Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Project SideCamper: Part Four

 Project SideCamper work slowly progresses, with two perplexing problems facing us. 

One is the front brakes. After removing the front wheel, replacing the bearings and mounting a new front tire, the brakes do not want to grab with any force. The previous owner rode this rig on the beaches in Mexico, which may be the reason the brake pistons acted like they are stuck. Ordered a replacement set of clean used brake calipers off eBay.  Learned that the brake calipers on this bike are not OEM Suzuki Vstrom 1000, but are from a Suzuki Hayabusa, a very fast high performance crotch rocket.  From the original eight piston brake calipers, this rig was upgraded to twelve piston Hayabusa calipers for better stopping power?  Speed is not an issue with this rig, but stopping the rolling weight is.  

Here is the old Tokico front caliper on a leading link front suspension running 155/80-15 car tire on a custom Stroker steel wheel.

The tools of the trade for brake bleeding.

Installed the eBay replacement Tokico brake caliper. Looks better, but still not grabbing like they should. 

After bleeding the brakes several more times, removing all the air with both forward and reverse bleeding procedures, cleaned the pistons and calipers, but still mushy feeling when I pull the front lever.  

Finally ordered a front master brake cylinder rebuild kit from eBay.  Hopefully by next week the brake issue will be resolved.

The second issue was the fuel gauge. It was not working correctly when I bought the bike. No matter how much fuel is in the tank, it always read empty. Tested the resistance of the float unit while in the tank, then the wiring and finally the instrument cluster. We spent hours and hours tracing the wiring on the bike, taking ohms reading at every junction. Everything had a good reading, no breaks or shorts found.  Decided to order a replacement instrument cluster as that was the one part we could not test.

Here the old cluster is out, waiting on a new one to arrive. Installed the new eBay cluster but same problem occurred, fuel gauge reads empty.  We can't have two bad clusters, can we? 

 Next removed the fuel float sending unit for testing outside the gas tank. The voltmeter reading says the ohms are correct when I move the float up and down. However when  it was inside the tank in the gasoline, it would give a reading, but not change much when one rocked the tank.

Finally ordered a new float assembly.  Installed the new sending unit. BAMM... Problem solved. Now the fuel gauge is showing the correct fuel level.  It is critical that the fuel gauge accurately show how much fuel is in the bike's tank so when I refill from the 15 gallon auxiliary fuel cell I don't create an overflow problem.

Here is the new 15 gallon auxiliary fuel cell mounted on the swing out table so the weight is carried over the sidecar axle. It gravity feeds into the main fuel tank on the bike when the manual valve is opened. Fifteen gallons is a lot of weight, so I don't plan on filling it completely until I am about to enter the more remote desolate regions.  I have yet to learn what my miles per gallon will be. A long road trip will tell me that. 

Added a map of Canada on the back and a map of the USA on the front of the fuel cell. The goal is to fill in all of the states and provinces on those two maps over the next several years.

Took the rig off the lift and opened the camper in order to rewire the taillights and add a right turn signal lamp.

 Also need to decide what and where to carry items inside the camper.  Still have to build storage compartments, add a drop down table, a light and an outlet for charging my laptop.

While the inside of the camper is waterproof when closed, nothing is accessible when the top is closed and secured for traveling. So all rain gear, cold weather gear as well as tools and camera gear need to be packed and stored on the bike somewhere, not inside the camper.

 The back door cannot be opened with the top is closed. In order to open the camper, the fuel table swings out and a drop down leg is lowered to support the loose end. The camper top is then flipped out over the sidecar fender onto its supporting legs to expose the interior. Then the door can be opened to step in and push up the two metal frames that support the canvas  roof.  Sounds complicated but it only takes a few minutes to set up. 

After a slow last week, we are seeing improvements.  Slowly but surely the project moves toward completion.

 Am anxious to get this rig on the road for a long test ride, Canada waits.

Ride safe, ya'll

Friday, June 16, 2017

Third Annual Photography Camp

Took a break in wrenching to travel to northern New Mexico for a week of bonding with three of my five grandsons (the other two are not old enough πŸ‘ΆπŸ‘Ά to be trusted with grandpa Abu πŸ‘΄, some day...).

