08 December, 2019

What To Do With a Dead XL250R #2

        So you may remember that some time ago I tried to resurrect a dead 1987 Honda XL250R by stuffing a Honda CB/CMX250 Rebel engine into it.  The essential problem was that I had a complete '87 XL250R sitting in my shop.  It was in fine condition except for the cylinder head, which was cracked, and finding uncracked replacements is very nearly impossible these days.  If you want to know more about why I didn't pick any of the more obvious solutions, (cylinder head off of a newer model XR, for example), you'll just have to go find the other post.

        So!  A high school kid from the community was wanting some exposure to the wild and wooly world of motorcycle maintenance and he just happened to have been given a 1984 Honda XL250R in very nice condition, but with--you guessed it--a cracked cylinder head.  We decided to jump in the deep end of the motorcycle mechanic pool by repowering his XL.

        I'll admit here that I haven't been too happy with how the Rebel powere XL turned out.   The engine didn't have nearly as much power as I felt it should and the lady who owns it only got to ride it for a couple weeks before it broke again.  I haven't started tearing into it to find out what the problem is yet, but so far the Rebel engine is not really impressing me.

        So this time we decided to try using a chinese Honda clone engine.  Before you flee this page in disgust, hear me out:

        The engine we used is a Zongshen CG200 engine.  The design of these is based on the Honda CG125 engine.  Honda, I have read, designed the CG125 after complaints from South American dealers about the relatively high failure rate of the overhead cam CB125 engine.  Apparently, Honda sent people to South Ameica to see why the CB/SL/XL 125 engines were failing so badly in that market when they seemed to work so well everywhere else.  What they found was that in the South American markets the little OHC engine was failing primarily due to constant overloading and neglect.  In short, The CB 125 was a mini race horse in a market that really needed mini donkeys and mini mules.

                                          early Honda CB125 with overhead cam engine.  --Wikipedia

        Back home in Japan they designed a simpler engine to cope with the kind use/abuse they had observed in South America.  They did away with the overhead camshaft which had been especially prone to (catastrophic) failure due to low oil level or dirty oil.  Instead, they mounted the camshaft down low, and used gears to dive it off of the crankshaft.  An interesting, low tech, single lobe camshaft and rocking lifter arrangement was used along with pushrods and conventional rocker arms (mounted on the cylinder head), to operate the valves.  The gear drive to the camshaft did away with the camchain/timing chain of the overhead cam engine, which was a component that had needed regular adjustment and occaisional replacement.  The rest of the engine, (bottom end lubrication system, clutch, transmission), remained virtually unchanged from the original CB125 engine.  The new engine entered the market in a motorcycle that looked very much like the CB125, the CG125.

                                          Honda CG125; the mule to the CB125's race horse  --Wikimedia

        My personal experience with the engine starts with a collection of 3 wheeled chinese trucks that my department manager bought cheap at an auction in Lae quite a few years ago.  These were basically overbuilt motorcycles in the front with a small pick-up bed on the back, somewhat like a tuk-tuk.  They were all powered by chinese made 200cc variations of the original Honda CG125 engine.

 this is what I keep referring to as a "three wheeled truck".  The ones we had put up with a lot of abuse and neglect before we finally retired them for safety reasons.

     So I greeted this little fleet of 200cc cargo carriers with a healthy dose of skepticism.  I really thought that they were going to prove to be a total waste of our time, but I have to admit that they held up better and proved to be more useful than I would ever have guessed.  After several years of daily use and abuse, they were finally retired, but more for safety reasons than for any other reason.   We tried selling a few of them, but nobody seemed interested in buying any of them and so we eventually just stripped them down for usable parts, including the engines.

     The pick-up truck variation of the engine has a transmission that is geared lower than a motorcycle transmission usually would be. In fact, in the trucks, I once discovered--by way of experimentation--that on level ground it was easily possible to start from a dead stop in all 5 gears!

        So anyway.  Me and the customer took one of the ex-three wheeler engines and tore it down, replacing those parts that needed replacing (not many!), and then proceeded to put it into his XL250R frame.  This has got to be one of the most riduculously easy repowers that you can do.  2 of the motor mounts almost line up without modification.

       Final result:

         No, it's not any faster than the original XL was, but at least Samuel now has a working motorcycle that should be reasonably reliable, and, once we finsih hooking it up, will have electric start too, which the original XL250R did not.

