Saturday, 27 March 2010

One Out, All Out!

The primary Civil Service union helpfully called a day of National Strike Action which provided me with the chance to run a shakedown on the B50 and re-familiarise myself with the Shiny Stormer. A call to Mark Woodford unfortunately failed to get the necessary permission to use one of his fields as the ground is still too waterlogged to allow access. Bugger! Still, rather than waste a day (I was going to strike anyway, honest!) I spent the day down Race HQ putting the finishing touches to the two bikes.

First off, the B50. I had noticed that when I fitted the skidplate there was little, if any, clearance for the anti-wetsumping valve. Chatting with Paul, he was not convinced of it’s need anyway so the decision was made to reroute the main oil feed, with the valve permanently on, so the skidplate could be fitted flush with the frame rails. If it wetsumps I’ll need to review it once again and bung a couple of spacers in but here’s hoping. The single wire to the kill switch looked a bit vulnerable and tight still so I split the wire and slipped on a bullet connector – an easy operation you would think but the Westley fingers and general mechanical ineptitude once again conspired to turn a ten minute job into a saga of oaths and a strained back! How? I here you ask. Let me explain.

The kill-switch is one of those red button affairs that shorts out the single feed wire, thereby collapsing the system, held in place by two clips that slot into the body of the switch. Simple. But in order to replace the wire you need to dismantle and reassemble the seven components of the switch, (including, crucially, a spring) maintaining the required pressure to keep everything together, whilst using your third hand to line up the pinch bolt and using your ‘other‘ hand to tighten everything up. In the words of the damned annoying meerkat “Simples!”. However, to make it more interesting the handlebar is strapped to the left fork leg and the bike is precariously balanced leaning against the wall. Just as I manoeuvred the screwdriver into position, the GLW attempted to access the inner sanctum that is the shed and diverted my attention sufficiently that the switch exploded, sending it’s component parts to the seven corners of the shed. In my feeble attempt to stop the bike falling on top of me, I twisted and ‘crack’ went my back. What fun! The GLW beat a hasty retreat muttering something about “I’ll come back when you’re in a better mood” and left me trying to locate the switch components amongst the accumulated detritus. Anyway, it was the work of just thirty minutes before, through the judicious use of sticky tape and deep breathing, the switch was fully installed.

Having checked everything else over, it was time to wheel the beast out of the shed, put the handlebars back where they should be, and try starting it up. Confident of success, I swung on the new kickstart with my normal slip-on shoes as protection. Cowardice stopped me kicking quite as hard as required and after the second half-hearted backfire I retired injured (nice bruising of the in-step) and sought out the motocross boots. A quick check of the plug, a slight flooding of the rebuilt carb., and a suitably weighted swing on the kickstart and nothing. Four or five swings later and the beast burst into life – it seems it needs a different throttle setting to the old Boyer system – but it soon settled down to a reliable tickover. A quick check that there were no obvious leaks or problems and that the oil was circulating back to the frame and I declared myself satisfied.

While it was out of the shed I thought I’d check over the running gear once more. Chain oiled, brakes adjusted, spokes ‘tinged’ to make sure they are all relatively tight and all the levers checked. While looking around the front wheel I noticed a slight bit of play in the bearings. No problem I thought, whip the wheel out, tighten the retaining nut and all done in ten minutes!. Of course, once I’d undone the retaining nuts on the bottom of the front forks, the heavens opened, so although the job only took twenty minutes (I treated the drum and shoes to a bit of a tidy up) I managed to get soaked. Of course, once I’d finished, the uniformly grey sky parted and sunshine returned within five minutes! So, with the addition of a couple of stickers, ‘The Beast’ is ready to roll.

Next came the Shiny Stormer. I knew it was in the shed somewhere and it was finally liberated from beneath sacks of rags and bags of ‘useful things’ that were temporarily being stored in the shed. Wheeled out into the garden and the handlebars safely installed, as I was still wearing the one motocross boot I thought I’d get straight to it and start the SS up. Fuel on, choke on, kill switch ‘on’, footrest folded up out of the way, and a good healthy kick and – nothing. Kick, kick, kick, kick, sweat, cough, kick, kick, still nothing. Now it’s getting personal, the SS is obviously sulking at not getting enough attention. Run through the checklist once more, fuel, choke, kill switch and then notice a dangling wire. Make the connection, a half-hearted kick, and the air is rapidly filled with blue smoke and the sound of ringing cylinder fins. Hurrah!

