Wednesday, September 19, 2012

"They will test you."

Other than one or two exceptions, I only post original content. There are so many blogs that re-post and re-re-post the same things already that I certainly don't need to add to that.
But this is rather à propos, so I'll make another exception:

(find the original on Vimeo here, and the movie itself here.)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Shrapnel Britannica.

Well, let me begin by saying that this was about as close to the last thing that should have happened as you can get. Now, having come this far, of course we're going to fix it and get the Rising Star back on the road.
So, after the debacle that was the trip to the rally, now the damage is clear and there's good news and bad news.
The good news is that the top end is safe: not the slightest sign of seizure anywhere. The head and all the valve gear is ok, as are the cylinder barrels, pistons and piston rings. But then you look a little closer and you see this:
The cylinder barrels have suffered a pretty severe blow and have cracked. If we need to replace them - beside the fact they are probably not easy to come by - there is the matter of added cost, including, obviously new pistons and rings.
Now for the rest of the bad news: the bottom end was almost completely starved of oil and the number 2 connecting rod (or the right hand side if you prefer) cracked and split from the big end upwards.

As it collapsed on itself, the con-rod brought the piston down, lodging it onto the top of the flywheel. This could have allegedly prevented further mayhem in the form of a totally broken con-rod poking through busted crankcases. As it is, there are two small marks where the piston's mantel hit, and I still don't know if it can be re-used.
We found bits of ground up metal everywhere, including in the SRM sump plate, so there is no alternative but to pull the engine out, split the cases and start again, basically from scratch.
The crankshaft's main journal is damaged and both journals will need to be ground down. I hate the thought of it as a principle, but I'm told it's kosher.

We also need a new timing side bush and it will all require further machine work. Even if you think of this as a best case scenario (the cases are good, so is the the head, the gearbox, etc.), this will be a very costly fuck-up.

So what caused this anyway? The leading theory at the moment is to do with the return oil line to the oil tank. It seems we mistakenly identified the pipe shown here in the red circle:

In a typical Triumph set up, this takes a portion of the oil from the main return line, and diverts it to the top end. The rest goes back into the tank through the main return tube, which has a restricted passage precisely to allow part of the oil to flow to the head. However, on a BSA this is not the case, as the oil junction bloc at the crankcases already has a separate pipe that goes directly to the head. That being the case, the "extra" pipe shown in the red circle seemed superfluous (perhaps meant as a drip for the rear chain?) so we blanked it off with a short piece of rubber pipe and a cap. What is thought could have happened (this is still unconfirmed at this time) is that all the oil returning to the tank was too restricted and the building pressure inside the line caused some sort of lock in the oil cycle. There was always plenty of oil going to the head (hence no damage there) but for some reason the fact that not enough oil was returning to the tank caused the bottom end failure.
I'm not 100% convinced that's the whole story, but it could be a start...

Monday, September 10, 2012

Smooth sailing and a catastrophe.

Last Friday, a couple of buddies from the Club and I, left Rome for our yearly rally. This year the destination was once again the giant puddle known as lake Trasimeno in Umbria. I came up with an "all-B-lanes" itinerary through hills and valleys with no traffic and great views. The weather was perfect, we all took off around 10am and headed North. Other than my test ride the previous Sunday, this was the first real ride so I was still finding out how everything behaved. First of all, I was quite chuffed at how much stuff I can carry, rolled up, on the handlebars, without affecting the handling. Then there's the cruising speed: what had previously felt really slow (as in 25mph) actually turned out to be 50mph, so I can't complain. The guys told me that seen from the back, the bike looked low to the ground, steady and quick through the corners. It certainly felt that way, with enough oomph to pull you out of corners and gallop along to the next one. As advertised by BSA, the engine really was turbine smooth. Coupled with the excellent K70 tyres (new favourites?) it made for a silky smooth ride, without feeling disconnected as you could be on a big touring bike, rather, there is such a directness between the road and the rider that makes it feel like a new kind of bike altogether. Perhaps this is what all those chopper dudes had figured out in the first place.
Going through one of the small towns, a gremlin robs me of electricity and leaves me by the familiar "side of the road". I check the fuse (main fuse, only fuse) and it has blown. It was an 8-amp fuse and that's a little on the skinny side so I didn't give it much thought, replaced it with a 16-amp one and carried on. Two clicks down the road it happened again, fuse blown.
Shit, what now. Looking at the wiring (this is where you appreciate a minimalist loom) I could see that nothing was pinched, or torn, or burnt. Then I caught a glimpse of the oil pressure warning light dangling out of its socket and grounding (sic) against the lower yoke. Bastard, there you are. A little bit of electrical tape and off we go again, better than ever, all three bikes (and one support car, thank f*#k) running beautifully. We stopped for lunch in one of the many medieval towns that make central Italy what it is, checked the map and took off again.

