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Classic Velocity Blog

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New is Old....Again

Classic Velocity

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It's official, we have run out of ideas. Electric cars, not new. Medicinal herbs, not new. Organic food, not new. Driverless cars, not new. Faded jeans, not new. And there is such an absence of new ideas in entertainment, that sequels, remakes, and recycling are the norm. For our more relevant space of vintage iron, there is also a movement these days to make new stuff old, and to keep old stuff…..well….old. This too is not new, as the rat rods of the mid 20th century had the same ethos. Take something old, and make it serviceable (or high performance), but leave the aesthetic looking like it was when found (or abandoned). There have even been schools within the movement that have taken something in good cosmetic shape, and distressed them, aged them, or otherwise altered them in order to look like a barn find. The spectrum is broad, so we thought that in true Classic Velocity style, we would categorize them. We did a related post on how close you are to being a purist a few years ago (see Tiers of Authenticity), so you can check that out as well.

  1. Preservation. This school is pretty straightforward. You alter nothing (or the minimum possible) to make the vehicle operate as it did when it last operated.

    1. There is even a market for non-operating preservation, where even the cobwebs remain undisturbed.

  2. Practication. You take an original vehicle as found, and make it practical to operate on a limited basis. This might involve more modern non-period-correct tires, corrosion inhibitor applied to the undercarriage, an LED bulb or two to replace the stock 1157, etc. The vehicle is not modified in any way, and the cosmetic patina is natural and continuing to evolve.

  3. Performication. Not to be confused with per-fornication. Different blog for that. This school might do any needed metalwork and then preserve the resulting aesthetic with a clear coat of the patina, so that it will not evolve further. There may be more extensive less visible structural work, suspension upgrades, engine upgrades, brake upgrades, etc to make the vehicle competent with, or superior to, today's vehicles.

    1. The closer you get it to looking like category one or two, the more impressive it is.

    2. The better the performance, the more impressive it is.

  4. Oldification. This school takes something new and typically high performance, and makes it look old aesthetically. We are not talking here about the many retro and homage vehicles produced by manufacturers.

    1. We are talking about putting a modified early 911 body on a modern 911 chassis and drive train, or putting a new BMW 1200 (now 1250) motor in a modified R60/2 chassis, or somehow using a current Mustang platform for a Model A hotrod, or a Hayabusa engine in your Isetta. 

    2. There are some pretty expensive paint jobs and interiors out there that look like they are old, distressed, corroded, sun bleached. Aircooled Vdubs (which are already old) have members of this school. A variation are motorcycle tanks with faux bullet holes painted oxidation red, and aged brown leather seats.

    3. Technically you could consider Chip Foose, Kindig-It, and their ilk to be a variation on this theme. We could also argue though, that they represent the opposite, Newification.

So where do you fall on the spectrum? Did we miss a category? Best comment wins a Motocron subscription.

On Getting Soaked

Classic Velocity

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It has been a long time since I have gotten really and truly soaked while riding a motorcycle. Years in fact. It happened now and then back when I had no rain gear and had to press on in the rain. The topic is also no stranger to these pages (see Rain , Squandering the Attention Budget , and The Rain Machine). But this was different. I have plenty of rain gear. Good stuff, too. I have jacket liners and a full set of Frog Togs and rain covers for the tank bag, and even a set of rain gloves. But on this day, I had none of them.

It was a beautiful sunny morning with a few puffy clouds here and there. It was the best part of what was to be a hot and humid summer day. I enjoyed the cooler morning air and the curvy undulating unoccupied country roads. After a while, I stopped to grab coffee. While inside, a trio of joggers came in dripping wet. I went outside to see a glistening parking lot, puddles of water, and a soaking wet bike. This had been no light sprinkle. The rain squall had already moved on, and the sun had never stopped shining. I looked up to see a single light grey cloud amid the azure and cotton ball sky. I checked my weather radar app. Nothing. There were no visible signs of rain in any compass direction. Strange, I thought.  I wiped off the seat, shook the remaining water off the soaked tank bag (and put on its’ now unnecessary rain cover), put on my mesh jacket, helmet, gloves, and headed toward home in the opposite direction to the light grey cloud.

I was on the lookout for a fast moving grey cloud, but there were none visible. I rounded one of my favorite long sweepers, and a few splats hit the windshield. Big wet splats as if they came from raindrops in some land of the giants out of all proportion to planet earth. Before I could even fully assess my options, there was a torrent of splats. A full downpour while in full sun and with good visibility. The visor fogged, and I was soaked within half a minute. There were no options for shelter anyway, so the choices were to stop and stand in the open to get further soaked, or ride on to get further soaked. I took my mostly wet leather gloves off, and rode on, still looking for the cloud that could produce such a deluge. A minute later, it ended. There was a pretty well-defined line in the road where you emerged from the sunny waterfall and into sunny dry road. No change in sky, no discernible change in temperature, just a Hollywood-like transition. I looked back in disbelief, but there was not much to see. It should have looked like a waterfall, but it didn’t. The whole episode was less than two minutes.

Even in warm temperatures, soaking wet clothes are cold. Denim in particular has qualities which allow it to absorb 19.7 times its weight in water, and to simultaneously cool and stiffen. A mesh jacket allows the rain and cold to pass through to the layer against your skin. Brilliant. You try to minimize movement in order to prevent new cold wet areas from touching warm skin. It is futile, particularly on a motorcycle where everything seems to function as a funnel toward the area you would least like to be wet and cold. The fact that it is warm and the air begins to partially dry areas that you are least concerned about being wet and cold, makes it worse. Give me a good solid long-lasting downpour where everything remains soaked. 7.3 miles is a long way in these conditions, but eventually the destination is reached. You slowly climb from the machine as if you are in a full body cast, and quickly liberate yourself from the clothing.

10 minutes later, warm and dry, I looked up at the sky. The same brilliant azure now with fewer white puffy clouds. I consider myself a lifelong learner, and I like to find the lesson in every experience. The toughest part about this soaking is that, try as I might, I could not at first find any lessons to be learned. I was not about to carry full luggage and rain gear for every 1 hour joy ride with no weather indicated. I did not gain some insight about reading a summer sky. I would not change anything on the motorcycle. I finally concluded then, that the lesson was about predictability. Even as a motorcyclist where you accept some elevated level of unpredictability, we like predictability. Despite being somewhat non-conformist, we like rules. Even in a pastime driven by passion, we like logic.

The lesson is that certainty only applies a certain percentage of the time.

Collecting Nuances

Classic Velocity

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In visiting museums and collections, I would always be intrigued and amazed by those who were very focused in their acquisitions. Just one marque, or just one model of one marque, or all of the models of one marque for a single year, or all of the yellow Ferraris. These curators have a specific theme or quest, and set out to achieve a focused goal. I always thought of these as rather eccentric collectors. I imagined that they were bored with gathering the usual suspects like Gullwings and Vincents. Perhaps they just wanted to outdo a fellow collector by saying "I have every shade of green BMW 2002 ever offered" or "I have every model of the Norton Commando ever offered for sale". This is the "Inch wide and mile deep" approach to contrast the mile wide and inch deep collectors. 

