Sep 18
1916 Triumph with sidecar.

1916 Triumph with wicker sidecar.

That’s a saying I’ve heard from more than a few people. It expresses the sentiment that more power means a bigger engine. Intuitively that would seem obvious, but it’s not quite that cut and dried. What you do with a given displacement will have a lot of effect on the power you get.
This point was brought home to me recently as I attended an antique bike show. I was looking at at 1916 Triumph motorcycle. It had a 500cc engine. In a modern motorcycle like the Kawasaki Vulcan, or Ninja, one would expect 50 to 60 horsepower. The old Triumph engine for 1916 used it’s 500cc to produce a whopping 3.5 horsepower. Just as well I suppose, as this old bike was fitted with a wicker sidecar. Can you imagine strapping a wicker side car to a Ninja?
While that is an extreme example, you can still see the effect of engineering decisions on performance for a given displacement in contemporary engines. For a short time, I recently owned two bikes with 1500cc displacement. I was amazed at the difference in the two machines. A friend of mine commented that, “There’s 1500 and then there’s 1500.” The big V-twin bike topped out at about 85 horsepower, while the flat-6 produces roughly 100. That’s even more surprising when you consider the V-twin was a newer design, fuel- injected power plant while the flat-6 was older with a carburetor.
Both of these bikes are big touring cruisers where comfort and reliability is more important than raw power. A co-worker recently bought a Honda CBR 1000. Checking the specs on that bike I was surprised to discover that the 998cc power plant of this little bike produced 148 horsepower.
There’s been a huge gain in efficiency from better mechanical engineering since 1916. But the improvements in the last 10 to 15 years have been smaller. We’re probably getting close to the best performance we’re going to get from simple mechanical advances. The greatest impact on engine performance in the last couple of decades have come from electronics. Engine control units, or ECUs, now integrate several mechanical systems to control fuel delivery and ignition producing not only more power over a greater RPM range, but better gas mileage as well.
Dual cams and variable cams have improved valve performance, but these are still mechanical systems with some limitations. You can time when a valve begins its cycle with variable cams. But so far the lobe, or time the valve stays open, is constant. Some engines are experimenting with electronic valve control that offers the opportunity to alter the time the valve is open, but also can alter the area through out the cycle for maximum combustion.
So, what do we do when we reach the limit of performance using electronics? Well, there’s always chemical engineering of the fuel.

- Guy Wheatley

Jun 23
iNavigator

My iPhone as MP3-player and GPS navigator.

I’m on my third GPS navigator. My first was a Garmin street pilot C320. I bought it expecting only the magic moving map that would show me turn for turn how to reach my destination. Discovering the commercial database that allowed me to find the closest gas station, store or restaurant quickly spoiled me. I started to see the other possibilities these devices had to offer.
One feature I still don’t have, but would like, is the ability to load a preplanned route. The GPS units I’ve used so far pretty much assume that the goal is to get from point A to point B as efficiently as possible. Even though you can add way points, there is a limit to how well you can map out a circuitous route. Additionally, the unit keeps trying to get me to get back on major roads when I’m running a parallel, scenic road. I’ve seen units that have this function, but they cost more than I’m willing to pay for those features.
I liked my Garmin. As mentioned above, the commercial database was an unexpected surprise. It was amazingly complete, but took up so much memory that I couldn’t load the entire U.S. at one time. This became a problem on my trip top San Antonio. I assumed it was in the region I had loaded. By the time I discovered it was not, I was on the road. I had to by a paper map to complete the trip.
As the maps on my Garmin became outdated I decided that the cost of updating them was too close to the cost of a new unit. My second one was a Magellan Maestro 3200. This unit had a complete U.S. map, but the commercial database was sorely lacking. I could find specific stores with the Garmin. The Magellan was doing well to find general categories. This would have been unacceptable if not for the purchase of my iPhone about the same time. The maps app that came on the iPhone was absolutely incredible. I could type in a vague phrase like, “fish place,” and get hits on seafood restaurants and restaurants specializing in catfish. Try that with a paper map.
The map app won’t work as a GPS navigator. It doesn’t update position often enough and it can’t show the 3D turn by turn view needed for effective navigation. But like the commercial says, “There is an app for that.” I purchased one called Navigon when it came on sale which makes my third GPS navigator my iPhone. It’s the right size to mount on my handle bars, right on the plate that holds them to the risers. In conjunction with a 12-volt adapter and stereo bluetooth headphones, I’ve got everything I need, and more, right in one unit. I can listen to my iTunes library while Navigon shows me the way. I can take an incoming phone call if I get it. I’ve also got my e-mail and an Internet connection for when I stop. It plays video so if I’m going to be on the road overnight, I’ll get a movie or podcast ready.
Using another app called gas cubby, I keep track of maintenance and mileage on all of my vehicles. Including the one I’m riding at the moment.
The female voice on my first unit caused me to name it Wicked Wanda. The next unit needed a different name so I called it Magic Madge because that sounded more like Magellan. The Navigon app alerts me when I’m exceeding the speed limit. I’m thinking of calling it my Nag-a-vator.

