I Surrender

I never thought it would come to this.

When I bought Finn his Buell Blast, my operative assumption had been that a piece of machinery that simple couldn’t really break in any meaningful way.

That assumption has proved so repeatedly wrong I find myself humbled in ways to which I am simply not accustomed.

I’m not merely wrong. I’m colossally, cosmically, monumentally, fundamentally and eternally totally wrong.

My shame in this knows no bounds.

 

***

 

I don’t know, but after I put the motor back in after it fell out, I had what I guess was a false sense of security.

The Blast seemed much more solid on the road, and on a warmer day — say 70 degrees — the carburation seemed spot on and it was making good power.

Bliss, they say, is fleeting.

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Another series of texts from Finn.

When these arrive out of the blue the import is seldom good.

“Stinking bike blew the quiet core out of the muffler.

You’d think I’d have noticed THAT when it happened. 😉

Checked back on the ground in the garage. It’s gone.”

How the asshole reduction baffle — Jardine calls it a ‘quiet core’ — intended to make their racetrack pipe almost socially acceptable — could have been shaken loose is beyond me. I’d used blue locktite on the baffle securing bolt and added a fillet of high temp copper silicone to secure the insert in the exhaust outlet. That insert should have been in there. Instead, it was outta here.

So now the Blast was blasting around sounding like an asshole’s motorcycle.

Then the temperature went under 40 degrees and the bike’s not exactly auto auto choke decides it doesn’t want to fully disengage. A good running motorcycle transforms into an unridable mess — backfires, momentary power loss.

If you are trying to run down Greenbelt Road or US1 in the left lane in morning rush, a big hairy backfire and three seconds of no power are enough to get one steamrolled. It ain’t fun, and it sure ain’t safe.

When this information was shared, Sweet Doris from Baltimore overrevved and threw a rod. “My baby boy is going to get run over by some Crazy PG County Driver on that ‘motorcycle’.”

No mas. Make it stop.

I really wanted to like the Blast. A small light simple single. Descendant of the Vincent Comet.

But it kept betraying me. Shaking parts off. Developing the same intake leaks, carb warmup and drivability problems.

It’s goddamn engine fell out, for Pete’s sakes.

I still want to like the Blast.

Maybe if throw out its fuel tank, carburetor and ignition and replace them with modern components I might yet.

But when I look at it now, all I see is a motorcycle that has been trying to encourage people to run over my son, and an undeniable evidence of my utter and indelible wrongness.

I did a quick review of the few motorcycles currently made that are even remotely related to what we used to call ‘a standard motorcycle’.

I didn’t really want to put Finn on a smaller motorcycle, given his maturing skills as a rider — so the new generation 300s and 400s were non-starters. Fully faired sportbikes, four cylinders, things called ‘Ninja’ and cruisers were out. What one had left were about 5 bikes with displacements between 500 and 800 ccs., and the Honda CB500F was the most versatile, most comfortable, and like a lot of past Hondas, had been so perfectly useful that nobody bought them.

Plus, It’s a Honda.

I probably neglected to mention it was also the least expensive.

If I lived in LA, where coolth apparently has more impact on what people buy to ride, I could buy a leftover 2015 model of these bikes for around $3,800 which is crazy short money for a two cylinder, double overhead cam, water cooled, fuel injected, highway capable modern motorcycle.

In less cool Jefferson, though, there are still leftovers that can be had, and the best such deal I was able to find was at Pete’s Cycle in Baltimore, which had been my dealer when I first started riding my first motorcycle, my CB750K1.

After a phone call or two, I put a deposit on the CB.

It’s a good-looking motorcycle — matt black paint with silver tank shrouds and tailsection. There’s a good looking set of twin silver stripes around the top of the tank, a nice racetrack spec fuel filler, and bright blue anodized fork caps with preload adjusters decorating the bike’s cockpit.

CB

A unsplatted Finn is worth immeasurably more than $4,699, plus freight, assembly, title, taxes and tags.

Finn’s 20th birthday is on Thanksgiving. Apparently he will be celebrating early, and for sometime thereafter.

 

***

 

Postscript:

Just got back from Baltimore with the bike – A lovely, cold, rainy 65 miles home.

Despite that, I don’t think Finn is going to stop grinning for some time.

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Great Grandson of the Black Bomber

 

 

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Shaky

I spent today making another tool laden Blast reassembly run from Jefferson to College Park.

A few days ago, Finn calls me up on the phone and says “My Bike is Shaky.”

“It’s making a jingling sound, and seems to be vibrating a lot.”

Now for a Buell Blast operator to say the bike is vibrating a lot is not news, but if it is vibrating more than it normally does, this is a concern.

I tell Finn I’ll call him back.

I do a few web searches. I have come to love the members of the Buell Blast enthusiasts online community, who have already seen every possible failure this simple machine can have.

Some of them more than once.

I call Finn back and then tell him to send me pictures of “That Big Rubber donut underneath the steering head.” He sends me this.

Holes with Nothing In Them

 

Strangely, it’s the isolator — the rubber torus in the middle of the mount — that is known to fail — the rubber tears. This isolator, though, appears to be fine.

Notice on the near side, where there is a hole in which should be an isolator mount bolt. Note that there is not one.

Then please notice on the other side, where there should be another one. There is one there, but its orientation indicates it is no longer connected to that to which it should be connected.

Finn is on campus… he’s calling me from the Architecture Studio.

He’s been riding like that for 2 or 3 days.

I told him to ride it to his place – 3 miles – really gently, and text me when he got home.  He made it.

A few days later I made the run down to look at it first hand. Turned out the Blast had completely spat out its front motormount. There is very little reason why this motor did not fall out. It looked like the wishbone that the cylinder head mounts to got hung up on the horn arm mount bolt as it was headed downward and that snag was sufficient to keep the engine in the motorcycle. Curiouser, the ignition grounds through that unconnected motormount bolt so I don’t know why it was still running.

Getting on the phone looking for this obviously critically stressed hardware did not yield joy. HD parts support is starting to thin out for the Buells. I don’t know whether Harley’s commitment for Buell parts support has just ended, or will end soon, but increasingly the parts are held by a third party contractor, and not HD themselves. The cost has increased accordingly. Getting OEM hardware was challenging.

Challenging, but not impossible.

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5 Buell OEM Parts Bags – 40 Bucks

Today I loaded by my LT with a service stand, a floor jack, a tool box, a few ratchet strap sets, a hunka wood and a service light.

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Rolling Motorcycle Service Shop – Not easy to transport a swingarm stand

I rode back down to the Garage at Finn’s place. After wrapping a strap around the motor, and using that and the jack to cajole it back into position, we were able to get the front engine isolator mount set back right. A few dozen dollars, some new bolts, standoffs, nylock nuts and Blue Locktite got everything that needed to be attached to each other attached to each other.

All of a sudden that bike seems way more of a piece and is seems to be delivering way more power. When I was road testing it, it spun its back wheel in the fat part of second gear, coming out of a traffic circle. It’s never done that before.

Finn thinks the motormount had been failing for quite some time – that one bolt had been gone for a while. He said he kept hearing ‘a jingle’. We found the reinforcing plates and one of the nuts captured in the frame when we pulled the tank. The jingle is gone now.

My Brand New Uncle Joe is willing to trade me the Blast for a Pacific Coast he has and a few more dollars.

At the risk of screwing bikema completely, I suspect the Pacific Coast would not require multiple mechanical emergency rescue missions.  But if I can’t trade the Blast I really can’t afford another motorcycle. We’ll just have to see how Finn ends up feeling about that.

On my way out of his place, Finn lead me on his Blast through Greenbelt Park – It’s US Department of the Interior-managed park that’s about 2 miles away from his place, and in the middle of a very densely developed urban area about 10 miles from Capitol Hill.

One right turn off the highway and its like you’re in one of the Great Western National Parks – deep forest, log buildings, all the Civilian Conservation Corps-built log guardrails.

We ran into a small herd of very young deer coming out of the second corner.

Amazing.

Greenbelt Park has about 3-4 miles of winding park road that is just perfect if you have a fine running 500 single.

I tailed him around before heading back home.  He looked great out there.

Cutting good lines and having some fun. He’s got skills.

I had a lovely ride home, stretching the LT out coming back across Howard and Frederick counties in the late afternoon sunshine.

For a day that started with a broken bike and dirty hands, it was a very good day.

On The Pipe

A single cylinder motorcycle seems to be the just about the simplest thing in world.

I mean, look at it.

One piston and cylinder. A couple of valves. One spark plug. One carb or one throttle body and one singular pipe.

My Briggs and Stratton lawn mower engine is fundamentally the same thing.

