Friday, November 22, 2013


Found photos from this very-DIY photo shoot that never got posted. Worth a share, I think. My old E34 and my dad's E60.


It's been some time since I sold the motorbike and I have the itch for another toy. I never used the bike how I intended. This was due to several things. First, I always rode alone. I never was able to work out group rides which would have undoubtedly been more fun. It wasn't ideal for carrying a passenger. It has no luggage and hard bag options were NLA from Kawasaki. I've been looking at sporty-touring bike but nothing seems to be just right. I think it's something else, though. Motorcycles just don't push all the right buttons for me.

It would seem to be a great option: cheaper to run, has the open-air feeling and handling like a bicycle (which I love), and are quantifiably much, much faster. In truth, motorcycles are something entirely different. It's certainly nothing like driving a car, even a race car. It's nothing like a bicycle, either. While a bicycle tends to create the sense of freedom, blending (for better or worse) the abilities of a vehicle and a pedestrian, a motorbike does not. There is also the sense of danger. Lectures from every single acquaintance aside, there is a sense of danger every time you ride the motorbike. You literally put on armor before you ride, ready to do battle with physics. Part of the fun is the thrill, the knowledge of what could go wrong.

I think I've just been a car guy for too long: my whole life. There are things about a car that I just love. Little idiosyncratic things that have been ingrained in me. A lot of the aesthetics and technology just doesn't transfer over to motorbikes. I love rally cars (especially group B) but motocross and adventure riding aren't the same. Slip angles are fun and they just aren't in the cards for two-wheeled vehicles.

At the same time, I've become a huge fan of the financial freedom that car-lite life has offered. When you're not paying for two cars and the associated costs, you can make some pretty stellar bicycles appear every few months. Silly, excessive, and unsustainable I know, but it's what happened. I really enjoyed it. All of my friends ride bikes so all my spare time it spent riding with friends. My whole social life revolves around bicycles and I love it.

At the same time, there was a hole. I missed cars. I am very lucky to not have to commute and have no wish to return to that. I am lucky to be able to enjoy a car only when I want to, and not mandatory everyday traffic-time. So I came to start searching for the right car. Moving from Wisconsin to North Carolina, many of my criteria changed. All-wheel-drive isn't a must, and may be a detriment in this snow-free climate. Convertibles are now a legitimate option. There were many cars I dismissed in Wisconsin for these reasons. I talked to friends about their opinions, and even got to drive some of their cars. That's where I had my first revelation.

A friend need to borrow our Jetta wagon with the tandem carrier to transport a cargo bike. In exchange, he left a 1997 Miata M-edition for me to use. I had only ever driven a Miata once before, and I remember it being tiny and terrible. This was different. Maybe I was more tolerant. The car was so much fun. Yes, my line of sight at 6'5" is right in line with the top-most, non-transparent bit of the windshield, but I did fit. The gearshift is one of the best I've tried, the clutch and steering are crisp without being obtrusive, and the motor (with a cat-back) made a pretty good sound. I never liked the convertible aesthetic but I had to admit it was fun in the summer and let your hear more of the engine and exhaust noise.

As fun as that was, and as compelling as the sub-$5000 market price is, I didn't really fit in a Miata. I also was struggling against my love for weird, flawed cars. Which lead me to drive an S2000. The S2000 is a seriously special car. The cockpit is two tight tunnels with just enough space to not feel oppressive. That digital dash is awesome, and is that sculpted wheel. The transmission is even better than the Miata, probably what people who shoot guns describe as "rifle bolt" action. The driving experience didn't quite match the cockpit, at least not at sane speeds. The motor is peppy but doesn't come alive unless really worked. At that point, it's straight-up blitzkrieg. The sound isn't fantastic but there's no denying it's fast. The handling is very sharp, with lots of grip but not a lot of feedback. It seemed like a lot of money for something that won't be that much more fun than a Miata 90% of the time.

