Friday, September 30, 2011

BMW K1100LT 1992 vs. BMW K1600GTL 2012

Nineteen years ago, BMW brought out the K1100LT motorcycle with a laid-down, inline, four cylinder motor, with four valve heads. The bike had technical innovations such as anti-lock braking, anti-squat drive shaft, floating disk brakes, heated handgrips and electrically adjustable windshield. The motorcycle retailed for a very high $17,000 here in Canada. But that was the perfect bike for me at the time, so I got one. It took many years before any serious competition came along to at least share with the K1100LT a "state of the art" comparison. But nobody was doing better. I owned a '92 K1100LT for 15 years. Although I have not ridden the new K1600GT, a test drive would hardly be necessary to declare it a winner over the 1992 machine.

There have been some challengers since 1992, and this is only the opinion of "The Lost Motorcyclist" (me), but they were all either too heavy, or didn't really attempt the outdo the K1100LT except in horsepower. I don't really need a lot more than 100 horsepower in a bike, so that didn't impress me too much. I also don't need a lot more than 750 pounds of motorcycle. For the rest of the competition, it has been pretty much a toss up as the other makers tried to match BMW's features and performance.

Even BMW fell short of the mark, and they had three bikes that sort of replaced the discontinued K1100LT. First was the R1200RT, which was only a two cylinder and was not even liquid cooled. Next, the K1200GT, which was still a four cylinder bike and still did not have a counter balancer to get rid of vibrations - and that was my main beef with the 1992 K1100LT. And last but not least was the K1200LT whale at over 850 lbs.

But now the K1600GTL finally surpasses the K1100LT in every way. It has more power, although this is not a big issue with me. But it has an inline six cylinder motor, which I consider to be a significant step forward, and also eliminates the need for a counter balance shaft. It has on-the-fly adjustable suspension tuning, another unique and desirable feature. From there it has a slew of other features that may or may not be important, and would need to be examined one by one, and some are not even part of the standard package. But most important to me, to prevent disqualification, BMW has kept the weight down so the bike is manageable, and much lighter than a Gold Wing or the BMW K1200LT.

I have not put in an order for the BMW K1600GTL, because my priorities have changed over the years. This specialized and expensive bike appeals to a fairly demanding buyer. I might have been like that twenty years ago, but now I actually prefer a less expensive Japanese built bike. I don't need the adjustable windshield any more, or the long distance high speed capabilities, either on the freeway or in the mountains. A few years ago, I got a 2007 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Classic LT, which has more than enough touring capacity for my current needs and should help keep me out of trouble with the law. The Kawasaki also has a local dealer, and anyway, has not been taken back to the dealer's shop for anything in four years. To be fair, I ignored one recall notice, got tires changed at an independent local shop, and I have also ignored a few maintenance items, and I don't worry that the fuel needle is stuck on zero. All those I probably would have taken to the dealer if I had a BMW. And probably a lot more, judging from comments on the BMW owners' forums.

It seems that the reviews coming in from motorcycle magazines (like Cycle World June 2011) are confirming that this is the new top bike of the touring/"sport touring" class. The only surprise for me is how long it took to get there. And that it was BMW who finally decided to produce a transverse inline six, not Honda or Kawasaki.

Picture: That's me going out for a winter (spring) ride many years ago on the K1100LT.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Squared Off Motorcycle Tires

The Lost Motorcyclist has now put 37,000 km on the second rear tire of the Vulcan 900, and it's still going. This is a record for me, my typical longest wearing rear tire up to now has been about 18,000. I am surprised to find this tire doubling the usual life of a tire. It is a Metzeler Marathon ME880 180/70x15B, bias ply, tubeless, made in Brazil. It cost $200 for the tire, $60 installation, and $18.99 for a new inner tube.

Some owners get long wear from the tires by running them until they are bald or down to the cords. Well, I have done that in the past but still not exceeded much more than 20,000 km. These tires never did have a tread in the centre, so it's hard to tell how much wear there really is. The tread at the outside is still deep, and that's because most of the wear takes place in the centre of the tire (actually a little offset to the left). I can see they are slightly squared off, meaning that the centre part of the tread is flat.

This tire has lasted a long time because of several factors. First, it is an extremely wide tire, and so compared to skinny tires, it can put more rubber on the road. Not only is the contact patch bigger, but there is more actual rubber on the tread. Second, it is a fairly large diameter tire (15 inch rim plus the height of the sidewall), which also puts more rubber on the road, and keeps the number of revolutions down. Third, I would guess it had a hard rubber compound. I can feel that the tire occasionally slips on the road under acceleration going around a corner. Soft rubber would stick better, but not last as long.

