Long Overdue

[I began this post some time ago, and lost focus on the original intent. Since I hate seeing Draft sitting in my posts list, as well as my email inbox, I decided to pick this back up, edit it and write it for something I’m more focused on now.]

Time

There’s this feeling I have almost every Monday as I get ready for work. This feeling that I’m leaving some sort of alternative life behind. Like the person I am, the things I do, the things I’m capable of doing are different from Saturday to Sunday.

I think this may be somewhat true.

If I’m good, I’ll wake up around 9am during the week. I have to leave for work around 2:30pm, so that gives me until 1pm before I have to pack dinner, shower, get dressed, etc. That makes for a good four hours to do whatever I see fit. Lately I’ve been having trouble motivating myself to get out of bed before 11. Two hours is hard to get things done in. I have to get up, get dressed, take the dog out, feed myself, start something, make progress on it, then wrap it up before 1.

Welcome to life, I know.

On the weekends I’ll sleep in an extra hour or so, because I know I have all day to do what I want. In fact, I can take on multiple projects in a day. This was my original plan in tackling repairs on the motorcycle. Take it on one weekend at a time. Pick a part, spend as much of the weekend as was needed on it and don’t start another repair in the same weekend (a great plan of action when the idea is to have the bike available for riding during the week. Now that it’s inside the game has changed). I can spend the rest of my time cleaning, playing video games, watching Netflix, or doing whatever I feel like.

During the week I have to be more careful with my time. If I want to accomplish something, it pretty much has to occupy all of my time before work.

This makes complete sense, of course.

Time management is something I need to get better at, in general, but if I’m going to get this bike rebuilt, not suck at work and do well in school I need to have no mercy for myself when it comes to meeting my own deadlines and focusing on the task at hand. Part of this task is getting better at writing and reading on a consistent basis. As my readers [Joel & Autumn] have reminded me repeatedly the past couple of weeks, I’ve let my hugely vast network of readers down by not posting my regular and reliable Friday updates on time for the past two weeks.

In order to keep myself honest, and to grant permission to the two people I spend the most time with, I’m crafting a schedule I’d like to keep—consistently—which I’ll post immediately after this post.

Important in this schedule will be the gaps. The time I allow myself to relax and to do things just for fun. Yes, there will be relaxation or fun things built into the schedule, but I will also give myself gaps between tasks. These gaps are built-in flexibility. The ability to to say, “I’m at a stopping point 10 minutes early, I think I’ll go ahead and shower so I can just lounge for a little bit before work.”

They’ll also give me time to work in thing which inevitably come up unexpectedly. An email I feel compelled to respond to, a phone call, an impromptu trip to get lunch.

Just organizing all of the moving parts of the motorcycle rebuild will be an exercise in time management, as well. More on that below.

Projects

As I said just above, the original plan was to pick a repair each weekend and fix this or that, but only work on one thing in a weekend and, essentially, make sure it was something I could actually complete in a single weekend. That’s quite out the window, at this point.

Today (Sunday) Autumn and I broke down the wiring inside the headlamp bucket, meaning there’s no turning back from this point in terms of replacing the electrical system. There are still questions which I haven’t fully answered, like whether or not I want to replace every electrical item on the bike (relays, switches, lamps, et al) or just the wires and then call the rest on a case-by-case basis.

There’s another question, of how I want to replace the wiring itself. I have, essentially, two options. The first option is to buy the wiring harness kits—three, in total (four, if I replace the relay, etc. right out)—from an authorized BMW re-manufacturer. The second option is to replace the wires piecemeal, buying spools of wires and doing the entire thing pretty much from scratch.

Manufactured Harnesses

If you’re not Joel, or Autumn, you’ve probably just read the previous paragraph and thought to yourself, why the fuck would not just buy the harnesses, save yourself time and hassle?!

First, let me say thanks for reading!