Every day the four of us would have a morning class, hike, cook, play games and practice our photography skills.  The first rule here, no electronics, phones, iPads, etc  until the sun goes down.

My students, Anthony, Hudson and Harrison hiking in the high country tall grass of New Mexico.

Each day's hike would start at 8200 ft elevation in the lower valleys and meadows
 then work our way up.  Most of the time the weather cooperated, but we always kept an eye open for fast moving dark rain clouds.

When over 10,000 feet, a jacket is needed even though it is the middle of June. 

The boys were great at practicing in the afternoons and evenings what I taught them 
in the morning classes... 

... even getting creative with angles and techniques.

The mountains hold many surprises if one looks for them, from peaceful aspen glens where the elk, deer and bear bed down... (not all together, I assure you)...

to abandoned line cabins in the high country. Line cabins were where cowboys working the herd could spend the night, escaping the cold, rain and snow.

One evening about dusk we located a herd of twenty elk. With the light fading fast, we all quickly snapped photos until the light was gone. I always carry a cow elk call when up there to calm the animals and get their interest without spooking them. 

At this time of the year, the bull elk are off in their own or in small bachelor herds. 

This herd of cows had two spotted newborns calves who were always surrounded by the protective females. At any one time there were a dozen eyes on the look out for danger. 

Of course we had to walk out onto the Rio Grande River Gorge bridge near Taos. The concrete structure moves up and down with each crossing car or truck.  The bigger and heavier the vehicle, the more it moves. Our youngest found it too scary. He did not like it.

We arrived in time to see a rain storm move south out of the Colorado Rockies.

Moving on, next stop:  Earthship Biosphere. All of the structures here are built with recycled materials and partially buried in the earth for climate control and energy efficiency.  The several dozen homes are off the grid, generating their own electricity via solar and wind.

Looking out across the high plains of fragrant sage brush toward the Sangre de Cristo mountains and Taos.

Our last night out, we spotted a mule deer in velvet who cooperated for a standing portrait.

Was another good learning experience in photography.  The boys practiced with aperture, shutter speed and composition while I was educated on the world of fidget spinners. 

The youngest, Harrison, is the reigning Phase Ten card playing champion.

We all agreed to return next year for another week of North Country Photography Camp. 

Now back home, the wrenching on SideCamper continues. 


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Project SideCamper: Part Three

Project: SideCamper is now in the man cave, on the lift, ready for work. 

My starting list of items to address:

1). Replace fuse block and organize the wiring
2). Wire in winch direct to battery with removable plugs
3). Install LED driving lights on SideCamper nose
4). Add USB port on handlebars for GPS/cellphone
5). Install new horn
6). Repair turn signals
7). Remove and repair or replace instrument cluster, fuel gauge not working, check float inside gas tank.
8). Remove top steering yoke, refinish rusting collars then relocate all cables and wiring to back side of yoke.
9). Install handlebar risers
10). Install foot peg lowering adapters
11). Remove fuel tank to install bulkhead fitting for aux fuel inlet, check float inside tank
12). Order parts and install plumbing fixtures to gravity feed fuel from aux tank to main tank
13).  Remove front wheel to mount new front tire and replace wheel bearings
14). Replace frozen front brake calipers
15). Install new rear brake line 
16). Put Ride-On in all three tires
17). Remove 8 gal fuel cell. Powder coat larger fuel cell and mount on swing out table
18). Re-work dual pannier mount for solo left side pannier
19). Rework seat for height and seating position
20). Mount top case and wire in USB port for charging batteries while riding
21). Bleed both front and rear brakes
22). Change the motor oil and oil filter
23). Check & clean air filter
24). Grease fittings, lubricate chain
25). Install chain oiler
26). Add reflective stickers for night and day safety
27). Decide how and where to store table leg extension 
28). Replace old windshield 
29). Organize interior space for clothes, bedding and cooking items
30). Install interior camper outlet for LED reading light and charging station
31). ...

And the list grows as more items needing attention or replacement are found. As it sits right now, it cannot pass state inspection to be licensed in Texas. 

