Thursday, August 29, 2013

Chopping Up the Lower Fairing

I finally got around to fitting the lower fairing pieces back on. The cool, wet mornings was the main incentive to do something about it. The biggest obstacle was the simple decision on whether or not to modify the lower right fairing so the sidecar mounting points were accessible. There were some that thought that I shouldn't hack chunks out of the plastic fairing pieces as replacements may be difficult to find in case I wanted to put the bike back to stock. At this point, the sidecar is staying.

To determine where I needed to cut, I removed the sidecar and set up a camera aimed at the right side of the motorcycle. I took one photo showing the front subframe. The front mounting points are the circular hole just below the fairing above the exhaust header and below the cylinder adjacent to the exhaust pipe.

I removed the subframe and loosely mounted the lower fairing and took a second photo. I could've overlaid the two photos with one of them partly transparent but it was simpler to print them out and overlay them with a light source behind them. I then transfered the mounting points onto the second photo with a pen. Very old school. It was a simple matter to cover the lower with painters tape and transfer the mounting points onto the fairing.

The upper opening was simply drilled with a hole saw, literally 30 seconds. The lower one proved to be more challenging as a lot of material needed to be removed. Plus the fairing actually almost touches the frame itself behind the exhaust header. I ended up drawing a line along the subframe and cut the plastic just in front of the line until I was just above the exhaust header. I have some touch up paint to cover the white plastic showing where the cuts were made but was amazed at how thin the plastic was.

After putting the sidecar back on, a quick test ride in the rain demonstrated the utility of the lowers. Dry pants and boots. What a difference. These photos really show that I need to clean the bike...again. The rain just isn't cutting it.

Friday Afternoon - I decided to try my hand at using the Gimp editor to overlay the two photos. Not too bad for a first attempt....

Monday, August 26, 2013

Clear and Cool

The construction around the building is almost completed and I again have access to one of my favorite sitting areas outside of the building.There is a great view to the south towards the Alaska Range about 80 miles to the south. On a clear day, you can just see from Mt. Mckinley all the way to the range south of Delta. Today was not really clear as there is still smoke from brush fires. And at 38°F, it was a bit too cool to enjoy my morning coffee.

This is the view to the southeast towards Delta and, as you can see, there is still quite a bit of smoke and haze. The rain over the past week really got things green again though some have reported frost knocking out parts of their gardens. They are just finishing the dirt work below the building as they had to build an additional retaining wall to keep the parking lot from sliding down the hill. Hopefully, they will put the nice x-country ski trail that used to traverse this slope back in.

Yesterday was day 25 of "31 days of geocaching". We met with several friends at Creamers Field, which is a bird sanctuary in town. We found a couple of caches and the number of cranes and geese were astounding. The place was also crowded with birders as you couldn't go a hundred yards without running into someone else. Something about a Sandhill Crane Festival.

I'm starting to run out of convenient caches and may have to start on some of the more challenging ones. The blue dot is where I am and all of the "happy faces" are caches that I've already found, The color indicates the type of cache. The iPhone app is a really convenient way to geocache as you just tell it to show you all of the caches around you, select any one of them and have the app point you the direction you need to go. The downside is the battery draw from the gps is enough to drain the phone pretty quickly. The battery in my 3 year old phone is about 60% of new according to a battery monitoring app that can only be run on a jailbroken iPhone.

More changing colors and the cranberries may be ready for picking as you normally would wait until after the first frost. While out geocaching, we did find quite a few areas with cranberries though they were on the trail system and liable to be picked out before the weekend.

BTW, this showed up in front of the building right next to the parking lot. The stainless cylinders go straight through. Any thoughts?

My guess, 1% for art...

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Sena SMH10 Firmware Update

I was having some issues with my Sena SMH10 headset so I thought I'd simply upgrade the firmware before moving on to other troubleshooting. I was still on v4.1 and the firmware available on their site was v4.2.1, enough of a change to warrant an update. I downloaded the Mac OS X version and fired it up. The first firmware upgrade failed at 8% and at that point, the unit wouldn't even power up (as indicated by the red/blue LED). I contacted Sena through their website and got a response within minutes via email with a couple of suggestions one of which was to ignore the LED and try to upgrade the firmware again. In each case, it failed at about the same place with the same cryptic error though it would, surprisingly, start even though the software claimed that no headset was detected.

