Saturday, October 31, 2009

Why I rode the Ural on Friday..

Thursday night, after a day of watching blowing snow accumulate outside the office windows during the second day of our first major storm of the season, I got into my car to go home. I'd not ridden my Ural due to worsening road conditions and the fact that I wanted to attend a funeral at Fort Logan. That funeral, scheduled for Thursday, was delayed due to weather till Friday. I had even worn my good suit! OK, my only suit.

I took the E-470 slab home, avoiding most of the side roads I usually use to get home. They were covered in snow and ice and the slab was just wet. Easy choice. I went to tank up before heading home and found my right front tire riding low and almost out of air!

I tried to use the gas station's air pump but it was isolated by an expanse of snow, a good foot or more high, I could not get my car close enough to reach the hose.

I limped on home, in the snowy ruts of the neighborhood streets hoping to get to the garage and my own air compressor. Alas, it was not to be. Soon as Liesl's front end hit the piled up snow past the entrance of the cul-de-sac, she was sucked in and became well and truly stuck!

After several attempts to get moving, I gave up, walked to my garage. I changed into work clothes and fired up the snow blower to clear a path to my driveway:

Poor Liesl, crippled and stuck

Pretty high snow accumulation for October!

I was not a happy camper since this would end up preventing me from taking the Ural out for a spin about the neighborhood!

Soon enough, I had a path cleared, and poor Liesl struggled out of her predicament and we made it up the driveway and into the garage. Not a moment too soon either as this was how her right front wheel looked once parked:


I let things melt off her while I went back out to finish clearing a path clear to the entrance of the cul-de-sac.

Once finished, I cleared off the remaining ice, jacked up the right front quarter of the car and examined the tire. It seemed undamaged, it had just popped off the bead of the wheel. Hoping against hope, I applied air from my compressor and presto the tire inflated and I heard the popping sound as the inner walls of the tire seated into the bead of the wheel.

I checked it this morning before I headed out on Natasha and the tire was still holding pressure! I did not trust it though and besides, had decided to ride Natasha anyways.

I left the house at 6am, and had the roads mostly to myself. The snowy ruts of the neighborhood streets had hardened to rock hard consistency and I bounced along all the way to the E-470 Gartrell on ramp. No pictures, it was just wet riding on the slab, both myself and the rig would end up coated with road spray liberally laced with magnesium chloride!

The last mile to work, after exiting on Peoria Street, was packed and icy snow covered road. I slid a bit onto Belford Avenue but recovered nicely from a frozen wheel rut which wanted to drag my front wheel off towards the left.

I started the ride with temperatures in the low 20s and packed snow/icy roads. I would ride to the funeral with temperatures in the high 30s and melting slushy roads; and commute home in the low 40s and drying roads. Ya gotta love Colorado weather!

For her great performance on snow, I stopped at a car wash and sprayed all the road spray and magnesium chloride from Natasha. Dripping wet, we both rode home to a cul-de-sac where you could see the pavement, I expect most of the snow will be gone by Monday.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Honoring an American Serviceman

Today I was privileged to witness the burial ceremony of a friend of mine's son. Brian, had recently passed away while serving as a junior NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) in the United States Air Force.

While he did not die while in harm's way, he died while serving this country and for that I gladly honor him. His family is understandably saddened at their loss and our hearts, Martha's and mine, go out to them in this time of grief.

The ceremony, with full military honors, took place a little past Noon today. It was at the Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver. The snow covered fields with their seemingly endless rows of white marble headstones provided a sobering and peaceful background as the shots from the honor guard rang out three times. To the Honor Guard and Casket Detail I say, job well done Air Force!

There were four representatives from the Patriot Riders as well, standing the Colors proudly and quietly, my thanks to you as well for your support of a fellow veteran and his family.

The day turned out beautifully warm with the sun out in strength and temperatures feeling like they were in their 50s. I was glad it was so, it seemed fitting to lay this young man to his rest on a beautiful Colorado day. I'm thankful that the Fort Logan people were able to reschedule this ceremony due to the frightfully cold weather we've endured the last two days.