And the work begins by removing seat, body panels, fuel tank...

With the instrument cluster out and the top yoke off, the testing and de-rusting can happen.

The steering compartment is being reworked 

The two steering collars were rusting badly.  In the photo below they are being treated against rust and painted.  

The eight gallon aux fuel cell was removed. A larger cell will be installed.  Am estimating a 25 mpg average fuel consumption when pushing that flat front into the wind.  The five gallon main tank and the eight gallon black aux cell only give me a 325 mile range. That is not enough. I want a minimum 400 mile range in case I have trouble finding gas in remote areas.  Carrying an even larger fuel cell will most likely reduce my 25 mpg estimate even further. Peace of mind knowing one has enough fuel to explore a side road and still return safely is more important than the extra weight. 

 The Suzuki Vstrom 1000 fuel system does not have the normal fuel return line though it is a fuel injected engine. Where to tap into the main fuel tank in order to refill from the aux cell was a major decision. After many questions were posted on Vstrom web sites, seems not many people have plumbed in an aux fuel cell on this bike.  One man stated that tying into the fuel vapor line was a mistake. Said he ended up with a lap full of gas when he tried that. 

The only solution then is to drill a hole and install a bulkhead fitting. BUT... where to drill the hole? In the $1600 steel main tank, OR in the $850 steel fuel pump mounting plate?

The mounting plate won. 

Carefully drilled a 3/8's inch hole in the only spot on the mounting plate a new hole would fit. Then threaded in a 1/4" hose barbed fitting. JB welded it in place.  Here is the outside view of hose barb.

Here is the inside view of the fitting on the mounting plate. Will give it 36 hours to completely cure before installing. 

The aux fuel will be gravity fed into the main tank which is why the aux fuel cell is mounted so high. Not having to deal with and worry about a fuel transfer pump and it's associated wiring failing is in keeping with the theme of this build. Keep it simple and reliable. 

This SideCamper was not designed or built for speed, but for reliability and endurance. 

The work continues, new parts being ordered, visits to the hardware store, waiting on packages and working until midnight.  Right now it seems more pieces are coming off than going on. That should change soon.

To be continued... in Project SideCamper:  Part Four

Later, CCjon

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Project SideCamper: Part Two

Claude finally made the call I had been waiting for...
Come and get it. Your rig is ready!!

Quickly I organize for a 3000 mile round trip to Pennsylvania to pick up Project SideCamper. 

Claude's crew is rightly proud of the rig they have created for me. 
  John, Bob, Claude, Angie and Ron with my "un-named"rig.  

Are they glad to get that monster out of their shop or.... what? 

Let me tell you about the SideCamper. It is wider than most sidecar rigs due to the width of the camper body. It has a heavy duty frame, 15" car tire, exposed shock and a swing out platform with an eight gallon fuel cell.  Am not sure what kind of mpg the rig will get but I need a riding range of at least 350 miles for where we are going. We added a custom made aluminum tool box up front to make it a more aerodynamic in deflecting wind. The tail lights are wired into the bike's lights. A sway bar was added to stabilize the rig on twisty curving roads.

The quality and durability of the work that Freedom Sidecar produces is impressive. 
Am very glad I selected them to build this rig.

Due to its position up front and outside the triangle of sidecar stability, the locking box is for lightweight rain gear, jacket, gloves and parts only.  Driving lights will be mounted on the box nose. 

The weight of the auxiliary fuel cell is mainly over the sidecar axle, within the triangle of stability. 
Am not sure yet about the eight gallon auxiliary tank, it might not be big enough.

The remote operated winch can be moved from the front to the back

To open the camper, the table with the fuel cell unlatches, then swings out with an adjustable leg that drops down to support the weight of a full tank of gas. With the top open, the rear camper door allow access inside. The door cannot be opened when the camper is closed.  A nice security feature when away from the rig.  It takes a little over two minutes to swing out the table and set up the camper. 

The aluminum box between the bike and the camper contains a car battery.  A battery that can be found at any Walmart world-wide, as can the auto tires.