In a recent conversation, I realized that I am not immune to this tendency. I was speaking with an inch-wide enthusiast friend about the new Goldwing. This is relevant because he has 12 Goldwings (13 if you count the Silverwing). This is impressive just based on the space required, but also based on the dollars. He can spout chapter and verse about the nuances between model years. Three of them are yellow. He even has a model that is widely regarded as bad. It is the mark of a true inch-wide enthusiast, that they even have the bad version of the vehicle. He also has models that the ordinary motorcycle enthusiast would consider to be the same. He has special editions, and first-version-to-have-X models. He knows his Goldwings. And then, he pointed to a couple of my airheads and we had the following conversation.

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"Those look identical to me. Those are your Goldwings." He was pointing to an R75/6 and an R75/7.

"They are not, see the tank on this one and the instrument cluster....." I fell right into the trap and was explaining nuances between the models that only airheads would appreciate, and probably just a subset of them at that.  

"They are both the same blue." Hhhmmmm, he did have a point there as they were the identical blue. Although, one was far more faded than the other. 

"Yes, but see the spoke wheels versus the cast wheels, and the switchgear is totally different......." He was smiling now, and I was digging a deep hole. 

"Was there a big performance jump between these, or some big functional improvement?" He was honestly asking this question, fully expecting to find the rationale for having both.

"Well......not really." I did not want to tell him about the few horsepower difference, or the infamous $2000 o-ring. That could easily be considered the bad version. I quickly ran through the years of knowledge and the memorized contents of the Ian Falloon book on Airheads. There was nothing of substance to offer a motorcycle enthusiast not pierced by one of cupid's horizontally opposed arrows. Nothing.

"Is one more of a touring model that goes with that fairing?" He was pointing to the color-matched blue Vetter fairing that I had removed, and had no intention of reinstalling on the /6.

"Well......not really." He was now fawning bewilderment.

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"Is either one super rare or collectible then?" His knowledge of BMW Airheads was like my knowledge of Goldwings; an inch wide and a half inch deep. I could easily have lied.

"Well this one has fairly low miles, but.........no" He was now implying that I was even worse than him, since I had no redeeming special editions or rarity cachet.  

"This one says R75 as well. Why would you have multiple versions of the same bike?" It was the /5 toaster tank. Beautiful and so different, but he had scored a knock down blow. Yes, I had gathered all three versions of the R75 over time, quite intentionally. This was a great motor for BMW, and I appreciated the subtle nuances between iterations of this platform from early 1970s to late. It goes even further if you include the R80RT. Yes, I was an inch-wide enthusiast. But when you have no substantive retort in a debate, when you have no defense, you must turn to offense. You must attack a flank where you at least have some advantage.

"Oh yeah, well I can park all three of these in the space taken up by one of your behemoth Goldwings!".  

On Receiving Gifts II

Classic Velocity

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 A bit of recycling here from 2012, but it became relevant once again due to this quote we stumbled across this holiday season in Santa Fe, NM. "Always give without remembering and always receive without forgetting.”

The car sat under a tree, wedged in between a rusted out Plymouth Valiant and a tractor-trailer that was being used as storage. It was covered in that grayish greenish brown mix of pollen and dirt that renders all of the glass opaque. It also made it hard to tell exactly what color the car was. The final top had split in several places due to the ravages of sun and rain and tree sap. The engine compartment had more acorns and leaves than the tree under which it rested. The tires were remarkably round and still held some amount of air, but were dry and cracked on the side walls. The driver's seat was shot, and someone had cut the dash for a more modern stereo. The chrome was mysteriously pitted in random places as if to emulate some strange rash. It was a mess, and I had to have it. I mean, who would let such an icon just sit outside and deteriorate? This was a not inexpensive sportscar that was desired, acquired, and pampered at some point. Now it was just another case where eminent domain should apply (see The Theory of Eminent Domain)

I had stopped by a few weeks earlier and left a note, but no call. This time, I caught the shop owner, Steve. It was a typical case of a customer who had brought the car in for some repairs, and found that those repairs were going to be more expensive and extensive than he bargained for. The car sat. Steve vowed to contact the owner that night, and I left once again. Two days later I got a call. Yes it was for sale, but for more than it was worth. Today it would sound ridiculously cheap, but at that time, things were different. We haggled a bit, but the owner was sticking to his guns. I wondered if he had seen the car recently. No deal.

A few days later, I was about to call and up the offer, such was my craving. Before I had a chance, the owner called and accepted my initial slightly low offer. He had been to see the car and was surprised at the condition. He told me that Steve had promised to keep it inside, finish the work, etc, etc. I was at his place with the money the next day, even though it would take a few weeks to pick up the car. Then, with title in hand, I returned to the shop and took a more complete inventory. A lot of work, but doable. It even turned over with the battery from the shop, although it did not fire. I hauled my gift home and began the discovery process.

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Three weeks and an awful lot of work, diagnostics, and a few parts were required in order to get the car running. That first time it fired and ran was a gift worthy of a sacred garage celebration. Too bad nobody was around to see it. It became a rolling restoration, although I hesitate to use the word restoration as the intent was to make it a driver. The body and interior cleaned up remarkably well, and over the years, the ailments have been mostly addressed, while delivering the gifts of wrenching and the parts hunt, and the community of like-minded madmen. The stock 2.2 litre flat six engine has been solidly reliable and has taken the car on many trips and many hundreds of miles with nothing but oil changes and tuneups along the way. It has gone around the track at LimeRock and Watkins Glen. It has toured New England in the fall with a rebuilt targa top stowed in the trunk. It has attended many a club event with two small children in the back. It has given the gift of joy and laughter.

And more than a decade later, on the way to a breakfast one weekend, the car delivered more gifts. While I was getting gas, a woman smiled and said "That's a lovely car" as she walked inside to get coffee. On the way out she asked what year it was and we chatted for a minute. She never stopped smiling. A few minutes later, the car flew down a lonely section of interstate at 120mph. The speedo wavered back and forth between 120 and 125 as I kept going. The car always begins to feel good above 80mph, and it sees triple digits on occasion, but it is not usually up in the 120mph area. We were only there for about a minute, but the car did not feel strained, and I had more tach to go. I was not far away from the top speed of the car when new, and this car is 43 years old. Stock points and ignition, stock Zenith carbs, stock motor, stock wheels, stock steering wheel. I never stopped smiling, and I am pleased in this Holiday season to once again receive a gift from a vehicle which keeps on giving.

Anthropologic Vehicular Archeology

Classic Velocity

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I was searching for items for a swap meet which was only a day away. As usual, this had turned into a last minute need to rummage through plastic crates in storage. As mentioned in Hoarding for Gearheads, this should be pretty straightforward, but over time the organization system gets corrupted.  So there I was, searching for a particular item that I knew I had new in a box, but which so far had eluded my grasp.  However, the search had given rise to a number of sudden utterances ( to no one in particular since I was alone) like "Oh, so that's where this was", or "Why would this be in this crate", or "I forgot I had one of these". And then I was easily diverted and took long trips down memory lane as I came across parts for vehicles I had not owned in years, vehicles I had no intention of ever owning again, and in some cases, vehicles I am pretty sure I never owned at all.  I was struck by how many times I must have purchased items just because I could not find them, or because I forgot I had one. But that was not the most interesting discovery on this journey. and in some cases, vehicles I had no intention of ever owning again.

