Monday, June 28, 2010

A missing part causes a Wrench-Intensive weekend.

Recently, in the hopes of finally getting past the heat-related "fails to start" engine issues on Natasha, my Ural Sidecar Rig, I'd bought a gently used Ducati Ignition system from a fellow member at

The price was less than 1/2 of the retail price for the latest ignition module type for Urals so how could I say no right?  The parts arrived promptly and on Thursday afternoon of last week, I dismantled the existing Type IV ignition module and took it off Natasha.  It was when I got stuck removing the mounting plate for the old system that I realized that I was missing a seal plate for the new Ducati system!  Doh.

You see, I'd been following the illustrated "how to" guide published by JohnBG of and neglected to notice that I was missing this part:

old seal plate on left, new one on right
 photo source: JohnBG's Ducati Ignition Install Guide

The function provided by the seal plate is to keep the oil from the engine from leaking out into the front cover area where the ignition's rotor and electric pickup is located:

Here's the front of the engine, the cam shaft's end poking through from inside the engine.

Here's the new seal plate which I was missing

I emailed the previous owner of the ignition kit and he promptly replied telling me he'd thought the piece was not Ducati-specific.  He also mailed it out to me the next day so I should have it by Tuesday of this week.

So Friday afternoon was spent removing the old mounting and seal plates from the front area of the engine.  Dang P.O.S. Russian pot metal flat tip screws proved stubbornly hard to remove without damaging them.  There were seven in all and all but one I managed to remove using penetrating oil and time.  The last one involved the removal of the front wheel and fender so I could line up an impact driver on it.  Three hits and it was loose!
Knowing the seal plate was not missing and on the way, I spent most of Saturday doing what I could with the ignition components I did have.  Here's a shot of Natasha with her fuel tank off so I could get at the mounting points for the new module and install all the associated wiring.

A bit messy in terms of wiring, grease and such under the tank, I know.  All that would be cleaned up and corrected over the course of the weekend.

A view of the front of the engine, plastic cover and old ignition pieces removed.  As you can see, the old alternator is still mounted, serving only as a 7 lb+ cover to keep engine oil inside the front engine area.

I spent some time cleaning up the areas exposed by the removal of the gas tank.  Did some rust removal and paint touch-up.  Cleaned up the wiring underneath, routing wires cleanly and installing the wiring for the Ducati ignition system at the same time.

Two holes needed to be drilled into the support frame welded onto the frame which the gas tank straddles when mounted.  This procedure went well, though I did introduce a slight nick in the speedometer cable's sheathing with the drill bit.  

Here's the Ducati coil, mounted securely onto the support frame above where the old ignition's plastic cover goes.  You can see part of the electric pickup that will "sense" the rotation of the new rotor/interruptor on the camshaft for ignition timing purposes.

The "brains" of the Ducati Ignition system, bolted onto the support frame under the motorcycle's seat.  Those exposed wires you see I ended up covering with some black duct tape to keep water out.

Once I'd gone as far as I could without the missing seal plate, there were two other tasks that came to mind that I'd been meaning to do.  Service the splines on the drive shaft and try removing the failed alternator and putting a metal cap in its place to keep the oil inside.

 A shot of twin rainbows visible from my driveway, this on the afternoon after the work above was done.
I am hoping it was a good omen for the work.

Sunday was spent doing the two tasks above.  Neither was a major ordeal, just time intensive, especially the removal of the final drive and the drive shaft from the rear of the gear box.  For this operation, I was following the excellently illustrated and annotate guide from Bill Glaser's site.

I was way too engaged by the procedure, not to mention having grease-coated hands, that I didn't shoot any pictures while I did the spline lube service.  Instead, here's pictures from Bill Glaser's site which show you a bit of what was involved.  

