Archive for April, 2012

I’m getting ready to own my first home, and it has a badass garage, complete with wrap-around workbench and pegboard wall. The following is a list of shit I plan to put in there over the next year or so. The list is by no means comprehensive, but rather a starting point for a beginning motorcyclist who wants to do some basic maintenance on their own.

First, you’ll want a a set of metric wrenches. I have a set of regular old wrenches, and a set of fancy-schmancy ratcheting box-end wrenches. If you’ve got a metric bike, better have some metric tools, eh? If you don’t buy anything else, a set of regular wrenches should be enough to change your oil. I specify wrenches here because you can’t get to the oil drain plug with a socket on my VT750C2 You can use sockets on a Vulcan, and maybe a V-Star. I don’t know about Suzuki, so ask Google.

Second, at some point you’ll want a lift so you can work on the bike easier. I don’t have one yet, but Sears sells a few models that are under $200 and seem to be well built. Get the ones with better reviews. Duh. The other thing you can do with a lift is check your forks and wheels for damage and straightness.

You may also want an air compressor. It isn’t totally necessary but damn is it nice to have an air compressor with a bunch of attachments. Decent ones are around $100-$150. Again, Sears has some reasonably priced models.Then you’ll need some tunes. A good ghetto-blaster is the cornerstone of any garage. The one pictured below is for sale at Amazon, among other places, and even has a subwoofer. Not that SoundGarden or Genesis requires a lot of bass. Or talk radio for that matter. In any case, you need a stereo in your garage.

If you have some budget left over, nothing is as cool as old metal signs. Particularly old metal motorcycle signs. Again, Amazon can hook you up. I want some Triumph signs, and maybe some gas signs.


I ordered spark plugs, a gap tool, and 12-point 18mm socket. It came in just now and I went out to swap out my old, roached plugs for shiny new ones. Well, while the MotionPro socket I ordered is really well made, it isn’t made to fit in the left-front or right-rear plug recess. So I pulled to two plugs I could reach, gapped two new ones, and made the swap. Weirdly, the throttle does feel a little sharper, but it could all be in my head.

The two plugs I pulled were clearly old, given the faded appearance of the middle part of the plug. They were blackened, indicating a slightly rich fuel mix or maybe some failure of the insulator, but not so sooty as to indicate oil burn. I probably could have gotten away with brushing them off and checking their gap, but since they appear to be the originals, I feel better about new plugs. It’s cheap insurance. I will attach pics as soon as I find my USB cable. In the mean time, enjoy this link on how to “read” your spark plugs.

Note: I have ordered a Honda OEM plug wrench that is supposed to be in your tool kit, but was absent from mine. I will include a link to it.

The part number of the MotionPro socket that does not fit is: 57-8175

Updated: Wear was normal, and they still were close to spec when measured with my gap tool. New plug on right for comparison.

I’ve been pouring over spec sheets on prospective new machines, since it seems that it’s more expensive to bolt on power than to just get a bigger bike. When I attended the MSF Basic Rider Course last year, a lot of the students were learner’s-permit holders who rode newer Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Customs. I don’t have really any background with Kawasaki, so I never really looked at the Vulcan as a possibility. But then I ran across a multi-bike shootout posted online. The Vulcan 900C put down a blistering 50 horsepower at the rear wheel and only weighs in at 619lbs wet. That’s pretty respectable, and after some Craigslist-creeping, I found a ton of them for sale in the $5000-$6500 range with very low miles and in near showroom condition.

The Vulcan also has some stuff I like. It’s water cooled, so the engine will last. It’s EFI, so no carbs to synch or clean or re-jet. It’s belt driven, which is more durable than a chain, and cheaper and less power-sapping than a shaft. Lots of new metrics are going to belts, and I was pissed at first, but I totally get it now.

Am I interested in the 900C now? Well yes, it’s only…..uh…Spock, help me out here:

I do like my Honda, but the brand-new Phantom they tested above only put down an anemic 36hp at the rear wheel. It does only weigh in the low 500lbs, but 36hp isn’t a whole lot. It also had the worst brakes by FAR. Maybe it’s time to trade my brand loyalty for logic and research.