Second, let me explain this thinking:

I’m sort of a glutton for doing things the most complex, hassled, from-scratch way possible. Usually. I built a computer, rather than buying a higher-performance machine. I took my bicycle apart, cleaned it and rebuilt it, rather than taking it to a shop for a tune-up and re-gearing. This has little to do with money. In some cases, such as building the computer, I wound up saving money. In others, such as the bicycle, it cost me money in having to replace parts I broke in my ignorant attempts to fix them. It’s also a huge time sink. Doing things from scratch (or close to it) costs a lot of time, both in learning the ins and outs of what I’m trying to do and in my poor time management and the extended times it takes me to complete projects.

Why am I like this? Hell if I know.

That’s part of the reason I looked into other options than just buying the pre-made harnesses. Another part is money. The main chassis electrical harness is something like $550. If I want to buy each handlebar cluster they’re going to be about $170 a piece. There’s the engine electrical components, ranging from the various relays ($20-$60) to the starter motors ($130 per—two per bike). The alternator could go, though may not need to. The electric start system needs to be replaced by a less taxing piece of hardware, that’s going to be about $200. A new battery will be the final piece, probably close to $120. Not everything in that list is exclusive to the manufactured harness and, to be fair, I could source wiring from scratch and still replace all of the relays, hardware pieces, etc. $550 is a steep place to start, though.

There are benefits, of course. Like not having to worry about sourcing matching colors or converting metric (German DIN standard) wire gauges to imperial. Or not accidentally buying 20ft more wire than I needed in a particular color. Or not worrying about the weather resistant capabilities of either the wiring itself or my methods of sealing connections. Or not having to purchase and affix all of the properly sized connectors and crimps. Or not stabbing myself repeatedly in the fingertips with freshly stripped wiring. The ease of installation, because it’s essentially just color-by-numbers, thanks to wiring charts I found (here [this one is coming soon] and here) and Autumn’s diligent record keeping.

Sourcing Wires from Scratch

You’d think that I would have investigated where I could get motorcycle wires in 10-25ft spools by now. I still don’t know if my best bet is to go to Lowe’s and buy spools there or if I should look into wires made specifically for motorcycles. Now that all the wires on the lighting system and inside the headlamp bucket have been snipped and yanked from their homes it seems like a bit late to still be asking such basic questions.

The downside to doing things this way is, in large part, the amount of time it will take me to investigate, order, receive, prepare and install every single wire segment. I’ll have to strip each end, fasten the clip or crimp and them install it to the bike. There are several areas where the wiring travels through rubber sleeves, weather and general wear protection, I’m sure. Where do I source those sleeves, I don’t even know!

In the original wiring (maintained by the manufactured harness), the color coding of the wires maintains a certain logic. Red wires always carry power directly from the positive terminal of the battery regardless of ignition switch status. Brown wires are always grounds. Wires with blue coloring are running to and from turn signals. Green wiring is general lighting systems. Makes some sense. Maintaining a color coding system which makes sense and fits all of the varied applications (having a series of Green/x wires, all of which connect to various points on the lighting system, et al) will be intensely important if I source my own wires and select my own color codes.

Then there’s the process of converting the metric gauges of the German DIN standards to the imperial gauges available in stores like Lowe’s and CarQuest. There are, if memory serves me well, three different gauges in the BMW, and gauge is pretty damn important. Matching them isn’t just a matter of finding one that’s pretty close. I have to find exact matches.

The Engine

The engine and transmission are still sitting comfortably inside the bike’s frame, waiting on me to call Alan with two questions. I’ve been saying to Joel for maybe three weeks now that I was going to call Alan “today.” I never do.

Part of it is that I’m fairly intimidated by him. He’s the guru and I’m the small village boy trying to scale the mountain. I don’t want to be laughed at, shot down, told I’m taking on too much, or, worse, told the project is going to be more expensive than I’m willing to spend.

The Fin-nut Wrench

The nuts which hold the exhaust pipes to the engine are finned, to disperse heat, and require a special tool to remove. I could buy this tool, of course, for $70. Or I could call around to Alan or other BMW enthusiasts I know and see if anyone has one I could borrow. I’m fairly sure Alan would have one, since he’s done a few rebuilds himself.