Here's a view of the drive shaft, it connects to a rubber donut behind the gearbox that acts as a shock absorber and coupling unit.  The splines to be lubed are visible on the left end of the shaft.
photo source: Bill Glaser

Here's a view of the final drive and one of the four bolts which affix it to the rear swingarm
photo source: Bill Glaser

Here, the final drive is unmounted from the swingarm and being moved to the left to uncouple it from the swingarm and the sidecar propeller shaft
photo source: Bill Glaser

The Final drive, ready to be cleaned up and serviced.  
Mine was much greasier and dirty than Bill's unit above!
photo source: Bill Glaser

My final drive had apparently never been serviced until that day.  The splines were bone dry, with some minor damage due to lack of grease, some light rust and some wear.  I believe it's still usable though.  Due to the lack of prior service, it took quite an effort for me to free it from the gearbox's coupling device.  The final drive unit is pretty heavy and unwieldy so picture me with it in my lap, my feet braced against the centerstand's legs and pulling backwards with all my strength!

I pulled so hard I ended up pulling the rubber donut/coupler off the rear of the gear box!  No big deal as it just gets pushed on, which I did using a large flat tip screwdriver as a lever.  Once I finally got the drive loose, I spent quite some time cleaning it up and servicing the splines.  I used Honda Moly 60 grease as it's got a good reputation among Beemer and Honda owners for such usage.

Along with some assistance from my loving wife, I got the final drive installed and it snicked into the coupler unit with nice and smooth due to the new grease I'd applied.  The hardest part of the install was aligning the yokes for the sidecar's propeller shaft!  I am quite certain the next time I go to pull off the final drive, that it'll come out quite easily!

Next task, the removal of the failed 35Amp Russian alternator, otherwise known among the Uralisti cognoscenti as the Russian Hand Grenade.  As I mentioned before, I'd been using it only as a cover to keep oil from splashing out from the front portion of the engine.  The idea was to take off it's 7lb+ worth of dead weight and replace it with a metal cover.

To that end, I ended using the "top hat" metal plate that came with an old Ural air box I'd obtained from another fellow owner.  A little drilling, a little filing and I got the existing holes on the plate to fit the mounting bolts that used to secure the failed alternator.  I used gasket making material to hopefully create an oil-tight/airtight seal on the opening.  If it doesn't work, you'll see the alternator placed back in on future pics!

Things look quite "roomy" here now with the failed alternator out of the picture!

I did some final cleanup, replaced the gas tank and hooked back up all the gas lines that go to it.  Now Natasha's ready for the Ducati-specific seal plate and installing the remaining components of the Ducati Ignition system should be a breeze.

 Update: Later on today.
The missing seal plate came in the afternoon mail!  I put it on with no issues, put some gas into Natasha's tank, and she fired right up!  I next hooked up my timing light, shone it into the opening and saw that the timing mark was almost dead center already.  A little fiddling with the rotor pickup and it was dead center.  I got her buttoned up, got geared up and went for a quick test ride.

She rode beautifully.  Engine was nice and smooth, well as smooth as a Ural can be anyway.    I'd adjusted the clutch before due to a piece of it breaking off at the handle but I think I'll get used to new "friction zone" soon enough.  I came home to put the front fender back on.  The elated feeling was only slightly dulled by seeing that my metal cover replacement for the alternator's mounting point had failed miserably though.  There was evidence of an oil leak down the right side of the engine.  Oh well.  (note, there's a minimum width requirement for whatever is used as a cover, otherwise you end up pulling out the mounting bolts!)

About an hour later, there was more gas spilled on the driveway as I had to remove the tank, remove the cover plate, put back the failed alternator and replace the gas tank.  I really have to get quick disconnects for that crossover tube between the two halves of the gas tank!  (Stupid design)

Another test ride, no oil leaks this time, I need to buy a new mounting bolt for the front fender but its fine now with a temporary replacement.  Natasha is back among the "living" and will be my ride to work tomorrow.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Riding the CO9 - US6 Loop

Father's Day dawned cool and sunny here in Colorado.  After a sumptuous breakfast and Father's Day greetings from my sons, I left the house set for a daylong ride, my now traditional Father's Day present along with a couple of cool books I'll bring up in later articles.