How the hell hard could it possibly be to get and keep this maddenly simple mechanism running at its best?

 

***

 

Apparently, pretty hard.

Look, when one spends $900 to acquire a 2002 model year motorcycle, and that motorcycle has less than 1800 miles on it, it’s not a surprise that one will be spinning some wrenches.

But for the simplest thing in the world, keeping The Blast on its game has proved to be a moving target, an endlessly shifting game of ‘what’s-not-right-now’?

When it was time for Finn to come home from the University of Maryland for the summer, I headed down there to bring the bike back home while Finn transported a car full of architectural models and computer gear. He’d mentioned that the bike had been stumbling off of idle, and he could ‘smell something oily’ on shut down.

For some reason, my unconscious mind instantly formed a clear mental picture of some form of big hairy exhaust leak.

I got down on one knee in front of the Buell, and pulled my cel phone from the pocket of my cargos. I flipped the flashlight app on — which just turns on the phone’s LED flash unit — and looked onto the cylinder head’s exhaust port.

Clear as day, I could see a pretty substantial crack that ran almost halfway around the circumference of the headpipe. At the worst part of the fracture, a bit of pipe about half the size of my pinky fingernail was missing in action.

Why can’t my clear mental pictures be of perfectly functioning motorcycles?

After starting the bike, I stood about two feet in front of it with my hand held in front of me, and could feel the exhaust pulses as clearly as if I was standing by the exhaust exit.

After getting the bike back to the shop, I figured I’d pull the entire exhaust system, take a good hard look at it to see if it was serviceable, and then make the fix or replace call.

 

***

 

I’ll state for the record that Buell’s design choice to place their exhaust systems under the engine makes perfect sense from a mass distribution and roll moment perspective.

Where it doesn’t make sense is if you’re the poor suffering bastard that has to work on one of them if you don’t own a motorcycle service lift.

If Finn — who is starting to demonstrate a genuine aptitude for the use of oblique strategies in problem solving — hadn’t seen a different route to access a bolt his now vision challenged Old Man could not see, I might be lying out there in the driveway still.

With his help, though, we finally got the entire system free from its three mount points — the exhaust port, a mount on the front of the engine, and a bar that ran across the bottom rear of the frame.

It didn’t take much inspection to conclude that my initial notion of a trip to my favorite welders was really ill-advised.

Can you say….Big Hairy Exhaust Leak

 

Apart from the obvious damage to the exhaust exit– which was going to be somewhat challenging to repair because of the method Harley Davison engines use to secure the headpipe — one doesn’t have much room at all to increase the effective diameter of the headpipe with a weld because of the manner in which the retaining snapring/retaining flange have to slip over it.

The rest of the exhaust – which was a typical Buell design with three separate chambers and resonating tubes contained in the muffler — didn’t look that great either. There were at least two more places where welds were visibly deteriorating right before my eyes, and the likelihood that we were going to have to be making more such repairs six months hence was unacceptably high.

That, and the thing weighted a freaking ton.

For a very little motorcycle what appeared to be a 20 pound plus exhaust didn’t make a lot of sense to me.

In the Fix or Replace Department, this was coming down a firm Replace.

 

***

 

So I spent some time trying to figure out who made the best aftermarket system for The Blast. There really weren’t a lot of choices. And maybe even less choices than that if one remembers that Finn’s motorcycle spent a lot of time in an indoor parking garage with a lot of expensive automobiles with sensitive alarm systems.

Every time I’d ever ridden The Blast up to the top floor of the parking structure, I’d gassed the little bike hard on every ramp that led up to the next floor. With the stock exhaust in a confined space, the bike sounded pretty thumpy.

Thinking about what the bike would sound like in there with a stupid loud exhaust — I’m talking to you D&D Drag Pipe — all I could see was three dozen Lexus, Jaguars and Acuras with their alarms all bleating plaintively in unison.

Such a scenario would not end well.

Anyway.

The only manufacturers that still manufacture an aftermarket exhaust for this motorcycle are Vance & Hines and Jardine.

The Vance and Hines is a ‘closed course competition’ only pipe. Aluminum headpipe and muffler. When I called the Nice Folks at V&H, they told me their system was ‘pretty loud’. When I asked them about the availability of a baffle that might make the system quasi-socially-responsible, they referred me to a third party that they thought made one “that might work.”

Call me judgemental, but this wasn’t feeling like a solution.

Which brings us to the Jardine.

The Jardine system has a pretty similar aluminum muffler body. They do, however, sell a mated low decibel exhaust exit insert for it, and their headpipe is made of stainless steel.

In a two horse race, we had an obvious winner.

In looking to buy one, I was surprised to discover that Summit Racing — from whom I was accustomed to ordering parts for my now sadly-departed 95 Dodge pickup — also carried a rather astounding range of motorcycle hard parts — brake pads, rotors…exhausts.

Where the online price for the Jardine ranged between $409 and $489, Summit had it for $365. They didn’t stock it…. after I placed my order they would order one and have it drop-shipped from Jardine straight to me. They’d never have anything to do with the deal other than deposit their margin.

I ordered up the Jardine exhaust system from Summit Racing.

 

***

 

The exhaust and carburation on a stock Buell Blast are not optimized for performance.

The intake and exhaust are tuned and restrictive. The engine — if one could call that ‘tuned’ at all — is tuned for tractability and low levels of power and noise.

Ditching the stock exhaust would absolutely require completely overhauling the carb — new pilot and main jets, and maybe a few other things besides.

There are two unvarnished good things about Buell Blast ownership. The First Thing is the Buell Riders Online Blast Forum, which knows all — sees all. One member of the forum, Dan, even got off the couch and designed and manufactured components that addressed some of the bike’s design peculiarities.

The Second Thing is that the Blast shares its carburetor — a Keihin CV40 — with gazillions of Harley Davidson Sportsters, and a couple of sub-zillion HD Big Twins as well. What this means to you is that tuning parts, including hot rodding parts, are available both directly from HD and from a cadre of aftermarket companies as well.

There’s even a company — CV Performance, Inc — that only makes tuning parts for the HD CV40 carb.

Woo-hoo.

The Blast Online brothers have tables which provide the tested jet sizes for each aftermarket exhaust that has ever been made for the bike. CV Performance had those jets as stock items. They also had two little gems that also needed to be installed to civilize living with the bike.

The first was a hand adjustment wheel to replace the stock idle adjuster, which requires a screwdriver. Every Japanese motorcycle I’ve ever seen has one of these — HDs and their ilk, at least from the factory, apparently do not. The second was a similar hand wheel to replace that factory air mixture screw, which was factory sealed under an aluminum plug. The combo would make dialing the carb in post-install childs play. Use the top thumbwheel to dial in the correct idle speed. Then use the bottom thumbwheel to dial in the air mixture so that bike took throttle evenly off idle.

Bada bing, bada boom. Done.

I ordered up the entire batch of CV40 parts, then headed to my local hardware store to pick up some #4 washers.

Then there was nothing to do but wait for the postman.

 

***

 

Unlike Godot, the Postman actually showed up.

The exhaust system hit the shop first. The Jardine pipe looked the business — all the aluminum machining on the muffler, exhaust exit and low noise insert core looked like it was MotoGP-ready. The hardware they had used was also top-notch — aircraft grade nylock insert nuts, and an aviation grade clamp for the headpipe to silencer joint.

After work that day, Finn and I headed out to the driveway and spent a few minutes mounting the system. Other than working with the monster snap-ring that Harley uses to retain every headpipe they’ve ever made — which requires its own dedicated monster snap-ring pliers, naturally — the work proceeded smoothly and without incident.

Well, without incident if one is willing to discount having to mount the snapring twice after I realized that the retaining plate needed to be passed over the headpipe first before mounting the snapring. We got better the second time after the ‘practice run’.

Finn’s ability to visualize how things fit together definitely indicates he made the correct choice of careers. It also makes him the ideal mechanic’s assistant. He was once again able to identify a route to apply torque to a fastener under the bike that might have taken me somewhat longer. It also doesn’t hurt that he can see small print on components that seem to be decreasing in size, at least from my perspective.

Once the pipe was successfully mounted, Finn’s first impulse was to start the bike up.

“Naah, let’s wait on that, Finn. Based on the jet numbers we’ve had to order the stock jets should be waaay too small. Would run like crap if it runs at all. Patience, Grasshopper. The carb parts should be here tomorrow. This carb is dog-simple — the work will not take us very long.”

 

***

 

As expected, Friday’s mail had the package from CV performance.

Saturday a.m. we put the Blast up on the swingarm stand and set about liberating the carb.