By now the temperature was very much in the low-mid thirties. Conscious of the fact this was still a brand new engine, I took it easy and kept thinking "this feels very hot". At one point I stopped to check the plugs, which were too hot to even get close to. As was the carburetter (!) and pretty much everything else. The electrodes showed unmistakable signs of overheating, they looked exactly like the iconic drawing in the Haynes manuals. We waited a while, in the shade and gently tried to start it up again. It fired up with no hesitation, no smoke, seemingly ok. It was idling fine, revving up fine... so we went. And that was my mistake, no doubt about it. Not 500mt down the road a ghastly sound of metal-on-metal shattered the peace and brought the bike to an abrupt and final end.
I had just enough time to yank the clutch in, after which the engine stopped immediately with a last blood-curdling shriek. 40 minutes later I took the plugs out and looked through the holes as I tried to push the kickstarter down. The exhaust valve closed, the pistons dropped and totally, properly seized. Game over.
Needless to say, the rest of the rally wasn't exactly what I had planned. Luckily we were able to recover the bike and bring it back to the workshop but it now needs to come apart again and, very likely, have the engine rebuilt once again. Not 300 miles on it. Gutted.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Extra-special thanks.

  • Lowbrow Customs in Ohio for the best service I've ever known with spares and special parts.
  • Mr. David Bird in Missouri for building a fantastic frame.
  • Pin-Up C.B.E. in Rome for assembly.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Acknowledgements for spares suppliers.

I would like to acknowledge, in no particular order, the following spares suppliers where I was able to find various parts for this motorcycle:

Amal carburetters
British Only (US and Austria)
Chris Knight
Peter's Classic Bike Parts
Supreme Motorcycles

A special acknowledgement goes to Lowbrow Customs and Mr. David Bird for being the muscle behind the most important parts.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Acknowledgement for Witold.

After Peppe, Witold was undoubtedly the biggest help I've had in getting this thing done. I may have chosen the parts, the frame dimensions, the colour scheme by myself, but he was there throughout, from mock-up to test ride. He's one of the very few people I work with easily, because we both understand the method to the madness: tools, chemicals, build/work sequence and when it's time to put the wrenches down, grab a cold one and think.
So thank you bro, you have been instrumental, the first* ride is all yours.

*disclaimer: after Peppe (probably) and after me.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A couple of details.

OIF bikes' handlebars are rubber mounted. There are two large "metalastic" bushes. The 'P' bolts go through the bushes and are locked by a washer and nut, but in between those there are supposed to be FOUR more bits. I know, it seems like a lot and I guess it is a remnant of the old construction philosophy that carried over into the "modern" era of the 70s.
Anyway, these are the four extra bits, and they do make a difference to the handlebars, mostly to cut vibration.

I also remembered an old trick that I saw some people use a few years ago: a piece of fuel pipe stashed into the handlebars, out of sight when you ride, but always there should you need it.

Acknowledgement for Pin-Up C.B.E.

