Thursday, September 19, 2019

Rocky Mountain High

A few months ago my friend Marcus told me that his BMW airhead engine had committed suicide and asked about contact info for Peter at Moto Bogotaro. Peter and MB are definitely the #1 shop to go to in the NYC / Brooklyn area if you want great workmanship and fair prices. The problem is that Peter is so good that the waiting list is months long.

I half jokingly told Marcus that it would be easier (and probably faster) to fly out and buy my '88 R100RS. While not perfect cosmetically, it has a performance modified engine and a transmission that shifts like a Honda! And who wouldn't want one since they are the ultimate babe magnet ?!?!

He got back to me and gave me a verbal handshake on the deal. We agreed that Labor Day would be the best hand off. I would ride with him for a couple of days to make sure that he was happy and then turn back to Utah while he continued to New York.

I picked him up at the airport and we looked over the bike. I had changed all the fluids and tuned up the bike in preparation for the trip. He looked the bike over, we went for a brief ride and he wrote a check. 

Only one problem flawed the transfer, the side panel that had never been a problem in all the years that I had owned it suddenly decided that it wanted to stay in Utah and disappeared along the side of the road. We went back over our route but found no trace of it. Bummer!

My friend Linda in Aspen had agreed to put us up for a night. It was a great trip spanning all that Utah and Colorado have to offer. We started south in the desert and then turned east into the mountains. With over 400 miles to go we stopped only for gas and lunch. Sorry, no pictures of that part of the trip. Just take my word for it, with great roads and perfect weather it was a gorgeous ride that is the stuff of dreams.

Looks Photo Shopped but it isn't. It's really this great!
The next morning we packed up and got an early-ish start. It's cold at that altitude (7800') and we were willing to give the sun a chance to warm things up. The altitude was also taking a toll on the bikes as they were not jetted for the altitude. Both bikes were running smoothly but were significantly down on power.

Our plan was to ride over Independence Pass and then continue on to Manitou Springs where I would turn back. I will put this route up against anything that the European Alps have to offer. It runs along the Roaring Fork River on the western side and tops out over 12,000'. Beautiful scenery and tight roads are a challenge as you try to make the most of both without taking a flying lesson off the side. 

At Buena Vista we stopped for lunch and decided that I would return from there. Labor Day crowds packed the road and I had seen it all before. Motorcycling is a solo enterprise even when traveling with a friend and I felt confident in Marcus and the bike. 

While eating lunch a guy came over and asked who owned the Transalp. I admitted that it was mine and he and his partner joined us for a discussion of bikes and life. He wanted a bike, she liked her Lexus. Park the bike, wear the gear, and somebody always wants to talk to you. It's one of the joys of traveling by motorcycle.

It all has a happy ending. This is the BMW parked in front of Marcus's garage in NY. No problems or drama. I made it home with a similar lack of events. My only note is that the panniers seem to add quite a lot of wind resistance at highway speeds (70+). They didn't affect the handling but the gas mileage dropped considerably. A small price to pay to get home quickly.

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Monday, September 9, 2019


Note: I came across this letter I wrote to a friend some time ago. We cannot change our past but we can continually improve our future by acknowledging our debt to the ones who helped us.

Socrates: "The unexamined life is not worth living"

You asked me what inspired me and I admit to being at a loss for words, let alone ideas. I mentioned Yosemite as a place that I think of as home but it isn't really inspirational in the sense of a call to action.

On my drive back to Connecticut the question kept running through my mind. I admit that I'm pretty comfortable with my life and rarely ask the BIG questions anymore. By now I know who I am, what I am, and am somewhat ambivalent about why I am. But, still, the question kept reappearing. If nothing else, it helped pass the two hours on the road.

As usual, the answer came when I finally ignored the question. When I stopped trying to find the answer, the answer found me.

I mentioned that Yosemite inspires me but that isn't quite true. What it does is provide a place of spiritual quietness. A place where I can consider my life and actions. It's a place for contemplation and reflection, but not inspiration.

What inspires me are the small kindnesses of others. That might sound very Blanche DuBois but it is what drives me forward.

We talked about those moments when we flinch with chagrin at the missteps of our past. I am embarrassed at the rude and thoughtless acts I have done to others. The times when I was petty or harsh to people for no other reason than that I was trying to be smart.

I can look back and blame this on the ignorance and arrogance of youth. I have learned to forgive myself for the misbehavior for no other reason than that I can not change it.

However, I can do better and I try to. There were some who were steady in their friendship through all my chaotic swings. Those who supported me when I was less than sterling. It is by them that I am inspired.

It is also by the small acts of kindness that happen to me all the time. The nameless farmer in Tennessee who I met in a small diner on my trip across country last summer. After talking as we ate he stood, shook my hand, and wished me a safe trip. When he was gone the waitress came over and informed me that he had paid for my meal. Not because he thought I was poor or in need but because he wanted to add a bright moment to my day.

