Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Moto Melee

Every year there is the Moto Melee. A hundred vintage bikes take off to tour California in 1000 mile, 3 day tour.

I know the date in advance, end of June, always, yet, when do I start working on my bike? On the Sunday 6 days before departure.

Well, I'm a mechanic. My bikes don't break down, do they? Besides, it ran fine last time a rode it. 4 years ago. Wait, it kinda didn't want to idle so well. And it wouldn't start so well either then. As a matter of fact, now that I think about it, it wouldn't start at all, and it was summer and I was really busy at the shop and so I just parked it. It couldn't be more than a little points adjustment or blowing out the idle jet, could it? What could possibly wrong with it?

Just one little but crucial thing. I just didn't know it yet.

So on the Sunday 6 days before departure I gave the bike a full tune up, overhauled the carburetor, tightened all the bolts, replaced worn out rubber things and gave it a wash. THEN I kicked it over. Surprise! No compression! Now that's pretty crucial. Actually: that is one of the three crucial things: Spark, gas and compression. But no compression. As in: I put my finger in the spark plug hole and it does not get blown out. At all.

Instead, all the air goes out the side.

That would indicate a blown head gasket, see picture. Now my 1971 Moto Guzzi Nuovo Falcome is really nothing too special, except for you can't get parts in the United States for it.

I text my friend Jutta in Germany, despite being in the middle of night for her, and ask her to express me a top end gasket kit from Germany. She calls IMT Munich on Monday, they work on Moto Guzzis all day, and they have the head gasket in stock.

It turns out Marc who works there owes me a favor, and he hooks me up with a head gasket, and Jutta picks it up there and then it gets picked up from her house by the post office on Tuesday, and it appears at my doorstep on Wednesday, 40 Euros later. Thanks Jutta and Marc, you are the best!

Phew! So on Wednesday night and Thursday early morning I overhaul the top end and kick! Kick! Kick! It fires up!

I feel very lucky to have friends across the big pond.

Then test drive Thursday night, Friday night, and off I go on Saturday morning. And it ran great! The engine didn't leak, and besides re-torquing the head on the Sunday morning in the parking lot to avoid another blown head gasket, I really didn't have any major problems.

For a vintage bike that is anyway. You know, this used to be my daily commuter for two years 19 years ago. Now I remember how I became a mechanic beside the apprenticeship: fixing things on my vintage bike that needed a lot off attention.

So after this Melee it only needs a few things. Just a few. Like: Steering bearings, the forks need a rebuild since they are not much more than pogo sticks anymore, the brakes are terrible and need to be redone, shocks are now blown, the headlight and the taillight gave out, the tank mounts broke off and the ignition switch is on its last leg. Plus I REALLY would like a 5 speed transmission. It's a never ending story.

And although I had such a blast I really appreciated the KTM afterwards. So smooth, with brakes, real suspension, and lights. I never thought I would call the KTM smooth. But in comparison...Modern technology. The world has made progress. A lot of progress. It's not as cute as the Guzzi, but hey. Can't have everything.

Well, I blame the 1000 miles of all the rough back roads we did in those 3 unforgettable days, and the dirt roads. A lot of fun, and absolutely beautiful, like a dream, but also a lot of vibration. And since the Guzzi is really not a dirt bike, I shouldn't be too surprised. It looks like one now, see picture. Judging from the dirt that is...

And when am I going to start working on it again? That's right. The Sunday before the next Melee. Or maybe I'll do it this winter. I'll make myself a reminder. Really. I swear.

Needless to say though this was SO MUCH FUN. I had great ride companions and the roads were awesome. Ute, Johnny, Ben and Steve were great. And thanks Harley and Jeff for putting on 11 years of Moto Melee by now.

We made it through some mishaps together, especially Ben, who had all kinds of problems and crashed twice, but got right back up and made it through the whole ride. He also got the Willy Makit Award for that at the Banquet Monday night.

I'll write another blog about all that later. Probably on this blog. Keep posted!

Monday, May 19, 2008

'08 Sheetiron 300

This weekend I did the Sheetiron 300, which is a dual sport ride starting in Stonyford, then goes over the Sheetiron Mountain and ends up in Fort Bragg and back in 2 days, organized by the OMC.

The only street legal dual sport I have is my (since I did a bunch of work to it, now hopefully...) trustworthy KTM 950 Adventure. I bought it last year and prepped it to go to Mexico with but alas the water pump failed and I ended up taking a trustworthy KLR instead. But finally the Sheetiron gave me a chance to figure out the dirt with the beast.

