Riding with electrons: the Harley Livewire


When Harley announced that they would be IMG_5235taking their new electric concept motorcycle (tagged as Livewire) on tour for people to try out, I jumped at the opportunity.  There was the usual sign-up and then forget about it for a while process, then finally a confirmation and dates set.  The local Harley dealer in Tigard being the venue and I picked a nice mid-summer morning on a Saturday.

Upon arriving at the event I was
impressed to see that not only were there plenty of electric bikes waiting in the wings, but there was a full tent set up with LCD clear overlay displays in front of the naked bike frame, an actual bike on a dyno that people could “ride”, and lots of informative propaganda.  The Kickstarted heads up display maker Nuviz was on site as well, joining in the future technology fair and it was great to see their functional prototype in person.  I confirmed my registration, signed my life away for liability, and watched their instructional safety video (don’t rev the throttle on an electric bike for you might lurch forward…deal).

IMG_5247They brought the five of us out to the demo bikes, partially charged and waiting for our eager hands.  They provided a little more safety instruction and then walked us through powering the bike up.  It was a fairly simple process: turn on with right power switch, wait for 111 to display on the rather large touchscreen LCD attached to the handlebars, then press the start button until it read zero.  I noticed once this was “started” that a distinctive hum was coming from the tank area (can you call it a tank without gas?).  I would bet this is from an on-board inverter as they convert the DC power of the lithium ion batteries to the AC power required by the motor.  There was the option to select power or economy mode which can only be changed again once the bike is switched off and on again, I chose power.  We packed up in a stagger formation behind the lead bike (a gas powered Harley), and headed out.

IMG_5248Throttle response was crisp but forgiving from a standstill.  There was a lot more play before the bike started pulling hard than I would have expected.  This allowed for a smooth takeoff without jerks and I appreciated that.  We pulled into traffic and side streets of town, and as speed picked up, so did the distinctive whine of the motor system.  It reminded me of the gear whine of my electric R/C cars back in the day, but times 100.  The sound did help contribute to the sense of speed, along with the wind against my body.  At certain speeds however it was rather loud (I did this ride without my normal earplugs on purpose) and it could be dialed back a bit.  Rumor has it that the engineers accentuated this sound to make it more distinct.  The power however, seemed more than enough for this fairly smaller feeling bike.  I never felt as though it would actually need more.

IMG_5237Braking was a whole new ballgame however.  They mentioned regenerative braking (where the electric motor recaptures some of your inertia to recharge the batteries), but I had no idea it would be so pronounced.  The feeling was similar to say letting fully off on a large bore gas powered bike and having the engine’s compression slow you down.  Suffice it to say, I rarely felt the need to ever touch the brakes at all, as the regen process was more than sufficient to bring the bike to a complete standstill.  Given that vehicles behind you would never see brake lights with this approach it is up to the rider to be diligent about flashing the brake lights even if you don’t need them.  Alternately, it would be nice to see motion sensing built into the bike that flashes them for you when you let off the throttle hard (similar to the aftermarket kits available that do the same thing).

IMG_5239Handling was easy and smooth.  The bike moved with ease into curves without excessive pressure on the bars, tracked well in a straight line, and s-swerved around utility covers without any drama.  Given the short ride we took it was hard to say how it would handle in a long mountain road, but then again, that likely isn’t the target for a bike with a limited range.  Overall, felt like it could handle anything without fuss or muss, similar to say…a Suzuki SV650 (or a Buell I guess too).

In comfort and ride-ability the bike seemed fine for the most part.  The controls and touchscreen all worked fine.  The riding position was a hybrid of sport-standard, which seems like a new tactic for Harley, unless you count what they acquired with Buell.  With the rider slightly forward, you feel engaged in what is going on, though I did have to look down a little to see the display and my current speed (which was bright and visible even in full August mid-day sun).  They don’t seem to be considering a passenger as there is only a solo saddle, but with limited power and range I’m sure that’s IMG_5243for the best anyway.  The major niggle with the bike in this area were the mirrors.  They were tucked in under the handlebars in such a way that I would have to lift my arms, hands and even duck down a little to see out of them.  In my opinion some low profile bar top units or even bar end items would help immensely.

On the ride we managed to get up to 40mph in one stretch, though most was in the 25-30 range though neighborhoods.  The bike was stable at all of these speeds and power wasn’t lacking anywhere in the range.  For 15 minutes or so of riding, used up about 6% of the battery charge (was riding in power mode).

All told, I’m very impressed by this bike which we are told is a hand built prototype and not a production model.  Fit and finish was certainly already up to par.  With a couple improvements around safety really (mirrors, brake light flashing on decel) the bike could be pretty good to go to market.  I look forward to seeing how Harley takes this innovation and pushes themselves into the future.

