Tuesday, September 19, 2017

My "Princess and the Pea" Butt

 You remember the fairy tale, "The Princess and the Pea".  In the fairy tale, the princess couldn't sleep because she was sensitive to a pea that she could feel through many, many mattresses.  I borrowed this image from a Kool School video to illustrate the idea.

Sometimes, I think I'm as sensitive as that princess, at least where it comes to motorcycle seats.  When I bought the KTM, I knew in advance that the original seat was made for riding off-road while standing most of the time.  It was incredibly narrow and firm, so it would never do for long distance riding.  I planned changing the seat before I even bought the bike.

So, at New Years, I sent my seat off to BMS for their special treatment.  What came back was beautiful and seemed like it would be comfortable based on  riding around locally, but on my first long trip, I just couldn't stand it.  My butt hurt so much that I spent all my time thinking about my butt rather than enjoying the riding.

Upon my return, I gave BMS a call and they offered to modify the seat to try to improve it.  And I admit, it was improved.  The picture below shows the revised seat with a larger, more open butt pocket.  I was comfortable enough for the first day, but the second day and each day after I was back in the "pain in the butt" penalty box.

Compare that seat to the Russell seat on my old bike.  The Russell is old school and admittedly ugly, but it's been comfortable day after day on long trips for 14 years.  Hmmn.  Maybe I'm not such a princess after all.  There are several differences between the BMS and Russell seats.  First, the Russell is 4 inches wider and more of a dished shape, while the BMS is flatter and narrower.  The Russell is firm, but softer foam than the BMS.  The result is that Russell seems to spread out the pressure needed to support your weight.  The BMS seems to have a higher average pressure and I suspect high pressure in local areas.  Also, the BMS has a seam across the back of the butt pocket that is just far forward enough that I can feel the seam as a pressure line.

That pain in the butt I have been experiencing feels like high pressures areas under my sit bones and at the seam.  The flesh and muscles in that pressure area don't like that high pressure.  As I understand it, high pressure on the tissue decreases blood and, therefore, oxygen flow to those tissue.  When tissue  don't get enough oxygen, they shift into a survival modes.  Unfortunately, that mode generates lactic acid which your nerves react to as pain.  In extreme cases, this leads to bed sores.

At least, that's one of the possible explanations.  If you search on the subject of butt pain, you will find a staggering range of possibilities.

All that got me to thinking about the aging part of this equation.  This certainly wasn't a problem when I was younger.  Even 10 years ago, I didn't have this kind of sensitivity.  Have you ever noticed that many older men have lost their butt?  Some even need to use suspenders because their shrunken booty doesn't give their belt anything to hang onto.  It seems we aren't as active and are thinning out our cushioning in the process.

As we get older, it seems like we need more stretching, more different types of exercises, and a balance between those exercises to keep the weaker muscles from screaming at us.  Since I don't like suspenders and I don't enjoy butt pain on the bike or anywhere else, I decided it was time to work on this in the gym.  I still need to redo the KTM seat, probably a Russell, but maybe I can improve my end (pun intended).  The things I will do to ride motorcycles.😉

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Tweaking the Pumpkin

Let's face it.  I'm a person that like to modify things.  Likes to make them my own and work well for me.  When it comes to motorcycles, I seem to do that more the ever.  Frankly, I don't understand those people who buy a motorcycle, ride it for one year, then sell it.  They tell me that they enjoy the experience of the motorcycle as it is.  That doesn't work for me.  For example, I have been tweaking on the new KTM all the first season and I am finally getting it working well enough to decide that I will keep it.

It was really the most recent tweaks that got the bike talking to me.  I had gone down the wrong road with stiffer springs.  That made the bike harsh without improving suspension feedback to the rider.  After going back to the stock spring rates, I set the sag for those springs, used the clickers to adjust the shock/forks with in the available range of adjustment, and those things made a better ride compromise, but it still wasn't talking to me.

The previous owner had dropped the triple trees down the forks by about 12 mm which decreased the trail/rake.  I brought them back up to factory level and that helped the feedback a bit.

The final tweak was tire pressure.  Both Kawasaki's like high tire pressure.  In fact, depending on the specific front tire, a low front tire pressure on the KLR can result in a high speed wobble.