If you really want insight into the diseased mind of a vintage gear head, then you need to examine the used parts. There should be a full advanced academic degree devoted to the understanding of this sub culture by way of the stuff in their garages and basements and storage units. I call it Anthropologic Vehicular Archeology. If we can discern the workings of ancient civilizations by way of a few fragments of a clay pot and some cave paintings, imagine what we can reconstruct from the 40 year old vintage parts stored by a modern human. There are already esteemed faculty who can determine your right foot reflexes just from reading a fouled spark plug! Imagine what could be done with a used oil filter, a crank journal bearing, and exhaust pipe discoloration. It is a rich field of exploration. Oh, the secrets that would be revealed, the new buildings on academic campuses, and the passionate doctoral candidates, not to mention the insights gained for all of humanity. But I digress. 

The parts and supplies of interest fell into several categories. The rationalization is followed in parentheses by (the more realistic translation) :

  1. I may return the vehicle to 100% stock one day, so I need to keep this.  (this will never get back on the vehicle during my ownership, but will be good for the online posting and for the new owner)
  2. I have an extra one of these because they will be hard to find soon and I may need it one day.  (they will not be that hard to find in my lifetime, so it will probably be in this crate when they sell it all at the estate sale)
  3. I got this in a box of parts at a swap meet.  (I will forget how I got this and be periodically perplexed as to what this fits)
  4. I replaced this with a new one, but I keep this as a spare.  (I will never use this and will always buy another new one because I will forget why I relegated this to a spare)
  5. I don't need this, but I hear they go for good money online. (If I ever got around to finding this again, cleaning it up, and putting it online, I would make $7)
  6. I have a good one of these, so I can modify this one. (The modification went horribly wrong, and now it is worth nothing so I keep it) 

Ignition coils are one of my favorites. There were several among the crates with masking tape and words like "reportedly tested good", or "suspect", or "R50/2??". I have no idea under what circumstances I would ever put one of these into a vehicle, and it would be unethical to even offer them to someone needing a coil, so why keep them? Answer; There is something about the weight and substance of a coil, along with the fact that they can look brand new even when bad, that makes me reluctant to throw them out. I left them right where I found them. But the jewel in the crown, the icing on the cake, the capstone of this outing, was a pair of brake pads, lightly used, on which was written in big permanent marker, the words "WRONG PADS". They were in a crate of mixed items, so there was no telling what vehicle, what year, front or rear, etc. I actually sat down and laughed out loud, which startled a blackbird on a nearby fence. There was no clue as to whether I inherited these in a box of parts, purchased them myself some time ago, or removed them from a vehicle. Were they wrong for a particular vehicle, the wrong type of pads for the correct vehicle? I had no idea other than I had obviously decided to keep them. In the end, I put them right back where I found them, still chuckling to myself. I know I should just throw them out along with the coils and other suspect items, but perhaps I will wait for a better time to go through all of this...yeah, that's it....another time soon. And if not, it will at least confound the vehicular archeologists.

 

 

On Driving On The Left

Classic Velocity

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I grew up driving on the left.  In fact, I'm not even sure at what point I learned that there was an alternative. I also grew up on very narrow roads that were pockmarked with potholes and peppered with patches.  And they were all twisty roads. My father used to joke that the road builders must have been paid by the corner. I am not sure at what point I came to know that these were not normal roads. I can remember being surprised and delighted at a long smooth stretch of road, and then promptly using it to pass everything that I could. So did everyone else, leading to a kind of crazy no man's land in the middle of an already narrow road. Exciting times ensued, but as I recall, there was rarely an accident from this scenario. Accidents came from top speed trials and misjudging the limits around mountain roads with no guardrail, and from a general excess of testosterone over wisdom. 

Fortunately for me, I had no access to speed, although I wanted it very badly. The 10 year old clapped out 175cc Honda trail bike, and the even older Land Rover that I learned to ride and drive on, were both philosophically and physically opposed to speed. Several of us tried to make them go fast, but all we could do was paint a racing stripe on the Honda's tank, and get a running start downhill on the Land Rover. The Land Rover in particular was hilarious, as it was geared in a way that the top speed could only be reached downhill coasting with the clutch in! The Honda was just done at about 47mph. By experimentation, we discovered that both could "feel" fast by going across a bumpy field at anything over 40mph. Fast forward some decades, and the billiard smooth highways of the USA make speed a mundane necessity. Driving on the right is the norm, and speeds over 80mph are routine and uneventful. Of course, countries and cultures have changed, but there is still a desire for some excitement getting from A to B. Exceeding the limits of the roads and the machines in this environment is relatively hard to do. Little or no challenge, little or no fun. 

A recent visit back to a place that drives on the left recently shook up the norms again however briefly. There were warnings for visitors who might normally drive on the right, but I was instantaneously back in my natural habitat and needed no signs. There were roundabouts again, and shifting with the left hand, and overtaking on narrow roads, and no guard rails on mountain roads, and no time (nor need) to glance at the dashboard, much less a mobile device. It rekindled that original need to pay full attention to the act of driving, and to be challenged to do it well in a somewhat unpredictable environment. And it rekindled that original fascination with probing the limits and trying to go fast. It was not about the absolute speed, it was all relative.  Blind corners, and using your horn, and 1st gear hairpins, and maintaining momentum, all returned to center stage. Driving was brilliant fun, even in a small economical non-descript compact car, on the way to nowhere in particular. BMW often used the term Freude Am Fahren in marketing campaigns to invoke The Joy of Driving. Man and machine in perfect choreography. We have explored it here before (see One and Moonbathing), but it bears repeating....

Whatever it looks like for you, go drive on the left.

 

The $800 CV Boot Revisited

Classic Velocity

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Some summer recycling here with a post from 2010 made relevant again due to a current S mall repair that turned into a much bigger bill. It also points out how prices have changed ;-)

The project started innocently enough. One of the CV boots on the Porsche 911T was torn and had sent grease all over the heat exchanger and everything else. Like many ailments to the early 911, a keen sense of smell is critical to early detection. With the pre-war VW heating system in these cars, you tend to develop a sense of what your engine smells like under normal circumstances. This is useful because by the time you actually see the flames shooting through the grill on the rear decklid, it is often too late. I detected burning grease, and shut things down. Satisfied that it was the boot, I nursed the car home.

Someday, I hope to hear a satisfactory explanation for this design, which is common to so many different vehicles from this era and well beyond. A complex and expensive flexible joint which has high speed rotating parts, which is under the car exposed to dirt rocks, etc, and which must remain lubricated, is protected by a $6 (probably 50 cents back then) rubber boot fastened by metal or hard plastic hose clamps. Anyone?……anyone?…..Bueller?…

The next day, I ordered some boots. A CV boot for an early Porsche 911 costs about $6, and I had ordered 4 just to be safe, and to get to the $20 free shipping limit. $6 and a few hours should have me back on the road. The next weekend I launched my assault. I got the rear of the car up on jackstands, and spent a good while cleaning up the mess. I had boots, tools, a can of grease to repack the axle, and I was all set. Except, I wasn’t. While cleaning up I discover that the driver's side heat exchanger has several holes and the outer housing is basically detached from the exhaust header. This would explain the rattling sound heard on occasion. Although work continues on the cv joints, thoughts have already shifted to heat exchangers.

