Sunday, 27 February 2011


That's another week slipped by with no progress on the BMW. Part of the problem is that what I really ought to be doing is pulling the engine apart and sorting that out, but I've got in such a mess that I don't have enough clear bench space to work on it. Not in itself a major problem, except that I still seem to be rushed off my feet with other things that need to be done and can't find the time to tidy up benches..

I needed some sort of plan to get on top of the situation, and getting stuck into last week's Z250 seemed like an idea. Getting it done and dusted would leave me with enough material to deal with several installments of "things that I have to do", enable me to march it on to a new home to make some space in the workshop, and fund some of the parts for the BMW engine rebuild. Rather neatly, the scheme would seem to afford me a little more time to spend tidying benches too.

With that in mind, Johnny and I spent Tuesday rounding up a collection of surplus aluminium wheels and hauled them off to the scrap yard where we exchanged them for coin of the realm. With that done, we then set about the Kawasaki with a will and an assortment of spanners. The operational brief was to remove everything and anything that didn't look like a café racer, and in fairly short order, we'd achieved that goal.

We gave some brief consideration to using the factory tail piece in place of a bum stop, but by the following morning, had gone off of the idea. The original idea of "unbolt some stuff, bolt some stuff on, café racer!" still held a lot of appeal, but researching the cost of the bolt on bits has led me to the conclusion that it is just cheaper for me to make them myself. Wednesday's flurry of activity saw the motorcycle equipped with a pair of clip ons and some head light stays that I'd made. That was somewhere between £60 and £200 I hadn't spent.

On the way in that morning I'd purchased a 2 metre by 1 metre sheet of 18 gauge CR4 steel sheet, and before I buggered off for the day, I cut out and bent a base for the bum stop. The plan being to house the battery in the hump, I offered a battery up and drew out a card template for the profile which wasn't dissimilar to the original effort for the R65.

Because I'm used to working with older motorcycles, it seems that I've missed out on what's current on the battery front. After some poking around and looking at battery prices, it appears that the YTX-9 BS of recent years is actually cheaper to buy than the older sizes I tend to think of, presumably because they make so many more of them these days. While I hadn't thought to check on the price of them, I did have a dead one floating around, so that got pressed into service while I worked on the bum stop.

Close of play on Friday saw the bum stop made, the frame trimmed and thing mounted to the frame. Johnny had been trawling E-bay and managed to track down a right hand GPX 600 rear set assembly complete with master cylinder and caliper for an affordable sum. The obvious drawback of only having one being alleviated by the presence of a left hand GPX 600 rear set in the workshop.

Come Saturday, I set about making a seat base and it's mountings. You might recall that this took quite some time on the BMW, in which case you'll be pleased to know that I avoided the temptation and settled for a piece of 2mm aluminium bent to follow the bum stop, located by a tongue and hook set up at the front and secured by a single bolt on top of the hump at the rear. Not only did I decide to settle for it, I made it all too, including drilling the holes for the rivets to hold the cover on. I gave some thought to making a start on making a front mudguard for it, but decided that could wait until next week.

Hopefully, I should have everything made by the end of next week and then Johnny can set about making it shiny.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Simplicate, and add lightness.

 Sound engineering advice, which I read somewhere originated with Phil Irving (Vincents), but on Googling the phrase it seems to be attributed to quite a lot of people including Colin Chapman (Lotuses), but probably originated with William Bushnell Stout who amongst other things designed the Ford Tri Motor. I mention it as I'm finding life in general and complex and gloomy at the moment, so I'm toying with the idea of applying it to my life. With that in mind, I've embarked on a campaign to chuck out a lot of the crap in the workshop, especially crap that's not actually my crap. Hopefully that'll leave me a little more room to do do some actual work.

 Speaking of "actual work" I recently bought this Z 250 with a view to making it the basis for a project of the "things I have to do" nature. given that it runs and has brakes, it's not a million miles away from being MOT able. I was looking for something to build a quick, easy, Brat style bike out of, but while the Zed ticked a lot of boxes, it doesn't really have the makings of a Brat style bike (or at least a quick, easy one) in my eyes. So I decided to café it instead...

You know, you unbolt some stuff, you bolt some other stuff on, et vóila, a café racer.  Which all sounds horribly familiar to me as well, and I sat down and had a fairly serious talk with myself before deciding that since this was "stuff I have to do" and not "stuff I want to do", there wasn't a lot of danger of my losing sight of the "quick and easy" part of the equation. Having nipped off and bought the thing, it wasn't until Johnny and I got it back I spotted the tax disc and it's expiry date. You might be wondering just what the bloody hell the significance of that is, in which case, have a look at the second picture in the very first post in this Blog.

What I have in mind for the Kawasaki is exactly what I initially had in mind for the BMW before I got carried away with it all. Aside from from doubts about the fork legs, a days fettling, a days cleaning, and a seat cover would make the Zed a reasonably presentable motorcycle. That makes it a much more sensible basis for a project than the Beemer was and that ought to keep it from becoming a fixture in the workshop.