I then dug out a Windows 7 (32-bit) laptop and as soon as I booted it, it started doing all these system updates as I hadn't had it running since last April. It took a while but eventually the Sena software was downloaded and the proper USB driver installed. All this while it was trying to download 50+ software updates and virus signatures. When plugging in the still dead appearing headset, I got the characteristic tone from Windows that a USB device was plugged in and recognized. Started the Sena software and proceeded to ignore all of the warnings that a Sena device was not detected. But when "Update" was selected, it went all the way to completion and near the end of the process, I was prompted to power on the headset. Upon completion, a dialog box suggested that I delete any Bluetooth pairings and recreate them.

After all this, the headset now works again with my iPhone (as a phone) as well as a music player. In the past, I've missed a couple of calls while riding even though the headset was turned on. The media played as well as the intercom but just not the phone part. After the firmware update, all is good once again but I'm not sure that I want to attempt to update the other headset.

BTW, five hours later and Windows is still installing updates.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Early Signs of Fall

Something new has sprung up across the street from my office in the last week or so. Actually, work has probably been going on all summer on the foundation but that was hidden within the trees. Last week, the dish was put on and it became much more visible. This is the third large dish installed on the West Ridge of the Fairbanks campus and I can only assume that research funding is still being brought in by some groups on campus.

Another sign of change that is showing up is non-green color on some of the trees. Some say that the trees are stressed due to the unseasonably hot summer but I think that Winter is trying to sneak in. The mornings are in the mid to high 40s (°F) and I'm starting to wear an unheated liner under my non-mesh riding jacket for the morning ride. And the days are getting noticeably shorter.

In case you didn't know it, Saturday, August 17, 2013, was International Geocaching Day. Fairbanks cachers got together for as picnic at a local park and you can search for this GC code if you want to know exactly where the picnic was. Very little geocaching went on during the picnic and I volunteered to man the grill. We did ride the sidecar rig to the picnic and afterwards went out and found a cache.
We are trying to find at least one geocache per day for the month of August. I've exhausted all of the easy ones around the campus and need to venture out further.

Just a few food pics to round out this post. Anytime I see bibimbap on a menu, I feel obligated to try out their version. This was at a local sushi restaurant, Ajimi. It was pretty good though they did charge you extra if you wanted it served in the traditional, very hot, clay bowl. If it's not served in the clay bowl, the rice doesn't develop the nice tasty crust as it continues to cook after serving. I'd give their version a solid six. BTW, the version I had in Singapore would have barely scored a 3 out of 10.

Conchscooter was posting pictures from his recent road trip through the southeast and he mentioned having chicken and waffles. That sounded like a good idea for dinner last night. No buttermilk on hand so it wasn't true southern fried chicken but the waffles were the toaster variety anyway. It's hard to go wrong with fried food and maple syrup. Some collard greens would have been a nice addition...

Thursday, August 15, 2013

LED Turn Signals

I had recently installed Skene Designs LED "conspicuity lights" on my front forks. The installation instructions mentioned that if the front turn signals were also LED, they could be wired into the electronics module and will have the same flicker as the fork mounted lights while retaining the turn signal function. This will essentially turn the turn signals into marker lights. I was originally thinking of changing out the turn signal bulb socket to allow a dual filament bulb to be used and have the front turn signals also function as marker lights. But using the Skene module to accomplish the same thing seems to be a much better option.

With an old bike like mine, simply replacing the bulb would cause the turn signals to flash too quickly. Since I couldn't get a definitive answer regarding a replacement electronic flasher module, I decided to take the well established route and simply add resistors to the turn signal circuit mimicking an incandescent bulb and drive the turn signals off of the Skene Designs module. I was unable to find 6Ω 50W resistors locally but Amazon came through. Both the LED bulbs and the resistors were available and with Amazon Prime, free shipping.