So I then (after saying I didn't want to live in the shadow of M96 engine failure again) stumbled upon a clean 2.5L Boxster. What caught my eye was one photo on the autotrader ad: an owner's manual full of dealer service stamps. I went to see the car and it was as-described. Clean, but not perfect. I drove it and it was fantastic. It really did feel like a baby 911. There was a lot of flat-six noise, firm brakes, and that communicative steering. I ran some numbers, talked the dealer down to about $2k less that blue book, and bought it. I would have preferred an 'S' car, and the 3-spoke steering wheel, and the tan interior, but it was the right car at the right time. I love it.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Zydeco build

After watching a few friends build tasty cross bikes then have a hoot getting them covered in mud, it was high time I built one, too. I didn't know what to get, cross bikes have changed a lot since I sold Redlines seven years ago. When my favorite shop became a Cinelli dealer and had two beautiful frames hung on there wall, it became clearer. After some finagling around trying to get the correct size, I ordered one!

Here's the bike getting it's stock 105 parts removed and replaced with Veloce.

And here's the final article.

It's so, so much fun. It's the only 'modern' frame I own, so the 1.5" tapered steerer and carbon fork feel massively stiff and immediate. The beefy rectangular stays are great, too, and being a bit longer are comfortable over the bumps. I may need to swap out the rear der for a longer cage but I'm happy with the 2013 Veloce setup. It's very snappy and seems to work better than the ~2009 Veloce/Centaur mix on my Supercorsa.

I also want to mention the TRP 8.4 mini-V brakes. They rock. They are crazy strong, match the cable pull of the ergoloevers perfectly, and look fantastic. No futzing with cantilever straddle cables, using a ouija board to divine the correct angle. Set pad clearance, a tiny bit of toe-in, and ride. I'm not sure how much better they are then the standard $30 Tektro mini-V's but they so look better.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

nine lives

A great steel bike should live forever. The frame, at least. Steel is tough, can bend and be bent back, and can be repaired with fire. There's no reason a good steel frame should ever be junked (except possible bad rust case, but you don't keep your bike outside, now do you?).


 My 3Rensho is a prime example of this. I rescued it from the shop basement. It was in a pile of old frames and had a cracked frame end. It was the only one tall enough to fit me. With more than a little help from the resident guru, we had the frame repaired and spray-painted back to serviceable condition. I used that bike as my commuter, winter bike, and first fixed gear. I loved it, rode the shit out of it, and learned all kinds of dangerous things with it. I ended up googling "3rensho" and realized I couldn't keep putting it through Wisconsin winters. I tore it apart, de-road-biked the frame, and painted it AMC "Big Bad Green." I loved it again, took it to Hawaii, rode it down volcanoes  took it to Alleycats and many-a-pubcrawl in Milwaukee. It was a great bar bike: you knew in 20 feet if you were too drunk to ride, laying in the street with the bars jack knifed.

Brakeless on the volcano side
Yeah, that's a lot of colors going on right there. I was even honored in the original bikeforums JA thread. After five years and a lot of paint chips, I started seeing rust and realized the bike was starting to look shabby. I had also moved from the very flat Milwaukee county to hilly, treacherous Wake county in NC. Brakeless wasn't going to be so great for my knees (factor in getting hit by a car, in the knee, sometime during those five years without brakes. Her fault, not mine). If I was going to rebuilt the bike, I had better to do it so I don't have to do it again.

A word of advice on bike restorations: never use automotive paint. It looks great, yes, but it's rather pricey and chips if you look at it wrong. Plus: if you're not skilled with the gun, expect some runs because a bike frame is, you know, only curves and crevices. Either do a backyard Krylon job or pay for powdercoat. Powdercoat is tough. It's really hard to chip. Modern powders offer nearly as many options as paint, including translucent candy, metallic, and reflective.

Spend some time looking at keirin bikes and you'll see a lot of sparkles. They love their sparkles in Japan. 3Rensho was no different; the NOLA bike was particularly wild. I wanted to use a pearl white on the 3Rensho but the local coater didn't carry any. I'd have to pony up for five pounds of powder. A color swatch of "candy orange" caught my eye (I do love my orange) and I chose that. It came out more metallic/sparkle than candy, but I love it. The photos don't do it justice, it's really sparkly in the sunlight.

I'm getting a little ahead of myself here. Before I had the bike powder coated, I had to undo the changes I made while a headstrong youngster in fixie-crazed Madison. I drilled out the brass I filled the rear brake bridge with. I drilled the custom, no-brake track fork I commissioned and I brazed on modern housing stops where the old cable guides had been. The frame was successfully de-hipstered.