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I do want to maintain heat in this car, so headers are eliminated. The next day, I search the forums, Ebay, and Pelican. I find a pair of heat exchangers in good shape from a fellow owner about 130 miles away. I decide that the budget will not withstand new SSI units, to I drive a few hours and come back fairly pleased with the parts, and fairly displeased with the magnitude of the unplanned expenditure. I also remember that I have a pair of heater control valves form the prior year’s Hershey swap meet. Better tackle them now as well.

During the following week, I remove the heat exchangers, and notice that one of the oil tubes is leaking. Well, with the heat exchangers out, now is the time to address them, and since we are tackling oil leaks, I need a pair of valve cover gaskets as well. So I order the items to arrive before the weekend. That weekend I dig in again. I quickly discover that a couple of the heater control valve nuts are rusty and seized. I leave them soaking overnight in penetrant. Of course, these two nuts are in the most inaccessible locations, so the next day it takes heat and a couple hours of contortionist positioning to finally get them off. I celebrate like I won the lottery.

During the next week, I finally get things back together. $800 and almost 3 weeks later, the $6 cv boot with 2 hours of labor is successfully replaced. Saturday afternoon I go for a drive. The glorious aroma of hot metal and a little paint seeps into the cabin when I open the heater control valve. Having your engine smell just right as you fly down a country road…..priceless. 

A Fuel's Errand

Classic Velocity

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Simplicity is good. Few moving parts, a basic electrical layout, black paint, no frills. This could be a description of the Ford model T, but it is not. It is a description of our BMW R26. A 1956 single cylinder, single carb, 6V standard motorcycle. It does not get much simpler, no matter how far you go back. The motto of the Airheads (of which we are members) is "Simple by Choice", and this machine beautifully embodies that motto. It is a beautiful machine built for a purpose, at a time when quality efficient transportation was key. It even has points for sidecar attachment, despite having just 15hp at its' disposal. If you have ever been dragged along the ground by 15 horses at a gallop, you will know that it is more than adequate power.  So with such a simple and well-built machine, what tale do you have to tell ? Glad you asked.

It started with the smell of fuel n the garage. It took a while to trace it to the R26, but there was definitely a more pronounced smell around that machine.  There was no visible stain or wet spot, just a lingering smell of fuel. The usual suspect on machines like this is the float bowl of the carb being faulty, and failing to shut off the fuel supply leading to a leak. The bottom of the float bowl was suspiciously moist, and the engine casing below it was suspiciously clean, so it seemed like an open and shut case. Upon examination, the float had trapped some moisture, and so a new one was sourced (ridiculously expensive for a brass float compared to plastic, but this bike is nice enough to warrant original). A new float bowl gasket was ordered as well. Once received and installed, I went for a test ride and all seemed well. 

Next morning, faint smell of fuel. there was a droplet of fuel forming at the same spot on the bottom of the float bowl. At this point, I began to see if there was a route to the bottom of the float bowl coming from some other part of the carb or the fuel hoses. There was nothing obvious, although at one of the fuel hose connection points, the fabric-covered fuel hose was definitely damp from fuel. Since this motorcycle is just gravity-fed for fuel, there were no clips on any of the connection points. Despite not liking the look, hose clamps went onto every connection point. There was no other place where fuel was evident, so I took a brief test ride and checked. And then I checked again an hour later. The problem looked solved.

Next morning, faint smell of fuel. I laughed the kind of laugh that pokes fun at oneself, but which really indicates that the situation is not really funny anymore. Upon examination this time, there was no longer a droplet at the bottom of the float bowl, but there was a clean spot on the engine case right below where one of the hose clamps now lived.  Well I was planning to do a carb rebuild anyway, and so I did. Then, climbing a diagnostic ladder toward the fuel tank, I encountered a moist area right at the petcock lever. Aha ! A notorious spot for problems due to the disintegration of the o-ring gasket. Not content to stop there, I also ordered the petcock gasket for the attachment to the tank. Parts arrived a week later, and took only a few minutes to install. I sat watching the petcok with the fuel turned on, and the machine off. No detectable leakage. I waited an hour and checked again. No detectable leakage. I took a test ride. No detectable leakage. I waited 2 hours and looked again. The petcock was moist with fuel. 

From what I could tell, the fuel began right where the petcock threaded on to the tank. But it had a new gasket that I had just installed! I drained and removed the tank and concentrated my attention on the petcock flange. Nothing detectable. I put the petcock on it, plugged the cross connection, and threw in a little fuel. Nothing detectable. I then put the tank in its normal position, and taped some paper towel to the tank encircling the petcock flange. I let it sit. An hour later, Bingo ! The paper towel was moist with fuel. Not much, but certainly enough to form a drip over many hours. I repeated the experiment. Same result, a small fuel leak from the tank itself.

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I emptied the tank and began to lightly sand the area around the flange. It was built up with solder, so someone had been here before. I could not find the specific point of the leak, but there were a few suspect areas once the paint was removed. After some days of drying, and then work with a wire wheel and dremmel tool, most of the solder was removed, revealing a hairline crack. It was clear then, that vibration was probably the key ingredient to making it leak and find its way through the solder patch job. Once cleaned up, it was properly welded, and the the paper towel test was repeated. Bone dry. 

So what did we learn? A repeated lesson shared before in To Fuel or not to Fuel, and in On Getting Grounded and in To Spark or Not to Spark. Obvious solutions, and the usual suspects sometimes mask the culprit. I did not go to the tank first, because carbs and petcock are notorious for fuel leaks, and I thought I found the problem with the float bowl (which did have an issue, just not the main one). In this case, the simplicity of the machine contributed to a sense that the solution must also be simple. It was, that is once I found the root cause....

Weekend Warriors

Classic Velocity

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Being in the midst of building a street car that can go to the track and pass tech inspection, I am struck by the contrast of what this process was like when I last did it 20+ years ago, and what it was like 20 years before that. First a few obvious contrasts, so that you know this is not just another luddite diatribe about how much better things were back then... 

Racing is safer today. Despite having fewer tracks today, there are probably many more track miles driven per year, and with far fewer injuries and deaths per mile driven. Cars are better today. Even in the arena of vintage racing where my interest lies, we are running better tires, better brakes, and better lubricants than the original cars ever did. Tracks are better today. I ran the new Watkins Glen, and the new Lime Rock Park in recent years, and the historic sharp edges of those tracks have been removed. It is very hard to run into a stand of trees these days, or hit Armco barriers that have no energy absorption. The new tracks such as Thunderbolt in NJ are designed so that Indy cars are safe, much less your 1969 BMW 1600. That is not to say that vintage racing is completely sanitized. There are accidents every season, and there was an unfortunate fatality at Lime Rock in the last 2 years. Things are better on all fronts, but this remains a sport with risks. 

In order to participate in this safer arena for a few weekends per year, the current project car has to have some significant modifications. It must have a roll cage of specified thickness, which rises above head height, and which has an inspection port so that the thickness can be validated at tech inspection. It must have a cutoff switch and a fire extinguisher. It must have no leaks of any kind, a multi-point safety harness, and must have catchment bottles, etc, etc. In order to be competitive at the sharp end of the field, the car would have to be made virtually unusable as a street car.