IMG_5249Ride on (electrons),
Ben

 

 

 

 

Quick video of the ride here:

Posted in Motorcyling | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on Riding with electrons: the Harley Livewire

Plowing through the Midwest fields

It was another year (2012 for those keeping track).  A new opportunity arose to propel myself through states I had never been to in a flurry of two wheeled mayhem.  My best friend Dave of entirely too many years to count (it’s more than 20 okay) suddenly took up another new job after only being in Illinois for a year.  The new target: Texas.  I grasped the chance and held on.  After a couple months of planning I found myself in Illinois extra late at night, ready to hit the road at some too early time the next morning.

We got up, prepared our gear, put air-conditioned shirts on (just wet shirts you wear under everything else) and got started as soon as possible.  With weather in the 90’s and up the entire route, we knew that  fatigue would settle in quickly, so earlier the start the better.  July is certainly no time to try and traverse the mid-west, but that’s when the plan came together so we had to press on.

The road to St. Louis and heading west was uneventful.  The bikes hummed along at a brisk pace, trying to outrun the humidity and the heat.  The BMW K1200GT I was borrowing of my buddies cruised right along.  With such things as cruise control, adjustable windscreens and seat height adjustments, this bike was ready to haul ass down any road you laid in front of it.  The goal for the first night was Branson, MO.  This was labeled as the “Las Vegas of the mid-west!”.  Needless to say, it wasn’t, but we’ll get to that.  A quick stop at lunch I asked if we could stop at a White Castle for burgers since I had never been to one.  Dave begrudgingly agreed.  Only after I had consumed 6 of these little mini burgers and started to head out did I realize this was the wrong approach for too hot of a day.  Most of the way to Branson my stomach tried to strangle me.  It was worth the experience, but I can’t say I’ll do it again.

As we pulled south from Springfield, MO the weather got a little better and the scenery started to get more interesting.  When you get excited about a 100 foot hill, you know you’ve been in the plains too long.  By the time we hit Branson, we were wiped.  While cruising into town it looked as though everything was in a state of demolition or reconstruction.  Many places to stay were being demolished or were closed for unspecified reasons.  Given all of this, it took us almost an hour to find any place to stay at all.  In the heat and on hot bikes with gear, this was torturous.  We got into the room and basked in the cold air, unable to move.

Once revived we walked to a place I had scoped out called The Rowdy Beaver.  According to their website, they were rich with beer and live music options.  When we got inside it was like a ghost town.  A couple tables up near the stage were occupied, that was all.  Upon claiming a tall table to ourselves we inquired about beer options and found the only suitable beer for two beer snobs on the road was a Fat Tire pale ale.  This was brought to us in a little bucket with Bud Light written on the side.  We commented on the “bucket” which the waitress claimed was a proper pitcher in an offended tone.  Oh well.  Drink, eat, wait for this show…which ended up being the owner of the place, and some of his buddies.  They proceeded to tell middle school quality jokes and play some sort of music that I don’t care to recall.  Overall it was quite entertaining, but perhaps not for the reasons they intended.  We took our leave and wandered around the town a little (you just have to take pics in front of the 3 story high rooster after all), then crashed for the night.

The next day, we were up and rearing to go, but the town wasn’t ready for us.  We waited around for the only coffee shop to open well after 8, packed up, gassed up and headed out.  This was going to be the best riding of the entire trip.  Just south of Branson, the Ozarks spread its inviting arms out to us.  After a few course corrections on the way down to the national forest, our bikes plunged in.  The countryside was dry, but still amazing to view with oaks and fields of grass stretched out across rolling hills with very little in the way of civilization to be seen.  The bikes hungrily ate up the curves and the seemingly cooler air.  We made a pit stop at a historic shack (Boxley Valley Historic Site) without cell service or facilities.  The dirt floor shack had been supposedly lived in until a year much more recent than either of us would have imagined.  The bushes provided relief and we carved the rest of the delicious roads until the lunch stop at Clarksville, AK.  Learning from my mistake of the previous day, a neutral lunch of Subway put both of us back on the road in sedated comfort.

We continued hauling butt due west as we headed into Oklahoma.  Let’s just say that the weather didn’t improve as we continued into the deep plains.  Our “air conditioned” shirts were drying out after every 30 minutes and we were challenged to keep from overheating every hour or so.  Ice filled water bladders on our back helped to a point, but nothing seemed like enough.  It’s amazing that 80mph on a freeway and yet it’s still so damn warm!  By the time we hit our stop for the day, we were crispy.  The lodging was extremely expensive in Nowheresville, OK (Durant? I think it was).  The reason given to us was that there was a casino or two nearby.  It must have been quite the attraction as the WalMart and trailer parks our hotel was next to didn’t really match up with the rates.  Showers, dinner (surprisingly good hibachi grill), decompression and hit the sack.

