Monday, March 26, 2012

Wings, shoes, and head

Planets aligned, a chicken was sacrificed, and I FINALLY got to go riding.

Hard to see in the first picture but I've made a few changes to the ol' XR.  First there's the new shoes: A Shinko Trail Pro 255 rear and a Dunlop D606 front with the Tubeliss system installed.  Also I haven't liked how naked my bike looks but I'm too cheap to buy graphics.  So I made those wings on the side of the tank.  Vote's out still, I'm not sure I like em.

But yeah what a great way to kick off spring break - especially since it's time for the ol' mule to go under the knife.  It's been smoking a bit on startup for the past few weeks which points to worn valve guide seals.  Having never been in the engine since I got it however, I'm expecting other issues to arise. 

As it turns out, taking a peek at the internals revealed both good and bad news.  The good news is these engines are just as indestructible as I've heard.  The bad news is, my 16 year old bike has never been opened up so everything in there is original and worn right down to the service limits.

New parts are on order and should arrive later this week.  The cylinder will go out for a bore and hone once the piston gets here, but something tells me this engine won't be done until after spring break is over.  In the meantime, I've got plenty of carbon to remove and some engine parts to clean and paint.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Why I want to run solid rubber tires

The past few days have seen a flurry of tire changes in my garage.  The end result has been rather grim for such a seemingly benign task.  First was a torn tube resulting in 2 changes for the same wheel.  The second started off as a dent, but has now caused a very swollen and very tender spot just above my ear.  They make this tool called a Bead Buddy:

It costs a whopping $13 and basically acts as a 3rd hand when trying to put a wheel on a rim.  Not having one, here's what I used:


My emptied-that-morning recycle bin was no match for the leverage I was applying to the opposite tire bead and tipped over.  The tire lever that had been wedged under the bin torpedoed into my temple.  Although I don't recall there being a speech center in that area of the brain I must somehow be wired differently, because I suddenly developed an acute form of tourettes.

So why all this bother?  Well first I needed a DOT tire on the rear of my XR, and since I finally found one for a 19" wheel, I had that to swap out.  It's a Shinko Trail Pro 255.   I installed it with a Tubeliss system, thereby eliminating the need for a tube.  I'll eventually review both once I've had a chance to try them out. 

Also, if you'll recall from an earlier post, my wife's recently acquired DR200 was in sorry need of new shoes.  The stock Bridgestone Trailwings still had plenty of tread left on them (after 950 miles they'd better), but by looks alone I'd classify them as 20/80's - that is, 20% off road, 80% on road.  Since we avoid pavement like its Mexico, clearly new tires were needed.  Also these tires have the ominous nickname of Deathwings.  Not exactly confidence inspiring.  

The problem:  Short wife and amazingly small stock tires.  On one hand its great that the stock wheels are 21" front and 18" rear - that's pretty much the standard size for offroad and dual sport motorcycle tires.  But when the stock tires have a sidewall height measured in nanometers, you're going to have a hard time finding anything that won't raise the seat height.  If you want to go on organized dual sport rides that potentially might check your tires to make sure they're DOT legal, that narrows the field even further.  I ended up compromising with a 90/90-21 Dunlop D606 up front for a net gain of about 1.5" in height over the stock tire.  That's a pretty big increase but its a highly recommended tire and a good price (and it didn't look 1.5" taller in the store before it was mounted).

I did better on the back.  For a loss of about .05" compared to stock, I mounted a 110/80-18 Pirelli MT-21.   Seen here with the old Deathwing on the left.

Most people should read that and think "wuh?".  That brings me to my rant of the post. 

Metric tire sizes:  A lesson in stupid

The 1st number you read is the width of the tire in millimeters, the second is the aspect ratio, and the third is the wheel size it fits.  Ok width is easy, but most people don't know jack about aspect ratio unless they mess with wings or sails.  Basically in this case its height as a percentage of width.  So a 110/80-18 tire is 110mm wide, 80% of 110mm tall at the sidewall, and fits an 18" wheel.  My question is:  why even bother with the percentage at all?  Anyone that looks at it isn't thinking "oh the tire is 80% as tall as it is wide", they're saying "WTF is 80% of 110mm and will it fit?".  Tire makers went to all of the trouble of putting a 2nd number there, so why not make it as useful as possible?  Label it 110/88-18, and don't make it a stupid math problem.  Proof that tire sizes are the invention of a disgruntled 5th grade math teacher.