I usually change the tire when the handling of the "squared off" cross section becomes too annoying. Squared off tires have a peculiar dynamic compared to new round section tires treads. The difference is in the location of the contact patch, which on a new, round section tire, is always in the center. With a squared off tire, when you lean to the right, the contact patch also moves to the right, and this makes the motorcycle feel funny - usually you have to apply counter steering pressure all the way through a curve. With a new tire, the motorcycle can corner almost without handlebar pressure. Another place that squared off tires feel funny is in a straight line when the road surface is uneven or slanted to the side. The contact patch will move back and forth depending on where the high point of the road is, and this makes the steering feel vague and forces you to grab the handlebars tighter.

There is no way I know of to correct a squared off tire. I suppose driving on twisty roads and scraping footpegs for 20,000 km might work, but around here there is about 0.01 km of curving road every 50.0 km of straight, so do the math. On these roads, the squaring off is only going to get worse. Need I say that shaving off the corners with a cheese grater is a very bad idea?

Some riders have given up on round profile tires altogether, and use car tires. This trend is called "going to the dark side" in a reference to either Star Wars or Dick Cheney, and the fact that car tires are not legal on motorcycles. There is a huge amount of information on this on the Internet. There are plenty of online debates, with entries often started with the words "You, sir, are an idiot!". There are also some videos of tires in action, some accounts of 160,000 km experience in using car tires with no trouble at all. I have never used a car tire on a motorcycle, but I do not have any fundamental objection to it one day. To me, it seems to be simply an extreme case of squared off motorcycle tire, but with plenty of tread in the middle contact area. Now that motorcycles are using these very wide motorcycle tires, the differences do not appear too great. I would worry however, about a speed wobble. Speed wobbles used to kill a lot of motorcyclists, but is seems the bikes (or tires) of today are not as prone to speed wobbles. Unfortunately, the wobbles happen suddenly and car tires have not been scientifically tested the way motorcycle tires have been.

In any case, the appeal of the car tire is mostly the cheapness and long wear. With the new motorcycle tires that seem to get extraordinarily long life, I do not really need the hassle of driving on an illegal car tire the next time I get safety checked on the way to Port Dover for Friday 13th.

Picture: That's my tire, this afternoon. 55,000 km on the Vulcan.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bikers Guide to a Part of Toronto

The weather was perfect for a motorcycle trip, and because "The Lost Motorcyclist" has not done a ride to Toronto for a long time, I decided to go down there with the main aim of finding an outdoor patio for lunch, with motorcycle parking right nearby. Ideally, this parking would be at the curb, because in Toronto curbside parking is free for motorcycles.

I decided to wear my half helmet, because it would be better riding in downtown Toronto. And even though it doesn't match the helmet, I wore my lime flourescent green visibility jacket.

It is actually a very short trip to Toronto from Kitchener, if you stick to the 401. But if you go backroads you can take all day. I arrived there about 12:30, after taking a few back-road short cuts along the way, but I arrived on the Gardiner Expressway, which is a raised freeway along the lakeshore coming in to Toronto. I have done this route many times before, but I have never seen so many new tall buildings. You almost can't see the usual skyline any more from the Gardiner.

My chosen exit was Yonge Street, likely the most well known of Toronto's busiest streets. By "busy" I mean with people walking, more than with cars. Streets are far more interesting where pedestrians outnumber cars about 50 to one.

I have never yet found an outdoor restaurant with parking in Toronto, so this time I decided to try something a little different. At Carlton Street (just after Dundas) I made a right turn off Yonge, then a left at Church. Church Street had just what I was looking for. It was not too busy, some motorcycles parked at the curb (leaving place for me to park beside them), and many outdoor patios on both sides of the street. I saw one motorcyclist leaving his parking spot, so I U-turned and backed into the spot next to him. Then I turned around and looked for the right outdoor patio. There were four right beside each other where I was parked, and I decided to take the one closest to me, which was "Just Thai". I would leave my jacket and helmet on the bike, and keep an eye on it from across the sidewalk.

As I peered inside into the dark, I saw that this restaurant violated two of my most sacred rules for restaurants. One it had cloth napkins. Two, there were no customers. But just as I was removing my sunglasses, I noticed a smiling and friendly waitress, which convinced my I might as well stay and try it out. After all, I had the parking and the outside deck, which was a first.

I sat outside and ordered my meal, and started taking pictures of the streetscape. First I had to wait for two men who were greeting each other over enthusiastically to break it up, so I could take a picture without it looking too gay. Now if you happen to know that this stretch of Church Street is known as the "Gay Village", don't spoil it for the rest of the readers, and remember I've never been here before so I don't know either.