I leave you with the above shots of snowclad fields of our country's best. I think Patton had the right idea when he said: ""It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived." I read this on Brian's facebook memorial page below and while I am not saying it is foolish and wrong, for grief and mourning are the family's right. I am saying that Patton was right in that we should celebrate the lives of such who give their all for their country.

Brian James Joiner
Staff Sergeant, United States Air Force
1985 - 2009
Rest in Peace


From Brian's father, my friend Steve:

Staff Sergeant Brian J. Joiner, USAF age 24, was born April 5, 1985 to Judy and Stephen Joiner in New Milford, CT. He moved to Parker, CO in 1991 with his family, where he graduated from Chaparral High School in 2003. He joined the Air Force two weeks after graduating as he was deeply affected by 9/11 to serve his country. He was stationed in England, Afghanistan, Romania and other bases throughout these United States. He was active military, stationed at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, NV where he died on October 21, 2009.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Snow Storm Commute

We in the Denver Metro Area woke to snow this morning. It had started lightly at around 10 PM last night and is expected to go through till tomorrow evening sometime. Estimates from the weather guessers are coming in from 6-14 inches by tomorrow afternoon.

Well, I finally got the snow I'd been wanting; just another case of beware of what you wish for!

Got all geared up and left the house around 7:20 AM with Miles, my youngest son in the sidecar so I could get him to school.

Off to school and work, not much snow on the ground yet!

After I dropped him off at the school, I slowly made my way out of the neighborhood and onto the main roads. They were wet and slushy mostly, with everyone staying in the channels created in the snow by the previous cars. I had to concentrate on keeping the wheels in these same channels for maximum traction. The snow was falling pretty heavily and the winds were making sure the snowflakes flew about.

All went well, the only point where I felt the pusher wheel slip was moving from a standing stop, there was lots of ice formed at the intersections. I was one of the slower vehicles on the road but not by much, everyone was being very careful due to conditions.

Got to work with no issues, except for the electric gloves I am currently reviewing having failed miserably at keeping my hands warm. I think one of the power cables is bad, must diagnose tonight if possible.

Here's Natasha after spending the day in the parking lot getting snowed on

Fulltime 2WD, backing out past the accumulated snow piled up by the snow plows, no problem!

I left work after spending only seven hours there, wanted to get home before dark and before the wet slushy roads turned icy. I must remember to carry an small ice scraper with me as the mirrors were frozen over and I could not monitor who was behind me.

Natasha was doing just fine on the way home except for the engine running a bit rough about halfway home, I think it was a combination of water condensation in the fuel system and the air filter being wet and probably frozen in spots.

Then, a momentary moment when about 1 mile from the house, the throttle got stuck in the wide open position. I am thinking it was ice forming on the throttle cables or the butterfly levers. Some quick wiggling of the cables and the throttle steadied down. Not a good thing, wide open throttle on snowy roads! Luckily, traffic was light and no one was behind me as I dealt with the issue.

Home safe

So, Natasha did pretty good for our first ride in real snowy conditions! I think I'll cover her air filter intakes somehow the next time I leave her all day in the driving snow. Perhaps instead of covering the sidecar, I cover the motorcycle huh?

Covering the motorcycle should remedy the air filter getting wet/frozen, the control cables getting wet/frozen and finally the mirrors staying dry.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A cheap way to measure your jugs' temperatures?

I figure with this title, I will catch Mr Riepe's attention. : )

But seriously, I was cruising the online forums today seeing how folks measure the heat put out by their boxer engine cylinder heads while the engine is running.

The usual solutions were trotted out:
  • Thermocouple attachments under the spark plugs with wires leading to a meter.
  • Touchless Infrared Thermometers one points at each jug for a realtime measurement.
  • A dipstick with a thermometer at the top.
Prices ranged from not too bad ($40-100) to high (>$200). Those who read this blog, know my tendency to go cheap (usually to my regret later). So of course, I kept looking.

Then, on the sovietsteeds.com site, this guy posted a picture of how he'd just used a plain old meat thermometer and rigged it onto his engine's jug. Simplicity itself!