We pulled the tank cover and fuel tank, removed the air filter, and were looking at the business end of the fuel system.

One of the required ‘adjustments’ was to raise the slide needle in its holder, in order to ensure that the off idle mixture didn’t lean out, causing stumbles or backfires. The carburetors to which I am accustomed have a snapring to retain them and multiple grooves in the needle to permit said adjustment.

Not so The Blast. Its needle has no provision for adjustment — it simply sits in the bottom of the slide where it is trapped in place by the slide return spring’s plastic retainer.

Which brings us back to the aforementioned #4 washers.

The #4 washers are just large enough to fit on the carb’s needle. They’re a known thickness. Determine how high you want to raise the needle, and do the math.

Given how the carb sits when installed in the motorcycle, the easiest place to do that procedure was right where it already was.

The diaphragm cover on the CV40 is held in place by four screws. One of those four screws also holds the throttle cable pulley. I pulled that corner first, and disconnected the throttle open and close cables from the carb.

After unscrewing the other three corners, the carb’s top, diaphragm and slide assemblies were in my hand.

All things considered — 14 years of limited use and benign neglect followed by one year of really intensive use — things looked surprisingly clean and generally pretty good. No serious gook or deposits, no visible wear. The diaphragm even checked out.

I pulled the carb’s needle out of the slide, slipped my washers underneath, and put the whole thing back together. I used some carb and choke cleaner to get the slide shining, seated the diaphragm in its groove on top of the carb body and buttoned the whole thing back up.

Next, we’d need to pull the carb out of the bike to do the jet service.

In The Blast, the carb is held in place by a single screw clamp on the cylinder head end, and three allen head bolts that connect it to an intake venturi fitting and the airbox. It’s about 10 minutes from intention to workbench.

Stupid Plug, Gooped Up Flange

 

What needed to be done was very straightforward.

Larger pilot jet and main jet needed to be installed. After bathing everything — carb body, float bowl — in carb cleaner and shining things up with clean shoprags, I replaced the entire main jet, needle jet holder/emulsion tube and needle jet stack with new parts.

A few artful turns of my favorite carb screwdriver, we had a new pilot jet, too.

We, collectively, are perilously close to a point in time where using the phrase ‘favorite carb screwdriver’ will not communicate any meaning whatsoever.

I noted how many threads of the idle speed screw were showing, then removed the screw. I installed my new idle speed thumbscrew adjuster and turned it by hand until the same number of threads were showing. That setting would be a good starting point.

The mixture screw install was a little more chewy.

The Nice Folks At The Factory had decided that the mixture screw was something which You Would Never Need and Should Not Be Allowed To Touch.

Funny, that.

Accordingly, they had thoughtfully press fit a nice aluminum plug in the mixture screw bore.

And that, brothers and sisters, is why God and Bosch made lithium ion powered rechargeable drills.

I draped the entire carburetor in clean shop towels, then fitted my smallest dentist-wannabe drill bit into the chuck.

After a deep breath to steady myself — wouldn’t want to mess this hole up — I slowly spun up the drill until I was sure my hole was in the center of the bore plug. 20 seconds of spin later, the bit punched through.

I threaded a self tapping sheet metal screw into my tiny hole, and then pulled the screw and plug out with a pliers. After clearing the drill swarf, I was able to remove the mixture screw and replace it with the EZ-Just Mixture Screw. I ran the EZ-Just down until it bottomed, then backed it out the 2 3/4 turns I’d been told was the approximate setting.

With everything in place, I replaced the float bowl on the CV40 using some Allen bolts also supplied by CV Performance — the original screws were Japan Industrial Standard (JIS) — which looks a lot like a Phillips head screw but really isn’t. In practical use, JIS screws get destroyed through the use of Phillips screwdrivers, since darn near no-one even knows what a JIS Screwdriver is, much less actually owns one.

I spent a little bit of time cleaning up the exterior of the carb body. It might be another 15 years before it got cleaned again, so I wanted to be thorough. I spent a little extra time giving the hairy eyeball and extra attention to the output side of the carb, where it fitted in to the rubber intake manifold.

These motorcycles are notorious for funky tuning resulting from intake leaks at that very spot. And to my eye it appeared that someone had tried to use some form of caulk or sealant to smooth over the cast-in groove in the carb’s exit flange. This little improvisation, it should be noted, would make the carb to rubber manifold joint far more likely to leak than if the groove was there for the rubber to conform to.

I cleaned it all out and returned the exterior of the carb body to stock finish and condition.

It was time to see what we had here.

 

***

 

3 Allen Bolts, 2 screwclamps and 3 10mm bolts later, the Blast was back together on the workstand.

I turned on the fuel petcock, and waited a suitable amount of time.

I may have actually twiddled.

I walked over to the other side of the bike, looking for errant fuel. I didn’t see, smell or slip and fall over in any.

I walked back to the left side of the bike and turned the key. The Blast went through its little electromechanical dance – whizzzz! – as it energized and started up the instrument displays.

I hit the starter — “whoooof… whoooof….whoooof…whoooof…”

There were a lot of places in that carburetor that didn’t yet have fuel where fuel was supposed to be.

“Whoooof… whoooof….whoooof…WHUMP! WHUMP…. wumpwumpwumpwumpwump….”

It was immediately apparent that the Blast had undergone a personality transplant. It wasn’t like it had taken a trip to full-on racetrack honk, but there was no longer any question you were listening to A Motorcycle.

Amazingly, the initial idle speed and mixture settings appeared to be pretty close. As the bike came down off the enriched high idle, idle speed was in the ballpark — I used the adjuster to goose it upward ever so slightly. Throttle response wasn’t bad either — I opened up the mixture screw until response started to soften, then went back a 1/4 turn.

Spot on and a rock solid thumping idle. Rolling the throttle open snapped rpms upward with a healthy bark from the new muffler.

I went inside to get a helmet and some gear.

 

***

 

Trolling out of the neighborhood it was clear that everything had changed.

Small changes in the throttle now produced noticeable and proportional results. One of the reasons I appreciate carbureted vehicles is that they exhibit analog response — the systems perform and provide feedback that is sensitive to the operational gestures of the driver or rider. Whacking the grip to immediately deliver LTO feels very different from smoothly rolling the throttle progressively to the stops. A throttle opening I select on a corner entry is exactly the throttle opening I get — not a slightly different one selected by some ride by wire software.

The Blast was now all kinds of responsive at low engine speeds and small throttle openings — something it absolutely was not before.

I mean, you could solidly short shift the bike and there’d be power in the next gear.

When I got to The Pike, I gassed it. After a short shift to second, I rolled the throttle open and wound second, and then third gear all the way out.

The sound of the engine was simply marvelous — a basso profundo machine gun, with a genuine snarl on the overrun when the throttle was snapped closed between shifts.

There was no popping or burbling on deceleration… running the engine up to high RPMs demonstrated a genuine power step and well more power and acceleration than had been there before. It seemed the rejetting work had been spot on — I’ll admit being surprised at the amount of new lunge coming out of a single two valve, aircooled, pushrod Sportster refugee cylinder.

I was down to the bottom of hill at the Brookside Inn bang-bang corners far sooner than I remember Blasting there previously.

I wound the gas on and charged the short straight and the steep right that lead back up the hill. The Brookside Parking Lot’s Ultra Glide clan’s gazes were definitely drawn by the sporting report from their Big Twins’ little brother.

Two thirds of the way up the long and steep grade I deliberately gave the gear up early, and let the bike pull fourth gear from well below the engine’s torque peak. With the thump of each power pulse coming back off the rock cut, I got another demonstration of the appeal of American power — big cylinders, comparatively low RPM, and unrestrictive exhausts making power and that booming wonderful sound.

I needed to get this bike back in Finn’s hands.

 

***

 

After I got back to the shop and got my gear off, Finn was geared up and ready.

With two “Brraps” he was around the corner and gone. As he left the neighborhood I could hear The Blast’s engine revving out as it headed up the highway.

I suspected I might not see Finn for a while.

 

***

 

And as I suspected, I didn’t. An hour, an hour and a half, maybe a little more — which is as much as you have gas for with the small Buell tank — before I heard the thumping coming back up the street, up the driveway and back into the shop.

Finn revved the engine twice before shutting it down.

Previously, Finn never revved the engine.

Now, it seems, you just got to. You can’t help yourself.

 

***

 

I’ve had the bike out several times since then, and each time is a revelation. I take it whenever I have a short trip to make that keeps me off the highways. On the backroads one just wants to revel in the sound — running the revs up and then engine braking to slow down — going “VOOObaaaaa… VOOObaaaaaa” and feeling the thrum of the motor through the footpegs and bars.

