Sunday 28 August 2011

Applecross trip

A small group of us decided to go for a weekend to Applecross in Wester Ross. This used to be a favourite destination many years ago, and one we always looked forward to. When it was planned, we decided on going in August, but as I had only 2 free weekends (ie not 'on call'), we decided on what is the Bank Holiday in the rest of the UK, (but not Scotland).
It wasn't until after we'd booked that we found out that this was the same weekend as the MZ Riders Club AGM, and that some of the people we'd invited were going to that instead. As most of us are former members of the MZRC we were unaware of the clash of dates.
Mike, Terry and I had booked one of the camping huts at the campsite so it we only had to carry a sleeping bag and a few changes of clothes on the bikes.
This trip was particularly important to me as it would be the first time that I'd been away from home since my wife passed away, and I felt it would be good for me to get out of the house and away on the bike for a while.
A couple of people who'd planned on going had to pull out, but we knew we had at least 5, and would see who else would turn up. So it was bright and early on Friday morning (07:00) that I got the bike out of the garage and headed north. Leaving so early meant that the traffic was still fairly light, and the sun came out whilst I was heading up the side of Loch Lomond. It was a steady run up to Glencoe, and by now the sun was bright and warm. Remembering all the times that I've been to Applecross in the rain, this was an unexpected bonus!

Up through Glencoe to Fort William, where I stopped for a short break to get money from a cash machine.
After Fort William it was a good ride up to Applecross in brilliant sunshine and ever increasing temperature. It's not often in August that I have to stop to put my sunglasses on! A refuelling stop at Inverinate, then another break at the south side of Loch Carron to take in the view.

I rode round Loch Carron to the village of Lochcarron where, 19 years before, we had spent our honeymoon. I can't say that it was an easy visit, but one that I felt I had to do.
From there it's only a few miles to the start of the Bealach na Ba, Britain's highest road.

The road is very narrow and twisting as it climbs over the Pass. Luckily, it was very clear and I got some spectacular views. Unfortunately, there's very few places where you can stop and take a photo, so it's best to follow the link here for some pictures. I remember having crossed the Pass about 6 times before I ever saw it clear on top, but last year was clear so I've managed 2 clear trips in a row!
As I'd set out early I arrived at the campsite at 13:00, the booking in time was 15:00, but luckily they gave me the keys to the hut when I arrived so I could change out of my bike gear before I sweated to death. I bought one of their superb coffees and sat outside in the sun and waited for the others to arrive. It doesn't get much better than this!
Both Mike and Terry arrived on their Skorpions:

You don't often get 3 Skorpions at the one place, and I bet that's more than turned up at the MZRC AGM!
Both the campers we had expected turned up, Gareth on his Derbi:

And Bill on his BMW:

That was all the people we were expecting that night, so we sat about in the sun and talked rubbish until it was time to get something to eat. There were also lots of other riders staying at the campsite, so we had a wander round looking at bikes.
The campsite has a cafe/bar called the Flower Tunnel that sells not only good food but also drink, so that saves us having to go down to the pub, (which can get very busy - very good seafood though!) So we had a good meal, a good drink, and sat about talking rubbish until it was time for bed. As a precaution, before going to bed I put in my custom earplugs but woke later to find they had fallen out. This was particularly unfortunate as Mike and Terry were indulging in Snorefest, so sleep got a bit difficult!
Up the next morning, and if anything it was even hotter and brighter than Friday. None of us went out on our bikes, preferring to going for walks, going to the pub, and generally hanging about. It's amazing how you can spend a whole sunny day basically doing nothing! That night a lot more riders arrived, including Dave (Suzuki Freewind) and 2 of his friends (Kawasaki GPZ 900 and ZRX1200R), who had told us they were coming and had booked the hut next to ours. Again we had a pleasant evening of eating, drinking and talking rubbish. It's amazing how much rubbish we can talk when we try! I was a bit tired due to lack of sleep the previous night, so went to bed early, but Mike and Terry woke me by holding Snorefest 2. I eventually had to go out in the dark and get some foam earplugs from the bike so I could get some sleep. Needless to say, they fell out as well, but at least I got some sleep.
The weather had been remarkably good, with only some light rain overnight, but when we got up on Sunday it was gray and drizzly. Another of the Flower Tunnel's superb breakfasts, and we were off on our trip home. We hadn't really planned on travelling together, but Terry and I left at the same time, but split up when I stopped to take some photos on the Bealach na Ba.

