Thursday, October 31, 2013

Last night,

I went along to a little bike soirée that my friend Simone invited me to. He (yes, in Italian, Simone is a dude's name. Makes you think, don't it.) was showing his Guzzi there as part of a "café racer" contest.

He has done a fantastic job of resurrecting my old motorcycle, and it was really satisfying to see it properly done. Also, the fact that I didn't think "man I should have kept it" was a very good sign.
See for yourselves, and yes, he does have the front mudguard at home, it just needs a bracket:

I also got to see some other buddies: a belated happy birthday to the German! He's getting his classy green Fastback (seen behind Livio's Commando special, below) back to top condition after he had a bit of a spill with it. Coming up, new Asatek shocks, some front fork parts and I think even a belt drive. Good for you my friend...

Now let's see, what else was there...

Augusto's SR500 special, with a really high level of detailing and finish, and a sound that'll make you think you're at the 1951 Isle of Man TT: bloody hell.

A gnarly modern Triumph special...

One of the latest offerings from Moto Guzzi, the current V7, is probably one of the most attractive options for newcomers to motorcycling: classic lines, real-world performance, economy and timeless cool.

Another interesting modern Triumph...

And a really f**king tasty Sportster-Scrambler. That thing looked like it was just asking for trouble.
Other than that, there were sadly many examples of the "more money than taste" trend that's sweeping across the motorcycling world.

Now, there probably won't be much going on about my Norton for a while: I need to outsource some sandblasting and machine work, so until I get that sorted out and done, things will probably be a bit slow on the blog, sorry please.
Still, do come back, there will be progress!
Ride safe.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Making headway (sorry, I couldn't resist that one).

The thing here is basically to swap every single part from the "modified" head onto the standard one, so that's valves, springs, cups, collets, rockers, spindles, a million washers, bolts, studs, nuts and a few more washers.
But before we get to that, I still had to remove the pistons, which requires the proper tool to remove the wrist pin (or gudgeon pin); this is important and you should always resist the temptation to just hammer it out, because it's just not right. Incidentally, you can also use the same tool to assist in refitting the new wrist pin. Of course piston circlips should always be replaced, but you know that.

Getting the wrist pin out, the right way.

Now that that's done, I'll leave the engine covered up, nice and snug, while I finish preparing the new head and go about measuring piston/cylinder clearance, but that's for some other time.
Now then, the first thing I did was to remove the rocker spindles, another easy job provided you have a slide hammer:

These should come out without too much grief, but if you feel that they're very tight, do not reach for that blowtorch as you'll likely only warp the relatively thin alloy. Instead, as the factory workshop specifies, submerge the whole thing in near-boiling water, have a cup of tea, and by the time you're done the spindles should be ready to come out. A kitchen sink is the ideal place to do this.
And here they are:

Now for the valves. For this, you'll need one of these:

They are inexpensive and worth getting even if you'll only use them once. Thing is, you'll probably need them on another engine, or maybe lend them to a friend... Don't be afraid of specialised tools, you can handle them!
Sometimes the collets can get a bit stuck, if that's the case try tapping (gently!) on the very tip of the stem to loosen them up. It's a good idea to use molybdenum paste (or grease) when assembling the springs and collets.

I have a little prep-work to do on the new head, I want to check a few clearances before I reassemble everything. Not to mention I'll need a few gaskets and all the parts you see above will need a good clean before they go back to work.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Very easy.

But then again, taking them apart always is, any monkey can do it. It's putting them back together that's the trick!

Ah well, close enough.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Bite the bullet.

A Norton Commando is a luxury. If you own one, you should consider yourself lucky: they are the swan song of classic British twins and one hell of a song it is too. They are also fiddly, complicated, temperamental primadonnas that need therapy as much as they need maintenance. Say what you will, they are high maintenance.
But despite all the idiosyncrasies and the sheer amount of labour that goes into making parts fit together, despite the unnecessary complication of what could otherwise be simple maintenance tasks, we love them. The grunt, the torque, the sublime handling, the speed... wow.
A Norton Commando shouldn't just be looked after, it should be cherished. Kept clean. In tip-top condition. All things that mine isn't.
Mine has been in its current state of disrepair (see below...) ever since I finally confronted the fact that it is unusable.

I then chose to forget about it in favour of the Rising Star and other bikes, and only swapped the handlebars so I could give my clip-ons to Witold who needed to replace his.
Last year, I had already hinted at why it is unusable, though in addition to the ergonomics, there is also a big problem with the cylinder head, which has had the inlet tracts enlarged and altered in their curvature, in a silly and frankly pointless pursuit of more power. Sure, some people might enjoy that, and yes, it goes like stink once you're all the way up the rev counter, but before you can even get there, the plugs foul up and you're dead in the water. Besides, save for a racetrack, you simply cannot unleash all that high-revs power on the streets. In real world conditions you'll be reveling in the low-end torque, which is more than an Atlas V rocket at takeoff. The ability to accelerate through the gears smoothly is where the real fun is, and it is something that comes only from a well sorted standard head, coupled with a pair of MkI Amal Concentrics (30 or 32). Nothing else will do.
So, in order to turn this into the great motorcycle I know it can be, the plan is to take off the cylinder head and replace it with a standard one, which I was able to acquire some time ago: Apollo inspects it before I can proceed...