If you think that is pure idiocy, you'd almost be right.  Standard tires don't even bother with sidewall height.  A tire will just say 4.00x18.  So that's 4.00" wide, fits an 18" rim, and 'WTF do you care how wide it is'.  Buy it and when it doesn't fit, buy a smaller one, BUT BUY AMERICAN! (Again).

I swear how do these people breathe?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Rant: Adventure Bikes

Seriously I don't understand most of the riders on these machines.  I see "Adventure Bikes" like this one quite often on trails around here.  The BMW R1200GS:

Sure, its a nice looking bike.  If I was going to travel Europe or Latin America by road, this or something like it would be on my short list.  Comfortable, fairly nimble, room to add several month's worth of gear, and suspension made to soak up those cobblestones and potholes.  It definitely has a purpose. 

But why, oh why, would anyone want to do this?

That's 500 pounds of bike with just fuel and fluids on board.  Apparently the best thing to do with a 500 pound bike is add storage all over it so you can carry, according to BMW, another 465 pounds!

To compare, my XR400 tips the scales at about 287 pounds when my oversized 3.8 gallon tank is full to capacity.  Granted, my bike is terrifying on the freeway, but who gets a dual sport to ride on the freeway?  Every organized dual sport ride I've seen has one thing in common:  maximum dirt mileage, minimum on pavement.  Or is that two?  So to me I would think a bike that is better on dirt would be the obvious compromise.  According to my adventure bike brethren, not so much. 

I asked once, and the best reason anyone could give me why they'd rather ride 500 lbs of expensive parts just begging to be snapped off, is that an adventure bike makes even an easy trail challenging...

To me that's like deciding to live your life in a wheelchair because "legs are easy man".

The Stable Grows

Ok so my bike is fat, dumb, and happy.
Older tank, same XR

Problem is, my wife enjoys riding too.  Mostly Glamis and other SoCal dunes on her YFZ before we sold it.  All she had currently was a 1997 YZ 80 - her first 2-wheeled bike.  

I should mention I love two strokes.  I started riding them when I was 13, and pretty much stayed on them until the XR.  Unfortunately something happened during that time, I got older.  Sure I can still huck around my CR250, but god its such a chore to ride anymore.

Anyway my wife is very nearly a midget dwarf little person...she's short okay.  Not just that she's 5' tall either, its because I swear she's a normal sized female from the waist up.  That means finding a bike that fits her is always a challenge. 

The YZ worked, but for a non-aggressive, female rider's first bike, it really wasn't the best choice.  Plus now that I'm trying to get into this dual sport gig, she needs something legal to ride.

Part of me wanted to look at a street legal dirt bike again, indeed I seriously considered a few out there.  Problem is, we're living back in California now, and have to deal with Californian DMV and the California Air Resources Board.  Seriously these two bureaucracies could be the poster children for what is wrong with this state.  I'll try to summarize:  CARB realized that some people were legalizing dirt bikes, and ZOMG the DMV was letting them!  Well these bikes hadn't been specifically tagged for emissions for on-highway use (i.e. the manufacturers didn't pay the protection money).  So CARB insists DMV stop allowing this to happen, and yank all the current plates that the DMV already issued.  The DMV, thankfully, is lazy, and says they'll stop issuing them as of the new calendar year, but grandfather anyone that already got a plate.  This was in 2003.  Because states have to recognize other state laws, you can still get a 2004+ street legal dirt bike, but it has to be plated out of state first, and run through some DMV hoops.  The other option is to find a "cool" DMV inspector that will let you slide without the required emissions sticker.  There's a couple sites online that have a regular DMV inspector and do this for a fee in California.  They only do it to 2002 or older bikes to make it less obvious to anyone looking.  Problem is that you have no legal ground if CARB/DMV ever notices that you plated a bike (any year bike) after the January 31, 2004 cutoff.  You'll lose your plate and can't do a thing about it, even if it was a previous owner that got it plated.  So if you buy any plated bike in California, you need to find out what year it was first plated, if it was out of state, etc.  Hassle...

