Wednesday 24 January 2024

Haynes Manual

My primary reference for working on the bike is the 1986 Haynes manual. All six of the airhead BMWs that I've owned have been coverd by this manual. 

It is very practical, detailing what things happen to the bikes in service, how to troubleshoot faults, and suggesting workarounds for BMW special tools. Because it deals with such a long model range of bikes it has a detailed technical history, for example in describing the forks it describes at what model years forks were changed and which bikes received the new version. 

Current version extends the range, 1970 - 1996, and calls it "2-valve Twins" to distinguish it from oilheads. 

I have the BMW workshop manual as well. This is useful and I occasionally reference it, but in a practical sense I only use the Haynes version. The BMW manual is very proceduralised, focussed on disassembly, check/replace, and reassembly. It relies on a lot of special tools many of which could only be affordable to a dealer. 

Tuesday 23 January 2024

Fork Gaiters

 The bike was originally released without fork gaiters, all the 1982 publicity shots have shiny stanchions. 

My first LS had fine 14 rib gaiters, quite slim and quite sharp on the concertinas. 

The realoem parts catalogue doesn't include gaiters. Some retailers have a bulky 11 rib version that looks like it comes from a R75/5 or similar. Motobins list this as "Code: 93900    BMW: 31 42 1 234 908".  This is more bulky than the 14 rib version, not as slim and the folds of the concertina are more rounded. 

With one of my fork rebuilds I found the 14 rib version in the parts catalogue for the R65 and R80G/S:

  • 02 Ring 2 31421241669 $6.97
  • 03 Rubber boot 2 31421241666 $16.90
  • R 65 GS, R 80 G/S, R 80 ST (80-92) R 80 G/S Fork slider
The bulky version clamps directly onto the stanchion and slider. The 14 rib version clamps directly onto the slider but needs a neoprene ring at the top to make up the difference between the stanchion and gaiter. 

I prefer fork gaiters, I like the idea of protecting the stanchion from dust and stones. I think the 14 rib version looks much better on the bike than the thicker one, but maybe I'm just biased because of my history? :-)

11 Rib version on the left, 14 on the right. 

Monday 22 January 2024

Lone Rider

 I've just finished "Lone Rider; the first British woman to motorcycle around the world" by Elspeth Beard. 

It's a nice book, proper legitimate autobiography: she gives the sense that she’s not sugar coating the events of her younger self, no matter how cringy, and she’s not concluded the book with some exciting epiphany, but charted how she adjusted back to a more conventional lifestyle and how the ride influenced her going forward. 

Much of the book explores her emotional life rather than the difficulties of riding or the complexities of motorcycle maintenance. A major theme of the book focusses on her efforts to juggle her relationships with two men, both of which she has close relationships with.  Her association with the bike is a consistent theme throughout the book and forward to the present: she still owns it. 

She glosses over a series of maintenance jobs that without some experience might seem trivial. She devotes only half a sentence to replacing the steering head bearings which she did in Turkey while recovering from jaundice. We might also say that in the hotel carpark she disassembled the front end of the bike, removing wheels, forks, instruments and handlebars, hammered out and replaced a pair of bearings that normally require a series of extractors and presses to manipulate, and had it all reassembled before the locals could interfere or nick tools. Non trivial!

Her bike, the R60/6, is a direct ancestor of the R65LS. Happily she relied heavily on a Haynes manual both to learn about and to maintain her bike: my much later edition of the manual includes maintenance instructions for both her bike and mine. 

She and I both fell off a BMW in bulldust riding westwards through Central Queensland in the 1980s. She completed her ride not just across Australia but back to England. I subsequently blew the rear main seal, limped the bike back to my home in New South Wales, and completed the continental crossing by train. I am somewhat in awe. 

The book was written and published as part of a sequence to see the story told on film. Maybe, hopefully, we can see it on the big screen. 

There are a number of interviews of her available, this podcast on Airhead 247 on Soundcloud is good. She has a website

Sunday 21 January 2024

Stay Upright

 I've done training courses with the Stay Upright school since the 1980s, when the principal trainer was the company's founder Warwick Schuberg. I've done probably a dozen courses all up, various road riding courses and also an adventure bike course. The courses are essentially repeats: it's been good to get a refresher, some more feedback on my riding, and also the techniques taught have changed with time. 

In the 1980s the emphasis on braking was to bring both wheels to the point of lockup and to release the brake if the wheel locked up, now the emphasis is on "setup and squeeze", take up the slack in the brakes and suspension then apply the brakes no further than the point of lockup. Also in the 80s it was recommended to use all four fingers over the brake lever all the time, so that if you needed to emergency brake the habit of using all four was ingrained and automatic; with modern brakes only two fingers are necessary. 

Their approach and training have undoubtedly saved my life. I vividly remember the first time that I was aware that their system had allowed me to avoid dropping the bike. The system required that you never ride over painted lines on the road: although this is okay when it's dry when it's wet they're very slippery and you can't brake easily on them. You always ride over pedestrian (zebra) crossings on the black bits rather than the painted bits so that when they're damp avoiding the paint is automatic. One day in 1987 a car coming from a side street failed to give way and I hit the brakes when I was in the middle of a crossing, I'd've skidded and probably dropped the bike if I wasn't on the black. 