Well, to continue. I got a really nice meal, and a few individuals plus another couple drifted in after me (although I noticed it was all men, and no women). After the meal, I paid and went across the street to take a picture, and I did notice the bar across the street had a rainbow banner hanging in the window, I figured it was a decoration for the Gay Pride parade. And just as I put my camera away, a guy rode by on a purple scooter wearing a purple metallic cape which was billowing out behind. I thought "If that's how you are trying to not look too gay on your scooter, it's not working."

Picture: Just grabbed off the internet.  I did not notice any street signs with rainbow colours, but it's more interesting than the pictures I took.

Independence Movements

Independence is in the news again with Palestine's determination to ask the UN for their own country. Recently, a few new countries have gained independence, including East Timor and South Sudan. And many years ago, but in the British Empire, the present day USA fought for its independence and won, Haiti gained its independence from France, India and Ireland from Britain, and Northern Ireland from Ireland.

The fact is, all over the world there are groups seeking independence from their governments. In Canada, you have a movement in Quebec and maybe Alberta. In the USA, Texans, in Spain, the Basques, In Turkey, the Kurds.

Back in 1948, the Jews gained their independence from Palestine with an act of the United Nations. This was not officially called "independence" since most of the Jews (at that time) did not live in Palestine in the first place, but migrated to the new independent Jewish part of Palestine (called Israel) from other parts of the world.

In 1990, the black people of South Africa, while they did not gain independence, they did gain control of the country in a mostly peaceful takeover. This is one possible the result of an independence movement where the geographic area is not clearly known, and the subject population is an overwhelming majority anyway.

Palestine is now also seeking its independence, after having been conquered by Israel back in 1967.

Why do some independence movements eventually succeed in one way or another, while others fizzle out or just simmer for decades or centuries?

I think one of the long standing simmering independence movements is that of the French in Canada, (now the province of Quebec) going on since the seventeen hundreds. That is an example of not gaining independence (so far anyway), as opposed to East Timor or South Sudan as an example of achieving independence.

The major impetus behind independence is basically the will of the people, and so it sort of comes down to how well the people who want independence are treated by the national government. But there are some other contributing factors.

1. The number of people has to be significant although I can't give a fixed minimum number. Obviously the more the better.
2. The geographic area should be fairly easy to identify.
3. The people who want independence have significant cultural, racial, religious, or linguistic differences to the majority in the country. And this results in some forms of mistreatment at the hands of the existing governing authorities.

Some of the symptoms to look for include violent suppression of a distinct ethnic group by the government using the full force of the military. Another sign of trouble brewing is any overt racial discrimination against the minority, especially disallowing the right to vote or representation in the government, or preventing the free movement of the target group within the country, or to leave or enter the country.

Finally, the resulting new country needs to have some chance of succeeding economically after independence. This generally means that the fight for independence should not destroy the country entirely, and the boundaries of the new country need to be reasonable - not entirely inside the old country, and not too fragmented.

If you take South Sudan, many signs of a struggle for independence were present. The government had a policy of bombing villages in the south to displace the natives. The Southern Sudanese were a difference race, language, and religion from the northern government. There was a fairly overwhelming will of the southern people to separate from the North. In addition, there was oil in the south, and after independence those oil revenues would theoretically stay in South Sudan to help the country become a viable entity.

On the other hand, in Canada and Quebec, the French speaking people are generally well accepted in the rest of the country. They have representation in the federal government. They also have representation in the armed forces and the police. And they have considerable independence already inside the federal system, where they are a province with their own local government. As a result the desire for independence has been reduced over the years to the point where its likely that under half the population of Quebec would support it.

On the other hand, Palestinians have had a rough time with their Israeli masters. They are denied travel permits, they can't vote in Israel's elections, can't import or export goods, can't fish in the ocean. Their homes are demolished and their land has been taken by the Israeli government. They have been bombed and invaded several times. They cannot serve in the military or even buy land most of the time. But until recently they have not been thinking of independence, they have been thinking of taking over Israel. Now it seems like an ever larger number of Palestinians have given up on this goal and would be satisfied with having their own country.

The final step, independence, usually results in a lot of violence and wanton destruction as the occupying forces leave. This happened in East Timor and South Sudan. By comparison, the British left America quite peacefully. But Israel has threatened retaliation in various forms if the Palestinians present a formal request for independence at the United Nations.

Picture: I photoshopped the flag to represent any country wanting independence, not just the USA.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Extremism for Dummies

There are two definitions of extremism in common use. Because we seem to be getting more extremists than ever before, I want to come up with a useful definition.

The first meaning is "outside the norm of a given society", which is used in the Wikipedia entry on extremism. I don't think this definition is right any more. Maybe it used to be accurate, when you could assume that the norm of any society was moderation. But if the norm in a society becomes extremism, then is being outside the norm still extremism?