At the dawn of the new day, we eat and headed out as soon as we were able.  There was a lot of slab to cover and the earlier in the day the better with this stagnant heat people called air around there.  The ride plowed on forever.  As we entered Texas, the speed limits increased even more.  Riding along at 80-85mph in a 75mph zone felt like nothing.  Not only were the roads straight and boring, but the F-350 quad-cab pickups passing us while going those speeds made the entire experience surreal.  It’s hard to keep the mind from wandering too much on the slab.  Keep stretching, keep going.

A quick Subway lunch in Plano, TX, with ice water again in our water sacks and we plowed the rest of the way into Austin (Pflugerville to be precise).  One bit of quirkyness in Texas was the vast quantity of frontage roads near the freeways.  All of them went one way and if you didn’t get off in just the right manner you could end up circling around for quite a while.  Or better yet getting forced onto a toll road.  After navigating around some of these, we finally made it to a place to crash for the night.  Once again we came in earlier than anticipated, which is a great thing because the next day was consumed with a torrential rain shower in the afternoon.

The next day ate itself up with getting the bikes to a temporary resting spot (storage) and touring around the town, which seems to be obsessed with both music and bars.  Not a bad combination, but wow, what quantity!  As I left on my flight back to Portland the next day I relived the great experiences we had across the mid-west.  I can’t say that it was all roses due to the ultra straight and flat riding complimented with humid, stagnant, hot air; however the highlights of the Ozarks and the sights of states I may never see again make it so worth the trip.

May the adventures, be ever in your favor.
Ben

 

Posted in Motorcyling, Travel | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Plowing through the Midwest fields

Adventures in commuting

Now that my 1986 Kawasaki Concours has been repaired over the last two years to the point of becoming a reliable commuter vehicle, I’ve been riding it to work almost constantly for the last two months.  This always makes an enjoyable experience out of the normal slog of going to and from work.  Not only can I navigate traffic more effectively, but it also brings a big grin to my face every time I accelerate.  You might say this makes commuting almost an adventure.  Little did I know how true this would come to be.

Yesterday, I rode into work like normal.  No fuss, everything was working well.  Took a little ride at lunch to do some errands, great!  Then the ride home.  I was running late from work already, pushing close to the 6 o’clock hour as it was.  Traffic was light and I tooled through the side roads enjoying the warm weather we suddenly had attained.  As I pulled onto the main through-town highway that brings me home, I gave the throttle a sharp twist to get up to speed.  The bike started to accelerate and then quickly decelerated, leaving me with a limp throttle.  Oh hell…throttle cable snapped!  I managed to nurse it at an idle, in gear, into a convenient driveway and parking lot.

Once off the bike I assessed the situation.  The cable had broken up next to the throttle itself and not down near the carbs.  What to do?  I had no trailer at home, though a way to tow one if I had.  Should I rent one?  Call in a favor?  Time ticked away as I thought through my options.  I gave my wife a call and said the cable had broken and that I would try and limp it home, though I didn’t know how long it would take. (Read: don’t worry and go on with your evening).  Looking at the bike again, my eyes glanced over the choke.  Hmm, that might work out for part of it.  Next I saw the bare end of the cable where I had pulled it broken out of the throttle itself.  That looks long enough to grab onto, and apparently I’m crazy enough to try.

I waited another 15 minutes or so for the traffic to die down a bit more on the highway, then I tried my hack.  Pushing the choke up to almost full the engine raced.  I pulled out of the parking lot slowly, with 1st gear almost killing the engine as I let the clutch out.  This was going to need more of step 2, which involved me resting my arm on the right bar and grabbing at the bare cable which hung there invitingly.  I pulled into traffic carefully and yanked at the cable.  It was a less than smooth power delivery, as the bike bucked under my cable pulling, but it did work.  Once I got at a good position I just left it there and let the engine race as I also shifted through a couple gears to get up to speed.  So there I was, one hand on the bars, also doing the clutch and my other with my fingers slipping through the bare cable constantly, at up to 40mph.

It was a wild ride home, which luckily was only three miles left when it broke.  By chance I only had to stop at two lights, which left me grappling at the cable again to get the right tension and position each time.  I felt very fortunate to make it home without further incident.  The story will last for years though, and that’s what counts.