Force of habit I guess, I had been running the KTM about 4 psi above the "loaded" tire pressure recommendation.  Dropping the tire pressures down to the "loaded" recommendation made all the difference.  It helped both steering feedback and ride comfort.  Now I have a bike that is well controlled for ride, yet envelops most bumps.  At the same time, talks to me in a way that gives me very good confidence.  All of this with a minimum of flex and shake.  Nice.

I may someday try to tweak the shim stack in the compression fork to be a bit more digressive, but for now I am happy with the suspension.

Coming back to this question of riding a bike one year and then selling it.  It seems to take me a minimum of a year just to get the suspension setting right.  I keep wondering what they are missing by not taking time with the bike.  Oh well, each to his own.

In case you are wondering, the nickname "Pumpkin" seems to be sticking for the KTM.  After I made it all orange and black, a friend of mine saw the bike for the first time.  His question to me was, "Is that your pumpkin out there?"  I like that bike in orange.  Not only is orange the company color, but it makes the bike more visible and the color has a lot of flop that works very well with the angles and curves of the body.  So, pumpkin it is.

Monday, July 31, 2017

My Year of Three Motorcycles

A year ago, I was riding the KLR as I had been since 2003.  The KLR is like an old friend, it's not perfect, but it's comfortable and we anticipate each others every move.

In the fall, watching the new motorcycle announcements, it became clear to me that no company was going make the light, modern, tall motorcycle that I wanted.  In fact, all of the new motorcycles seemed bigger, heavier, and more expensive.  I thought I should get after one of the few light motorcycles that fit my criteria.  That begun my chase of a KTM 690 Enduro.

I'm pretty sure the KTM will stay, but the contrast between the two is interesting.  While the KTM seat was off being improved, I took the KLR down to Kentucky for a club ride.  The contrast between the two is very interesting.  The KLR is very comfortable.  The seat is great and the ride is soft and long travel in character.  But the structure is soft and shakey.  It handles very well, but you have to see through all the vibration to get to confidence.  Also, the engine of the KLR has more vibration than the KTM, even though I have the lighter piston and isolation for the handlebars.

On the other hand, the KTM has stiff suspension and a rather aggressive ride.  I admit that I made that happen by employing stiffer than stock springs, so it's possible it could get to a place inbetween, but reality is that the KTM has much more damping and that makes it less comfortable than the KLR in normal riding.  The structure of the KTM is clearly better and shake is no problem.  Handling is also fine, very similar to the KLR without the shaking.  It's just that the suspension hits every thing hard, hard seat, hard suspension, less comfort.  Hmmnnnn.

In the middle of all of that, the Barley Therapy group had acquired a 1911 Flanders that was originally manufactured in a factory in Chelsea, Michigan, my hometown.  The idea was to acquire the bike and donate it in honor of Art Farley, our town's local motorcycle guru.  Our intention was to raise the money needed to buy it, then make it ride-able and safe.  As received, the Flanders was a perfectly nice static exhibit, but we wanted people to be able to hear it's beating heart, to smell it, to feel the tremors of the engine through the handlebars.  Now that's bringing history to life. 

In November, we had received donations to pay for the Flanders and we disassembled the bike to the last nut and screw.  That began the process of making it ride-able.  After some delays, we were able to get the frame straight (Thanks, Joe!) and new piston rings made for the engine.  We also needed to get the rims and spokes replaced because both were too rusted to be safe for riding.  Once those big items were fixed, it was all hands on deck to get it back together and running.  At present, everything is working well, but the appearance is a mixed message.  Somethings have been made new, but most things have the original patina.

On Wednesday, July 26, 2017 we had a nice little event at the Chelsea Museum.  Those who contributed time and money gathered so see the motorcycle ridden by Art.  In addition, we took this moment to acknowledge the major contribution of Elliott Andrews to this project.  He not only thought of the idea, but found the motorcycle, negotiated the sale, and worked by force of will through the entire rebuilding to keep the bike on track and see it through to success.

Brittany 1st start of refurbished Flanders from Jac Brown on Vimeo.

Finally, this was a sort of hand-off from the Flanders Group who have been working on the motorcycle to the Museum.  Overall, we are very proud of the result and happy to have Art ride it and have it donated in his honor.  And for Elliott and the rest of us to see it go.

Art on Flanders from Jac Brown on Vimeo.

