mechanical

Puig Clip-On Windscreen Visor

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My new windshield extension arrived right on time from Revzilla. It’s super simple, and at first doesn’t look worth its $108.85 sale price for a piece of clear plastic and two small brackets. But as I assembled and installed it, I could see that the money goes into a well thought out design and high quality parts. A single Allen wrench is all you need. Naturally I lost all of mine in the move, so I took a quick trip to buy a replacement after tearing the house apart looking for them.

That was the most time consuming part of the installation. Two bolts attach each bracket to the visor, and a single bolt loosens and tightens the clamp onto the top of the existing windshield. The clamp is extremely well padded where it clamps down, and shouldn’t hurt the windshield at all. Once attached, I could see how well this should work for me. The visor is easy to raise, lower, and tilt, but the notches in its movement that hold it in place are strong and rigid to prevent vibration. Not only do I have a few heights available to me, I could hypothetically even use it as a wing to channel air down at me behind the windshield for cooling in hot weather. It’ll definitely take some experimentation once it’s warm enough to ride again.

That may happen as early as next week, according to the forecast. I’m not sure if mornings will be warm enough to ride to work yet, but with highs in the 50s and 60s and lows in the 40s, it just might be. In March. Ridiculous, but I’ll take it!

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It’s Alive!

Elana and I went up to Brian’s yesterday and extracted the bike from behind his dad’s old Mercedes. There was an oil spot on the cardboard we had conveniently left under it – the result of my tiny leak all winter. We topped it off. The lights turned on with the ignition, and the engine cranked over when I hit the starter. It needed a boost off Brian’s charger to get through the extra cranking necessary for the first start of the year, but it fired up and ran great! It just had a little extra smoke in the exhaust, thanks to the Sta-Bil in the gas.

i geared up, set up my phone to navigate, and plotted a non-highway route home. And then I rode – first ride of the year! The bike worked perfectly. Elana watched her phone closely for a call from me in case I ran into trouble – as happened a few times last year – but not this time. I had a pleasant ride home with no excitement whatsoever – in other words, perfect. Even better, the bike had no problem restarting itself after a 90 minute ride. No new battery necessary this year!

But that’s not all. I also managed to revive my crashed TomTom GPS. I researched the problem online, and found a solution that basically involved nuking it from orbit, then letting the TomTom Home software download and rebuild it. It worked! I didn’t even lose my Canada maps.

Of course, it’s raining with temperatures in the 40s today. But I’m back on two wheels. I plan to hang into the PC800 until the Marauder is up and running, which I’ll work on some more soon, just so I can ride. I’ll also start working hard on selling the Silverwing, just to finally make it go away.

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Making plans

Scheduling with my friend Brian, who has garaged the PC800 for me over the winter, has been tricky due to his work schedule. The only weekend he’s around this month was this coming one, when Elana and I were supposed to be driving a sweep vehicle at the Empire State Performance Rally. But since the rally has been postponed until the fall, I’m suddenly around, and have made plans to retrieve my bike this Sunday. Hopefully it starts!

I say that because I also tinkered with the Marauder a bit last night. I was sick all last week, but when I returned to work the replacement battery was waiting for me, so I installed it and tried to fire it up. The previous issue of lacking electrical power is solved. It cranks and cranks and cranks, but doesn’t seem to be firing. The gas was treated with Sta-Bil before its long sleep, but the tank wasn’t full, so I added a gallon of premium to dilute it a bit. It sounds like it wants to fire, but it just doesn’t. It was getting late at this point, and I didn’t feel like pulling the gas tank to access and check the spark plugs. But that’s the next step.

With temperatures finally reaching reasonable levels, it’s time to start riding again. The only question is which bike will be ready first?

