Saturday, December 17, 2016

Trailer Queen

It's kind of strange, but the KTM has more miles riding behind me in a trailer than it has on it's odometer.  I bought the bike in Buffalo, which is 400 miles away.  That would have been close to the sale odo miles.  But I couldn't tell very much about the bike's character from riding around a parking lot on knobby tires set at off-road pressures.  You could tell that the bike hadn't been bent, but that's about all.

So rather than go home or try to ride the thing in Buffalo with snow in the forecast, I headed south.  To Charlottesville, Va., to be exact.  From the weather forecast, it looked like my best chance to see some warm, dry roads.  And it's near the Blue Ridge, so there are small twisty roads about.

I had planned this, so I was carrying on-road tires that fit the KTM and I arranged with a local motorcycle shop to swap out my knobbies and put on the road tires.  That took the morning of Dec 1.  So in the afternoon, I got to ride in the foothills for about an hour and a half and put 57 miles on the bike.

Since the tow from Buffalo to Charlottesville to home was a little over 1000 miles, the 731 miles on the odometer makes this a true trailer queen.  Of course, I hope to change that this spring.  My thanks go out to John Chamberlin who so graciously lent me his lease car and trailer for this little expedition.  I feel so much more confident in making the changes that I need to the bike having actually gotten to ride it and know it will work well for me.

The reason for the Virginia leg of my trip was not only to discover the overall character of the bike, but to see if it was different than the KLR.  After all, I haven't ridden that many motorcycles and I have so many miles on the KLR, I have adapted my style to it's character.

The differences were there.  Some expected, others unexpected.  Of course, I haven't ridden the KTM very hard.  I'm still learning.

The first difference that shows immediately is the stiffness of the KTM.  With the KLR, you can feel the flex in the frame, in the forks, in all of the controls.  The result is the KTM is more direct, more immediate in it's response.  I can effectively feel the higher torsional stiffness of the frame by the responsiveness in changing direction.  I can even feel the stiffness in the shift lever.

The other way this shows up is in ride.  With the KLR, when you hit a bump, especially in a corner, it is forgiving but may flex a little after the fact.  With the KTM there is none of the aftershake.  Another ride difference is the amount of shock control.  The KLR is plush, but a little lazy.  With the KTM, I really felt connected to the road.

The KTM also has the rider sitting further forward on the bike.  With the KLR, the front wheel it pretty light.  I have developed a technique where I lean forward at the entrance of a corner to put a little extra weight on the front tire and sharpen the turn-in response.  The KTM already has that front end weight, so you don't need that forward lean.

An interesting point.  All these things I'm talking about make the KTM a better road bike and the flexibility of the KLR are said to be desirable on dirt.  Somehow, I never expected the KLR to be the more off-road oriented bike.

This theme continues in other ways.  For example, the KLR has only 5 gears to the KTM 6.  But the KLR gears are wide spaced ratios with 1st gear good for slow crawling in difficult off-road conditions.  In contrast, the KTM has close ratio gears with 1st gear quite tall for off-road use.  Get into something gnarly and you would have to be slipping the KTM clutch to go slow.

This is especially true because the KTM doesn't have much torque at low rpm.  The KLR has excellent torque from about 1200 rpm and "comes on cam" at 3000 rpm.  In contrast, the KTM has noticeably less torque than the KLR at low rpm, made worse by the tall 1st gear, and doesn't "come on cam" until 4000 rpm.  On-road, this is no problem.  There is enough torque to launch and close ratio gears to stay on cam, but off-road, this is interesting.

As far as peak horsepower, it is definitely a lot more in the KTM.  Rated 65 to the KLR's 40, it feels like even more.  But that brings another interesting point.  The KLR is tuned to run on any crappy octane fuel.  It just doesn't care.  That should be a good thing for adventure excursions.  The KTM is tuned for 93 octane premium.  It's fuel injection has a map that you can select if you get poor fuel, but the risk that you wouldn't change maps in time and that make the KTM modern but high strung.