The repacked silencer seems to have taken the edge off the racket but mindful of the neighbours, after all they had already had the ‘benefit’ of hearing the Beast, I shut the SS down after warming it briefly. I followed the same regime as I had with the B50; chain oiled, etc.. and a quick wipe down with an oily rag. I finished off by whipping the points cover off and carefully repositioning all the wires so there’s no chance of a short and giving it the merest hint of WD40 as a precaution against the dreaded condensation. I’m just dreading when the SS sees Paul Nappi’s Stormer’s 'flaming' tank – I confidently expect major ‘toys out of the pram’ antics!

So, both bikes fully prepped and ready to go and the GLW still AWOL. What is a chap to do? Well, in my sad case, I rationalised, reorganised, and cleaned my toolkit. I didn’t, for example, realise I had four14mm ring spanners or three identical (practically useless) pliers! So, at the end of another hour or so I had two shiny bikes and a shiny, yet practical and well organised, toolkit! Strangely, when the GLW returned, she seemed singularly unimpressed, but just wait until someone asks to borrow a spanner!

Roll on Hanningfield – must remember; left foot brake, right foot gears, left foot brake, right foot gears! Another season starts with no damned practice!

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Transplant Deemed Complete Success

The patient was released from the convalescence ward on Sunday following extensive transplant surgery. The most radical surgery undertaken by Paul was the grafting of the Rex Caunt ignition system into the bowels of the engine, it’s single umbilical chord being successfully routed via the new coil to provide a healthy spark at kick-over. I’m reliably informed that the timing adjustment was simplicity itself and technical support was always readily available at the end of the telephone so what could have been a difficult birth actually went very smoothly. As the patient was wheeled out on it’s two wheels, it did sulk momentarily while the surgeon tried to persuade it into life, but subsequent prods on the new, folding, kickstart provided instant response each time.

The alternator, the Boyer system, and all the associated control boxes etc. have been removed and once I’ve had a shake-down run or two will be placed on Fleabay to try and recoup some of the costs. As a totally self-generating system, the weight savings alone from ditching that lot and the battery must be worth a couple of seconds a lap!

The gearbox had proven slightly more troublesome but after a little cutting and grinding, a new pinion and a couple of bearings and everything meshed together well. The new kickstart folds well out of the way so that partial engagement whilst riding should be a thing of the past as it’s well away from my boot, so no more lock-ups, hopefully. It also seems plenty sturdy enough to deal with the increased compression resulting from the removal of the compression plate previously fitted. How the removal of such a thin piece of metal makes such a difference is beyond my comprehension but it will be interesting to see how this translates to power through the back wheel and driveability.

Reverting to the original ‘silencer’ also seems to have allowed the engine to breathe more freely, and restore the ‘bark’ to it’s soundtrack. Whether that will translate to even more power remains to be seen and I suspect I will need to be a bit wary of the noise meter at the next few race meetings! It does look a lot more purposeful in it’s matt black coating so hopefully I’ll get away with it.

The clutch is now silky smooth, complete with new rubbers, and is just a two finger operation (compared to the two hands when I first bought the beast!). That, and my new found determination to cheat at the start should see me near the front at the first bend which reminds me, I need to reverse the actuating arm on the front brake and adjust everything so I have at least a fighting chance of getting round the first bend!

Just a couple of bits and pieces to sort out and it’ll be ready to run. The bashplate, also in a tasteful matt black now, needs refitting and the cable to the kill switch can do with a bit of tidying – although it’s a logical path for when the ‘bars are attached I’m just a bit concerned with potential chafing when I remove the ‘bars for access through to the back garden, so either a quick reroute or a plastic sheath is needed. The clutch cable needs tucking away a bit so it can’t catch on the odd wayward leg or handlebar and I reckon I’ll be ready to roll.

