Archive for March, 2010

Dinner Ideas

8 March 2010 at 5:30 pm
by Jonah

roast chicken
chicken fried steak
chili
fajitas
frittata
lasagna
meatballs
meatloaf
pasta salad
pasta with bolognese
pasta with creamy arrabbiata sauce
pizza
pot roast
quesadillas
quiche
chef’s salad
spaghetti
stroganoff
fried rice
tacos
“taco salad” (Um um good!)
sandwiches
stew

soups
chicken
potato leek
vegetable

Motorcycling

7 March 2010 at 12:51 am
by Berck

I promised updates. What follows is the probably somewhat boring detail of my week wrenching on the motorcycle.

On Wednesday I started out replacing the clutch cable, since this was the part that was most obviously in need of replacement. The manual I’ve got is absolutely awful. Some examples:

“The circlip use to a set the clutch center is of a special dimension (25×1.5 mm) therefore exercise care that the standard circlip 25 mm is not to be used.”

“Headlight is normally adjusted in the vertical directions so that the center of the beam intersects the ground at the point 50 mm (164 feet) in front of the motorcycle with the motorcycle in riding attitude.”

It’s the official, authentic, Honda manual. I’ve been recommending Honda products to people for years, but this is my first one. I hope that their modern shop manuals aren’t this bad.

Fortunately, a motorcycle is pretty simple, and I’m able to figure out how most things work through intuition. The clutch cable disappears behind a cover plate that also houses the front drive sprocket. The underside of the plate was coated in solid gunk. Whenever the drive chain throws off lubricant, it sticks on the underside of the plate. I spent about an hour cleaning it. I pulled apart the clutch actuator cam and figured out how it works. Clever, but seemed a little unnecessarily complicated. The cable pulls a cam that’s got dents in it. The dents ride on top of several ball bearings. When the cam rotates, the ball bearings are in a plate that cannot rotate, and as a result, the dented plate is forced outward since it’s not riding in the dents anymore. This pushes on a lever that disappears into the other side of the bike, but is presumably connected to the clutch. I have a feeling I’ll be forced to get acquainted with that side eventually. For now, I just wanted to replace the cable.

I cleaned all the parts and re-greased the clutch actuator. I removed the other end of the cable from the handle bars and routed the new cable, which also involved removing the gasoline tank, since it goes underneath. That’s when I discovered the new cable was too long.

No matter, I figured I could find a way to route it anyway. After I finally got it all installed and adjusted, it was simply way too difficult to operate. The problem seemed to be kinks in the cable, which were a result of the cable being too long. I called a few motorcycle shops to see if anyone could shorten the cable for me. It seems a pretty easy deal if you have the right equipment. Everyone I talked to acted like I was crazy. This has been a continuous problem with the motorcycle. I don’t know how to interface with the outside world. If I wanted to pay someone to work on my 37-year-old Honda, I’m not sure I even could. Everyone who owns one of these things seems to keep it running themselves. For instance, yesterday I walked into the Harley shop to to try to buy some chain lube. Harleys have chains, I figured this was a safe bet, and the Harley shop was close. No such luck, they have none for sale. Where do Harley riders buy this sort of thing? Wal-Mart?

So, after spending most of the day on the stupid clutch cable and having not really accomplished anything I moved on to the front brakes. I thought the front brake pads were pretty well worn, and had ordered replacements. It turns out, once I got the old pads out, that they weren’t worn at all. They were glazed a bit, but had mostly full life left. I decided to change them anyway since they looked pretty well glazed, and I’d already taken them apart. Then I worked on flushing the brake fluid and bleeding the lines. The fluid was pretty old-looking, so this was worth doing. I’d figured that I could also make the brake handle firmer, but this didn’t seem to be in the cards.

Finally, just before Jonah got home, I decided to go ahead and take the carburetors off. I was convinced the idling could be made better by rebuilding the carbs.

I got them off, and took them inside and pulled them apart. I figured out what was what, removed the rubber parts and dropped the rest into a gallon of carb cleaner to soak. I had replacement o-rings for everything except the main primary jet. So, of course, the o-ring on the main primary jet on the left carb was damaged when I pulled it out.