Overall, I learned a lot in a short time.  Since I ride most of the time on-road and not that aggressively when off the pavement, I think these differences will all make for a better bike for my usage.  But it remains kind of interesting that the vaunted off-road brand of KTM has made such a road oriented enduro.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Something New

It was probably 3 to 4 years ago that I solved most of the problems that I could fix on the KLR.  New projects have been rare and I have mostly just been riding and maintaining the bike.  That may be one reason that I started thinking about something new. 

But then again, every time I came home from a multi-day ride on the KLR, I had a smile on my face, so I really didn't need a new motorcycle.  Need versus want, always an issue.

Because of my height, an adventure bike is the best choice for me.  Also, I don't like being limited to only pavement, so a bike capable of touring, enjoying the twisty bits, and a moderate level of dirt road/off road is what I need.  Unfortunately, I also like and believe in light weight.  This comes from an environmental viewpoint to some extent, but also because one uses body english to control a motorcycle and I feel that the lower weight bike is more responsive to my body english.  Naturally, that's not the only thing that matters, but it's high on my list, which explains why I am not enamored of these large, 1.3 liter, 180 HP, adventure bikes.  I want a little and light one.  And that has been hard to find.  So I keep on enjoying the KLR and keep on looking for that elusive better bike for me.

About 2 years ago, I thought I had found the right answer.  The CCM GP450 came out in England and offered just about everything I wanted in a motorcycle.  At a curb weight of about 320 pounds, it is the lightest mid-size adventure bike in production. They claimed they would come to the US, but no firm date was attached.

After years of saying that the KLR's 40 HP was enough, I finally ran into situations this summer where it wasn't.  I was climbing a long and curvy grade in the mountains at highway speed.  The others in my ride group disappeared up the hill, while I had the KLR at full throttle in top gear and was unable to keep up, even accelerate.  So maybe the time for a little more horsepower had come at last.

EICMA Motorcycle Show

Following the rumors of new motorcycles, this November's Milan Motorcycle show promised to be interesting.  KTM, Ducati, and Yamaha all promised adventure bikes in the mid-size range (about 800 cc) and some of them were rumored to be 2017 models.

The KTM is a real project with an 800 cc parallel twin and a Duke (street bike) prototype shown in Milan.  If anyone is going to make a light bike to meet my ideas, it's likely to be KTM.  Unfortunately, no specs were available and timing looks like late 2017 at the earliest for the Duke.  2018 at the earliest for the Adventure bike to follow.  Seems like a long time to wait.

The Ducati is a real 2017 production bike, but it's curb weight is expected to be almost 500 pounds.  I guess catalytic converters, fuel injection, ABS/traction control, etc. are really adding the pounds.

The Yamaha T7 looks tasty.  It looks like a 2016 Dakar race bike.  But then again, this is only a concept.  I can't find out when the Yamaha production bike hits the streets, if at all, but it's hard to believe that it will be earlier than 2018 given the concept bike nature of the T7.

Guessing that the Yamaha production adventure bike would be based on the FZ-07 street bike and heavier due to bigger wheels, more body, more fuel, and more luggage capacity.  Considering that the curb weight of the naked FZ-07 is 400 pounds, the adventure version might be 450 which is better than most other mid-weight adventure bikes, but still on the heavy side.

Finally, I emailed the CCM people to get an idea of when the GP450 might make it to the US.  They were actually kind enough to reply and tell me it wouldn't be until 2018.

What to do?  What to do?  Clearly, I was itching for a new motorcycle. 

I have a million projects that take up my time.  I don't need a new motorcycle where I have to invent all the required mods.  That would take too much time and push back other projects.  It turns out that there are a small set of enduro bikes that people "convert" into travel/adventure bikes.  A little online research narrowed the field to one.  The KTM 690 Enduro is the best bike suited to travel/adventure and has the advantage of lots of aftermarket parts availability. 

The way I look at it, the 690 Enduro has a curb weight of 326 pounds with 65 HP.  It also has a trellis frame which I consider to be street oriented.  Of course, with extra fuel, a luggage rack, and a fairing, it would likely end up between 350 and 360 pounds, but that's 20 pounds less than the KLR and at least 100 pounds lighter than those promised 2018 bikes.

