Saturday 31 December 2011

Happy New Year

I'd like to take this opportunity to wish all of my blog visitors a very happy and successful New Year. As you'll understand, I'm not going to do a 'look back at 2011' but instead a 'look forward to 2012'. Hopefully, this coming year I'll out and about more on my bike, write more articles, post more pictures and videos, etc. I've a number of things planned, both home and away, so 'watch this space' as someone once said.
At a personal level, I'm going to try to do all the things we all attempt to: get fitter, lose weight, be nicer to people, etc. Whether or not I have any success, we'll have to wait and see!
So, all the best for the New Year and let's try and make this our theme tune for 2012:

Unusual Fountain/Sculpture of the Week

'Nine Floating Fountains' by Isamu Noguchi. In Osaka, Japan.

A series of cubes that seem to 'float' on the jets of water flowing from them, built for the World Expo in Osaka. More details on Isamu's life here,  and there's a museum dedicated to his work in New York.

A £4 billion Hobby

Found an interesting report on the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs' website concerning how much money historic vehicles put into the British economy. The historic vehicle industry has an over £4.3 billion a year turnover and produces £960 million a year in exports. 28,000 people earn some or all of their income from historic vehicles, and the average historic vehicle owner spends £2900 on their hobby (so if your wife complains about how much you spend, just tell her that it's below average).
I would never have thought that anywhere near this figure was spent, and if you added in the size of the industries in other countries (I see from the Web that both Germany and the US have big 'classic' scenes), it makes you wonder how much is spent worldwide.
Also in the report it mentions that 82% of historic vehicles are only driven on the road no more than once or twice a month, and 50% do fewer than 500 miles a year.
The UK Government has published a consultation document on exempting pre 1960 vehicles from the annual MOT test (under an EU Directive) and there's an online survey form here. To be honest, if historic vehicle as used so rarely, it's hardly worth the effort and expense to get them tested, so get clicking classic fans!

Friday bike

Look at this picture, and what do you see?

A Harley Davidson? Not quite. It's a Japanese built Rikuo Model 97. (Rikuo means 'King of the Road' in Japanese).
In 1935, Harley Davidson built a factory in Shinagawa, Tokyo to build bikes for the Japanese market. In 1937, due to the rising Nationalism, foreign owned companies were taken over, and the Harley Davidson factory ended up being owned by Sankyo, who continued building bikes under the Rikuo name.
With the onset of WW2, the factory was converted to munitions work and the the bike production was moved to a company called Nihon Jidosha in Horoshima, where the bikes were badged as 'Kuro Hagane' (Black Iron). Needless to say, the Hiroshima factory didn't survive the war, and that was the end of the 'Japanese Harleys'.
I've no idea how many were built, but I would imagine that Japanese Harleys, Rikuos, and Kuro Haganes are very rare. Imagine turning up on any of these at a Harley rally! That'll confuse them!

Friday 23 December 2011

Thursday 22 December 2011

Friday bike

Yes, it's Thursday, but I feel like posting today.

This week's Friday bike is a bit different in that it didn't really exist!

The Triumph Phoenix/Diana prototype from about 1983. This was designed and built by the Workers' Co-operative at Meriden, but didn't reach production.

The engine was a 900cc water cooled DOHC 8 valve twin, and was designed to replace the ageing Bonneville. I found a very good documentary (originally part of the BBC's 'Money Programme' series) which gives a poignant look at the running of the Co-op.

It's in 5 parts, and what strikes you is the sheer dedication of the workers desperate to keep their factory working despite the odds. 
There's also some footage of the above engine actually running, so it got that far in development, but the man in the picture at the top of the post, the owner of the only bike built, mentioned that it's a wood and clay mock-up, probably the reason it was displayed on the roof of Triumph's stand at the bike show in the film.
Another sad 'if only' story from the British motorcycle industry, but as John Bloor showed when he later bought Triumph, you need a lot of money behind you if you're going to run a motorcycle factory.

