HD1: Harley-Davidson Online Bike Builder

Harley is coming out with what looks to be a very cool feature: an online, build your own H-D bike program which gives you the option to fully customize your bike before you buy it. The program is called HD1: Custom of One. Maybe not the best name but it’ll do!

The tool itself is not quite live, but if you follow this link on the site you’ll see the main dashboard with navigation buttons to the different parts of the program, including Bike Builder, Factory Customization, Fit Shop, Consultation, and Parts and Accessories (each button is clickable bringing you to an explanation of each step). And on the side of the page there’s a countdown to when the program goes live (February 4th).

The idea will be to build your bike, bring it in to a dealership to finalize the design, and then wait while your bike is built! I think one of the coolest aspects of this initiative is that even for those who aren’t necessarily ready or able to buy a Harley quite yet, it could be a lot of fun to fool around with the tool and build and print out your own bike designs.


Push Starting my Motorcycle in the Middle of Beijing Rush Hour

I thought I’d share my recent problems in my  adventure into the world of Chinese motorcycling. After having just bought a second hand but only one year old Chinese brand motorcycle, I’m already having problems. The first day riding it home was great. I was able to take it on of the major Beijing roads, the 4th ring and navigated my way through traffic no problem. Despite, the sub-freezing temperatures, it was great to be back on two wheels. Then after one day of leaving it parked outside my apartment, I press the ignition only to find that I get no response from the engine whatsoever. At first I think it might be the cold, but the sound the engine would usually make in that situation is a little different. Whereas in the cold the engine is trying to catch with a sort of revving type sound, I was hearing a barely audible click, which would indicate a dead battery. This was bad as I needed to commute to work and was almost late as it was. I noticed a slight incline behind me so I pushed the bike up and started to run it down. Luckily this push start worked and I was able to make it to work on time.

Of course this wasn’t the end of my troubles. A couple of times at stop lights, the engine cut out. I figured, with the engine warmed up there shouldn’t be any more problems. I was wrong and so on the side of a very busy Beijing street with bikes, cars, and pedestrians everywhere, I had to again push start my bike (what it must have looked like to the local Chinese to see a foreigner, which is a strange enough sight as it is, go through this ritual I can only imagine). Luckily I started to get good at push starting as I had to repeat this several times.

Other things of note for diagnosis are how sometimes power wasn’t getting to the horn and that after the bike’s been sitting outside of my office building all day and I turn the power back on, the headlight is barely lit. This all leads me to believe it’s a battery issue.

What’s going to be interesting is to get this all sorted out with the language barrier. I have already been in contact via text with the seller, all in Chinese. His first response was to say it was cold. I explained how it wasn’t because it happened even after running for 20 minutes. His next response was to say that he just changed the battery. This just came off as a typical Chinese response that I’m not too likely to believe. And finally he told me that I just didn’t know how to ride it properly. I’m sorry but that’s just the wrong thing to say.

I’m going to continue to text him now that, after several days, the problem is more than confirmed. Most likely this Saturday (China time of course), I’ll be driving it (after the ritualistic method of push starting I’ve been using the past 3 days) back up to the north end of the city to have him see the problem for himself.

The sad thing of it all is that I’ve been really enjoying the bike otherwise. It rides well, it does what I need it to do (when it’s running), and I like the look of it. Let’s just hope I’m able to get it working smoothly and can be back on the road problem free!

Buying a Chinese Motorcycle: Jincheng 250cc

Jincheng 250ccI’ll write a little bit more on the whole process I went through for getting a motorcycle for helping out those of you who may be interested in buying a motorcycle in China yourselves, but in the meantime I just wanted to make the announcement and introduce my new bike. It’s certainly no H-D Dyna Wide Glide, but I think it’ll do just fine. I bought it at a price of CNY 9000 after finding it on a sort of Chinese equivalent of E-bay or Craigslist called 58.com.

It’s 250cc from a Chinese company called 金城 or Jincheng (a direct translation would be Golden City). It’s relatively new, only about a year old, and it looks like it’s held up. Two of the biggest factors for me were that all the signals worked as well as the breaks (a problem I encountered with a bike I had previously looked at). Another big thing was that the seller was providing me with all the paperwork, registration with the police, proof of ownership, etc. Something that gives me huge piece of mind if ever anything were to happen. And finally it came with what looks to be a legitimate 京B license plate (some more piece of mind even if I would be able to get away with not having it for a while). Some other nice features is that it came with lots of storage space in terms of hard cases and also an alarm! The only thing left to do now is get my Chinese driver’s license.

Just for fun, here’s the original Chinese posting for the bike:




Read more of our articles on motorcycling in China here!