This photo is supposed to show the road zigzagging up the hill, but it's very difficult to see.

I had a fairly uneventful ride down to Fort William, meeting Mike in one of the many 'camper van queues' we got caught in. We separated at Fort William when I stopped for petrol, and from there the ride home was a bit slow due to traffic but the weather stayed dry. All day it had been gray, but the rain hadn't really got above 'heavy drizzle' level.
By some bizarre coincidence, all three of us stopped at Crianlarich at the same time, and we had a final chat before heading home.
The weekend was a great success, and even the small amount of rain on the way home didn't spoil our enjoyment. Great weather, great roads, and great company - that's what good trips are all about. We're going to be planning some more trips, probably not until the New Year, and I hope that some of the people that missed this trip will be able to attend.
Interestingly, at the same time there was a large Harley Davidson rally at Aviemore, which although it's not a huge distance from Applecross, it's on the other side of the mountains, and they had appallingly heavy rain all weekend. So it looks like we were lucky!

There are a lot more photos from the trip on my Facebook page: photos (You'll need a Facebook account to see them.)

Thursday 25 August 2011

Friday bike

Yes, I know it's Thursday, but I'm going away for the weekend tomorrow and if you had to wait until Sunday, you'd all be moaning!

This is the 'Vun' from Italian manufacturer CR&S. Based on the Rotax 650 engine used in the BMW F650, it has very specification brakes and suspension, lots of options, ahem, 'idiosyncratic' styling, and a suitable high price tag. Personally, I think it looks like a dog's dinner, but someone must love it!

Monday 22 August 2011

Old Flames: Part 6

The BMW had been sold and the CB200 was getting a bit 'worn', so the hunt was on for another bike. I'd looked at a few used mid range Japanese bikes, but hadn't found anything suitable. However, hope was just around the corner when I got a new job that paid 50% more money! OK, it was a longer working week (40 hours rather than 35), it would be a lot harder, and I'd have to commute across Glasgow rather than just walk for 20 minutes, but it was 50% more money! All my problems were over! Or so I thought.....
I resigned from my old job, worked my notice just in time for the Christmas/New Year Holiday, and prepared to start at the beginning of January. During the Christmas holiday I went round the bike shops looking for a good deal, and ended up buying the then new, Honda CBR600.

Mine was blue rather than red, but I couldn't find a picture of one.