The bike is silly light and agile, and I’ve finally internalized its “You-Don’ts-Gots-To-Speed-Up-Coming-Out-Of-Corners-If-In-The-First-Place-You-Never-Slow-Down” Ethos. It seems The Blast’s throttle is perpetually opening – using it to set entries — torquing up on the way out.

The look of the Jardine system really cleaned up the appearance of the bike — the stainless steel headpipe also turned a nice bronze tone after it had been run and revved for a few miles.  Finn and I both noticed that the weight reduction made the bike easier to turn in on corner entry.  15 pound weight loss on a 390 pound motorcycle is definitely noticeable.

Nice Tone, Nice Headpipe Color

I never want to get too cocky, but it feels like we’ve got this little motorcycle sorted out. It behaves like a real motorcycle and really is fun to ride in its chosen element.

I’ve got a better feeling about this bike getting him through another school year without requiring the laying on of hands (and wrenches).

There will aways be little projects, like fabbing up soft saddlebag guards out of 1/2″ electrical conduit after noticing that small hole abraded though the plastic drive belt pulley shroud. It amazing what you can do with the bike’s designed-in underseat bungee anchors, some threaded rod, some nuts and bolts, and a really large sledgehammer.

Half Inch Conduit Isn’t Just for Wires Anymore – Saddlebag Guards for $4.73

 

Then there’s the small matter of the AutoChoke. I am like Ahab in that I will carry the fight against the White Snowmobile Part until the end of my days. I’d had the Hoca Manual Choke Kit and Sportster Enrichener Valve installed, but the cable I’d procured didn’t have long enough a throw to close the enrichener 100% of the way.

8mm choke…meet 7mm choke…I’d have to buy a Sportster enrichener valve for this to work….

 

I’d sourced and modified a nice handlebar mounted control — the whole thing looked factory, but the enrichener slide was only closing about 90% and I ended up having to reinstall the AutoChoke. I’ve subsequently obtained a cable that looks like it will work but with summer nearly over I may just be out of time.

 

The Clamp (Modified)

 

Looks Factory

 

This isn’t over yet, Moby Dick.

We’ll get a ride or two together in the coming weeks, but then Finn and his motorcycle will head back to University.

With both Finn and The Blast gone, it really will be quiet around here in Jefferson.

 

 

Perfect Circles, Perfect Spheres

They say something is happening, but you don’t know what it is….

Do you, Mr. Jones?

I’d been having an extended motorcycling Mr. Jones moment.

My K1200LT had been displaying this odd symptom, which only manifested itself when the bike was being operated in stop and go traffic — at or below a walking pace.

Now normally, I make extraordinary efforts not to ever operate this motorcycle at anything short of Warp 3, but reality sometime has a way of intruding.

On a recent trip, I’d gotten stuck in an unspeakable Interstate Highway backup, which had me riding the clutch and walking the bike along for the better part of three hours. I’d noted the odd behavior previously, but it hadn’t really been intrusive and was not detectable at speed.

What the bike had been doing was sending this odd sensation through the bars at under a mile an hour — it felt, for all the world like somebody plucking the high G string on a bass guitar — a little ‘Boing’ would be sent through the bars.

I’ll freely admit being a little obsessive over the operating condition of my machinery. If you think about well more than 1000 lbs of bike and rider in an 80 mile an hour corner being managed by that wheel, you’d be obsessive too.

I mentally went through the list of things I thought it could be. The folks at Fredericktown Yamaha — that have made a cottage industry of mounting and balancing the many tires I consume — had previously called my attention to what they thought was a slight wave in the rim likely created by a DC pothole.

“Keep an eye on that”, they told me, “If you start getting abnormal wear in that spot you’ll need to repair or replace the wheel.”

Only somebody that worked in a Yamaha shop would ever suggest that one should replace an OEM BMW forged wheel.

I have purchased running motorcycles for less than the MSRP of that wheel.

Anyway.

That rim was a possible cause. The bike’s original front wheel bearings — at 92,000 miles — was also remotely possible. And there were a few possible maladies of the front brake system — transfer of pad material to a rotor, or a rotor gone subtly potato chip shaped – that might also cause this weird pulsation. The bike was rock solid under heavy braking, though, so that seemed remote.

I obsessed about it. I had the bike at least half a dozen times up on my trolley jack — front wheel hanging up in the air, spinning it by hand — looking for run out in the rims and rotors — feeeeeeling the bearings, feeling the brake drag.

I had lots of ideas.

I had no pattern I could discern.

 

***

 

So I took the bike off the road.

I ordered a new front tire, as mine was well worn. I ordered a front bearing and seal set. And set about to find a reputable wheelsmith.

 

***

 

Fortunately, the District of Columbia contains a volatile mix of really unspeakable paved driving surfaces combined with folks that have a compulsive need to spend incomprehensible amounts of money to make people look at… their cars. When a new wheel for your Lamborghini costs more than my K1200LT, people will figure out ways to fix them.

TAS Wheel and Machine appeared to be those guys. Their online reputation — Google ratings, Yelp reviews — was 5 stars all the way. They specialized in automotive exotica, but went well out of their way to make sure folks knew that they were comfortable and qualified to work on motorcycle wheels as well. They had positive feedback from both racers and Harley riders, both of whom have been known to be particular.

So I called them, and asked if they’d be willing to work on mine. They were.

I asked a few questions about their process, and what kind of levels of accuracy they were shooting for and were usually able to achieve. The numbers they provided were right in line with or slightly better than the BMW spec. They were also able to check the run-out on my disk rotors as well.

So I resolved to pull the wheel, and to set everything up front straight.

 

***

 

So of course, Finn’s Buell Blast decided, as it had several times before, that Today Was A Good Day to Die.

It seems, that in their choice of materials, the Buell Men had not blessed The Blast with the highest specifications. The steel used in its exhaust header, for example, could not deal with the thermal stress of being operated in heavy rain — which, of course Finn had done with startling regularity. Blasts abused in this unfeeling and unkind manner all protested by turning their headpipes into loosely amalgamated but unconnected steel fragments — with predictable effects on their drivability and throttle response.

I find it difficult to explain, but in motorcycles, as in human medicine, there are protocols for triage and care.

And a motorcycle that will not run is entitled to care before a motorcycle that will run, however badly. A corollary of that principle is that one should never electively start to disassemble another motorcycle for service when one is already apart. It’s probably more of an irrational superstition, but having parts of multiple disassembled motorcycles sharing the same workbench gives me the willies. This irrational fear is probably protecting me from continuing to buy more old motorcycles, so I’ve become rather fond of it.

So while Finn’s Single sat in the shop with the stock exhaust stripped off, a rag stuffed in its exhaust port, and an aftermarket exhaust system and a pile of carburetor parts headed inbound somewhere in the UPS system, my LT just sat in the Doctor’s waiting room, reading a complimentary bad magazine, and waited to be the next patient under care.

 

***

 

When, after the passage of some time, The Blast brapped down the driveway, having found a few brand new operating characteristics, it was time to return to my problem at hand.

I got the bike up on the jack, pulled the front wheel, threw it my truck and headed for Laurel.

 

***

 

While halfway across the parking lot at TAS, I was greeted by Brett, one of the two brothers that run the shop, who offered to take the wheel from me with a work-gloved hand. While I normally neither expect nor receive this kind of white-glove service, I didn’t feel right rejecting the kind offer of assistance, especially given I had the new tire in my other hand.

Once inside the shop — which was well lit, open, organized and neat enough to serve as a TV cooking show’s working kitchen — Brett introduced me to his brother Brody, who immediately set about grabbing a wheel balancing stand to triage my Bavarian patient. While he was jigging the wheel into the stand, I spent a little time gawking. In the business end of the shop, on a truing stand was the largest Performance Machine chromed Torque front motorcycle wheel I have ever seen — it was at least a 23 inch rim and maybe bigger. These day’s ‘Big Wheel’ Customs are all the rage around DC, although there are apparently no rough surface benefits to running such a large tire size, despite what your dirt bike buds and physics class may have told you.

With a few turns and a dial gauge Brody confirmed the existence of the slight wave that had offended the guys at Fredericktown. But as he looked at the tire itself, he frowned.

“Look at this”, he said. “That bulge and divot? You definitely had a belt shift or fail in this tire’s carcass. Scary.”

Once again, I proved to be not half as smart as I thinked I was.

During all the consternation and obsession over hard parts, I’d completely overlooked a much simpler explanation.

The tire.

D’oh!

Anyway, after making some biker small talk — showing off two wheeled baby pictures and such — I filled out a work order which authorized the guys to straighten the wheel, and to repaint it if they thought it necessary. As they worked with a lot of BMW automobile wheels, which are nearly identical in construction and even the spoke pattern, they already knew the drill and had the proper Wurth wheel paint to perform the service.