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Vote of No Confidence

A miracle occurred on Sunday – I actually got out for a ride, longer than just a quick toodle through nearby towns. I had a few hours to spare, and it was a slightly cool but bright sunny day. I figured I had enough time to wander up to New Hampshire, and set the north end of Route 137 as a destination. This road, running between Bennington and Jaffrey, NH, used to be my test track when I lived in nearby Winchendon, MA. I haven’t been there in a while, so I wanted to go check it out.

To begin with, my TomTom GPS still won’t get beyond the splash screen when I turn it on. I brought it inside to see if there’s any way to breathe more life into it, or if it’s truly done for. I’ll deal with that later. I swapped Ram mounts from the TomTom to the iPhone, but couldn’t find my USB adapter for the cigarette lighter, which I’d been using in the Penalty Box (my Jeep Compass rental I had while the BRZ is in the body shop). So I figured I’d load up my route in the phone, and just refer to it from time to time. Far less convenient, especially without gloves that work with the touch screen, but good enough for a few hours of riding.

The bike was a little sluggish to start, but it had been sitting a while so the battery wasn’t 100% – to be expected. It still fired up just fine, and I was off. I knew the first chunk of the trip quite well – Route 119 for a while. I stretched my gas out to Groton where I filled up, after 131 miles on the last tank. My mileage seems to be improving for some reason. I filled up, restarted the bike – and it didn’t turn over. My battery had depleted to a point just too weak to crank the motor. Fortunately, after a few tries, a small hill, and looking like an idiot, I managed to roll it, dump the clutch, and bump start the engine to life. I thought about this, decided I had a full tank of gas, could finish the loop I’d planned on this tank, and as long as I didn’t shut the bike off, I was good to go. So I kept going. Though I did turn off my driving light to divert as much power as possible to recharging the battery.

aprsI continued through Townsend, and through that fun section through Willard Brook State Forest. Then I hopped 31 north into NH. I planned to follow 31 to 202 in Bennington, and from there pick up 137 south. From there I’d pick up 202 again, take it to 140 in Winchendon, and follow whatever route home from there I felt like – I know several. I passed Wilton, and somewhere between there and Greenfield, I accelerated out of a small town, and had significantly reduced power. It felt just like the power loss I experienced this spring when I limped home most of the way from Barre. I pulled in the clutch to check the idle, and almost stalled it – a very big problem, being unable to restart the bike if I had actually stalled. I made a snap decision to turn around immediately, and at least get back to the center of whatever town I’d just left before the bike sputtered out.

I made the turn, and accelerated hard on reduced power to get back up to speed. The motor smoothed out again, so I kept going past the center of town, experimenting a bit with the throttle to see how it reacted. It seemed to be working better, so I pulled the clutch again to let it idle, and it settled down quite nicely. At this point it seemed worth pulling over and plotting a new course – directly to home, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. If nothing else, I’d bring myself back within my 35 mile towing radius to home.

My phone was down to 40% battery, and I cursed not having my charger for it. I didn’t know the roads in this area, and running the GPS drains the battery quickly – the battery I’d need to call for help if the bike broke. But I decided I could run it a while, and it took me east on 101, south on 13, east on 130, and then hopped some back roads south of the border to Pepperell, MA, where it put me on 113. This drained much of the battery but I knew my way home from here, and shut off the Google Maps app to save the rest of it. The bike was running fine now, and continued to run fine the rest of the way. I got home safely without further incident. After shutting off the bike in my parking space, I tried the starter just for the heck of it. The engine started instantly. I shut it off, turned on the driving light and even the high beam to drain maximum power, and tried it again. It fired up immediately.

I just got home from a 90 minute loop near home (within my towing coverage). The bike ran perfectly the whole time, never better. Unfortunately, my confidence in this bike is broken. Not only from Sunday’s adventure, but from the numerous issues I’ve been having with it all year. Not all of them are the bike’s fault – the leaky back tire was an installation problem, for instance. But between being out of commission for so long, and situations like Sunday making me panic like I did, I feel like I can’t trust this bike even for a full day trip anymore. Elana and I had been hoping weather would cooperate for an overnight bike trip this month, but now neither of us feel comfortable taking it that far away from home. The scarcity of parts for the Pacific Coast 800 doesn’t help, either. All in all, my lack of confidence rather defeats the purpose of a touring bike.