Jonah accompanied me to the auto parts store on my quest for an o-ring. I found one with the right inner diameter, but that was too fat. I tried to cram it on there, but the jet wouldn’t go in. So I trimmed the old one with a razor blade. This ended up being a bit crude, but seemed likely to seal anyway. I measured the old one carefully and ordered a replacement from an o-ring supplier on Amazon, and went to bed. I’d rebuilt carburetors before, and they’d always been pretty gummed up inside. These appeared to be in really good shape, and not in need of a rebuild at all.

It’s unlike me to use the wrong part, but at this point, I’d only ridden the bike once, and wanted to do so again without waiting for the o-ring to arrive. The o-ring won’t get here until next week when I need to be busy studying for my airline interview the next week. It would be obnoxious to not ride the bike until after the interview.

So on Thursday, I got up about the same time Jonah left, uncharacteristically early for me. Wrenching on a motorcycle excites me, apparently. I dismantled, cleaned, and rebuilt the second carburetor. I left the problem o-ring in place this time so as not to damage it.

While the right carburetor was soaking, I changed the speedometer and tachometer cables. The tachometer cable was old and rusted, and the tachometer took awhile to get up to speed after I started the bike. This was a pretty straight-forward replacement. The speedometer cable on the motorcycle appeared to be relatively new, but it was too short, and wouldn’t fit in the appropriate mounting brackets on the front fender, so I had a replacement for that as well. Fortunately, the new one was the right length.

I put the carburetors back on the bike. At some point on Wednesday, I’d removed the pet cock from the fuel tank to check the filter screens for blockage. There wasn’t any. I only spilled about half a gallon of gasoline doing this. So, on Thursday I fashioned two new fuel lines and put in two new in-line fuel filters. Honda didn’t see fit to include in-line fuel filters in 1973, but the tank wasn’t at all rusted back then, either.

I poured some fuel back in, opened the fuel valve, turned the ignition switch on, flipped the run switch to run, closed the choke, and pushed the started switch with the throttle cracked open. It started up immediately, and seemed to run okay. Only, I pretty quickly realized it wasn’t running as well as it should, and the throttle response was sluggish. It took me a good 2 minutes to realize it was only running on one of its two cylinders. Not good.

I almost panicked, but restrained myself and checked for the obvious. It turns out the right cylinder won’t fire when the right spark plug is unplugged. Right.

I plugged it in, and it ran a whole lot better. I spent the next half an hour fiddling with the carburetors, and got it about as well as it was before. It still didn’t idle terribly well, but maybe slightly better. Content, I put on my gear, and decided to go for a short ride to test it out. I stopped at the gas station right down the street to fill up the tank first, then headed down the road. Immediately, there was a problem. It sputtered and ran like crap at about 5,000 rpm. It seemed to smooth out at about 8,000rpm, but lacked power up there, and really didn’t like wide open throttle. Also, annoyingly, the new front brake squeaked.

I was immediately disgusted that I’d made the bike run worse, and not better. I worried that I’d never make it as good as it was when I got it, and decided I was a failure as a mechanic. I’m easily defeated, what can I say?

I brought it home, dismounted and noticed that the choke was halfway closed. I’d apparently knocked the lever during my fuel stop, and there’s no way the bike was going to run at full throttle with the choke on. I turned it off, and rode again. Much better.

Jonah got home at about this time, and I offered to take her on a ride. She agreed immediately. I’d initially told her that it would probably take me some time getting used to the bike without her before I took her on a ride, but I figured I’d managed on a moped in Greece and this could only be easier.

She suited up, and we headed off. I stalled trying to get out of the apartment parking lot, right on the center line of our street. I managed to briefly block traffic before getting going again. Clutch work requires a lot more finesse with that much weight on the bike. The bike stalled as I was pulling up to the next traffic light. It took me a good 30 seconds to figure out that I’d left the fuel selector valve off. A potentially fatal mistake in an airplane, fortunately this was a motorcycle. And I didn’t have a checklist. (Should I have a checklist? I should at least have a flow.) Anyway, I managed to stop traffic twice in under 2 minutes. Nice.

The rest of the ride went without incident, and I was glad that the bike was running, if not wonderfully.

On Friday, I decided to tackle all that was left. I adjusted the valve tappet clearance, set the point gaps and the timing. None of this did much, except that I made one of the intake valves clack. I’d spent a long time with a stupid .05 mm feeler gauge trying to set the damn thing, too. Do you know how thin .05mm is? It’s really thin. Paper-thin, and flexes all over the place. I decided the whole thing was dumb, and with the engine running, I tweaked the tappet adjustment screw until the noise stopped. It was probably right-on before I screwed with it, and now it was “close enough.”