KTM 690 Enduro Issues

There are challenges.  The metal frame stops at the back of the engine.  All the weight of the rider on the seat and any rear luggage is supported by a plastic fuel tank.  That's a little scary.  But it turns out the tank is designed to carry two people and there are luggage racks that "help" support the weight of luggage.  Worth a try anyway.

The electrical system is maxed out at 224 W.  Unfortunately, there is no room for improvement within the existing alternator package, so I would have to work within the available power.  For contrast, the KTM 1290 Adventure has 450 W and the vaunted BMW GS has 600 W.  For those bikes, heated gear, GPS, etc are trivial.  The 690 Enduro will have to trade off efficiency for heated gear.  LED's anyone?

It turns out there are only 2 choices for street oriented tires that fit the 690 Enduro.  OK for now, but the risk is that I could have to convert to smaller wheels at a later date.  Happily, that only takes money as the Supermoto uses 17" wheels.

Fuel capacity is a challenge with only 3.2 gallons, but several aftermarket solutions are available.  Fairings, luggage racks, lowered foot pegs are all available to suit in the aftermarket.

Get ready, get set, .......

So here is the definition of the project.  Find a used KTM 690 Enduro.  Modify it with bolt-on parts to fit me and my kind of riding, and see if it's as good as I hope. 

As for the first step, I found one in Buffalo.  A 2014 with only 674 miles on it.  Time to order stuff on the internet.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Last Pay Phone

Well, maybe not, but they are getting hard to find.

This one makes total sense, however.  The place is the Holly River State Park in West Virginia.  The park is at the bottom of a narrow river valley where you would have trouble getting cell phone reception.  More than that, it is close to, possibly in, the shadow of the Green Bank National Radio Telescope.  This is a region of central West Virginia where cell phone transmission is not allowed because it would interfere with the radio telescope.

I like how the phone seems to be attached to a tree.  If you look carefully between the trees, you can see water of a small river flowing right by the pay phone.  At least the camera on my phone still worked so I could take this picture.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Making Do

Parked next to me at the grocery store.

What I like most is the fact that it's been this way long enough for the Vise Grips to rust.

Makes sense.  It's only the passenger door.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Family Tradition

I am having trouble setting the tone for this post.  Death is always a touchy subject, so a post about family funerary tradition is definitely a little unusual.  The hard part about writing this is setting a tone that is positive and reflective without people assuming I am sad.  Actually, I'm in a good place as I write this, but its hard to get that across and respect the topic at the same time. 

When I was a kid, our family took a vacation to New England.  One day, near Boston, my father took us all to a cove with a fishing port.  He said, "This cove is a place your grandmother loved and was close to where she grew up.  At her request, her ashes were spread on the waters of the cove after she died."  From then on, this beautiful place is how I remember her.

That was my first introduction to our family tradition, where a family member's ashes are spread at a place that they loved and later members of the family visit and keep the memory of that place with the memory of their ancestor.  If you think about it, it is really quite different than burial beneath a stone in some cemetery.  Of course, cemeteries can be beautiful and genealogist certainly prefer the record of a stone, but I prefer the scattered ashes approach because it is both more memorable and can be very personal.

The tradition continues.  In his retirement, my grandfather traveled all over the US, Canada, and Mexico.  In the end, he settled down at Sanibel Island, Florida and his ashes are scattered at the place he loved.

A friend of mine chose something a little different.  He loved car racing and racing at Waterford in particular.  He chose to have his ashes placed on the wings and bodywork of race cars at Waterford so that his ashes would be spread around the track on a memorial parade lap.  Pretty neat.

About 20 years ago, I borrowed a Jeep and my father and I toured all over the Rocky Mountains.  After bouncing over rocky passes and relaxing in lush valleys, my father decided on a quiet mountain valley where he scattered my mothers ashes.  Both of my mother and father loved these mountains and he was fulfilling her wishes.  This year, we traveled back to that valley for a visit.  And so, the tradition continues.