Sunday 18 December 2011

Bikes on the wireless

Found an interesting programme about bike touring on the BBC website. It's from the Radio 4 programme 'Excess Baggage', and presenter Sandi Toksvig interviews long distance riders/writers Ted Simon and Lois Price, as well as Ken Ball, Chair of the International Motorcyclist's Tour Club.
A very interesting programme aimed at non-motorcyclists, and I think it gets over the concept of long distance motorcycle touring.
You can download the programme here as a .ram file which will play in RealPlayer. However, the programme might only be available in the UK due to copyright issues. If you're outside the UK and can't download the programme, let me know and I'll 'work something out'.

(That'll have you scratching your heads!)

Bouncy bouncy

...or hopefully not. I've been meaning to sort out the suspension on the Traveller for a while. The original forks were working OK, but were starting to look a bit tatty. I swapped them for a spare pair, and refurbishing the originals is one of the 'winter jobs' on my list. Ideally, I would have liked to get them powder coated, but they are notoriously hard to take apart, and I'm afraid I might damage them in the process, so I'll just paint them instead. If this doesn't work out there will be a 'stripping forks and getting them powder coated' thread later. Talking of powdercoating, I've used Chameleon in the past and have been impressed by their quick and high quality service.
Here's the bits and pieces:

Original forks, Hagon progressive springs, and preload adjusters from a Honda VFR 750 modified to fit. I can't remember which model of VFR these are from, but they have the same thread as the Skorpion forks, so screw straight in. More details later.

At the rear I replaced the standard shock with an Öhlins from a Yamaha FZR 400. Not sure which model of FZR (possibly the RR), but it's a 'real' Öhlins rather than a 'Yamaha  Öhlins' as fitted to some models. Yamaha owned Öhlins at one time and fitted lower spec shocks and forks to some models with the Öhlins name (and yellow paint).
I bought the shock a few years ago on Ebay for around £125. At the time, this shock cost £720, so it was too good a bargain to miss.
The rear suspension on the Skorpion  is based on the Yamaha FZR 400/600/1000 setup, so some parts are interchangeable. It's probably better to use a shock from a 600 or 1000, as the damping on the 400 unit is too low for the Skorpion and I have to ride with it set to maximum. I've spoken to an Öhlins service centre, and they said that if I give them a note of the bike's weight, my weight, and the weight of luggage I'm likely to carry; they will rebuild the shock to suit. Once I've removed it, I'll give it to them to work on.

Öhlins Shock fitted to Skorpion. I had to make the bracket for the reservoir, and also had to remove the toolbox from below the airbox as the reservoir hose fouled on it. Yes, that's a gold coloured Brembo master cylinder, (more on that later), and lots of stainless screws.

That's the plan at the moment and I'll keep you up to date with how things work out.

And no, I don't know why the font size changes halfway through this post. I've tried everything I can, but I can't fix it!

Then and now, Part 2

Found a promotional film shot by BSA in 1958 (the year I was born).

It's in four parts and starts with the staff sports day, then moves onto the factory and the building of bikes. Like the Triumph film I posted earlier, you can't get over how low tech and labour intensive it is.

Somewhat more modern are films from the Harley Davidson factory:

And the Honda factory:

A bit different, and aren't the HD and Honda factories very clean?

Saturday 17 December 2011

Then and now

Found some videos on YouTube of Triumphs being built. First group of three is from 1954 according to the comments, and shows how a complete twin was built. Unbelievably labour intensive and low tech. The heating of the frames for brazing looks like a medieval blacksmith's shop, and there are a lot more hammers than torque wrenches used during the engine assembly. It also looks like the guy setting the valves doesn't use a feeler gauge, just sets them by 'feel'. A great glimpse into the past of how factories were.

Next is a group of four videos of the final assembly of a Thunderbird in 2009. Very different!

A good insight into how bikes are built, and how the factories have changed over the years.

Saturday funny

Unusual Fountain/Sculpture of the Week

Don't know anything about this one except that it's in Chile.

A figure riding a bicycle uphill with a telescope instead of a head. Any idea of what it's about?

Friday 16 December 2011

Friday bike

Following on from the BFG, Louis Boccardo's next venture was the Boccardo Aero 97.

