Friday, February 24, 2012

#113 October 2011 Tech Geek Luddite.

Someone was giving me grief on the online companion to the magazine “Back Talk” a few days ago about how I often go on and on about the evils of baggers with all their complexity, yet would support the notion of using GPS in a four-wheeled vehicle.

The reality is; I am quite a tech geek. I love newer, faster computers, new technologies, better, faster gizmos and pretty much if it has a picture of an apple on it… I want it. The dichotomy occurs when it comes to motorcycles. For some inexplicable reason, I want the motorcycle to be as bone and rock simple as possible. The ideal bike would be a big single cylinder, magneto-fired, minimal electrics (and everything else for that matter). The only thing better than a new bike like this, would be one as old as I could find that would still get the job done. A 50’s BSA Gold Star would be excellent!
OK, so I ride a twin, what’s up with that? I’ll admit, I like the power delivery of a twin better. Wait, so if two are good, three is better, right? I mean, the power delivery has to be better, right? What about four cylinders? Six? Here is where I run into my self-imposed braking system. I draw the line at three. Why? Well, I can tell you, it would be two, except that I had a Triumph T160 back in 1981 that I loved to death! So although I ride twins, I don’t rule out a Triumph T150/160 sometime down the road.
I currently have three bikes running. My Shovel, my 1971-based Triumph Chopper and a pretty stock-ish Triumph Bonneville from 1982. The ’82 is by far the most technologically advance bike I own. It has the factory electronic ignition (Lucas RITA) and even a starter motor and blinkers. The blinkers only ‘blink’ on one side… I don’t remember which right now because I never use them. The starter WILL work ONLY when the battery is fully charged. However, no amount of riding this bike around will fully charge the battery. It even has the factory regulator and rectifier on board. The only thing that stops me from ripping all this out and adding a magneto is the fact that the bike is almost totally stock and I can count the number of intact 82s I’ve seen on the road on one hand. This is my “sensible” bike with two seats for when such things are necessary.
Both my other bikes are magneto fired, no battery with the lights wired ‘on’ constantly. No switches, no fuses, no breakers, just a wire from the (solid state) rectifier/regulator to the headlight, the taillight and the brake switch period. Yes, for some reason I’m perfectly happy replacing the older style mechanical regulators or the zener diode with updated solid-state components. Not only that, I like LED taillights. Take it a step further, both my Chops have hydraulic clutches! This is, in part, due to my hatred of cables. I have broken many a clutch cable on a Triumph. You can say it was due to poor maintenance on my part, failure to lube, or improper routing perhaps… maybe, all I know is that it’s not much fun trying to get a running start from the stoplight, or furiously trying to find neutral just before you HAVE to stop. Admittedly the Shovel wouldn’t need a cable there anyway, since it’s a foot clutch, but I pretty much trust hydro setups, so long as you keep an eye on fluid levels, they usually work. Speaking of hydraulics, I have Japbike calipers front and rear on the Shovel, and on the front on the Triumph chop. I kept the original Lockheed caliper that came with that wheel because it seems to work well.
So I guess I do mix new tech with the old tech on my bikes, I just make sure it doesn’t add to the complexity of the whole. I can’t think of any way to do away with the throttle cables without resorting to electrickery, I don’t believe that hydraulic would be the way to go there either.
It boils down to this; if the bike stops running, there can only be three causes. Lack of fuel, lack of spark or mechanical failure somewhere. This is of course true for any motorcycle but it’s a whole lot easier to track down the lack of spark when the spark is generated from something like a magneto, which is nothing more than a DC generator, a coil and a set of points and condenser. The last thing I want on the side of the road is to deal with a wiring harness that looks like the back of my stereo in 1979. You can argue that modern motorcycles rarely break down anyway, but if there’s something that CAN be relied on, it’s that those sensors and ECMs and all that WILL eventually fail. And unless you’re the sort that trades his bike in every other year, it’ll bite you one day. I’m not saying I’ll never be left on the side of the road, the spark plug insert issue is a good example of the shit that can happen, I’m just trying to give myself a fighting chance of being able to fix it in the middle of BFE and get home.

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