Fool’s Gear

Posted: April 25, 2012 in Early Years, helmets
Tags: ,

I wear a full face helmet. I’ll be honest and say that if I am only running to the grocery store in my town of less than a thousand people, I just put on a leather jacket and some sunglasses and go. But if I plan on going past the city limits, I wear an armored jacket, full-face helmet, and gloves. I always wear my old Blackhawk combat boots and some heavy jeans. And I have two big reasons for my choices in PPE.

I was about 13 years old, and enjoying an August afternoon on my beloved XR80R. Dad had parked a horse trailer partially blocking the gate to grandma and grandpa’s place. If I rode between the wooden fence post marking the west side of the gate and the trailer, which now occupied most of the driveway, it made a cool sound like a TIE fighter. The faster I shot through, the more awesome the sound. I decided to try and go through the gate in the very top of fifth gear, so I rode all the way down the lane, spun the bike around and gunned it. Now, to make it through the narrow gap, I had to  push the bike very slightly from right to left (toward the fence post) and straighten it up right away. The lane had a very shallow curve, but enough to make a difference in the very top of fifth gear, as I found out. I tried to body-english the bike over, but my knee was still hanging over the left footpeg when it crashed into the old wooden fence post. I remember the rear tire losing grip, and then going over the handlebars. Then everything went black. 

Thankfully, I had put on my full-face helmet before I set out. I was dumb and only had a t-shirt on, but I did have boots and jeans on. While the jeans did keep gravel out of my legs, they did not keep the sixty-something year old post out of my knee. I woke up face down in the gravel, with my face shield severely damaged, and the lower part was smashed up against my face. My left knee burned, and my arms were thoroughly embedded with gravel. My left pinky and ring finger were broken. I made a full recovery, using only vet wrap (like ACE bandages but better), popsicle sticks to splint my fingers, and a whole bunch of iodine on my arms. My XR80R needed to have the brake lever re-leveled, and the exhaust pipe was scuffed a little. It still ran fine. 

If I hadn’t been wearing a helmet I would have at least had a concussion and severe lacerations on my face. It’s easier to replace a helmet than a head. You are free to decide for yourself (at least in Iowa), but I would strongly recommend a helmet. A good one.

Now, why do I wear the rest of it?

My wife was driving our brand-new Subaru WRX to my armory to pick me up from my second and final deployment to Afghanistan. She was behind a couple of other cars, and there was a man and woman on a bike behind her. A Jeep two cars up slammed on its brakes and the car behind plowed into the back of it. My wife swerved into the shoulder and missed the accident. The bike swerved into the oncoming lane and the saddlebags clipped the bumper of the second car, sending the bike into a spin. 

The riders were wearing shorts, t-shirts, and flipflops. Nearly a perfect representation of MSF’s “Fool’s Gear”. The woman lost some toes and both had to be taken to the hospital for facial lacerations and broken noses. I know the results of this crash because the woman was the sister of one of my soldiers. Simply wearing a helmet, pants, and boots would have at least mitigated their injuries and probably saved them some serious cash in hospital bills and ambulance rides. 

A good helmet is about $150, a basic armored jacket is about $125, and gloves are $20-$100. All totaled, still less than the cost of an ambulance ride. You don’t have to wear protective gear, but if you don’t you are at a much higher risk of grievous injury. If you don’t mind losing pieces of your hands, feet, and face, then go for it. You can call me a dork for wearing a helmet, but if I ever get in a situation like either of those above, I will come out of it in much better shape than you will. And I’m okay with being a dork.

Mad Max

Posted: April 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

One bike that keeps getting my attention is Yamaha’s insane VMax. The astute among you will point out that I JUST wrote a horrible screed against Harley Davidson for making ridiculously priced bikes, and a brand new VMax is currently priced at $19,900. Yes, a new one is nearly twenty grand. But exercise your Craigslist muscles and you can probably find a VMax just a couple of years old for $6000-$8000 in very good condition (stay far, far away from modded bikes online unless you’re a mechanic).