Of course, there is more to do, but for now we have achieved a major milestone.  I would like to offer my thanks to those members of the Flanders Group that gave of themselves and their time to see this project through.

Elliott Andrews
Joe Gardella
Art Farley
George Fisher
Dave Strauss
John Deikis
John Chamberlin
Suzi Greenway

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Mound Builders

A few weeks ago, I took the KLR down to Kentucky for some twisty roads.  On the way down, I ran through the flat lands of western Ohio and eastern Indiana.  I was on my way to check out some land that my ancestors had owned in the 1816, and while that was hilly, most of the day riding down was not.  Here is a typical landscape for the flat lands.

While riding along a county road, I came across a landfill and realized that it was by far the largest hill in this landscape.  That got me to thinking.  Wouldn't it be hilarious to look over the shoulder of some future archeologist discovering this ancient civilization?  I think it would appear to them that we were mound builders.  They would wonder, how did this primitive society manage to build such a large monument.  When they started excavating, they would find an amazing quantity and variety of artifacts.  I wonder what they would think off that.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Orange is all right

I managed about 1400 miles of mostly back roads on the new orange machine and overall it's a good thing.  I do need a tweak to the seat for comfort, but otherwise everything worked well. 

It looks like fuel injection is a good thing for both power and fuel economy.  On two lane roads, even when the riding was spirited, I got 58 to 60 mpg.  The handling is very similar to the KLR, so it didn't take long for me to get comfortable.

As for the countryside, June is a nice time to be wandering about.  I started out in Ohio Amish country, progressed through W. Virginia, and spent time in the Cumberland Gap area where Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and N. Carolina come together.  Good stuff.

With the seat uncomfortable, somehow I didn't stop for many pictures.  Among the few, this is the highest pass in Kentucky.

I like this combination; family market, custom killing, and an Amish buggy.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Major Milestone - An Orange KTM

OK, I've still got stuff to do before I can ride into the sunset, but the list is getting shorter.  Short enough that I went out for a ride to test various issues and took some pictures.

Let see, we started with this in December in Virginia.

And ended up with this in May.  Wow, the seat looks like it's going to be much more comfortable.  I forgot how the original seat was so narrow.

The body panels are wrapped with vinyl.  This is my first experience with wraps and I hired a company to do it.  Early conclusions are that it is much cheaper and faster than paint.  The cost to have someone wrap these panels is about the same as the material cost for paint.  The color is great, although surface perfection is just as important as paint.  Defects show.  Also, I am getting a tiny bit of edges curling up.  More to learn.

The KTM rides more firmly than the KLR but it seems just sporty, not uncomfortable.  The handling is very similar to the KLR, so I'm finding confidence in the corners comes easily.  I wonder if I am ever going to have a bike that has a name that starts with a letter other than K?

Two thoughts on the orange and black.  No, I wasn't going for a "Great Pumpkin" look.  With the frame orange and the gas tank and other details black, I felt like a third color was kind of busy.  The bike has lots of surface shape with angles and facets everywhere.  For me, that meant the color on the body had to larger areas of color that follow the body shape.  Graphics and stripes just made it busy looking.

For years, I had a picture on the wall of my office of a Dakar KTM sponsored by 555 cigarettes.  Since they were racing in countries that didn't allow cigarette advertising,  they had a blue fairing with a line of white exclamation points down the front edge of the fairing.  From the front 3/4 view and the side, the fairing gave a long, angled line that was both distinctive and a little sculptural.  I was thinking that bike when I came up with the color scheme for this bike.

I think it's fair to say it is not your everyday sportbike or cruiser.  I think the guys at Rade Garage (fairing supplier) in the Czechia have done a great job of combining the look of a Dakar race bike with nice lines and form. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

I just can't help myself

The original plan for the KTM was to buy bolt-om parts from the aftermarket so this build wouldn't get in the way of other projects.  I know myself.  I can spend way too much time reinventing something that would have been fine without changes.

But then..... I just can't help myself.

The KTM came to me with a "fender elminator".  That is something that removes the part of the rear fender that extends back and down behind the rear tire and, frankly, looks ugly.  When I went to install the luggage racks, I found that the fender eliminator was far from acceptable.