It’s near the end of the riding season anyway. I won’t be doing any tours or even overnights on the bike this year. I have a friend’s garage to store it in this winter. So I don’t need to rush into a more reliable bike. Another friend has a bike for sale that might work for me, but I don’t want to rush into another bike just for the sake of having one. Still, it’s worth taking a close look at. Either way, I’m afraid that the PC800 and I have taken our last tour together, and its days under my ownership are numbered.

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Can’t make this up…

20140720-131230-47550701.jpgI arranged to work from home a week ago Wednesday so I could get yet another ride from Elana to go pick up my bike from the shop over lunch. I got there. The bike was ready. I paid a reasonable price for the work they did. I hopped on, and since I had to get back to work I made my way to Route 2 to superslab it home. But once I got up to highway speed, I heard a new sound from the back – a rubbing that increased with speed. I pulled over as soon as I could, and the center of the tread was starting to come off in chunks. They had installed a size 150/90/15 tire, when my stock size is 140/80/15. In other words, the tire they gave me was too tall. I could see where it has barely a millimeter or two of clearance with a flange on part of the exhaust system. The centrifugal force of higher speeds must have stretched the tire just enough to rub on this flange, causing the chunking.

The good news was that I had caught the problem quickly, and I could still ride safely at lower speeds – straight back to the shop. I called Elana to have her turn around and pick me up, took the next exit I could, and started making my way back to the shop. I hadn’t reinstalled my GPS (I was just going straight home, after all), and I didn’t really know the roads I was on, but my sense of direction got me back to Route 2A, the road Central Mass Powersports is on.

I made it there without further incident. Naturally the service guy was surprised to see me back so soon. I explained the problem, and showed him the tire.  I popped the trunk and showed him the sticker that listed the stock rear tire size. He apologized profusely, and explained that since they had already had my bike for such a long time he was just trying to get me back on the road as quickly as possible with a tire they already had in stock. Without hesitation he said he’d order up a tire in the correct size. I told him that the Metzler ME880 I’d rolled in with comes in the correct size, to save him the trouble of looking it up. Then I hopped in Elana’s Jeep and went home on four wheels rather than two. Again.

I was crushed. This time I didn’t even get home from the shop before it had to go back in. It was feeling like I’d never get to ride a reliable motorcycle again. This goes completely against reality. CMP did an excellent job repairing my previous mechanical issues. Installing the wrong tire size is not the end of the world, and easily repaired. And this all cascaded from the previous shop not installing the valve stem correctly, which was already fixed.

This past Wednesday, I got the call that the bike was done. Yesterday I got a ride to pick it up. They took me right to it, apologized for putting on the wrong size tire once again, showed me the correct size Metzler ME880 they had installed, and sent me on my way. No paperwork. No money. Nothing. I would have been perfectly happy to pay any price difference between the Metzler and the Dunlop they pulled off the shelf, since the Metzler was likely more expensive. That would be reasonable. But it wasn’t even an issue. And there was never any question of paying for the wrecked Dunlop, or an extra mounting and balancing. I can’t hold anything against CMP here. Their only mistake was in rushing to get me back on the road, and when it didn’t work out they did the right thing.

I took Route 2 part of the way home yesterday, just to try some superslab speeds. There was no rubbing – as expected, since the tire is the correct size. I took a few curvy roads, too, at conservative speeds since I was still breaking in the new tire. Much to my surprise, I arrived home without incident. In the afternoon, I pushed my luck and took an even longer ride – out through Bolton, down one of my favorite twisty sections in the area, around the Wachusett Reservoir (my favorite quick ride or test session when I lived in Berlin), and back home. Once again, the bike worked flawlessly.