Day courses typically involve theory and then supervised riding practise. 

Happily, at the end of the day there is a "consolidation" session where you get to practice the techiques taught riding as fast as you want around the racetrack. 

Both photos supplied by Stay Upright. They have a website and a Facebook page. 

Saturday 20 January 2024

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; an Inquiry into Values" by Robert Pirsig. 

I first read this waiting for a train in 1982. I'd completed a long bicycle ride and had a day to kill waiting for the train home. On that reading only the frame story and bits of the philosophy made sense. With subsequent readings (seven to date) I came to understand and put into context the philosophy that the book was written to convey. The book has a broad description of Pirsig's Metaphysics of Quality and many side trips into his ideas around motorcycle maintenance and life in general. 

My approach to bike maintenance was influenced by Pirsig from that first reading.  I was at that point reading Richard Bach's books about maintaining his own biplanes, so the approach of working on machines as well as riding/flying them was already inground. Pirsig's book gave greater depth and thought to the process of working on machines. When I purchased my first motorbike in 1985 my maintenance of it was a natural extension of my work on push bikes and the influence continued.  At this point 40 years later I don't know which of the ideas Pirsig and I share I got from him, and which ones he confirmed. 

He subsequently wrote a sequel, "Lila; an Inquiry into Morals" (1991), not as packed with ideas as the first book but useful as an elaboration of some of the ideas. His widow Wendy Pirsig edited a collection of his writings "On Quality; an Inquiry into Excellence" published 2022. 

The last pages of the book describe a happy moment in the ride where he and his son Chris, sitting pillion, ride south to San Francisco: 

The cycle swings into each curve effortlessly, banking so that our weight is alwasys down through the machine no matter what its angle is with the ground. The way is full of flowers and surprise views, tight turns one after another so that the whole world rolls and pirouettes and rises and falls away. 

Rich air and strange perfumes from the flowers of the trees and shrubs enshroud us. Inland now the chill is gone and the heat is upon us again. It soaks through my jacket and clothes and dries out the dampness inside. The gloves which have bene dark-wet have started tor turn light again. It seems like I've been bone-chilled by that ocean damp for so long I've forgotten what the heat is like. 

The road continues to twist and wind through the trees. It upswings around hairpins and glides into new scenes one after another around and through brush and then out into the open spaces where we can see canyons stretch away below. 

The description suggests the "flow" state of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the sublime sense of timelessness and absorption where one is fully engaged in a activity that is challenging, but not too challenging. In Pirsig's metaphysics this is the experience of Dynamic Quality, as opposed to Static Quality, where one categories and explains things. 

A broad arc connect the mystical experiences of William James (1899) with the peak experiences of Abraham Maslow (1964), the dynamic quality of Pirsig (1974) and the flow of Csikszentmihalyi (1990). Broadly James recognised that these experiences were not solely in the domain of religion but occur also in meditative and drug-affected states. Maslow recognised that they were more likely when one was in a good place, where the lower levels of one's hierarchy of needs were met. Pirsig supplied the metaphysical structure within which the experience could be understood. And Csikszentmihalyi supplied a detailed road map indicating what things predisposed an individual to these experiences and how we can make them more common. 

Recently a website was established to promote and coordinate celebration of the anniversary.  

There is an active facebook group ZMM Quality

After Pirsig's death his bike and various associated items, including his leather jacket and tools, were donated to the Smithsonian Institution. On April 15 the bike will be put on display

A 50th Anniversary edition of ZMM is to be published 13 February. 

Friday 19 January 2024

The Road

 T. E. Lawrence, "Lawrence of Arabia", wrote a memoir of his time after the events of "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom" where he recounts his life as an anonymous enlisted man in the Air Force. This was called "The Mint", published under the pseudonym "382057 A/c Ross". 

The chapter "The Road" has Lawrence's account of riding his Brough Superior in a one hundred mile loop around his base picking up fresh eggs and bacon. It was rendered faithfully in the opening moments of the film Lawrence of Arabia, where it assumes that the day of Lawrence's fatal motorcycle accident was a similar circuit. 

It's very much the joy of motorcycling. Specifically, Lawrence's joy: he is out to test his limits, to ride fast, even to compete with a plane. 

One can almost hear the engine...

The text below is my yellowed paperback, the original public expurgated version. In the Faded Page version 'There he goes, the noisy ,' is rendered 'There he goes, the noisy bugger'.

Thursday 18 January 2024

Wedgetail Ignition

 About two years ago I became concerned about the bean can on my 200k bike and rebuilt it. This was successful, but I was never really confident that I'd done it as good as new, so I purchased a Wedgetail ignition system. This includes both the sender unit (slightly flatter than the bean can) and and ignition control unit to sit under the tank and control the coil. I use a 1.5 ohm Dynacoil, not the OEM version. 

The parts arrived well wrapped but the ICU was damaged, presumably drop kicked during transit. It was replaced without delay or argument. 

It's worked faultlessly since installation. 

Replacement bean can under front engine cover

Wedgetail ICU mounted on frame tube under tank
ICU Under Tank

The systems are built in Australia, available in the USA, and have a Facebook page.