So I had my nice new shiny bike and my new job. I turned up on the first day of my new job to be told that they 'couldn't afford' to pay me the rate of pay they had stated, and offered me a grade lower on a 'take it or leave it' basis. This turned out to be only £300 a year more than I had been earning, but as I had to have a job and had a mortgage to pay, I was left with no option but to take the job. Commuting would cost more than £300 a year, so I was actually worse off!
This was at the height of Thatcher's 80s, unemployment was rife, jobs were few and far between, the mortgage rate was soaring, the newly privatised utilities were hiking their prices (my gas bill trebled), and I had just bought a bike I couldn't afford! Oh dear.
Luckily, after a few months I managed to get a weekend job working as a motorcycle instructor in driving school, but this meant I was working 7 days a week to pay for a bike that I didn't have time to ride! But what a bike! Nowadays it's hard to appreciate just how huge a leap forward the CBR was. Not only was it stunning in appearance (one of the first fully flaired in bikes), but the performance, handling and braking were miles ahead of what was 'normal' at the time. Take a look at a Kawasaki GPz 550 and compare it to the CBR. Before the CBR came along the GPz was a cutting edge sportsbike! And what a joy to ride! Beautifully smooth and really easy to ride fast in a controlled manner. Everything did exactly what you wanted, and no matter how hard I dared to ride, the bike was well within its 'performance envelope'.
I even went a holiday on it. I fitted a tank bag, bungeed a sports bag onto the pillion saddle, and tied a pair of small haversacks together to make rudimentary 'throw over' panniers; and went camping in the Highlands for 2 weeks. I actually rode right round the coast of Scotland, camping in all sort of interesting places (Applecross, Durness, etc), mostly in brilliant sunshine. Other than the luggage carrying capacity, it made a superb tourer as the handling, braking and tyre grip made riding on Highland roads a joy and remarkably easy. No wrestling a slow handling heavy bike round corners like the BMW, much better fuel consumption as well.
This was probably the best bike I ever owned as it was so advanced, but I couldn't really afford it. I got 'Old Flame no: 7' as a cheaper to run 'winter and commuting bike', but after about 18 months I was really short of money and the CBR had to go. I sold it to a colleague at the driving school. I had tried to do a deal with him for a late model (Eurodesign) Honda CX500 with panniers he had, effectively offering him the CBR for £1000 less than its market value if he included the CX. He declined and gave me the full market price for the CBR. Too lazy to advertise the bike, he took it to a bike shop where they offered him £750 for it. Rather than ride it 3 miles to my house where he would have got £250 more for it, he accepted their offer. So I was left with 'Old Flame no: 7', and at another turning point in my motorcycling career!

Friday 19 August 2011

Friday bike

Ever heard of a Yankee? Didn't think so!
Only 760 of them were built in the early 70s, and the engine was a 500cc two stroke twin. The engine was basically a 'doubled up' Ossa 250 single, and the bike was put together in the US. Only real claim to fame was that it was the first motorcycle to have a rear disc brake. There's a potted history here. 

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Old flames: part 4

I still had a hankering for 'proper' touring, so when a friend offered me a BMW R75/6 fairly cheaply, I bought it and sold the SR.

Not the actual bike, but the same colour. The one I bought had just returned from a trip round France and Spain, and the seller had added a non-matching Avon fairing for the trip.

