Be Paranoid

If you think they’re out to kill you, it’s because they behave as if they are.
Crane Truck McFuckface was hiding in this tunnel
The tunnel monster is real

Riding to work this morning on my dual sport, I negotiated this blind corner and came upon a stationary utility truck (the type with the dorsally-mounted crane) head-on smack in the middle of the road.

My guess is that the driver did this to allow the crane to clear the tunnel ceiling. Be that as it may, it was poor judgement as the this tunnel has a blind entry on both sides:

Blind entry to tunnel in both directions
Blind entrance, both ends

I’m assuming the driver had his window down, heard me, and stopped. There were no lights, no flag man, nothing. Had I been riding more aggressively than was prudent, had I been on my sport bike, this might have been a little hairy; you can see it is an appealing pair of corners; that’s why I ride this little road in the first place.

Ride safe, folks.

The Perfume Road

Spring riding.

April 28th, 2017.

Late Spring’s a glorious time to ride. The sun comes out, mornings are cool and bright, and the olefactory system gets bombarded with a range of pleasant distractions. It’s still cool enough that the asphalt doesn’t get heated to the extent your senses are overpowered by hot tar and exhaust fumes.Cut grass,petrol, and the pleasant cocktail of plants in bloom.

Most of all, there’s a short period when people’s windows come down, before they start surrending to the heat, closing their houses and cars up, and resorting to the air conditioner. You pass houses where breakfast is cooking, fresh laundry is carrying on the cool breeze, and nobody looks in a hurry.

Somewhere in front, perfume escapes through a car window, for miles and miles. It’s hypnotic.

A Place, A Time

Kiski Junction Railroad, Pennsylvania, June 26th 2016.

I’d taken my family to ride this little railroad just the week before. On the road down I’d noted the last few miles would make a good bike ride, and so one week later I took my Ninja 300 there.

It was a boiling hot day, but a curiosity is how it’s the details of the bike’s life that stay with me: That chain was on its last legs, and had a tight spot I just could not massage out. The rear sprocket would soon be gone too, but the greatest recollection of all was the valve adjustment. just a few days later over the July 4th weekend, I tackled the valves. The diminutive Ninja had about 8000 miles on it; the recommended check was 7600; conventional wisdom on the Kawasaki Ninja 300 forum was to leave it to 15000, I did not want to leave it to chance.

It actually turned out to be a long undertaking, and the exhaust valves were indeed out of spec. I got the job done, and the bike still runs today. It remains the most complex thing I’ve done mechanically.

The joy of bike ownership, learning to do things you never thought you could.

The CSC TT250: Smiles per Gallon

The CSC TT250 review. The background to my decision to get a TT250 is here.

I’d put on around one-thousand miles on the CSC TT250 as the first green spots started to emerge on the the Pennsylvania woodlands. The bike held up well over Winter, and between the endless rain and salt, winter is a harsh environment for machinery. I’d gambled on the TT250 being a dependable winter warrior, and thus far it has done well. It’s surely a sign that I often choose to ride the bike on my commute over my Ninja 300.

The Good

The TT250 is a well-made bike. The finish is excellent; the frame shows little aggravation from the ravages of winter, though I was decidely liberal with my application of anti-corrosion ACF-50 spray. Some fasteners inevitably dulled, but this is no different from my Kawasaki (which I rode through last winter) and generally speaking I am pleasantly surprised how durable this bike is.

Cold and wet: The TT250 in Winter commuting duty
Cold and wet, a typical morning commute for the TT250.
TT250 Engine after a typical winter commute
The warpaint of a typical winter commute

The engine, an air-cooled 229cc single, is absolutely superb. There’s only around sixteen horses, and about 18nm of torque at 5.5k rpm, but there’s more to it than the numbers. The power band is sweet, and considering it’s a relatively unsophisticated single, it’s very smooth. Western Pennsylvania is not short of hills, and the engine deals with everything with little complaint. I average about 55-60mpg, but this figure has increased over engine break-in, and includes my commute which is terrible for fuel economy.

Once I got my carburetor dialed in (I fitted an aftermarket Mikuni VM26 clone, commonly available on Ebay) the engine started with little hesitation in temperatures right down to 17F. The stock carb was satisfactory, if a little hard-starting when cold, propably due to lean jetting, and by ‘cold’ I mean less than 40F. I chose an aftermarket carb to allow more adjustment should I fit an exhaust system, and the carbs are as cheap as chips. Tuning them is a pain in the arse, but there’s plenty of help at Chinariders if you get stuck.