          Overall, I have to admit that I'm a lot happier with this bike than I am with the Rebel powered one.


28 August, 2019

Was it inevitable? Was it always bound to happen?

     Okay, so if you're following this blog, you know that I've got arthritis in my knees.  Well, I think I may have found part of the reason why my right knee has gone on strike a couple of times--for years here in PNG, my daily rider has been a much modified 1985 Honda XR600R.  

       I love the old XR600.  It was one of my dream bikes as a kid and so when a rebuildable one came up for sale here back in what, 2003? I bought it and gradually built it into what it is now.

        What it is now is a long story.  Sometimes at night when I can't fall asleep I try counting how many different bikes are represented in my old XR.  It's a long list and I usually fall asleep before I get to the end of it.  Suffice it say that even in it's original form the XR600R is generally not considered to be an easy bike to kickstart, and they did not come with electric start.  Some of the modifications I have made to mine give it plenty of power, but also make it even more difficult to start.  I can usually start it in 2 or 3 kicks, but it does take some effort, and when you consider the fact that I start it at least 4 times a day 5 days a week and usually at least twice on Saturdays, that amounts to a lot of kicking. 

      So, as an experiement,  I stopped riding the XR and switched to a variety of other bikes, most of which belong to customers of mine and which have electric start.  Interestingly, my knees seem to like this new arrangement, so I decided to finish up a long term project bike of mine that has electric start.

      Unfortunately, this long term project bike was proving to be a pain to resurrect.  I'll eventually get it sorted out, but it still needs quite a bit of work before it'll really be daily-rider usable.

       And then it happened.  Out of the blue, I learned about a 1998 Harley-Davidson XLH883 Sportster for sale in Madang:

         My initial reaction was "No way.  Not practical for PNG, plus everybody will think I spent a fortune on it."  Still, it was the only Harley I had ever seen in PNG, (I have seen an incomplete WWII era wreck on one of the islands, but that doesn't really count), and that made it interesting.

         Harleys and I have had a complicated relationship over the years.  I've always liked them, but have never been able to justify spending the money people seem to want for them.  On the rare occasion when a really affordable one pops up, (like the time I saw a complete and running flathead 45 at a flea market in South Carolina for $1,500), I've just not had the cash. 

         And yet people have always assumed that I had one.  I can't tell you how many times people have approached me in various places and asked "is that your Harley parked out front?"  I guess being a large, heavy man with a big beard it was only natural that they would associate me with large, heavy motorcycles.  But for me it was hard to spend thousands on a Harley when there were so many old Hondas out there available for $1000.

        But times have changed.  A lot of the bikes that I used to pay $750-$1000 for are suddenly classics now and going for $5000-$10,000.  Dime-a-dozen Japanese bikes that I used to haul off for scrap just because we had so many of them cluttering up the junkyard at the shop I worked at in Tennessee are suddenly being sought after by custom bike builders.  Dozens of shops, (Wrench Monkees and Cafe Racer Dreams to name a couple of the better known ones),  have made names for themselves by customising forgotten Japanese bikes that would once have been called "humdrum".  (Incidentally, I'm super happy to see that nowdays, if you want to build a bike you don't have to start with a Harley anymore.)

        So there I was, looking for something with electric start and coming to the realisation that the Harley for sale in Madang actually ticked all the right boxes for me: it needed some work but was complete and running, it was already here in PNG, it was an easy bike to find parts for, and anything I might want to do to it in terms of modifications had probably already been done by somebody else before and posted on the internet.  That fact that it had less than 9,000 miles on it was also nice.

       The price was reasonable, especially considering the fact that had buying and shipping any bike from the US (or Australia) would very likely have ended up costing more than twice as much by the time shipping, customs and duty charges were applied. 

       So I casually mentioned it to my wife, just to see what she thought.  "Well," she said, "I've been praying for you to get a Harley ever since we got married!"   What a woman!

       Finally the last hurdle was simply the fact that the bike was in Madang, and I almost never go to Madang.  Wonder of wonders, the manager of my department just happened to mention one day that he needed to go to Madang and needed somebody to go along with him, so there went that obstacle as well!

      So I contacted the seller and made him an offer.  He accepted, and a couple weeks later I was in Madang and loading my first Harley onto a truck to take back to the highlands. 