I met John Sweeney, a friend from the SFMC at a Mill Valley coffee shop and we took the scenic route up to Stonyford where the temperature was like 109F. So once we got there and met up with the SFMC we kicked back and drank a couple of beers, made dinner and retired to our tents early.

The next day we got started fairly early, like 7.45. Could have been earlier, but have you ever tried getting 10 guys to leave from somewhere?

I was a little tentative about taking the big KTM over the dirt and people kept saying, you're riding THAT THING?

But it handled - great! Once I learned how to control it in the corners with the throttle I was having a blast! At the end of day 2 I was able to pass some people on smaller bikes to get away from the dust.

And dusty it was. At times all you could do is chase the taillight in front of you and trust it was going the right way. Since they were all street legal enduros, fortunately everybody had one. I'm still coughing up the dust though, and all day I had grit in my teeth...

I drank a lot of water, like a gallon and a half. And you have to, because all hat keeps you cool is the evaporating sweat. The breeze doesn't do anything, it's just like a hair dryer.

We were all really looking forward to Fort Bragg where we knew it would be cold and foggy, and that's how it was. You can see the fog in the picture of the Oceanside Hotel, formerly the Driftwood, which has cheap, charming and rustic accommodations. Read between the lines...but it must have like150 rooms or so and is perfect for a ride like this.

At the luggage pick up everybody got their photo taken and I got a button with my own picture on it, that was a fun souvenir! I think I give it to my Mom...

At the hotel I checked the oil and the air filter, which was pretty dusty, so I cleaned it a little and then went to get dinner at a fancy restaurant above a gallery space in Fort Bragg. Excellent natural beef and organic vegetables. Just the right thing after a dusty ride like that.

And back the next day. This time a different route, mostly easy fire roads, lunch in a little town, BBQ on the side of the road, organized through the OMC by local restaurants. Got back around 3, waited out the heat before I squeezed back into my full suit, and blazed there at 9pm, took a shower, plunged into the hot tub.

Perfect weekend. Can't wait to do it again next year...Nothing like swallowing dust, working hard in 100F, with 500 other crazies...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Back on (the) track

Willow Springs, Rosamund, California. Second weekend of April 2008. I raced a 1966 Honda CB160.

In the picture you can see the San Francisco vintage racing contingent, the ones that made the trek down there, Jim Hoogerhyde, Harley Welch, me, Miles, Johnny Regan and Mickey Fimbres.

Got 3rd in a LeMans style CB160 only race, 8th in both 200 GP and 250, respectively, starting from the back of the grid of about 25 other vintage racers in the AHRMA (American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association).

I got talked into it in Daytona, when I was helping Jim Hoogerhyde race there. His friend Mike Riddle offered to let me race his backup bike for some dyno time. Not sure if he realized that I would take him up on that...and I am still pinching myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming. Mike Riddle had a race ready , great running, awesome little CB160 waiting for me at the track to race when I arrived in Willow Springs.

Coming back to the race track after a good long absence to race myself took a little adjustment. But after the first day I felt like I had never stopped.

Granted, racing a 160 is a little different than racing a GSXR750.

For one, you don't have the horsepower to bail you either out or get you into trouble. By the same token, you pay dearly for every mistake.

Hesitate for a split second on a pass? Opportunity is gone forever. Rolling of the throttle to set up for a turn or to take the edge off? You're toast. You'll never see the competitor in front of you ever again, until the pits.

With 16 horse power and 100mph top speed it is all about the teeny little details that make you win or loose. It's the small things that count in CB160 racing.

Here are a few things of the many I learned this weekend:

Moving smoothly to hang off is crucial since a CB160 is practically a bicycle with an engine and probably weighs less than me, and any rough weight changes were making the bike sway in a way that was altogether unholy especially going into turn 9 at a 100mph and a headwind.

When I was fully tucked head behind the screen and butt on the tail of the bike, my elbows were basically lower than my knees since the Honda CB160 is a very small bike and I'm 6'1". And the difference between staying on the seat or scooting my behind up on the rear hump made me a lot more aerodynamic, translating into a few more rpms and a couple more mph down the straightaway. Oh, and drafting is king.

And I learned to never visualize the size of the CB160 tires when I was leaning into a 100mph turn. They are basically mountain bike tire sized. Yet they will still let you drag you knee at crazy lean angles. This will either make you start laughing insanely inside your helmet, or wither with fear. Since it is not quite predictable which one it is going to be, it's best not to ponder the question.

This was a great weekend. Great racing, great people, great racing organization.