When I built it up green'n'mean I wanted to do fully Record pista. But I was a poor student and even shop discounts don't make that bling cheap enough. I was only able to get a Record headset and bottom bracket. Sad to know that the trickest part, the carbon shelled pista BB, was hidden from view. It didn't matter, the bike was still fun and the part I did use were probably more durable. After all, Record pista hubs have no seals. None. They don't expect you to use such fine track equipment on the road.

Now that I have more time, more working bikes, and a bit more expendable cash, I was able to give the bike a proper build. As much Record pista as I could get. I did opted for modern CNC brakes over classic Record dual-pivots because finding silver Record parts (pre ~2009) is hard and they are dear. These brakes are much less expensive, lighter, and have more adjustment. Ditto on the TT levers. I didn't want to spring for the Record carbon levers especially since there is no (visible) carbon on the bike.

And tubulars. Yes, those crazy old tech tires. I had some on the Cinelli and loved the ride and the cornering. Yeah I know everyone else caught on with the 23mm clinchers, but there's no replacement for a truly round tire. Since I have no intentions to race, I went with fat Paris Roubaix tubs, a full 29mm wide. They are like buttah. And were a PITA to mount. Good thing that only happens once, right? I must admit, the fat tires look great on the skinny Escape rims.

1986 3Rensho Super Record Export road
Record Pista crankset, bottom bracket, hubset
Record headset
Velocity Escape tubular rims, Challenge Paris Roubaix tires
MKS Royal Nuevo pedals
Cinelli 1A stem, Nitto Aerodynamic bars
PlanetX CNC brakes, KCNC time trial levers
Centaur seatpost, Concor Supercorsa saddle
Decals from Velocals, Powdercoat from PowdercoatUSA
Thanks to Andy and Tim for the knowledge (education is both painful and expensive -Muzi)
Thanks to Oak City Cycling Project for the tools and glue :)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

everyday superheros

As much as I enjoyed the 996, there's no way I could use something like that everyday. If my weekly grocery shopping consisted of a single apricot, then maybe. My chief complaint with the ZR7 is no onboard storage or available hard bag mounts. My heart wants a sportbike but my head wants a bike I can ride everyday. While making a wish list, I ought to add better passenger accommodations  I'd like to enjoy the NC countryside with someone, so I should remedy that.

Good thing Ducati went ahead and took the 916 (and later 996) mill and put it in a sport tourer. A damn good one. It's a bit white bread in the looks department but the performance is there. Fully adjustable sport suspension (Ohlins on the 996-powered version) and big Brembos. The ST4, as it's called, will even hike up it's skirt if you want: take the bags off and you can swivel the exhaust pipes up for more lean. Cool. 

I was able to find one locally to test out. It was a little scruffy with stickers covering strategic scratches and cracks. It had a few touring bits and looked like it had been well-used. The pricey belt service was done, with improved belts, so it was looked after where it counted. The bike fit me far better than the 996 and better than my Kawasaki. The owner lowered the pegs a bit, which worked great for me. 

The bike had all the Ducati show: booming motor, rattling clutch, and exposed trellis. It didn't have the raucous bark that the 996 I sampled had; this one had stock pipes. That said, the motor felt smoother possibly because it was quieter. Even so, slip-ons were needed ASAP. The handling was great. It was very capable and turn in was way easier than the superbike. It was less scary and I rode it faster because of that. It never felt heavy, though the front brakes seemed tired. Perhaps some new pads would wake the Brembos up. The 996 is lighter with more power but this ST4 was really fast. It felt great bouncing back and forth between 60 and 90. I can't imagine the ST4S feels that much different. The Ohlins would be nice but remember that the superbikes typically used the same fully adjustable Showa stuff that this ST4 has. The riding position was very roomy and the bags were spacious (but the latches fiddly).

I loved it. It was perfect. There couldn't be a more perfect option out there.

But what is there was? Something else with a motorsport engine dropped into sensible clothing. Maybe something well-regarded as the best example of the best real-world motorcycle of all time?

Honda's VFR800 Interceptor is loaded with engineering candy: single-sided swingarm, pivotless aluminum frame, and outrageous gear-driven cams. I walked into a local Ducati shop hoping to find another ST or used Multistrada to try and saw a beautiful VFR sitting there. After hemming and hawing for a bit, I asked to test ride it.