So ideally then, I was looking for a purpose built, from the factory, dual sport - and it needed a seat low enough that a turtle could mount it.  Lemme tell ya, that's a really short list!  We ended up finding a pretty nice little ride though, a 2003 Suzuki DR200SE with 950 original miles on it:

Sure it looks like its from 1982 with that giant headlight, accordian shock covers, and IDKWTF rear fender, but its a pretty solid little machine.  I especially like that its very easy to ride.  The power delivery is more like a scooter than a motorcycle, which is good for somebody still learning.  It's a tad heavy, and air cooled like my XR which can be good or bad, depending on how you look at it.  I made a few easy adjustments and managed to lower it a tad more than its standard 31" seat height.  As a tribute to CARB, I ripped the California emissions EVAP canister off as quickly as I could.  It will be set ablaze and sent drifting into the Pacific on a raft shortly.  I also replaced the stock tires with something more dirt oriented.  She's now able to get the ball of 1 foot down.  Since I sold her YZ and some other old toys I hadn't been using it was another "free" bike.

Neither my wife nor I have any desire to ride a motorcycle on the street - too many SUV's trying to make motorcycle hood ornaments.  We fully intend to truck our bikes to any trail more than a few miles away.  The plates are just there because: 1) SoCal actually has a lot of small riding areas separated by a couple miles of tarmac.  2) SoCal has even more off road areas that are only legal to plated 4x4's and motorcycles.  Really beautiful places too.  It's my goal to share some of these gems via this blog.


So there are a lot of different 2 wheeled bikes out there that will take you anywhere you want to go.  As with most choices, there's going to be some give and take when it comes to bike selection.

Although I've owned a few different sport bikes, my pedigree has always been in the dirt.  I was living in Texas at the time and didn't have my old California DMV to contend with.  No surprise then that when I decided I wanted to try a dual sport, I narrowed my sights on dirt bikes that had been made street legal.  Specifically, I went with a rock solid, stupidly reliable, 1996 XR400r.

 This is my XR as I got it in 2009

"Whoa man, that's already an old bike, why not get something that's less of a dinosaur?" 

Well first, the XR400 production ran from 96-03 until it was replaced with the very popular CRF series.  Very little changed during those years, so really a 96 is almost no different than an 03.  The engine is air cooled and built like a tank.  Honestly these things have a reputation for lasting forever. 

Second, I knew that whatever I got I was going to modify the hell out of, so why spend more money for shiny parts that I'm just gonna take off when I get home?

Lastly, it was free.  Not free as in ONE MILLIONTH CUSTOMER free, but free as in I got it by trading the guy an old Yamaha R1 that was cursed.  Sure he probably got the better end of the deal on paper, but seriously that R1 only ran right for about 3 weeks of the 3 years that I owned it.  It was suffering from a complete electrical meltdown when I traded it over to him.  In exchange I got an ugly, but running dual sport.

At this point it's going to become obvious that I'm playing catchup with this blog - just in case you didn't notice the entry dates.  Had I started writing all this in 2009 then there'd be a steady chronological progression of how I built the bike to my liking.  I'm not going to bother trying to recreate all that.  Eff that noise!  So instead, here's the bike as it stands now:

Rather than break it down piece by piece I'll just summarize with my two favorite mods.  First is a Mikuni pumper carb.  Seriously this bike was horrid for the first month I had it before I got this gem.  If you've ever heard anyone ever say they didn't like their XR400, it's because they didn't have one of these.

Second, I really enjoy my amusingly controversial CRF front end.  There are two schools of thought on stock XR forks: Half the people on the forums scoff at anyone that would want to swap them out because they're potentially very good.  The other half can't be bothered with polishing a turd and would rather just put some nice CRF forks on there.  To be honest, both sides are right.  Stock XR forks can be made to work at least equally well as the inverted CRF forks - but they're still going to be ugly as sin and look, well, aged.  I find that my CRF forks work great, and really update the aged look of the bike.

The testament of any vehicle is, in my opinion, if the owner would still buy it now knowing what sort of history they'd have together.  To be honest, the XR has been a good bike for me but I can't say that I fell in love with it.  It only stranded me once (my own fault), and it works well with my riding style.  I miss not having a 6th gear, and being air cooled can be a bit annoying in traffic sometimes, but otherwise it's a great bike for what I use it for.  I can't promise that I won't change to something else down the road, but for now, it works.

Preface: Ugh, another blogger...

Can I just say that I am not a blogger.  Honestly I just can't imagine anyone tuning in to my site regularly just to read what I'm doing.  So why does this text even exist?  Because I recently got bitten by the dual sport/adventure bike buzz and a blog is a convenient way to share ride reports, mods, etc.  That said, sorry if it sucks, is boring, makes you want to punch a donkey in the throat, etc.