There was a time, in the heyday of sports car racing, when you could drive your street car to the track, and race it after doing little more than placing a taped "X" over the headlights. Certainly a low barrier to entry, and the sport grew tremendously. The SCCA general competition rule (GCR) book for 2017 is 986 pages, up from 963 pages in 2016, and it is updated monthly! In 1985 it was 786 pages. Thankfully, vintage is only 542 pages today, up from 533 in 2012, but this covers machines which were last produced 40 years ago! Time marches on, and the SCCA is just one of many organizations that are in a constant battle to close loopholes, and improve safety, while not killing the racing. Not an enviable balance to strike at all. 

The perception that even the most basic form of amateur racing is expensive and complicated may not be entirely true, but a 1000 page rule book, and a paddock full of trailers doesn't help dispel that perception. In a litigious society, it is probably a pipe dream to expect cheap, easy, and legal competition, but it sure would be nice to have an option of driving to the track with just a roll of electrical tape, a helmet, and a 1 page disclaimer....

On Being Far Away

Classic Velocity

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Joshua Tree National Park is thousands of miles from home. It does not look like home.  It does not smell like home. It is dry and dusty brown and filled with scrub brush. But then, it has spectacular small rocks and massive geologic formations that burst with colors and form fantastic sculptures against a brilliant azure sky. What kind of strange and wondrous place is this that spawns such giant structures out of nothing ? You have certainly left the shire Frodo Baggins.

Traveling solo on two wheels in the western USA, you get a very visceral understanding of space. Endless prairies and deserts go on for hours.  Mountains and canyons  take miles to ascend or descend.  Towns and cities seem to appear and disappear leaving little trace. Highways fade into the distance. You do not have a sense that you are always close to civilization. Great well-paved deserted roads snake through the desert, connecting nothing to nothing, leaving you to wonder why they even exist, but leaving you eternally grateful that they do. The average campground is spectacular in setting, if not in amenities, but that is as it should be. Who would want to be shuttered in a motel with a night sky like this ? The tent seems the right abode, and open flame, the right heat.

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These roads, these places, force you to contemplate big things, big questions. You can see time in these places in a way that is difficult in lush green places where perhaps a few hundred years is evident. Here, thousands of years are visible in rock formations, and cave paintings, and even in the brilliant simplicity of the homes of native peoples. You can see in canyons stretching for miles, how you are riding on what was once the bottom of an ocean. You can see how water has carved rock, how wind has shaped the mesa.

Riding and camping through these places implants the experience in a unique manner. You have to smell the air and get the dirt first on, and then under your skin. Slowly, over a few days, with nothing familiar around, it sinks in. This is why we should all go far away periodically. Physically, and mentally, you need to abandon the familiar for a time. You need to gain or refresh another perspective, to disturb a comfort zone that is probably deceiving you into thinking that you have figured something out. Your idea of far away may not be anything like mine, but I can only hope that it is as powerful as a motorcycle, a tent, and a few days in the southwest.

The Era Error

Classic Velocity

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The Classic Velocity crew considers the postwar period from the late 1940s to the late 1970s to be an era. Why? Because it is a time when the engineers and the stylists often triumphed over sales and marketing, when the engineer's stopwatch beat the accountant's calculator. Is there any rationale to support why we might define this as an era? No, it is entirely arbitrary and capricious. It starts with recovery from World War II, and ends when chrome bumpers ended. Dictionary.com defines an era as "a period of time marked by distinctive character, events, etc". So there it is, we have defined and declared the Classic Velocity Era. 

But wait, hold on a minute, what if there are eras within eras? what if eras overlap? What if we have defined an era in error? Take Porsche for example. Within the classic velocity era, Porsche clearly has a 356 era and an early 911 era. So is an era equivalent to a model run? What about the 914? BMW had Baroque Angels, the Isetta, and the fabulous 507 all overlapping in the late 1950s. These could not have been further apart in character or in customer. Do they each have an era, or do they belong to the same era? Does the air-cooled VW Beetle define an era lasting half a century? Audi was about 4 different companies during the Classic Velocity era. Are these sub-eras, defined by ownership? Auto Union, Volkswagen Audi, the NSU-merged Audi? 

Periodically, you talk with friends who chop eras into very thin slices. They may say things like "The only true early 911s were the short wheelbase cars" or "The roundie 2002s are not the same as the squarelight cars",  These fans of slivers would have a really hard time with something like the Paleolithic era which lasted a few million years! Mercedes attempts to sort out this mess by the use of chassis numbers. The W113, or the R107 are clear identifiers of a model era. But wait, they also refer to the era of the Fintails, which spans the W110, W111, and W112. The Ponton cars preceding them had even more chassis numbers included. Just when you thought it was safe...

And then there are eras defined by people. The Quandt family at BMW, Albert Roger at NSU, Ferry Porsche designs, the Bertone era, the Max Hoffman era, etc. What about the whole era of the "3 box design"? What about engine configurations like the flat four VWs and Porsches, or the straight six BMWs? How about the era of the ragtop sunroof ?

You see how erroneous this error business really is. Is it an error to even define an era?

Of Krausers and Kronenburgs

Classic Velocity

Right there, between the doors of the two door garage, in a pair of cubby holes designed to fit them, were a pair of Krausers. This is one of the irrefutable signs of an interesting garage. Someone was using every available space. Someone had taken the time to adapt or construct something in an unused space, to house luggage for a vintage motorcycle. You don't do that unless you care. Someone cared. If you cast your eye about the suburban garage, you would glimpse a Wixom fairing, and red Brembo brake calipers behind Fuchs wheels, and a 2 into 1 exhaust for a /5, and a 2 into 2 exhaust for a 911 SC, and 2 R100RS tail sections, and DOT race tires hanging from the ceiling, and a 915 gearbox, and lots of other stuff. Stuff that someone might need if he really liked machines from Germany of a certain era, that had air-cooled horizontally opposed engines. He does. The number of wheels that touched the ground could be 2, or 4. Either is fine, some of both is better. This is our kind of someone.

These things are scattered around 2 Porsche 911 SC cars parked nose to tail with one punched through a wall at the back of the garage so they could fit, and a BMW R1200GSA. And lest you think that is the only "encroachment" into the house, there is more. A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, I had a VW beetle engine in my kitchen. I rebuilt it over a month in the winter. A few years later, I had a slash 5 I was repairing on a tarp in my apartment for the entire winter. Both were before marriage. Since then, efforts have been redirected toward getting adequate heat in the garage. Not someone. He has managed to put 6 motorcycles into a carpeted fully climate-controlled room of the house, and his wife is fully aware. We don't know what kind of a deal had to be cut to get this to happen. Better not to know.  

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The lineup includes an R69S, an R100RS, a /5 toaster, an RT cafe conversion, and an R90S. All are nice, none are pristine. Some high mileage, a few need work. A few have unique tail racks, or fairings. All have a story. One took a very long time to find. Another was owned, sold, and then owned again. We can relate (see repeat offenders and recidivism). The walls are adorned with posters and pictures. If all the bikes were show quality, this would be an eccentric arrangement. Since they are mostly "riders", this space is a real coup. We met many years ago, at a 2 wheeled event, and neither of us had any idea that there was more than BMW motorcycles in common, until we met again at a 4 wheeled event. This is our kind of someone.