Engine Inspection

My original plan called for me to disassemble, inspect, polish and replace any worn engine parts. From the onset I was going to hand the transmission over to someone else to do that whole process. The transmission is much more precise in it’s allowances than the engine. I don’t have the confidence in my abilities or patience to maintain that precision. I’ve decided in the past couple weeks that I should pass the engine tune-up on to someone else, as well.

Hopefully Alan will be willing to take on this project, and willing to take it on with me watching over his shoulder, learning so in the future I can crack it open and make any repairs to the inner workings that I need to. He’s expessed a willingness to be a mentor in this way before, I don’t know why he would be opposed–especially if he’s getting paid.

Which brings up another issue. Does he want to get paid? How do I approach that? Sure, I could just ask him–or offer to pay him and ask how much he’d like–but I always feel weird about it.

Cleaning

I bought a bunch of different scrub pads (steel wool, scour pads, etc.) and will be borrowing my dad’s dremel. I’ve got Bon-Ami, CLR, Grease Lightning and some other terribly toxic chemicals I can’t remember.

At this point, with everything except the engine and transmission out or off of the frame, I think the most time-consuming and physically laborious aspect of the rebuild will be the entire process of cleaning, stripping off paint and polishing. Repainting the frame, fork arms, luggage racks, fenders and tank will be a chore, but I’m a ways away from that. I still need to research the best paint to use for the frame. It needs to be significantly heat resistant, able to withstand hours of exposure to and engine running at a few hundred degrees. It needs to keep from scratching off while being blasted by dust and dirt at 80 or 90 mph.

There are lots of automotive paints available, and I’m positive there are some geared to motorcycle frames and body parts, it’s just a matter or tracking them down.

The fenders and tank are getting repainted, too, despite the fact that the current paint is in really, really good shape. I don’t mind the color, which was added at some later point by a previous owner, except that one of my coworkers pointed out that the brown paint with the gold striping makes it look like it’s FSU-themed. I happen to hate Florida State University’s main athletic programs–namely the football program–so that has soured the color in my mind.

I’ve picked a color I think will be good, though I want to give it some time to roll around in my head before I commit to it here or on the bike.

Organization

As promised earlier, I need to talk about the task of organizing all of the moving parts of the rebuild project. I’ve been looking at task management visualization software and have come up with only a few promising programs. I may just have to resort to mind mapping software.

The goal here is to break down the things which need to get done to each part into a short list of generic tasks:

  • Remove
  • Clean
  • Order
  • Install

Then to assign each part to a position relative to those tasks, ie.:

  • Engine  – Needs to remove
  • Wiring Harness – Waiting to order
  • Frame – Waiting to clean
  • Speedometer Cable – Needs to order
  • Rear Wheel – Waiting to remove

The parts list can (and should) be incredibly detailed. Ideally each nut and washer would be on it. Connecting it to a microfiche of the bike’s sections wouldn’t be a bad idea. This way as I’m preparing for installation of parts, I can check ahead of time that I have the right bits. Any bits I haven’t confirmed I have can be moved into the “Order” sections of the task chart, this would mean that anything that’s otherwise ready to install wouldn’t move into the “Install” section of the chart until I moved the required bits from “Order” to “Install”.

So really, if we imagine the task chart as a circular graph, divided into 4 sections, the dividing lines would continue out of the circle, into the white space beyond. These white spaces would be the tasks’ queues, so to speak. For example, the rear wheel is counterbalancing the frame of the bike while the engine is still inside it. The rear wheel needs to be removed, but it’s removal is contingent upon the removal of the engine. It’s therefore waiting to be removed, not because it isn’t a priority or because I’ve been too lazy to do it thus far, but because it can’t move until something else does.

What would be great is a program which would allow me to draw these relationships as I add the parts to the master list. The difficulty comes in that some parts have one relationship in one task, but no relationship or the converse relationship in another task. To use the engine and the rear wheel again, once both are removed and cleaned, the wheel must be installed before the engine, again for counterbalancing purposes.

So it looks like I’ll play around with the programs I found, but will likely be resulting to FreeMind, Vue or a similar mind mapping software.