The cosmetic upgrade has all come together quite nicely but I suspect the non-standard race number plates will cause mild apoplexy amongst the Club traditionalists but as I only run in the Clubman class I don’t think it really very important. The seat and sidepanels fit well and are comfy (the seat, that is) and the new handlebars and grips have a much better bend on them than the originals so I should have a bit more control and space. It’s all very well looking nice but will it deliver the goods on the track? Only time will tell.

The GLW dropped into the conversation this morning, in that faux disinterested, ‘I don’t really care’, sort of way that you know is going end up requiring a defensive answer, “Did the B50 end up costing more than you expected?” A non-committal reply around the need for a couple of extra bits for the gearbox seemed to head her off at the pass but I’ve got a strange feeling that this is going to come back to haunt me! Looks like I’ll need to do some garden tidying up and landscaping to earn sufficient brownie points to help soften the inevitable blow.

Oh well, you’re only young once and you can’t take it with you!

Unfortunately I’m certainly no longer young, and the GLW is quite content for me to leave it behind for her to enjoy.

See you on the start line.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Countdown to Chaos

It’s the nearly the start of the season and my cunning plans are coming to fruition! Although I’m not riding at the first meeting there’s plenty of activity at Westley Towers getting ready for the rest of the season. I’ve even been wielding a spanner or two, proving you can teach an old dog new tricks, on both the Shiny Stormer and the B50 (with varying levels of success!) so I thought now was an ideal time to provide a preseason update. So here goes with the 2010 Old Westley Almanac – my thoughts and predictions for the coming year*

The Shiny Stormer has had a thorough overhaul and has been returned to it’s previous shiny state. New points fitted, head barrel and piston all cleaned up and rings checked, exhaust de-gunged and the ‘silencer’ repacked, front suspension rebuilt with new seals, and everything thing else checked and tweaked as necessary. A final investment in industrial quantities of Solvol Autosol and the SS is ready to roll! Whisper it quietly but I’m hoping that this will initially be my ‘backup’ bike with a view to flogging it off mid season if the modifications to the B50 bear fruit. Just thinking that will most probably send the SS into a terminal sulk and will never start again!

My predictions for the Shiny Stormer for 2010 are:
• It will continue to be implausibly shiny
• The Hanningfield meeting (4th April) will be a chance for SS to prove it’s worth
• The Hanningfield meeting (4th April) will be a chance for SS to highlight my lack of riding skills and will bite back
• At some time it will realise that I intend to sell it and will develop an untraceable electrical fault that will render itself worthless

The BSA B50 is still undertaking a major program of upgrades aimed at making it more reliable, easier to start, and just a little bit faster. All the engine work has been entrusted to a local chap who knows what he’s doing and the engine is due to be reacquainted with the frame this coming weekend. The engine has been stripped, bearings and crank checked, gearbox rebuilt using the new splined shaft and kickstart, new electronic ignition fitted, compression plate removed, valve train modified and everything set up correctly to ensure reliability. The running gear has benefited from my attention: rebuilt Amal Mk1 carb with new low friction slide; new seat, sidepanels, handlebars, grips, and number boards; rebuilt front forks with new seals and uprated springs; old electrics stripped off and new rear mudguard extension fabricated, rear suspension and swing arm overhauled; exhaust and original silencer decoked and resprayed; frame inspected and flushed through; and a general tidy up of cable routing etc.. Nothing too radical, just a review of what we had and improving where we could. I hope to have a first tryout of the beast 20th March, provided the practice field isn’t under too much water, so that I can play with the carb settings and jets then it will be a baptism of fire at the Hanningfield meeting.

