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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

It wasn't supposed to be like this - Part II

So I'm a Honda guy with a soft spot for Triumphs. A couple of years ago I had a chance to buy an unmolested 1977 Bonneville 750 that was ready to ride after a tune-up and some cleaning. Last year I was able to match it with a 1978 Honda 750 Super Sport. They were both at the ends of their production runs. '78 was the last year for the single cam 750 Honda and the Triumph would soldier on with minor changes for only a couple of more years.

The Honda was all about the future and the Triumph was all about the past. Want smooth power and lots of it? Honda. Want great brakes and an electric starter? Honda. Want to be sure you'll get home? Honda again.

And yet the Triumph speaks to you in ways many people would never understand. Vibration? Sure, but that lets you know you have an engine under you and not some electric motor from a Prius.The brakes are good enough for the power on hand and a kick or two will get the engine turning over if you've kept it tuned. Getting home? Never been a problem with this bike (yet).

What the Triumph has is a lightness that the Honda can't match. The smile inducing handling this yields makes the trade off for power an easy one. The four cylinders, four carbs, and electric starter weigh a lot. Those and all the other amenities add up when dicing through the mountain corners. Will the Honda go as fast or faster? Sure, but you'll have to work hard for the win. The Triumph is fluid, eager, and involved whereas the Honda is all about throttle, brakes, and planning.

Most people, if asked, would use the word "reliable" when thinking about a Honda anything. Car, motorcycle, outboard, or jet plane, you know you'll get home in a Honda.

Triumph is better known for its Lucas electrical bits (the Prince of Darkness) and it's propensity to mark it's territory by leaking oil when parked. Should the timing be a little off it will happily launch you over the handle bars when trying to kick start it.

Sunday, I decided to go for a ride. I had just finished the Triumph and hadn't had a chance to really test it out. It had been sitting on my lift for 2 years after a piece in the transmission had decided to commit suicide.

I'm sure you're aware that modern gas with all the oxygenators starts going bad after 30 days. What I drained from the tank and the carbs was pure varnish. However, I figured nothing lost if tried to kick it over to get everything loosened up.

Third kick and it started right up. A trip around the block was enough for it to idle as good as ever.

The Honda has four synchronized carbs that are wonders of precision engineering. Intricate little passages to make it run as smooth as silk. When it runs. It was just the opposite of the Triumph. Full choke to get it to idle and balky power below 3500 rpm.

There was clever choreography to stopping for a light. Left hand - pull in the clutch. Left foot - find neutral. Right hand - keep the throttle open to keep revs up. Left hand - pull out the choke knob. Right hand - release the throttle. Right foot - down to keep from falling over.

Once on the road it was mostly fine but there was the small matter of getting out of town through traffic.

So it was the Jurassic Triumph that saved the day and took me for a ride. The simple carbs were happy to cooperate and the engine produced a nice purr that accompanied me along the way.

I love my Honda and I love my Triumph. I love my wife but with motorcycles it's OK to have two!

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Monday, October 22, 2018

It wasn't supposed to be like this - Part I

In the late '60s and early '70s it was all about Hondas for me. Honda was winning all the Grand Prix races and had models that were decidedly more technically advanced than any of the competition.

Harley's were iron barges that either ran poorly or not at all. Italian bikes were pretty and pretty likely to leave you stranded. German bikes were solid and sturdy but as exciting as cold porridge. Which left the English bikes which performed well but leaked and left bits and pieces along side the road.

Edward Turner designed the Triumph Speed Twin 5T in 1936 which was, according to Wikipedia, "the first truly successful British parallel twin, setting the standard for many twins to follow." Unfortunately, it seemed to be the end of his bright ideas and was essentially the same bike Triumph was still producing 40 years later.

The mighty Honda CB750 debuted in 1969 and signaled the end for the English motorcycle industry. Not that they hadn't done enough harm to themselves with terrible management decisions combined with the horrible labour unions. They were their own worst enemy!

In '71 I had a CB450 and loved to torment Triumphs. 500s were no problem and 650s were all about who had the better tuned bike. To me they were Jurassic in style and power. No overhead cams, no CV carbs, no electric starter, and they leaked!

Then a funny thing happened in the summer of '74. I was working in a Honda/Yamaha/Triumph shop when the manager quit and I was nominated to take his place. Tom was only a mediocre mechanic so he got the Honda tune-ups that even he couldn't screw up. Joey loved dirt bikes so he got all of the 2-stroke Yamahas. Which left me with the Triumphs. UGH!

That funny thing was that I learned to love them, sort of. Back then, anyone could afford a Honda and you had to work really hard to kill them which meant there were a lot of squids on two wheels.

To own a Triumph you really had to want to own a Triumph. They were expensive, down on power, hard to get parts for, and they leaked all over your driveway.

What Triumph did have was great handling and a great ride. My CB450 might have had the power, but hit a lot of twisties and I was working hard just to keep up. All those years of making the same bike over and over had lead to refinement that Honda had yet to achieve.

With a little ingenuity I was able to make the Bonnevilles even better. Using vacuum gages I was able to balance the carbs properly for power and less vibration. Dynamic timing with a strobe light instead of the old static timing yielded even more power. YamaBond would seal the covers so they wouldn't leak (mostly). Recalibrating my outlook led to thinking of the bike as a whole and not just power and brakes. Motorcycles could be enjoyable, not just thrilling!

Another piece that led me to love Triumph was the people who rode them. I don't want to single them out as real motorcyclists but there was definitely something different about them. The bikes were personal, not just toys. The owners cared about them because they loved riding, not just showing off.