Back to the garage, one of the SCs is being transformed into a street legal "Driver's Education (DE)" car. It has the engine out, roll cage in, rear seats out, coilovers in. It is the winter project. Another set of wheels is the rear of the garage next to the drill press and the miniature lathe. The SC has a Wevo shifter, modified guage package, dual oil coolers, 5 degrees negative camber, Kirkey seats, 5 point harness, etc. It will feature a Kronenburg engine management system from the Netherlands. Cool stuff. A year ago someone did his first DE event. Someone is on the slippery slope.  This is our kind of someone.

Matching Motorcycle Luggage

Classic Velocity

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At first glance, the very title of this article, and the content seem like a very "First World" kind of problem. And it is, but bear with us and read on as it is not quite what it seems. First, the reality check. Having more than one motorcycle is certainly a first world problem. In fact, having a motorcycle at all which is used for pleasure and leisure is also a first world privilege. However, most readers of this are likely to have more than one machine, and many have both modern and vintage iron. As such, they may relate to this quest. It is the desire to have a single set of luggage that can be used on multiple machines. In this case, more modern machines, since the Krausers from the BMW /5 are never going to work on the Norton Dominator, and neither will be the choice for a 2-up cross country trip (although the /5 would probably do fine). Ever since Trog first rode his R bike or his Hurling Davidstone to the steakosaurus hunting grounds, man has been seeking to safely carry spiked clubs, spears, and cashmere smoking jackets along with him on a motorcycle. When Brog invented motorcycle luggage, he became very wealthy, and could hire others to hunt his steakosaurus, while he stayed in the cave by the fire with the women - smart man, that Brog. But I digress....

Over the years, the more modern machines in the garage have changed. And with those changes, has come an odd assortment of racks and luggage. Sometime inexpensive commuter solutions, and sometimes costly machine-specific items. For example, the stock luggage for the R1150GSA, or a set of soft "Moto Totes"given to us for free with a CB750. Facing the need for yet another luggage solution, we decided to clean house and buy one quality set of luggage that could work on both a BMW 650, and a KTM 1190. Just sell all of the odd bits and pieces, and buy the ultimate luggage set that could match both machines. To quote Top Gear, "How hard could it be?"

In a word, very. So first some parameters. We wanted a complete setup including tankbag, panniers, and topcase. They had to be interchangeable on either bike. With the exception of the tank bag, the entire luggage system had to be weatherproof without stopping to put on any kind of covers.  It needed to be able to accommodate a passenger. It had to cost less than a running vintage motorcycle in reasonable condition -- we have found this to be a reasonable unit of currency, as any funds would get diverted to a running vintage motorcycle over accessories for a more modern one. In fact, the children's college fund might lose such a challenge depending on the bike, but I digress... It needed enough carrying capacity for a multi week trip. It should be removable or remountable in less than one minute. It should survive a healthy amount of off-road usage. A specific, but not unreasonable set of parameters.

We found that there are many fine solutions out there, but they quickly fall away as you apply all of the parameters. Cost was a big one. We could have just picked stuff from the Touratech catalog, but costs quickly approached 2 running vintage motorcycles. Same was true for having a shop build a custom setup. It quickly became apparent that a single solution from one manufacturer was not going to work. With that established, we began to tackle the components separately. First, the tank bag. Magnetic bags were not an option, so strapped options like Wolfman were the leading candidates. I did like the whole detachable base concept from Giant Loop. Ultimately though, I decided to go with the SW Motech tank ring solution. No straps, no magnets, quick refueling, and adapters for both machines. OK,  we now had a single tank bag that could be used either machine. On to the second area of challenge. The panniers. Racks are expensive, panniers are expensive, and then there is the whole soft vs hard luggage debate. It was very difficult to find a single set of metal panniers that could work on both bikes. We failed to find racks with the same size hoops so that the pannier pucks could be positioned in the same location! The total here was going to be the cost of 2 sets of panniers plus racks for 2 machines. The dollars climbed like a scalded rump monkey.

 Rackless soft luggage solutions tended to use the passenger seat or violate the one minute rule to get on and off. However the quest lead us back to Mosko Moto. A unique soft luggage solution that fit a variety of racks including those I already had on the 650. A set of Tusk racks for the 1190 were very reasonable, so we now had a single set of panniers with 50 liters of capacity. Not cheap, but weatherproof, and well below the hard luggage alternatives. That brings us to the top box. The obvious choice here it is to get something like a Givi or a Shad case, and mounting brackets for two bikes. However, at a rally I ran into a guy who had a unique and useful system for mounting a Pelican top case so that it was easily detachable. I had a pelican top case from the prior project, so this was even more intriguing in that I could eliminate the cost of the top case itself. This mounting system is by a company called back road equipment, and they are a small shop making some really cool items for a specific segment of the market. The system is brilliant. It uses a plate for your rear rack along with a puck system for mounting the pelican case to the plate. It releases by way of a simple mechanism which can also be locked. While they had an adapter for the 1190, they were still developing the adapter for the 650. We decided that it was worth the wait, and after about a month, we had solutions for both machines.

So finally, after a lot of shopping online, talking to potential solution providers, and becoming a beta tester, we have accomplished the goal. One top case, one set of Panniers, and one tank bag. The good news, is that this was all achieved using funds which came from bits and pieces of luggage and racks that have been laying around for years and which went to new appreciative homes. The not so good news, is that all of this ended up costing about the price of a running CB360 in good condition. It's a good thing it was spent in smaller chunks so that we avoided diversion of funds. Was it worth it? So far, yes. It is great to know that the rain gear or the compressor, is not in the "other luggage". It is great to know that the USB adapter is in the (only) tankbag. And we really like having our favorite top case on both machines. We're sure that at some point in the future, a modular system will emerge which allows you to accomplish this goal easily using a single vendor of your choice. Today, however, getting matching luggage is harder than you think.

A Holiday Gathering

Classic Velocity

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When you need to take a break from the regular Holidays and escape to an environment populated by like-minded inmates of the asylum, the Rocking Chair Motors annual gathering and drive would be a good stop. Our host, Tom, is a man of many vehicles. A first year Goldwing, a Lotus Europa, a Mini Cooper S, a Fiat Spider, until recently a BMW 2002. There are more, but you get the picture. And the rest of the crew ? The collective stable would include a Porsche 912, a Saab 96, a vintage Triumph Bonneville, a few MGBs, a Bugeye Sprite, more than a few vintage BMW R bikes, a Porsche 993, a Mercedes 190 Cosworth, a few more BMW 2002s, a Norton, a Ferrari 412, a Stanley Steamer, a Volvo PV44, a modern era Porsche 911, a vintage Alfa Romeo Berlina, a couple of BMW GS bikes, and more. 

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The event is further enhanced by the presence of "Special Lube", which is a concoction of one of the inmates. Each year, the lube is transported from its' micro-distillery in a black 911SC which helps with "agitation" and aging. It is rumored to have been discovered when some egg nog was mistakenly poured into an old can of Castrol 20/50. That is incorrect, it was actually Castrol Bean Oil. Nevertheless, it is just the thing for drivers of cars with suspect heating systems. If your idea of giving is to provide the gift of laughter, comraderie, gag gifts, and special lube, this is the gathering for you.