The point gap seemed a bit tighter than spec, so I widened it out. As a result, the timing was now off. I tweaked the timing until it was right, and now the point gap was too much. So I pulled the points back in, and the right side was timed perfectly, but the left was still off. So I tweaked the left side point gap until the timing was correct. The gap was still in spec, so I declared it good enough.

It still idled poorly. One thing left: I pulled the spark plugs.

Coated in black. Probably a result of running around with the choke on. I cleaned them up with some sand paper and re-installed them. It ran better than it ever has before. At least in the week I’ve been messing with it. The idle still fluctuates a lot more than I’d like, and I think there’s a subtle fuel issue at play. Someone suggested on the forums that the in-line fuel filters might be causing a problem. I’m not sure how, but I may try removing them to see what happens.

Finally, I still had to lubricate and adjust the drive chain. I started measuring the slack. It varied from a little over 1.5″ to less than 0.25″ depending on the chain position. Not a good sign. After cleaning with WD-40, it was a lot freer and most of the chain showed about 1.5″ of slack. The manual specifies 3/4″, so I tightened it up to the recommended amount, and drove downtown looking for chain lube. I eventually found some, sprayed down the chain, and got it down to less than 1/4″ of variation from tight/loose which seemed to me a pretty good indication that the chain was still serviceable.

Jonah came home and we rode for another 10 miles.

Then today was Saturday! With the bike in pretty good shape, we talked about a few different options for a ride, and decided on heading north up highway 83. Which we did, about halfway up to Denver. I discovered that the motorcycle won’t do much better than 80mph with the two of us on it, and a whole lot slower than that uphill, depending on how hard I want to push it in which gear. With a 9,500 rpm redline, 8,000rpm for any extended period of time seems a bit mean to a 37-year-old engine. At wide open throttle in 5th gear, it would pretty consistently maintain about 65mph uphill which is respectable.

We stopped several times to adjust gear and stretch. We headed north until just shy of Castle Rock and then turned east until we got to Kiowa, then headed south to Falcon and then back home. All in all, about a 3-hour, 100-mile ride. We had a great time, and the bike did just fine. And we didn’t die. All good things! I plan for more in the future, but for any distance, we either need a bigger motorcycle, or two of them. Jonah would prefer the two of them option, but that’s obviously not going to happen until I manage to find a job.

By Popular Demand

6 March 2010 at 2:30 pm
by Berck

In answer to Nathan’s question:

4 March 2010 at 7:36 pm
by Berck

My living room!


Looking down the enormous throat of the mighty 722A!

I don’t want to die,

2 March 2010 at 10:21 pm
by Berck

I just want to ride my motorcy…..cle.

Jonah and I completed a motorcycle training course last weekend. It was supposed to be the weekend before, but it canceled for snow. The course was good, and I’m glad I took it. There was some boring and not-very-informative classroom work where they showed us little videos and had us answer questions, then take what was maybe the easiest written test ever. But the on-motorcycle instruction was really helpful. The motorcycles used were small and underpowered, but that kept us out of trouble. While we never got over about 25mph, it was still plenty challenging. It was hard to get all your hands and feet to do things they’ve never done before, and balance a moving vehicle all at the same time. There was a 70% chance of snow on Sunday, so we were pretty sure we wouldn’t get to finish the class until next weekend, but fortunately, the snow held off all day.

So yesterday, I took my course completion certificate to the Colorado Department of Revenue to get my motorcycle endorsement. The one I’d been to before had burned down, so I went to the next-closest one. It turns out that one only did license renewals and couldn’t give me an endorsement. So I left and went to the only one in the Springs that did. It took about 30 seconds of waiting for a clerk to call my number. I was astounded at the efficiency, and after she finished, she told me to wait in a chair, and they’d call my name. That took an hour, and then I found out that they couldn’t issue me a title and registration for the bike, because that section of the Dept. of Revenue only did Driver Licenses. Worse, they only gave me a paper temporary! When I moved to CO they issued me a photo ID on the spot, and I was impressed. It seems that the state has regressed. So I had to go back to the place I was just at and get the title and registration. I only had to wait about 20 minutes there, and they gave me the title in license plate on the spot.