The second meaning is "Uncompromising". This, I think, is a more generally applicable definition. For one thing, it gives a universal standard of behaviour to judge extremism by. If someone or some government is willing to compromise, it is not extremist. According to this definition, it is possible to be a moderate minority within an extremist majority.

There are examples of extremism throughout history, using the second definition. The Spanish Inquisition would be extremist because they did not compromise with heretics. Instead of compromise, there was burning at the stake and torture. The Nazis were extremists, as shown by the Czech Peace Agreement. The British and French signed a compromise deal for peace, agreeing to give Czechoslovakia to the Nazis in return for peace without further land claims. Instead, the Nazis invaded Poland, which clearly established them as extremists. No real compromises could be made with the Nazis or Hitler, despite their willingness to talk of peace. Ultimately, this revelation of extremism made it impossible for Britain to surrender on good terms after the fall of France, even though Hitler pleaded that he meant them no harm, and would allow them to keep their sovereignty.

The Nazis went on to show themselves as extremists in many other ways, but were finally beaten by a coalition of moderates.

There are good examples of extremism today in certain religions. Extremist Moslems want to wipe Israel off the map, and the USA too, if they could. Extremist Jews want all Palestinian disputed territories for themselves, and want to deny independence to the Palestinians, and would resort to any means to accomplish that including killing. I suppose you could say Jesus was an extremist, but an extremist for peace. Now, extremist Christians want to bomb Iran, and kill doctors who perform abortions.

None of these religious groups is interested in any compromise. All would prefer the world to end than give up their demands - and that gives us yet another way to define extremism. If you would be willing to kill yourself and the rest of humanity rather than accept a compromise with another, you are an extremist.

Most people are not born extremists, but are sometimes driven to extremism by forces beyond their awareness. First, a very fearful life with a lot of uncertainty can make one predisposed to extremism. Certain powers like to promote fear and extreme views in order to benefit from the support of extremists.

If you were talking to an extremist, whether a friend or family member, or a total stranger, is there some way to know this is an extremist? You you use the definition of "outside the norm", you may not be able to ever tell. But if you use the definition of "uncompromising", it is easier to figure out if you are dealing with a moderate or an extremist. One clue is that an extremist will hardly ever admit their side can be wrong. But for the most reliable indicator of extremism, try proposing a compromise and see the reaction you get. An angry reply, a refusal to discuss further, or both, may be a clue you are talking to an extremist.

There is not much point in discussing things with extremists. While you may learn something of their point of view, you will simply become frustrated by their means of discussion. Instead of logically addressing an issue, you will find they present you with multiple arguments, usually handed on from other sources. If you question them about the issue on an obvious flaw of logic, they can quickly change the subject. Most of their opinions are designed not for truth seeking but for provoking anger and confrontational arguments.

Picture: from the Anti-Defamation League website discussing extremism.

The ADL was set up in 1913 to combat anti-Jewish extremism Their website names a lot of extremist people, organizations and movements. I could not find a mention of the Jewish Settler movement, although according to my definition, those people would also be extremists because they are not interested in compromise. On the other hand, maybe the mandate of the Anti Defamation League is only to attack non-Jewish extremism. Would that make the ADL itself an extremist organization?

This was the 1913 incident that gave the ADL its start (and re-started the Ku Klux Klan).

Terror Attacks for Dummies

Just after 9/11, then Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, made some remarks about how the attack on the World Trade Center might have resulted from the increasing disparity between rich and poor. This comment has been discussed repeatedly on Canadian TV in the last few days. Conservatives have argued that this was a dumb comment, while Liberals and lefties see some truth to it. It is a fact that many terrorist attackers were not poverty stricken, but it is also a fact that inequality of wealth and power can lead to sneaky acts of revenge.

So what factors might have caused 9/11? I am going to reject the assertion that our present Conservative Prime Minister, Stephen Harper states in this CBC interview.

MANSBRIDGE, (regarding Jean Chretien's statement): "Now, he got pretty criticized for those remarks."

HARPER: "And I think he deserved it."


HARPER: "Yeah. Absolutely. Nobody who was killed on 9/11 deserved it remotely. It was a terrible thing, has nothing to do with wealth versus poverty. It has to do with, in this case, a particular hateful ideology that has attacked people around the world, not just affluent societies like our own, but some pretty poor places."

In the above CBC interview, it's obvious Stephen Harper is twisting things around. Chretien did not say the people who died deserved it. He meant that attacks like this, though random, would likely be made by people in poor countries against people in rich countries. I think that his meaning is obvious. Harper instead blames a hateful ideology, which I suppose I could assume he means Islam, not Christianity. Anyway, I am sure he does not blame Christianity, since he is a believer in Christianity himself. And finally, to make it clear Chretien is wrong, Stephen brings up the fact that attacks have taken place in poor countries, not just wealthy ones. To that I would say, from personal experience, that poor countries have many wealthy targets, either the wealthy people themselves or the police that protect them. Also, there are some violent attacks based on religion against holy places. Most of the violence against poor people has not come from Al Quaeda terrorists, but from fascist governments.