That part is supposed to be part of the mounting for the rear grab handles which is also where the luggage rack mounts.  It needs to be a solid spacer between the tank and the rear fender, something for the grab handle bolts to squeeze.

The fender eliminator I found was either missing parts, badly designed, or both.  Basically, it was just rattling around back there.  So much so that a lot of powder coating had been worn away in just 600 miles.

Worse than that, it is heavy, thick wall steel with an open section design that lacks stiffness.  I just had to change it.

First step was to carve out some aluminum rails the would provide correct spacing for the luggage rack mount and form a structure for a closed section aluminum shape that would mount the turn signals, tail light, and license plate.  Making it a closed section made it stiff without a lot of weight.

Another part of this project was to move the turn signals because they were getting burned by the exhaust coming out of the muffler.  I changed to a compact LED design and moved them up and inward to get away from the exhaust.  Can you see the turn signal?  It's that round knob with a shiny ring around it just below the orange tail, above the tail light (clear plastic) and the license plate.  These are really cool turn signals and really bright.

Successful?  Yes!  The new parts are a lot lighter and also stiffer with no exhaust issues.  The cost, outside of dollars, the cost was 3 weeks of workshop time.  Man, I am so slow.

I've had to make other parts:

  • brake tube guide
  • GPS mount
  • Radar detector mount
  • front fender mount

So much for my good intentions of keeping this project short and easy.  But that's OK.  I am satisfied with the results for the most part.  And the bike is a keeper, a very good match for my riding style.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Fairing Color and Graphics - A few more options

I keep playing with the paint program.  I made the high front fender disappear, but haven't figured out how to add a low fender, so imagination is still required.  The low fender is carbon fiber so it will read as mostly black like the tire.

The orange frame and black trim limit the color choices.  My sister thought the right blue would be a good accent to the orange.  I think 3 colors is already a lot, so I may have to play with blue instead of white.  Of course, white was a natural since the body is already white plastic and it is opposite black on the color wheel.

One thing is clear.  When I try to break up the shapes, it starts looking patchy very quickly.  I started with the idea that I would use graphics and stripes, but I now think that it will have to remain fairly simple.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

KTM Update

 I have been working, a little at a time, trying to make the KTM mine.  One of the first tasks was to improve my fitting on the bike and build in some long distance comfort.  Below are the Knight Design footpegs I bought that are lowered a little more than 1 inch.  They help me in the fit department, but the "cleat" or traction surface looks like it would tear up my boot sole.  My boots don't have a hard rubber sole like dirt bike boots.

John C. came up with a great suggestion.  Why not just remove the cleat.  It's only attached by screws.  That would make the footpeg a little lower and I could have a better surface.  To his idea, I added some button head screws which will give me a little bit more traction without being so aggressive.

In the long distance comfort department, I sent my original seat into Bill Mayer Saddles for them to make me a wider and slightly higher seat.  The embossed seating surface and the KTM orange stitching are nice touches.   Also shown is the small Enduristan tank bag.  My goal is to put almost everything into panniers (Mosko) to keep the ability to swing my leg over the bike intact.  Of course, I still need a small place to put sunglasses, camera, gloves, etc.  So the Enduristan will serve for easy to get at items and keep everything dry.

Apparently, some 690 E riders have had holes punched in their radiator tank when they fall.  These little radiator protectors improve the toughness of the bottom of the tank and add practically nothing in weight.

Based on my experience with the KLR and forum chatter on the KTM, a high front fender (normal for a dirt bike and stock on the 690 E) is an aerodynamic lift and buffeting problem at highway speeds.  A low fender solves this problem and, I just like the way it looks.  This carbon fiber low fender is the same design as used in Dakar rally.  It took a bit of fiddling, but it fits properly now.

Naturally, I screwed up.  Since it was a race part, the surface wasn't perfect on arrival.  My mistake was thinking I could refinish it and improve those minor flaws.  Now, a couple of weeks work into it, I will be lucky if I can get to an acceptable appearance.  I'm pretty sure there will be more flaws than when I started.  Man that carbon fiber is stiff!

I have selected an aftermarket fairing and have it on order.  This one looks something like the most recent Dakar racers.  There were a few other options would have been very interesting, but I chose this one because it is a complete kit that is well thought out.  Also, my other options would have doubled the price.

These shots are of the prototype and have been downloaded from the Rade Garage website.

