Monday, May 28, 2012

Advice on Taking Jumper Cables

I saw some advice for motorcycle travelling: "Take along a set of jumper cables".

The reason you need jumper cables, is in case the battery is discharged at some time during the trip. You could use the jumper cables (and a good battery) to get the motorcycle started again.

Years ago, motorcycles started more unpredictably, and we used to bump start (or push start) them, or use a kick start lever if equipped, or at times use jumper cables.  Today the batteries are better, and with fuel injection, the bikes seem to start every time, with only a few rotations.  So its tempting to ignore the possibility of no-start scenario while on a trip.

On this trip, the need for jumper cables is twice as likely with two bikes.  And we just happen to have a second bike to jumpstart from. Also, both bikes have batteries over 5 years old. Another reason we may end up with a weak battery is if we use them to charge our electronic devices.  Finally, while the Vulcan is hard to push start, with the Burgman it is simply impossible.  Of course neither bike has a kick start. With fuel injection, I'm not sure kick starting is even possible any more.

There are times you are most likely to need jumper cables.  One is when you go to start the bike in the morning, so in this case you will be in a campsite or at a motel.  Another is if you park your bike during the day, and leave the lights on.  Although you almost never need to recharge the battery on the side of the road, this can happen if your alternator has stopped working, and within a few hours your battery will gradually run down until the bike stops running.

You should check how accessible the batteries on each bike are.  On the Burgman 400, you need to open the glove compartment (no tools needed) and then use a large Phillips screwdriver to undo the battery cover.  Once that's off, the battery terminals are available for attaching clamps.  On the Vulcan, you need to remove the seat (key required), then the same large Phillips screwdriver to remove the two screws holding the tool tray, to access the battery.

If you are not successful with jumper cables, hopefully you did not botch the jump start so badly that both machines are now fried. If one bike is still good, use the same screwdriver to remove the cables from the bad battery, pull  it out and use the running machine to take it to be replaced or recharged.

Figure out a good place to store the jumper cables. We only need one set of cables, and I will use the Vulcan tool tray.  This tray is empty because I carry all the tools in  more convenient location where I don't have to remove the luggage to get at them. Car cables are simply too large and probably won't work, so I have a set of smaller cables that may or may not work, but at least they fit the space.  It makes sense to put the jumper cables in the underseat tool tray, because if we need them, we will also be needing to access the battery right below the tray.

While I was fiddling around in the garage, I discovered another SAE pigtail plug wiring harness for my motorcycle. It was brand new, the polarity was correct, and even better, it had a cover for the SAE plug so that it would not touch any metal bits, and keep it shiny and clean.  So I removed my old resoldered harness from my previous blog and replaced it with this new one.  That's the fourth new motorcycle part I needed, that I found around the house in the last two weeks, that I didn't even know I had.

Picture: From the Hell's Tunas Motorcycle Club picture gallery
Jump starting a bike, looks like a flashback to the seventies.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Assembling a Charging System for the Bike

I almost forgot I had a part on order, until I got the phone message yesterday.  I had asked for an electrical adapter from Vicious Cycles in New Dundee.  It was the one part I needed to complete the charging system for the smart phone on my motorcycle.  I am going to tell the complicated tale now, but everything ends well.

I started off by going to New Dundee, but got lost because I didn't consult the GPS.  Of course the GPS was turned off to conserve the battery while going to buy the last component for my battery charger.  Eventually, I found the way, and bought the adapter.  I took it to the bike and plugged it in and it made a sharp pop, and I disconnected it.  I reconnected it, but it was not able to charge the smart phone/GPS.  So I went back into the store, and they confirmed that the new adapter was OK.  So I took everything home to troubleshoot it properly.

My system is in three parts.  There is a wire harness that connects the  battery to an SAE connector.  That connector is needed for the electric vest.  Next is the new part, an adapter with an SAE connector on one end and a cigarette lighter socket on the other.  Next is an adapter to charge a USB port from a car's cigarette lighter.  And finally, the smartphone and USB cable.  Hopefully, you can picture all that, because all three parts came from different manufacturers, and apparently these sockets/connections are not quite as standardized as one would hope.

My first problem was in my electric vest wiring harness.  The SAE plug was reversed polarity, and that is what blew out the USB adapter as soon as I plugged it in.  SAE connectors are not male/female like most modern connectors.  SAE connectors are more like bisexual connectors that can go either way.  Unfortunately some devices (but not electric vests of course) get blown out if hooked up wrong.

I'm actually quite happy to find out this problem with the vest connector before going on the trip, because with the reverse polarity, the "hot" plug on my vest connector was exposed, and if it had touched a bare part of the frame, it would have shorted out. The easy fix would be to switch the terminals on the battery, but it would be even worse, because the fuse was already in the right place, and it must stay on the positive side.  So left the fuse where it was, and I cut the pair of wires near the plug, reversed the polarity, wrapped and soldered them back together, and put them back on the bike.  It was actually a pretty good job, with heat shrink tubing in black and red.  Too bad I got the black on the positive and the red on the negative, but hey, you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.