I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s a good bike, and as of now (I hope!) the series of unfortunate events cascading down from previous work that was done incorrectly has been resolved. But my confidence is gone. It’s a completely illogical, irrational reaction, entirely emotional. Part of the reason I chose the route I did was because a tow back home or to CMP would have been entirely within my roadside assistance coverage. But it wasn’t necessary. Now I just need to put down some miles and rebuild my faith in the bike – have some good experiences with it instead of bad. I plan to start doing what I had planned to do all along – commute on the bike anytime weather permits. It’s been well over a month since I have. It’s only 13 miles each way on mostly back roads that I know quite well. That should definitely help.

I won’t have time for any trips until late August at the latest, with other non-motorcycle commitments throughout the next month or so. But I can at least try another day trip – maybe take Elana to finish our last ride at some point. Yes, I think I’d like to do that. I hate unfinished business.

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Third time’s a charm?

Wow. Central Mass Powersports not only had a driver on the road to pick up my bike 10 minutes after my follow up call (nothing against them for not following through yesterday – we had thunderstorms and even a couple of small tornadoes rolling through), but also – it’s done. Ready. Good to go. Again. Unfortunately, the miles on the underinflated tire did it in, so that had to get replaced as well as the valve stem. But after calling to check, they did it. I could’ve picked it up today if I wasn’t at work. As it is, I arranged to work from home tomorrow and get a ride to go fetch it over lunch.

Hopefully, I’m done with bike problems for a while. I’m almost certainly done with lingering issues from the last shop. I’ve spent way more than I should on it this month already. I just want to ride. But not too far – not yet. After all this, I have to rebuild my confidence in the bike. Fortunately, work is just 13 miles away, and even a tow from work to CMP would barely exceed my 35 mile AMA coverage. And there are a number of short loops I can do close to home before venturing out for a long, all day trip – or longer. It’ll be a while before I get out on an overnight at this point, with SCA weekend (and longer) events coming up over the next month or so.  But that’ll give me time to start trusting the bike to not leave me stranded again.

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On the road again – or not

Finally, after a great deal of time and expense, I finally got my bike back last Wednesday. It’s running beautifully, which makes the sting to the savings account hurt a bit less. Naturally, as soon as I got it back, it rained for two days, including July 4. But I had other plans anyway, and it cleared up for the weekend, so I set Saturday aside for my first full day trip of the year. I think Elana was as psyched to get on the bike for a day trip as I was.

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We started with a highway cruise out Route 2 to Westminster, both to get to fun roads more quickly and because Elana wanted to see what high speed highway riding was like. Then I took us up Mt. Wachusett, which she had wanted to see since seeing my pictures from last month. (I’ll be posting some video of the ride up and down later.)

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We spent some time up there, sightseeing, taking pictures, and so on. Visibility was amazing – even better than my last time up there. The Boston skyline, over 50 miles away, was clearly visible. So was Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire. If I knew where to look, I probably could’ve seen Mt. Greylock, too – a view spanning the full width of Massachusetts. We planned to end up out that way later.

I took us down the mountain, out to Route 62, and to the end of the road in Barre. Then we hopped on 122 – past the point where I lost power the last time I was here – to 202, around the north end of the Quabbin Reservoir. Then we had some fun back road twisties to get over to 116. I intended to follow 116 out to Adams, then hop the Mohawk Trail and Route 2 all the way home.

We stopped for gas, and ended up chatting with a guy on a Honda ST1300 – a bike I lust after. We talked a while. After Elana got on the bike behind me, he pointed out that my back tire was soft. I checked, and indeed it was – very soft. It didn’t take much investigation to discover that the valve stem had started to come out of the wheel, causing a slow leak.

I was livid. I had a leak, from the valve stem, after getting my back tire replaced late last year. I had them check and fix it when I got my new front tire. They charged me for the repair, even though they hadn’t installed it correctly in the first place, but I didn’t raise a fuss at the time since it had been several months, though not many miles. This was exactly the same problem, and still not properly repaired.