So if poverty is not the only reason for the attacks, what else might be?

There are several trends in the modern world that could be involved. Greater volumes of air travel bring millions of people to places they could only dream of before. Also, the population of the world is doubling. This increases the odds of an attack mathematically.

Weapons are getting cheaper. By that I mean that a hundred years ago, no poor person could have afforded to buy a machine gun, no poor country could have afforded an F16 or an atomic bomb. Today, relatively powerful weapons have trickled down to the point where Pakistan and India are nuclear powers. North Korea too. Even warlords in starving Somalia were able to take down Blackhawk helicopters, back in 1993.

Mass media is everywhere now, even the remotest village has a TV with a satellite dish, and now Al Jazeera to look at, not just Fox News or the BBC or the local Dictator's rantings. Lots of people are becoming radicalized by propaganda, or maybe by just plain news.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the hawks in the USA were looking for an enemy fight. This is before 9/11, and is pretty well documented. The Bush administration contained many people who were on record as supporting a massive military retaliation against any terrorist attack, when and if they could find the right one. Another case of "be careful what you wish for", because it might come true. I'm not saying that the Republicans and Neo-Cons invented 9-11, but neither were they properly motivated to prevent a terrorist attack.

I think any debate on reasons for the 9/11 attack should take these factors into account, and we should try to avoid any anti-religious sentiments as being narrow minded, because "hateful ideologies" exist everywhere all the time. It is when conditions are right that hateful ideologies grow, and it is those conditions we are looking for, not the ideologies themselves.

P.S. The title is taken from a book explaining computers in easy terms "DOS for Dummies", it is not a reflection on whether Stephen Harper is a dummy.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Bikers Guide to the Brampton Flying Club Open House

Today "The Lost Motorcyclist" visited the Annual Brampton Air Show. Actually, calling it an Air Show might give the wrong impression, because it is different from the well known Air Shows that are staged at the bigger airports all over Canada and the rest of the world.

The first difference is that this is more like a flying museum. Or should I say, like an aircraft museum where the airplanes actually fly. The Brampton Air show is an annual open house event at the Brampton Flying Club. For $5 per person, you can wander through their extensive museum, and also look at airplanes that have flown in for the event from other flying clubs.

The result is an extensive array of World War 1 (and I saw one WW2) air planes. Some are parked on the ground, some are flying, landing and taking off. Some of the planes are scaled down replicas (some are 7/8 or some may 3/4). Most have upgraded engines for flying purposes, meaning a modern Lycoming engine - however many have more authentic looking radial engines. Again, these may be more modern versions, but I was not able to tell exactly what had been done to get these birds to actually fly.

Some of the other interesting points: For $40 you could fly in an open cockpit biplane. There is also an informal antique bike and car show, I saw several interesting bikes - particularly an old Brough Superior. There was a power boat on a trailer that was being fired up, and I didn't get a chance to find out what kind of engine it had, but from the look and sound of the exhaust I'm guessing it was either a rocket or a gas turbine. There was a very small twin engine airplane. Each engine was a one cylinder, two stroke engine. The whole plane looked like an overblown radio controlled model, except that I was told it had a human pilot in the cockpit.

I didn't see this, but I was told that at previous shows they had staged such events as a biplane bombing a vintage motorcycle/sidecar with sacks of flour, while riding/flying across a field. I would not be surprised if it was cancelled because of ever-tightening insurance restrictions on these airshows.

I visited the show on my motorcycle, with a few friends also on motorcycles. Afterwards we went for a motorcycle ride on the very scenic roads near the airfield, including the Forks of the Credit road. That road is only about 10 km, but it has the sharpest corner "The Lost Motorcyclist" has ever seen. I suppose somewhere on Earth, somebody may have figured out how to make a corner sharper than that, but I can't believe they would do it on a regular width paved road, while climbing a fairly steep hill.

Next we went by the Cheltenham Badlands, or "Clay Hills", which looks a lot like the badlands of South Dakota except much smaller.

So that was the end of the motorcycle trip. Except that we still had to drive back to Kitchener. Normally I would just hop on the 401 after a tiring day and get home in the shortest amount of time, but Mary Ann wanted to avoid the boring freeway, so we took about twice as long and were really tired when we got home. But this time at least I didn't get caught in a downpour.

Picture: From the club's website. They apparently had rain that year. We had sunshine all day long, while thunderstorms produced hail and rain to the southwest.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Canada Fourth Most Uncool Country

A long time ago, I wrote a blog about the coolest motorcycles.

