Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Guido's Smile

Guido has been out playing in the snow.  Can't you see the smile on his face?

This weekend, it was sloppy, but Monday turned cold and Tuesday morning we woke to cold, powdery snow, the kind with good grip. ;-)


This naturally got me thinking about time spent with my friend, Guido.  He recently outran his extended warranty and is pushing 5 years.  Hmmmn.  Normally, I should be thinking about a new car.  Yet strangely, I'm not.

Two recent experiences came to mind.

Out in New York state, we pulled into a toll plaza and the guy in the window calls out, "Fiat Sighting!"  It was like he was playing "red car, blue car" and seeing a Fiat was something special.  I guess I was the red car.

Around Detroit, I mainly expect to see cars from the Big 3.  Even though the Fiat is technically a "Big 3" car, it really isn't main stream.  Plus, if you see another Fiat, you can bet it's an employee lease car.

I spent time with family in Chicago over the holidays.  There, you barely see a car from the Big 3.  Most everything is a Honda, Toyota, or a Hyundai.  I found it interesting that there were even fewer Fiats than in Detroit.  They certainly weren't as common as Mini's and other affordable but different cars.  I'm coming to the conclusion that the Fiat is really a rather unique and special car.  Not for everyone, but for those who understand and appreciate it...........

It reminds me of the story that my friend Doug told about riding his Aprilia motorcycle.  Someone unfamiliar with the brand asked what it was.  Paraphrasing, he told him that the Aprilia was an exotic Italian performance motorcycle.  Kind of like a Ducati, but far more exclusive.

That's Guido for you in a nutshell.  Different, special (to those who appreciate it), tons of personality, and great fun to drive.  Not expensive, but exclusive and individualistic in spite of a low price.  How could I turn my back on that?

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Hand-me-down Parts and Pieces from Family and Friends



What do you know, I finally finished a project!



I have this tendency to work at a project until I have solved all the questions/problems in my mind, and then set it aside.  Or, I will get the project working, but not put the finishing touches on it.  For example, I built some speakers in 1998 that have been my main living room speakers since then.  In the meantime, I have rewired them inside and created an updated crossover, but I never got around to finishing them.  They are still surfaced in raw MDF and the maple veneer is sitting in my basement.

This time, I had to finish the project because it was a Christmas gift for my niece who recently purchased a house.  The project was a small stereo (music always warms a house, in my opinion).  The idea was to use as many parts as possible that were leftover from friends and family.  Personally, I like the idea of knowing that something in my life has a history thru people that I know, especially from those that have passed.  I guess it's an engineer's way of remember those people.



10 or more years ago, I made a little amplifier for my friend, Bob.  When he passed away a few years ago, his ex-wife sent it back to me.  When we moved my father out of his house, I collected his DIY speakers.

Those components were the key ingredients of this project, but along the way, I was able to use parts from my brother-in-law's disassembled electronics, electronic parts from my parts bin, my father's parts bin, even the metal for the amplifier enclosure and the wood for the speaker boxes were already in my house.



The result was an 40 Watt per Channel integrated amplifier with 3 inputs (2 RCA rear and 1 for plugging in a smartphone on the front) and a volume control with an old volume knob of the 40's era.  Key components in the sound path were upgraded to provide cleaner sound and the coupling capacitor was chosen to match the sound of the speakers.  I got the word that lighter color and less shiny surface were preferred, so a satin, off-white paint finished the aluminum box, along with wood accents.





The speaker drivers are about 30 years old and came from a project that my father built when he first retired.  He had built them to go with a subwoofer, but we didn't have room for that in this system, so new boxes were designed and built to provide full range performance to the old tweeter and woofer.  The tweeter is a Dynaudio D-28AF from Denmark and was first class 30 years ago.  It still sounds and measures as if it were new.  The woofer is a Focal 5N401 from France.  30 years had aged the rubber surround so that it was cracked and in need of replacement.  Happily, I found new surrounds built to matching specs in the Netherlands.  The pair was put in a damped, bass reflex design with a bass cutoff of 55 Hz and a crossover specific to these drivers.



A little 2D CAD of the speaker box design.  Magnets from an old iMac to hold on the grille cover




 My niece already had her father's excellent turntable, but no way to play it because they lacked a phono preamp.  I brought along a DB-8 phono preamp built by a guy in NH.  Not handmade by me, but close enough.
 

Combine that with a Grace Primo to bring in music from the internet and the system was complete.  I have to say that I am please with the resulting sound.  In my niece's small living room, the speakers do a great job of filling the room without any strain.  The end result was clear, dynamic, and detailed.


Now, if I could just finish one of my own projects.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

West Virginia and LightZone

Just so you don't think that I have turned into a hermit in my dotage, I did manage to get out on a motorcycle ride at the end of September.  This is the first time I have been able to edit the photos, since my photo editor has been locking up.  In this case, for you camera nuts, I am trying a new photo editing software, LightZone.  I like it because it is one of these open source, community supported, and free software packages.  I have a lot to learn, but so far it works very well.  I will drop a screen shot of the program at the end of this post and recommend that you consider it, if you like taking and editing photos.


