Thursday, January 31, 2013

Feeling lucky?

Off on a quick blast to the lakes? Beers & BBQ with friends not too far away?
This is the trimmed down version of my toolkit for the Commando. Feeling lucky?

(Not shown are: a Leatherman, four spare spark plugs, a complete clutch cable, a couple of throttle cables and enough spares to rebuild both carburetters. These goodies are all housed in the tail fairing, which of course you shouldn't do as it was never meant as a storage compartment.)

Saturday, January 26, 2013

More paint.

Here's a sneak peek at the finished tank, I finally got 'round to getting that done.
Shortly before Christmas, Gianluca and I took his fuel tank to get painted and, when we went to collect it, I left the BSA's tank.
It's really the only part on this bike that's not "natural" aluminium, black or chromed. Quite a bit of mulling has gone into this as you might expect.
You can think of this paintjob as a BSA paint scheme on a Triumph tank.
Specifically, I started from the original 1969 A50 paint scheme and adapted it to the Triumph tank.
I personalised the paint scheme by using fine metalflake, a double pinstripe (as found on Royal Enfield or Matchless, for example) and the one-off decal, itself a variation on the original decals of the time, using the same typefont and playing on the 'star' motif.
The paintjob was done by local paint wizard Toni Raia, the same guy who painted my Nortons, Matchless, Sportster, etc.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A leaden sky.

Think about an overcast, cloudy, grey sky. It's winter, you know there's sunlight up there somewhere but not much of it is reaching down to you. The air itself is grey and damp, there are wet dead leaves along a deserted country lane, and a touch of frost on the green short grass. Pretty much anywhere in the world that is a bleak picture, but in the UK, it is glorious. That wonderful grey is exactly how Gianluca's tank turned out. Witold described it as "victorious" and I agree.
We picked up the freshly painted tank and chainguard last week (incidentally, I dropped off the Rising Star's tank to be painted, stay tuned for that one!) and this is a first look at the Dominator with the new mudguards and paintjob.

If you look closely you can see the finished taillight and license plate bracket (though it still needs paint). Below, the chainguard looks much better in black.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Ode to the daily driver.

Like many other people, I have a daily driver. The one vehicle you use pretty much by default, all the time, while doing little more than filling the tank and giving little to no thought to maintenance, cleaning and general upkeep. This is not ideal, but it is a necessity of daily routine. It could be a car, a motorcycle or a scooter but I think you know what I mean. The thing is in working order, it's reliable and won't let you down, but you know you should really fix that door handle, or that warning light, or that creaking noise that you can't quite figure out where it's coming from. You should also wash the damn thing once in a while, but who has the time.
In my case, my daily driver is my beloved 1994 Harley-Davidson Sportster.
It's a "99% stock" workhorse that has given me well in excess of 60.000kms of doggedly dependable service. I have been on a few longish trips, two-up, luggage. I have used it all year 'round, come rain or shine. It is such a solid machine that maintenance is really an understated affair of yearly or twice-yearly servicing, itself a very simple procedure. That said, nothing lasts forever, as the Sportster reminded me some time before the Christmas holidays when it started to smoke alarmingly from the front cylinder, and generally acting up. Poor thing.
So, I handed it over to Roberto, an H-D trained mechanic who quickly went to work and discovered, among other things:
  • totally pulverised, almost non-existent valve oil-seals;
  • crusty valves;
  • fairly worn-out piston rings;
  • discoloration on one of the cylinder liners;
  • the oil tank AND the battery carrier about to break loose from the motorcycle (!);
  • a faulty oil pressure warning switch, which - given the recent BSA debacle - I think we can all agree is a bad omen;
Beyond that, he generally went over the bike and found all the small things I knew about but had never got 'round to fixing. Sometimes you need things to reach a certain point before you get them sorted out. It's great to have the Sportster back and in good shape, with things such as the speedometer lights working again, what a novelty! Things pile up... you only notice when they're all gone just what a difference it makes.

Now, I like to tinker with old bikes. I like to learn how to do "new" things and improve my skillset, and the Sportster is by far an easier machine to work on than, say, a 1950s Triumph. I have a Clymer workshop manual for the Sportster that's about as thick as three Encyclopedia Britannica tomes stacked together.
So why not fix this myself? I'm sure that given time I could learn how to do it... but that's exactly the point: it is one thing to play around with a bike that you realistically won't need right away. You can afford to take your time and keep it in the shed for a whole winter. But a daily driver needs to be ready, always. So it's better to rely on someone who really knows what they are doing and can get it done quicker than you can, so you can get maximum reliability out of something you use so often, it is practically an extension of your butt.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


Picon: reaching the eastern seaboard at sunrise after a night-long ride out of Queenstown, about 150,000 years ago.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Room for improvement.

When I took the Rising Star out for a spin last Sunday, it gave me a chance to finally see how it does on a typical outing. We must have done around one hundred miles and all were without incident.
As before, the riding is truly very nice, the bike is nimble, very narrow and very light. The hardtail is definitely fun when it comes to cornering. It's really not uncomfortable even for our crappy roads. It feels... different. In the iconic words of Butch from Pulp Fiction, "it's not a motorcycle baby, it's a chopper, come on".

Now, as with many of our rides, it can often take a long time from that first test-ride to that one time when you suddenly realise you're doing 100mph and are totally confident of all the moving parts responding how they're supposed to. So, I'm well aware that these are still very early days, and I have identified at least three areas where there's room for improvement:
Exhausts: they're too loud, it's as simple as that. I don't usually care if a standard exhaust from the golden age of motoring offends modern ears (is my Commando drowning out your stupid iPhone? Tough!), but in this case we're talking racetrack-unrestricted-bleeding-from-your-ears loud. I have to at least try to see if I can replace the steel wool in the "silencers".

Final ratio: it's too short. A relaxed cruising speed seems to be around 45/50mph, which is fine, but if it could be just a little more it would mean a wider range of use out of the engine. I should note that this short-stroke 500 revs pretty high compared to bigger machines I'm used to, but it does so happily, not laboriously. In other words, if you wanna go faster, you gotta rev higher. I think the first thing I could try would be a 47-tooth sprocket. After that, I could up the gearbox sprocket by one tooth (no more) and perhaps even think about a fourth gear off a 650 engine... though that's probably extreme and may strain the engine. We'll see.

Front brake: let's start with new shoes and see if that does the trick. I'm sure that brake can work so much better than it does now...

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Coming along.

The Dominator's new taillight bracket is coming along (it still needs a lot of filing and Dremel action to get it down to the right shape and size):

And here's a better look at the new primary chain:

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Coming soon... a motorcycle near you. But which one??!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Welcome back.

All things considered, it didn't take too long to get the Rising Star back, it's been only four months since the moto-explodo episode on the way to our rally.
I'm grateful to Peppe for putting the engine back together and I'm very happy to have my BSA back, I feel like I still don't really know it and I can't wait to put some miles on it.
Ad Astra.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The taillight bracket.

I've started tracing out the outline and basic idea for Gianluca's taillight and license plate holder. It's a two-part process, first cutting it out and shaping it, then fitting it to the motorcycle, which is all about finding the right spot for it, so proportions look, if not harmonious, at least not bizarre.

And here's a first look at the Norton's new mudguards, in the vault.

Next week, we'll all get back to our garages, to continue wrenching on our motorcycles. We already have a couple of short-range destinations that will make for some nice rides soon. A sunny winter day, not too far to ride, a good lunch and a fireplace awaiting... it's good stuff.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Forgot one.

I forgot to add this one from the other day, with the GS peekabooing from the garage... it wasn't intentional, I just took the photo and saw it afterwards : )