For me the bed is short, but I can stretch out diagonally.  Good thing I travel solo.  The bed can also be set up as a bench with a back rest for those rainy days when you would rather stay in and read a good book.

The zip open windows on front and back have screens if you want a breeze coming thru. The dry space under the bed is for bedding, clothes, food, cooking gear, etc. 

Claude was told to not worry about the bike, its wiring and fuel plumbing hook ups. I plan to finish that part of the rig myself. That way I can familiarize myself with the Vstrom and the sidecar. This is my first Vstrom so this would be a learning experience.

By doing all my own wrenching and maintenance, if I have a problem on the road in the middle of nowhere, I will be better prepared if I am familiar with all the bikes systems and add-ons.  It also lets me discover which tools I must carry to tighten loose nuts or make repairs on the go.

The rig is 80% complete as you see it here. There is a long list of final adjustments, wiring, add-ons, upgrades needed before it is ready to go rogue.  

Claude and his crew finished their part of the build, now my work starts. 

Claude says the rig handles great. Eight miles into a forty mile test ride the bike loses the rear brakes.  Brake fluid was smoking on the exhaust. Seems the rubber hose was touching the hot exhaust.  Over time it burnt a hole in it.

Looks like I better plan on doing a complete service and inspection on the bike before taking any long trips.

We load the rig on my trailer to haul back to Texas. 

More to come in..... Part Three.


Project SideCamper, Part One

Several years ago I saw this photo of a sidecar rig that captured my attention.  Egads1, an AdvRider in Georgia had mounted a pop up camper in place of the chair as a sidecar on his motorcycle. Immediately I thought what a great idea for exploring Canada and Alaska. One can stop and spend the night wherever they desire. Sleep up off the cold wet ground and easily carry all of their clothes, camping, cooking,  photography gear with them. 

It would be a bit crowded for two people, but I travel alone. Would have a weatherproof storage space for all of my gear, sleeping bag, cook stove, etc. The ceiling height inside is 6'2", a little short for my 6'5" height, but much better than a 4' tall tent.

Knowing how expensive motels are once you head north, one can save money to buy more gasoline. Plus one has the freedom to sleep anywhere, be there for sunrise or sunset photos in the wild.

For months I researched the various models of lightweight motorcycle camper trailers, only to arrive at the same conclusion as Egads1, the Kwik Kamp Mini-Mate camper is the only model that would work as a sidecar. The top is hinged on the right side so when opened, the top is folds out over the sidecar wheel. Some other model's tops open to the left or both to the left and the right. With the motorcycle handlebars on the left, any top that opened left would not work.

The Mini-Mate feature that really caught my attention was, it can be set up in two minutes. Putting up a tent can take ten - twenty minutes. That may not sound like a big difference, but if it is raining, you and your gear are getting soaked while setting up a tent on the cold wet ground. Then to unload your gear, storing it in the tent, and finally crawl yourself inside. Then if you set up your tent in the wrong spot, you could have water running thru it and sleeping bag in the middle of the night. All of that can avoided with the Mini-Mate.

With the research done, now to find one. The Mini-Mate is sold as a pull behind camper, small and lightweight, easy to pull by motorcycle or small car. Tried looking locally and on various internet sites but none showed up on any of the motorcycle travel camper sites or internet auction sites. 

Finally I ordered a new Mini-Mate direct from the Pennsylvania factory. Had it shipped to Texas where I bolted on the axle and tongue so I could wheel it around in the storage area.  It is quite large and takes up space. 

With the camper in hand... what motorcycle do I mate it to? I did not have a motorcycle or sidecar rig that would be a good match for this camper. Egads1 told me that riding the camper rig was like pushing a wall of air with that flat front so your motorcycle better have power and torque.

Back to searching the internet, for a strong reliable motorcycle. I finally located a heavy duty adventure sidecar on AdvRider already set up for world travel: a 2007 Suzuki Vstrom 1000 converted to ride on three automobile tires and a winch. The Vstrom 1000 has a reputation of reliability and strength with its 100 horsepower engine. Freedom Sidecars in Pennsylvania had originally converted it to sidecar duty.  SLACKER, the owne, had the rig for sale in Baltimore, Md. He and his wife had just returned from spending several months touring around Mexico on it.