By using resistors, you lose the lower power consumption benefit of LED lights. In fact, the stock P21W bulbs are 21 watts so they would draw 1.75 amps when blinking. The 6Ω resistors would draw 2 amps while the turn signals are blinking. In addition, the LED bulbs draw about 120 ma so I would be increasing the load on the charging system. To dissipate the heat, the resistors will be mounted on an aluminum plate within the fairing to act as a heat sink.

It looks like I have another wiring project this evening.

I am planning to replace the motorcycle battery with an automotive battery this winter. This should eliminate the need to carry around the battery booster box when the temperature drops below 0°F and the stock battery is unable to turn the engine over fast enough to start. I just need to find a good place to mount the battery box. If I can find a good place to mount it on the sidecar frame, I will probably leave it there full time. If it ends up replacing the seat, it would only be for the winter.

On the riding front, I've been taking the rig everywhere since I've been back from Oregon. Bridget and my middle son have been passengers (he had his eyes closed for the entire trip). The sidecar adds a lot of utility though I still have no way to lock up my riding gear, specifically my helmet. Having to carry gear around while shopping or while I was at the fair is inconvenient. The tonneau cover allows me to hide things but is not secure. Not sure what the solution is yet...

Friday Morning Update - Got the wiring project finished last night and I think that overall, it is an improvement. The fork mounted lights are still the most visible especially on a foggy morning like today. In this photo, the turn signals look white but they are behind amber lenses. Maybe I should've looked for amber LEDs. The turn signals are just as visible to the side as the front as they are mounted on the corner of the fairing at about a 45° angle.

Today, I dug out the unheated liner as it's more comfortable to wear as a standalone jacket. The fog made it feel colder than the thermometer indicated.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

One of my 2-Wheelers

In a comment on Martha's blog post about her "Other Wheels", I mentioned something about my old touring bicycle. She wanted to hear more about it. Back in 1976, I decided to get a new bicycle that could take me anywhere in the world. I looked into getting a custom frame made but they were a bit pricy. The owner of the local bicycle shop, who also happened to own a tandem bicycle manufacturing business, suggested ordering a bare frame made by a new company he heard good things of. That company was Trek. Back then, their first year, they only made frames not complete bicycles. I had the shop order a bare frame and his tandem shop did the braze-ons and paint (Honda green metallic using Dupont Imron).

This is the result, double butted chromoly tubing for light weight but plenty of strength at the joints. braze-on fittings for cantilever brakes, rear rack, fender eyelets, down tube shifters, cable guides and a water bottle cage. The weight of the completed bike including racks and sturdy wheels is 27 lbs. I removed the front rack since I am not doing any touring.

While the waiting for delivery from Trek, I started to accumulate components for the build. Some of them shown here are updated components from the original build. Back then, triple chainrings were unusual and I wanted a very low first gear. The small chainring on the Avocet crank is only 24 teeth. It is attached to a Phil Wood sealed bearing bottom bracket. The original TA triple crank was sold or traded. The Campagnolo steel cage pedals have been replaced with generic Japanese sealed bearing units.

The freewheel is an Ultra-6 and back then, you could have the bike shop build a freewheel anyway you want. To go with the 48 and 52 tooth chainrings, I managed to build up one with only a few overlapping gears. The rear derailleur is a Campagnolo Rally, one of the few available that could wrap up enough chain for the 24 tooth front chainring. The two larger gears in this freewheel are 28 and 32 teeth so the two lowest gears are less than one-to-one. Suitable for climbing just about anything. The first derailleur I installed (I think) was a Huret Duopar which was a great design and shifted much smoother but it wasn't made to last as the pivots became really loose and sloppy within 10K miles.

This is obviously not the original freewheel as, on a motorcycle, the gears wear out as the chain stretches. The idler gears are also sealed bearings.

This photo shows some of the braze-ons for the rear brakes and rack. These days, cantilever brakes are fairly common but in the mid-70s, you only found them on tandems, at least in the US. These are updated brakes replacing the original Mafac brakes. The wheels are somewhat unique. They are 700C aluminum rims laced with 48 stainless spokes (36 spokes is the norm) to Phil Wood sealed bearing hubs in a five cross pattern. Meaning each spoke goes across five other spokes. Three cross was the norm. More spokes and more crossing reduces the tension on any individual spoke lowering the probability of spokes breaking on rough roads. The downside is that the wheels are heavier as there are more, longer spokes and the wheels are more flexible. More flexible wheels reduce the efficiency as some of your effort just flexes the wheel instead of moving you forward. The strategy must work as I've never had a spoke break on these wheels and they still run true. This was the standard wheel for custom tandems back then though they used a longer axle to give you the option of running a disc brake on the rear wheel.