— Guy Wheatley

Apr 20
The dark side
icon1 Guy | icon2 Wrenching | icon4 04 20th, 2010| icon33 Comments »
Back fender well

There’s not much room in the back fender well of my Victory.
I just put a back tire on my Victory. I went with a popular brand of motorcycle tire, and the same size as the one that came with the bike. But I did seriously consider going to the dark side. In the motorcycle world, going to the dark side means running a car tire.
The reason most dark siders give for their decision is tire life. Most motorcycle tires are good for about 10,000 to 15,000 miles, yet cost the same or more than a comparable car tire good for 50,000 miles. The reasons given for this discrepancy depend largely on who you speak to. Tire manufacturers insist that a motorcycle tire is different from a car tire and engineering constraints limit tire life. Motorcycle tires are round to keep an even contact patch on the ground when the bike leans into a turn. They are also designed to be “sticky.” The tire must grip the road, even in a lean, with sufficient force to keep the wheels from sliding out from under the bike. Those who oppose dark siding say it’s a safety issue.
Dark siders don’t buy it. While the argument sounds logical, many of these folks have run car tires for tens of thousands of miles and say the empirical data don’t support that assertion. I’ve read many forum threads and articles about motorcycle tires. The most convincing one to me was by a Valkyrie rider I know from a forum I belong to. Dark side thread on MOOT Of the arguments I’ve heard, those in favor of running car tires seemed more well thought out and less biased. The manufacturers obviously have a vested interest in selling you a new $120 tire every10,000 miles rather than every 50,000 miles. While many riders claim that there is a safety issue involved, most of them simply parrot the tire industry statements. I haven’t found a good, unbiased study or trial showing real danger. Most of those claims have been either anecdotal, or calculated without a legitimate data set. Dark siders also point out that a tire less likely to blow out on you is a safer tire.
So, why did I stay with an MC tire? There were two reasons. First, I couldn’t fire a car tire with a profile that I know I could get on my bike without modifying it. There’s not a lot of room up in the fender well of my bike so any tire I use will have to fit a specific profile. I just couldn’t find a car tire I was sure would fit.
The second reason has nothing to do with safety. It was strictly a legal issue. I’m not sure a car tire is legal on a motorcycle. But I know for sure that if I’m ever in an accident, counsel for the opposition will insist that my car tire was at fault. And fortunately for him there is a wealth of industry data-propaganda to back him up. A car tire might be safe on a motorcycle, but is isn’t safe in a courtroom.

Another good dark side article.

— Guy Wheatley

Apr 5
Riding on faith.
icon1 Guy | icon2 Wrenching | icon4 04 5th, 2010| icon31 Comment »
<br />
Looking for the gremlins in the V-4 engine of my Honda Magna.

Looking for the gremlins in the V-4 engine of my Honda Magna.