The Qianjiang QJ250- A Chinese Clone of the Yamaha Virago

So, I’m still on the hunt for a motorcycle here in Beijing, and I came across this seller of new and used bikes. The new bikes don’t really get bigger than 150cc or 200cc but they find some bigger second hand bikes as well. They did have a Honda CB400 but it got sold. This other bike they have is a Chinese brand, Qianjiang which is now owned by Lifan, I’m going to be taking a look at it this weekend and see how it runs but they did send me some pictures:

Not too bad looking I think, and for a good price too, 5300 Renminbi (about USD$800, negotiable) for the second hand and 10,2000 RMB (USD$1,540) new. I wanted to do some research and see what people said about the bike. On one forum, I read about people completely slamming any China made bike saying you could forget about user manuals, parts, etc. But as it turns out, the bike is a clone of the Yamaha Virago. So I kept searching and found this one guy who has one in Texas and had done some nice mods and tweeks to it. Check it out here at his motorcycle blog, Motorcycle Leather Blog. There’s a video as well to see how it performs and sounds.

Another bike that’s come up in my search is a Yamaha YBR250. That I may be buying new and, particularly because it’s foreign, will probably be more expensive. From the reviews of it though, it sounds like a quality bike, and it’s got a good sporty look to it (even though I’m more of a cruiser type, I could learn to deal).

Embarrassing moments in Engineering

This is in no way related to motorcycles, but if you enjoy design and how things function you will find this article particularly interesting. From mental_floss magazine, “Embarrassing Moments in Engineering (and what they taught us)”

Remember giving that long and tearful toast at your brother’s wedding, only to find out later that you had a huge chunk of spinach stuck in your teeth? Or the time you shot that brilliant last-second 3-pointer into the other team’s basket? Or what about when you built that giant highway bridge for the city and it suddenly collapsed one day? On second thought, that last one is its own special kind of embarrassing. And one for which you’d probably trade a million spinach-toothed moments. So take comfort in knowing that, if nothing else, your bad hair day didn’t put anyone in danger or make the nightly news.

Tacoma Narrows Bridge is Falling Down
Tacoma, Washington, 1940

While buildings and bridges are made to bend in the wind, the engineers behind the Tacoma Narrows Bridge might have benefited from heeding a different aphorism: everything in moderation. Stretching 2,800 feet above the riverbed, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge was (at the time) the third-longest suspension bridge in the world, behind the Golden Gate in San Francisco and the George Washington in New York City. Its sleek design incorporated a roadbed only 39 feet wide, making the bridge far more slender and light than its contemporaries. But it was also a lot more flexible.

The simple fact is that any structure built without enough “give” is more likely to break in a strong wind. There’s no shortage of mathematical formulas for calculating how flexible a structure should be. But there was a problem.

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge was only one-third as stiff as common engineering rules dictated.

Even in modest winds, the roadway oscillated up and down several feet, quickly earning it the nickname Galloping Gertie.

While drivers found the undulations unsettling, the bridge seemed steady enough from the outset—at least to everyone except University of Washington engineering professor Bert Farquharson. Worried that it was far too flexible, Farquharson began studying the bridge in an attempt to uncover what sort of retrofits might improve its stability. As part of his investigation, he showed up at Tacoma Narrows on the morning of November 7, 1940, to film the movement of the bridge. His timing was eerily coincidental. As he was shooting, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge began heaving, and soon collapsed.

The Moral: It’s OK to be a stiff. Materials like wood, metal, and concrete vibrate when they’re struck—whether it’s your fork hitting a wine glass (causing it to ring) or wind pushing across the roadbed of a bridge. If sustained, the vibrations can build to dangerous levels. It’s like pushing someone on a swing; when they reach the back-most point in the oscillation, the same light push over and over will make the swing go higher and higher. You don’t have to push harder each time; you just have to push repeatedly at the right moment. Similarly, if wind pushes a roadbed steadily for long enough, it can oscillate higher and higher, creating what’s known as resonance.

The antidote is torsional rigidity, which is just a fancy way of saying a resistance to twisting. In the case of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the undulating roadbed caused alternating tension and slack in the support cables, creating a twisting motion. The action eventually became so violent that the cables snapped, and enormous sections of the bridge fell into the water below. To prevent this, Farquharson had suggested the addition of stiffeners along the roadbed. Indeed, had this retrofit been made, the collapse might have been avoided.

Citicorp Center’s Close Call
New York City, 1978

Talk about narrowly averting disaster. When the Citicorp Center in New York was completed in 1977, it added a dramatic, sloping peak to the city’s skyline. But less than a year later, the building’s chief engineer, William LeMessurier, helped it avoid destruction by razor-thin margins.