Stock gearing is 17/50, which isn’t too bad, but if you’re riding mainly on the street I would pick 17/47, which is less hectic at 55mph. Apropos of top speed, you could take this bike on the freeway, but I wouldn’t, unless traffic truly moved around 50-60mph. It’s superb as a back road basher, and absolutely devours city pavement. CSC offer a 49 tooth rear sprocket as an option, and I did actually purchase one, but after researching the forum and the ever useful Gearing Commander site, I went with fitting a 47.

The five-speed gearbox is smooth and precise, but you must ensure you allow the gear lever the full range of movement – that was new to me and before I got used to it I suffered the occasional missed shift.

The TT250's engine
229cc of fun

The tyres are seemingly generic dual-purpose ‘knobblies’. Conventional wisdom says you should get rid of them and fit some rubber from one of the big brands that you trust.

Don’t.

They are quite simply fantastic road tyres, within the performance envelope of the bike. I have ridden these on soaking wet roads, on gravel and salt, on roads with a film of mud on them, and they have been absolutely marvelous. I have taken them on mud and grass, and they’ve been wonderful, confidence-building tyres every step of the way. When the weather is crap, I will take the TT250 because I know I can trust those tyres. By comparison, my lightweight sportbike with Michelin Pilot Street 4 has excellent traction wet or dry, but as soon as the road surface has any artefacts like gravel or mud, it’s terrifying; see this gif as an example of what mud and a wet road can do:

Looking at the wear rate, I’m not sure I’ll get much more than 2000 miles out of the rear, but I think that is reasonable for a general-purpose tyre that will do asphalt and any off-road riding the bike is capable of.

tt250 after some off-roading 1
tt250 after some off-roading 2
The TT250 after some fun on a muddy forest trail.

The TT250 is exceedingly comfortable in stock form; I’m 6’3″ and around 210lbs, and the rider triangle is pretty much perfect for me. I didn’t realise how cramped I am on my Ninja until I started riding the TT250 frequently. The stock seat is very comfy. I haven’t ridden the bike that far, but on many weekends I’ll routinely spend a couple of hours riding pretty hard, with no discomfort.

Handling is superb; really very, very good. It feels at times like a giant mountain bike. It’s very easy to hold a line, and turn-in is sharp, perhaps not surprising on a bike so light. Off road (I am by no means experienced here) the light weight and easy manners translate into a stable, well-mannered platform. The bike encourages you to have fun, and this really is the strength of a dual sport. On some back roads and see an open trail, or a gravel road? What about that nasty looking back road? Go check it out. It’s great.

Here’s some video of me riding the TT250 on its second day in my possession around the wet roads near home:

The Bad.

I’ll say up front these are minor gripes, but it would be remiss not to mention them, lest people think I’m taking money from CSC (I wouldn’t do that of course. Though if they wanted to, I’d accept an RX3…:D )

The brakes are well put-together. You get steel-braided lines (I don’t even have those on my Ninja!) and lever feel is firm, but if you’re giving them a workout (for example: aggresive riding on downhill twisties) and it’s a hot day, they can fade pretty quickly. Not an issue if you’ve trained yourself to use both brakes, but if you’re heavy on the front brake only (like a prototypical supersport rider), they’ll fade. They do recover rapidly. Of course, all bikes will do this to a degree, but it’s more pronounced on my TT250 for sure. My front rotor has also had a little runout from day one, and I think I will be replacing it soon as I believe it’s getting worse.

TT250 rear brake assembly
The brake system is well made, but don’t expect to be able to push it like a sportbike without some fade

The clutch isn’t great. I have probably been a little spoilt by the Ninja 300’s clutch, which is just superb. The TT250’s clutch is durable enough, and I suspect it’s a consequence of uprating the clutch to cope with the 229cc’s higher torque (the original CG was 125cc) but once the engine is up to temp, it can be a grabby, snatchy affair until you get used to it. I struggled for a while to get the lever adjustment right and actually ordered a replacement clutch cable, as I wasn’t certain mine hadn’t prematurely stretched too much. In fact, the adjustment is very particular and in my case is better done with the engine warmed; setting it while cold will result in very slight drag once the engine is warm.

These issues won’t present themselves most rides, but if you’re in stop-go traffic on a warm day, the clutch pack’s tight packaging and air-cooled character of the motor will begin to make themselves known. Get used to fighting a little bit to get neutral, and I’d recommend 15w40 synthetic (once you’re past break-in) if you’re running the bike in a city during summer.

The Ugly.

Everything here is a function of where I live, and the fact that I ride my bikes whatever the weather. Except ice and snow. Sometimes even then. I’m British, after all, and we’re a bit daft like that.