       Along the way, I learned quite a bit of the history of this bike. It was bought new in Ohio by a man who was associated with another missions organisation here in PNG.  In 2008 he shipped it to Madang, but he ended up leaving PNG sooner than he expected and sold it.  The man I got it from is an Australian who kept it in his bedroom, which was literally about 10 feet from the ocean.  I'll admit I was a little disappointed by the amount of rust that was on it until I realised that pretty much every rusty part was one that I was going to remove or replace anyway.

       I could not wait to get started!  As soon as I got it home I started stripping off bits of rusty chrome.  Away went the big, bulky turn signals (I'll install smaller ones later), away went the sissy bar (passenger back rest), away went various bits of rusty chrome trim.  In the process I learned that it really is true--the more stuff you take off of a Sportster, the better it looks!  The 11" long rusty rear shocks were replaced with 15" shocks for better handling in the dirt (and what a positive difference those made!) and finally, as a proof-of-concept, I put a used knobby dirt bike tire on the front wheel in place of the 12 year old, age-hardened and slippery street tire.

      Further modifications will have to wait until January, I think, as the parts I need are coming by sea freight.  But they will include a different rear wheel, new tires, handlebars, front suspension parts and other things.  I'm not sure what I'm going to do about the exhaust yet--it sounds nice the way it is, but I kind of need it to move for reasons pertaining to other modifications I want to do and which I'll explain later.

       At any rate, it is usable as is and I'm really enjoying it.  Yes, it weighs a ton!  Yes, other bikes ride better on the dirt roads of Ukarumpa!  No, it will never be a fantastic dirt bike! 

        But I LIKE it!

13 April, 2019

Arthritis? Seriously?!

        Christmas Break, 2018.  I had big plans.  There were a number of home improvement and maintenence jobs that I wanted to get done, there was a personal motorcycle project that I hoped to finish, and, if time permitted, I might even have started the resurrection of a dead car.  Big plans.

        And then, just as the shop closed for the Christmas and New Year's holidays, my right knee decided to stop working.  I could not move it without tremendous pain, could not walk, could not  find a comfortable position, it was bad.  I was pretty much out of commission for the entire Christmas break.  So much for my big plans!

        Joint pain is nothing new to me.  For several years starting back in my 20's I suffered occaisionally from tendonitis in my Achilles tendons, and sometimes pain in the little bones in my feet.  The first time it happened, I went to a doctor.  I described my symptoms and he said, "Oh, sure, that's tendonitis."  Relief flooded me, this wonderful dontor knew exactly what the problem was!  "Great!"  I said, "How do we fix it?"  I expected him to recommend a medicine or an exercise, instead, he brought my feelings of relief crashing down when he said, "Oh, there's nothing we can do about tendonitis.  You'll just have to try to stay off of it until it gets better."  Sigh.

         Tendonitis plagued me off and on for a long time, and then, sometime in my early 40's, it just stopped.  That is to say, I can't rememeber the last time I had it.  It's been a few years, I think.

         Also, from time to time, I have suffered a bit from gout.  Usually just mild cases, but sometimes more severe.  There is gout on both sides of my family, and they say it is heriditary, so no surprise there, I guess. 

         So when my knee quit on me, I assumed that it was just a terrifically bad gout flare-up.  But it didn't feel right--there was no redness and it wasn't painful to touch, at least not in the way that gout is.  I lived with it for a few days, then I started feeling like other joints were hurting, so finally, reluctantly, on Christmas Day in the evening, I called the Clinic.  I couldn't drive, so the nurse on call came and picked me up.  As she happened also to be on ambulance duty, she picked my up in the ambulance.  So I guess now I can no longer say that I have never ridden in an ambulance, though since I sat in the front passenger seat, I can still say I've never ridden in the back of one.

         Anyway, she studied my knee for some time, asked lots of questions, consulted the doctor, and finally said, "Maybe it's arthritis.  Maybe you're just getting old."  Ordinarily I might have been offended, but she was so nice about it that I just couldn't muster up any ire.  In the end, she gave me a crutch to use and made an appointment for me to see a doctor after Christmas.  As for the pains I was feeling in my other joints, that was probably just a result of the weird, twisted way that I was forced to move when I needed to.