Last Week, A Chronology

Monday

Mostly uneventful. Work was slow. Filled up the bike with gas. Posted on this blog, even!

Tuesday

Class in the morning. About halfway through class my mind wandered to my motorcycle having a bit of difficulty starting, despite the full tank. Vowed to plug it into the charger once I got home. Bike didn’t start after class, battery was flat. Walked partway home before Autumn picked me up. Went back and pulled battery out the bike. Considered just investing in a new battery right then and there but decided against it. Took it home and charged it up. Work wasn’t too bad.

Wednesday

Went back to TCC in the morning with Autumn and Joel. Installed the battery and cranked the bike up. Drove home. Work was ridiculously crazy—one machine was down so all color printing was bottle–necked through the slower machine. Felt off all night. Left on time and did homework.

Thursday

Class, then work. Took a break a work and went to Jersey Mike’s, turned off the bike and heard a hissing sound. Looked down at my front tyre and watched it deflate in less than a minute. Ate some food and called a coworker for a ride back. Stayed at work until 2:30 that night. Got home and gathered tools to take my wheel off the next morning. Hoping desperately that I don’t get towed. Finally in bed at 3:30

Friday

Arrived at Jersey Mike’s at 9:30 and begin taking the wheel off. I need a socket in a size I don’t own, so I drive (Autumn lent me her car) to CarQuest and pick up a set of oversized sockets for $50. Back at the bike, I realize I’ve grabbed my set of standard allen wrenches and I need metric. On the way home to get my metric set I see a truck pulling a trailer with a motorcycle strapped on the back. Calling the past 2 hours a loss, I turn around and call a tow truck. I have it towed to Orion’s, where I decide to just replace the tyre itself, as there is a spot of dry rot beginning to set in. However, I could only afford to do the front tyre, so that’s what I chose to do.

Zach, the head mechanic, gave me a price for Pirellis and for a cheaper brand (Shinko) and I, unfortunately, had to go with the cheaper brand. He warned me that the cheaper brand was also going to be a few millimeters wider. He offered to do it while I waited but, seeing as I had the car and had to get ready for work soon, I told him not to rush it, I’d be by to pick it up the next day. Work was hectic but I left by midnight; walked home, which was quite relaxing.

Saturday

Took my time waking up on Saturday. Joel, Marlin and I had plans to go to the Trail & Ski shop in town around 11, so I planned on getting the motorcycle after that. Joel, however, had a long day at work and I wound up walking down to pick up the bike at 1:30, just as Joel was getting home.

In my efforts to remove the front wheel on Friday, I’d disconnected the front brake cable. As I pushed the bike back and forth a little in neutral outside the shop, I squeezed the front brake and nothing happened. I asked Zack about it and he called the mechanic that worked on the bike over.

“Well, it was disconnected when it came in, so I just kinda hooked it on. Didn’t know what you had going on with it.”

I told him it was disconnected because I’d made an effort to remove the wheel myself. We tightened up the brake (which I tightened up a bit more once I got home). On the ride home I heard a rhythmic whoom-whoom noise, coming from the front tyre. Upon arriving home, propping it up on the center stand and inspecting the wheel, I discovered two things:

  1. The rotation of the tire was wrong, with the arrow pointing in the opposite direction of the forward rotation.
  2. The tyre’s side wall rubbed ever so slightly for a few inches each rotation on the support shaft for the fender.

Marlin, Chelsea, Joel, Autumn and I went to Voodoo Dog for a late lunch and while there I looked up tyre rotation. Turns out it’s pretty damn important, with comments like, “if you’ve driven more that 1000 miles on a tyre rotated the wrong way, throw it away and buy a new one.” Fortunately I haven’t even put a mile on it.