I was initially planning on waiting for a weekend to ride the motorcycle home from Denver. There wasn’t enough time before sunset after Jonah gets off work to have her take me up there, and I sure wasn’t going to ride the thing at night on my first time. Or at all if I can help it. 60% of motorcycle accidents are at night.

Then I checked the weather last night and today was forecast for a high of 46F and sunny. I couldn’t ask for a better day.

I drove up to Denver early this afternoon, getting there just before 1pm. I dragged the bike out of the garage, nearly dropping it right after taking it off the center stand. I’m not sure what happened, but it got a little off balance and it took all of my strength to keep it from hitting the pavement. Thankfully I pulled it off: it was going to be really embarrassing if I crashed the thing before I ever rode it!

As I got on it, I was immediately glad at how much bigger it is than the bike I rode over the weekend. (Unfortunately, this may prove to be a problem for Jonah. She can only balance it on her toes, and you really should be able to flat-foot a bike you’re planning on riding.) The bike has been sitting for 3 weeks, so I was bit worried about the battery. I spent awhile getting the transmission in neutral (a task I’ve now finally mastered!) turned on the fuel, set the choke, turned on the ignition key, flipped the stop/run switch to run, and thumbed the starter. It cranked solidly, but after about 10 seconds didn’t catch. Since I was worried about the battery, I figured I’d try to kick start it, since the bike has a kick starter, and I’ve heard that the bike doesn’t like to run at all with a dead battery even with a good alternator. Nothing happened after a dozen kicks. I’m not sure if I was doing it right, since I haven’t read the instruction manual yet, and I’ve never tried to kick-start it before. I thumbed the starter a bit more and it eventually caught. I gave it a little gas, pulled off the choke, and it idled! Success. I was immediately surprised at how good it sounded after riding the annoying little 225cc v-twin Nighthawks. The CB350 has a much more pleasing grumble to it, though the 180 degree timing on an inline twin gives it a strange lope.

I let it warm up, swapped the license plate, and stowed the registration and insurance under the seat. I checked the tire pressures which read about 35 psi. I let some air out until they indicated the placarded 26psi, hoping the cheap little gauge I was using was any good. I checked the brakes, lights, chain, and decided it was good enough for the ride home. I suited up (pants, jacket, helmet, gloves, boots) and put a few things in my backpack with a couple bottles of water. The bike doesn’t have any sort of storage at all. I need to find a good removable luggage solution.

I drove around Neal’s block a few times, stopping at all the stop signs to get a feel for the thing. It handled easily, the controls were all pretty easy to get to. The front brake has too much free play, but I’m pretty sure that’s because the pads are shot. I immediately liked the transmission. Neal said he had a hard time getting it into neutral, but I thought it was a whole lot easier than the annoying Nighthawk I rode this weekend. Once I realized that it didn’t click at all for neutral, that is. It doesn’t require much force to change gears, and they land with a satisfying clunk instead of a pansy click like the Nighthawk.

I decided that there was no point in furthering the inevitable and set off through Denver. I’d decided to take back roads and highways, avoiding the interstate. The downside is that there’s a lot more gravel left on the back roads from the snow plows, there’s more intersections, and more opportunities for death. The upside is that a screw-up at interstate speeds would be ugly, and I needed practice. A mistake on the back roads isn’t likely to be as bad, and the little Honda is happiest around 50-60mph. Traffic on I-25 moves at about 80mph.

After just a few miles, stopping at many traffic lights on a straight shot out of Denver, I started to get comfortable. “This isn’t all that hard,” I thought, “I’ve really been making this out to be way harder than it is.” My sunglasses tended to fog up under my helmet at stops, but it’s simple enough just to lift my visor when I stop. The hardest part seemed to be working the stupid turn signals. Unlike a car, you have to turn them off after you go around a corner, which requires paying attention. Additionally, I had a hard time getting used to the view in the side mirrors, as it’s pretty much impossible to see directly behind you. Fortunately, you don’t have to (and, apparently, shouldn’t) ride in the middle of a lane.