This is the only photo I have of this bike and it must have been taken not long after I'd bought it. You can see the patched up fairing and cracked headlight. It might have been a bit tatty, but this bike was to open up whole new worlds to me!
Soon after buying it, I took the fairing off and repaired it (learning how to work with glass fibre in the process. Rule 1 - don't sniff the resin!), then sprayed it to (roughly) match the bike. A new headlight and a few other bits and pieces, and the bike was ready for the road.
It was a lot more powerful than the SR, and the fairing and comfortable saddle meant that it was a superb long distance tourer. The hard panniers and big tank helped too, and made up for the poor handling and brakes, and that nervous 'skittish' feeling you got when riding in the wet. I was also a bit crude (aaaargh! That gearbox!) and the spares were unbelievably expensive, but I got to like its charms. A few camping trips to the Highlands proved its worth, and it was time for 'The Big Trip!'
At the time I was working for the council and got the whole month of July off as a holiday, so my friend and I planned on going to France on our bikes. About 3 weeks before we were due to go he pulled out because his mother wouldn't let him go! Yes, a 24 year old man didn't go on holiday because his Mum wouldn't let him!
This left me at a bit of a loose end until another friend offered to go. He'd been to France before and could speak some French, was really into camping and mountaineering (so had good kit), and was on holiday from University. Only downside was that he couldn't ride a bike (so had to come as a pillion), and had never been any distance on the back of a bike (just round the block a couple of times). Undaunted, he borrowed a helmet and bought a secondhand Belstaff jacket, and we were ready to go!
Except we didn't have a plan other than to meet up with some friends who were in the Netherlands at some point.
So the first day were rode from Glasgow to just outside Dover (c.500 miles) where we camped, then up the next morning to head to the ferry terminal where 15 minutes later we were on a boat heading for France (no security problems then).
The next three weeks were spent riding around aimlessly, visiting places that looked interesting, including riding through Paris city centre (not as crazy as people had told us), and heading to the South Coast, which was VERY hot, very expensive, and very busy. However, it was really nice and full of stunningly attractive women, frequently topless on the beaches. (Not the sort of thing we were used to seeing in Glasgow).
We headed north along the Route Napoleon, and made out way to Haarlem, near Amsterdam, where we spent a few days with friends. Then it was to the ferry at Rotterdam for Hull and the ride home.
The following year the same friend and I went for 4 weeks touring France, Germany (including a ride through the DDR to go to a rally in West Berlin), Austria, Switzerland, and back through France. Near Calais the bike started running on one cylinder and misfiring a lot, and I barely made it onto the ferry. Once in Dover, I spent a full day trying to repair it to no avail, so ended up hiring a van and driving home through the night with the bike in the back (don't ask how much that cost!) Once home I decided to 'rebuild the bike'.
After a LOT of searching I found the cause of the problem was part of the cage of one of the rocker needle bearings was missing allowing the needles to slip out slightly and occasionally hold the exhaust valve open. The missing part was exactly the same size and shape as the tip of the tool kit screwdriver, so it pointed towards what a previous owner had used to drive a bearing into place! Hmmm! Other than replacing leaky gaskets and rusty push rod tubes (a common job on a BMW twin), the only other mod to the engine was Lucas Rita electronic ignition.
The rest of the bike was stripped, cleaned up and repainted as necessary, and I borrowed a proper spray gun and resprayed the bike a rather fetching silver and red. (Wish I had a photo). I also converted it to twin front discs with bits from a breaker (brake now just crap rather than really crap!), and I replaced most of the nuts and bolts with stainless. I also spent a fortune of bolt on goodies from a company called 'Ultimate Source' who specialised in BMW parts including a fork brace, alloy top yolk, and fork improvements, which together with the 'Girling Gas Shocks' I fitted to the rear improved the handling somewhat.
Although I didn't go abroad again on the bike (I'd bought a flat and the mortgage ate up most of my money), I did go lots of camping trips on it. Eventually however, it started to get a bit 'worn' and really needed an engine rebuild and a new clutch (amongst other bits) and when I priced them it came to £1500!!! As it was still running OK, I advertised it in the paper for £500 'for quick sale' and a guy offered me £525! I don't think he'd got the hang of haggling, but I wasn't going to complain! By this time I also had 'Old flame no: 5' my second CB 200, and when I got offered a better paid job (or so I thought), it was time for 'Old flame No. 6'.

Sunday 14 August 2011

2 strokes a go go

Yes, an RD350 flat tracker! This and lots of other bonkers 2 strokes here.

Friday 12 August 2011

Friday bike

Altius Scimitar. Never heard of it? Neither had I! How about a 670cc Indian built diesel. I think this is based on the bike that was developed for various armies, which in turn was based on a Kawasaki KLR 650 (I think). Some details here although it's a bit difficult to understand.I love the phrase 'Acceleration and performance was slow for the 670cc, 33bhp at 5700rpm motorcycle, but pulled with steady perseverance' ! I think we know what they mean!
There was a lot of talk about this bike a few years ago, but I don't know if any army ended up using it. Have driven over a quarter of a million miles in diesel cars in the last 10 years, I know that a diesel engine without a turbo, intercooler, and electronic injection is a waste of time, so I don't hold out much hope for this bike.
Pretty unlikely to be sold here unless it's very cheap, but as Indian built Enfields aren't exactly budget priced, it's unlikely we'll ever see one.

Thursday 11 August 2011

Old Flames: Part 3

By 1979 I was earning enough money that I could afford to buy my first new bike. After a bit of deliberation, I eventually bought a Yamaha SR 500 for about £950 from MCS Motorcycles in Paisley.
This is the only picture I've got of the actual bike. No, I don't know why it's in black and white.
This picture was taken just after I bought the bike, and just after I'd swapped the high handlebars for a more sensible pair from a Honda CB400N.