LeMessurier faced a unique situation when it came to designing the Citicorp Center. In the early 1970’s, the banking behemoth was looking for a new headquarters and had its eye on a vibrant square block in midtown Manhattan. There was just one small problem: the historic St. Peter’s church sat on the block’s northwest corner. While the clergy wouldn’t let Citicorp tear down the church, after a little negotiating, they did agree to let the bank use the airspace above it. This allowed the engineering team to form a novel architectural plan: build the 59-story rectangular tower atop four massive, nine-story-high pillars so that it actually hovered over the church. Here’s a contemporary photo of the pillars, courtesy of Wikipedia:


Having positioned the building on what essentially amounted to stilts, LeMessurier knew he would have to make the structure especially resistant to strong winds. To help stabilize it, he embedded special braces in the Center’s frame every eight stories or so to prevent the skyscraper from bending too far. What’s more, LeMessurier devised an additional (and unique) way to counter any swaying that might occur. At the base of the building’s steeply angled roof, he placed a giant pendulum-like mechanism called a tuned mass damper—a 400-ton block of concrete resting on a film of oil and held in place by huge springs.

If winds rocked the tower left or right, the block would slip in the opposite direction, counteracting the sway. The skyscraper was the first in the United States to sport such a device.

When the Citicorp Center opened, all seemed well. But less than a year later, LeMessurier got a phone call from an engineering student in New Jersey claiming that the building’s four columns (positioned at the center of the sides instead of at the corners to avoid the church) were improperly placed, making it susceptible to what sailors call quartering winds—winds that would hit the building across its vertical corners, pushing on two sides at once. LeMessurier assured him they were fine, but it prompted him to review details of the design for his own students at Harvard—and thankfully so.

That’s when LeMessurier got some bad news. The skyscraper’s builders broke it to him that they hadn’t welded the wind braces’ joints together, as LeMessurier had prescribed, but simply bolted them. This met code and saved a good deal of money, but it wouldn’t allow the joints to hold in winds above 85 mph—like those that accompany, oh, say, a hurricane. True; hurricanes aren’t exactly common in New York City, but LeMessurier wasn’t going to take any chances.

During what had to be a rather humiliating meeting with Citicorp, LeMessurier informed the bank that it needed to make additional retrofits to the building. As not to scare the employees (or let the building’s problems leak to the press), they launched a plan to make the adjustments in a more, shall we say, subtle fashion. An army of welders worked the graveyard shift seven days a week and bound two-inch-thick steel plates over all 200 joints.

The Moral: Own up to your mistakes. Roughly a month before the welding project was completed, weather forecasters predicted that Hurricane Ella was headed directly for the Big Apple. The welders tried frantically to finish the retrofits early, but ultimately, the bank had to go to city authorities and warn them of the possible catastrophe they were facing. Emergency officials secretly formed a massive evacuation plan for midtown and crossed their fingers. LeMessurier (and Manhattan) finally caught a break as Ella veered out to sea.

By the time the welders and carpenters finished, the building was one of the strongest in the country. Though justifiably annoyed, Citicorp executives commended LeMessurier for coming forward with his concerns, even though his initial work had met all code requirements. And fortunately for all the engineers involved, the entire fiasco was kept under wraps thanks to a newspaper strike that coincided with the events. Virtually no one knew about it for more than a decade, until LeMessurier released a report about the ordeal titled, “Project SERENE,” an acronym for Special Engineering Review of Events Nobody Envisioned.


The Millennium Bridge’s Not-So-Grand Opening
London, June 10, 2000

The world might have avoided a Y2K disaster at the dawn of the new millennium, but it wasn’t immune to the follies of bad engineering. On the morning of June 10, 2000, the Millennium Bridge in London opened with great fanfare. Only two days later, it closed with a sigh of relief from hundreds of nauseated pedestrians.

Intended as a high-profile commemoration of the 21st century, the Millennium footbridge was meant to convey a new, innovative spirit. It was given a prime location smack in the middle of downtown, connecting St. Paul’s Cathedral on the north bank of the River Thames to the Tate Modern Gallery on the south. Its cutting-edge design included an aluminum deck supported from underneath by two Y-shaped frames, rather than the more common overhanging arches. The final product was sleek, futuristic—and a wee bit wobbly.

As with all bridges, the Millennium engineers designed the span to sway slightly in the wind so that it wouldn’t snap. But even the light breeze blowing on the morning of June 10 was enough to make the $26 million bridge swing like a ride in a carnival funhouse. In an attempt to keep their balance, the thousands of inaugural pedestrians began to do what anybody on a rocking platform does: step in time with the rhythm of the swaying, shifting their weight from side to side to counter the motion. The result was something engineers call synchronized footfall. As more people moved in unison, more force was added to the lateral motion, and the rocking increased.

