at 798 miles total, 348 for the year. Yesterday reached 63 degrees and the bike really liked the temps. It just ran flawlessly for the most part. One thing I did notice was that my average mileage has dived to 38.5mpg. I had been getting 40.5-42.5 previously. I did hear some pinging once on the last ride, in which I had a full tank. My take is crappy Iowa corn whore fuel. I did put premium in the tank, but I bet premium sits in the gas station tanks here a lot longer than the other grades. It also has ethanol, which sucks. Trying to find a top tier gas station in Iowa is almost as hard as finding one without ethanol in fuel. All I can say is, stay away from Kum and Go or Casey's if you need good fuel. We have one Phillips 66 in my area. How I wish for Sunoco Ultra 94.

Until next time, keep the rubber side down and the shiny side up. I'll let you know how the windscreen turned out.

Thank you for reading this blog.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Dad's Garage

Working on cars and motorcycles is nothing new for me as I have been working on vehicles of mass transportation for over 35 years. I got my start in dis-assembly, assembly and troubleshooting of vehicles big and small in a garage in the backyard of my parent's house. This house on 2349 Lafayette Street was built in 1913, a two bedroom Dutch colonial, which means it was a two story home with gambrel roofs and if anyone had a car back then it probably was a Ford Model T. Dad's Garage was a two car garage, but in the sense of fitting two Model T type of cars, which is to say, it was smaller than a two car garage of today. The floor was concrete that even as a child was not in great shape, showing cracks and larger fractures. The building certainly was not insulated and in fact, it did not have dry wall either. It had two swing style doors that my father later converted into a wall with a window on one side and a tracked overhead garage door on the other. He also put a side door in and ran 220 volt service to the garage. Heat came from a Round Oak No. 18 wood stove.

My first ventures in the garage were to take wood scraps and make things out of them or pillage bins of various nuts, bolts and washers in my trying to create something from whatever I'd find laying around. Dad was into woodwork, something that I myself never got into, like the game of golf (my Dad was a greens keeper), time spent in frustration. My artisanal pursuits were or should I say became oriented in the mechanical direction instead. Uncle Cam (Cam is the shortened version of the Italian nickname for Carmine, Camminuccio) was an auto mechanic for an Oldsmobile dealer, Mack Markowitz Oldsmobile and to whose expertise I am indebted to this day. My seemingly eponymous uncle would come over when dad had a problem with his car (we tended to own Oldsmobile) and Uncle Cam would fix it in the yard (like when the Vista Cruiser overheated and Uncle Cam replaced a head in the back yard). This lead to my own experiments with cars.

I remember being something like 9 or 10 years old and after seeing some hot rods on TV or may be in print I must have concluded that obviously, the stock air cleaner assembly was insufficient to do the job. I fashioned an air filter from a old can of wax or compound for my dad's 1967 Vista Cruiser, which had a 330 2bbl engine. I drilled holes in it and cut a hole for the carburetor with tin snips. I loved how it sounded, but it did not impress dad and it did not stay on the car long. Not long after, I found some spare hoses from our pool's filter pump and had ideas of making a ram air setup like I saw on a 1969 442 W-30. Lets just say that hose was a little undersized for the 425 in our 1965 Delta 88. Man that thing howled trying to feed air to that engine! I had the right ideas as in how to get more and colder air into the engine, I just did not have the engineering expertise to make a truly well thought out and finished product. It was not long after that though that my dad would have me help him change the oil and other aspects of maintenance on the family cars.

My first two-wheeled motorbike was a Rupp Mini Bike. I was in 8th or 9th grade and I remember Mom bought it at a garage sale for a song and brought it home one Saturday. My brother Tony and I painted the frame Chevrolet Hugger Orange, and the gas tank Argent Silver. It had a tired three and a half horsepower Tecumseh flat head engine and under dad's supervision, we honed the cylinder, re-ringed the piston, rebuilt the carburetor and did a valve job. It ran very well after that. Before, it could barely go faster than 15 mph. Afterward, we were clocked at 35mph. It could go faster if the governor rod was held in. Eventually the engine threw a rod through the crankcase, probably from exceeding the governor once too often.

My first car was a forest green 1969 Volkswagen Fastback. We bought it from a neighbor, Mrs. Piner, and it was the first foreign car in our family. Mom drove it for a couple years until I got my license and then I inherited it. We did paint it in Dad's garage, using an oil-less craftsman one and a half horsepower compressor, no tank. It came out ok. My brother took it to 95mph and not long after the engine needed an overhaul. The car did have over 90K miles on it, so I do not know what he was thinking. You have to realize this engine had 66 horsepower stock, which is less than most motorcycles I have owned. A local mechanic named Freddy Schenck worked on VWs out of his house. If I recall he had a three or four bay garage in his back yard and knew the VW better than most people and certainly better than I did. He rebuilt the engine for us and did some of the work on the car until I learned how to properly maintain a VW. Changing the oil was not a big deal, but the car had idiosyncrasies. It had electronic fuel injection, which was space age for the year that car was built. Even when I had the car in the late 70's, it was way ahead of American cars. It had front disc brakes too, automatic transmission and radial tires, although the tires were smaller than the rear tire on my R1200RT. One of the problems was the fuel lines. They were of the cloth and rubber variety and would leak after awhile. I replaced quite a bit of fuel line on the injectors and the fuel pump. Often.

Since then I had spent many hours in Dad's garage on many different projects: Rebuilding a 350 and a 400 cubic inch Chevrolet engines, rebuilding and upgrading a KZ1000 engine to 1260CCs and rebuilding various automatic transmissions of the Hydramatic variety. Did I mention carburetors? I used to be an expert in rebuilding and modifying Rochester Quadrajets. I would work on Holleys too, but believe it or not, I liked the Qjets better. I also liked to go out there and do homework sometimes, especially in the winter. I would fire up the Round Oak, put a pot of coffee on the stove and do my college chemistry homework. All of this is what I did and does not take into consideration what my brother and father did in that garage as well.

Many years have passed since I lived at 2349 Lafayette Street and after Dad passed away in 2008, we sold the house and now someone else lives there. It was sad to drive by the house and know it was not my home anymore; not a place I could go to visit pops, work on my car or just relax. The new owners will never the know what mechanical plots were dreamed up, what bench or other types of racing took place there or the challenges as well. In fact, I fear that some day I may drive by when visiting back east, that the house will be gone, as people are tearing down the old small homes and putting up McMansions. Sometimes memories outlive reality.

Today I live in a subdivision in central Iowa with an attached 2 car garage that while bigger than Dad's garage, I find woefully small as it is always filled with stuff. It was only last year I finally bought an air compressor and some air tools to augment my old tool set I have had for almost 30 years. I like my bench better though, as it is longer, wider and taller than Dad's (I am 6'5, so a tall bench is a godsend). With 5 kids ages 5 through 15, it's time I have my own version of Dad's garage and pass something on to my kids in terms of memories and skills. The garage may go away, but the lessons learned there will always be with me. I hope it is the same for my children.