Now, on to W. Virgina.


In most of West Virginia and Virginia, the mountains run in long ridges with wide valleys between.  The exception is an area in the north eastern part of W. Virginia where the mountains look like they have been stirred up by a giant spoon.  Valleys and ridges twist and turn with rivers and streams in the valleys doing the same.  If you are looking on Google maps, turn on "terrain" and check out the area east and north of Elkins.

 
There are very few paved roads in this area.  Most are one lane, hard packed gravel.  In 2009, I explored the area a little bit, but ran out of time and wanted to go back.  This year, I got the chance.


I don't make much speed on this kind of trip.  I like to just putt along and enjoy the scenery.  Of course, I stop at the drop of a hat to take a picture.


On most of the W. Virginia state highways, there are so many trees that you really have a hard time seeing what the land is doing.


 These little roads seem to follow either the top of the ridge or the stream in the valley and there are a lot more views.  Funny how I always take pictures from the top of the ridge.  I also notice that I never seem to have other people in my photos.  It seems, when I am with other people, I am usually too busy to take pictures.


 Lots of lovely sunshine on this trip.  After 5 days of riding down on the backroads and playing in these mountains, I headed south to meet up with the MSTA motorcycle club for a group ride.  Unfortunately, that was the beginning of the rain and flooding that hit the East Coast.  I abandoned the group and headed for home, safe in the knowledge that I had already had a good time exploring.


And as promised, here is the screen shot of the LightZone program.  Lots of editing tools on the right and "styles" on the left.  One of the best things about this program is that they have taken time to make some very useful YouTube videos to teach you how to use the program.  Very nice.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving


 The last time I posted was January and here it is Thanksgiving.  To be honest, I assumed that no one was interested and I had kind of run out of energy, so I've been just letting the blog sit.

Recently, I have gotten a couple of complaints that I haven't been posting from friends that I don't see very often.  So, I thought I would take this moment to run down a short list of things that have been happening with a promise to post once in a while.  I will give more detail in future posts.

About this time last year, I was frustrated with the job.  The normal thing to do is wait for better times.  This time, however, I looked over my finances and realized that I could retire.  Hey!  That's cool!  Why wait?

I hung around for through most of the winter test season, so I wouldn't leave my coworkers  in a pinch, and officially retired April 1.  It turns out that I could have left earlier because those coworkers both left the job, part of an exodus from my department in particular.

My first couple of months were spent rebuilding the KLR engine.  Smooth.

But then family issues called.  Both my brother-in-law and my father (94 years old) got sick. In the end, both passed away with 2 weeks of each other.

In the months following, I don't seem to have accomplished very much, but I guess that isn't surprising.

To answer the question that all not-yet-retired people ask, I do like retirement.  It seems that there are two kinds of people.  Folks that live through their work and don't have significant outside interests.  It seems that they get bored in retirement. 

Then there are those folks like me.  When I retired, I had a list of projects a mile long.  Since I retired, the list has gotten even longer.  I was even dreaming up new projects when sitting at my father's bedside in the hospital.  So, although I will never get them all done, I haven't had a moments boredom since I retired.  In fact, it feels like I am busier than ever.  I have to discipline myself to attend social events and otherwise take care of myself.  Otherwise, it would be just none stop projects.

So there is the update.  I'll try to be good and keep posting.

Jac

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Motorcycle Mass and the new CCM GP450



So, there is a new British adventure motorcycle, just starting production for Europe, and hopefully coming to the US someday.  The company is CCM for Clews Competition Motorcycles and, since they came out of motocross, they emphasize light weight.  I think they have a great idea and I truely hope that they can make it to the US market.


Most of the pictures here come from a review article by Nathan on Adventure Bike Rider.  Here is the link to their review.

http://www.adventurebikerider.com/component/content/article/1-latest-news/918-nathan.html


What do I mean by a light weight motorcycle?  Their GP450 Adventure is claimed to have a weight of just over 300 pounds full of fuel.  And this isn't some small motocross fuel tank but a reasonable 4.5 US gallons which should give 225 mile range at 50 mpg.  50 mpg is what I get out of my KLR, as long as I stay off the slab.  The CCM has a more modern, fuel injected engine of equal horsepower but lower displacement.  I'm guessing that it will get better fuel economy than the KLR and very acceptable range on a tank of fuel.


What's the advantage of light weight?  To me, lighter weight makes everything better.  Acceleration, braking, cornering, all improved.  My ability to get the motorcycle to respond quickly, improved.  Fuel economy, improved.  Overall, I would rather have a lighter bike than one with more horsepower.

Among all the rest of the reasons, the GP450 is a nice looking bike with premium components and a size that fits even me (at least according to cycle-ergo.com).