Thanks Mike Riddle for the bike, thanks Jim Hoooooogerhyde for putting in a word for me and getting me that ride, thanks Debby Welch for making food at the track and Happy Birthday, thanks Johnny Regan for giving me a ride to the track, thanks to everybody for racing. As you can probably tell, all this made me insanely happy. Hmm, racing. I'm glad I'm back.

Also, congrats to Jim Hoooogerhyde whoooo finished 1st both days in Supermono 2, and 2nd and 3rd in Supermono, and 4th in 250GP!

And just in case you don't know what a LeMans start is, here is a video of the Sunday CB160 only 4 lap "exhibition" race (yeah right).

That's the one I got 3rd in. When the checkered fell, I was actually in 5th because I ran low on gas, the bike hesitated on the straightaway in the white flag lap and I had to back off. I managed to nurse it around the track to the checkered flag, got passed by a couple of people and rolled into the pits without any's those many pesky little details you have to think about when racing. But it turns out we ran a lap too many and they rolled back the results, so I got that 3rd. Woohoo! But I need a pit crew. Anybody? I'm taking applications :)

Thursday, March 20, 2008


About a month ago or so I get a call from Italy. Motociclismo magazine wants to use our Factory Eddy Current EC997 dyno to do a comparison test on 7 bikes before they go to Laguna Seca to do a bike comparison.

Wow, I'm honored! This is a very big magazine in Europe, and I'm really jazzed to have them coming to my shop!

So they show up on Tuesday morning at the shop. 7 bikes, 7 drivers, a couple of technicians, camera man, and a couple of what looks like the general managers of this trip. I don't get everybody's exact function, but there they are, 14 Italians, starting to mill about the shop and discussing the best strategy in Italian.

Nothing like being surrounded by a LOT of Italians with those Oh-my-god-so-sexy-Italian-accents. You know, like Valentino. Mmmmh.

First up is the KTM RC8. That isn't even available in the States yet, and I really like the look of it. It makes good horsepower, but not as much as the Ducati.

Next is the GSXR1000 which will make the most horsepower, as expected. I'm a real big Gixxer fan, having had a 1989 as my first 4 cylinder sport bike and then a 2001 GSXR750 as my daily rider, canyon carver and ultimately race bike. I just sold it because the miles were getting up there, and it was a little neglected over my new KTM 950 Adventure. I miss it, and my next sport bike will definitely be a GSXR again.

Anyway, next is the Kawasaki ZX10R. Decent power, although not as much as the Kawasaki Italy guy would have liked. He stays with me over all the tests, while the rest of the crew hangs out in the shop, outside with the bikes, making interviews and videos and pictures. I hear about all the happenings outside the shop later. For three hours the dyno is my little world, all science and no fluff.

The R1 I am having problems with. It starts out fine, then the graph goes haywire, it's loosing power. I re-strap it to the dyno, thinking that the wheel is slipping on the rollers. This time it makes less horsepower overall, 13hp less at its worst. I recalibrate the dyno, but no difference. I pull it off, since it has been on the dyno quite a while at this point, and I am thinking it is just getting too hot to make accurate readings.

Next up is the MV Agusta F4 1078. It makes beaucoup horsepower. That assures me that the dyno is reading accurately. The MV gets within a couple of horsepower of the mighty GSXR. The seating position is extreme. My shoulders are directly over my hands, and it does feel like my butt is over my head (which is how Harley Welch puts it later when I tell him about it).

The Ducati 1098 power graph is amazing, it rises like a rocket, although it cuts out at 10500 and has less power than the Japanese bikes, but that kind of power development is going to be a blast in the actual world. It better be with a price tag of $40,000.

The Honda CBR1000 has the smoothest power band but boy does it get hot quickly. I have to let it cool down a lot between runs to stay in the same heat range for accurate comparisons purposes.

The Ducati and R1 runs are somewhat questionable, the Ducati makes more power than expected, and the R1 less. But since they need to tour the City and make pictures to prove they have been here, I let them go and ask them to come back in the evening to repeat the tests.

After they make pictures on Twin Peaks and Lombard Streets, a couple of them return for the re-runs, which show the same result as in the morning. On the R1 issue, I think something happened, like a spark plug burnt, or the cap went bad. It's a big power drop, and it wasn't the dyno, because the MV showed plenty of power right after.

We are done around 7.30. I feel the pleasant tiredness of a fun day. I close the shop and go to the Ace Cafe on Mission Street to share my day and brag a little. Here are some pictures.

On Friday I'm going to Laguna Seca to see how the test is going. I'll be there for half a day, then I get back to the City to get a ride to Buttonwillow for the AFM races. It'll be going from the Il Grande Mondo di Motocicli back to our Mundane Greater Bay Area Motorcycle Happenings.