It costs so little to make people's lives better. I am hardly a sentimental, touchy-feely kind of guy but a smile, a helping hand, and a little effort can go a long way to making a difference in another person's life.
So it is the ones who have stood by me in my life, who were patient, and who have given me that smile, helping hand, and extra effort who inspire me.

Beautiful sunsets last only minutes
and mountains fade away in a million years
but kind words and good friends last forever.

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Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Why I Don't Use K&N Air Filters

This is a K&N air filter I pulled from the R100RS. It's supposed to be cleanable but I'm not buying it. I don't believe that all that dirt is ever coming out not matter what I do to it. That means either restricted performance or dirt will be getting through to the engine.

This is an OEM BMW air filter. Free flowing and certified by BMW to do the job correctly. Clean air and no restrictions. Properly balanced for the carbs and intake system.

Price is not on K&N's side either. ~$90 vs ~$35. You would have to clean the K&N 4 times to save any money and who wants to do that dirty job? Plus it's never going to be as good as a new one. You wouldn't reuse the oil filter, why is the air filter any different?

They have a great advertising campaign but nothing else to offer in my humble opinion.

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Monday, August 26, 2019

The Tale of Two Carburetors

This could also be titled: Old Motorcycles Mean New Problems

My last post described getting the motorcycles home. 

With the help of my friend Doug Wothke, who stopped in on his way to Bonneville Speed Week, the Indian started right up. He said it ran, shifted, braked, and rode well. Yeah!

Note: Doug is a real round the world traveler, unlike those two movie posers.
Check out his site here for tales of his adventures.

Inspired, I got to work on the BMW after he left and immediately ran into a brick wall. The bike wouldn't start. A little exploration revealed that the carburetors were seized and wouldn't operate. Remember that this is a 76 year old bike from the country that lost the war. You don't just run down to the local auto parts store for replacements or parts.

It took a day of carb cleaner, CRC Power Lube, and hot water soaks to get the slide to separate from the left side body. The hot water bath is to get the aluminum body to expand faster than the steel slide and break the corrosion bond between them. One problem is that the slide is connected to the throttle cable but you can't pull too hard for fear of breaking it. Remember, no parts available.

The right carb was not so easy. Three more days of all of the above were required. This time the hot water soaks had a mixture of vinegar added. Vinegar is a weak acid that will eat into the corrosion but leave it to long and it will destroy the aluminum carb body. 

Soak, rinse, check, repeat, ...

Finally, they were both freed up. As you can see, some of the parts are missing and some are different. 

I turned to Craig "Vech" Vechorik at Bench Mark Works for help. He is to vintage BMWs what Bill Silver is to vintage Hondas, the very best and most knowledgeable! He helped with parts, service, and advice for my R69S but this time had only sad news. The carbs were not Bing but Graetzin and parts were NLA (No Longer Available). Not even on EBay. However, he said he could provide gaskets which would be a big help.

Luckily, Germany was on the metric system and I was able to dig around in my box of old Honda parts and make up substitutes for the lost pieces. Not perfectly but close enough for an old war horse.

Spark plugs were another challenge. Neither the local Honda nor Kawasaki shop had the right ones but Amazon came through with the correct NGK B8HS items. I'm sure that to be historically faithful I should have chosen Bosch plugs but I've never had a failure with NGK and always rely on them.

Putting it all together was rewarded on the 5th kick! It sputtered to life and coughed and kicked a bit but it ran! Some time fiddling with the adjustments resulted in a bike that ran and idled. Wow! Older than dirt but not dead yet. An inspiration for us all.

For a real test after I took it out into the local roads and tried some dirt trails. What a hoot! I could see trying the Trans America Trail on this and having a blast.

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Monday, August 19, 2019

More Bikes In The Garage

I keep saying that there are too many bikes but somehow they keep multiplying whenever I turn my back.

My father was fascinated with World War II and had a collection of uniforms, vehicles, and memorabilia. At one point he had his own Jeep and half-track. He was equal-opportunity about it and collected both U.S. and German articles. To him, it was an era when the world knew right from wrong and was willing to fight for it.

As he got older it became harder to maintain his collection of vehicles and he sold them off until only about a dozen remained; a 1964 Corvette, a '63 Pontiac Bonneville convertible, 2 Cords, an ancient fire engine, and the actual taxi from a Laurel and Hardy movie that was his pride and joy.

When he passed away in January he left his two motorcycles to me. A 1941 Indian Scout Sport and a 1943 BMW R75 from Rommel's Afrika Korps. Through no fault of my own the inventory grew. A large growth it was because the R75 comes with a side car. So I drove to Calif with UHaul's biggest trailer with high hopes. 