At Trail & Ski we looked at tents, backpacks, and various waterproof equipment. I keep trying to hammer in the point that we’re going to want to think about packing for lengthy trips like pack for a long backpacking trip: it’s all about the weight. Equipment should be small and light. We talked to the sales clerk about the ENO hammock systems, which seem like a really good alternative to tents. [Note: When Joel first told me about his plan to get a hammock for camping I was dismissive, but after looking at them myself, seeing the price for the full setup and thinking about it critically, I think I’m mostly sold.] Joel seems to think that it’ll be a good idea to bring both a tent and a hammock system on longer trips. This idea I’m very skeptical of. It seems to me like a waste of space and weight (not that either one weighs much), it’d be better to know ahead of time which one you’re going to need to use more often and just stick with that one the entire time.

After we got home from Trail & Ski, we talked about the trip to Birmingham for a bit—what we all need to buy and whether or not we think we can do it. We decided to talk again next weekend and make a solid decision about committing to going or not. So we won’t be buying tickets before then. My next paycheck is going to be really nice, but I also have a plane ticket to buy in October, not to mention all the repairs I need to do on my bike before we can take a 600-mile trip.

As far as my tyre goes, I’ve decided I’m going to see about adjusting the fender position, if that helps the rubbing. If it does, all I’ll ask Orion’s to do is rotate the tyre the proper way. If I can’t stop the rubbing, I’ll have to return the tyre, hope they have my old one and just wait until next week when I get paid to put those Pirellis on.

 

Speedo

The last couple weeks have been a whirlwind of sorts.

Autumn, my girlfriend, and I arrived back in Tallahassee at the end of July after a week in California. I’d made the decision on that trip to California to set my sights on this motorcycle tour of the US as my next major goal in life. My head was full of ideas while we drove north from San Francisco along Pacific Coast Highway 1. I knew, however, that there would be a lot of work to be done once I got home.

In the final days of July, we got home and I set about dissecting the trip. Figuring out what I need to do to prepare.

There was some debate within my own head of whether or not to invest the time and money in fixing the bike I already own or to invest in a newer bike that would not need significant repairs. Being well aware of the sunk cost fallacy, but also being very aware that the motorcycle I have is the only motorcycle I’d even considered having for 10 years, I made a small list of repairs and upgrades I knew would be needed before the trip began.

  • Replace the battery with a maintenance-free model
  • New tires (probably twice)
  • Replace the drum brakes with disc brakes
  • Replace the charging system
  • Upgrade tail/brake light, blinkers and instrument cluster with LEDs
  • General tuning and maintenance

I imagined (admittedly with no evidence to support it) that all of those things, as well as various miscellaneous repairs which would arise and become apparent, I would need to invest around $6,000 in the bike itself. As I thought about it further, I realized that number is sort of optimistically low. I’ve decided that $10,000 is what I should expect to spend.

I’m willing to invest that much in this particular bike for a couple reasons, which I’ll cover briefly but will go into more detail on them in a post later this week or early next week.

This is, in effect, my dream motorcycle. I’ve seen one driving around town since before I graduated high school and always thought they looked cool as hell.

I bought the bike for about $3800, so spending another $10,000 on fixing it puts me right in the neighborhood of the modern brands I would turn to for a new[er] model.

My mom works with a guy who repairs and restores these old Airheads (the name given to BMW’s classic air-cooled motorcycles). I hope to meet with him this coming week and talk about my plans, see what he thinks of the investment in this particular bike.

He will, I hope, be willing to teach me how to repair the bike on my own, as that will be a crucial ability on the road.

Regardless of how much tutoring I get in repairing the bike there will be some things I’ll be unable to fix on my own, both on the trip and in my preparation for it. Things such as a broken odometer.
My odometer broke a couple of weeks before Autumn and I flew to California. I noticed the mileage one day was somewhere around 88,000. I bought the bike in March with 74,123 miles on it. I’d been riding the bike a lot, but had been wondering if I’d even put 1000 miles on it in the four months I’d been driving it.

My first reaction was to take the instrument cluster apart, see if it was a matter of a loose gear or something

The instrument cluster taken apart. Screws and bulbs not shown.

