Easy Rider

Well, this video is actually terrifying. A couple motorcyclists are riding along a country road when they come across a pickup truck. Cue video:

Reminds me of that scene from Easy Rider:


Why we stay wide on the road

There is no shortage of video clips out there of bike accidents. Many can be attributed to idiot motorcyclists, many can be attributed to idiot car drivers. To me, the best thing to take away from watching such videos is an understanding of what went wrong, how it might have been prevented, and then consciously adopting that in to your riding habits.

I hate drivers who can’t keep their vehicles in a 10 foot wide lane. And this is a prime example why you leave yourself enough space while riding to respond to emergencies.

Honestly, I have been working on my AJS …

I honestly have been working on my AJS. I picked it up in October of 2010 and was all gung-ho to get it cleaned up and on the road.

But you didn’t hear anything. Nothing.

But believe me, I have been working on it. Honestly. The problem is that to this point there hasn’t been much to say or to show. I’ve been reading. A lot of reading. It’s a different beast than the V-Twins or Inline-Four’s I’m used to working on. It’s a push-rod engine with a dry sump for oil (dry sump engines carry their oil in an oil tank that is separate from the engine and uses two pumps to lubricate – one to pump oil to the engine, where it lubes everything and then drops to the bottom of the engine, and a second or ‘scavenge’ pump which pumps the oil back to the oil tank). This is something a Harley fan might be used to, but I’m not overly familiar with the 50+ year old technology …

I located a local importer and distributor of original parts from the UK (Walridge Motors). I procured factory manuals, parts schematics, and a plethora of tips from other AJS/Matchless owners.

Now I’m starting to have something to show you.

I started with the easy task of cleaning the Amal carb and replacing the throttle and clutch cable (Yes, that is an Easy Rider poster in the background!). First step was removing the fuel line running from the tank – I will also be replacing the fuel line, but haven’t got around to buying any yet. There is also an overflow line that must be removed (visible in this picture). The carb is attached to the engine via two bolts on either side of the carb and is buffered by a rubber gasket of sorts. Once you remove these two bolts the carb wiggles off and is free of the engine. To completely remove the carb we must detach the throttle cable (and with this carb the choke cable as well). There is a cap on the top of the carb that can be twisted off and will free the throttle slide and the choke. The carb can now be removed.

By removing the three screws on the ‘Amal’ cover plate you have access to the float – on newer carbs the float is usually on the bottom. This is the first thing I took apart. The float itself is held in with a brass ring (often called a ‘pin’) that just slides off, then the float can be removed. On this carb the needle rests on the float so it slid out upon removing the float. Now the jets can be removed.

Jets are screws that have a hole through the center of them which the fuel flows through to mix with air. The main jet is short and fat and will have a flat screwdriver head. The pilot jet is long and skinny and will take a flat head screwdriver to remove.

The last step before actually cleaning the carb is to remove the parts on the outside. The air screw and the idle screw can be removed with a flat head screwdriver. The idle screw is the larger of the two, and it adjusts the idle rpm of the engine. Also remove the air screw, which is the smaller screw and adjusts the air flow through the carb when the engine is running.

Before I started cleaning the carb I carefully removed all gaskets and o-rigns  – all were in great shape and appeared to have been recently replaced, so I deemed it unnecessary to replace them. Plus I’m a cheap bastard.

The easiest way to clean the carb and the parts is to soak them in carb/parts cleaner. Follow the instructions on the can for cleaning. I used a spray can of carb cleaner and used a clean oil drain pan to soak them in. Be sure to wear safety glasses and gloves!

I scrubbed the parts with a wire brush and then sprayed with carb cleaner. Then I sprayed the cleaner into the holes that the jets, air and idle screws, float needle, and choke came from. When cleaning the jets, be sure to spray cleaner into the holes, and look through them into light to make sure the hole is cleaned. If jets are not completely clean, blowing compressed air through the hole will remove any debris.

Allow everything to dry then replace gaskets/o-rings. Replace all parts in the opposite order as when you removed them. When installing the air screw (the skinny screw), if you don’t have a setting from the factory I usually screw it in all the way then back the screw out a turn and a 1/4. When the engine is running and warm you can properly adjust it by turning the screw in till the engine stumbles, then out till it stumbles, and leave it at half way in between.

Next install the float.  To install the float, line the holes up with the holes in the carburetor and slide the float pin in.  The pin will slide around freely, just make sure it is centered so it is secure. To make sure the float needle is working properly, move the float up and down to make sure the needle moves freely.  If the needle gets stuck in the up position it needs to be replaced.

Now I put a new throttle cable and choke cable in the throttle slide and choke slide. This was a matter of convenience as the carb must be removed to replace them. I still need to purchase new handlebar grips for the throttle…

With the throttle slide in and choke slide in, you can set the idle screw. Slowly turn the idle screw until the throttle slide begins to move. Now turn the screw half a rotation. You can properly adjust the idle screw with the engine running – turn the idle screw in to increase idle, turn it out to decrease idle.