I was heading home for lunch last Tuesday when my bike suddenly got real sluggish. It would almost die every time I tried to pull away from a stop. I’d have to hit 4000 rpm on the tack and slip the clutch to get moving. The engine would easily go to 9000 in neutral with no load, but it just didn’t have any power.
When I got home, I started checking and it looked as though the engine wasn’t hitting on its two back cylinders. This engine is a V-4. The pipes coming off of the back two cylinders were cold. I just figured I’d lost the back coil. I had another bike to ride so I planed to switch off and look at this one the following Saturday. (That turned out to be different sad story.) The battery was a little low. I was only showing 12.5 volts with the engine running at 4000 rpm. It would actually jump up to about 13.5 volts when I dropped the engine to 2000 rpm. The battery seemed sluggish so I hooked up the charger and gave it a good, deep cycle, 2 amp charge overnight.
(Side note here. Both battery and regulator are only about two years old.)
Saturday I go out to fix the bike. The first thing I want to do is confirm that I don’t have fire at the back two cylinders. I fire it up and sure enough it runs rough, just like it did on Tuesday. But when I check to see which two cylinders aren’t hitting, it’s now the left rear and the right front. I pull the back plugs out and check for fire. The plugs look good. Dry with a little black residue. Not chocolate, but dry with no clumps, and I have fire at both plugs. Those front plugs are rough to get to. You have to pull the radiator to get to them, so I decided to start the engine again and make sure which cylinders aren’t firing.
With this tank of gas, I’m on the second half of a can of a gas additive that is supposed to remove carbon build up. I’m starting to think the gas additive may have loosened something that’s plugging up a gas line, or jet in my carburetor. But before I start pulling the carburetor off, I want a final check to be sure. Those plugs on the back cylinders looked good to me. Also, I’m smelling gas at the tail pipe. Doesn’t that mean I’m getting gas, but no fire?
I put the bike back together and start then engine. When I run it up to 8000 rpm, it starts to backfire and blow black smoke. The tach starts to jump every time it backfires. I just hold the engine speed there for a while while it spits, pops, and blows smoke. It eventually settles down and holds engine speed without backfiring. The smoke clears up too. I grabbed a helmet and put a couple of miles on it right then. It fires off the line and hasn’t missed a beat since then. I’ve been riding it as much as I can since. It’s running as well as I ever remember. Additionally, the battery seems to be holding the charge.
I haven’t really “fixed” anything so I’m still a little skittish, but it’s running good at the moment, and I don’t want to start monkeying with it. I’ll keep riding it to work and to the store until it either starts acting up again or until I trust it again. In the meantime, I’m just riding on faith.

— Guy Wheatley

Mar 9
Checking out mechanical drawings on the laptop.

Checking out mechanical drawings on the laptop.

I’m old enough to remember shade tree mechanics. We lived in a small rural town where there were no dealerships. But this was farming country where self-reliance and mechanical skills seem an innate part of the DNA. The three gas stations had garage bays and you could get work done there. If you didn’t want to use them for some reason, there was always some guy with grease in his veins looking to supplement his income. He’d just pull your car up under a shade tree and start wrenching.
As a young adult raising a family, I moved to a more urban setting. Lacking the mechanical DNA of my agrarian contemporaries, I would just haul my busted vehicle back to the dealership for any needed repairs. In those days I believed that I’d get the most qualified mechanics and best service from the dealer.
Now that I’m on older model motorcycles, I find that running to the dealership is not always an option. My favorite bike is a 1994 model. Not all dealers will support a bike that is 16 years old, and I’m reluctant to spend $1,500 on a repair to a bike worth $2,000. So I started looking for a shade tree mechanic and made an interesting discovery.
I found some local guys ready to help someone willing to learn. They’d invite a newbie over to their garage or workshop, hand you a wrench and start giving direction. They are also there to bail you out if you get in over your head. I was surprised at the depth of knowledge and experience they could draw from as well as their ability to find parts at reasonable prices. That’s when they introduced me to the secret behind their magic: the Internet.
One forum alone has almost 500 members with the same model of motorcycle I have. Many of these guys are good with their hands and tools. So far, every problem I’ve had with my bike, somebody else has already had. One the the good wrenchers on the board has documented the repair process with photos, tips, tricks and sometimes video. Often somebody knows where you can get a used part. At the very least, you’ve got people from all over the country doing cost comparisons for you. Another friend who works on cars instead of bikes always tells me, “The Internet is our friend.”
With the help and encouragement I’ve gotten, and the knowledge that help is just a mouse click away, I’ve started doing a lot of my own maintenance and repairs. It’s not likely I’ll ever work under a shade tree. But if I do, it will have an ethernet jack.