I tried a couple of saddles before settling on a classic Brooks leather with copper rivets. No padding and it takes thousands of mile to break one in but once it does, it is very comfortable. I've put in many 100+ mile days with this seat. In this picture, you can also see the top of the old plastic Silca tire pump which fits into the frame opening, no clips needed. It easily pumps up the tires to 100psi and was available for the presta tire valves which were the norm on high end bicycles. The Silca pump has had it's leather piston regreased many times and even after 37 years, works as as well now as when it was new.

Just a shot of the Phil Wood sealed bearing front wheel hub. At that time, sealed bearings were a real novelty on a bicycle, unlike now. Many cyclists didn't care for the stainless steel/aluminum industrial look of the Phil Wood hubs and preferred the more graceful Italian and Japanese alloy hubs. I wanted durability and strength. I built up a second set of lightweight wheels with 36 spokes, Campy hubs, and skinny tires that I used for commuting but gave them to a friend who needed a good set of wheels. Plus, I got tired of fixing flats everyday. Commuting on the streets of Los Angeles every day was hard on tires. Lots of potholes and broken glass.

Sealed bearings weren't available for the headset so I opted for one with tapered roller bearings. The original ball bearing model (name brand Italian headset) had hammered indentations into the races after only 10k miles and were replaced. I don't remember the manufacturer. Cinelli handlebars and stem. No complaints. This is the only nameplate on the bike and "Trek" is also cast into the lugs at the top of the rear stays below the seat. No decals anywhere except one identifying the type of steel used. The front brake braze-on cracked and needed to be re-brazed. I never bothered to repaint the front fork.

Rear hub showing the location for my speedometer pickup. The electronic gadget was a later addition and most of my mileage logs were from a Huret mechanical odometer on the front wheel driven by an "O" ring and pulley. This bicycle has logged well over 25K miles on it with many memorable trips.

Originally, I wanted to travel around North America and Europe with this bicycle but these days, I may just have to settle with the bike with an engine. Though I hear that New England in the Fall is especially nice.

Once I moved to Alaska, I sort of lost the passion for bicycle touring mostly due to the long winters. My first two winters, I attempted to stay in shape by riding rollers but very little effort after that until recently. I picked up a very lightly used Specialized Hard Rock mountain bike at a garage sale a few years ago. But that's another post....

Monday, August 12, 2013

Ester Dome Ride

Yesterday afternoon, I rode up to the top of Ester Dome, which is located just northwest of Fairbanks. The last time I was up there was back in September when I ran the Equinox Marathon. After the first half mile the pavement ended and the rest of the climb to the top was on dirt and gravel roads. It seemed like a long way up even on the bike. I vaguely remember the turn offs and road crossings from the marathon but seemed to have successfully blanked out much of that day from my memory. (I still hate running even more than ever!)

Many of the commercial TV and radio stations have their towers up here as it is the high point for the area at 2,323 ft. As you may notice in the lower photo, the rain had temporarily cleared out the smoke but you can see it building up again from the fire to the east which is on the right. I learned that I need to carry an easily deployed wheel chock since I don't have a parking brake. I do have folding chocks in case I need to remove a wheel but they are packed with all of the tools.

Sunday evening was spent looking for a different kind of geocache. The GPS coordinates just gave the starting point followed by directions following compass bearings. They were careful to specify using an uncorrected magnetic compass followed by distances ranging from 90 feet to 0.23 miles. It ended with 77 paces into the woods following your compass. It felt like we were following a pirate treasure map.

We found the ammo box in the woods right where they said it would be but the distances were more difficult to measure. I was using the Nike+ app to measure distances which used GPS. A simple pedometer would probably have worked better as that is what I think they used. The distances listed were always shorter than what I came up with. Fortunately, the distances were usually to trail intersections so we were able to figure out where we needed to be.