This was another French built, car engined bike, this time using the straight four engine from the Citroen AX/Peugeot 205. It was offered in both petrol and diesel engined version of between 1200 and 1400cc, details, but only 5 were ever made (2 petrol, 3 diesel).
I remember reading a test on one in Motorcycle International, and one unusual feature was that the fuel was carried in the double skinned fairing giving a capacity of 33 litres.
No idea how many are still on the road, but I found an article on one of the the diesel bikes, now pulling a sidecar.

With bodywork removed. Now you know why it had a full fairing!

We don't need no ejucashun

What's wrong with this listing on Ebay?

Spotted it? Yes, although the label on the boots clearly points out that they are lined with Gore-Tex, the seller has listed them as gortex. This means that people searching for Gore-Tex boots won't find them, but someone using a search engine like FatFingers will. As a result I now have a nice pair of Gore-Tex boots that cost £20!
They appear to be standard issue British Army boots, so they have probably come out the back door of a barracks, which means that I have bought something that I've already paid for with my taxes! And very nice they are too. I've been for a walk round the snow covered streets of my village and can report that they are nice and warm, the soles grip well on snow, and they are fairly comfortable despite being a bit new and stiff. When they wear in a bit they should be very comfortable, and being lined with Gore-tex, completely waterproof.  They are also robust enough to wear on a bike, so would be good for going places where I know I need to walk about a lot.
I'm amazed how many wrongly spelled listings there are on Ebay, and through FatFingers I've managed to buy things for a lot less than the 'right' price - how about a nice new Arai helmet from a shop that spelled it 'Aria' for a third of the usual price? Type in Aprilia and be amused by how many people are listing bikes and scooters, but can't copy the name from the tank correctly (11 today!)
Even fairly easy words like 'waterproof', 'motorbike' and 'motorcycle' bring up loads of misspellings, so there are bargains to be had. Let's hope the much reported drop in educational standards continues.
Come on now children, sing along -'We don't need no ejucashun'.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Call that snowy weather?

Had to go back to Fort William again today and here's the view from approximately the same spot as yesterday (except I didn't get out of the car!)

South of Glen Coe is Rannoch Moor. It's fairly high and exposed and this is what it looked like on the way up. I passed a tanker on its side in the ditch, but didn't have my camera ready.

The weather got much worse on the way back, and some motorists came to grief. The wind was so strong that it would have been easy to have been blown off of the road.

The snow gates were closed soon after I'd passed through, so I was lucky to get home. Further South there wasn't much snow, but there was very strong winds, heavy rain, and I passed a lot of serious flooding as many rivers had burst their banks. The 'serious' winter's with us now!

Monday 12 December 2011

We're not worthy......

Snowy weather

 I have to drive about the country going to jobs. Usually this is a chore, but it's days like this that make it worthwhile. I had a job in Fort William, and Glen Coe was looking suitably festive.

Sunday 11 December 2011

A BIG single

Big singles, don't you just love them!


Sunday bike

Another example of a car engined motorcycle.

How about a 1300cc VW engine into a Douglas Dragonfly? It's currently for sale on British Ebay, but in case the listing vanishes, here's the main blurb:

1957 Douglas Dragonfly with 1300 Volkswagen engine combination

This is a very unique Douglas Dragonfly with a 1300 Volkswagen engine .
It as called a DVW. This was built in the 1960’s  on won the Motor Cycle News  ‘Special of the Year award’ In 1973 the DKW was rebuilt to its present specification using a 1966 1,300cc VW engine, BMW gearbox and Suzuki rear end. The two-seater sidecar was attached in 1977 and then won the 'Special of the Year' award at the BMF Rally in 1978.

It is said to have a top sped of 90-95mph (if you are brave enough). It is fitted with electric start, shaft drive, servo rear brakes, tow bar, oil cooler, Triumph front hub and very original valuable speedo, electric fuel pump, air horns, original earls forks. 12volt battery fitted in sidecar.
It does come with a V5 document and original transferable registration number.

The large sidecar has two seats and if required could probably be turned into a small camper – ideal for a single person to tour the country and sleep in.

The chrome on the front rim is poor. The paintwork is average to good condition.

This is a very well engineered motorcycle and draws much attention when seen.

The asking price is £2950 should you be looking for an unusual Christmas present for a loved one.