Mar 2
Turning blue
icon1 Guy | icon2 Wrenching | icon4 03 2nd, 2010| icon31 Comment »

reassembling the bike

Putting the painted pieces back on. – photo courtesy Magna Owners of Texas forum

I was surprised at how much effort it takes for a good paint job. Despite knowing better in an academic sense, I still half expected it to be a matter of picking up a paint gun, pointing it at the part and pulling the trigger.
Fortunately for me I was there to document not paint, so I got to watch the guys working rather than expend a lot of elbo grease myself. The time that went into this project is literally measured in days, not hours. The project started by removing everything to be painted from the bike. This includes all body panels, the gas tank, the fenders, faring and numerous other small pieces. Everything that gets paint comes off the bike.
Then each piece is sanded to remove any old decals, pin-striping and built up paint. Any dents or cracks are glassed or filled in with putty and then sanded again. The putty and sand process is repeated until each piece is smooth and has the correct shape.
Finally ready for primer, the pieces get a final sanding to provide a key, or rough surface, for the primer to grip. Once keyed, each piece is degreased before priming.
With the first coat of primer on, the painter can go over the pieces with fine grit sand paper on a block looking for minute imperfections. These can be filled out by applying more primer and sanding again. These are imperfections too small feel or see before the glossy finish is applied. We’re talking about raising or lowering the surface by less that the height of a coat of paint.
Most of this can be done in a fairly relaxed area. Once the paint starts going on, it gets more serious. We move the parts into the paint booth when we start applying primer, but we’re still fairly relaxed. Once the real paint goes on, we try to limit the number of trips in and out of the paint booth. We’re careful to not let the door slam, or to do anything that could introduce particles into the air. The air filter fans are roaring so loud we can barely hear each other, causing much of our communication to be with hand signals.
Now comes the clear coat. This is the glossy finish that will show any imperfections. The pressure is really on now because this is the final step. Right or wrong, what we get with this step will be what we live with.
Fortunately we got a good paint job. Even with all of the precautions we took, I did see a couple of places where it looks like a speck of dust may have gotten on or in the clear coat. Hopefully those tiny little specks can be buffed out, but I was amazed to see any imperfections with all of the precautions we had taken.
The finished parts are beautiful. “Illusion Blue,” is the color we were using. There were times when I was holding my breath. A good name for the color I was turning would be, “anxiety blue.” Looking at those beautiful parts though, just call me, “envious green.”

Click here to see photo gallery

— Guy Wheatley

Feb 26
Custom paint job on savage.

Olive drab military design on a 1997 Suzuki Savage.

We’ve got some guys coming up from the Dallas area this weekend. These guys belong to the Magna Owners Of Texas (MOOT) forum. We actually have MOOTsters from all over the world. It turns out that the wrenching talent on this board is incredible and worthy of a future blog topic on its own.
Part of that talent resides here in Texarkana, and that is the draw for this weekend. We’ve got a local guy who’s a virtual Michelangelo with body putty and a Picasso with paint. So a lucky MOOTster with a new-to-him bike is journeying to see the master and get his bike painted.
So, what color? Well, these guys are riding high revving, multi-cylinder machines, so we need a fast color.
“What’s a fast color,” you ask. The short answer is red or yellow. And there is actually some scientific basis for such a claim. It turns out that red, orange, and yellow photons have longer wavelengths that allow them to travel slightly faster through air than colors with shorter wavelengths, such as green or blue. This only applies if you’re a photon, traveling close to the speed of light, but that’s just nit-picking. Besides I believe that some of the guys try to reach those speeds, so the rule still applies.
But science aside, there is a lot of friendly debate on the fastest color. Some like the hot colors, the reds and yellows, while other go for the cool ones, the blues, greens, and purples. I suppose it depends on whether you want your bike to look “Hot,” or “Cool.”
But which ever school you belong to, the paint must be applied with technical perfection. And that’s where the real magic lays.
I’ve read a lot about painting. It’s funny that I keep reading the same sentences about finishes from topics as diverse as polishing shoes, to building boats. A beautiful finish requires a lot of patience. Many thin coats, be it polish, paint, or resin, are superior to a few thick ones.
Prep, sand, paint. Prep, sand, paint. Prep, sand, paint. There’s just no replacement for that part of the formula. But this part also requires experience and talent.
There is more to preparing a surface than smearing on some filler and hitting it a few licks with coarse sandpaper. Getting the paint the right consistence to go on cleanly and smoothly also requires skill. You compound the issue greatly when you start using additives like pearl or metal-flake. Put that in a clear coat over a decal or an air brush design and it gets even more complicated.
Did I mention decals, air-brushing, and ghost flames?
After extensive reading and studying the subject, I’ve discovered the secret to a beautiful paint job. Call a MOOTster.