"You're gonna need some valves dude."

In addition to the head, I also want to replace the cylinder barrel, in favour of this little beauty:

It's an aluminium 750 barrel made by Steve Maney, a re-interpretation of the famous Dunstall type of the 70s.
I'll expand on the reasons behind the barrel in an entire page dedicated to the Fastback once it's actually back on the road.

Right then.

Gather ye rosebuds balls. Time to bite the bullet and get this done.
That said, before you even think about reaching for the spanners, here's the single most important thing about undertaking a fairly major operation such as what I am attempting: caeteris paribus, your workbench is what can make the difference between a well executed job, and a mess.
Two things specifically you simply cannot bypass: you need to work in as clean and well-lit an environment as possible.
Seems obvious, right? But you probably don't have to think very hard to remember some dodgy mechanic you once saw working out of a grimy pigsty, like an ogre in a dungeon.
Now think of those surgically clean, flood-lit rooms where they shoot engineering tutorials or train factory mechanics: where would you rather work? 'nuff said.
My workbench is thoroughly clean, there is not a spec of dirt, no oil & swarf film, no cigarette butts/ash... you could eat off this thing.

I have two powerful neon tubes overhead, and a selection of inspection lights that I can direct (and hold) where I need.
Next, there are soft clean rags and a whole box of latex gloves. No glove no love man...
Ok, enough faffing around.
I've decided to at least try to do this without pulling the entire engine. It should be glaringly obvious why: it's much less work. Yes, there isn't a lot of room. Also, since the new cylinder barrel is not standard, I have no idea if it will fit with the bottom end in the frame. But I can always pull the engine later if I really can't manage. With patience, concentration and care, I might be able to make it, who knows! And if I do, it'll have saved me taking apart the entire primary chaincase (with its three retaining bolts threaded directly and stomach-churningly into the crankcase) as well as the clutch.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

In other news,

these are on the workbench as well; I'm trying to get the internal baffles out, but they've probably never been disturbed in half a century, so this is more like archaeology than wrenching... If I do get them out in one piece, I can get to work with some steel wool (or rock wool, not sure exactly) and see if I can make the Rising Star a little bit more sociable. Before I took the silencers off, Witold took it for a ride, a rare occasion for me to see the bike on the move, and hear it: crikey it sounds like a much bigger engine than it actually is!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sunday, October 13, 2013


Well, what the #%!€$! was &~=@#$!": hamfisted monkey on acid #$@$@@%!!!*@#***# son of a ::"dang !$#$#!!!! 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Long shot.

I know the weather is a bit unpredictable, I know we're not always all free at the same time, I know there are plenty of things to get in the way, but do you guys (you know who you are) think we can get away next weekend, or the one after that? Come on...

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Ride on...

A lot of readers from the USA over the last couple of weeks!
Thank you, and happy riding, dudes...

Sunday, October 6, 2013


I have been riding the Rising Star a lot since the new year, it has been my daily driver since I left my Sportster "in the shop" earlier this year, and I feel it is only now that I can truly tell you what it's all about and what this thing is like to ride. As for any new motorcycle, it takes a little while before you feel like you really own it. I don't know, perhaps "own" isn't the right word; "get it", yeah, before you feel like you really get it.

To dispel any doubts let me say right now that the response is overwhelmingly positive: this little project of mine has met all my expectations and exceeded them, considerably.
You see, it wouldn't have been far fetched to imagine something that handles like a shopping trolley, or that would be way too temperamental to have any real use.

Instead (and this is something that transpired from the very first test ride) it turned out to be something that feels like a motorcycle designed by engineers and put together in a factory from a bygone era. I put this down exclusively to Mr. David Bird and his exquisite frame, and to BSA for having created an engine and cycle parts (OIF forks and wheels) that perform marvelously. What little credit there is left, I'll take it for having picked the components and frame dimensions that would best suit me, knowing that at the very least it would have looked right. As a result, I have a truly distinctive classic British motorcycle that is an actual daily driver. So, yeah, it can be done.