I rode to the local grocery store, picked up two for $5.00 each. (If I'd paid attention, I could have bought three for the price of two). They come apart easily enough, I discard the aluminum/tin frame that came with them and carefully pried the cover off:

A couple of small holes to match the holes in the metal strap and the leftover screw size

I used lock washers to hopefully keep the screws in place in spite of engine vibration

In case you've ever wondered what causes the needle to move with temperature changes

Mounted, looks good there to me, the metal strap I just bent and curved around the tappet cylinders

So there you have it, a bit of metal strapping, some leftover screws/nuts and it even looks like it belongs there on the jugs! We'll see how long they last with the engine vibrations and such but for now.....

If they work out, I might do the same for my R80 Beemer's jugs.

Update: 26OCT09: The thermometers were apparently poorly placed to register heat from the jugs, their needles did not move the entire commute home tonight. Back to the drawing board.

Update: 16NOV09: This concept is still a bust.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

New Farkles for Natasha

My motorcycles have always had a tachometer, it's good to know at what RPMs your motorcycle engine seems to be happiest at. On my R80, she cruises nice and smooth at 4000 RPM, below 3000 RPM in third gear or above, she's not happy.

I also needed, with the Total Loss Electrical System (TLES) on Natasha, I needed a way to track the hours the engine has been on to establish a baseline/history of how long the deep cycle battery lasts.

Some searching on the Internet, I ended up on Ebay as usual. I searched for hourmeter and found this:

The price was right, $20 and $4 shipping I think. A few days later, it was here and it took me all of ten minutes to mount it to my Ural's handlebar:

The 0.0 is the hourmeter when engine is off

Easy to install, hardest was figuring out a way to ziptie it onto the handlebar securely until I come up with a more permanent solution. The white wire goes to a grounding point on the motorcycle, I used one of the mounting bolts on the dead alternator. The other wire you wrap around the nearest spark plug cable. It "senses" the spark I believe and uses the count to calculate your RPMs.

It works as advertised, I am now learning what she does at idle and at speed. Natasha appears to idle at around 900 RPM, and likes to cruise around 4200 RPM apparently. Only drawback? It's not backlit, so you can't see it at night!

No problem, I rigged a $7 flashlight from Ace Hardware with a flexible neck holding the light, I just aim it at the tach and off I go. When the engine is on, you get Tachometer, when it's off you get hourmeter. Two farkles in one!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Commuting in light snow

Ah yes, one of the reasons I'd traded my 1150RT away for a Ural Sportsman Sidecar Rig was the rig's inherent stability when weather conditions can make the roadway iffy in terms of traction.

We had light snow starting early before dawn and falling throughout the day. It was light and did not stick to the roadways, just making them wet. It stuck only to grassy areas and vehicles in parking lots for the most part.

Still, I'd put on the fairings and leg protectors last night and away I went into the pre-dawn darkness on my commute to my new job location south of Peoria and E-470.

I got to my work parking lot just before 7AM and as you can see, it was still quite dark but I'd arrived with no issues.

7Am, dawn is not for another 15 minutes or so

I watched the snow fall throughout the morning, just waiting for the official lunch hour to start so I could get out on Natasha and ride around the business park complex. The snow still wasn't sticking to the roads you see so it was just wet riding conditions.

The above was taken through my phone's camera...maybe a couple of inches accumulation, tops!
I am using my small motorcycle cover for the sidecar to prevent it from filling with water. Note the schweinhundt SUV driver next to me, parking in the row for compact cars.....

Lunch hour in the Meridian Business Center

This is the building where I work

As you can see, yeah I guess you could call it a snow storm but it did not amount to much so far....just wet conditions for drivers and yours truly. Still, it was a good test of Natasha's recently repaired engine. She started just fine each time, though I had to use the choke when the engine was cold. No overheating issues today! I think it was a high of 40 degrees!

The ride home was uneventful, just wet. I did have to keep wiping the ice that formed on the windshield but that's it. Had I been on Brigitta, my R80 Beemer, things would have been a bit more tense.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My new Hero: Hubert Kriegel

I'd never heard of the man till this month's edition of the BMW Motorcycle Owner's Association publication of Owner's News. I am very glad that they did a write up on this guy, nay on this adventurer!