Time for what NASA called RTLS – Return To Launch Site abort. I finagled the valve to leak as little as possible, pumped the tire as full as I could, and set a course for home as quickly as we could get there. We picked up 91 (having established that Elana is fine with highway travel) and headed for Route 2, which would take us straight home. It was only one exit. But before we got there, the back of the bike started shimmying back and forth. It got worse quickly. As soon as I sensed it, I pulled over, probably avoiding a really nasty crash by reacting so quickly. The cause was obvious – the back tire was as flat as a pancake.

The next hour was spent fighting to arrange a tow. I’ve never had a problem with AMA’s roadside assistance before, but the guy I got on the phone this time had no clue. And then we realized my membership had just expired at the end of June, and he transferred me to another number to renew – a number that’s closed on weekends. Meanwhile Elana discovered that her AAA in our area won’t tow bikes, ever. Thanks to my smartphone, I managed to renew my AMA membership online. I called back and got a very clueful woman, who, upon taking some info about my renewal, put the tow through at member rates.

The tow truck guy was awesome. I’ve had bikes towed many times and never had issues, but this was the most secure I’ve ever seen it. We dropped it at Elana’s place. The first guy on the phone wasted so much of my time that it was then impossible to get it to the shop before they closed. Her place is 20 miles closer than home (I was already over my 35 mile coverage) and 2 miles from Central Mass Powersports. I’m not even dealing with the other shop anymore – just asking CMP nicely to fix it right. Right now I’m waiting for a call back from them to schedule a pickup at Elana’s place – a service I didn’t even know they offered.

All’s well that ends well, but I just can’t seem to catch a break. I briefly considered selling the bike and giving up on them completely, but I was super angry at the time and have since come to my senses. So although we were technically out with the bike all day, I don’t count the two hours on the side of 91, nor the flatbed ride as part of it. Maybe one day I’ll have just a relaxing day on the bike like I’m supposed to.

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Curses! Foiled Again!

I did some more testing to see if I could figure out my lack of power issue. There’s a great web site, http://www.pc800shopmanual.org/, that has… well… the PC800 shop manual (or at least important bits of it) online for reference. I found some relevant tests for my electrical system, found my multimeter, and went out to run them. To see if one of the two coils had gone bad, I needed to unplug the spark plug wires from the plugs and measure the resistance across them. I started on the rear cylinder and ended up removing both wires – while the caps remained firmly seated on the spark plugs. I tried to put them back together, but I had infinite resistance, so I blew it with the rear cylinder. The front wires gave way more easily, and the resistance was smack dab in the middle of the expected range.

I put it back together as best I could and started the bike. It would barely idle, but any gas at all would cause it to stall. It must be running on only the front cylinder, and that’s the cylinder that has the problems – it was the rear that actually got me home that day.  At this point, I gave up and buttoned it up before I caused even more damage.

When I had some time, I called AMA Roadside Assistance and arranged a tow. I expected the dude with the huge flatbed truck who wasn’t entirely sure how to secure a motorcycle on a truck intended for a car, like I usually got. Instead, I got Iron Horse Transport. I walked outside to find a good sized pickup truck towing an enclosed trailer with the nicest motorcycle transport setup I’d ever seen. Thom was great, and had my bike rolled in and strapped down in no time. He even had a Canyon Dancer to secure the handlebars. Before I knew what hit me, the bike was on its way.

Thom was so fast that I hadn’t even had a chance to call ahead to Central Mass Powersports to let them know it was coming. That’s when I got the bad news – they’re booked two weeks out. If the bike wasn’t already on its way to them, they would’ve turned me away completely. But after my last repair experience, I was looking for an alternative, and it’s not like I’ll be riding before it’s fixed whether it’s here or there. So it’s booked for a diagnosis on June 20 and we’ll go from there. Of course, I’d already set aside the weekend of June 21-22 for a weekend trip to the Lake George area with Elana, so unless a complete miracle occurs, I guess we’ll be taking the car instead.  Admittedly, a sports car on the roads out there should be a lot of fun, too, but it won’t be a bike trip.