I rode out of the Denver Metro area on US285 and stayed on this fast moving two lane highway (for the most part) until I left the city's traffic behind and enjoyed the cool ride out to Kenosha Pass (10,000 ft).  Cruising right past the sign at the pass, I was soon plunging down to the valley below (Colorado Basin) where the towns of Jefferson, South Park and Fairplay reside.  The winds really picked up at this point and had to go into my "dances with the winds" mode to stay on the road!  I climbed out of the valley through Red Hill Pass (9,993 ft) and I was glad to see the turnoff for Colorado State Rd 9 or CO9 at Fairplay, which I took north towards Breckenridge which was 23 miles away.

Climbing steadily from Fairplay I arrived at the small town of Alma (highest incorporated town in US) where I stopped to don my jacket liner and heavier gloves, I soon had to stop for this shot just shy of Hoosier Pass:

Just to the south of Hoosier Pass

Continuing on, I saw a turnoff for Park County Rd 4 which looked interesting.  I got on this dirt road and slowly rode along until I came to Montgomery Reservoir.  It's a nice little reservoir where I found families fishing and enjoying the view:

At Montgomery Reservoir on Park County Rd 4

The small dam which created Montgomery Reservoir

One last look at the view at Montgomery Reservoir

Getting back on CO9, I transited through Hoosier Pass (11,542 ft), negotiated several tight hairpin turns down to this point where I usually stop to pose the motorcycle I am riding.

I continued on CO9 until reached the town of Breckenridge (9600 ft), one of the several major ski resorts in the state.  The mountainsides looked nice and green, with the ski runs covered in grass.  I wandered through Breckenridge, foregoing the temptation to go down Boreas Pass Rd.  I got to Frisco (9075 ft)  and near the vicinity of the I-70 super slab when I spotted a promising road.  This road is Swan Mountain Road and it takes one up into the hillsides near Frisco and Dillon (9111 ft).

This very nice mountain road takes you around Dillon Reservoir and soon you come upon a magnificent sight of cliff-side houses overlooking Dillon Bay:

Pretty nice bay huh?  Specially since it's at above 9000 ft above sea level!

Dillon Bay

I took Swan Road until it junctions with US6, the plan at this point to go see Loveland Pass (11,90 ft) on the way home.  As I left the Dillon area, the sight of these mountain peaks caused me to pause and try and capture the majestic peaks I saw:

Continuing on US6, I soon came upon another of Colorado's major ski resorts, this one was Arapahoe Basin(13,050 ft) which is located close by to Keystone Ski Resort  (9173 ft) and the town thereof.

Continuing to climb on US6, I stopped once again for this last show of A-Basin, the nickname for Arapahoe Basin Ski Resort.

Eastbound US6 is a nicely climbing, gently curving road with mountain scenery aplenty.  However, it's got no guard rails so it pays to keep a close eye on the road as you catch glimpses of the nearby mountain peaks.

Some of the majestic mountain peaks visible from US6

Near the summit of Loveland Pass on US6

I finally got to the summit of Loveland Pass, there was open space near the Forest Service sign and so I stopped Brigitta nearby and got this shot.

Loveland Pass

I rode down a bit from the summit and turned Brigitta around and parked her at the same spot (more or less) where I had parked Natasha the last time I was up at Loveland Pass this past winter:

January 20, looking towards Loveland Pass

June 20, looking towards Loveland Pass

Views from just below the summit of Loveland Pass, a couple of minutes before one gets to the treeline

I made my way down from Loveland Pass, and endured the usual frenzied Sunday afternoon rush from the mountains until I got to Georgetown where I exited to get fuel.  From Georgetown, I managed to stay on frontage roads past Idaho Springs

I stayed on US40 which is a winding two lane road all the way to Genesee Park where I once again jumped on the I-70 slab for a couple of miles till I could get on the turnoff/death merge exit for US6/US40.  From this point on I basically had the two lane road all to myself until I got back to the Denver Metro area's vicinity.

I used CO93 to cut south towards the town of Morrison and from there it was Morrison Rd to Kipling Blvd to US285 once again.  Traffic in the city was not bad for a Sunday afternoon and soon I was taking the I-25 exit south to I-225 and from there, Parker Rd to my home neighborhoods.

I covered 259 miles today, including 4 mountain passes, in about 8 hrs of saddle time, a pretty good day's worth of riding.  I managed to beat the incoming weather home and Brigitta performed great.  What more could I ask from a Father's Day ride?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Carrying spare gas on the Ural?