Hubert Kriegel is his name, a sidecar rig rider, in his early 60's, and criss-crossing his way around the world on a ten year adventure! He basically sold everything he had, equipped himself at first with a R100GSPD Tug mated to Ural Sidecar and off he went.

He's now on his fifth year of traveling the world and apparently has switched to using a Ural Sidecar rig; at least while he's in Russia....which is his current location apparently.

I got the following photos from the BMWMOA online version of the magazine article: The Timeless Ride.



As you can see, neither heat nor cold stop this guy from exploring the remote corners of our planet while on his sidecar rig. This guy is my new Hero!

Here's Mr Kriegel's website: The Timeless Ride , there's tons of pictures there, of which I've seen just a small amount during my lunchtime break.

As I mentioned before, the pictures and initial info are from the BMW Motorcycle Owners Association's website: LINK

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Natasha on the South Platte River Road

As a "shakedown" ride after being down for two weeks due to the self-destructing 35amp Russian alternator episode, I rode Natasha out towards the Deckers area, specifically to cruise along the South Platte River.

I headed out the door sometime after 9am, the voltmeter read 12.5 volts and there was 33km on the tripmeter. I took the back roads to the town of Parker, transited it to reach Crowfoot Parkway which eventually got me to Castle Rock's northern limits. I crossed over the I-25 Slab here and got on northbound US85.

The weather was nice and warm, it would get hot later on. The sun was out in force and traffic was not heavy yet. I soon reached Sedalia and turned onto CO67 heading towards Deckers which was about 28 miles away.

The biker bar at Sedalia, no one there at around 10am

CO67 is a nicely paved somewhat twisty road in the canyon areas. I found myself wishing I'd ridden Brigitta, my 1987 r80 motorcycle instead but there was a mission to be accomplished: Seeing if Natasha was good for a long ride.

Eventually, I went past Rampart Range road and was soon on Douglas County 67 which is a two lane packed dirt road with small gravel. Being on three wheels, the gravel was not a major issue at all and I was able to maintain speeds between 25-30 mph. There were some sharp turns in this 9 mile stretch of road which had me standing on the brakes but it was all good.

A view of far off rock formations from Douglas County Road 67

My first view of Scraggy Peak as I approached South Platte River Road

I got to the South Platte River Road, north of Deckers by about 5 miles I believe. I turned north to follow the river as it courses southwards. I watched the fly fishermen up to their thighs in the frigid rushing waters, trying their luck.

Soon the paved road ends and packed dirt and dust became my road surface as I admired the rock formations that decorate the hillsides and the river.

A nice view of Scraggy Peak and the South Platte River

Looking south along the South Platte River

I love these big boulders in the river

The best shot of the day, in my opinion, the sun was hitting this high rock formation just right

Too soon, I came upon the end of the larger rock formations and crossed a small bridge to stop in front of the delapidated husk that once was the South Platte Hotel. It's been "considered for restoration" now since I first saw it back in the Fall of 2006, methinks it'll never get done. Which is a shame as the area was once a bustling stop along the South Platte River when it served as a transportation medium.

The usual shot of the South Platte Hotel

You have to ride slowly as you make your way north on South Platte River Road from this point until you get past a small ranch or two. Why? Because their animals, I've seen cows and horses line and walk on the road at times. Today, I passed within almost touching distance of several horses. I passed them by at a dead crawl.

I've missed the narrow window for fall colors this year, kind of drab looking leftovers is all I could find.

Nearing Foxton Road, what Sanoke calls the Cathedral Spires

I got to Foxton Road and took it northwards to US285. Again, the many twists and turns on this road had me wishing for Brigitta but Natasha did just fine as well....just not as fast or as fun. I am still leery of taking right hand turns too fast. Heck, at times I was going so slow this bicyclist passed me! We did this passing each other thing a couple of times until we both reached US285.