This photo was taken along the trail leading down to the "T" Field behind the university. The starting point was the Large Animal Research Station so this geocache was good for a few miles of trail walking. Nothing wrong with that.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Smoke is Back

This morning, someone asked (rhetorically) how anyone can afford to maintain a BMW motorcycle. This was after he had to replace the rear shock on his sixteen year old "K" bike and paid over $1K for the part. He did probably what most would do and simply went to the parts counter at the local dealer and described what he needed. Atypically, he is going to do the installation himself.

I still see my old airhead with fading logos and weathered plastic as one way to still enjoy riding. OEM and aftermarket parts are still available and with the exception of replacing the valve seats, I've been able to do all of the work myself. If I had to pay those kind of prices to keep it running, I'm not sure if I would continue riding.

This morning, it actually felt cold while riding in. I don't know what the temperature was but it was a far cry from the preceding couple of days. So far this summer, 36 days above 80°F. A new record. On the right, you can see a little of the parking lot construction outside of our building that has been going on all summer. Unless you get here very early or have a motorcycle, you are parking somewhere across the street. As you can imagine, lots of complaints about parking in general and more than a few negative comments about why motorcycles were given three parking spaces.

The smoke blew into town last night and is one of the reasons for the temperature drop. The hot weather hasn't been helping crews manage all of the brush fires in the area. The number of acres burned this year is over 140,000 just in the interior with 87,000 acres just in the Stuart Creek fire along Chena Hot Springs Road. I was planning to ride out to the Hot Springs Resort for their annual alternative energy fair on the 18th. Hopefully, the fire isn't anywhere near the road. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Giant Cabbages and Duct Tape

Back to the fair on Wednesday evening if for no other reason than to look for dinner. It was 88°F when we arrived but cooled down to a much more reasonable temperature later in the evening. There were a few things that either I didn't catch or weren't on display yet. The giant cabbage weigh in hadn't occurred yet and the hot dry summer shows in the small sized entries. The winner is a paltry 54.15 pounds (24.56 kg). But it does look pretty dense and is looking pretty wilted sitting outside of the agricultural building.

Dinner was souvlaki and stuffed grape leaves. Both were passable as "fair food" but I probably should've had the pita falafel a couple of booths down.

Another item was this very "Alaska-ish" quilt. It was displayed outside and is made of pieces of plastic tarp held together and decorated with duct tape. It seems to fit the spirit of Fairbanks. After all, at one time, Fairbanks had more fans per capita of the Red Green Show than anywhere else in the country. If you've never heard of the Canadian TV show, duct tape was a popular topic and the star, Steve Smith, was a local hero. At one point, he was treated to a 21 chainsaw salute upon arrival for a Fairbanks PBS fundraiser. No video of that frightening event but here is a sample of Handyman Corner where he uses duct tape to make tires.


Monday, August 5, 2013

Botanic Gardens and the Tanana Valley State Fair

On Friday, I walked down to the Botanic Gardens below the building and I noticed a new functional sculpture. I would definitely keep out some wildlife from your vegetables though it may make weeding and harvesting a little difficult. I don't think it was protecting anything but looked pretty cool.
The giant cabbages look like they're doing well in spite of the lack of rain. I think that the mostly volunteer crew at the gardens do a phenomenal job keeping the place up and running. And they give the residents a hint at what grows well in this climate. I was there for our annual, departmental barbecue. The plan was to have it close so folks could simply walk down the hill.

iPhone Panorama

The fair is in town for the week and we picked up season passes so we could come and go anytime this week. In Alaska, all of the regional fairs have the title "State Fair" so this would be similar to a county fair anywhere else. When we arrived this afternoon, it was surprisingly uncrowded (though that didn't last long). There was an antique tractor pulling contest though the weight transfer sled was sitting idle. They were just towing a trailer full of hay bales. Pictured is a small one engine running at only about 100 rpm powering a hand pump.

There was a nice display showing what your Alaska garden should look like. Any garden I've ever had anything to do with never looked like this. There was the usual mix of carnival rides, "as seen on TV" vendors and fair food. I was searching for something good for dinner but didn't find anything that really "spoke" to me. I ended up having leftovers at home.