Recent rides with the boys and with James of the PBTF ride have led me to rethink the cargo area usage within the sidecar.  Once you've a passenger, things you normally carried within the sidecar need to find someplace else go to!

Typically, the normal Ural Sidecar Rig owner mounts his/her spare gas can in the OEM gas can and carrier which typically gets mounted on the left rear side of their sidecar.

Ural Sahara model

Another spot Uralisti mount the gas can is to the right or left of the sidecar's nose
photo source:

I don't have the option anymore of mounting it in the same spot as the first picture, there's battery cables emanating from the sidecar since I run a Total Loss Electrical System, and I didn't like the looks of the rig with the gas can up front.

I'd been shopping online for a version of a fender rack similar to the one sold by Ural but which is rather expensive and hard to find in black (no, I don't want the chrome version).

Rear Fender Rack from Ural
photo source IMWA

 The thought had been to mount the rack and use it as an anchor point for my Kolpin Gas Can carrier I'd bought for the 1150RT way back.  Well, now Maria is gone and I'd been carrying the Kolpin gas can inside the sidecar rig as I rarely had a passenger with me.

As I was looking at Natasha today after work, it suddenly dawned on me that since the Ural spare tire cargo rack (see above pics) is mounted using the locking hub that holds the spare tire onto the sidecar's spare tire mounting point; why not do the same with the Kolpin Gas Can carrier?

A one inch hole drilled into the metal carrier and voila, it was nice and secured onto the top of the spare wheel:

I will try the above setup during this weekend's riding and see how it all works out.  I may change the orientation of the carrier so the gas can is closer to the right side of the sidecar, so if gas spills it has no chance of hitting the hot exhaust pipe on the right side of the tug.  I'll probably also orient the can so the spout it to the rear of the sidecar as well.

The Kolpin Gas Carrier is designed primarily for the rough and tumble ride of an ATV so I figure it's secure enough for my purposes.  My only concern is the strength of the spare wheel securing hardware, I guess I'll find out!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

First Thursday Vintage Bike Night - Club 404

I'd heard about this local Denver event, where on the first Thursday of each month, owners and riders of vintage motorcycles of all marques would gather at Club 404 to show off and admire motorcycles.  This past Thursday, the weather was warm and clear and the motorcycles were out in good numbers!

The club/restaurant is located at the junction of 4th Street and southbound Broadway Blvd in Denver.  I took Hampden Avenue to Broadway and headed north in medium to light traffic until I saw a gathering of motorcycles on 4th street.

I arrived shortly before 7:00 PM and there were already over 30 motorcycles parked with a good sized crowd of people looking them over.

I carefully parked Brigitta, my 1987 R80 Airhead Beemer in an open spot and was almost immediately engaged in conversation by a gentleman who'd spotted me parking the motorcycle.  Ron owns a '79 R100 and we proceeded to talk about Beemers of course.  He's not ridden his in over ten years but his son's recent taking up motorcycling has led to him seriously thinking of resuscitating his motorcycle.

We then parted ways and I proceeded to take the following pictures of some of the motorcycles that caught my eye, I hope you like them.

A very clean and shiny Moto Guzzi

An Airhead Beemer with a "Toaster" tank

Cushman Scooter

A bit scruffy looking but still classic Norton

I was glad I'd decided to ride the R80 and not my Ural, this example was hardly getting any looks by the crowd, whereas Brigitta attracted her fair share of looks and photographers.

A Honda made into a Cafe Racer

A vintage Harley Davidson (and yes, it marked it spot, quite well I might add)
This one had a "suicide shift" lever.

I ran into Hans who was the one who introduced me to the guys at the BMAC, here with his nicely running Triumph motorcycle.

Another vintage Honda

This Triumph caught my eye due to the way the pipes had to be covered to prevent burning the rider's left leg

The paint job on this cafe racer was eye-catching, I think it's a Norton

Check out the exhaust pipes on this Honda!

I almost left the event without taking a picture of Brigitta!

I didn't tarry long at the event, leaving around 7:45 PM or so and taking Broadway all the way back down south to Hampden Avenue and home.