I stayed on US285 North only long enough to take the CO73 Pleasant Park Road exit towards Evergreen. Another nicely twisting road to be enjoyed if you are ever in the neighborhood and a good way to get to the mountains from the SW edge of the Denver Metro Area.

I arrived at Deer Creek Canyon road and followed its own nicely twisting curves all the way back towards the Chatfield Reservoir area. Lots of traffic at this juncture due to cagers taking their kids to the corn maze activity nearby.

Traffic looked like crap going south, the way I normally take on CO 121. So instead I got on eastbound C-470 for just a short sprint to the Santa Fe/US85 exit. Turning south on US85, I soon arrived back at Sedalia. Where there had not been another motorcycle near the flag adorned bar in the first picture, now there were herds of HDs each trying to outdo the other in terms of noisy pipes. I fueled up quicky and got away from the noise.

The rest of the ride was retracing my route through Castlerock with a brief stop at an overlook that belongs to a housing development under construction:

That's Castlerock's namesake in the near background, and Pikes Peak is way off in the distance

After I took the above picture, I had several minutes of "vapor lock" conditions on Natasha. She was quite warm and the day was hot as well. Tried for a few minutes to start her using both the electric starter and the kickstart, no luck.

Pushed her a bit and she almost caught but still nothing. Finally, waited a couple more minutes and successfully kick started her. Must investigate that further. No further incidents and I was hope just before 3PM.

Natasha, in spite of the vapor lock incident, did outstanding! I covered 242km or 145 miles. The voltmeter read 12.0 volts upon my return and I'd watched it go as low as 11.8 at times. The meter being LCD, its kind of hard to see in direct sunlight. So, about 6hrs of riding time on the battery charge so far and 145 miles range. Not too shabby eh? Remember, I am running without an alternator, just using the TLES or Total Loss Electrical System.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Natasha lives once more.....and she gets a farkle

It was tough, but managed to wait till the stroke of noon before firing up Natasha to see if I'd gotten ride of the squeaking noise caused by a gap between the front engine cover and the engine case.

Success! No squeak and she ran quite smoothly during the whole test ride. Good power and acceleration, in fact, she seems a little peppier now without an alternator robbing some power from the cam shaft timing gear! : )

Looking like surgical scars, you can see where I put high temperature RTV sealant to ensure no further "air gaps"

Yep, kind of messy looking, I'll be trimming and cleaning up the excess soon enough

I took her out for about 18 miles of riding. Now that I am running Natasha on a TLS or Total Loss System in terms of ignition, I am trying to track voltage use on Natasha. I started out with 13.5, ended the riding for the day at 12.5. I was using my low beam headlight.

Natasha ran great! I went to the small hilly area I like to pose my motorcycles by when close to home:

Nice clear sunny day today, you can see Denver's skyline and the mountains

On the way out of the development, I spotted this dirt road leading to the top of a small hill, I couldn't resist. Up we went, Natasha and I, and here she sits on top of the hill.

The photo doesn't really show the slope of the hill

I went by Andre's house for him to listen to the engine, he seemed pleased with the results though he thought one of the valve clearances on the right jug was a bit loose. I'll be checking that in the morning.

Once I got home, I drained the oil I'd put in while working on Natasha this past week. The color of the oil was still almost new looking. However, the metal particles I found when wiping the drain plug and saw in the oil filter cap made me glad I flushed the oil! No big stuff but I'll be flushing the oil about a week from now you can be sure of that.

The sparkly stuff is metal particles, whether left over from the old timing gears or the new ones "breaking in" remains to be seen, I am hoping its the former.

I took apart the oil filter and you can see its a good thing I swapped it out so early after installation.


Once I was done with the oil change on Natasha, I gave Natasha a new farkle as her "welcome back among the living" present. It was a voltmeter I'd bought on Ebay last week to monitor the drain on the TLS battery.

As the connection point, I used the power leads for the alternator warning light which is lit all the time now since the alternator is not hooked up. It's the nearest white connector in the picture above

Above is the indicator before I removed it.

Here's the voltmeter mounted in place of the warning light in the previous picture.