So glad I did. Just like Honda's NSX surpassed the Ferrari 348 as a real-world supercar, Honda's VFR was better than the ST4 (not that Honda was copying the ST, quite the opposite). The bike was really, really good. No wonder it was bike of the year and all that. Quite surprising after riding the Duc just the day before, the Honda motor steals the show. That V4 induction noise. Those gears, that whine. It's ever-present and just shrieks at higher engine speeds. It's just great and makes you want to run up and down the rev range for the hell of it. It felt more powerful and torquier than the ST4 even though the math says otherwise. It's boomy down low, just brilliant in the middle, and true-racebike urgent up top. Triple digits came up faster on the VFR than on the ST4 but I can't tell if it's the power or the sound urging you on.

The handling was more sportbike than the ST4. The Honda is lighter and felt so. Probably just due to fresher pads, the brakes had more bite. I didn't work it hard enough to tell how the linked braking system worked but it didn't seem obtrusive. The bike I tried didn't have saddlebags, which is a problem. I'm thinking the way to go is a topcase with backrest for passenger comfort. Tandem bicycle touring has taught me that an unhappy stoker/passenger makes for a miserable trip. Much better to have double the comfort on longer trips.

I was so very suprised by the Honda. I was expecting it to be cold and clinical compared to the Ducati but it wasn't. I had the same perma-grin after riding the VFR that I did after the 996 (but without the shoulder pain). It's such a fun bike. I love machines with great voices. I bought my M5 pretty much for the S38 sound. The VFR is on that level. Kudos to Honda for doing it from the factory, too; no aftermarket can needed. The best song comes from the induction, right under your nose. Good thing, too, as things like Ferraris give their best performance for bystanders. Motorcycles are supposed to be fun and that VFR was serious, serious fun.

So, anyone want to buy a really clean ZR7 with low miles? I need to get back on that VFR and make a racket.

ZR7 Sale

Selling my bike to upgrade:
Very clean 2000 Kawasaki ZR7. Just under 9,000 miles, still riding it when the weather is nice. 
Very low miles for a 13 year old bike. Always stored indoors. 100% stock, stock exhaust. 
Great naked or standard bike. 750cc aircooled four, good commuter or beginner bike. 
Very comfortable bike. Include all keys and owners manual. Clear title in hand. 
Looking to upgrade to a touring bike with luggage.

Monday, December 10, 2012

must be Italian

Take a few minutes and watch Chris Harris not driving cars. Instead, a few famous rally drivers do it for him. In bonkers Lancias. It's readily apparent which driver is true-blood Italian as he beats the snot out of the 037. There's also bonus commentary on why the Delta S4 is one of the most dangerous machines best racing cars ever.

While we're at it, how about some more Delta S4 supercharger whine:

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

making bike parking sexy

Ok, this pushes all the right buttons: overkill amazing use of engineering, user-friendliness, and efficient use of valuable urban spaces. Two hundred bikes take up a lot of space. This is an uber-compact, and secure, solution. They are likely not cheap and much of the US is a ways off from seeing the benefit of such structures, but places like Copenhagen and Amsterdam, with multistory bicycle parking decks, would be excellent sites. In an ideal world where these were common in bustling (thief-ridden) city centers, taking the Colnago out to the bar seems more viable. Oh, and it's also weatherproof for people using their bikes for honest-to-goodness transportation. 

Check out this video detailing the design and operation of the underground bike parking tube.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

door rings

In an attempt to make our generic brick house more unique and better reflect its occupants, we decided to decorate the front door. Our neighbors have some pretty bright doors: blue, signal yellow, and we love the look. Particularly cool is a bright yellow door with flowers painted in silhouette on the glass storm door. 

As neat as that is, bicycles are our bag. So, after painting the door a nice green, several worn chainrings were fished from the crank bin and painted black. This gives good contrast and visibility from the street. I think it turned out great. We have a sketch to turn the rings into psuedo-flowers with stalks connecting them. We'll see how it looks are a week or two before hitting it up with the paintbrush. I'm on the hunt for more dead rings, too. I can't bring myself to paint the useful (130BCD road rings) or rare (NOS Campy) rings in the spares bin.

The rings are held on with black coated sheet metal screws and finish washers. The door face is steel and was pre-drilled in the appropriate bolt patterns.