Of course there were problems. The BMW with sidecar was just a few inches wider than the trailer opening. Weighing almost 900 pounds there was no picking it up and moving it around.

Scooting under it I was able to remove the kick start lever and the left foot rest and guard. At the very last moment I realized that this was also the mounting shaft for the transmission so I left that alone.

With a perseverance ( and a few choice words! ) my brother and I were able winch it into the trailer and get it tied down with loading straps.

The Indian was next and it was another big bike. It just barely fit in the remaining space and, thankfully, was easy enough to just roll in and strap down. 

Now came the really hard part, driving back to Utah with 3/4 ton of motorcycles behind me. The first part was to get out of the SF Bay Area before the Monday morning commute madness began. Sunday night meant that everyone was flooding back home as I was headed east. An overnight stay in Sacramento at my sister's cut my drive back by 100 miles and let me escape the commuter traffic. Then it was up and over Donner Pass and off across Nevada on I-80. By 8:30 that night I was home. Unloading could wait for tomorrow.

Just one question: How can Calif have the highest gas taxes and the worst roads in America? I-80 over the Sierras was rutted so bad that I had to straddle two lanes so that the trailer wouldn't sway back and forth. I find it truly amazing that the people put up with it!

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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Tales From The Toolbox

Every mechanic will lose or misplace a tool from time to time. If you're lucky you just left it next to a different project you were working on and it turns up when you get back it. If you're really unlucky you left it next to the carburetors and it departed for parts unknown when you went for the test ride.

As every mechanic knows, the best way to find a missing wrench is to buy a new one. As soon as the new one arrives the old one will suddenly leap out making you wonder about your powers of observation.

This is my original 8mm wrench. It's one of the ones I bought for my first job. If you didn't see the original post it's here.

Originally 6mm bolts had 10mm heads but Honda, in their infinite wisdom, has now decided that they should have 8mm heads so this is a really important tool. And it went missing ...

This is the 8mm wrench from my backup toolbox. It's a Craftsman wrench and is a perfectly fine wrench. It jumped into action while I used bad words trying to find my original wrench.

This is the new Snap-on 8mm wrench that I bought to replace the lost wrench. You might logically ask, Why get a new wrench when you already had a wrench? Well, all I can say is that I'm a tool nerd and I like to have perfect sets of things.

Snap-On is my favorite brand and it makes me happy in my hand. That is not to denigrate other brands like Craftsman or Mac or Cromwell. It's just the nerd thing and it's cheaper than cocaine but just as addictive! OK, maybe not that much cheaper.

This is another 8mm wrench. It's a box end wrench with a slightly different bend that isn't used too often. When you need it, nothing else will work without a lot of frustration and bad words. Nobody NEEDS one but when you are faced with that one special situation, nothing beats reaching into your toolbox and getting out the tool that makes it a 10 second chore instead of a 10 minute hell.

If you're going to have an 8/9 mm box wrench you should also have a 6/7 mm box wrench, just in the off chance that you should be working on a Yakazumi 67cc moped made in 1952 and need to adjust the points plate. I mean, you never know ...

So back to my original hypothesis: To find a wrench, buy a wrench. This is my original wrench which was right where I left it. The Craftsman wrench is restored to its place as a backup and the two Snap-on wrenches are hanging from the pegboard ready to jump into action. If I misplace one of them will I need to buy a fourth wrench to find it?

Stay tuned for further tales of wrenched excess!

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Monday, July 1, 2019

Erickson Pass Ride

On past rides along the Pony Express Trail I had seen a sign for Erickson Pass. 

I was initially put off by the sign that warned it was for 4x4s only because I was with friends. Of course, that just meant that I had to go back and try it out for myself.

Andrew (Africa Twin), Chris (DRZ-400), and Lucas (CRF250L Rally) were game for a try after I explained that I had no idea what it was or how bad it might be. In fact, I incorrectly remembered it as "Norton, or Nelson" pass. We went right by the cutoff before realizing that I had the wrong name and turned back to give it a go.

The road was through rolling hills typical of the area. An easy ride to enjoy the scenery. Because of the late spring rains it was greener than would be expected for this time of the year which was an added bonus.

Erickson Pass was little more than a depression is the surrounding hills. Had we not seen the sign we would missed it completely. I suppose if I were in a horse drawn wagon it would have been more meaningful but it hardly a challenge for our mighty beasts.

Seeking a little bit more of a challenge we decided to see where the trail behind us led.

Not sure what was up with my camera but I really wasn't going that fast.

Another break to checkout some interesting rock outcroppings and then on to Delta for lunch.

A little over 200 miles for the day split between dirt and pavement. That's the great thing about adventure bikes; no trailer required! We all had a great time and are looking forward to doing it again in the Unita mountains next month.

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