In that ranking, Steve McQueen and his Triumph motorcycle tied with T.E. Lawrence on his Brough Superior as most cool.

Now there is a ranking of coolest countries by

In the rankings of countries, the USA came first. Canada did not make it into the top ten coolest countries, however it made it fourth on the list of uncoolest countries. The only countries uncooler than Canada were Poland, Turkey and Belgium.

This shocking result is a wake up call for all Canadians. We need to figure out how this happened, and do something to get ourselves onto the coolest list. Eventually, a Royal Commission can be set up to get to the bottom of this, but "The Lost Motorcyclist" (me) already has some ideas. The following numbers did not come from any official scientific survey, I just made them up. But they are a good starting point/ballpark approximation.

First comparing Canada to the USA

In clothing, toques (-63 cool points) vs. blue jeans (+93)

Next, in entertainment, Justin Beiber (-25) vs. Lady Gaga (+78)

In leadership, Stephen Harper (-100 cool points) vs. Barack Obama (+100).

We used to pretty good in beer, but today this is how it stands: Coors Light brewed in Canada (-70) vs. Coors light brewed in the USA (+70)

Major accomplishments of coolness? Vancouver Stanley Cup riot (-100) vs. 10th anniversary of 911 (+11)

Kick ass pastimes? Killing baby seals (-62) vs. Killing Osam Bin Laden (+20)

Economic activities? Dredging up tar sands (-37) vs. Drilling in the Gulf of Mexico (-4)

Technology? Blackberry (+6) vs. iPad (+49)

So that's a summary of what we have to deal with before we get on the cool list. Let's stop thinking about the past, and start some long term strategic thinking.

Sometimes all you need is to put the right guy in the right position to turn a losing team into a winner. I would suggest, for a start, switching roles between Justin Beiber and Stephen Harper. In their present positions, both come out as uncool. But as our new Prime Minister, Justin Beiber would immediately score +100 cool points. And Stephen Harper (now known as Lord Gaga) could go toe-to-toe with Lady Gaga in the most unbelievably weird entertainers category.

Picture: Stephen Harper with his kittens. With this picture in the public domain, it's surprising we didn't knock off Belgium for the top uncoolest country on Earth.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Even More About Piston Rings

One of the most vital components of the internal combustion engine is the piston ring. It's probably safe to say that without the invention of a long lasting, pressure tight piston ring, we would still be driving coal fired steam engines.

The Lost Motorcyclist has a previous blog about piston rings.

The piston ring these days is an often ignored part, because the rings are so good that we never change them any more, and they rarely fail. But when you think about it, the only part of a car that cannot be engineered to last longer than a typical 15 year life span is the piston ring. It's likely that the piston ring is the weakest link in the chain of parts that contribute to the 15 year life span of the car. I would guess almost any other cart part could be engineered to last 20-25 years if we wanted to, but what's the point if the piston rings can't last as long.

When the piston rings fail, the car starts smoking, power drops off, it's hard to start and the engine loses oil rapidly. In other words, it's time to scrap the car. Although back in the nineteen thirties, this only meant it was time for new piston rings.

So what is a piston ring? First we must know what a piston is. The piston is a round part that moves up and down in the cylinder, and drives the crank that eventually turns the wheels. Hopefully I don't need to explain the piston any more than that. The piston is designed to fit tightly into the cylinder, so that when the gasoline burns above the piston, all the high pressure created by the burning gas is trapped and cannot escape between the wall of the cylinder and the piston.

Now the tricky part of the design of the internal combustion engine: It is impossible to design a piston tight enough in the cylinder to prevent loss of pressure when the engine is running. Why? Because the engine runs at widely different temperatures, and it is impossible to make the piston exactly match the shape of the cylinder at every temperature. If the piston fits tight at high temperature, it will be too loose at low temperatures, and if it is tight at low temperatures, then when it heats up it will stick tight in the cylinder and the engine will stop turning.

Long ago, engineers gave up on getting an exact match between the piston and the cylinder, and invented "piston rings".

The piston ring is a springy ring of steel with a small opening on one side. The piston ring can be designed to almost exactly match the size of the cylinder at every temperature, because it depends on the springiness of the ring to hold the ring tight in the cylinder. No matter what temperature the ring is, it will hold tight in the cylinder, and it will never get too tight because of the gap on one side. The only purpose of the piston ring is to fit tight in the cylinder.

So the piston by itself cannot seal the cylinder properly. But neither can a piston ring, because is is not solid. But if you find a way into lock the ring to the piston, the two can work as a unit to convert the pressure of the burning gas into downward movement, while at the same time preventing any pressure from escaping.

To make the piston work with the piston ring, a groove is cut all the way around the piston, and the ring is fit loosely into the groove. So when the piston is in the cylinder, the piston ring can spring out to press against the cylinder wall, while being held inside the groove on the piston.