Half the year gone, and I still haven’t gotten even a good full day trip, never mind any overnights or longer. I’m tempted to plan something July 4 weekend, but then everyone will be, so places to stay could be tough to find, and on top of that I have non-motorcycle plans for the following weekend, and then Pennsic in early August. I have too many commitments and not enough time to do any serious tripping for a while. I’m afraid that the next thing I know, the season will be over, and I’ll have nothing. If I want to do a cross country ride in the next couple of years, this doesn’t bode well.

But one disaster at a time. Let’s get the bike back, and see what I can do from there.

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Re-tired

Last Thursday I brought the bike to the shop. Naturally, this caused a major temperature drop, and the coldest ride I’ve ever taken on a bike. I didn’t want to know how cold it actually was, but I’d guess around 30F – cold enough that I wore more layers than I ever have on a bike, and was super careful of any patch that looked wet, because it was probably ice. The bike almost didn’t even start, it was so cold. But I made it to work, and then to the shop after, where I left it and got a lift home.

Yesterday I rearranged my schedule to work from home and get a lift to the shop while they were open to pick it up. (Scheduling is hard when the shop hours are identical to my work hours.) All done. New front tire. Also replaced the back tire stem to fix the leak. This is the stem they installed last summer, after my Canada trip, and that had leaked ever since. It only got bad recently, but still.

They also completely redid my front brakes – new pads, resurfaced rotors, and fresh fluid. Only problem is I hadn’t asked for this, they did it without checking with me, and the whole job ended up costing me twice as much as I’d expected, during a month where I’m already strapped for money. I still need to check the inspection report to see if it was required for the sticker (which I did get), but they still should’ve called me. I would’ve postponed it till next month, since the bike was still legal until the end of May, or possibly done it myself to save some money. I’ve done brakes in cars many times, then driven them on race tracks, and lived. I’m all for good brakes – and tires, which is what brought me there in the first place – but they should’ve checked with me. At least it has a shiny new inspection sticker, and should need nothing else for a while.

Now all I need is time and weather to ride. Of course, as soon as the bike is back, it turns cold and rainy again. My next few days are filled with preparation for the Empire State Performance Rally this weekend, where I’m driving one of the sweep vehicles (no, not the BRZ). It’ll be great fun, but not at all a motorcycle’s job. And I’ve temporarily swiped the ham radio from the bike to use at rally, so no APRS for a little while. Still, I hope to at least sneak in at least a day trip sometime in the next few weeks, and start commuting on the bike – once this crazy New England weather allows me to.

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Tired

It looks like my tire issues are slightly more serious than I thought. I already mentioned that my front tire is about due for replacement. I pumped up the back tire for the ride to dinner with Ana, but before I took myself for a cruise a few nights ago it was flat again. Once again I pumped it up, but by the end of my after work ride the bike didn’t feel quite right. I can’t explain it. It didn’t feel squirrelly or anything, just – not right. So I slowed down, took it easy, and headed home. As I rolled through my parking lot I noticed that I was feeling bumps through the front tire, but not the rear. It had gone soft again during the ride. I’m glad my spider sense was tingling.

So I called Bikeworx to make an appointment – new front tire (another Metzler ME880), fix the back tire (which they just installed last summer), and an inspection while they have it. Sadly their hours overlap nearly perfectly with my work hours, and my next few Saturdays are booked, so those logistics will be interesting. I’ve at least arranged to drop if off next Thursday, when I can get a ride home afterward.

It’s getting warm enough in the mornings to start riding to work, and I want to do that. But it’s inconvenient to run the tire pump early in the morning, ride in, then pump it up again when I leave. It’s also necessary before any major trips I take. I haven’t planned any yet, and I should start thinking about that.

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