Saturday, 11 September 2010

How hard can it be? It is just another cut and paste job!

Part One… Swearing and its context in Modern Motorcycle engineering.

This episode brings together a few things that have been going on for some time and closes plans that were started last year. This has been a long term project and it is not finished yet, not by a long shot.

Let’s go right back to the beginning of this little adventure and we arrive in 2007, this was before I met Carol and when I first purchased Sylvie, my precious Suzuki SV650S. When I walked into that bike shop and handed over my card to pay for my bike and the gear, I believed that I could just jump on the bike and ride off into Europe on her, with little or no modifications. I was young naive and inexperienced, but that has changed and so has Sylvie.



Three years later and Sylvie is a different monster, she has clocked up a few thousand miles under Carol and I, often with out complaining and always with grace and finesse, riding her was always a pleasure, but some days it was a painful pleasure. So after my little accident at Halfords in 2009, I set about making sure that Sylvie would be the bike I wanted to ride. The conversion from mid range sports bike to fun hooligan bike had began.

Freshly polished Top Yoke, heel plates, Brake and gear levers.
Then we arrive in August 2010 and I am suddenly in a position where I can afford the final bits I needed to fit the bar conversion to her, the clip on bars being extremely uncomfortable had to go in favour of a nice set of risers and motocross bars. Just as we started the work, Agnes arrived on the scene and was in need of a new exhaust and so with the power of E-Bay, a shiny new Motad arrived at a third of the retail price. The next few days were about to become hand destroying as we dived into the world of motorcycle customisation.

Fitting a new exhaust to Agnes should have been simple, but I will admit that I struggled at first, the pipe work was very new and very shiny, the new washers were a little too fat and the new hanger was just the wrong shape to hang the can. It would require patience and persuasion, neither of which I am renowned for having. However, if you hit it hard enough with a hammer, it will snap into place soon enough. After two agonising hours of work, the exhaust was finally in place and ready for a test fire. Sadly, the battery was flat, not enough power to turn the crank and fire the plugs meant that no test start for the new system.



Swapping then on to Sylvie and we had to remove the top yoke, clip ons and raise the tank. It should have been easy and it all flowed, everything was going to fit and everything was going to work. The new highly polished top yoke, that had taken a week of work to get to a mirror finish, slid into place, the risers bolted firmly into position. The top nut went back on and everything was tightened down. The bars sat in position and looked great. Time to add the switch gear.

Removal of the top yoke and clip on bars
The new top yoke and risers
New Purple Bars in place
There is a time in every amateur mechanics experience when the utterance of a good curse word is all that is needed to explain the situation. For example, when tapping home a nail with a hammer and one hits one’s thumb, the exclamation of “Oh golly, I have just hit my thumb and it is truly most terribly painful” can be replaced by one quick harsh use of the words “Fuck” or “bollocks”. This conveys all of this simply and concisely and every one around knows that said injury has just occurred. Sometimes though, injury does not happen, but a plan goes awry. Stating that “Oh darn, this rather lovely piece of hand crafted equipment is slightly out of tolerance with what I am trying to connect it to” just does not give required expulsion of frustration and fury that a harshly spat “Bastard thing!” can and does.

On this day, Sylvie’s Switch gear and Agnes’ battery both became “bastard things!

Solutions were quickly found and Agnes purred into life after the battery was charged up, her new exhaust smoked and rumbled, the grease I used to fit the parts together burned off with the heat from the gasses rushing through. For Sylvie it was a little more complicated, a new Clutch cable from the Suzuki V-Strom was required and eventually slotted into place. The throttle cables though had to be hand crafted and for this we turned to local mechanic Steve at Bridge Motor Services in Weston Super Mare. A top bloke and all round good guy, along with his other half, Sue, they provide a great service at very reasonable cost and I do highly recommend them.

Brake lines finally fitted in place and bled
To add further insult, the standard brake lines were at least four inches too short, so new lines were needed. Thankfully Carol knows a great little place in Burnham on Sea called Dog Motorcycles and they provided us with required hoses and fitting kit to produce our own lovely braided steel brake lines. Brake lines that should have taken twenty minutes to make up and a further twenty minutes to fit, leaving a few precious minutes of light to bleed. It should have been so easy. It was not. Brake lines quickly joined other elements in this work load to be renamed as “Bastards”, even the usually well spoken Carol was heard to mutter a few choice curses. Having had to replace two olive fittings to lines that should have been perfectly sealed was a major pain and spilled brake fluid on Carol’s tender hands. As the evening drew to a close and early hours of morning started to approach, the lines were finally in place and flushed with DOT4. It was worth Carol’s hard work though, the brakes are now sharper and more precise than they have ever been.

Fitting new throttle cables was a job that should I have to do again, I will do in the dark or low light of late afternoon. Having light inside the bike makes the whole painful “Bastard” experience much less of a “bastard” than it would otherwise be. To do this job though, the mechanic needs small womanly hands that can squeeze into tiny spaces in engine compartments. Working on a beautiful and narrow V-twin engine is now one of those jobs I shall in future undertake while sat on a comfortable cushion and in the warm and dry of a nice cool garage. This will ensure that the frustrated swearing is kept to a minimum and the urge to hit ones head against hard metal surfaces is lessened. Thankfully, the throttle cables finally clipped into place and were eventually correctly threaded into the twist grip assembly and finally the engine once again roared into life. I should imagine though, that if one were to have counted up the number of “fucks”, “bastards” and other equally awful words, they would have numbered really rather highly.