For the sum of six to eight grand, you get over 100 horsepower, and around 85ft/lbs of torque. If you shell out twenty grand for a new one, you get about 165 horsepower. At the rear wheel. Yikes. The older, carbed VMax models run four Mikuni carbs and the new beast is EFI. I would be okay with only 100 horsepower. Especially after my little 44 horsepower Honda.

Oh, the Mad Max has some issues though. It gets horrible gas mileage and has a tiny little tank to boot, so range is a little limited. The suspension has always been an issue on the VMax, and still is. Riding fast over broken Iowa roads will probably result in an unplanned dismount. Handling is reportedly very heavy (back to that suspension problem). But I don’t care. That engine is incredible, and it looks like it fell out of a 1980s sci-fi movie.

Here I have included a decent review of the VMax and my other bike crush–the Triumph Rocket III. Enjoy.

No matter what metric bike you ride, you’ll always find someone to tell you it’s not as nice as a Harley. Sometimes that’s true, and I’ll be the first to admit that Harley makes a big, powerful air-cooled v-twin. The problem lies with “big” and “air-cooled”. Modern Harleys are not the maintenance nightmares that their 1970s-80s ancestors were. Most of them are very nearly as reliable as a well-built metric. But liquid-cooled motors will always be more reliable than air-cooled ones. Keeping a constant operating temperature helps all the bits and pieces last longer. It also helps when you’re stuck in city traffic or otherwise putting around town. Big, air-cooled motors need air moving over their cooling fins to keep everything at a comfortable operating temperature.

But mechanics aside, there is one huge problem with Harleys that I will never be able to get over: the price tag. Even used, a Harley is easily two or three times as much as any metric, except maybe the Triumph Rocket III and the new “factory choppers” from Yamaha and Honda. Let me offer this used bike page from a major Iowa dealer. My favorite Harley, the Dyna Wide Glide, goes for about $15,000 for one in similar condition to my Honda. Granted, the Harley has a MUCH bigger engine and is much more powerful. But my Honda was $3000. Say I do pipes, a Mustang seat, and get a stage-1 jet kit for my Spirit 750. I’m at, lets say $4700–and that’s a high estimate. I could buy 2004-2008 VTX 1300s all day for $6000. The same goes for 1100 and 1300 V-Stars. I just don’t see what the extra $10,000 gets you with a Harley, except you get to tell people you have a Harley.

I would rather tell people I ride a Honda and can still afford to retire in my 60s. Then I might buy a Harley.

When I bought my bike, I insisted I wasn’t going to modify it. If anything, I would save up and trade it for a bigger bike. Well, I’m still open to the second option, but I really want different pipes on my bike. After nearly being hit about a dozen times by senior citizens  in beige Toyota Avalons, I want to make some noise and hopefully become a bit more conspicuous. My bike is nearly silent at or near idle, which is most of the time in town, and I really don’t want to be hit by an ancient person who didn’t want to stop at a stop sign.  I like Vance & Hines pipes, as I have a number of friends who have them on their metrics (and a couple of Harleys). I want the V&H Short Shots. View below and rejoice:

They’re about $350, plus probably an hour of shop time to install, which runs about $70/hr, and it will require a re-jet, which will be another three hours of shop time plus parts. I’m not super stoked about the bill totaling nearly $1000, but if I save for a year, it will be easily paid for. Then again, I may kick it into super-saver mode and try to come up with $4000 to blow on a VTX 1300 (plus the trade of my beloved little blue Honda).

I’m really happy with my bike, and I’m getting a bit attached to it, which kinda makes me want to just tweak it a bit and hold onto it for many more years. That would be a much cheaper option than immediately jumping to the big VTX. The only things I want to do are the pipes, a re-jet, and maybe bolt on a Mustang seat so my wife can go on trips with me. That would make about $1500 and I could ride the bike for many more years, and since it’s a Honda, nothing will break.