And I like my little Bay Area Motorcycle World. In my opinion: One of the best worlds on this planet.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Dayona on Tuesday - the race is on!

So that's me wrenching on the bike for final touch ups on the bike in the morning. I check and double check to make sure all the bolts are tight. Gas? Check. Tire pressure? Check. Tire warmers? Check.

Ready for first practice. I get on the pit scooter and speed though the pits to the banking and actually beat the race bikes there. It's a beeline for me, and all the way around the track for the bikes.

I want to get some pictures of Jim on the banking. The engine is holding, top speed is down, but hey, Jim gets to race.

When the flag drops, Jim keeps up with his main competitor Kevin Keith all the way through the infield, then he starts walking away. Not much though! Just a little bit every lap. With the big horsepower engine I think Jim would have had him covered.

He finishes second, in both races. Trophy time! Not bad for all the bad luck we had. I am very happy about it. 2 second places in Daytona?

What's more awesome than that?

AHRMA in Daytona

It's Monday in Daytona. 2 practice sessions, then the race. Jim's going good, faster than his main competitor, he's ready to race.

But when he comes in, the engine lost power. Worse, it's making a really loud knocking sound. Like a midget jumped into the fairings and bangs the engine with a steel hammer, as Jim puts it. That's not good.

We tear off the tank, the valve cover. Everything looks good, and the cam chain is tight. We take off the compression release valve which is the only thing that looks suspicious.

Back on the roller to start the bike. Nothing has changed. If anything, it got worse. Somebody comes by and suggests the lower end bearings of the con rod. The noise it so loud and high pitched that it either is the cam chain or the rod is about to stick itself out the case.

Either way, it's definitely in the engine, and it needs to come out. Fortunately we have a spare engine in the truck. So we get out our measly supply of tools, and beg and borrow more special tools together, and yank the engine.

Draining the oil shows golden debris. Pretty? Yes. But it means that the engine needs a full rebuild when we get back and it is indeed the lower end bearing. The only thing that is golden in the engine. We feel lucky that it didn't lock up on the banking causing Jim to crash...

We swap the engine, run into a couple snafus, and don't make either race. But we get it running by 6pm. Which means we are ready to race tomorrow. Awesome!

This engine is stock though, down more than a few horsepower from the Biggen that Jim's brother Joe built, and we have big doubts if this engine will make it through practice and the race.

Daytona is notoriously hard on engines, with the tri-oval banking being half of the track, wide open, for close to a minute every lap, and there are 6 of them.

I'm nervous, Jim is nervous, if the engine lets go again and locks up - that cold result in a crash.

We leave the track for food and margaritas. It's Jim's birthday today after all, he's turning the big four-O...and after wrenching all day we all deserve a good meal! And a good night's sleep.

Race is on tomorrow!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Going to Daytona

This man here is Jim Hoogerhyde, racer par excellence, with his race bike, on the way to race Daytona Beach.

The bike is a CRF450 Honda engine in a RS250 frame, hoogertuned by his brother Joe, and supported with parts and technical knowledge by Werkstatt.

This picture was taken in front of the shop to show it off in all its glory one more time before it hits hopefully not the ground but rather the race track, first the one in Savannah, Georgia, then Daytona Beach, for the first two AHRMA races of the season.

Today were the races in Savannah, and Jim took a first and second in Supermono and Supermono II, respectively.

Congratulations, Jim! You are now leading the championship with this season opener. Hang on to it!

Next stop: Daytona Beach. The famed bike week at Daytona Beach also hosts the AHRMA races, flat track races, AMA races, and then a lot of hubbub that I don't care too much about, mostly Harley related.

But I'm going for the races! Can't wait, I'm very excited.

I'm flying out tomorrow night on a red-eye to meet Jim there and help out. My bags are packed.

I got the wear-black-at-the-track-so-the-dirt-won't-show outfit for daytime when there may or may not be a lot of wrenching (as much as I love wrenching, I am sincerely hoping that I won't have to deal with too many emergencies), I got the what-am-I-going-to-wear-to-the-banquet outfit, and I got the umbrella-girl outfit. I'm set!

The Daytona race is the season opener for me, as Werkstatt Racing will be supporting Jim as part of the SFMC (San Francisco Motorcycle Club) race team this year. We will also sponsor Eric Schiller and Mickey Fimbres, part of the SFMC race team, and John Willenborg, who is racing a KTM in Supermoto USA this year.

So I'll try to update this adventure during the time I'm there if I have time, otherwise when I come back! Keep posted!