Next I needed to replace the blown car/USB adapter.  I went back to Staples to get another one just like the first, but they had run out.  However a helpful clerk got me another type for the same price which also had built in AC/DC adapter.  That seemed like a good idea, so I bought it, took it home and hooked everything up.  But it still would not charge the smartphone from the bike, although it did work when plugged into a wall socket.  It also did not work on Burgie's electric socket.

I decided to exchange the part, and hopped in the car with the USB adapter and the receipt to go back to Staples, but suddenly had the idea of testing it in the car's socket and it worked.  So the problem was not inside the little adapter, it seemed to be that the car had a shorter receptacle, where the centre pin could make contact at the bottom of the socket.

I took a sharp pocket knife, and skimmed out a little bit at the top of the new cigarette lighter socket on the Vulcan, stuck the USB adapter back in and it finally lit up.

Now I only hope I will have a use for this charger one day.  But I really did need to reverse the electric vest wiring harness to avoid a short in the future.  I'm just amazed it lasted five years so far without a problem.  But that could be a corollary to Murphy's Law.  "A hidden flaw will continue to function correctly until the most inopportune time."

Picture: SAE Connector.  Can go either way.  (But one of them is wrong.)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Hatchet

Before I start this blog, I have a request by one of my readers for a "short version" so that she does not need to wade though the entire long winded affair.  So here it is.

I fixed my old hatchet to take it on this trip. I prefer that to buying a $8.00 Wal-Mart special, or a $100 Gransfors-Bruks from Sweden, or a high-tech tactical survival knife/axe/compass/saw/inclinometer.

There: 36 words or less, if you count Gransfors-Bruks as one word.

Now for the long version for readers with high speed Internet access and some time to kill.

On the first three or four cross country camping trips, I took along a hatchet.  It had two uses, the back end to pound in tent pegs, and the cutting edge to split or cut wood for fires. On those first trips back in the seventies, I actually camped most nights and avoided motels. Later on, my camping became more occasional, and so I reduced my camping gear. I still wanted the tent, mattress and sleeping bag, but the campfires did not seem so necessary any more.  So I replaced the hatchet with a small cheap hammer and didn't make any more fires.

So for this trip to the west coast, the hatchet is up for reconsideration.  On a 6 week trip in the summer, there should be plenty of opportunities for camping. And with Mary Ann riding her own bike, I have more leeway in bringing a few extra items as long as they are not too bulky. Among the extras we are bringing are two camp chairs, and I can't think of a better use for a camp chair than sitting in front of a fire.

My old hatchet that dates back to my very first trip, was a Swedish model with an 11" wood handle. The handle broke four years ago, and I bought a new wood handle to replace it.  But the new wood handle (made in Canada) didn't fit the hole, so I guess Canadian handles are not made to fit Swedish axe heads.  I kept the old axe and the new handle in a drawer because I don't like to throw things out.

With the trip coming up, I needed to make a decision about the axe.  Mary Ann is leaning towards not having an axe or campfires, but she does want a hammer for the pegs.  I see new hatchets for less than $8, I guess they come from China.  I also see high tech hatchets with fancy designs, with extras such as saws stored in their plastic handles, compasses embedded in the back. The complex designs can include anything you could imagine and a few things you would never think of.  Finally, there are the high end classic traditional axes and hatchets, mostly from Sweden now that cost around a hundred dollars.

While I was puzzling over the choices, I came across a video showing how to stick a new wood handle in an old axe head. Apparently you rarely are able to just stick it in and start chopping.  You need to shave, carve or sand down the wood to fit the blade.  It takes quite a while as you try the axe head again and again, then remove it, see where it jams and whittle or sand it down further until you get it all the way in.

This last idea appealed to me in several ways.  First I get to use the old axe head, and I hate to throw things away. Next, I saw videos of how badly chewed up a cheap axe can get chopping just one piece of wood.  Apparently old axes were made of harder steel than the new cheap ones (makes sense to me).  Third, I like the idea of taking the same axe as I had on my first camping trip, just for old times sake.

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours with an electric drill and sanding disk, and finally got the new "made in Canada" wood handle to fit the Swedish axe head, and now it seems strong enough to last another 30 years.  But those wimpy aluminum wire tent pegs are probably not going to make it through the summer with this thing pounding on them.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Lots of New Stickers, a Test Ride at Night

I know that we won't be doing much night riding during the trip to B.C., but I actually enjoy riding at night during the warmer months.  At 10:00 PM it was still 14c, and comfortable with ordinary spring/summer riding gear.

As part of my preparation for the trip, I have new reflective stickers on the trunk and windshield, and bolt on reflectors on the luggage rack.  By turning on the car's headlights, I can see for myself the reflectors will be visible enough to other drivers at night.

My new Kevlar cargo pants feel warmer than ordinary jeans, with three layers on the knees. The second layer is the Kevlar itself and the third layer is the pocket that holds the Kevlar. I am not planning any tests, so I will just assume they also protect against road rash in the areas covered with Kevlar.  There are a few Internet videos of people sliding along with Kevlar motorcycle pants.