— Guy Wheatley

Jan 20
New American V4
icon1 Guy | icon2 Wrenching | icon4 01 20th, 2010| icon32 Comments »
KMV4

An exploded view of Motus’ KMV4 engine

It’s finally coming and it’s more than I could have hoped for. I always thought that you’d have to choose between classic style and performance. I must admit that the high-revving, high-tech, high-performance, multicylinder engines that I’d love to have in a bike don’t give you much in a classic, retro style. I always thought it would have to be one or the other. Oh the joy of being so wrong.
An Alabama company will soon introduce an American made sport-tourer featuring a V4 engine. Motus will use an engine called the KMV4 from Katech, Inc. This motor promises to deliver the oxymoronic properties of the latest technology and retro design. It’s a V design with overhead valves and pushrods. The camshaft is nestled in the V in a design reminiscent of the classic Chevy short block engines of the ’70s. But this ain’t your daddy’s engine. With 100-cubic inch displacement, it may still produce 140 horsepower from the innovative Gasoline Direct Injection.
But for all of the promise this engine holds, at the moment it’s only promise. As of this date, it has not been mounted in a bike or road tested. Keep an eye out here for future blogs on this innovative bike. I can hardly wait to get real-world reports. I’ve also got a few suggestions about the bike I’d like to see this thing power.

— Guy Wheatley

Jan 7
Oil
icon1 Guy | icon2 Wrenching | icon4 01 7th, 2010| icon32 Comments »

I’m going to tell you everything I know about engine oil.
Exxon 10w-40. There. That’s it.
That’s what Dad used in his cars. All of them if I remember right. It came in a blue-colored can made of cardboard with a metal top you opened with a can opener. He also used it in the garden tractor, lawnmower and tiller. I’m not sure he didn’t also cook with it. He did make a concession when it came to our 2-cycle outboards, pouring in some blue-colored concoction that made them smoke like the dickens. But as far as motor oil goes, it was Exxon 10w-40. So, when ever the dipstick came up a little dry on any of our vehicles, I’d run out and get some Exxon 10w-40 and pour it in.
The first time a vehicle I purchased needed an oil change, I took it to one of those places that do oil changes.
“You wanna keep Prestone 5w-30?” the guys asks.
I’m momentarily stunned. We’re talking about motor oil and at no time did I hear the phrase, “Exxon 10w-40.”
“That’s what the manufacturer recommends,” the guy offers into the uncomfortable silence.
Now for all I know the manufacture may recommend pancake syrup. For some reason it never occurred to me check out this little tidbit of information before hauling the car out for an oil change. I can feel my testosterone level dropping by the second.
“Yeah, that’s what I want.” I grunt before I wind up an alto.
Years later I attended a motorcycle wrenching session with some of the guys I ride with. Most of them were doing things like jetting their carbs or changing their fork seals. As we were meeting in a garage, and the guys were holding tools, I didn’t let the words “forks” and “carbs” fool me into to thinking this had something to do with cooking. I elected to tackle something I could do with minimal help. Change the oil.
This meant I had to go out and buy some to put back in the bike. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a little sticker that told me what kind the last guy used, the way I often can on my car. So I casually asked one of the guys what oil he used. At this point I discovered an interesting fact about motorcycle oil. In a room with 10 bikers, there will be at least 11 opinions about oil.
Both my bike and I survived the experience. I now do the oil in all of my vehicles and decided to learn a little about oil. Wow! I had to learn a lot just be be ignorant. Fortunately there is a lot of information available on the Internet. I started out reading the multitude of threads about oil on the numerous motorcycle forums I belong to. There are undoubtably a lot of smart people giving out good information there, but I couldn’t tell the difference in the good advice and the bad.
I did find a site I like. Motorcycle Info It’s produced by the guy who owns California Scientific. I’d characterize him as a fairly bright fella who’s also a pretty decent writer. I don’t think you’ll see anything on his site turned into a major motion picture, but it is entertaining and informative.
If I keep improving my mechanical skills at this rate, I’ll be pretty good by the time I’m 150.