Believe me, piston rings are refined even though they look very simple. The exact shape, the materials, the lubrication have all been refined over many years of expensive research by the anyone interested in internal combustion engines. And there is a lot of interest because of the money to be made.

I should mention a further refinement, that is not too difficult to understand. The pressure from the burning gas is actually routed behind the ring to help force the ring out even tighter against the cylinder wall.

What can go wrong with the rings? They can wear down, by rubbing on the cylinder walls. Remember at 3,000 rpm how many times the piston and rings move up and down the cylinder walls, pressed tight against the cylinder. The walls cannot be well lubricated because of the exposure to flames of burning gasses. And that's 3000 up/downs in just one minute. How many times would you do that in the life of a car? OK I just did it roughly for you, 360 million times that the piston would move top to bottom of the cylinder.

Even when not being driven at 3000 rpm, the rings can get stuck in the grooves, which means they can't spring out to press against the wall. This happens when too much oil is being burned in the cylinder, and it gets turned to gummy carbon in the piston groove, and eventually hardens to trap the piston ring.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

"One Week" on DVD (Compared to "Easy Rider")

I finally found the DVD movie "One Week" at the video store for as reasonable price ($6), so I'm going to go over that trans-Canada motorcycle trip again.

Unlike "Brokeback Mountain", "Land of the Lost", "Get Smart" and "World's Fastest Indian", this movie does not have men kissing each other. But on the other hand, being a Canadian movie, we can see the Jesus on a crucifix giving us the finger. Apparently Canadians like movies that are Godless but not too gay.

I ("The Lost Motorcyclist") also recently acquired an "Easy Rider" DVD, and I have made some comparisons between the 40+ year old American movie "Easy Rider" and the Canadian "One Week". You could call "One Week" an updated Easy Rider made for Canadians and apparently nobody else.

While Easy Rider features two American Harley Davidson motorcycles, One Week features a British Norton Commando. Makes sense because we don't have a Canadian motorcycle, but many of us think we are British. Easy Rider works the US flag into the paint jobs on the helmet and the gas tank, while the Norton remains plain black and so does the rider's helmet. The Canadian movie hero is a normal person, who blends into his surroundings, while the Easy Riders contrast starkly from the people they visit.

Both movies end in death and the destruction of the motorcycles, but in the Canadian movie is is natural or accidental, respectively. Both movies involve dope, although Easy Rider goes much further with the drugs which is natural, being America of the sixties. Should be easy to guess which movie has guns (Hint: country name starts with U and ends with SA). One Week had a lot of animals featured prominently in it: The dead dog, the dead skunk in the road, the live dog on the trail, and horses to ride.

Easy Rider's soundtrack is a compilation of popular hit parade songs, "One Week"'s is made up of obscure Canadian folk or pop.

Both movies were made on a very small budget, on location, using local people for background. The Budget for Easy Rider was $400,000 in 1968, and One Week was $2,000,000 in 2008. There is no doubt Easy Rider made more money. $60,000,000 vs. $500,000. That could be why most movies made in Canada blot out the country name. On the other hand, the One Week crew got a few two-four cases of free Steamwhistle beer in return for some very subtle product placement in the movie.

Both movies feature unrealistic bikes and gear, assuming they were supposedly used for the long haul. The Norton was probably much better for riding than the chopper Harleys, but not as good as most others in the year 2008, and it was not even suitably equipped with a windshield for the cold time of year this was filmed. In a nod to realism, twice during the movie the Norton was shown to be requiring mechanical attention. Although "bad gas" would not have been in the top 100 most likely causes for a Norton to break down.

Both movies end with a bit of a verdict on their country. Easy Rider with the puzzling "We blew it". One Week with the German tourist saying "You haff one of the most beautiful countries in the vorld".

The makers of One Week must have realized a profound truth about Canadian scenery. It looks better if you shoot it out of order. Shown in the order you come to it, Canadian scenery is fatiguing. But put a little Ontario, then a shot of Saskatchewan, then a bit more Ontario, and then some Alberta, and keep mixing it up, and it is quite exciting. In a similar way, I would probably also enjoy the Canadian climate more if every other month was warm.

A part of One Week I kept noticing, because it was so different from my own motorcycle trips was the constant cell phone usage to call home. When I went on long trips, I had no cell phone, and often no way to call home at all, and I never thought about it. Same with Easy Rider, mainly because it predates cell phones. One thing I assumed was a basic part of long rides was the feeling of getting away to a new place, but I wonder if that feeling goes away as you keep chatting with friends and family back home.