My predictions for the B50 for 2010 are:
• It will start whenever I need it
• The gearbox will not ever lock up again
• It will be sufficiently easy to ride so that I will be able to beat the odd rider!
• It will be faster than Keith F-J’s B50

The Club is running it’s customary range of meetings at four tracks within spitting distance of Chelmsford although the majority will be at the notoriously hilly Marks Tey track. At present, two of the meetings are going to be a little bit different and not run championship rounds – this has caused a bit of flak for the organisers (yes, I am one of them!) but hopefully those riders that enter both those meetings will have a jolly good time and plenty of rides. As with any large club (we have some 300 members) there are factions and cliques that are focussed on promoting those elements of the Club that happen to coincide with their ideals, which is fine but it does tend to mean any hint of change is taken very personally. We also have a few ‘sensitive’ riders that are prone to stamping their feet but that is to be expected I suppose – I just wish some of the would lighten up a bit! We have lost one Clerk of the Course through political in-fighting which may put some of our meetings in jeopardy yet still the wrangling continues. Perhaps the Club should invest in some boxing gloves so people can settle disputes in a pragmatic way?

My predictions for the Pre65 Club for 2010 are:
• The Hanningfield meeting will be a roaring success despite a boycott by some members of the Club
• The Championships will continue to provide the primary competitive focus for the Club despite two meetings being ‘non-championship’ in nature
• A faction within the Club will threaten to set up a rival club to promote their particular cause

On a personal front, my fitness regime has yet to kick in but I am strangely confident that with a little bit of practice I should be able to pick up where I left off last year. I was starting to trust the bikes to compensate for my lack of skill and get me through the various hazards that the track presented and as a result I was actually getting quicker (everything is relative, don’t forget!). I actually had a bit of an epiphany when one of the old stagers said to me at Maylandsea last year that you can’t overtake someone by following them. This, along with my growing confidence in the bikes, allowed me to step up my game slightly – my aim for 2010 is to continue to build on that progress but only time will tell. Oh, and not hurt myself in the process.

My personal predictions for 2010 are:
• I will ride at eight meetings during the season
• I will ride in all my scheduled rides
• I will not be lynched at the Lamarsh meeting (12th September) that I am organising and the meeting will be a roaring success!
• I will not give everyone a head start – I too will cheat on the start-line!

I will be at the first meeting (March 14th at Marks Tey), along with the GLW, learning the ropes on how to be a Clerk of the Course – we all know it’s just an excuse to boss people about! Hope to see you all there, especially if you have some juicy gossip that I can use!

Pip Pip!

*I will, of course, change this blog as time passes so that miraculously all my predictions come true!

2010 AGM Jollys

It seemed like a good idea at the time (don’t they all?). The forecast was favourable and I had time on the Friday to extricate the battery from the bowels of Bertram the BMW for the yearly charge so the decision was made to go to the club AGM on two wheels. As the GLW had a big job on that weekend, it had the added advantage of leaving her the car to trundle around in whilst I was away so was bound to earn me a good few brownie points.

Late Friday afternoon, I approach Bertram BMW’s Bike Barn with the required tools to start the dismantling process. Opening the cover revealed a not very pretty sight. It seems that the GLW’s little feathered friends that she feeds so caringly drop off for a rest on the Bike Barn for a little rest and a quick ‘lightening of the load’ before attempting to fly any distance. This has two consequences: 1) the cover of the Bike Barn has a strangely pungent, slimy coating and 2) some of that coating seems to have leached through the cover and managed to coat the majority of the BMW within. Strange clumps of white mould were sprouting over most the tank and fairing and everything was slippery to the touch – what joy! First things first though – out with the battery.

For a race that prides itself on logic and practicality, how come the German designers of my RT hide the battery in the least accessible area of the bike? To remove the battery you a) remove both seats, the left pannier and left side panel, b) remove the left wing mirror / indicator pod, c) remove the entire left hand fairing panel (held on with what seems like 93 hex head screws of four differing lengths), d) remove the air filter trumpet and top, e) undo the negative battery connection, f) wiggle the battery around until it slides out of it’s carrier sufficiently for you to get to the positive terminal, and finally g) balance the battery on your knee against the frame rail as you need both hands to remove the connection. The work of but a moment, you would think! Still, battery removed and safely hooked up to the charger in the shed and not much more I can do at that stage. The real fun will start on Saturday.

I finally get a couple of hours in between grating carrots and slicing cucumbers for the Pig Roast the GLW is catering for and set to. Amazingly, putting the battery back only takes 40 minutes, at least ten of which is spent trying to remember which hex screw goes where plus trying to ‘persuade’ the fairing to go back on. A quick check of oil levels, in with the key, and hey presto the beast lives! Settling down to a regular tickover steam gently rises from Bertram’s damp bowels filling the air with a slightly unpleasant mix of WD40, semi-synthetic oil and essence of bird poo. Perhaps it could be marketed as the ultimate men’s aftershave?