— Guy B. Wheatley

May 21
Bagging it
icon1 Guy | icon2 Wrenching | icon4 05 21st, 2009| icon3No Comments »

I bought generic saddle bags for my Magna. I don’t even remember the brand. They were real leather from a local shop and were throw over the yoke design that would fit my bike. I mounted them with the cross over piece under the seat. For the first few weeks everything was OK, but then they started to sag down onto the pipes. I’d tighten up the yoke, eventually making new holes for the laces. But eventually they’d sag back down again. Then they started loosing their shape with the outer edge drooping down onto my pipes.

<font size=2, face=arial, color=000000>saddle bags resting on the exhaust pipes. They'd get a little warm on the bottom..</font>

saddle bags resting on the exhaust pipes. They'd get a little warm on the bottom..

Of course I could just replace them with hard bags, but I’ve got a few reasons not to. Actually, I don’t have about 400 reasons to get new ones. So I did what so many other poor bikers have done. I fabricated braces. Some time last year, I had a local machine shop make a couple of T-shapes with holes drilled to fit the bolts on my rear fender assembly. I had them bend out the bottom of the T for the bags to sit on. When I got ready to install them I discovered that they were too long, coming down and touching the pipes. So they sat for a year while I pondered.
Last weekend I decided to finally put on the new rear tire I’d bought. I pulled off the back wheel, removed the old tire and cleaned up the rim. My relief at how easily the new tire went on was short lived as I discovered that it was a 16 inch tire. I needed a 15 inch.
So I’ve been waiting since then for the new tire to come in. I figured that while I had the back wheel off was a good time to get those brackets put on. I cut the arm piece off the T. The ¼ inch of metal the angle grinder ate out was just enough to correct the length. I welded them back on to the shorter shank. I then welded on a piece of plate steel on the bottom for a larger place for the bags to rest.

<font size=2, face=arial, color=000000>Left bracket in place.</font>

Left bracket in place.

Now,when I say I welded, what I mean is that there was electricity involved along with molten metal, and eventually two pieces of steel stuck together. An hour or two with the angle grinder and most of the blobs and splatters were gone. Of course the pits where I blasted metal out are still there. Oh well, a little filler and a little paint. These things will be hidden by the bags anyway.
With the back wheel off, getting to the bolts was a lot easier. I’d spent about $10 on four stainless steel bolts that were ¼ inch longer, lock washers, and nuts. I put the bolts back in backwards so that the acorn nut was now on the outside. This is so I can remove the brackets with out having to pull the bolts out. Putting everything back together I discovered that the new bolts were too long. The old bolts were just right.

<font size=2, face=arial, color=000000>Bags back on Maggie.</font>

Bags back on Maggie.

So, $10 on needless parts, $25 on the original fabrication by the machine shop, Another $10 for some plate steel, some skinned fingers and a few assorted burns later and I’ve got bag braces.

<font size=2, face=arial, color=000000>Bags are now up off the pipes.</font>

Bags are now up off the pipes.

I wonder what it’ll cost to get them chromed.

— Guy Wheatley

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