Two things are impossible to overlook on the Rising Star.
First and foremost is the handling, which is just sublime. I have ridden my fair share of bikes with reputably good frames (Featherbed, Ducati, Morini, Tonti-Guzzi to name but a few) but never have I known a frame that handles this well. The proportions of the frame are such that it is extremely stable through the corners yet easily flickable when you need it to be. This is because the whole motorcycle is very light and the center of gravity is close to the ground. I suspect that there must be a degree of flex engineered into the frame, for although you are always keenly aware of what the road surface is really like, it's not until you're on properly uneven ground that the ride becomes unpleasant. There is a directness of feedback from the road, especially when cornering, that I have never known from any other motorcycle: I can feel exactly and without mistake just how far I can push it, what trajectory I can pick and how fast I will be going all the way through. And because you get such unmistakable feedback, you also get the confidence to push it without having to guess how far you are from the edge of the envelope. Sure, this ain't no quarter-mile winner, nor is it a top-speed champion, but the point here is - and I cannot emphasise this enough - it doesn't need to be: while the speed freaks are risking life and limb (often not just their own, tut tut) for thrills at 170mph, I'm having fun, real fun at 45mph.
Something else I mustn't forget to confirm is that the OIF fork is also working really well, and that certainly helps (remember, it takes 190cc of oil per leg). The rear brake, in the astonishing conical hub, is consistently responsive and very efficient. The front brake took a little longer to sort out, for a number of reasons: firstly, the shoes were the ones fitted at the factory more than 40 years ago and, crucially, not used for probably half that time, which made them glaze over and become ineffective. Then there's the handlebar lever, which is probably not the most efficient: a longer type with a stronger clamp (such as the Tommaselli Matador, for example) would probably make this brake work even better. That said, with the new shoes and a careful sandpaper massage around the hub, this is now plenty good. I don't know exactly how much the air scoop really does, but it looks so... cool (get it?)
The second thing that can't be overlooked is the engine: BSA wasn't exaggerating when it called the Royal Star A50 "turbine smooth". Even in a hardtail frame, there is barely any vibration. Torque is always present, it never drops away. Acceleration is very adequate and overall, it feels like a really solid engine. Clutch and primary do their job well enough, although the clutch is really heavy, while the gearbox is reasonably precise, and strong enough for the job at hand. Of course it isn't a Norton/AMC gearbox, but then even modern gearboxes can't compete with that! Ok, there is still the issue of 4th gear being a little too low overall, but I understand why they did it that way, wanting to put out a motorcycle that people would have found lively rather than sluggish.
That said, combining such a smooth engine with such a precise frame, it's no shocker that the result is a motorcycle that feels surgically sharp through the corners, and downright tasty just about anywhere else. I really like how narrow and "distilled" this is, with nothing superfluous to distract you from the ride. The fact that there are no clocks and only a small headlamp for example, means that you get an unobstructed view of where you're going, which lets you hit the apex of every corner, every time. But really, I cannot overstate how good that frame is. You could have a lawnmower engine in it and it would still be great to ride. That frame is the only reason this motorcycle is -so- -damn- -good-.

This is a new motorcycling experience.

I can honestly say I haven't been this excited about a motorcycle in a very long time, and thinking back, the only other bike comparable in terms of sheer fun is the R100GS when riding hard on the mountain roads of Corsica.

My Commando, the way it has been until now, simply does not even come close to either the BSA or the BMW. I've had the Norton for a good few years now: has it all been wasted time?
Hopefully after the redux it too will be fun to ride, but it's undeniable: for all intents and purposes, I've never had fun on my Commando. I thought I did... but knowing - in your guts - what it feels like to truly have fun (see above), there is no mistake: I've never had fun on my Commando.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The original joystick.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Let's make some Lime & Coconut...

Alright folks, the time has come to dive into this tasty summer drink.

As you may recall, Witold acquired this good OIF project a while back and started securing a few choice parts, getting the engine out, ready for a rebuild, and getting that bitchin' paintjob done.
He has taken a smart decision and committed to it: to tear down to the bare frame, sand-blast the crap out of it and start fresh with a clean, neatly painted frame. Having already yanked the engine out, there wasn't much left to do, and save for a major headache with the fork, we got it all done in a few hours.
Yes, that torch got put to work. A lot. You have to remember, this poor bike probably spent the last quarter of a century abandoned who knows where, but certainly not in a heated garage. Let's keep things in perspective.
By the way dude, you took this photo to remind yourself of how the spacers go:
It was all going relatively smoothly, until we got to the fork, and one of the stanchion nuts just wouldn't budge. We tried everything we could, there was just nothing left to do but take a drastic approach to the problem. Dr. Lollo's expression says it all...

There's a bit more work to do on the top yoke, to free that stubborn nut, but aside from that, here's where we got to eventually:

Then it was time to relax and crack open a cold one. See that titanium plate on Witold's keyring, that's shaped a bit like a shoehorn? That used to be bolted onto his humerus, and is now a handy bottle opener!
Dude, you're so metal... 

Oh, and welcome to your new favourite song. It will burrow into your head and you'll find yourselves humming this in the most unlikely places. Also, do not be alarmed if your hips start moving by themselves, it's normal.