All in all, Brett and Brody struck me as the most pleasant, professional and competent guys I’ve had the pleasure to do business with in quite some time.

It was time to get back in the pickup and head home to wait for their call.

 

***

 

Back in the shop, I had my Motion Pro bearing removal tool, my heat gun, and my hammer at the ready, while the bearing sets rested comfortably in my freezer. I considered labelling them with a Post-It Note reading “Do Not Eat”, but concluded it probably wasn’t necessary.

I did take one of my small brass calipers to check the brake pads while everything was apart. My SBS organic pads — which come out of the package with 5mm of friction material, still had a solid 3mms remaining, so they would last through another front tire and could be reused.

The TAS Men checked in about 4 days later to ask when I could swing by to pick up the wheel. I was busy at work, but Sweet Doris From Baltimore was bored that day, so was happy to take a trip in her truck to Laurel.

After work that day, I went back into the shop, and pulled the wheel’s grease seal, and used my snap ring pliers to remove the substantial snap ring that held the wider of the two bearings in place. I took a few pictures of the hub so I had clear photos of how deep the bearings sat in the hub.

Then I took collet and driver in hand, and, after having blown some heat into the wheel hub, removed both bearing sets and the spacer which sits between them. It was a little fiddly to get the collet solidly installed in the bearing’s inner races solidly enough to drive them out, but after a few tries the bearings hit the top of the steel workbench with a satisfying thud.

After cleaning up the hub’s interior, I heated the hub again and grabbed my hammer, a 1 1/4″ socket, and the larger of the two bearings out of the freezer.

If you’re wondering why I was keeping BMW wheel bearing sets in with the frozen dairy treats, it’s because the wheel bearings are an interference fit, and combining a hot (expanded) hub bore with a cold (contracted) bearing makes the process of fitting the bearing far less difficult.

I dropped the bearing into the bore, applied a little hammer, and watched as the bearing moved down towards it’s seat. I understood that when the bearing seated one would be able to hear the high pitched ringing changed to a deeper thunk when the bearing seated. Being not entirely sure my ding had thudded, I gave it one more strike just to make sure.

In retrospect, that last hit was ill advised.

As I pulled the driver our of the bore, the bearing’s seal popped loose, trailing lube.

That bearing was toast.

Some folks enjoy salty language. If you are one of these people, for whom expletives serve a stress reducing purpose, feel free to supply your favorites and I’ll enjoy their benefits by proxy.

Me, though, I just felt very small, and resigned myself to a fast recovery from my own lack of skills, and a few more days without use of my motorcycle.

 

***

 

Upon close inspection, the problem was pretty obvious. My socket — a normal 1/2 drive — was a thinwall, that was just a tad too small to make solid contact with the bearing’s outer race. An impact socket, with thicker walls, would have been perfect.

My choice was to admit defeat, and seek professional help to complete the job, or take a gut check, and prove that I was smarter than aluminum.

After a few permissible moments of depression, I began to think that maybe, just maybe, I was smarter than aluminum.

I went back to Amazon, found a single replacement bearing, and another addition to my suddenly growing collection of Motion Pro motorcycle tools — this one a motorcycle bearing driver kit.

Finn has a thing for stickers — he’s hoping to completely cover the outer surface of his electric bass case — and between All Balls and Motion Pro, this job was really working out for him.

 

***

 

The next day, the bearing driver showed up in the mailbox. My confidence rebounded — the tool was clearly well made, and allowed me to match outer face drivers to correctly sized and interchangeable inner race alignment collets. With this tool, there was no drama about the ability to correctly install these bearings.

The bearing though, was proving to be a tad trickier. The major Los Angeles-based bearing house had, despite having said the bearings were in stock, cancelled my order upon discovering they weren’t.

Having struck out getting the bearing, I swallowed more pride and called All Balls Racing, whose web site said they were not shipping orders this week because they were moving the business.

Surprisingly, a Customer Service Agent picked up their extension on the second ring. I gave here my order number and described what had occurred.

“This is NOT a warranty request. The product was fine. I am an idiot and I broke it. It is MY fault. I just want to purchase the single bearing from the kit rather than the entire kit.”

The CSR at All Balls basically thanked me for being an honest idiot, and then goodwilled me a warranty replacement over my protestations.

The bearing was in my mailbox at lunchtime the next day.

 

***

 

My second attempt — armed with the proper tools and the knowledge born of the wrong kind of experience — went far more smoothly.

Ten minutes of heat gun and hammer later, the wheel had new bearings and seals correctly installed.

 

***

 

A few hot sweaty minutes later, the wheel was back on the bike, and the brake calipers and fender reinstalled.

I rolled the bike down the driveway and rode at walking pace to both ends of the block and then headed back into the driveway. The LT was rolling smooth, with no sign of the former low speed symptoms.

I went inside to grab a jacket and helmet, and see if Finn wanted to go for a ride.

 

***

 

Trying to keep a K1200LT and a Buell Blast together on the road takes a little effort. Thinking of the LT as if it had a three speed transmission helps make that a little easier.

As we headed down MD 383 out towards Burkettsville, my motorcycle had been transformed. Any any speed between zero and sixty miles per hour, the front end of the LT was glass smooth — the vibration was utterly gone, the front end suspension seemed more settled and was clearly tracking the pavement more accurately, and as I transitioned the bike from side to side, the transition from one side of the tire to the other was dead rigid, rock solid.

A few brief blasts up to higher speeds felt dead planted and utterly stable. A few hard braking tests were rock solid with no pulsation whatsoever.

Perfectly round rims and round tires combined with perfectly spherical bearings made this bike ride like a two wheeled version of a big Mercedes Benz — feeling like it was carved from a single piece of alloy, compliant, comfortable, and like it would willingly do anything the rider asked of it, for as long as that rider might want to ask it.

For the next hour or so, Finn and I criss-crossed The Valley, trying to keep away from the pop-up thunderstorms that were coming in from the west, and enjoying our newly repaired steeds. The new authority of the Blast’s exhaust note — courtesy of the recently installed Jardine exhaust — allowed me to keep track of Finn’s position on the road behind me by ear — was something I found strangely comforting.

Keeping my eye on him in the rearview continued to demonstrate his comfort and competence in the corners — he never put a wheel out of place.

We finally came back to the shop, having never encountered any of the rain out on the road.

“Good ride, Snorky?”

Great ride, Pop.”

Perfect.

 

Venting

Man, have I got some stuff I really need to get off my chest.

I know you know what I mean.

It starts with the small stuff that gets under your skin — worn shoelaces on your boots, bits of software that don’t work and have never worked, the endless number of people who you don’t know who are happy to call you to ask for your money on the phone.

And if it was only the small stuff, that would almost be OK.

But it’s not the small stuff, it’s the big stuff, and its got everyone that I know in a constant state of fully clenched and ready to blow.

I mean, look around you.

I’ve never known a time when there was so much on the line, with so little sensation of which way it was going to go.

But that’s really not what I really meant to talk about, it just has a way of creeping in.

***

“Dad, I got a problem with the bike.”

“Oh? What kind of problem?”

“It doesn’t run.”

“That seems kind of non-specific. How doesn’t it run?”

“Well, it had been backfiring, and it seem like it’s always going to stall.”

“Does it get better or worse when the bike warms up”

“Neither. It sucks all the time. It got so bad last time I didn’t think I was going to make it out of the parking lot. I parked it.”

“Ok. I guess we’ll have to get it back to the shop and see what’s what with it.

Do you think its ridable enough to make it home?”

Keep in mind that the ride home bisects the most trafficked roads of the whole greater Baltimore-Washington metro area. If you have doubts about power delivery it might not be the right mission profile.

“No way.”

“Ok, then we’re going to need a Plan B.”

***

Plan B came in the form of my new good friends at U-Haul.

U-Haul, it seems, makes Serious Bank from Motorcyclists That Like To Trailer Motorcycles.

And while I have always been of a bent to avoid joining that club, I think there is some sort to ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card when the motorcycle in question cannot move under its own power.

At least, that’s my rationalization and I’m sticking to it.

Anyhoo, the nice folks at U-Haul mave designed a rental trailer whose only job is to move motorcycles. It’s a 5′ x 9′ all-aluminum utility trailer, with a built-in loading ramp an a neat front wheel chock that is part of the trailer’s structure.

About 5 minutes on the laptop reserved one — in real-time, on a Sunday afternoon — located in Gaithersburg about halfway between Jefferson and College Park.