We went for a sidecar ride after dinner to look for a couple of geocaches. Bridget is trying to log at least one find per day for the month of August. This was also the first passenger test of the newly installed sidecar spring and shock. At first, the rig really pulled to the right so at the first stop, I added one click on the spring preload. With that change, handling was neutral. I'm told that the ride was improved. We tried using the Sena SMH10's again but the battery died on Bridget's unit after about five minutes. I think it was left on after it's last use.

George Rahn, the local motorcycle guru, took a look at the new shock and spring setup, bounced on it a couple of times and commented that it was a whole lot better than stock. Plus, he liked the chrome plating. He is the one that recommended swapping the spring and shock out with one from an airhead as he had done the same thing with his Cozy sidecar.

Here is a quick shot showing our beautiful weather and the crowded motorcycle parking.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Shiny and Flashy

The sidecar had a very stiff coil over shock and I could put all my weight on the sidecar frame and maybe get a little movement on the suspension. I don't know what they planned for you to carry in the sidecar with that stiff spring. This is a Progressive coil over shock that was one of two on the rear of my airhead until I returned from my California trip last summer. I noticed that one of the shocks had leaked a lot of oil so I took both of them off and put the original equipment shocks back on. This is the remaining good shock and it fit with a little bit of monkeying around and a trip to the hardware store. The length is 1" longer than the original but with the weight of the sidecar on it, the length is identical and the car frame is still level. I can now easily flex the sidecar suspension and maybe tomorrow, I'll try it with a passenger. The spring on this one is readily adjustable for additional weight and is on the lightest setting right now.

Handling is different with it especially noticable on left turns. On right turns, I need to shift weight more aggresively as the sidecar feels lighter. I think that the stiff suspension made the rig much easier to learn on as I can now easily lift the sidecar wheel. Time for more parking lot practice.

At the MOA rally in Salem, OR, I picked up a farkle. These are Skene Designs visibility lights marketed as the Photon Blaster. They included replacement hardened bolts for the front caliper and are pretty straight forward to install. They tie into the front turn signals and the brake light. When the bike is running, they flicker but only in your peripheral vision. When looking at them straight on, you don't see any flickering. They also flash with the turn signals and if you tap the brake twice within one second, they both flash very brightly with some pattern designed to attract attention for about two seconds. With normal braking, they don't do anything. I've been looking at these for a couple of years but was somewhat put off by the cost. Now that I'm riding more often in the dark (think winter), they seem like a good investment in visibility. Of course, the texting driver still won't see them.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Nice Sunny Days

We did get out and about with the sidecar yesterday. We were going to a barbecue for a visitor from Ethiopia.  He is one of the many wonderful individuals that we met and worked with on the trip last year. Bridget mentioned that there wasn't much give to the suspension so maybe I need to work on switching out the spring on the sidecar. George, the local Royal Enfield dealer, mentioned that he swapped the coil-over-shock with one from a BMW on his sidecar and the ride really improved. He thought it was the setup from a twin shock bike like mine but wasn't sure. The eyelets are different sizes and the length is about 1" longer but it could be made to fit.

Due to construction around the building, the motorcycle parking area was relocated but they still had three spots. When I arrived, there wasn't enough room but the Harley rider had just arrived and graciously moved her bike over giving me a spot.

This is in the parking lot near College Coffeehouse. George's Royal Enfield w/Cozy sidecar is at the far left. There was a fellow airhead member from Ketchikan on a ride around Alaska and Canada on a newer BMW (not on his airhead!) over the next several weeks.

I did take a look at George's sidecar suspension to see how he adapted the BMW shock to the Cozy sidecar. It looks pretty straightforward with just the addition of some spacers and the the spring rate is much lower than the stock setup. He said that it rides pretty nice. Plus, the Progressive shock that I have laying around has an easily adjustable spring.

As you may notice, it is still nice and sunny in the interior of Alaska. According to the local paper, this may be a record setting summer with 30 days above 80°F and 12 days above 85°F. The fair starts up tomorrow and that event usually brings rain. We'll see if that happens this year.