Then I put the carb back on the bike by ‘wiggling’ it back on the rubber boot and bolting it back on. Now it looks cleaner than the rest of the bike!

Next I’ll be working on replacing oil, fuel line, spark plug, drum brake shoes, and rubber and getting this bad boy back on the road! I’ll keep you posted!

Classic British Motorcycle Restoration

Just a quick post – as some of you may know, I recently acquired a 1959 AJS Model 16. AJS was made by the Wolverhampton, England, company A. J. Stevens & Co. Ltd, from 1909 to 1931, by then holding 117 motorcycle world records (in 1914 AJS won first, second, third, fourth and sixth place in the Junior 1914 Isle of Man TT race, and AJS took the first four places in the 1921 Isle of Man TT, and Howard R Davies bettered his second place in the Jr by winning the Senior on the same 350 cc AJS – this was the first time a 350 had won the 500 cc Senior TT race). AJS was sold and the name continued to be used by Matchless, Associated Motorcycles and Norton-Villiers on four-stroke motorcycles till 1969.

I’m beginning to restore my AJS, and I’ve found an excellent Ontario shop for ALL your classic British Motorcycle needs – Walridge Motors. The store is run by Mike Partridge, and he is as knowledgeable as he is helpful (extremely). You can find all kinds of original and reproduction parts for AJS, Matchless, Norton, BSA, Triumphs, and more! Mike also happens to be president of the Canadian section of the North American AJS and Matchless Owners Club!

I’ll certainly be documenting the restoration of my AJS, so stay tuned for those posts! Also, I’m moving in to a new house this weekend and finally get use of a full garage! I’m very excited for that – will post pics to the facebook page as that develops!

Safe riding everyone…

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!


How my first motorcycle died; or, how to walk your motorcycle across 5 lanes of highway traffic …

The other day I was driving down the 401 between Pickering and Scarborough and I started to tell the friend I was with the story of how my first motorcycle died. He thought it was a crazy story, and I guess it is, so I thought I’d share with you the ‘crazy’ story of how my first motorcycle died …

My girlfriend worked in Oshawa and I lived in Toronto. She had stayed over on the Saturday night but needed to get to work for 6 in the morning. And so that was how we found ourselves at 5 o’clock on a clear Sunday morning hopping on my 83 Kawasaki 440 LTD I had nicknamed ‘Six Shooter’ on account of its 6 gears. It was just over an hour ride to get her to work. 

Riding in to Oshawa there were no problems at all – except for her falling asleep on the back of the bike a couple times (honestly, she fell asleep not once, but twice)! After dropping her off and saying our farewells, I turned around and headed back in to the city. The riding was nice as there was little traffic and the weather was warm and clear.

As I started to cross the Rouge Valley on the 401, I started to notice a problem. The engine seemed to chug and lose power – a similar feeling as when the gas is running low. So I switched it over to ‘reserve’ but the engine continued to cut out. I was riding in the express lanes in the far left lane, so while coasting without power I did my best to get to the right side shoulder. I couldn’t quite make it but I ended up on the left shoulder of the lanes to switch to the collector lanes.

I inspected the bike as best I could but couldn’t figure out what was wrong – there was gas in the tank, the spark plugs were good, the electrical seemed fine. But in gear I couldn’t push it – my heart sank. I called my dad who rides and lived nearby, and he said he’d ride down and we’d try to figure something out. So there I was, stuck on a median between the express lanes and collectors lanes on one of the busiest highways in Canada. Luckily I had a ‘smoke’ in my jacket, so I layed down on the grass and relaxed while I waited for my help to arrive.

When he finally arrived (close to two hours later) he had accidentally come in the collectors lanes and was separated from me – but instead of exiting, backtracking, and returning in the express lanes, he decided to pull over on the shoulder of the collectors and run across the three lanes of traffic to reach me!

We quickly decided there wasn’t anything we could do and that we should get it off the highway and bring it to a shop. However, instead of calling a pickup truck, we decided to push the bike across the highway and up the closest exit. So, in the middle of the day on a Sunday, there I was with my dad pushing my first motorcycle across five lanes of the 401 highway and two lanes of an exit ramp, then up to the closest exit.

At the time I was concerned about my motorcycle more than myself, so crossing the highway didn’t seem like such a big deal. Afterwards, in recounting the story to family and friends, I received wide-eyed stares and accusations of lacking sanity. To me it was the first of many crazy motorcycle stories to come …

Poor Six Shooter though – not sure how it happened, but the engine was running near dry of oil! At this time I had all my oil changed at the shops so I’m not sure whether they drained it and forgot to fill it or if there was some sort of slow leak I was unaware of – I guess the cold at 5 am kept the piston from seizing until I dropped my girlfriend off at work! I still pause for a moment of silence when I drive past that spot on the 401 …