I like the idea of 'The large sidecar has two seats and if required could probably be turned into a small camper – ideal for a single person to tour the country and sleep in.' I suppose it would be better than a tent, but I would have thought it would be more fun to take the sidecar off and carry a tent on the solo bike. Each to their own, I suppose!


Friday 9 December 2011

Friday bike

Bored with riding the same bike as everyone else? Want to ride something a bit 'uncommon'? How about a 1917 Traub?

Found this on the 'Wheels Through Time' website where they refer to it as 'The World's Rarest Motorcycle?'  Looks like a really interesting museum specialising in US built bikes, and they try to keep as many running as possible. A much better idea than just having bikes as static exhibits.

Any of our American readers ever visited? If so, write in and let us know more about it. Meanwhile, there are loads of  videos to watch.

A bit windy

Some of you will have already seen this as it's been in various newspapers and websites.

In the recent high wind a turbine not far from me went so fast that it exploded!

Here's a sequence of photos.

Saturday 3 December 2011

Friday bike

Yes, it's Saturday again, but my computer can't connect to the Internet for some reason, so I've had to use a laptop which can connect via my neighbour's very slow wi-fi connection.
This week's bike is another rarety, the BFG 1300. What is it, you ask - it's French built touring bike that used the Citroen GS flat four car engine.
Between 1982 and 1988, about 650 bikes were built, mostly destined for government agencies. I think this was a political decision so that government agencies weren't seen to be riding foreign bikes, a bit like British Police forces using Norton Rotaries.
BFG in Gendamerie colours

Police version

Also found a picture of one with the bodywork removed, showing the tubular frame.

I've no idea what they were like, or how many are still on the road, but enought to support a club.
After BFG collapsed, Louis Boccardo (the 'B' in BFG), lauched the Boccardo motorcycle which used the Citroen AX/Peugeot 205 engine, but that's another 'Friday bike' for the future!

Continuing the sculpture theme....

Some classic 70s Scottish pop.......

Wednesday 30 November 2011

An extra bit of sculpture for you

Saw an article on the news today about the refurbishment of Oscar Wilde's tomb in Paris. The tomb, designed by Sir Jacob Epstein, had become damaged by the amount of visitors (women presumably) who had left lipstick kisses on it. The tomb was refurbished and protected by a glass screen, and was formally unveiled in a ceremony by Oscar's grandson, Merlin Holland, and the actor Rupert Everett (pictured).

More details on the BBC website.

Monday 28 November 2011


Over the last few years I've been a bit amused by how styles from the 60s and 70s have become fashionable again, and there's also nostalgia for a 'golden era' that allegedly existed in the 70s. I say allegedly because I was a teenager then and it was rubbish, so I'm rather amused to see trendy pop groups wearing clothes that I wore when I was 16. However, they don't get the subtleties - 'plain' sports shoes are pretty cool, but I nearly fell off my chair laughing when I saw a picture of Liam Gallagher wearing a parka! And, no doubt, thinking he was really cool! Us 'oldies' who lived through it the first time round know that anyone who wore a parka past the age of 14 was immediately branded a 'Mummy's Boy'!
The automotive world hasn't been spared this 60s/70s nostalgia, just look how successful the VW Beetle, Mini, and Fiat 500 have been by aping previous styles, and Triumph's whole Bonneville range has shown that bikes aren't immune from it either.
Even children's toys like the Raleigh Chopper and the Spacehopper have made a comeback, and they've been joined by another horror from my childhood. I was a branch of electrical shop Maplin and what did I see but a Stylophone! Yes, a good old Stylophone as advertised by Rolf Harris.

I did a bit of looking round the Web and found that the Stylophone is back in production. Let's hope it's better than the version built back in the 60s and 70s, which to be honest sounded like a wasp in a Coke can. Add to that they used to go out of tune depending on battery life and keyboard cleanliness, and the keys were sometimes out of tune with each other.
However, they did have their celebrity fans. David Bowie used one on Space Oddity,

And later in his career,

It almost goes with saying that Kraftwerk have used them, and have even played one live,

Here they are doing Pocket Calculator live on minimalist instruments. At 0:27, you can see Karl Bartos playing one. Also, dig the groovy dancing - who says Germans don't understand irony!
I also found some video of Little Boots using one one Later with Jools Holland:

The info with the video mentions that the thing with the flashing lights is a Tenori-on made by Yamaha, a sort of touch screen sequencer type thing. You can tell I don't know anything about this, so you may as well go to the website.
I like how she uses a mixture of 'good old technology' - a grand piano, 'good new technology' - the Tenori-on, and 'oldish rubbish technology' - the Stylophone. Can't help thinking it would have been much easier sampling a Stylophone into a modern instrument with a 'proper' keyboard'.
The most important thing about the Stylophone is the price. In the late 60s one cost £8.80, and now it costs £9.99 from Maplin. Shows how the price of electronics has gone down, and I would imagine that the new Stylophones are made in China rather than the UK, as was the case with the old ones.
I would also imagine that with the advances in technology, the new Stylophone is a lot better electronically, and will stay in tune, and be less 'battery hungry' that the old ones. Whether it still sounds like a wasp in a Coke can, we'll have to wait and see!!
I might buy one to see what it's like, but if you've got small children, DON'T buy them one for Christmas. The insistent, tuneless buzzing will drive you mad!!

Sunday 27 November 2011

Saturday 26 November 2011

Friday bike

Yes, I know it's Saturday!

Some manufacturers set out (or end up!) with a distinctive 'signature' that defines their products. A lot of the British companies stuck by the parallel twin, Ducati and Moto Guzzi are defined by their V twin engines, BMW their flat twins, and most of all Harley Davidson with their custom V twins. The Harley signature is so well defined that other manufacturers try to copy it as closely as patent laws allow. (Remember Harley tried to take a legal action against Honda who they said had copied their distinctive 'potato, potato' engine sound?)
You've got to admire Harley Davidson as they've made a successful business out of marketing a range of bikes that are distinctively different from other manufacturers, and are the one brand non-motorcyclists have heard of. Personally, I don't get the Harley 'thing', but enough people do to keep the company going, and if that's what they want, who am I to disagree?
However, there is one (and only one) Harley V twin that I have ever wanted or admired, and to underline the fact that I don't get the Harley 'thing', it's their least successful model!

The 1977-79 XLCR Cafe Racer. Built as a competitor to European and Japanese sports bikes, and latching on to the 'cafe racer' fashion popular in the US at the time, it never really 'gelled' as a model. Too different from the norm for Harley riders, and too expensive and slow to compete with European and Japanese bikes, it was destined to fail.
Basically just a Sportster engine in a modified Sportster frame with alloy wheels, good brakes (a first for a Harley!), but stupendous styling! Most Harleys are, to British tastes, pretty ugly and styled in the 'tart's handbag' mileau, but the XLCR looked really sharp. A BMW type fairing, a tank similar to a Honda CB400, a tailpiece influenced by flattrackers, and THAT exhaust, all added together to create a well balanced package. The beautiful way the exhaust downpipes flow in then out of each other is a work of art, and are the icing on the cake as far as I'm concerned.
Whilst it's undoubtedly a beautiful bike, owning one might be a bit of a chore as the engine is very low tech and it was built during an era were build quality was far down the list of priorities for Harley. But would it be any harder to live with than a 70s British bike?
According to what I could find on the Web, about 3,200 were built, and no doubt very few made it to the UK. So few in fact, that I've never actually seen one, and have only seen a couple for sale (for ludicrously high prices) over the years.(Cue Larry coming along and saying 'I've got three in my shed, and they only cost me $10 each!')
More details here.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Cool car

Sometimes when you're looking on the Web, the most unexpected things pop up. I was looking at the website of a company that makes number plates, and in their 'Plate of the Month' page there was this lovely wedding photo:

Imagine going to your wedding in an early Trabant! Not sure what this model is called, but no doubt mr.combo will be along in a minute to tell us (It's a bit older than the one he had).
Also, isn't the colour very similar to 'Periwinkle' and 'Creme de la Creme'? - That's what's called 'good taste'!

Sunday 20 November 2011

Useful things no. 2

A friend showed me a little device he had bought that impressed me so much that I bought one for myself. It's a small (and I mean very small) powered loudspeaker for use with iPods, etc, called the x-mini. It folds down to smaller than a tennis ball.