If you’re in a Jam with a motorcycle that won’t motor, its hard to imagine a more convenient way out, at least if you own something with a trailer hitch.

***

While I waited for U-Haul to call me back to confirm, I called Harley-Davidson of Frederick. HD of F — it should be observed — is the only motorcycle dealership that I know of that is cheerfully open seven days a week. This feature has already saved a few Sundays and Mondays for me and the Blast already.

I had a list of parts that followed my lines of thinking given very minimal available troubleshooting information. One or two, or maybe three things was going on here. We were either running crazy rich or crazy lean.

The statistically least likely thing, and hence not worth buying parts for, was that the Blast’s teeny weeny electronic ignition box had tossed it.

The crazy rich option would involve the predicted death of the electro-mechanical auto choke unit, and I already had parts for that.

If you were willing to move past that then we were wither dealing with a completely clogged carburetor — which also seemed unlikely, given that the bike had been running reasonably well immediately before it’s untimely mid-stroke demise, or with a fuel system that wouldn’t flow any fuel — which was either a clogged petcock…

or Venting.

Now I have been driven beyond the bounds of distraction by fuel systems that wouldn’t flow fuel.

The Blast, fortunately, is a bit more modern motorcycle, with better coverage from its Internet user forums. User forums which thoroughly document the frequent failure of the tank’s venting system, whose key component is an EPA-mandated rollover valve that has been known to cut off flow when the system was demonstrably straight up and down and in no way rolled over.

So I ordered a complete set of carburetor jets — slow speed, main and needle — a tank petcock, some vent line and a rollover valve. A rollover valve, it should be noted, that has had its part number superseded by a redesigned part at least five times, according to Shell, the HD of F counterperson.

You may or may not find that noteworthy, but I did, anyway.

HD had three of the six parts in stock — the others would be available in a day or two.

5 minutes after I got off the phone with HD of F, U-Haul called me to confirm that the trailer was available, so Finn and I grabbed our jackets and headed for the pickup.

***

Fast forward to a parking lot outside College Park.

Finn tossed me his keys. I threw a leg over the Buell, turned on the fuel, and hit the starter. The bike fired on the third stroke, and came right up to its high idle.

It was enough to give one a false sense of security.

I blipped the throttle a few times. The first two times, we got response, and revs. The third time we got boggage. When I let the throttle go, it stalled in deterministic and terminal sounding way. I waited a few seconds and tried the starter again. The bike fired, stumbled and quit.

“You were right. Never would have gotten out of the parking lot. Let’s load her up.”

***

Back at the shop, The Blast took up a spot on its swingarm stand, with my LT temporarily exiled outside to the driveway.

The next afternoon, when the opportunity presented itself, I test fired the bike on the stand. The previous pattern repeated, except when the bike first started to stumble, I reached forward to the fuel cap latch, flipped it open and pulled. The cap didn’t want to come out — there was vacuum in the tank. A bit of a more determined tug liberated the cap, and three quarters of a second later, the engine returned to full song.

Venting it was. Gasoline engines don’t run well when they can’t get any, apparently.

***

A day later HD called to let me know they had received most of my order, but were short three of the carb internals — those would be coming in in a couple of days.

I swung by on the LT at lunchtime, and resolved to find the hour or so it would take to drain and refit the Blast’s fuel tank.

On my way back inside I yanked the Blast’s wierd-alice conical air filter — a reusable dry gauze type. I grabbed a small tin container, and set the filter in dishsoap to soak inside in the worksink.

***

When the weekend rolled round, it was time to make this bike run.

The Buell’s fuel tank is on the less complex end of the modern “how-hard-can-we-make-it-to-remove-this-motorcycle-fuel-tank” spectrum.

I know this, because my K-bike is all the way on the other, wrong end.

A single 10mm bolt and the oil dipstick retain the tank’s plastic cover.

Two more 10mm bolts under that cover and some cylindrical rubber bumpers get you down to the single screw on the fuel line and your tank sitting happy on the workbench.

Somewhere along the line, I inherited a little Black and Decker Workmate folding workbench and lightweight vise. It’s an ingenious little thing, with the two halves of the worksurface driven and located by two hand operated jackscrews.

For a job like this, its perfect.

I opened the surface of the Workmate all the way up, and sat the tank on it so that the petcock sat between the halves of the table.

I grabbed the gas can for my lawnmower, pulled the filler neck off it, and sat a funnel in its place. I opened the tank’s petcock to ‘Reserve’ and then just let time do its magic.

While it was draining, I removed the old tank vent line from the frame, in preparation for its replacement. Predictably, an attempt to blow air through the line produced — in addition to giving me ‘HighTest Breath’ — wholly unsatisfactory results.

One of two things was going on. Either this was another one of those ‘dang bugs’ stories — with a spider having engineered an effective blockage of the line — or it was observable manifestation of the apocryphal stories about modern alcohol-laced fuel turning soft fuel system bits to mush — with the line having melted and welded itself internally.

Either way, the tank hadn’t been able to flow fuel, and with no fuel, well…

My thoughts were that if one bit of rubber had possibly been mushed, then all of them were suspect, so we’d clear out everything so we wouldn’t have to back here for say, another 15 years or so.

Fortunately, I had a really good mental image of how all of the tank components worked, because when one of my son, Apprentice Architect Finn’s professors assigned a cutaway drawing — of anything the student chose — Finn had drawn this.

v__d72f

The shop manual might be good, but for me anyway, this was way better.

I’ll never quite understand why the Blast’s designer’s did this, but they did. The fuel tank’s rollover valve stem is just long enough that — once the vent fitting that retains it is unscrewed — it is too long to be removed from the tank unless the tank’s cap retaining ring is removed first.

Which, if you think about it for a second or two, represents a bit of sleight of hand, both to disassemble and to put back together.

No matter — I managed to remove the top ring and get the old rollover valve out without dumping it into the bottom of the tank. My shop manual indicated that the rubber seal and tank ring needed to be coated with a thin layer of Hylomar aviation sealant.

Two things occurred to me concurrently as I was looking at the disassembled parts in my hand. The first was that I actually had some Hylomar, because as an impressionable youth I had been (unwillingly) instructed by Ted Porter, who had impressed upon me that using anything else for several critical BMW Airhead assemblies constituted some kind of wrench malpractice. The second was that these parts weren’t the original factory parts — someone had replaced this valve before — because the sealant was nowhere in evidence. And that the person that did this clearly didn’t know Ted, because they didn’t have any Hylomar.

After a very thin coating was applied to the rubber seal, I replaced the rollover valve and carefully retightened the eight allen bolts holding the top ring in place. I reinstalled the valve’s top fitting on the outside of the tank, making sure to point the barb to the 11 o clock position so it would be able to accept the rubber vent line.

I then removed the two phillips head screws that held the petcock to the bottom of the tank and removed it. The petcock’s nylon screening looked very discolored when compared with that of the new part. Being easily amused, I giggled a little at the sight of the ‘Made In Italy’ script on the petcock’s valve handle. As someone wrestling with a motorcycle that was inexplicably dealing with niggling reliability issues, this is just the sort of confidence builder one needs, eh?

A new o-ring, and retorquing the two phillips heads yielded a fuel tank whose entire fuel flow path was now completely new.

I took a few minutes to look at my laptop to check the shop manual to see how the fuel vent line was supposed to be routed. The routing was fairly elaborate – following the left side of the oil-in-frame backbone, crossing in front of the carb and then ending inside a frame recess in the frame’s rear section. While probably a good idea in terms of protecting the vent from road debris or water, it did make me wonder about how good an idea it might be to have fuel vapors hanging out in close proximity to the battery and fuze blocks.

Of course, that hadn’t been how the line I had removed had been routed — it had been routed down the front frame downtube so that it exited near the riders left footpeg –a spot that was prone to sucking up water or debris from the roadway. I took a few minutes to thread a new vent hose in the factory position, engaged the OEM frame ties, verified that the hose wasn’t kinked or pinched, and then cut the front to length.

I replaced the tank on the motorcycle, and reattached the fuel line, hold down bolts and the tank retaining bumpers. I replaced the clean and dried gauze air filter, snapped the airbox closed, and replaced the plastic tank cover. I refilled the tank with about a half gallon of fuel from the lawn mower gas can, waiting a few seconds, then checked the new petcock and o-ring for leaks.

Dry as a bone.

I turned the fuel tap to ‘Reserve’, waited ten seconds, and fingered the starter.

After three or so Whoooomps, the big single lit up and came up to a solid high idle.

Starting, though, had never been the problem.

I gave the bike some gentle throttle, verifying that we had response, and working to get some heat into an engine that had been sitting for more than a little while.