The smart phone made itself useful for the first time.  I left Dutton at 9:45 PM without checking the weather station on TV. Within minutes of hitting the 401 I saw a flash of lightning off to my left.  I began to look for a place where I could pull over and put on my rain gear. But because I could see a few stars overhead, I continued for about half an hour to the Woodstock service centre, where they have free Wi-fi.  I got out the smart phone, wanting to see the precipitation radar map, and the traffic map for the 401.  I could see a thunderstorm cell over Grand Bend, which explained the lightning I saw while riding near Dutton. Also, the animated weather radar told me that rain would arrive over Kitchener in about three hours, giving me plenty of time to make it back home. And I could also verify that there was no traffic holdup on the 401.  The intel was good, the 401 moved well, and rain started only after I got home and put the bike in the garage.

Only the eastbound "on Route" service centre at Beachville (near Woodstock) has free Wifi.  There is no point in stopping on the shoulder of the westbound lanes to get a signal, because it is too weak to pick up even from the patio of the eastbound On Route. You have to be inside the food court building to get a strong enough signal to be useful.  And don't even think about hopping over the divider barrier and running across three lanes to get free Wifi.

The luggage rack and trunk seem to have made the bike ride a little smoother.  It feels like the centre of pitching motion moved from the gas tank to the back of my seat.  The ride feels much gentler, and my seat of the pants jolt sensor has been very accurate since my operation last summer.

I carry my spare helmet and baseball cap in the Givi trunk all the time now.  When I park, I use it to stow my riding gloves, ear plugs, and neckerchief.  To make sure I don't forget the key in the trunk lock, I put the Givi Key on the motorcycle key's chain.  But next time I'll have to remember to not leave the whole key chain in the trunk lock when I walk into the On Route restaurant trying to get a better Wifi signal.

Picture: I had to pick up my new sticker for 2012. Before putting it on, I decided to peel off the rather tall stack of old stickers, which revealed a sticker near the bottom from 1988.  I first got this plate for my old Honda CBX and I transferred it to my BMW for the next 15 years before it found its way to the Vulcan.  The cylinder count progression so far is 6, 4, and 2.  Playing the numbers game, the next bike is obviously zero.  Either this is the last time I use this plate, or the next bike will be a "Zero" (this is an actual motorcycle with literally zero cylinders for about $10,000)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Two Months Left for Serious Testing

 When you are developing a new computer software system, at some time you must declare that you have finished writing the new system, and from then on you try to stabilize the system, test and refine it before implementation.  I think I have now reached that stage with the preparations for the trip.  I have just over two months left to test it and make sure everything works.  The only big jobs left are getting new tires for the Burgman, and a final oil and filter change before we leave.

A last minute addition to the luggage was a two-legged camp chair, the Alight "Monarch".  Then the final preparations for this trip were completed by building a luggage rack for the Vulcan, removing the sissy bar and installing a lockable Givi top case. With the sissy bar removed, I found a place to stow a second camp chair and a similarly shaped tire pump. The last big change was to turn the magnetic tank bag around. It blocked my view of the instruments and the corners poked into my legs, but turning it backwards and repositioning the magnets, it sits much better on a cruiser style gas tank.

I have left out only a couple of items that were under consideration in the original packing list.  I'm leaving behind my hatchet, which Mary Ann thinks is unnecessary. No need for a spare battery for the camera, as we have a backup camera in the smart phone.  I could not find a good LED brake light kit for the Givi trunk, so I decided to forget about it. Besides, cobbling together a home made job might cause problem on the road.  These days, I am no longer so worried about drivers rear ending me because I carry insufficient rear brake lights.  Now I'm worried more about drivers simply not looking at anything but their Blackberry screens.

So with everything more or less in its final configuration, and fully loaded, I went out for a test ride to Tim Hortons.  The trunk did not fall off.  My BMW lost two trunks in the first year that I had it.  To be fair, I did not test the Givi over one hundred miles per hour.  But then I do not plan on going one hundred mph at any time during our trip out west.  In any case, the warning label inside the Givi trunk says "Not over 120 kph".

On my test ride, I noticed the bike felt more comfortable to ride than when it is in stock form.  The duffel bag acts as a good backrest.  The luggage rack and trunk seem to absorb the worst of the road shocks.  The extra weight is not noticeable even when stopped at a traffic light.

One look at my dirty, overloaded bike, and you would swear that I had just returned from Tierra Del Fuego, instead of the corner Tim Hortons. So when I finished my coffee, I had to struggle with the idea of just taking off and immediately heading for the west coast.  Finally, sanity won out and I turned the bike around.  But I still have an itch to leave soon.

Pictures: You may have noticed a small maple leaf, which I cut out of white reflective tape, and stuck over the non-functional red lens on the Givi trunk.  I prefer it to look like a Canadian flag than to look like a burned out brake light.