 Of course, the fairing isn't available yet, so I have been playing with color on the side view picture.  Notice that I removed the high front fender in the picture to give a better idea of how it would look with a low fender.  I've tried lots of idea, but the whole thing looks busy when you break up the shape with graphics.  At the moment, I am leaning toward a solid color with maybe an accent line or two.  Any thoughts?


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Charm School

In today's culture, charm school usually has a somewhat negative connotation.  It varies in meaning from something that a beauty queen might need to, in corporate lingo, something for a bad manager.  The second one is familiar from my experience.  When a boss is perceived as having poor people skills and may even be abusing the people working for him, then he is sent to charm school to learn the play acting required to seem like a good guy, even when he is not.

That's why I found this place so ironic.  In this case, the Charm School is exactly that, the local school in the village of Charm, Ohio.  Charm is a mixed Amish and Mennonite village that is bustling with activity and very traditional in appearance.   One assumes, looking from the outside at a community like this, that there are no beauty queens or bad executives.  And that the Charm School is just for learning reading, writing, and arithmetic. 

It is a very pretty valley and worth the side trip.  Finding places like this are a big part of my back roads wandering.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Mystery of Buying Used

I have had a little time with the KTM.  When you buy something, you always wonder what don't you know about it and why is this guy selling it.  In the case of the KTM, the fact that he was selling a 2 year old bike with only 765 miles made that question even more prominent.

The guy did a really good job of cleaning the exterior, but even lifting the seat showed dirt covering everything.  There were other clues.  For example, replacing handguards, brake and clutch levers, the muffler, the skid plate, and missing graphics on the rear fender might suggest some light damage from an accident.  It also could mean nothing more than these are parts the guy wanted to upgrade, as the replacements are all premium quality parts.

Sidebar - The replacement muffler is quiet light and is made of titanium with carbon fiber ends.  Do you know the correct procedure for "washing" titanium?  I didn't.  The manufacturer recommends you use a cloth and WD-40.  And it works.  Apparently, solvents, even soap, can react with the surface of the titanium and damage it.

As I have dug deeper into the bike, I found a layer of stubborn NY dirt on everything.  This stuff is so tough that even Dawn dishwashing soap won't cut it.  The only way I have found to clean this stuff is using Simple Green.  Everything was coated.  Both sides of the fan blades.  The cloth wrapping the wiring harness.  Truly everything. 

I also found up to 1/4" of caked mud in the strangest places.  For example, the rear fender sits directly on the fuel tank and all the gaps between were filled with mud.  The area around the fuel filler on the top of the rear had mud caked around it.  The radiator still had mud in the fins.

I have finally gotten the thing cleaned up and have guessed at a reason for him to sell.  I think he was way out in the woods somewhere and got it totally stuck in the mud.  I think that when he finally got it out, he decided that this bike was too heavy for real offroad use.  And I concur.

Working on fitting the new low fender and will post some pictures when that is done.  Boy, carbon fiber is truly stiff stuff.

Sunday, January 8, 2017


Recently, there was an article in Racecar Engineering magazine about a 1964 Mini from New Zealand setting speed records in class I, 750 - 1000 cc engine displacement.  Their fastest record was 166 mph which is pretty good with some body modifications and a blown engine, free fuel class.  I was surprised how much modification they had to do for 166 mph.  The engine has a highly modified block, the head from a BMW K bike, and a billet crank.  They claim 370 hp on methanol.  That is both impressive from what started out as an A series block amazing to me how much extra horsepower is needed to get the speed.

I guess I'm comparing from a project I was part of back in 1988/89.  A bunch of guys at Subaru got together to go for the 1 liter production class which allows no body changes and a modified, but production based engine.  Our little Justy was so square that it makes the Mini look like a streamliner.  Even slammed, it must have had significantly more frontal area than the Mini.  In production class, we were allowed to change internal engine parts and carbs, exhaust, etc.  The engine head, and block had to remain production based.  So our 1 liter, 3 cylinder engine had motorcycle carbs, titanium intake valves, porting, and high compression.  Some mods were done on site at Bonneville, for example, a cowl induction air box was made of a Huggies diaper box and lots of duct tape.

The end result was an I class production record of 123 miles per hour that still stands today.  Not bad for pushing an origami body with a little 3 cylinder engine.