Now I had a 'big bike' the world was my oyster, and a friend and I planned on going touring in France. First problem was that you could get almost no accessories for the SR, and I ended up with a 'Eurodesign' universal fitting rack and a pair of their 'leatherette' panniers, which were actually made of cardboard covered with very thin vinyl! However, coupled with a sports bag bungeed onto the rack, my bike was transformed into the ultimate touring machine.

Except it didn't quite work out that way. My friend and I went for a week or so camping round the Yorkshire Dales, where some of the SR's design faults made themselves apparent. As a touring bike it was a bit limited by the intrusive vibration which limited cruising speed to below 70 mph. This was fortunate as just about this speed it would start going into frightening weaves, which sometimes meant that it was hard to keep it within one lane on the motorway! The weaves, and the generally discomforting handling led me to experiment with tyres (Dunlop Red Arrows - made about 5 miles from my house at the art deco 'India of Inchinnan' factory), rear shocks (a pair of blue 'S+W' shocks - anyone remember them?) and various changes of fork oil. Although the handling got better, it was never quite as good as I had hoped.

Over the following year I went away lots of camping trip (mostly in the Highlands), and did a fairly high mileage on it.

Good points: Very good fuel consumption, easy to work on, fun to ride within its design parameters.
 Punchy single cylinder engine.

Bad points: Poor handling, almost total lack of spares (Yamaha dealer took 3 months to get me a spare clutch cable!), no accessories, general build quality was poor, a bit underdeveloped.

The following summer, when we had planned the France trip, my friend pulled out so I went for a week camping in Wales. When I got back I was offered my next 'old flame', so the SR had to go.

In conclusion, not a bad bike, but it could have been so much better had Yamaha ironed out of its design faults. In retrospect I wish I had bought a Honda CB400N (Super Dream), another bike on my list when I bought the SR.

Monday 8 August 2011

Useful things no.1

At the bike show at Ingliston in March this year, I decided to take the plunge and get a pair of custom earplugs made. I'd been thinking about a pair for some years, so when I saw a stand offering them, now was the time.
The stand was of a company called Plugzz They sat me on a high stool, inserted cotton wool 'bungs' on a thread into my ear, then squirted in some moulding compound. This feels really weird, and I had to sit for a few minutes while it hardened, before they pulled them out. I selected the colours and other options - red for right, and blue for left, plus I wanted 'acoustic filters' fitted. These allow you to hear sound from in-helmet speakers whilst blocking outside noise.
A few weeks later my completed plugs arrived, along with a velvet drawstring bag.

First time you try, they're a bit fiddly to get in, but you soon get the hang of it. Once in place they sit very neatly and comfortably into your ear.

You won't believe how hard it is to take a good photo of your own ear! You can see the small hole that allows sound from speakers to go into the acoustic filters.

In use they are fantastic! Very easy to put in (once you've learned how to), very comfortable even after long rides, and they block the sound so completely that you feel really relaxed after a ride.
They also have the advantage on not moving whilst your riding, a problem I've had with other types of earplug. There's nothing worse than having to stop and remove your helmet just to replace an earplug!
I haven't yet tried them whilst using helmet speakers, but I've got a pair and will report back once I've tried them with an iPod and a Sat Nav.
They cost £53 for a pair with acoustic filters (£45 for a pair without), which I regard as incredible value for money. Well worth buying either from Plugzz, or from any of the other companies offering them. Once you've worn a pair of these, you'll never go back to foam ones!
Only small caveat is that as these aren't disposable, you have to keep them clean for hygienic reasons. Plugzz recommend just giving them a wipe with a damp cloth, so they're not that difficult to look after.

Saturday 6 August 2011

DIY airfilter

Was at M@TD's house today, and we made a DIY airfilter for his Skorpion. Genuine MZ filters are in the region of £18, but ours cost less than £1.50. Read on:
We'd both bought some filter material being sold by Ramair on Ebay. The packet contains two sheets of double layer filter material, enough for 8 Skorpion filters, for only £10.