May your every ride be an adventure,
Ben Mazhary-Clark

Posted in Motorcyling | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Adventures in commuting

Riding the Ducati Diavel

When I got a mail from Cycle World stating that I could fill out a form for a chance to ride one of their Ten Best motorcycles of 2011 in my city I figured, “Why not?  Doesn’t hurt to try.”  And I submitted the form away with happy abandon with the tickle in the back of my mind saying that nothing would become of it.

A couple weeks later I was surprised to find a mail again from Cycle World.  Apparently I’d been picked, and I could bring a friend.  Neat!  Oh, and we’d be riding the 2011 Ducati Diavel.  Wait, what was that again?  Still feeling it was a dream I put my prefered time and day in with my buddy’s name (whom had just been drooling over this bike only weeks before at the dealer).  Then I started thumbing through my old issues of Cycle World to re-read what I could about the Ducati we were destined to be riding.

On the day of the ride we were blessed with typical Portland spring weather.  The sky was thickly overcast, while from it fell a mix of both large drops and impossible misty drizzle.  I geared up in my regular jacket, boots and donned rain gear over my jeans.  Determined to get as much riding out of the day as possible, and for a handy point of comparison, I rode my 86 Concours out to Portland International Raceway for the event.  Originally I thought we would be riding around the track, but I was soon to find out they would take us on a wonderful one hour tour up into the west hills. (Route here)

After registering and settling in, the staff from Ducati gave us a quick presentation and overview of the bike.  Some features were truly amazing, especially for someone like myself who rides on 80’s technology most of the time.  Drive by wire enabled a host of great features that really added in as much power, traction control and ABS as each individual rider would need to suit their style.  To leave town they asked us to stay in the “Urban” mode which dialed the 100hp down from the full 162hp and put on a generous icing of traction control.  This was easily switched on the fly via the turn signal cancel button and the LCD screen on the tank providing feedback on your choice.

We got on our bikes to ride together in a large group.  With the lead and tail we amassed a grand spectacle of Ducati prowess, totaling ten bikes in all.  As we started the bikes, the familiar dirty growl of the 1198cc L-twin engines filled the air with their song.  I don’t think any of us could resist revving the engines as we sat in line ready to go, grins across our faces.  Finally we were off and headed out through town.  The throttle response was amazing and metered out all the power I felt I would ever need.  The brakes at low speeds however made me feel like I was going to do a stoppie every time I touched them, and thus I took extra care in using them.  Even with the aggressiveness of the brakes, they never locked up or left me feeling out of control.

As we continued out through town and onto the highway I realized the bike could do no wrong.  With the electronic wizardry encased within the rugged exterior there was an element of finesse and balance which greatly increased this rider’s comfort levels.  The bike sounded wild and out of control, but in actuality there wasn’t a single moment that I felt the bike was going to take me down.  The power pulling out onto the highway, even in the 100hp “Urban” mode was enough to send tingles into my loins.  This was a symbol of extreme power.  I tried switching the dynamic power system on the engine to “Sport” while cruising along at highway speeds and then hit the throttle again.  With the extra 62hp engaged into the power plant it was enough to just hang on for dear life and I clearly understood why they designed the seat with such a low slung socket for the rider.  In some cases it might be all that keeps you actually on the bike during acceleration.

Our group pulled off the highway and started hitting the twisties into the hills of west Portland.  By this time I was back into “Urban” mode so I wouldn’t have to worry about all that power in the low speed corners.  I didn’t expect the bike to be all that amazing in the curves, but it continued to surprise me.  The Diavel casually handled all the lean and spirited riding I was willing to throw at it in the low speed corners that presented themselves in our ride.  The one difference I found from riding my sport touring bike is that at a certain point in the lean with the Diavel, it would just stop leaning more.  Almost like it was hitting a physical wall.  I can only imagine this was for the best, as I would have been tearing up the pegs on the slalomed and bumpy road we were taken on.  The bike dealt with it all in a very controlled manner, yet still underlying was the feeling that you were on a wild boar charging through the forest.  It’s quite a unique mix of emotions that course through your veins as you take on the beast of a bike.

By the end of our hour ride the bike’s performance and stability in every situation (you may recall, it was raining off and on all day) the Diavel delivered nothing but confidence to my riding.  The ride itself was sportier that I would have imagined, but with all the right technology to keep the power of the engine, and yourself, in line.  I appreciated the commanding view from the saddle in a fairly neutral relaxed position, where all you saw were mirrors and a hair of the spedometer/tach/indicator combo.  Unobstructed, you were part of the world around you.  This is a motorcyclist’s bike.