When I wasn't touring the country collecting motorcycles, I was beavering away trying to catch up with myself in order to get some writing writ in time for the dead lines, or at least before everything buggered off to the printers. Come Saturday, traditionally a day for spurts of progress in the Airhead department, the workshop was in more of a mess than usual, and due to the arrival of the Kawasaki and Johnny's bike trailer, looking even more crowded than usual, so I re-arranged things slightly to give a little more space, by the simple expedient of dragging everything out in the yard, and only dragging the stuff that was mine back in from the yard.

Since I haven't done anything on the BMW in the preceding two weeks, I was determined that something was going to get done and had thought I might make a tray for the fuse box, and any relays to sit between the seat unit mounts, and then cut a hole in the base of the seat unit to allow access to them, which was the whole point of making the seat catch if you recall. Since I don't have a fuse box in the end I gave that a miss as I want the box to be of a depth that suite the fuse box and/or relay mounts. A browse of the Vehicle Wiring Products and the purchase of some bits and bobs is probably in order before I start making anything. As a result, the "something" I managed to do turned out to be making a the stupidly small spacer to allow the Rose joint on the gear change linkage it's full range of movement without it fouling on the gear change lever. One tiny little spacer in three weeks, that makes taking four weeks to mount the seat base look positively rushed...

Monday, 14 February 2011

Conspiracy theory.

"Events conspire against...". Three words that you hear a lot, and like many turns of phrase it trips lightly over the cognitive faculties without attracting much in the way of attention. Once you start to think about it though, it's a little odd, subscribing to the theory that motorcycles are animistic is in some way that's difficult to define, actually quite rational. I suppose that, if you have any experience of motorcycles then it's easy to see how the conclusion can be reached, even if you don't agree with the conclusion. To imply that events are capable of getting together and plotting against you requires that you believe that events are possessed of consciousness and capable of rational thought. Or even irrational thought.

After reading that, it probably won't come as a great surprise to you that I've once again done bugger all of a BMW related nature, and that I was going to open this by complaining that "events had conspired..." , and so on. Then I gave it a little thought, and realised that events are not actually capable of conspiring, and given that, just why do we have that expression?

A conspiracy of events seems to get the blame in one of two situations, if you'll allow a sweeping generalisation. Firstly, there's what I'd call the football match scenario, "Events conspired to deny Wigan Town (or who ever) a victory". Well, as far as I can see, that's not a conspiracy, because the event that resulted in losing, was playing a team that were better prepared than them, and a single event, endowed with malign sentience or not, isn't a conspiracy. Essentially, that's a euphemism for "They were crap".

You might feel that's a bit harsh, but it's a professional football match, these people are paid to train for the eventuality of having to play a football match. Another cliche, "You make your own luck" which seems to be used when "analysing" the outcome of football matches, would seem to imply, that where "events conspired" to cause a team to lose, the event in question was failing to make enough luck, or train adequately as it's sometimes referred to.

Then again., I know nothing, and care less, about football, so I may be wildly wrong about that, but I suspect the analogy holds up.

The second situation where events are likely to be ascribed the ability to gang up on a person, is where a plan has been made, but matters requiring immediate attention crop up and deny the opportunity to carry out the carefully laid plan. I frequently mention the things that I have to do and the things that I want to do, but this week, I felt the need to invent a new, and as yet un-named, category of "things". I've yet to whittle the description down to something pithy, so for now the tentative title of this category of things is "crap that has no immediate bearing on what goes on in the workshop, but requires the use of the workshop to sort out". As I said, somewhat lacking in pith.

While I was in the middle of some "things I have to do" stuff, and being vaguely aware that there was another batch of the same lurking off to stage left, I was informed that I'd need to have two of those done in fairly short order due to various people leaving the country for a while. that news meant that I was going to be in a low level panic for quite a while longer than I had imagined I would.  So, you can imagine that the surprising news that Torquemada (my Volvo) was in rather urgent need of an MOT came as bit of a shock. Not quite as much of a shock as when it returned from failing the test due to three things. Firstly my inability to sort out whatever the hell it was that was wrong with the washers, secondly the MOT tester's inability to push a horn button, and finally, that same inept twat's having ripped the hand brake lever off.

Seriously. I've driven the car for two years now and I'm not adverse to using the handbrake to slide the back of the car around in limited spaces, and being somewhat reluctant to spend money, I never hold the car on a hill by slipping the clutch, I always use the hand brake. So how come I've never managed to rip it off?

Having welded that back up, and refitted all the trim, established that the horn does work, I spent some time digging around the screen washer system to discover that what Volvo fondly imagine to be a filter in the filler neck of the washer bottle is in fact some sort of 5 star hotel for algae. The bottle looked full, because the algae was blocking the screen, allowing a dribble through into the bottle so the washers worked for about two squirts, once a month. 
As you can imagine, that ate into the time I was supposed to be using to do "things that I have to do", but at the same time, in some sort of mental equivalent of Newton's Cradle, it triggered the thought in Mr's Bridges head that the Go Kart of Spinal Destruction was probably due for an MOT too, and indeed, it wasn't that far off. Which is when the subject of brakes got mentioned.