After a few minutes the autochoke came off — causing some minor drama as the carb’s internal enrichment port was slooooooowly closed. The Blast’s single took up an even slow idle — smoothly taking blips of the gas — and continued to do just that and nothing else.

Which, considering the relative scarcity of that a few minutes before this, was beginning to look like progress.

After a few minutes of running on the stand and giving her an occasional blaat of throttle and then letting the engine idle, there was no sign of the fuel starvation that would have formerly rendered the Blast dull, lifeless and inert.

It was time to get this little bike off the service stand, out of my garage, and tested on the road.

***

It didn’t take more than ninety seconds to be absolutely sure that something significant had changed with the Blast.

Where it had formerly been a tad fluffy off the bottom, but pretty good when the revs came up, now it was …almost punchy.

Ok, well that might be overblown, but drivability was much improved, and opening the throttle was definitely fun and encouraged you to do that some more.

***

I ran the bike through a few more heat cycles over the next couple of days, and except for the rough moments each time the autochoke finally closed, the little bike was running like a champ.

Now I’d have to look for an opening to get it back to College Park.

***

Saturday came and Finn was using every communications medium available to him to let the Home Office know how much he’d really like to have his motorcycle back.

Call it an opening.

Of course, it would a sunny 35 degree day opening, but an opening is an opening.

Doris hopped in the pickup and headed towards Finn’s place while I layered up for the ride.

This is one of those days where a good fleece top and an Aerostich suit can make 50 plus miles of what could be uncomfortable pretty comfortable.

I also had a new pair of cold weather gloves to break in, so this seemed like an opening for that, too.

***

The Blast started pretty well, especially considering the overnight low had been just under 20 degrees F.

As I rumbled up into Jefferson, I remembered I’d been wondering how far this bike would run before hitting Reserve, now that it would actually flow fuel.

Whereupon, three quarters of a mile from home, and showing about 80 miles on the trip odo, I promptly ran out gas, and turned the petcock to Reserve.

I wouldn’t have to wonder anymore.

After a brief stop at Jefferson’s BP, to purchase $4.51 of premium fuel, I pointed the Blast over Mountville Road, cutting across the southern end of Frederick County to miss Frederick City traffic and use a few miles of backroad dancing to make sure the little bike was running fully on song. Mountville and Maryland 80 are both delightfully technical, with lots of grades and corner combinations to string together. With the Blast’s 500 single up in fourth gear it was eager to carry momentum, turning sharply in to each corner and torquing out in a single cylinder machine gun symphony.

Singles are cool.

Apologies to Dr. Who, and to bowties.

After merging on to Interstate 270, it was clear that the bike had been subtly starving for fuel long before it had failed completely — this had been a problem that had been degrading slowly for a very long time. Before the fix, the Blast hadn’t really made usable power in top gear until about 75 miles per hour — post fix there was good power from about 63. Rolling fourth gear on at lower highway speeds actually produced a reasonable rush of power.

34 horsepower doesn’t sound like a lot, unless you’ve been spending some time riding the same bike around with it making 27 for a while.

I’ll also admit that BMW S and LT fairings make one spoiled when transitioning to the Blast’s tidy flyscreen — its hard to imagine how doubled over I’d have to get to gain any coverage from that. Still, other than two or three numb fingers on each hand, and a couple on each foot, it was a pretty nice day and a pretty nice ride.

Greenbelt came up a bit too fast, really.

Finn seemed glad to see his motor.

We locked the Blast up and headed out in search of a burger.

***

The next day I was reading my Sunday paper, when I heard my phone vibrate.

A text from Finn.

Just took the bad boy out for a spin. Feels much better. Better acceleration from a stop and it doesn’t feel like it is sucking wind just to carry me lol

Nothing I didn’t know.

The things that make us worried and sad can be complicated and seemingly impossible to straighten out.

But the things that make the riders among us happy can be the simplest things in the world.

Castrati

When one has old motorcycles, one gets in the habit of not letting things go.

Letting things go is to surrender to entropy, and that way randomness and oily, rusty, non-functional wreckage lies.

This mechanical wreckage puts me in mind of how I’d look with similar mileage and neglect.

So you don’t.

Or at least I don’t, anyway.

These things can be substantial. Or strangely trivial.

But when they break, I fix them. Because one is a freak, but two is a trend.

I’m so not into entropy.

 

***

 

I was out riding the Slash 5 a while back, enjoying my favorite one laners out in the farm bottoms.

All was sunny, green — boxer drone omnipresent — I was in the zone.

My green reverie was dispelled by green and yellow menace — a big boy John Deere lawn tractor being operated with boundless enthusiasm and questionable situational awareness.

Tractors are not uncommon hereabouts, so my tractor interaction and avoidance skills are well developed and frequently exercised.

Most of them, though, are great big slow moving things which are pretty easy to detect and, except for their operator’s visibility challenges, behave in pretty predicable ways.

This one, though, was small, quick and had the distinct appearance of one that was being operated in top gear and at full throttle. While most lawn mowers — and despite the John Deere green livery, this was just a very big lawn mower — turn when they reach the end of their lawn to make the next cutting pass, this one was flaky.

It might make the customary turn. Or it might just blast straight out into my path and end up requiring its owner to replace its pretty yellow seat.

I don’t use my horn very often, but when I do…

So I resolved to announce myself, and pressed the Toaster’s left button, bracing for the customary gut punch percussive report of the trusty Italian-made Fiamm dual horns.

“Wheeeeeeze-bleep….”.

That couldn’t be right. So I pressed it again.

“Bleeee…wheeeze…..”

Sigh.

Being a recovering Catholic means one carries a lot of really bizarre images around in your head.

Upon hearing my horn, or more precisely the lack thereof, the image that flashed across my mind was…..’Castrati’.

In Catholic liturgical music, the most delicate soprano voices are provided by Choir boys who today serve their faith in this way until they hit puberty, and their voices crack.

But it didn’t always work that way.

In modern times, we’ve (mostly) concluded that one’s life and future family win compared with one’s expression of faith. But at one time if you sang beautifully enough, that choice went the other way. You’d get….altered … for Jesus, so that your voice could continue to sing his praises, and your life, well….

So cut back to the button, where my expectations were of power, of ‘A Fullness of Sound’.

I expected Pavarotti.

I got a 43 year old choirboy.

 

***

 

Fortunately, and likely not because of my thundering horn, Deere Man noticed me, and braked to a stop before entering the road.

The potential for our paths to intersect having been reduced to zero, I rolled back on the throttle and sped on up the road.

 

***

Back in the garage, troubleshooting was pretty straightforward.

Standing in front of the bike, I cupped my hand over the low tone horn of the low/high pair, inclined my head toward my hand, and pressed the Toaster’s left button.

No problem there.

I repeated the drill with the high tone horn of the pair.

I was treated to a comically pitiful and failing bleat.

Yup. That’s your problem right there.

I went into my office and Amazoned up a Fiamm ‘Freeway Blaster’ high tone horn.

 

***

 

Fast forward several days, and my postman provides me with the horn.

That evening, I popped it out of its plastic clamshell and learned a thing or two. Unlike my existing ‘Made in Italy’ horn, this one was made in a plant in Cadillac, Michigan. It was missing the cute chrome grille that probably hasn’t been made for 25 years. And it was designed to operate with two wires, not the ‘hot and frame ground’ method used by my antique example. To allow it to be used, the Fiamm guys had included a nice pre-wired terminal and jumper which would work in one terminal applications. After a few moments unsuccessfully searching for some “+”s and “-“s, I reviewed the minimal documentation, which stated that the horn “was not polarity sensitive”.

I walked out to the garage, a pulled a 10mm wrench out of the tool chest. I spun the nut off the existing horn, pulled the wire terminal off and removed the horn. When I went to drop the old horn in the shop trash — how many miles had this thing seen since 1985? — a full two tablespoons full of dirt fell out of the horn’s mouth.

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I had prewired the jumper inside, so wired up the hot wire, tightened up the nut and was done — total elapsed time about 25 seconds.

I pressed the button.

The walls shook — we had Pavarotti, The Mighty Hammond Organ and The Mormon Tabernacle Choir all at once.

It might be a Cheezy Physics Trick, but it is a good one.

Each of these two horns is audible, but by itself nothing special.

But put two of them together, and the interference patterns made by the two selected notes create the kind of din you really want if someone is trying to kill you with their vehicle. 1+1 equals the sonic equivalent of the 5:19 to Moline.

Entropy temporarily vanquished. Bring on the John Deere Lawn Tractors.

Snowmobile Parts

I’d kind of hoped that Erik Buell was from someplace in the Great White North.

Someplace where there are polar bears, and everybody call their snowmobile their ‘sled’.