Eventually, the sway was so strong that it threatened to loft people overboard. Police quickly restricted access, and only two days later, city officials closed the bridge indefinitely.

The following year, at a cost of more than $7 million, the bridge’s engineering firm and a New York-based contractor fixed the problem. Underneath the deck, they installed some 87 dampers—huge shock absorbers—to reduce the forces of synchronized footfall. The bridge reopened on January 30, 2002, but this time around, getting people to cross was going to take some convincing. City officials offered walkers free sandwiches, and even had a Southwick mayor and a London town crier dressed in Victorian garb lead the way. Still, just to be on the safe side, numerous British Coast Guard rescue vessels were placed downstream. Fortunately, the bridge proved rock solid.

The Moral: Beware of people. By the time it reopened, the Millennium Bridge (albeit inappropriately named by this point) was safe, but its engineers were roundly criticized for not having heeded the lesson of synchronized footfall. After all, even Napoleon’s troops knew about its dangers. His armies always marched in unison, but whenever they came upon a footbridge, all the soldiers would alternate their stepping cadence precisely to keep the bridge from breaking.

If that weren’t enough, the Millennium Bridge engineers had a much more recent call to warning. On May 24, 1987, a major “pedestrian jam” occurred on the Golden Gate Bridge, when more than 250,000 people swarmed up the ramps as part of the bridge’s 50th anniversary celebration. The sheer weight of the crowd flattened the roadway (more than motor vehicles could have), putting enough slack in the suspension cables to allow the roadbed to swing. The pedestrians began stepping in time with the motion and the sway increased. Police managed to calmly dispurse the crowd, but the incident was an eye-opening reminder for engineers that even one of the most stable roadway bridges in the world isn’t necessarily secure enough for people.


Kansai International Airport Learns to Sink or Swim
Osaka Bay, Japan; 1987 to present

Never mind the two-dimensional cell phones and microscopic digital cameras. If you’re talking mind-boggling Japanese inventions, think floating airport. In a country where open land is pretty hard to come by, the Japanese government commissioned the construction of an airport for the growing cities of Kobe and Osaka in the only available space around them: the clear, blue sea.

In 1987, builders started construction on a manmade island a mile and a half offshore in Osaka Bay. To build the 2.5 mile-long, half-mile-wide piece of land, they erected a giant box of rock and concrete in the water and filled it with even more rock, gravel, and sand. The idea was simple, but the process of carrying it out was anything but. It took three years, 10,000 workers and 80 barges to level two mountains and shuttle the material to sea before the box was filled.

Geologists knew the soft clay seabed would compress from the weight of the “island,” but they allowed for settlement and filled the box high enough above water to negate the effect. Unfortunately, their calculations were way off.

What they didn’t anticipate was the amount of water in the clay bed that would ooze out, as if seeping from a sponge. By 1990, the island had already sunk 27 feet. In an attempt to counter that sinking feeling (and heighten the island surface), workers leveled a third mountain to come up with the amount of earth needed.

Complicating matters even more were the builders’ plans to erect a mile-long terminal alongside the runway. Engineers knew that if the ends or middle of the span sank at different rates, it would tear the terminal apart. To compensate for the varying rates of sinkage, they decided to rest the terminal’s glass sides on 900 cement columns sitting atop two foundation walls. As parts of the walls sank, maintenance crews could jack up certain columns, slip a hefty steel plate beneath them, and level out the terminal as needed.

The Moral: Make sure to overbudget. Thanks largely to the steel-plate system, the Kansai International Airport has proved shockingly stable. Since opening in 1994, the single-terminal marvel has survived the 1995 Kobe earthquake (centered only 18 miles away) and a 1998 typhoon packing 200-mph winds.

Nevertheless, the island continues to sink about six inches per year, which means engineers are still stuffing plates beneath columns. All in all, it’s a pricey project. Kansai Airport cost more than $15 billion (almost $5 billion over budget) and is deeply in debt, losing more than $500 million a year in interest payments alone. Some airlines won’t use the facility because of high landing fees, and air traffic remains below profitable levels. Amazingly, the regional government is already busy building another nearby island of even larger proportions to support a second runway for the airport.

An alternate way to lift up your bike after you drop it …

Found this video on ‘The Biker Gene’ – an alternate way to lift up your motorcycle if the ‘backwards’ method doesn’t work for you. I’ve never tried this method so I’m not sure how effective it is, but if you’re in a jam and can’t get the bike up here’s another way to try!