The GP450's light weight got me to thinking.  How light are other motorcycles that I either like or have tried (and fit?)?  What is their weight and how is their weight/power ratio as an indicator of acceleration performance?  Now my trusty old KLR is a bike that I have ridden for over 10 years.  It has enough power for me and is a good fit.  Anything on this list that improves on it's weight or weight/power ratio is going to be just fine.


The KTM 640 LC4 Adventure is an old bike in the Rally Raid style with excellent fuel range.  I have always found KTM bikes to be lighter than most.  The KTM Duke 690 is basically a hooligan thumper.  The KTM Duke 390 is new for 2015 and is a lighter, short range bike like it's bigger brother, the 690.  As you can see, the 640 Adventure, the new Duke 390, and the CCM are all about 12 pounds/HP with a 200 # rider.  In contrast, the Duke 690 and the Tiger 800 are faster than I need.  All of them are faster than the good old KLR.  If you are looking for a reference point, a BMW 328i has a "pounds per HP" of just over 15, so all of these are faster than a pretty good car, including the KLR.


Looking at weight including a full tank of fuel, the KLR on the bottom is my baseline.  At 375 pound with fuel and a theoretical 300 mile range, it's not doing too badly.  In comparison, the CCM GP450 weighs 75 pounds less and still has an acceptable 225 mile range in this comparison.  Now, I admit, I wouldn't want to go too much lower in fuel range, but the GP450 is just fine.  


The 640 LC4 Adventure is a nice older bike, comparable bike to my KLR.  It's power and weight aren't that different, but it does carry a massive 7.5 gallons of fuel and a 375 mile range to go with it.




The Duke 390 is pretty interesting.  A very modern 373 cc engine with excellent horsepower for it's size and a light 320 pounds with fuel.  It only has two issues.  The frame is too small for me (It might be possible with enough modification) and the fuel range is too small.


From a weight point of view, the Duke 690 is really very good, but it's fuel range is tiny.


That leaves the Tiger 800 and it is one nice bike, but it is also so heavy.  I don't understand why a bike that is the same size as the KLR has to weigh almost 500 pounds.  With lots of modern electronics, the Tiger (especially the 2015 XCx model) would be my long trip bike of choice, but I have a hard time getting past the price and the weight.

Anyway, I think my bank account is safe for now.  The CCM will take a while, if ever, to reach these shores.  The Duke 390 is too small for me and the Tiger too pricey and fat.  Still, I am happy to see these interesting new bikes come to market.  It has certainly stirred my interest, although I'll keep plugging along with the KLR for now.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Behind Again

Sometimes, doing the right thing just means more projects and me further behind.

I'm a big believer in being visible when riding a motorcycle on the road.  With so many things distracting drivers today, you've got to grab their attention so you don't get run over.  The tallest thing on the motorcycle is your helmet, so a strong, bright, high contrast color on a helmet gets the driver's attention from farther away than any other part of the motorcycle.  That's why I have taken the time to paint my helmets.


A helmet is designed to give you good protection for 5 years, 6 years in a pinch.  After that, the styrofoam liner has shrunk a little and the distance from your head and the liner increases your risk in an accident.

I have really enjoyed my Shoei X11, but 2014 was the 5th year and it was time to get a new helmet.  This last summer, I managed to find one that fits but somehow haven't gotten time to paint it.  At least I got a start on masking it.  In case you are wondering, I learned the hard way that you don't want to paint the vents.  Those things have switches that need to function and get clogged up with paint.  It makes finding a pleasing graphic pattern a challenge.


Wouldn't it be nice if I could buy one in the high visibility color?  They do exist, but my big, fat head has made it hard to find one that fits and meets my other needs.

It seems like the faster I go, the behinder I get.

Catching Up in the New Year

I know, I haven't posted in too long.  Since it's the new year, I thought I would catch up a bit.

I've ridden the 2001 KLR650 for 11 years and it's been a good fit for me.  Alas, about 2 years ago, it decided that it was a little bit British and started to leak oil.  I looked and looked and tried several approaches to fix what I thought was the leak.  I replaced output shaft seals, oil drain plug washers, anything and everything near the leak.  Finally, I found it.  There is a crack in the crankcase, running vertically through the treads of the oil drain.  #*!##**!

After much hemming and hawing, I decided that the only right way to fix this was to replace the crankcase with a good used one.  Rebuilding with a new part would have cost more than half the value of the bike, so used was the way to go.

Of course, at 35k miles, I would need to hone the cylinder at least and probably need to bore it and up the size of the piston and rings.  I guess you could say that I got a case of the "might as wells".


The lovely piston in the pictures is an aftermarket forged piston that reduces the mass by 25% and is said to significantly improve the vibration of the engine.  In addition, it bumps the displacement from 650 to 685 cc with a 2 mm bore increase.  Smoother and more torque, might as well indeed.


In case the piston looks a lot like a car piston, you would be correct.  The piston diameter is slightly more than 4".  Now you know why they call them thumpers.

Looks like I'm behind on projects again.  Combine that with travel for work and I better get busy.