So, I duly purchased a set of pads for the bolide, and took it to the workshop on Saturday, having got myself moving the half hour earlier that changing the pads would take, leaving me time to box off one of the "things I have to do" and make the box for the fuses and relays for the BMW. 

As you might imagine, it didn't work out that way. The Go Kart turned out to be in need of some discs as well, and instead of flinging my arms in the air, leaving it alone and getting some new discs, I set about skimming the existing ones. Which took far too long and consumed most of the day.

The hour or so that I had left after reassembling the Go Kart, ended up being consumed by dragging out my Reliant axle so that Dave could fit it in his trike, because his is making strange noises and no longer seems willing to rotate as freely as it once did. Dave's trike being his sole means of transport, and him having a job where his presence of a Monday morning seemed advisable.

Which was about where the phrase "events conspired against..." started to spring to mind.

With a little space between me and the events in question, I've had time to reflect on it and when you think it through, it's not so much a case of events huddling over a bottle of cheap red wine in a smoke filled room and plotting my downfall, as it's a case of my being incapable of organising a drinking party in a beer factory with a cash budget of ten thousand pounds.

That probably goes some way towards explaining my dislike of notional deadlines too....

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Observations on the Manual Arts

While this week has been an entirely progress free one as far as the BMW is concerned, that's only because I've been slaving over a hot frame in an effort to render it fit for powder coating. Basically, the frame has been the subject of a degree of attention, and had a few brackets modified here and there. Since the thing is due to be powder coated ivory through the good offices of Reality Motorworks and it had, and indeed still has, a few places that would let the side down badly, I've spent most of the week shaping metal.

Mostly that's consisted of making welds that are in places that aren't supposed to look welded sit flush with the surrounding material, and removing the last part of some of the headstock bracing that needed replacing. Since the yokes are also due to visit Reality, I also gave the lower one a bit of a seeing to, smoothing out the casting marks and relieving the welds on the head light mounting bracket. I was struck by the thought that the first time I'd done something like that, I was probably 14 years old and I, and indeed quite a lot of the rest of the world, had yet to make the acquaintance of the 4" angle grinder.

All of that sort of work used to be done with files and emery cloth. Unlike some of the people I know, I possess a reasonable selection of files and don't mind using them, but I still came to realisation that I was struggling to do some areas of the job with a grinder, that would be much easier to do with the more traditional manually operated tools.  Somewhere down the line, we seem to have lost sight of the fact that power tools are only there to make some aspects of the job easier. There is a tendency to assume that a simple hand tool is simple to operate effectively, but that's a lot like assuming that a simple baseball bat must be simple to operate properly. It's fairly obvious that despite the simplicity of the tools the job requires, being a competent baseball player is a lot more complex than just buying those simple tools.

If there was such a thing as a power operated base ball bat, it wouldn't make us all into Joe DiMaggio over night, as all "power operated" means is that it takes the effort out, the operator is still required to judge the path of the ball and position the bat accordingly. In other words provide the talent and skill.

Without wanting to go and wade through several dictionaries to check, I've always rather assumed that a talent was something you were born with, but that a skill was something you learnt. We speak of people being "naturally talented" and if you serve an apprenticeship and learn a trade, you become a skilled workman, so in this context the assumption is at least logical. The reason for labouring that particular point is that there is a distinction between being talented and being skilled, and something like using a file or a hacksaw is a skill and not a talent.

Frankly, and you can ask my Father about this if you like, I have no natural talent for working with metal, in any way shape or form. I am, I suppose, reasonably skilled at it, because I have learned how to do it through education and observation. Being able to use a file to produce a flat surface is really a matter of having some basic knowledge of the tool, and practicing some technique. Cutting on the line that you wanted to cut on with a hacksaw is easily accomplished if you are prepared to fufil the same requirements, but I still meet people who don't even KNOW that hacksaw blades come in different tooth pitches, let alone how to chose the one best suited to the job. It usually easy to tell them as they're the people that are visibly amazed at how quickly you cut something with a hacksaw.

Somewhere along the way, the idea that hand tools are perfectly capable of doing the job, has given way to the idea that buying a power tool will make you good at the job. Having grown up using hand tools to work metal with I had little choice but to achieve some level of competency with them (bleeding to death seemed like the only alternative...) and that makes a difference to the way I build motorcycles. If I'd had £10 for every person that assumed that the levers I made for the BMW's rear sets were milled on a machine, then I might not have had enough money to actually buy a milling machine, but I could certainly have bought a set of rear sets instead of hand carving the buggers.

Tube notching is another area where the motorcycle building noviate often falls into the trap of thinking that power tools are a substitute for skill. I'm told that using a hole saw based tube notcher it's possible to notch a tube in very few minutes indeed. "Very few" minutes, according to some sources, meaning as many as 20. Whereas, by hand, using only manual tools, it takes me 94 seconds to cut, and finish, a tube mitre in 1.25" OD 12 gauge tube. It's fair enough to assume that I use a carefully selected set of handtools to do that, but those would be an £8 file, along with a hacksaw blade that wasn't made in China and cost more the £1 for 10 examples. Though, the retail on the hacksaw frame was nudging £90 last time I looked...

I suppose my point is that buying power tools, is not a substitute for taking the time to master the manual skills.