There were a few items that I had issues with overall.  No bike can be perfect for every rider, and we can all appreciate that.  The large amount of engine vibration at lower RPMs made me keep the L-twin up over 5k.  This made the 6 speed transmission almost laughable because at 70mph the RPMs were still too low in 6th and I down-shifted to get a smoother ride.  Then the front brakes felt extremely sensitive.  The slightest touch at low speeds felt like it would lock up your front wheel, though I can say it never locked or even hinted at it, there was only a degradation in confidence.  Lastly, this is a rider’s bike.   Taking a passenger or luggage looks like it would be out of the question for any amount of trip.  Perhaps I’m looking for too much, and a cruiser should be for… cruising.  Around town, out to the beach for the day, but not for making a trip to Alaska.

The Ducati Diavel was an impressive bike.  Power that wouldn’t quit, but enough technology to let any level of rider tame the wild beast at their comfort level.  Given the need for a slightly less practical bike it would certainly be tempting on my part.  So much love and design has been put into this machine and it shows.  I had a great time and thank both Cycle World and Ducati for letting us have the chance to take these bikes out.  I’m hoping that in the future, these types of events can allow riders to have a broader experience with bikes they might only ever get to dream about.

Ride well,
Ben Mazhary-Clark

Posted in Motorcyling | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Riding the Ducati Diavel

A glutton for punishment

If there is one thing about me, I can’t resist a good offer.  Be it a deal online, some rare antique that is undervalued at a yard sale, or an odd piece of tech at a local Goodwill, I am constantly tempted to indulge in collecting things that seem too good to pass up.

When Charlie offered me a 1982 Yamaha Seca Turbo because he needed to clear everything out of his house to move suddenly, I jumped at the occasion.  After borrowing a truck, I hauled the lovely project home.  Apparently this bike has changed hands a couple times in a non-operational state since it was last registered in 1999.  I doubt it has run since that year, if not earlier.  Upon a quick survey of the bike, I found that almost everything appeared to be there, which is rare for a bike this old which hasn’t run for about a third of its life.  One thing I noticed right off though is that the right muffler that is attached to the wastegate of the turbo was missing.  We’ll see what else I discover going forward.

The only known conditions that were communicated through the chain of owners was that there was fuel leaking from the carbs (likely float bowl needles) and an oil leak from the turbo (possibly a stuck check valve for the oil supply…or worse).  Beyond that is anyone’s guess.  After a bike becomes a certain age, and also sits for any amount of time, one can assume that almost anything rubber is brittle and on the brink of failure.  After diving into it, we will see just  how much that is true.  Surprisingly, there appear to be brand new tires on it.

Here’s to hoping that this is a worthwhile project to take on.

–Ben

Posted in Motorcyling | Tagged , | Comments Off on A glutton for punishment

The molding of my geekdom

We don’t all start out as geeks.  Some of us are encouraged at a very young age by a significant family member or friend, while others grow into it naturally.  For me, my journey started early, almost as far back as I can remember, with my mother.  Though my parents have been divorced since I was about four, and I primarily lived with my father, it was my mother whom contributed the lions shared of my social and technical geekery.

My first real recollection of being introduced to geekness was when I was visiting my mother for the summer in the early 80’s.  We watched Star Blazers, then later Robotech together on TV and discussed the plot lines.  Later she bought the entire Robotech novel series on paperback and I relished them after she had completed them as well.  There was also a computer that came into our lives.  This amazing modern machine was an Atari 800XL.  It had about as much power as a calculator but that wasn’t the point.  Both her and I spent countless hours pouring over books with Basic programs in them, trying to enter them all in line by line.  We shared in the frustration of attempting to run the programs only to have it crash or even worse, lock up the entire computer before we saved it to cassette tape.  There was debugging to be learned, and coding to be mastered.  It was a whole new world.

When I wasn’t playing Legos, or running my Stompers around in the dirt outside, I was on that computer all summer.  Of course, it had cartriage games and I played Donkey Kong, Pac Man and a few others on it as well.  This likely contributed to my gaming obsession that continues to this day.  The games were a nice release from the times where you’ve poured over a couple hundred line Basic program that won’t work, and I leveraged them to their fullest extent.

From the point of the Atari 800XL and onward, there was always a computer in my life, though never at my primary residence until the early 90’s.  At my mother’s house, we consumed three different Tandy TRS-80 computers (Color Computer 1, 2 and 3).  The Basic programs became more complex, and yet easier to manage as saving to a  360Kb floppy was much easier than cassette tape.  From the perspective of the future (now) I am amazed at what programs could be run in 64Kb of memory.  Even the hot rod Color Computer 3 we built up was only running 512Kb when it finally died off in the mid-90’s.  In that mere 512Kb we ran OS/9, which was a full multi-windowed and multi-tasking operating system that booted out of MS Basic.