No point shying away from the truth here guys: were it not for Peppe, this motorcycle wouldn't exist.
He's a true firend and one hell of a mechanic - certainly the best when it comes to British bikes in our neck of the woods. Prove me wrong suckahs.
Thank you man, I owe you. Again.

Monday, September 3, 2012

First impressions: the ride.

Yesterday I took the BSA for a 130 kilometer test ride. But let's rewind to a few nights prior to that.
I get a text from Peppe saying something along the lines of "holy *#&$, is this thing loud". The next day I show up at his workshop as the smell of hot engine oil wafts out. He starts it up and I am instantly surprised by not only how loud it is (considering the "cocktail shaker" exhausts are supposedly muffled) but by how growly it sounds. It's a low, snarling note that settles once we get the timing spot on with the strobe gun. The carburetter is working flawlessly, of course, even though Peppe says it's all worn out and that I should replace it. Of course by his reasoning, anything that's not done or bought/chosen by him is wrong. I've learned to smile at that and am happy to look at my motorcycles through my point of view.
Outside, the bike looks fantastic. I perch on the little single seat, pull the rather heavy clutch in and engage first. This is it, release the clutch fairly decisively (you have to on a hardtail: with no suspension to cushion the drive, it either takes off straight away or it stalls) and notice that it's not nearly as brutal as other hardtails I've ridden. Immediately, a pot-hole, crikey that's uncivilised! But it's ok, you learn to read the road surface really fast on something like this, and as soon as you find smooth ground, the handling is just sublime. Low to the ground with no suspension to sponge away your trajectory, the bike whips around corners without hesitation. Acceleration is completely direct, from wrist to rear wheel. So is the rear brake, which feels better than a disc brake. The front brake, I'm pleased to say, is starting to feel stronger. I wonder if after a few more miles it'll just sort itself out. Just to be safe, a new pair of brake shoes are on the way from the UK, while the current ones will be re-lined with new material after I swap them out.
It's amazing, after the long wait I am actually riding what was just a pile of parts in my house until recently. What's even more remarkable, for something with a totally refurbished engine (so, potentially, lots of unknowns) and parts that have never worked together as a complete machine, this feels like a factory-made motorcycle: it's smooth, relatively comfortable, the riding position is very natural and all the controls are where they should be. Everything works without fuss. Oh, and the K70 tyres are just great. So, off I go towards the "castelli romani" where my folks live. They had no idea I had been working on this thing so it came as a bit of a surprise when I showed up. So yes, I made it there and back with no major issues.
Well, nothing terrible, just a couple of things that need to be figured out.
First of all, the oil pressure warning light is probably defective because it comes on when the engine is in top gear and at a steady cruising speed. Now, we know for sure that oil is circulating and that there is enough of it in the tank and in the sump. Since we never checked the pressure switch, other than a quick visual inspection, it is possible that the internal spring could have hardened or perhaps got stuck (old oil? grime?). We'll see. It's just a little unnerving riding around with that bright RED warning light on...
Next is the gearing: first, second and third are perfectly spaced out, however, top gear doesn't so much feel like a fourth gear as a three-and-a-bit. When shifting up into fourth, the drop in rpm is barely perceptible. That ain't good. Partly because the engine needs breaking-in and partly to see what a natural cruising speed would be, I kept the revs down in top gear. I have no idea how "fast" I was going, because I have no clocks but it seemed really slow. Now, I never meant for this to be a crotch-rocket, but I do want to be able to give it some stick once in a while...
I fitted a 50 tooth rear wheel sprocket and I guess I could go for the smaller 47 tooth option, or maybe see if a gearbox cluster from a 650 would do the trick, though that would be costly and labour intensive. Again, we'll see.
But the bottom line is good: this thing is awesome and fun to ride!
I now have just a couple of days before the rally, which will really put it to the test. After that, it will be a matter of riding it regularly and seeing what, if anything, needs more work.

Mission accomplished.

It's done. Time to go ride this thing.