I also rigged the ground wire for the low beam headlight to be grounded at one of the handlebar mounting points. I'll probably eventually rig a fulltime on/off switch so I can turn off the headlight when running low on battery so I can make it to home or somewhere I can plug the battery charger into for a quick charge.

So a great day for all concerned. I managed, with enormous amounts of help and expertise from Andre and online sources, to disassemble a motorcycle way past the point I'd ever done on any motorcycle....replace the timing gears successfully....put everything back together and actually have it work! Andre, if you're reading this, you're the reason this repair job went so well! Thanks!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Putting Natasha back together.....test ride tomorrow afternoon!

Yesterday, Andre and I had put things back together enough to the point where I could work towards trying to start the engine. Here's the new timing gears, installed by yours truly with a minimum of cursing and damage; and with tons of help from Andre.

The hole on top is where I will put the damaged alternator back in, sans gear, to act as a cover until I either get a rebuilt or some other option pops up.

Closeup of the crankshaft timing gear, yeah, I buggered up the bending of the disk to lock the nut in place. Oh well, it's not pretty but it'll work

The new cam shaft gear, which was pressed onto the cam shaft while it was out by Andre's mechanic friend. Note the new allen headed screws holding the cover behind the gear, almost all the rpoc flathead screws got replaced by allen head steel screws.

Andre had to leave for home before I was ready to try and start the engine and so he missed it when I went to hit the starter and NOTHING happened.

Dammit! There I was, getting close to 11PM by that point, and I could not get the starter to do anything. Very frustrating. Called it a night after posting the issue on the online forums asking for guidance. So close!

Today I went to work, and hurried home after 4PM to start troubleshooting what I believed to be an electrical problem. Andre joined me soon after I got home and together we worked with voltmeters and visually checking connections.

Here's Natasha, sans gas tank(which is a pain to remove when it has gas in it), so we could examine the whole wiring harness.

A closeup of the two relays which control the starter and alternator, we initially thought one of the relays was bad, then perhaps the individual wires leading to them.

The two black thick wires that used to lead to the bolt on the rear of the alternator, now joined together and taped up to complete the circuit for the lights and the starter.

After maybe an hour, we found that by jiggling the wires leading to the two relays, we could hear the relays clicking when the ignition was on! Aha!

We concentrated then on the relays and their connectors, tightening things, cleaning connections and so on. We thought we had narrowed it down to a bad relay but after we put the new one in, more jiggling of wires caused sporadic loss of power to the starter circuit! As an indicator, we knew we had good connections when the battery low indicator light glowed. When it blinked, problems.

Andre then noticed that the small green wire which had been connected to the back end of the alternator, and which the online guys told me could be left disconnected, also kept moving as he shook the relay wire cluster and occasionally grounding out on the engine case! He'd found it!

So in spite of the general wisdom online, you do have to ground the small green wire from the 35amp Russian alternator. Once we secured it, the starter engaged just fine. Heck, we even started the engine! She started just fine and ran very smoothly. We'd hear this weird squeaking noise while it ran though. Took a couple of tries but we finally found it:

Air was escaping at the top right corner of the front engine cover, causing the paper gasket there to vibrate and emit a squeaking noise!

So after Andre left today, I went to the auto parts store, got some high temperature gasket sealant and removed the front engine cover again to apply it. I'd decided not to use it the first time because its use was not mentioned by the source I was using as a guide. My fault. What a pain, specially after the engine ran so smoothly and quietly when compared to before....almost beemer-like!

Still, it had to be done, can't be squeaking can we? :)

I sure hope the gasket sealant does the trick, the gear damaged the case somewhat and I found a couple of hairline cracks near the top. I applied a little JB-Weld since it's not a high stress area of the engine. If it ever gives out though, I'll have to replace the front cover, and that's if I am lucky and the main engine case does not have issues as well! Damn grenade alternator!

So that's why I must wait till tomorrow afternoon, I want to give the sealant a good 18 hours to cure and seal.

Still, she's back together, just have to put the front wheel fender back on tomorrow morning, sort out a few things and she'll be ready for that test ride. Wish me luck.