By the time I was wrapping up high school in the early 90’s a family friend permanently loaned me a MS DOS 2.11 Toshiba T1000 laptop.  I learned what I could of DOS there, and ruined a few program floppies in the process (whoops, so THAT is what the recover program does).  I had the opportunity to have this laptop with me at my father’s house so my geeking out wasn’t limited to just summers anymore.

The summers were still filled with computers of course.  Sharing the latest exciting King’s Quest or SimCity.  However the summers also partook in video entertainment.  My mother was an avid fan of Monty Python, and from an early age (perhaps too early) I was indoctrinated with the magic of the Flying Circus.  The reason it may have been a little too early was one Christmas at my grandparents house, I busted out with a rendition of “Sit on my Face” to the entire family while my mother tried to hush me up.  I was innocent enough to not know the implications of the lyrics, thus I was proud to perform it for every one.  I also tended to watch a lot of Star Trek (any series) that was on, and Star Wars movies whenever other options ran out.

Which brings back another memory.  At around the age of 3 or 4, my parents brought me to the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland, CA.  This was for the showing of Star Wars right around the initial release.  As the story goes, I was apparently poking my little head above the balcony railing and holding on for dear life during the entire showing.  I guess first impressions were good to me, as it remains one of my favorite movies of all time.  The real Star Wars: A New Hope.

Between the constant computer exposure, the reading of fantasy/sci-fi novels, the exposure to anime/Star Wars/Monty Python at an early age, and constant discussions about the latest tech, my geek fate was complete.  Out of high school I tried out a few career paths (landscaping, retail sales, construction, mechanics, etc) but nothing was working out for me long term.  Where was my niche?

Around the mid-90’s I connected with a family friend to start helping in his internet hosting company, cutting my teeth on NT Server and O’Reilly WebSite.  With his mentor-ship I was able to get started on a path of IT, becoming a sysadmin and now a systems engineer supporting SAP solutions.

Looking back, I have to thank a large group of people for helping me get to where I am today.  My mother was certainly key in getting things kicked off with computer technologies for me, and gave me an appreciation for games, geek movies, and sci-fi books.  My father gave me critical troubleshooting and problem solving skills from his experiences of working on his own cars and home building (awesome in an IT field).  Family friends helped me out with technology gifts and allowing me to fail when getting my first start, while mentoring the evolution of my technical crafts.  More currently, I have to appreciate the large circle of geeks I interact with daily on IRC, IM, email and occasionally in person.  It takes a village to raise a geek, let them bud and shine.

Geek on,
Ben

Posted in Geeking, General, Technology | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on The molding of my geekdom

Great pain makes for great success

When taking on a used bike there are bound to be trials and tribulations.  However when taking on a bike over 20 years old, the emotional state of your bike can only be in greater flux.

I bought the 1986 Kawasaki Concours because it was a good deal.  Plain and simple.  In retrospect I should have just used all my available funds and bought the newest possible bike, but instead I went for the best looking price for the bike model.

This has led to me working on the bike far more than I actually rode it.  Since April 2010 I think I put like 1000 miles total onto it, when I normally ride about 3-4k a year.  The issues pinnacled this spring, when not only did a coolant leak start, but also the fork seals gave up the ghost.  My bike riding hopes plunged into despair as I had little time or money to work on it myself, let alone the huge expense of trying to take it to a shop.

My sabbatical was due this year, which seemed to be the perfect time to take it apart.  This ended up being half true.  Everything got apart just fine, however I discovered far more than I bargained for in what needed to be repaired.  The constant discoveries of issues that plagued the bike along with the successes of repair milestones played havoc on my emotional state.  Some days I would be up, others would be down and frustrated.  This led the repairs to drag for many many weeks as days would go buy where I wouldn’t be willing to tackle the latest challenge.

I think that the key here is not to give up.  I learned a lot about myself in trying to keep myself motivated to continue to trudge through the plethora of issues that crippled my bike, and to try to keep it from impacting my state of being.  In the end, I finally have a fully working motorcycle for the first time since I bought it a year ago April.  It feels good too.  I did these repairs.  I made these mistakes.  For better or worse, I get to have pride of ownership.

Now hopefully I can get some riding in, hope to see you all out there, waving back to me on the highways and back roads.  Don’t give up on your old broken motorcycle, as the rewards of completing the work or project is immense.