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Space Management

Classic Velocity

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Have you ever faced a problem with having enough space? The Classic Velocity research department (which does not exist) indicates that 96.3% of our readers (we made this up) have a current or past problem with space. Further, very few of you are multi-millionaires, or you would not face this problem (the department does produce unassailable logic). Even the best of friends will not indulge you leaving machines and parts scattered about their premises indefinitely. Commercial storage options can get pricey, and jockeying things around (particularly non-running things) is time consuming. Plus, knowing where things are at any given point is a challenge. Twice in the past month (that is 100% of the time according to the research department, since we were only asked twice) we have uttered the words "Yes, we have one of those, but we are not sure where it is or how long it might take me to find it". This is simply a more irritating version of "No, I don't have one", because it instills hope. But I digress. Here are the Classic Velocity top ten options for strategic space management.

  1. A large property with trees, hedges, and an old out building or two. A good friend has used this technique effectively for years, such that his wife was unaware of 20+ vehicles on their property. You may look like a good candidate for a stop by American Pickers, but all of your stuff is close at hand and ready for the 417 projects you will never get to.
  2. "Those belong to --insert name here---". Another tried and true technique for storing items in plain sight. The corollary of course is to find a friend who can do this.
  3. Purchase a business that uses a warehouse. This takes some advance planning for the correct career choice, but a surprising number of friends have appropriated an area of their business for the storage and positioning of vintage iron. A few have even grown to like the business they are in. 
  4. Befriend a self-storage mogul. Start by being a very good customer, and then parlay this into deep discounts and temporary "transition" spaces. encourage them to take up the hobby, so that they can become empathetic (not to mention their own best customer).
  5. Scatter vehicles and parts around a region. This avoids placing too great a burden on any one friend or place. Resist the temptation to use places where you may have romantic involvements. Never place an angry ex between you and your twin Webers.  
  6. Go in with a few like-minded buddies. Be very careful here. Like-minded people think like you do, and the next thing you know, some rusty British manifold is infecting your pristine pedal cluster, or prancing horses are postulating on your pistons.
  7. Purchase vintage iron and never pick it up. We have seen this successfully parlayed into a few years of free storage using phrases like "I will be back for that in the spring", or "I'll be right back, I forgot my winch". Careful omission of the year and vague terminology is key (see How long is Now?)
  8. Buy a large enclosed trailer. The closer you can get to a semi-truck trailer, the better. It can be relocated, and is sort of like a portable shed or warehouse. Of course, if you actually need a trailer sometimes, you can rent one.
  9. Convert your house.  An acquaintance in New Jersey converted his entire basement into a parts warehouse, and his one-car garage into a three car garage using a lift and some remodeling. That house contained the inventory of a couple dealerships he bought out. From the outside, it looked conventional, but once you went downstairs, wow!! A few friends have been able to position their projects as fine art, thereby invading living spaces.  Of course, these approaches require a cooperative significant other, or a willingness to remain single.
  10. Get lots of money. Preferably by legitimate methods, but get enough to build whatever you want wherever you want, buy an old hangar from the airport, etc. We recently got a few issues of Garage Style magazine, and they have many much more elegant solutions to the problem.  A great variation on this theme is to start a museum. 

Wind Resistance

Classic Velocity

Even if I survived the rumble strips somehow, the concrete barrier was another 12 inches away. In that 12 inches was the collective refuse and detritus of a typical American interstate. Rubber marbles, candy and gum wrappers, pieces of retread truck tires, cigarette butts, etc. And momentarily, me and a perfectly good motorcycle.....

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Crossing The Chasm

Classic Velocity

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Size Matters. Within the bounds of your immediate family, you are probably a major player.  A big fish. Any move that you make can have a material impact. Without you, the unit is destroyed or significantly diminished. At work, or at your place of worship, or in your circle of friends, you are probably not as impactful. Important, but the group probably survives without you. In your town, you may not be important or even known to very many. And so on, and so forth. Scale is important. Perspective is important. 

At the dealership, I was treated like a valued customer. They processed the rental with ease, asked if I needed gear, went over the BMW F800GS as if I had never ridden one before, and generally offered VIP levels of attention. Multiple people came over to ask where I was heading, to point out the coffee station, to offer tips, and to say what a great time of year this was to ride in the region. I am sure it would have been different if I had been there during prime time, but  I was still impressed. I suited up and headed back to the hotel. It was good to be on two wheels. The wind, the power, the maneuverability, the looks of envy from four-wheeled travelers. The motorcyclist is indeed someone special, whether that is because of perceived risk, freedom, individualism, or just being in a minority on the road...

Dawn is always my favorite time to be on the road. The relative quiet, the infinite possibilities of a day yet to fully begin, the awakening, the rapidly changing sky and landscape. It is magical, and the miles pass blissfully.....After you leave the town of Williams, the road becomes two lane highway. It was not heavily trafficked, so you could travel at 70+ mph. There were ample places to pass the few motorhomes, cars and minivans heading north. The F800GS easily accelerated around them. On either side of the road were open light brown plains full of scrub brush that stretched for miles toward the distant hills. Cattle or horses grazed in a few spots, and the occasional cluster of aging mobile homes broke the monotony. In many ways, a typical desert southwest landscape. An hour later, you reach the park gates. Still nothing unusual. You park and shed your gear. Nothing yet. You follow the paved path and see glimpses of an unusual sky. Then you round a corner and.....wow !!

The Grand Canyon is beyond impressive. Even the second or third time you visit. It is an inverted mountain range where nature has used the full palette of textures and colors, blended with time. And the amount of time is hard to comprehend. A visiting son asked his father if it was older than grandpa. Oh yes, his father replied, more like the dinosaurs. The child nodded the nod of someone who acknowledges, but cannot possibly comprehend. The size is also hard to comprehend. It instantly reduces you to a speck. You are a mere pixel on nature's high resolution Jumbotron. Your life, less than a measurable unit of time. You are anything but a VIP.

Geology, chemistry, and other sciences have solid explanations for everything you can see, but the whole is more than science. It is like looking out at the ocean or up at the stars. The concepts of time and scale are intellectually understood, but they seem insufficient. Perhaps we are missing the point. Native peoples have simply held this place as sacred for thousands of years, and still do.  

Vultures circle on currents of air that suddenly dip and rise like a roller coaster. Hawks emerge from the perfect camouflage of the cliffs to swoop down toward an imperceptible speck of movement. The sun paints the scene in the muted tones of shadows or the bright reflections of the vibrant varied surfaces. I sit looking out across the canyon until more people start to arrive. Most stare slack-jawed at the first sight. You can see them shrink in size and importance as they take it all in. I mount up and head out along the south rim. There is no other form of motorized conveyance besides a motorcycle that would be adequate for this. You need to be exposed to the elements, to get closer to the edge, to hear what the wind is saying. There are less crowded vistas here that are no less spectacular. A few have no one around....

It is at these points that I begin to understand. There are many lessons that this place delivers to the receptive, but one stands out. The biggest canyon to be crossed is the reconciliation of your own desire to be significant in some way, with the reality of your insignificance.