In use it unclips and expands to become a proper resonator.

Pictured here expanded along with the carry bag and recharging lead that come with it. You can also see the connecting lead that clips to the base when not in use.
To give an idea of scale, here's one connected to an iPod Touch, with a tape measure, a £1 coin and a 1 Euro coin.

In use the quality of sound is stunning! I would never have believed that you could get such a high quality and volume of sound out of something so small. I had expected it to sound really 'tinny', but it manages lower frequencies very well.
It has a 3.5mm output socket, so that you can 'daisy chain' another x-mini for more volume. This socket is useful if you want to use it with a radio or an Ipod with a radio function.
Personal radios use the earphone lead as an antenna, so the short lead of the x-mini doesn't work very well. If you plug another lead into the x-mini's output, it will act as an antenna and pick up radio stations adequately.

The battery is recharged from any USB port via the supplied lead, so can be plugged into a laptop computer.
Ideal for carrying on a bike when touring as it allows you to listen to your Ipod or radio in your hotel room or tent. If you don't have a laptop with you, you can always recharge it from the USB port you can fit to your bike (next 'Useful things' post).
I got mine from Amazon, where strangely it's cheaper in black. There are loads of other people selling them on the Web, so hunt around for the best price.

National Motorcycle Museum

I've posted some photos I took during a visit to the National Motorcycle Museum in Birmingham in 2000 on Flikr. Here

This was before they had the fire, so it's possible that some of the bikes here have been lost.
Sorry for the poor quality, but I'd used a compact film camera with a tiny flash.

Saturday 19 November 2011

Unusual Fountain/Sculpture of the Week

You want weird? I've got weird! How about two mechanical statues of men urinating into a pool? Not weird enough?
OK, the pool is the shape of the Czech Republic and the statues 'write' quotations from famous residents of Prague.
You can interrupt the statues by sending them a text message and they will then 'write' your message.
It's in the grounds of the Franz Kafka Museum in Prague (which probably explains everything).

See, I wasn't making it up! The sculptor, David Cerny, has created all sorts of weird artworks, and even his website is a bit 'unusual'.
Franz Kafka Museum website.

Friday 18 November 2011

Friday bike

Bet you've never heard of this one! The company which is now Italjet used a number of other people's engines in their earlier bikes. One of these was the 1969 Sport Junior 125, which used an MZ engine:

This is the only bike I've heard of that used an MZ engine, (other than MZs of course).
Italjet built a number of bikes using British engines, including the 500 Velocette and 750 Royal Enfield powered Indians.
They also built a couple of models using Triumph engines:

Nowadays they built quads and scooters, but a few years ago they showed a prototype Amarcord 125, which unfortunately didn't reach production.


Found a picture of an Italjet Triumph. What a great looking bike! From an article (in French) with pictures of Italjets  (and Italjet built Indians) with British engines.

Sunday 13 November 2011

Cartoon character

If you didn't grow up in Glasgow, then you won't get this one!
I bought a packet of tubs of yoghurt and was amused to see this flavour.

When I was a child, it was normal for working class women called Agnes to have their name reversed and be called 'Senga'. So 'Senga Strawberry' sound like a Glaswegian cartoon character.
The strange pronunciations of names in Glasgow once led to a bizarre misunderstanding. It's also common for men called Hugh to have their name pronounced 'Shug' or 'Shooey'. At once place I worked, a 'Shooey' phoned and left a message for a workmate. This would not have been a problem had the phone call not been taken by a Frenchman. He came up to me later and, looking confused, said that he's taken a phone call from someone called 'Sewage'!

Paisley Artists

Yesterday I attended the opening of the annual show by a local art club, Paisley Artists. My wife, Kathleen, had been a member of the club for many years, and had served as its President. She had always been very enthusiastic and active in the club until her health started to decline. I was very pleased to be asked by the club to display a couple of Kathleen's pictures at this year's exhibition.

There was very limited space in the gallery, so they could only display some of her smaller paintings, and they placed a very nice dedication to her between them.

Many of the club members took time to speak to me, and it was heartening to know how fond they were of her and how much she had been missed.
The exhibition is on until the 17th of December at Paisley Museum and Art Galleries, and well worth a visit if you're passing.