Rubber side down,
Ben

And for the inventory minded, here’s all I ended up replacing since I bought it, but most of it occurring in the last couple months:

  • Battery (old one died, replaced with gel)
  • Fork seals (spurned the big spring rebuild)
  • All coolant hoses
  • Water pump (discovered bad after I took everything apart)
  • All brake lines (replaced rotten out rubber ones with braided)
  • Carb gaskets and needle valves (carbs started leaking as soon as I got everything else back together)
  • Tires just before I ripped it apart
  • Bar end weights (some previous owner had removed them and thrown them away)
  • New grips that don’t suck
  • Speedometer cable
  • Trip reset knob that was missing
Posted in Motorcyling | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Great pain makes for great success

The folly of a used motorcycle

When I decided to “trade up” in motorcycles in April 2010 I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  Without this foresight, I plunged myself into buying a 1986 Kawasaki Concours (a “connie”).  In my mind, I considered this a great upgrade.  I had been riding a 1982 Honda Hawk 450, which had served me well after I did the initial work on it, but my riding had gotten beyond the point in which it had enough power or load capacity for me to continue our relationship.

Given the excellent timing of selling my truck and already lining up a buyer for the Hawk via a co-worker, I felt it was time to do the upgrade.  The 1000cc Concours tempted me greatly, though I also considered other larger sport-touring type bikes in the process.  All my leads failed until I found this one, for a reasonable price and local.  After a bit too much runaround from the seller in trying to actually hunt him and the bike down, I finally bought it for what I thought was a good deal.  I got it home and then within a week had sold the Hawk and took the Connie on a trip of several hundred miles.  The bike behaved ok, but I felt there were some root issues.

Upon getting back home, hooking up with the Concours mail list and doing some research, I discovered that someone had put a bias rear tire on the front of the bike, with a radial rear on the rear.  No wonder the head shook so much.  This led to the first repair: two tires replaced.  Spendy, but doable.

I rode for a month or so, but then the battery died off.  So I had to replace that too.  Then a fuel leak started, and I discovered that it leaked whenever the gas was left in “PRI” or prime.  Hrm.  Apparently the carbs would eventually need work.  The final straw was in the fall/winter of 2010, where it started producing a lot of steam, especially on warm-ups.  I tightened hoses and it went away, but only for a week or so, then it returned with a vengeance.  Also, in early 2011 the forks started leaving literal puddles on the floor, not good.

By the spring of 2011, I realized most of the prior year’s riding had been my first ride in April.  With a block of time off coming up in the summer of 2011 I hoped to ride it a bunch.  I made plans to make the bike reliable and ordered up: steel braided brake lines for front and rear, fork rebuild kit, new grips, and a coolant hose set.  I thought this would put an end to all the little niggles left on the bike and I could get on with riding.  When I cracked into the bike at the turn of July when the parts arrived, I was dismayed.  I discovered that the water pump was also failing.  This has been ordered and is where we stand today, waiting for the elusive part.  All in pieces like the picture below.

I have to wonder, is it really worth it buying a used motorcycle of unknown origin.  Did the seller know there were a lot of little fixes that had to be done on the bike just due to it’s age and level of neglect?  I will never know, but I am determined to fix it all and make it once again a stable steed in my garage, just like the Hawk which I miss so much right about now.

Ride well,
–ben

Posted in Motorcyling | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on The folly of a used motorcycle

Unix pranks

Editors note:  This is reposted from one of my older pages.  Goes hand in hand nicely with the Funny Unix Commands, this takes it a bit farther. When you end up working around Unix sysadmins for any length of time, the need to jokingly flaunt your sysadmin muscles seems to arise to shake off the stress of the job.

Nasty banner on login
A cow-orker did this to our admin account one day, she thought she was being damn funny. I was mildly pissed because I had work to do on that server. :)  In the end, it still makes good comedy.

The following was added into the .profile (in HP-UX, adjust, mix and stir as necessary for your shell):
banner “WHAT R U” ” DOIN IN” ” HERE?”
echo “Pls press enter to continue….”
read junk
banner “PLS LOGOUT” ” NOW!!!”
export PS1=” ”

Basically it displays huge text with each message and requires input after each one, then sets the prompt to blank. Very nice.

Remote xeyes display
This was a favorite of IT people’s when I worked at Sequent Computer Systems. Very cute. Make xeyes pop up on another users xsession. Lotsa laughs, very annoying.

Run the following command:
xeyes -display IP:0.0
(where IP is the remote display IP you are shooting for)

Mock delete everything in a user directory upon login…
Try adding this to the end of a users .profile:

echo “rm -Rf ~/”
echo “Are you sure you want to delete everything under $USER/?”
read junk
echo “Could not remove direcoty $USER/: in use.”
PS1=” ”
sleep 300
echo “Just Kidding!”
PS1=”$>”

Good clean fun right? Just the right thing for over-reactive people with heart problems.