The instrument cluster taken apart. Screws and bulbs not shown.

easily diagnosable. Indeed, I found the culprit: a loose gear, but only made the problem worse by messing with it. At the end of my tampering, the thousands dial advanced one digit for every tenth-mile I traveled, while my trip-meter advanced only sporadically. Within another week the odometer rolled over twice to show itself back at 80,000 (+2 full revolutions, so 280,000 miles—fancy, huh?).

The bike doesn’t have a gas gauge, or even a gas light, so the trip odometer is the best option I have for knowing when to plan on filling up. The trip odometer is a must-have for even riding around town.

I turned to the internet to find some answers to how to fix it. Not surprisingly, there wasn’t much in the way of instructions for rebuilding an odometer. It seemed my best option was to send the entire unit off to one of two places, Palo Alto Speedometer, or Overseas Speedometer. Both seemed to get great reviews on BMW forums. I picked Overseas Speedometer, essentially for no other reason than they’re based in Austin, Texas and that’s closer to me in Florida.

I gave Rick at Overseas a call and he explained that the smallest gear on the odometer slips on the axle after decades of use. He replaces the gear and lubricates all the parts to ensure reliable operation for as long as possible. The whole ordeal can take two or three weeks, depending on how busy he is.

I rode the bike until the week before our California trip and then shipped the instrument cluster off to Austin.

I tied a plastic bag around the speedo electrical connection to protect it from the inevitable rain.

I tied a plastic bag around the speedo electrical connection to protect it from the inevitable rain.

Rick called me while I was in northern California to verify the work I wanted him to do on the unit. I was running a little tight on money at that point so I asked him to hold off until my paycheck came through on the 31st. He was happy to accommodate me and, at the beginning of the first week of August my account was charged $220.

In the box with my repaired instrument cluster was a hand-written receipt, noting the work performed. The odometer and trip-meter were repaired, gears replaced and lubricated. The speedometer was recalibrated—it had been reading about 2mph low—and the tachometer gears were lubricated.

I happily popped the unit back on the bike. I’d spent the past six days riding without it (quite illegally, I might add), as my car is out of gas and I’m out of money to refuel it.
I’ve got a week to go until my next paycheck and I’ve got roughly $4 to my name. This coming paycheck should be decent, though, I’ll have some overtime on it.

 

On Sundays I typically have breakfast with the geezers (my dad and a couple of his friends) where we talk, argue and complain about politics and society in general. Autumn comes from time to time, and Joel, my roommate has made an appearance a time or two. Yesterday we rode our motorcycles down to breakfast, Joel riding our friend’s Moto Guzzi V7 Special, Autumn on the back of mine.

On our way there, I made a stupid mistake and hit the front brake a touch too hard with the wheel turned and started to tip the bike over. We were pretty much at a standstill anyway, and Autumn and I both shot our legs out to brace the bike. The bike never fell and we remained upright over it, so there’s no harm done. It just served as a good reminder to always pay attention and encouragement to wear my helmet.

These mistakes are going to happen. I know I’m going to drop the bike or fall off or lock up a brake or something at some point. It may be riding home from work on an empty side street or it could be in the middle of a busy highway. I’ve accepted that and the risk to myself that comes with riding a motorcycle. Aside from feeling embarrassed about doing something dumb in front of my girlfriend and my roommate, I’m apprehensive about being the reason Autumn gets hurt.

We rode out to watch our friend Marlin (the owner of the Guzzi) take his motorcycle license practical. It started to drizzle as we stood out there talking with the instructor, so the three of us decided it was time to head home. We threw on our gear and pulled onto the main street that runs through town and hit a wall of rain.

I haven’t had a lot of time riding in the rain—I’ve gotten caught on my way home from places on a few occassions, but for the most part I’ve managed to avoid the rain and take my car instead. The act of getting wet is somewhat bothersome, though fairly easily ignored when it’s also 90+ degrees outside. What made me nervous yesterday was riding with a passenger, in the rain, in traffic.

It’s just an example of something I need to work on to prepare myself for the trip. There will be days and days on end when I will be riding in heavy, and possibly cold, rains. It also makes me realize I need to begin the practice of always carrying some rain gear with me.

It is the Floridian summer, after all.