Before long I was on US-85 heading south. I loved the noise and feel of the bike, the smell of the somewhat rich-running exhaust, and the openness of it all. It was a clear day, and the snow-covered Front Range off to my right was beautiful. “Why did I wait so long to do this?” I wondered. After I got out of town, I accelerated a bit more enthusiastically from stops. The bike makes a lot more power above 6,000 rpm than it does down low, and makes quite a glorious screaming noise. I was astounded at just how much fun 36hp could be, and just how fast 45mph could feel. I never got faster than 65mph, and that one excursion seemed so fast that I was sure that relativistic effects would take over, and I would arrive home younger than I should be.

It being the warmest, sunniest day in weeks, the motorcyclists were out in force. Every last one of them waved at me, and I returned the wave. I probably passed 40 motorcyclists, and got a wave from every single one of them. This was a bit astounding. I’ve driven Miatas for years, and in the early days, I’d say I got wave-return rate from other Miatas of close to 75%; it’s probably dropped to less than 50% these days. I was also a bit worried, “Don’t they know I’m not a real motorcyclist?” I felt like an impostor. I mean, I know, I’m wearing all the clothes and I’m riding a motorcycle, but am I really a member of the club? Couldn’t they tell that I wasn’t quite sure how to sit on the bike, that I kept riding the rear brake while trying to find a comfortable place for my right boot, and that most of my gear changes were pretty sloppy? “I’m just hoping to make it home alive, and they want me to join a fraternity!”

I stopped at a gas station in Sedalia. I was pretty sure that I didn’t need any gas, but I could use the stop anyway. I needed to pee and could use a drink of water. I wasn’t in a hurry. I pulled up to the right side of a gas pump like I would in my car. I realized after I’d climbed off the bike that was very much the wrong side to be on. The side-stand is on the left, which means the handlebars turn that way, making the right side of the tank easier to get to, plus the gas cap is slightly on the right side. I hoped no motorcyclists were driving by laughing at me. It’s not like it was hard to fill it from that side, just would have been easier on the other.

The trip meter read 36 miles from when Neal had reset it. 30 of those miles were mine. I was able to fit all of 0.75 gallons in the tank. It’s a 2.5 gallon tank. That means it probably gets 40-50 miles per gallon, which sounds impressive, but is at best only a 125 mile range. In any case, I now had a reasonable guesstimate of the mileage and didn’t have to worry about running out on the way home. And since I’d bought gas (all of $2.00 worth), I felt entitled to use the bathroom. I did, and then came back outside and called Jonah to let her know I was almost halfway and doing fine.

Back on the road, the rest of the trip was enjoyable and I got more comfortable with bike as I got closer to home. I still don’t feel like I belong on it, but I managed to get home without doing anything too bad. The worst was the stop sign where I stopped and then realized that I hadn’t downshifted while slowing down. The sequential transmission on a motorcycle is very hard to get into first once the bike is stopped and in 5th gear. It took me about 10 seconds of slipping the clutch and rocking the bike, while a woman in a minivan at the four-way stop looked a bit annoyed that I wasn’t going. I would have waved her by, but I was using all my appendages for other things. I finally got it going about the time she started going, so I just crept along waiting for her to go in front of me, but then she waved me by. “See, I’m not *always* invisible!” I thought.

Every car that pulled up to a stop sign or traffic signal on an intersecting street was a potential lethal hazard. Most of the time I had a plan of escape in mind, but there’s always an instant when you’re too close to be able to do much, and if you’re invisible, there’s not a lot of choices.

I actually felt an amazing sense of freedom being out in the world, relatively unprotected. I was weird to be able to put both feet on the ground at a stop light, even stand up if I wanted to. Examine the texture of the pavement up close, be able to shake hands with pedestrians if I wanted to. I thought I would be mostly scared of the other cars, but at stop lights, I kept thinking, “Suckers.” Motorcyclists often refer to cars as “cages” and I’ve always thought that a bit extreme until today, when it suddenly slid into context. I’ve driven a top-down car for over a decade, and it’s a similar feeling of freedom, but there’s still a protective bubble that’s totally missing on a motorcycle.

I got it home and verified that there’s enough room in the covered parking to fit it in front of a Miata. I like it when my life fits together.

Tomorrow: I take it apart. I’ve got a clutch cable, speedometer cable, tachometer cable, and front brake pads sitting on my desk ready to be installed. That’s my goal for tomorrow. I need to pull the carburetors apart and clean them, as well, but I’m not sure if I’ll get to that tomorrow. Stay tuned!