These were being sold on Ebay as '2x RAMAIR Air Filter Foam Large Scooter Motorcycle Quad' as clearance, so if you want some, buy sooner rather than later. I'd made a DIY filter for my own bike so here's a Blue Peter style 'here's one I made earlier' picture, along with a used standard filter.

(Excuse dirty fingermarks!)

First thing to do is to cut the old paper filter material from the frame using a modelling knife.
Remove old filter material and tidy up any rough edges.

Carefully measure aperture in frame and cut piece from filter material to suit.

This is just me marking the foam. When cutting, use a steel ruler or other straight edge to get a nice clean cut.

You can see that you'll be able to get four filters from each sheet of material.

Trim any loose bits with scissors, then place the piece of filter material into the frame.

I would place the filter with the denser foam next to the mesh (towards the engine, downwards in this picture) This means that any bigger 'lumps' are caught by the coarser outer foam,leaving the finer, inner foam clear to catch any finer bits.
Once in place, it's time to warm up the hot glue gun.

Once warm, carefully glue the material to the frame with a fine bead of glue.

Et voila! As our French cousins would say. And that's the job finished.

Fit to bike and give it a test run. If (and it's a very unlikely if), the bike needs rejetted, then that's something you'll have to work out for yourself. Frankly, I seriously doubt you'll need to do it unless you ride flat out all of the time.
When it comes time to replace the filter, use a heatgun to melt the glue and pull the old filter out.

It should be possible to do this using any available filter material. Using a car K&N filter has been covered on my website, but I would imagine a piece cut from any suitable car or bike airfilter would do. I've even heard of someone using a green 'Scotchbrite' pot scourer, but that's not something I would personally advise!
I'll report back after I've done some distance on my Skorpion, and if anyone else does it, please let us know.

Disclaimer: Done at own risk...blah, blah........don't blame me if your bike blows up......blah, blah.......knives are sharp, so don't cut your fingers.......blah, blah.......glue guns are hot so you could burn yourself.....blah, blah.........


Friday 5 August 2011

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Old Flames: Part 2 (and 5)

After a couple of years with the CD 175, I was given a Honda CB 200. I can't remember the whole story, but it was a bit dodgy. It was a bit scabby and a non-runner, and the owner couldn't afford to fix it, so gave it to me. He didn't give me the logbook, and a while later I found out that he had reported it stolen and claimed on his insurance.

In a bit of a panic, I stripped the bike down, dumped the frame and rebuilt the engine with a new set of crankcases. (To lose the stolen bike's engine number). I rebuilt the bike into the CD175's frame and ran around on it for a couple of years. Smoother and more sophisticated than the CD, it was a nicer bike to ride, but suffered from the notorious Honda cable operated front disc brake. When it worked it was OK, but the 'automatic adjuster' always failed, meaning you were regularly stripping the caliper to adjust it.
As I was 19 and an idiot, I fitted acebars and homemade rearsets and tried to turn it into a (very slow) cafe racer. To that end I fitted a 2 into 1 exhaust and gave it a crap paint job with aerosols.
I finally wrecked it by buying a 250cc 'big bore kit' from Jock Kerr (anyone remember him?) and 'gasflowing' the head with some ordinary files and reading an article in 'Motorcycle Mechanics'. Needless to say, it never ran properly again and ended up being given away after I'd saved enough money to buy my first 'big bike'. Read about that in Part 3.
Part 5: Some years later, I bought another CB200 to commute on to save my bigger bike. It had the same rubbish front brake, but by now I was sensible enough to know not to muck about with it. I just serviced it and slapped Hammerite on bits as they got rusty. I made a pair of small panniers out of plywood, and panniers frames out of old industrial shelving brackets. I ran the bike for a few years, then moved house within walking distance of my work. Not needing a commuting bike it lay in my back garden for a while until I gave it away.
It wasn't a bad bike and served its purpose at the time.