Next stage – de-kakking the bike. First, a quick hose down with a soft brush removed most of the fungus and left a slightly greasy smeared look to the paintwork and screen. Attack two came in the form of Fairy Liquid (yes I know you shouldn’t use as it leaves residue that turns cable outers into liquorice or some such) and the soft cloth and I could finally see through the screen and recognise the colour of the paintwork. Lastly a quick hose down followed by a quick rub down with a wash leather and Bertram was almost ready to meet his public.

Sunday dawned with the nice smiley person on the tele promising a dry but overcast day so quick check of the tyre pressures and I was almost ready to go. A quick trip with the GLW to pick up all the dishes and bowls from the Pig Roast (seems to have been a roaring success – no fatalities other than the pig!) and I was ready to get togged up. Ten minutes later I’m on the road and frantically trying to remember which foot does what and get used to the disparity in weight between the BSA and the BMW. Still by the time I’d stopped for fuel and fed out into the traffic on the A127 it all suddenly felt natural once more and I soon dropped into my comfort zone as the boring slog out of Southend gave me a chance to make sure everything was working as expected. It was then I remembered that I’d not packed my overtrousers – still, the forecast was definite, no rain could possibly blight my day. Down onto the A130 and at last the traffic opened up giving me the chance to ‘make good progress’ and Bertram continued to impress me with it’s ability to eat the miles while I sit in a cocoon of still air. A slight contretemps with some spotty oik in a Peugot at the A12 junction (lane markings appear to mean nothing to some drivers!) but apart from that, quite a serene journey to Marks Tey. I must admit to particularly enjoying riding through the roadworks at Witham well above the 50mph limit despite the average speed cameras – the joys of having no front number plate!

Once at Marks Tey the serious business started. Much mingling with familiar faces and humming and haaing over various bikes and pieces ensued (no purchases made other than new numbers and front plate for the BSA, although I was tempted by a particularly well spec’d BSA 441!) before getting outside a bacon buttie and a mug of strong black coffee. For people watchers, I guess the star turn was Dave Bickers who turned up to see what was going on. I toyed with offering him a few tips but he seemed rather busy so I went and had another bacon buttie.

On to the main event, the AGM. Our Beloved Chairman, Raymondo, started proceedings promptly 17 minutes late (surely a record?) and everything went remarkably smoothly. My pet subjects of the Clubman class and the Newsletter prompted a fair amount of debate but everything got sorted in the end, not necessarily to my advantage but at least it prompted debate. No-one threw a hissy fit and everyone appeared happy with the outcomes so I started getting ready to leave. It’s at this stage that I look out of the window and notice the rain!

There’s something deeply unpleasant about sitting on a wet seat, knowing that sooner or later it’s going to seep through your jeans and bring an unwelcome chill to the family jewels. Still, I had no alternative but to press on so in with the ear plugs and hit the road. The fairing that I had cursed long and loud when changing the battery comes into it’s own when raining, provided you stay above 55mph with the screen in the highest position you stay remarkably dry so with that simple aim in mind I feed onto the A12.

What happens to car drivers minds’ when it rains? They resolutely refuse to switch on headlights and sit in the outside lane doing 50mph. When we get to the roadworks, they slow to 40mph and weave about to such an extent that I can’t safely filter so I’m starting to get a distinctly cold, wet, crotch. Not a happy bunny and in my building frustration I become convinced that all the smug car drivers are plotting against me. Eventually a couple of them wake up and I able to ‘make good progress’ but the damage is done it now feels like I have two ice cubes in my pants. The rest of the journey home is remarkably uneventful and ten minutes after arriving home I’m sitting in a warm bath and feeling is returning to my groin. Bliss!

Not much about scrambling, I know, but it gives me a chance to have a rant! It’s also nearly a month since the AGM – I drafted the majority of this blog and then forgot about it. Better late then never I guess!

Roll on the new season.