Off then to Baltimore for a test ride on Big Blue, the rig. Quickly a deal was struck. From there I trailered the Big Blue and the Mini-Mate camper to Claude Stanley of Freedom Sidecars in Pennsylvania to make the modification from a sidecar to a SideCamper. 

The blue sidecar was removed and sold to someone who had been waiting for a rig.

Claude was great to work with in designing a new sidecar frame for the Mini-Mate. Late into the night Claude and I drew out sketches and ideas on scrap paper until we finally agreed upon a plan. He and his crew had never built a sidecar camper before but were excited about the challenge. 

Now the building process began in earnest.  

As the build progressed, we introduced, discussed, accepted and rejected many ideas before arriving at the final product.

Always in the back of my mind were those nagging questions:

Would the new set up be ridable? 

Would it be reliable with that huge sidecar load?

Would the Vstrom have enough power to move the rig at highway speeds?

What kind of gas mileage would it get?

What would the final result look like?

More to come..... in Part Two


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

East Texas Beall Ranch life

Had the opportunity to visit the Beall Ranch near Milam, Texas last week.  Tom and Kelley have worked hard to build a beautiful tranquil country oasis in their busy business lives. For most people, just keeping up the ranch would be a full time job. Not for the Beall's, they also have several other businesses besides the ranch.  Am always impressed with people who are not afraid to work and work hard to build a good life for themselves and their family.

Two paint horses roam the ranch at ease. Before you say anything, 
Tom assured me they are both paint horses.

The cattle head back toward the barn at sunset.

This little fellow was orphaned at birth.  Kelley is having to bottle feed it. 
Having raised five daughters, Kelley is very experienced with bottle feeding.

Kelley and two young friends, a pup who wants all of her attention and the calf named Orphan.

Tom says to return next year as he thinks one of the mares might be pregnant. The gestation period for horses is eleven months, so next year there might be a new foal to photograph. Will mark my calendar to return.

On the sidecar front, the beautiful BMW K1200LT rig has come and gone from the ol' Man Cave.  Was a great road going rig, could get up to 80 mph on the highway in a flash but, the cave was getting too crowded with a new addition that rolled in last month. Something had to go.....
More news on that soon.

Gene, who bought Da'Mu the Goldwing sidecar rig from me, rode over to East Texas for a day ride.  We had lunch in San Augustine, visited one of the first log houses built in Texas. Is the dogtrot style with open breezeway between the two enclosed cabins. One side was used for cooking and daily chores while the other end was living/sleeping quarters.  Each cabin had its own fireplace.

Ride safe y'all

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Heights and Lights

The weather recently has been nice, almost spring-like. So Grey Phantom and I went exploring some of the new urban landscape in our area of Northwest Houston. 

In Texas they stack the overpasses higher and higher every year. Is there a competition among highway engineers to see who can build the tallest highway structure?
Won't be long, we will be seeing Boeing 747's flying at eye level when we cross an overpass.

If you note the flat profile rear tire on GP,
am experimenting with an auto tire to see if I can get longer tire life,
i.e. more miles with it than with a standard motorcycle tire. 
The jury is encouraged, but still out.

 GP in the shadow of an overpass, perfecting on its' urban punk rocker stance.

A new light bar in mounted on the front of the cargo box.
The reflective safety tape on the rig pops out as a bright white bar.
Hopefully it will pop out to other drivers too. Anything to be noticed so texting drivers can't claim
 they didn't see me after running over GP.

Have upgraded the front driving light from two small LED lamps to a bar LED.
Here is the old light set up. Above you can see the new bar light.

The new LED Headlamp on low beam and side running light.

HIGH LED Beam and LED Light Bar both on...
rather blinding.

Low beam

High beam with LED light bar, a major improvement in lighting.

And to wrap up todays post is a shot that makes one stop...  ponder...  reflect.

A photo can be a snippet of shiny chrome or 
a deeper essay with pathos and challenge that defy words to describe. 

What's a great photo, if not a story?

Ride safe today