 My mother loved the mountain wild flowers and we were lucky to visit the valley when the flowers were in bloom.  Above is the state flower, Colorado Blue Columbine.

A few Indian Paintbrush.

When my time comes, I want my family to continue this fine tradition.  As I am getting older, I guess I better decide on a good place that means something to me.  I guess they could put me in that same mountain valley unless I come up with a better idea.

Enjoy all the good memories of your family and friends and think thoughts of beautiful places.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

My Town's Motorcycle History - The Flanders Motorcycle Company

Recently, I've been involved with a project to bring a Flanders motorcycle back to Chelsea, Michigan where it was built and donate it to the local Historical Society.

Every winter, a few of us local motorcycle folks get together once a month in a local pub to eat, drink, and talk motorcycles.  These occasions were named Barley Therapy by the gent that started it all and felt we all needed a little therapy during the months we couldn't ride motorcycles.  Things like the history of the Flanders come up for discussion.

The Flanders motorcycle was built in Chelsea from 1911 through 1913.  It was intended to be a motorcycle for everyman and was sold for $175.  At the time, the advertising propaganda claimed that Flanders had the largest motorcycle factory in the country, but that is probably stretching things a bit.  The pictures above are historical pictures of the building where the motorcycles were built.  Note the line of bikes being assembled and the engines sitting on the floor across the isle.  The factory is empty, but still stands.  It is part of a larger factory complex that is now in use as retail and office space.  A test track used to be behind the assembly building.

One of our number, Elliott Andrews, spent part of his winter in California and found a 1911 Flanders motorcycle in a private museum.  A long story short, with donations from local businesses and residents, we were able to raise most of the money to buy the Flanders.  Some additional funds were lent to the project to complete the sale and we now have the motorcycle at home, where it was built.

For now, we are learning everything we can about the bike, raising money to complete the purchase and for the changes needed to make it safe to ride.  We are also showing the bike in the area.  The pictures and video are from an antique motorcycle meet at Wauseon, Ohio.
These engines are very interesting.  It is a 4 stroke, 500 cc single that makes 4 Hp.  It has what is known as an atmospheric intake which means that the intake valve isn't operated mechanically.  The intake valve opens when the pressure in the cylinder is low enough to compress the valve spring.  There is a cam to operate the exhaust valve, but the valve and spring are visible on the outside of the engine.

The big U shape thing on the front of the engine is the magneto.  The right side twist grip controls the ignition timing, while the left controls the throttle.

The engine is started by having the rear wheel up on a stand.  The rider turns the pedals which turn the rear wheel.  The big leather belt on the left side of the rear wheel connects the engine to the rear wheel.  No kick start, no electric starter, just pedal like mad and hope the engine starts.

The only brake is a bicycle style, coaster brake.  Better plan your stopping well in advance.

It's Alive!

The YouTube video is the first engine start, complete with oil smoke.  We definitely need to get control of the oiling system.  Lubrication is by a total loss oil system.  You have to set the oil flow out of the tank at 15 drops per minute. Too much oil and it builds up inside the engine, robbing horsepower.  Too little oil and you are stuck on the side of the road with a broken engine.

 I hope you enjoy our little project and the idea of bringing an important chapter in the history of our town back to our little museum.  Naturally, we would be grateful if anyone feels moved to donate, although we don't expect anything.  Those so moved should send donations to the Chelsea, Michigan Historical Society, specifically the 1911 Flanders motorcycle fund.  I'm sure I can find more detailed information if someone is interested.

My little joke - "The Flanders on an IV"
In reality, the 100+ year old gas tank is made of copper and has a leak or two at present.  The plastic bottle feeding the carb is very much like a hospital IV.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Fireworks and a Drone

For the last several years, I've been lucky with a very convenient fireworks display.  Folks at the little lake that is about 3/4 mile north of me have been putting on a nice fireworks display and I can see most of it by just looking out the 2nd story windows on the front of my house.  I miss some of the low fireworks, but most are well above the trees and make a nice free show.