Posted in Geeking | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Unix pranks

The rise and the fall of yeast

Starting the hefeSpurned on by my first success on home brewing my first batch of beer, I soon got together a plan to make up a second batch.  Given that my wife wasn’t fond of the dark and hoppy ale I crafted last time, the plan was to make something light with half the hops and easily drinkable.  That was the plan at least.  I went into Main Street Brew Supply in Hillsboro and let them know my plans.  We talked about the virtues of hefeweisen beers in both American and German varieties.  I was leaning more towards the delicate flavors of banana and cloves that only a German beer could offer, but to play it safe I chose a nice standard American hefeweisen in the tradition of the Widmere Brothers.

With the ingredients home I started prepping by making sure I had all my supplies in order.  For the most part I had everything good to go, except for the need to de-label a few more bottles.  A 5 gallon bucket in the garage with a scoop of Oxi Clean in it did wonders and takes labels off easily within 24 hours.  There’s always the need to rinse them really well after this though.  Certainly didn’t want my beer tasting like fresh laundry.

Then it was brew day.  One Sunday afternoon I decided to take advantage of a lull in our family’s activities and start this batch running.  I got everything rinsed out and properly washed, then started up the boil with a couple socks of wheat in the pot.  I noticed right away that the warming water was turning cloudy with the addition of wheat berries, something that did not happen in my previous ale.  Soon the bottom of the pot couldn’t even be seen and the aroma reminded me of baking bread.  Before I knew it I was on to adding the malt extract and hops, cooking it all into a wonderful wort for the one hour of boil time.  I noticed a pronounced stickiness to this batch over the prior amber.  No doubt caused by the sugars in the wheat verses just straight malt extract.  Pouring the wort into the 8 gallon fermenter I noticed the color looked delicious, and during the next 4 days it bubbled like mad as the yeast went and did all the fermenting work for me.

On transfer to the secondary fermenter (carboy) the color was a classic gold of a hefe, though darker than I expected.  The baking bread aroma continued with the combination of both wheat and yeast wafting up my nose.  With patience I waited for the bubbling to slow down and late one night decided to bottle it up.  Waiting for the dishwasher to finish it’s ultra-high heat wash of the bottles proved to be the largest hold up.  Next time I have to note to start that as soon as I think I want to bottle that day.  After adding a cup of snow white corn sugar to the batch we bottled it up without incident.  I did notice however that it was still stickier than the previous batch, and any spills on the outsides of the bottles dried tacky.  Without much thought I put most of the bottles in a large box and set it in the garage.  By this time it was well into late fall and I hadn’t considered that there would be a difference in the garage from the last time I brewed in July.

After about three weeks (which happened to be exactly Thanksgiving Day from the date I bottled) I put a couple in the fridge and tried them out.  They lacked something.  That something was carbonation.  I tried a couple different bottles.  Though the beer wasn’t bad, it lacked character since it was already a light beer the lack of bubbles made it feel like you were drinking a day old opened beer which was then chilled again.  I pondered about this conundrum.  Where had I gone wrong?  Then later when I walked into the garage to get something else it struck me.  The garage was cold.  Very cold.  Ale yeast like I was using really works best if it is up around in the 70’s, not the low 50’s and 60’s that our garage was running at in the late fall.  Bugger, what was I to do with all this flat beer?  I read online forums for a bit and came to the conclusion that yes, I had stunted the yeast since it was in the cold garage and it wouldn’t really carbonate there.  I had moved some bottles into the cabinet of the downstairs bathroom (just in time for my mother-in-law to visit and use it daily) but it still wasn’t getting enough reaction with my several taste tests.

Finally I resorted to the ultimate conquest of the beer carbonation game:  the top of the fridge.  Given that the heat rolling off the fridge will keep it at a nice toasty upper 70’s all day and night this would supposedly give my beer the kick start it needed, assuming the yeast hadn’t completely died off in the process.  Well, after a couple more weeks up there with a test batch I ended up with mixed results.  Some showed promise of bubbles when poured into pint glass, others were barely up to the fizz.

For the most part, this batch is a wash.  It didn’t end up light enough for my wife to like, though it did have far less bitterness due to the lack of hops.  Furthermore, since the hefe didn’t have the carbonation that people so fondly seek out in an American hefe, it is doubly dissatisfying.  What I ended up with, as best I can describe it, is an “English style dark hefeweisen”.  Not really what most people are usually looking for, so I guess I’ll have to “suffer” through the remains of the 50 bottles that this batch yielded.  Better luck next time…perhaps a lager next?  Doesn’t get much lighter than that.

Brew on,
–ben

Posted in Homebrewing | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on The rise and the fall of yeast