One owner came in with his Tiger and we were talking about it when he mentioned that he had lost 3rd gear. I told him to bring it in and I'd put him to the top of the queue. He said No, he'd wait until winter when it was too cold and icy to ride. Parts would take too long and he could just short shift pass the missing gear to keep riding.

About the same time a guy with a Gold Wing came in and demanded that I drop everything to replace a cover that was scratched when he had dropped it in a parking lot. He was afraid of being embarrassed and laughed at if his friends found out that weekend. I told him I had real work to do and threw him out of the shop.

 -- More of this story tomorrow --

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Monday, July 23, 2018

Ride Report

Too much work and not enough riding makes J. a dull boy. The area we live in is a farm/ranch area with plenty of folksy places to see and visit. Time to get to it.

First up, lunch at Penny's. While this often has groups of bikers out for a ride today we had it all to ourselves. This place is out of the 50's without all that phony retro stuff, just good food and good service. A Toxic Waste Burger and a BLT with Tater Tots had us filled up and ready to ride.

This was our destination for today, an abandoned grain elevator near the Union Pacific tracks that is now a canvas for local artists

I was hoping to be able to climb to the top of it but all of the stairs and ladders had been removed and there was only bare walls bottom to top. Had somebody told them I was coming?

We were hot and dry on the way back so the Silver Sage in Vernon was our next stop. Soft drinks in glass bottles, hand made root beer floats, and the owner's kids playing Set Back at the counter. Can't get much more homey than that.

Refreshed, we headed home and rounded out the day at 107 miles. Just a nice day to be totally analog.

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Friday, June 15, 2018

The Golden Age of Me

Here's a laugh for you from a conversation with a friend.

I remember when I owned nothing, had a hot girlfriend and a beat up Triumph sports car, and thought that if I had enough money for a case of beer I was rolling in dough. Not a care or a problem in the world !!

Now I have a great wife, a beat up Miata, and a bottle of Buffalo Trace. In some ways nothing changes.

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Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Golden Age Of ...

When was the golden age of motorcycling? 
It was when you were 20.
Kevin Cameron, in the March 2017 issue of Cycle World

Sage as always, Kevin nails it. The best times for most of us was when we were young and everything was new.

It's the new that made it all so special. Most always awkward, many times frightening, and sometimes heart breaking, life was a big shiny ball of discovery. Exploring the world around us and testing the limits of what we could accomplish.

Or at least what we could get away with ...

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Monday, March 19, 2018

My heros

Everyone has a hero or two. I found two of mine along the White Rim Trail at the Gooseberry campgrounds last week.

Andrew & Kevin
Why are these two my heroes? They're two college students from the Univ of N. Dakota. Kevin studies PoliSci and Andrew is a C.S. major. They were on their spring break from Fargo ND and decided to go for a hike. Hmmm ...

I can see them thinking, "Let's go someplace we know little about that's 1200 miles away and go camping. Nah, that's too easy, let's throw in a 60 mile hike to make it interesting. That's it !! What could go wrong?"

So they did.

We met them on our White Rim Trail bicycle trip. (More on that next post) We had cleverly brought our food, tents, and sleeping bags but had neglected to bring matches for the stove. My stove has a self lighter but we brought Diane's which is old school and requires fire to make fire. We were looking at 3 days of cold beans and oatmeal. This is know as The Bad Plan.

There was nobody around except two people we could see about 100 meters from us. Diane went to ask them if they had any matches to spare so we might cook our dinner.

Better than that, they had a couple of disposable lighters that they we willing to give us so that the rest of our trip wouldn't be spoiled.

After dinner and watching the sunset over the mountain ridge we struck up a conversation with Andrew and Kevin. We found they had with amazingly vague plans for hiking the trails in Canyonlands NP. They had gotten a back-country permit and were winging it!

We all talked for over a hour before the cold told us it was time to creep into our sleeping bags. Looking up I could see the Milky Way clearly. The Big Dipper was rotating around the North Star, eternally telling time if you had the sense to read it.

The next morning we thankfully had hot water for coffee and oatmeal thanks to our generous benefactors. We packed our gear for the next leg of our trip and chatted with Kevin and Andrew before they walked off into the distance ready for whatever came.

They are the very definition of adventurers. Going with what they had and not waiting for everything to be perfect. Plans, sure, but not so many that they couldn't take it as they found it. Easy going, gregarious, humble, and generous.

That's why they are my heroes. Every day is another chance to find what is new in the world. They may be back with their books by now but I have every confidence that they are already planning their next trip. I hope to run into them again.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A walk in the mountails

The Oquirrh Mountains are right next to my house. I look at them every morning as I have my coffee and see them out my bedroom window as I go to sleep.

The highest peak is 10,620' and my house is at ~5,050' so there is a mile of elevation to be conquered. Doesn't appear to be anything technical, just a hike to the top. You know where this is going don't you? The hills and mountains of Utah have an abundance of old, abandoned mines that have left trails and and old wagon tracks. Perfect for a day hike - if you can find them.

The first part was to get into the area and just bushwack across country to see what I could find.

The first artifact I encountered was an old drain pipe coming down the hill. It was crude concrete that was lined with a wire bound wooden pipe. Or, maybe, it was a wooden pipe that was encased in cement. Very odd. 

Finally I found what looked to be an old road and started following it uphill. 

It was snowy in parts and muddy where the sun had melted the snow. Although it was only 40F in the shade I was sweating in the sunlight. A beautiful day for a hike.

I didn't make it to the top on this trip but I did make it about a third of the way up. I now know where to connect with the old mining road and with an early start I'm sure I can achieve my goal. 

The great part of living here is that everything you see is only minutes from my home. When I look out the window I can hear it calling me back for another try.

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