 

Rational Insanity

Classic Velocity

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I was pumping gas while turning sideways to shield myself against the wind and light rain. This pump was missing the convenient notches that would have allowed you to free your hands and return to the shelter of the vehicle. It was 38 degrees, but felt much colder with the wind. It was late at night, I was tired, and had 3 more hours of driving before I would be home.  It was slow going with the trailer. You couldn't take the faster route because it involved parkways, and you spent most of the time just above the speed limit anyway due to the precious cargo. Why was this worth it, I contemplated? The gas pump was particularly slow, giving me a chance to review what lead up to this moment....

The ad was from Craigslist. It surfaced using one of those Apps that let you construct a saved search and alert you when there are new items matching the criteria. I have turned off the alerts since lots of people now stuff their craigslist ads with 100 keywords to get people like me to drown in false positives. However, I do periodically peruse the search results manually, and on this occasion, there was  an ad which was either a scam, or a guy not too facile with grammar or a computer. There was no picture. The Ad was short, the wording was vague, and the price was excellent. The vehicle, however, was 16 hours away according to Mapquest (then the industry leader in map software). On Monday, I called the number, and got Henry. 

Henry was a man of few words. He answered each question with the minimum necessary word count. He seemed rather disinterested in selling the vehicle.  However, he did confirm the price, warning that it was firm, he answered questions to fill in some detail, and said he would be around anytime I wanted to come see it. Great deal, but too far away, and too costly to ship. Game over, back to work. Then 2 days later, on Wednesday, Henry calls to honor my place as first in line since he has another buyer interested. He emails me two grainy pictures that look ok, but pictures are worth a thousand lies. I pass. Game over, back to work. Thursday evening, Henry rings back. The other buyer fell through, I am the only other interested person, and he needs to get the vehicle gone before Monday. Oh, and he has a new, lower, final price, if I can get it before Monday. He is much more sociable at this point. I tell him I will call him back before noon Friday. I need to sleep on it.

The last thing I could do was sleep. How could I take advantage of this potential deal? How could I become more confident that this was not just a waste of time and money? I searched the Interwebs for transport options. Expensive, and ridiculously expensive if you wanted pickup right away. I emailed a buddy in a neighboring state. Out of town. I looked at flying in, moving it to a storage place and flying back. Expensive short notice flights and then the storage cost, plus the same need to get it back home.   Then, somewhere in the part of the brain stem that has reacted for millennia to the combination of frustration and desire, the idea emerged. Why not just go get it yourself? The rational self responded immediately. Because it is 32 hours of driving stupid, and that is if you don't stop, and by the way, you can't leave until Saturday because of that appointment, remember? Not to be outdone, the insane self calmly retorted, yes you can do it, you have 44 hours between the time you can leave, and the time you have to be at work, giving you a full 12 hours of stop/sleep time. Piece of cake. Just because you are insane, doesn't mean you can't do math. The rational self torted (what is the opposite of retort anyway?) that several other plans for the weekend would need to be dashed, that you really didn't have enough info to make this a sure bet, and that the weather forecast was lousy for big chunks of the trip. The insane self reminded me that extra parts were included, and then he kicked rational self in the groin......and so it went.

In the brilliant sunny light of a new day, it all became clear. I would drive there and back with the trailer, I would secure this deal for just the few hundred in gas and food that it would cost for the marathon. I informed Henry that I would see him early Sunday morning. All I needed was a good nights sleep Friday, and a cooler full of snacks and drinks. What actually happened was a few calls to fellow Gearheads, a bunch more research online about the particular model and year, some playing with map routes, some work-related matters, and a not so good nights sleep. Then I got on the road. The fastest route was the interstate, Hours upon hours of numbing highway. Four hours, gas. Rain. Four hours, gas again. More rain...... and so it went. 

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After a couple hours of sleep, I met the seller, wrapped up the transaction, loaded the vehicle, and got back on the road.  For some reason, an hour going home is longer than an hour getting to the destination. Fatigue has some time-altering properties if it could be properly harnessed. And weather can do the same. Rain. Interstate. Gas. Interstate.....and so it went.

The pump handle clicked, indicating that the tank was full once again. I hurriedly replaced the nozzle and got back in the truck. I shuddered and turned up the heat. It was 3 hours to home, I was tired, and I had cargo that was not running, needed much work, would never be worth a lot of money, and that I traveled a thousand miles one way to purchase. I took a swig of some lousy hot coffee and smiled. And miles to go before I sleep.....Insanely rational. 

Carbs and Coffee

Classic Velocity

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The carburetor is a device that executes a simple concept. Mix air and fuel so that they can be passed on to the combustion chamber. Simple. In the early days, they just dumped fuel and air in indiscriminately, and hoped for the best. Even as cheap as gas was back then, it didn't take long to realize that a lot of fuel ended up coming out of the exhaust unconsumed. Smart engineers then began to devise ways to control how much fuel, and how much air would be available at any given time, for any given combustion chamber. That meant that the carburetor needed to become a bit more complicated than a funnel.

Subsequently, some fantastic designs began to emerge for metering out fuel, the Bernoulli principle was applied, and carbs gained passages and mechanical moving parts which responded to throttle controls. Engineering and metallurgy evolved, fuel became progressively more expensive, and the carb became more sophisticated. I am going to stop this story in the early 1950s which is when Bing Vergaser designed the carb on the BMW R26 that inspired today's topic. It is a simple device operated by a cable and a spring, which operates a cylindrical slide, which in turn exposes (or covers) a jet. It has a separate idle control, which is another small jet, and it has a fuel storage chamber with a float which controls when to top it up and when to stop topping it up. The only other parts are a few gaskets and o-rings to ensure good seals on some of the chambers.

The R26 is a single cylinder motorcycle, so any issues with fueling are immediately noticeable and dramatic. It is the ultimate manifestation of one fuel injector per cylinder. Once I safely coasted over to the side of the road, it was obvious that there was nothing obvious. Going by the old adage that most carb problems are actually ignition/timing, I checked the coil and plug for spark. Looked good. Points ? Looked good. I kicked it, and it ran perfectly for a half mile before dying. Then it started again. repeat. I drained the float bowl. Two more repeats got me back to the garage. The next day, I got a strong cup of coffee and went out to the garage. It reaked of gasoline. The R26 had a small wet spot below it, but it was obvious that gas had leaked onto the gearbox case, and dripped to the floor and then evaporated. The petcock was fine, so the only gas available to leak was what was in the carb. As I am sure you know, it does not take much gas to smell like a Shell tanker has crashed inside your garage.

With the second cup of coffee, and the garage aired out, I had the carb off the bike and it seemed like the float was the culprit. It had somehow taken on fluid by condensation or by a pinhole leak, and no longer weighed the prescribed 7 grams. An o-ring was also suspect. I ordered a rebuild kit and a float from Bing. The resulting package had only a few parts as you might expect, but it was the right stuff. For a moment, I thought it was surprisingly expensive for what they were. However, I am pretty sure that in 60 years, you will have no chance of diagnosing any issue with today's motorcycles unless a dashboard icon tells you what is wrong. In 60 years, there will be no rebuild kit for your 2015 motorcycle's fuel injection system, and it will cost you a good bit to print a new one at the cyber depot. While waiting, you can inhale some caffeine and download Rocky XXXVII to your neural network.

Perhaps in 60 years no one will care about such matters, but I am personally glad that I can still diagnose a 60 year old machine, almost incinerate my house, order parts not delivered by a drone, and scald myself with hot coffee.