The following day Agnes was presented to Steve and Sue at Bridge Motor Services for her MOT and in a matter of moments, she was declared legal to ride on the public road. Steve assured me that both Carol and I had done a good job of making sure that she was road worthy, with both her and Sylvie ready to hit the road, it was time for an adventure.

Part Two… Hit the road and follow it until sunset.

Sylvie and Agnes on the Sea Front.
With Agnes freshly MOT tested and Sylvie ready for a test ride, it was time to hit the roads and go for a ride, this would be the first time that Carol and I were able to ride together on fairly equally powered machines. It was just a case of deciding who was to ride which bike. As much as I like Agnes, Sylvie is my girl and always will be. So for our first Bike Night together on the bigger bikes, Carol rode Agnes and I took Sylvie and we both cruised down the hill and over to the sea front to pay our pound into the fund that goes to the Royal British Legion and then from there to the Pub.

The next day was warm and dry, the sky was slightly cloudy and Carol looked great in her riding gear. We got the bikes ready and made plans to head over to Bristol for some shopping, I greatly needed some new riding gloves for when I start my new job and Carol had her Birthday money to spend on lingerie. It was going to be a good day out.

Now Agnes is a Japanese Import Bike, she was not designed to be use in the UK market and as such has a couple of odd features. Feature one is that her speedo is in KPH and not the more usual MPH. Feature two is the little red light that comes on when the rider goes above the Japanese speed limit, however these are minor things and do not really present any difficulty unless you do not know this. I had spent a little bit of time working out speed conversions and carefully painting it onto the speedo glass, however I had forgot to mention to Carol that the red warning light still worked.

Half was to Congressbury Carol pulled over looking worried and quickly turned off the engine. That forgotten red light had made an appearance and Carol was concerned that the oil warning light had come on. After a quick explanation that had Carol in fits of laughter, we were back on the road and riding together on the big bikes. Watching Carol ride the cruiser was lovely to see and she took off at speed heading for the delights of Bristol. The traffic was not too bad and we enjoyed the power of our bikes as we over took busses, trucks and slow moving cars. It does puzzle me though why people insist on driving on fast empty roads at the same speeds they should use when driving in busy pedestrian filled streets? Is it really safer to be travelling along at fifteen miles per hour below the speed limit causing traffic to bunch up behind them as they weave their merry way?

Getting into Bristol is always fun, the traffic increases and Carol’s greater skills soon become apparent and she has to wait for me to catch up, despite my riding the technically bigger and more powerful bike. However once back in formation we head over to Fowlers and time for some much needed retail therapy.

Having finished in Fowlers and even managing to catch up with Stuart, Carol’s lovely brother, we headed over to see Wayne and his Dad. This time the traffic was heavier and combined with the hunger from having missed lunch, things got a bit hectic at times, so a quick lunch stop was required, time to recoup and recovers ones grace. We also got to chat to a long distance cycle tourist who was cycling to Taunton. Food was lovely and with my energy levels back up to normal, the roads seemed less threatening. It did not stop some toe rag throwing a cigarette butt out of their window though and said cigarette butt entered my open fronted helmet and bounced out of my left eye. Luckily it had been stubbed out otherwise I could have had a nasty injury, but given the amount of traffic on the road I had other things to concentrate on, rather than finding said owner of the butt and bashing them to a bloody pulp!

Wayne was busy working on the Fazer when we arrived and looked as cool as always, if there is one person who knows almost everything there is to know about bikes, it is probably Wayne, so his appraisal of Agnes and Sylvie was valued. However it was soon time to hit the road again and with warm hugs we left Wayne to his work and jumped on our bikes and began the journey home. For this trip we headed towards Portishead and took the motorway back home. The winding road leading to the motorway was beautifully empty and we pretty much had the road to ourselves for a lot of it. Keeping up with Carol while watching the road around me is always fun and I was soon enjoying the motion and flowing of the bike over the tarmac, the slip way to the motorway came upon us and our speed gently increased and then we pulled out and were riding the three lane together. Carol just ahead and looking so cool.

The wind had picked up and was working against us though, with every gust the bikes both felt unstable and as we climbed up to get level with Portishead Quarry, the wind was quite strong. Buffeted and blasted we headed back towards home, the road was busy and traffic often kept our speed down into the fifties, but we were able to pass a lot of it and make progress, Sylvie feels like a new machine, motorway riding is more blustery than before, but the increase in vision, comfort and control was worth the sacrifice of losing the clip on bars, she handles beautifully and will wheelie with a little too much abandon if one is not careful with the throttle control.

It was a great ride out and with both bikes ticking as they cooled in the evening darkness of home, I felt a warmth in my heart. Riding bikes with your partner is just brilliant, riding big bikes that can eat the miles is even better. Maybe one day, our adventures can take us further from home to other countries and other cities, but for now I am happy to ride along with Carol, just enjoying the moments as they come.