Sunday, May 20, 2012

Copper Pipe Go Kart

In my March post, "Chelsea Court Memories", I mentioned that my Dad built a go kart from copper plumbing pipe. I was digging around and, OMG, there is video! My best guess for the date is 1967 and my uncle, aunt, and cousins were visiting from Indiana. My sister and all the cousins, plus my uncle get into the act. Dad was acting as pit crew and camera man.

A few things about the go kart before you watch the video.

Naturally, no sound on the 8 mm movie film originally used to capture this. I added the sound of a film projector, just like you would have heard in its first showing. Funny, it kind of sounds like a lawnmower. That's OK too.

Yes, that is a hand wound rope starter. When was the last time you saw that?

I wanted my father to buy a go kart. He thought that he and I building one would be a much better idea. He made time for me in so many ways, I'll never be able to thank him enough.

My father figured the thing that he and I could do together was solder, so he designed a frame using 3/4" copper plumbing that was soldered together using elbows and T's. The next element was plywood held on with pipe clamps and wood screws. Wheelbarrow wheels and tires and an old 1.5 HP vertical shaft lawn mower engine were selected. The steering wheel is 1"x1/4" flat aluminum stock, bent to shape, and topped by bicycle hand grips. A similar approach for pedals which were operated by steel rods to the back of the cart.

The first time I drove the cart, I mashed the go pedal and went counter clockwise around the circle. As I got up to speed, my butt slid over onto the accelerator rod. When I lifted my foot, the throttle stayed wide open. I couldn't pull myself off the rod because of the g's. It took me a couple of laps to figure out that I needed to head out toward the big street, then slide off the rod and brake.

At this early stage, a twisted v-belt drove a jack shaft which drove another v-belt to the rear axle. The clutch was a spring loaded idler wheel putting tension on the second belt. As you can see, the clutch didn't work so well. A later version saw the installation of a centrifugal clutch and the idler was eliminated.

Naturally, this thing was heavy and slow. But it turned out to handle pretty well. All the heavy copper down low must have given it a low c.g. There was one slightly banked corner in our neighborhood. When I got enough nerve to take it flat out, the kart slung right through it and I could feel the frame flex down toward the ground.

Can you believe how simple things were then?

All in all, a great memory for me. I hope you enjoyed. Oh yeah, in case you haven't figured it out, I'm the little squirt with the glasses.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Body Position - Too Tall Again

When you drive a car, you make your driving position so its comfortable, so you can see, and you have good control of the pedals, etc. With a motorcycle, your body position is so much more. And it's so surprising how much the feel of the bike is controlled with body position.

When I bought the ZRX, I recognized that it was pretty tight on the legs. I also found the bike difficult to corner, not natural at all. I've been adjusting on the suspension and that has helped some, but this spring I looked for a way to get more room for my legs. First, I looked at lowering the pegs, but the rear brake and the exhaust pipe are only about 1/2" clearance, so taking the pegs down was not an option.

Then I looked at raising the seat. The front of the seat is located by a tab that goes into a slot at the back of the fuel tank, so the fuel tank would have to go up too. As it happens, the front of the tank couldn't easily move up due to handlebar clearance and mounting concerns, so I decided to just raise the back of the tank. This had the interesting side effect of giving the bike a more forward stance that I like. It also let the stripe on the side of the tank align with the fins on the engine. Hey, this is artistic.

With some help from my friend, John Chamberlin, the best solution for the seat was to raise the whole thing by about 40 mm. Some fabrication and I was able to test ride. By the way, the plan is to add some skirts to the seat that make it come down to the bodywork and recover the seat. More to come.

Here are two pictures, one in the original condition and one with the seat and tank raised. I admit that the scenery in the original condition picture is a tad better than the background of my front yard shown in the modified picture, but hopefully you can get the change in stance.

What a difference!

I now realize that my body position had been all wrong. It was like I was sitting on a toilet made for a child. My legs were so tight that it forced my knees up where they sat on the corner of the tank above the cutouts in the tank intended for my knees. The high position of my knees caused my pelvis to rotate back and my back had to curl into a C shape in order to stretch to the handlebars. The result was not only uncomfortable, but it put my center of gravity too far aft and my upper body and arms in a poor position to control the handlebars.

The reason I know all this is the major difference the seat raising project has made. For a change, my hips are above my knees and the knees fit in the cutouts of the tank as intended. Now, my legs naturally flow around the tank and my body "grips" the bike through the tank. I had always heard about this, but never felt it. My upper body can now lean a little forward in comfort. My arms are slightly bent and I feel like I have leverage over the handlebars. Wow.

In the past, the bike took high effort to turn and the front wheel did strange things like fall into the corner. With the raised seat, turning is easy and I have much more confidence. I even like riding this bike around corners where before it was tiptoe around the corners and goose it on the straight. I'm looking forward to learning this bike all over again.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Blogger Blunders – The Hubris of Google

It seems that companies lose their way when then get large. They just can’t seem to help thinking that they know better than their customers. Look at the recent debacles with the Facebook Privacy Policy and Net Flicks flip-flopping on movie formats and pricing.
Now, perhaps at a smaller scale, Google is venturing into the realm of forcing the customer into change that is good for Google, but not for the customer.

Blogger is the blog interface for Google based blogs on It is the basis of this blog. Over the years, it has been a really good thing. It has been easy to use on a small platform that allows easy inclusion of pictures, links, and video. They allow uploading of pictures at pretty high quality and haven’t required advertising so far.
Recently, they offered what they thought was an upgraded interface. I looked at it, didn’t find any advantage over the current interface, and decided to stay with the old interface that I knew. Apparently, so did a lot of others. So last week, Blogger decided to force us onto the new format.

I was open. I gave it a try. I found that the new interface was large, slow, and clunky. It required a separate window to “preview” a post. That window required me to wait while the post saved before it would let me look at the preview. This took a very long time because I don’t have a fast connection. Sometimes the buttons didn’t work. Sometimes the preview wouldn’t update and I would have to go back and try again. Editing text was slow and jerky. I found that I couldn’t cut and paste pictures to reformat without new crap showing up in the field. I have yet to figure out how to control the space around text and pictures. Overall, I hated it. I want the old interface back.

So I went to Blogger and found that I was not alone. Hundreds of bloggers had posted how much they hate the new interface and all the things wrong with it. Google’s response was, in sum, “Get over it. The old interface is going away and you are going to have to get used to the new one.”

It feels to me that the Google people need to get out of San Francisco Bay area and learn what the internet is like in the middle of the country. My take is that the people that developed the new interface are used to having really fast computers and really fast internet connections, so they don’t see all these issues and developed a program that runs very poorly on an average computer and an average internet connection. They need to realize that most of their customers don’t have a choice but to live in a much slower lane than they do.

They also need to realize that they don’t necessarily know better than their customers. When the customer tells them it doesn’t work, they need to listen or lose the customer.

If you write a blog on blogspot and feel the same way, I would encourage you to use your blog to post your complaints. The only chance we have of making things right is to make some noise and your blog may be the best tool available to communicate with Google. After all, the reason they let us write these blogs is so that they can spy on us. OK, I'll be realistic, Google goes its own way, but I've got to try.