This year, something different.  While I was watching, I noticed a small light fly in above the trees from the right, then hover there as if watching the fireworks too.  Out of curiosity, I got my binoculars.  I couldn't see any shape, but I could see 1 red light and two white lights on whatever was hovering.

Once the show was finished, they little lights hung there for a minute, then moved quite quickly to the right, and finally slowly descended toward the ground.  In the no so distant past, an observer would have thought "flying saucer", but these days we know that kind of behavior means a drone, probably a quadrocopter.

This morning, I went online searching to see if they put up the video of the fireworks display.  I couldn't find that specific one, but was surprised to find that many others have used drones to video fireworks, even flying into the fireworks.  To me, that is a more interesting use of a drone than spying on my neighbors or delivering packages.

The link below is to a drone fireworks video where the drone flies into the fireworks.

Happy 4th to everyone.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Riding with a Smile

It seems like a long time since I got away from home, enjoyed some exploring, and some riding twisty roads.  My last attempt was a ride to the Smokies in May.  Unfortunately, my bike had other ideas.  You see, the day I left it was 35 deg F with horizontal rain.  I made it into Ohio and south of Columbus before so many things on the bike stopped working that I ended up renting a Uhaul and towing it home.  I admit that I was cold, wet, and miserable during the ride.  Apparently, so was the bike and it had sense enough to say STOP!

This trip went much better with only one minor issue to remind me that my bike is getting old.  I was trying to learn the proper way to travel when retired.  Although I could have gone interstates and gotten to the ride base hotel in about 8 hours, instead I took two and half days of nothing but back roads to get there.  I figure that I added 300 miles to a 500 mile freeway trip.

Along the way, I found little towns with interesting names and a few minor adventures.  For example, south of Arabia, Ohio, I found this sign.  My favorite caption is "Caution, Expensive Curves Ahead".

In West Virginia, after riding through the Cabwaylingo State Forest, I found that the road was following an old railroad bed and went through a railroad tunnel.  Normally, a tunnel is no big thing, but this tunnel was a very narrow lane wide, about 1 mile long, and had no lights at all.  My poor headlight did almost nothing to illuminate the black walls, ceiling, and roadbed.  In the middle, I was so far underground that my glasses and visor started to fog up.  You might say that I crawled through that tunnel, first gear, engine at idle, both feet out trying to sense the road.  Boy am I glad no one was coming from the other direction.  Somehow, riding in a car doesn't do the situation justice, but this video from YouTube gives you a small idea of the experience.

Dingess Tunnel

Along the way, I rode through little villages with funny names.  How about Wolfpit, Krypton, or Busy.  I guess it's not surprising that Cutshin is down the road from Smilax.  Along the way, I climbed a tall mountain on a little road that was sometimes paved, sometimes gravel and never wider than 10 feet.  It was an amazing view of the valley from the top, but I couldn't find a place to take a picture between the trees, so I am left with a cute little waterfall to remember the mountain by.

I have to say that I really enjoy these rides.  The coordinated action of leaning and balancing the bike through a range of corners and, frankly, riding a bit quickly, gives great satisfaction.  I recently saw a story about a guy who is 90 and still riding his motorcycle.  I get why.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Analog Distraction

I mean well.  I try to keep myself focused on the project list and do it in order.  It's just that I am easily distracted.

The phono preamp sounds so good, that I have been listening to vinyl a fair bit.  That got me curious about the differences between turntables and planning some experiments for a future DIY turntable.  The problem is that the DIY turntable is way down the list.

So, I found myself buying a 25 year old turntable that has been modified by it's first owner.  That is a step up from my 35 year old turntable I have been using.

It's an AR ES-1, a very simple manual turntable, but with good bones.  Also, in very good shape for it's age.  I did a few modifications of my own.  I added dampening material to the base and fine tuned the tonearm and suspension.

The modifications done by the previous owner included a better motor and a Merrill platter.  The platter is made from acrylic with lead glued on top for dampening.

He also made up some very interesting feet.  Kind of a layer cake of two layers of cork,  two kinds of rubber, and double sided foam tape between each layer.  Actually, they remind me of some cookies my mother used to make.  Gram crackers with frosting in between.  MMMnnn.