Of all the songs to feature in the movie, the strangest choice in my mind is "Un Canadien Errant", the sad tale of Canadians banished from their homeland, which was sung in the original French. Or maybe it is somewhat fitting for the sadness of the terminal illness in the main character.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Port Dover Chronicles 3

This morning, the weather forecast said there was a 40% chance of a thundershower this afternoon. With that information, I decided to go to Port Dover in the morning and return before the thunderstorm. However I wasted a little too much time on my trip, and got caught about 5 minutes before I reached home.

I had penty of warning that I was going to get wet. On the way to Port Dover, I got caught in a little shower caused by a farmer irrigating his field with a water cannon, but he missed an got me wet instead. It was OK, because although I was only wearing a t-shirt, with the 35c temperature and the sun, it was a welcome cool off, and dried almost immediately.

In Port Dover, the Lost Motorcyclist (me), heard a lady yelling to her friend that there was a severe weather warning, but that she didn't see any rain on the radar and so she didn't understand what they meant. Yes I know that's a lot to yell at a friend standing across the road, but some people just like yelling. Anyway I resisted the urge to explain to her that the two were perfectly compatible, and made a mental note to hurry up and get home, but not before stuffing an apple fritter and ice cream down. Once I finished my traditional stop at "Apples", I got on the bike for the ride home. It was still sunny and very hot, and I was wearing the t-shirt and half helmet and jeans.

By the time I was almost home, about 15 km to go, I decided to stop at the convenience store in Glen Morris and drink down a large size Gatorade. I had actually passed the turnoff, and made a u-turn to go back, on the theory that something interesting might happen there, and I could not afford to miss whatever it was.

The cafe/convenience store/gas station was empty except for a tired looking woman chipping ice out of a stand-up freezer. I grabbed my favourite puke-green coloured Gatorade and she came over to ask for three dollars. But she told me that it was warm, and if I wanted a cold one (of course I did!) to pick one of the other sickly colours. So I picked puke-yellow instead. Just then the owner walked in, and so did a thirsty bicyclist looking for a bottle of cold water. The water also cost three dollars, and the ensuing discussion (which eventually involved me) covered these topics: Why did the 1 litre of water cost three dollars when there was some convenience store somewhere that would sell the same thing for $1??? Why Gatorade was bad for my health. How much of the price of the bottle of water went to taxes for Premier McGuinty, and how was he destroying this country with those taxes. How much cheaper you could get cigarettes, gasoline, and yes, even water, on Indian reservations. The stated fact that the cyclist was half Indian, and had his Indian card which permitted him to buy cheap gas with no taxes at the reservation. He then left, and the owner of the store then confided in me that the main reason Canada is going to hell in a handbasket is that no one is willing to stand up and fight for our rights. At which point I tried to clarify which rights we need to fight for, the right to not pay taxes? After all if I am going to lay down my life in a suicide bombing attempt in order to save Canada, I needs to know precisly what the problem is.

The whole discussion plus big bottle of Gatorade didn't take more than 15 minutes, but my fate was sealed. As soon as I turned the bike toward Kitchener I saw heavy dark clouds ahead indicating rain. But it was still sunny and maybe more than 35c (95 deg. F, I think) so I didn't put on my jacket and rainsuit. But then out of the blue, no more than 6 km from home I got hit by a giant water drop. Then another, and I could see a wall of rain on the road up ahead. I pulled over to a parking lot and went to open the saddlebag to get my jacket out, OOPS wrong saddlebag! But before I could get to the other side, I got soaked completely through with cold water. I figured I might as well put on the jacket anyway for warmth.

By the time I got the bike started and ready to get back on the road, I could see nothing. Just then I could make out two orange lights flashing, apparently a car had simply stopped on the road and turned on its four way flashers because they couldn't see to drive any further. Great, I thought, and merged on to the road. Next I was looking for the traffic light at Manitou, but couldn't see it in the heavy rain, although I did pass another stopped car at the intersection also with it's four way flashers on. I figured the traffic lights must have stopped working because of the storm, but as I reached the intersection, I barely could make out the green light, so they must be still working. I went through, but the rain was still coming down in buckets, so I turned off at Huron Road and Homer Watson to stop under the overpass for shelter.

Although it was quite a relief to get out of the rain, I was soaked through and a little bit cold. But I had one more problem. Ever since my prostate operation on July 6th, I have had this almost unstoppable urge to pee when I hear a water tap turned on. Well apparently my brain thought it heard a water tap turned on, and with the 750 cc of Gatorade in me, I had to go. So I went back out into the rain to pee in the tall weeds. Then five minutes later, as soon as it began, the rain stopped and the sun began to shine. So I drove home kicking up a huge bow wave through the flooded areas on the street, and when I put my boots on the ground at a traffic light, I could see the water rushing over the toes and around my ankles.

Picture: Frame grab of the Exeter weather radar at the precise moment the rain hit me.