Because if it was I’d at least have some way to understand the context for a recent brain puzzler that had my cerebral wires leaking smoke for the last couple of days.

But he’s from Pittsburg.

So I don’t.

 

***

 

I guess I could be underthinking this.

It’s not out of the realm of possibility that there might be a snowmobile or two in Pittsburg.

Your odds there have got to be better than Atlanta or Miami, say, but it’s not likely there are a lot of sleds there, compared with say, The UP of Michigan or oh, The Yukon.

So its possible that in his youth Erik Buell had some form of foundational internal combustion experience with a snowmobile, but its a longshot.

 

***

 

So why the hell am I so hung up on snowmobiles, you ask?

Can’t tell you how glad I am you asked that narrative-advancing question.

I’ve continue to have frequent SMS and cell phone conversations with offspring Finn on the subject of his Buell Blast.

Lately he related to me that the bike ran poorly once it was warmed up, which is a behavior that likely links to the performance of one of that motorcycle’s electromechanical oddities, the ‘autochoke’.

Remember that the bike’s design purpose was to be a training motorcycle, and that anything which could be done to make the bike fool- or in this case rookie-motorcyclist-proof should be and was, if possible, done.

One of those things was the ‘autochoke’.

The theory was that when cold, the enrichener circuit defaulted to open — allowing extra fuel into the intake stream. As the engine warmed, an electrical current was applied to a wax inside the body of the ‘autochoke’. As the wax heated and melted, the piston and needle would move up into the carb body and close the enrichment port, and the carburetor would then run through its normal pilot and high speed circuits.

Hot wax? What cockamamie designer came up with this Rube Goldebergian method? For what application? What ever happened to solenoids or switches? What could possible go wrong with such a strangely non-determanistic and complex mechanism?

Other than everything.

When I’d been having The Blast inspected for Maryland registration, I remember talking to the Inspector at Harley Davidson of Frederick as he went through the bike .

He had been fairly unrestrained in expressing how unusual it was for one of these motorcycles to come into his shop completely unmolested and functional.

“Man, everything is here and everything works. Brakes are good — shock and fork are good. Heck, even the ‘autochoke’ works. That never happens.”

I remember thinking to myself that this piece of data was going to be important at some time later.

If those things ‘never’ worked, it was only a matter of short time before this one joined them.

 

***

 

It was, apparently, that time.

After what is now apparently a lifetime of working on complex systems, I have developed a couple of foundational principles.

One of them is never to use a complex solution where a simple one is available.

And easy operation aside, a cable that works has got to be better than a rube-golderbergian gizmo that sometimes works and othertimes, well…

So I couldn’t be the first person down this road, and certainly not the first to fix it.

 

***

 

My first thought which is normally my best one, wasn’t here.

The first thought was that somewhere in the Harley Davidson parts catalog were parts that could be repurposed to do this simple thing.

You know — “Find the cable and mount from a Sportster, and see if they can be made to fit.”

The Blast’s ‘Autochoke’ Carb had been built around the thing — it used a different body, and the orifice in the side of the body where the autochoke sat was the size of a US 5 cent piece.

The Sportster cable and linkage would not work.

Well, the problem could be solved with HD parts — Just take the whole carb from a Sportster, swap that in there, and Bob’s Yer Uncle.

Seemed like an excessive solution.

If I was going to toss the whole carb, we’d be looking at a Mikuni Flatslide, but, well, money.

So with that idea shot, I suspected that at least one of my Fellow Blast Enthusiasts had surely figured it out.

Maybe a few decades on the Internet BMW Riders List has spoiled me to expect that the community has completely figured out absolutely everything before I even knew it was wrong, but the BMW guys and Blast folk are not operating on the same plane.

The Blast folk did have a suggested fix, but the solution wasn’t pretty.

The Blast Forum solution involved massive Dremel MotoTool destruction of the existing plastic electromechanical abomination, and getting a cable to move the large diameter slide that had formerly been moved or not moved by the expanding wax. It looked unreliable, not strong, and like something that — were it to break when you were out on the road somewhere — would leave you worse off than you’d been before, with no way to recreate the fix.

I didn’t like what I was seeing — it didn’t look like any of the Blast Enthusiasts — and there ARE Blast Enthusiasts – had actually come up with an elegant solution.

It was ON, now.

 

***

 

It was time to put on the race face, and do some top speed runs on the Google Machine.

First gear had me searching on manual choke conversion kits.

Second gear had me finding a lot of such kits being sold by motor scooter shops in convenient places like Liverpool and Stuttgart. These shops show pictures of the kits, but no application or installation data.

Third gear showed these kits were for the seemingly two most common scooter carburetors — a series of DelOrtos, and a Keihin CV.

The Blast has a Keihin Constant Velocity carb.

Fourth gear had me looking for Keihin CV Manual Choke Conversion Kits. There was a big cluster of hits on ArcticChat.com. ArcticChat, fortunately, is not a service for lonely singles above the Artic Circle, but rather, the enthusiast forum for owners of Arctic Cat snowmobiles.

Top gear on Arctic Chat showed me pictures of one of their Keihin carbs and its ‘Autochoke’. There was a picture of a replacement autochoke. Chubby rounded bit of ivory plastic… It looked familiar. As the revs climbed towards redline, an image search on their autochoke led me back… to the Blast forum.

<Sound of Very Large Relay Closing>

Where, I had kept asking myself, had Erik Buell or one of his design minions come up with the idea for this ridiculous non-simplification of engine starting technology?

Snowmobile parts.

Freaking. Snowmobile. Parts.

The Arctic Cat dudes and dudettes had similarly described sled motors that started well when cold, but ran like crap when warmed up. The autochoke seemed to have too many failure modes — whether though failure of the wax/heat mechanism, or wear that caused the plastic plunger to bind — that rendered the system dull, lifeless and inert in much less time than it took the rest of the machine to fail.

They had adopted a conversion kit made by an outfit called HOCA Racing.

You can obtain one of those kits from our good friends at Amazon.com.

 

***

 

After the UPS man left, I found myself examining the Hoca Choke Conversion Kit.

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It’s really a very elegant, very robust, and completely mechanical solution.

The kit contains a machined steel plug the same diameter as the autochoke’s body. The plug has a groove with a meaty o-ring seal, and a machined shoulder that seals to the carburetor body. The next kit part is a machined retaining bracket that engages the plug’s shoulder and its drilled to accept a small screw that engages that retaining hole used for the standard autochoke. The steel plug is threaded to accept a cable sleeve, complete with slack adjusters and locknuts. Finally, the kit includes a replacement for the carb plunger that activates the enrichener jet, a spring and a cable, complete with knob and retaining hardware.

With a few minutes of tank removal, some screw spinning, and one new 5/8 hole in a side cover, The Blast will be much better off.

The members of the Blast board have helped me to learn a great deal about the operation of this not quite simple enough little motorcycle. I’m looking forward to writing up the parts sources and being an information source for them rather than an information consumer, for once.

Now I need to figure out whether this is going to be another toolkit-packing roadtrip to College Park, or whether the Blast itself will get to take another little roadtrip back to Shamieh’s Shop.

While we’re in there we’ll prolly pull and clean out the pilot jet, as well as clean the OEM air filter. Hopefully this will be enough to get the little feller running crisply, and will keep me from having to consider replacing everything intake with a Dan’s Performance Intake Kit.

blast-intake-kit

Another one of those foundational principles we’d been talking about is that stock equipment is almost always best.

Well, except for chokes, anyway.

I’m not ever going to argue that I’m a better tuner than the guy at that factory that had prototyping equipment, exhaust gas analyzers and a dyno. I’ve seen lots of examples where ‘performance parts’ reduce performance.

Both the intake tract and the stock exhaust on the Blast’s engine appear to be highly engineered. I’m kind of fond of the typical underframe Buell exhaust, too — it does a good job of keeping the big cylinder’s more obnoxious bark under control, while still letting the rider hear the low exhaust tones.

My gut tells me that modifying either the intake or exhaust on this bike will result in less drivability — flat spots, poor throttle response. Might be able to re-jet your way out of it, might not. Worst case is that you end up with an obnoxiously loud bike that only runs great WFO — a thing, it should be noted, is a tad incompatible with operation in a modern urban environment.

You might be able to ride the bike that way for a while in the city, just not for very long.

Nevermind, that being inexplicably Scots at heart, I’m having a hard time contemplating spending $250 to upgrade a $900 motorcycle.

So we’ll see if we can get what’s there working perfectly and predictably.

Finn’s Blast was supposed to be a transportation appliance, not a lifestyle.

Not that that’s ever worked before.