Now I just need to fix the motorcycle and get back to that project list.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Phono Preamp

I know that all this electronic stuff and pictures of circuit boards is kind of boring for those of you who like cars and motorcycles.  But I like it.

The latest project is a phono preamp that uses vacuum tubes.  Why vacuum tubes you ask?  Isn't that old fashion?  Well, I'm new to it too, but the designer says that vacuum tubes have certain advantages like a wide dynamic range and, besides, he likes the way they look.  OK.  Good enough for me.

If you are curious why it's on a piece of plywood,  I hope to build a DIY turntable and stand in the future.  That may turn out to have a triangle shape.  Since the preamp should "fit" with the turntable and stand, I'm waiting until all that gets decided before designing the preamp enclosure.  What do you think, a big triangle with the points cut off?  Or maybe a trapezoid?

One of the unusual things about vacuum tubes is that they essentially need 3 power supplies and those are often in a separate enclosure to keep the tubes quiet.  In other words, there was lots to learn on this project and an extra dollop of complexity.

Tubes also take time to warm up and turn on.  Maybe 30 seconds before there is a little glow in the top of each tube.  No music comes out before that.  Kind of strange for our normal "instant on" solid state life.

Speaking of the separate power supply enclosure, I tried something a little unusual in the paint job.  I was going for "old leather", but I don't quite get there.  Oh well.  The power supply will sit in back on a bottom shelf, so no one will really see it.

The good thing is that it sounds great!  Background noise as good as a CD and a very dynamic presentation.  I guess I need to buy a few new records.

Friday, March 4, 2016

My father's version of steampunk

They say that you should always spend time with your parents and every question you can think of while they are still here.  Of course, my father passed away last year, so when I find something unusual in his stuff, I can no longer ask him what it was for or how it worked.  I guess what they say is true.

My father had a bunch of electronic projects, mostly things that he wanted to explore and made something that allowed him to do it.  Naturally, all that stuff came home with me when we cleaned out his house.  Now, he never expected or intended for anyone else to be interested it his little projects, so there is no documentation and almost no labeling.  Imagine my surprise when I open up an electronics test box and find this funky looking electro-mechanical device.

As for me, I have no idea what it was for.  I've studied it for a while and I think I can describe some of it's function, but why you would do this is a mystery.  I am open to suggestions.

In the meantime, I just love the way it looks.  I guess all the brass got me thinking steam punk.  But it's also got a combination of Rube Goldberg and something hand made early in the 19th century.

Anyway, here is what I see happening.  To start with, there is a DC motor that drives a gear reduction and a shaft mounted in oil-light bearings.  I don't have any idea where the motor is from.  The gears and shaft are likely left over from our slot car days.

Then there are two commutators mounted on the shaft with home-made brush holders on each commutator.  Don't you just love the brass tube with one end folded over as a brush holder?  One one end, the commutator makes a circuit with several resistors that seem to step down (up?) in resistance as the brush connects with each part of the commutator.  The whole thing connects to the opposite commutator in only one place.

I'm stumped.  But it does look cool!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Where did the winter go?

 This is one of those winters when I keep waiting for it to begin.  It's the end of February and it hasn't really started yet.  With a little luck, we will get a few inches of snow tomorrow, but it is too late to make up for the real winter I was hoping for.  You see, for the last 38 years of my life, I have spent the majority of winter on test trips in Arizona or California, etc.  I thought, now that I'm retired, I will get to enjoy a real, full time winter.  Not this year.

But that doesn't mean that I don't have pictures of snow to cheer me up.  Actually, this post was inspired by my friend, Doug, who is a native of the southwest ( a no snow kind of guy), but who has given winter and snow the old college try for the sake of some good friends.  So Doug, think positive thoughts.  Snow is wonderful.  Snow is beautiful.  You can always hire somebody to shovel.

My favorite breakfast restaurant.

 Anybody for hoops?

And easy parking.

Forgive me if I am reusing photos that you have already seen.  It's just that they are my favorites and make me want to get out and play.

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.