        When I went to see the doctor, I was no longer in pain and we went through the usual question and answer time, blood pressure check and so on.  We talked about my knee(s), and what the possible problem might be.  Finally, she put a hand on my knee and asked me to straighten and bend my leg a few times.  Halfway through the first flex, she said, "oh, wow!  Yes, that's definitely osteo arthritis, it's just bone on bone in there!"  Then she felt the other one and said, "Yep, that one too!"  We talked about what could be done and she advised me that knee replacement surgery might be an option (sometime when I am not in PNG), but that replacement knees only last 10 years and they can only be replaced 2 times and then there's apparently not enough bone left to attach a new knee to, so many doctors won't consider doing a knee replacement on somebody under 50-60 years old.

        Awesome.  No wonder I hate going to the doctor.

        I'm in my mid 40's.  I don't feel old.  I feel like I am way to young to have arthritis.  Admittedly, I have not been kind to my knees in my life.  They've been through more than their fair share of trauma, starting way back in kindergarten when I fell under the school playground carousel/merry-go-round and got dragged.  While being dragged, my knee hit a big stone that was sticking out of the ground and it really hurt.  Eventually it stopped hurting and I more or less forgot about it, though that knee never did like to be bent for very long.

        In my late 20's, I was in a minor motorcycle accident which hyper extended both knees, and of course there have been various injuries to both knees over the years that I have pretty much forgotten about.  

        Add to all that the fact that all my life I've gone either barefoot, flip-flops or cheap steel toed work boots. And pretty much every job I've ever had involves standing and walking around on concrete floors all day.  I don't think I've owned more than 6 pairs of sneakers in my life.  I don't care for sneakers, the ones I have owned always disappointed me with how expensive they were and how quickly they wore out.  However, because I was suffering these various pains, I tried all different kinds of insoles and looked into putting rubber mats in my work area, (those rubber pads are expensive, so I haven't gotten one yet).  Eventually I discovered Merrill shoes, which are comfy and seem to hold up well, so those are what I wear most of the time now.  

        And of course, being overweight for most of my life hasn't helped either.  There have been several times over the years when I lost significant amounts of weight, but it's only ever been temporary, and the weight always comes back with reinforcements.  Obviously the key here is diet and exercise, but it's tough to exercise when you can't walk and when you've been warned that your knees are worn out.  It's also tough to diet when the most affordable food is bread.  Lately I've just been trying the most basic of diets; simply eat less food.  I eat very little sugar and I try to keep my carbohydrate intake down.

         Anyway.  This week I've had another bad arthritis flare up.  I don't know if maybe the weather has been affecting it, (it's rained every day here for weeks, there have been mudslides and road and bridge washouts all over the country).  So I've been holed in in my bunker (garage) "convalescing", I guess, catching up on e-mails, communicating with a friend in Albania who is writing a book and is interviewing me for part of it, watching old movies, that kind of thing.

         It used to be that when this kind of thing happened I would get impatient with everybody around me and would whine and moan to God about why it was happening to me, "Lord," I would say, "I only want to do the job you sent me here to do!  Why have you allowed this?  People are depending on me!  How is this part of your will?"  Basically trying to point out to God (silly me) that there was no reason for this, and that if it just didn't happen, we'd all be better off.  Silly me.

         And then one day I heard a recorded sermon from one of our supporting churches in England, where the pastor talked about trials, tribulation and pain in our lives and how we respond to it.  "Next time you are in a situation like that," he said, "instead of saying 'Oh, Lord, why me?' why not ask, 'Oh Lord, what are you doing in my life?   And try to find out what it is that he may be doing."

         I have to admit that when I am down for a week and incapacitated, I do spend more time in the Word and in prayer and I have been focussing on being less of a bear to be around.  More than once I've had the thought, "How sad would it be if the only way that God can get my attention is when I'm incapacitated?"

         I've said a number of things in this post that are probably heretical and will likely raise a few eyebrows among some of my theologian friends.  Don't worry, guys.  I'm not claiming to have it all figured out, and I'm aware of the fact that some of what I have said here could be seen as suggestions that God hurt my knee so that I would talk to Him.  That's not the thought I am intending to convey because I don't think that's how he works. 

         Anyway, I'm still learning how to live with arthritis.  I guess I just didn't expect to have to start learning that until I was, I dunno, 80 or something.

         I'm thinking of making myself a set of C3PO knees.