The wheels look great, but the spokes aren’t stainless and it’s a fight to keep the weather off them. At some point I will probably replace them with stainless spokes (the rims seem fine), of course, this will cost, but it’s a function of the climate here, and I need something that will take the weather a little better. I don’t think this will be an issue for any owners that aren’t in the rust belt and ride all year round.

I did strip one of the sprocket carrier bolt holes when swapping the sprocket out; I suspect this was because they were very tight from the factory. It was a straightforward repair, but I’ve read of a couple of other instances of this on the Chinariders forum. The bolts are hard, M10x1.25 steel and the hub is pretty soft; I think studs might have been a better choice. Still, if you potter about with bikes, this isn’t unknown by any means.

Also – and this is by no means an uncommon problem on most OEM fitment using steel pipes – the stock exhaust header is looking worse for wear, and I will probably replace it soon with a stainless system, but this is a largely cosmetic concern.

Is it worth it?

Unreservedly. You really can’t go wrong, and I’m looking forward to many more adventures on the bike, especially now the good weather is here. Put it another way, I’m strongly considering an RX3 Cyclone as my next bike, possibly as a replacement for the Ninja. That’s my faith in the company’s product.

Spring has sprung…

The weather did not get the memo, however.
Fuck freezing temperatures
Bollocks

It’s just for a couple of days, and it’s not actually been too bad. I took the Ninja out yesterday for the commute and the bike felt really good. I’ve been fighting surface rust on the chain for weeks on the Ninja, largely because the expensive new cover I bought fits tightly due to the taught elastic and tends to wick moisture up around the bottom 3-4 inches. Next year I’m going to store it over winter and just use the TT250, as that’s one of the main reasons I bought it.

Speaking of which, I have a few ambitions for the Chinabike, as I’ve got an aftermarket carb working really well on it. In no particular order:

  • An aftermarket exhaust system. The stock one is doing the standard OEM cheap job of oxidising heavily around the downpipe, I really want some stainless steel on there. You can get a decent one for about USD 120. I will have to find someone to drill out the flange and make a bracket though; I lack the necessary workspace at home.
  • Stainless spokes for the rear wheel, which will also mean a truing stand and some other bits.

The bike has survived winter pretty well, however the exhaust header and rear spokes (and it is just the rear) are determined to return to nature, so I’ll deep clean them for now, but spending a couple of hundred bucks on a more permanent solution sounds better than constantly trying to clean them up.

The weekend is looking good for a long ride; it will be the first since October.

Emerging From Winter.

My CSC TT250 wears the typical makeup of my winter commute; the usual mixture of water and mud, baked onto the engine casing just after I arrived home.

The TT250 has been an absolute champ, an I’ve done most of my winter commuting on it. Next year I think I’ll store the Ninja 300 in the bad months as I barely used it.

I will make the time to do a more thorough review of the TT250, I just haven’t had much spare between work and virtually continuous family sickness…

YouTube, Vlogging, and Filthy Lucre.

I can’t get a job, because if I had a job I wouldn’t have enough time to vlog.

The above quote isn’t attributed to anyone in particular, it’s rather a sentiment I’ve seen expressed a few times recently.

Motovlogging culture – those guys that go out on their bikes and record it for our entertainment – has become a big part of the motorcycle media landscape in recent years. I won’t namedrop because it’s vulgar, but like most entertainment media, the majority are forgettable, and a very few are excellent. Like most media, there is not always a correlation between quality and a channel’s success. In short, there are some utter clowns that have become very successful, and some truly great channels that languish with low views. If I understood why that is, I’d be vlogging myself.

That success has brought financial rewards, although it’s difficult to know how much, as both Google and the channel owners are cagey on the subject; it’s fair enough – it’s nobody’s business but their own. However, the mere suggestion of money can be ruinous to men, and creates something of a gold-rush mentality. I’ve seen a couple of vloggers give up their day jobs and chase YouTube money, and when it hasn’t quite worked out,they resort to asking their viewers for help with the bills. I believe one of the drivers is they’ve done just well enough to convince themselves it’s viable. I dislike myself for it, but this brings out the cantankerous old fart in me. Nobody’s owed a living, and if you can’t make it work you’ve got to be realistic and think about how to go forward. That might well involve having to take a regular job for a little while to make ends meet, and taking stock of the fact that you’re choosing to compete in a phenomenally crowded market which, to make matters worse, is only getting more competitive.

This reminds me of conversations I used to see on photographer message boards in the early 2000s; specifically the ire of professional photographers towards amateurs giving their work away either for free, or well below market value. The rush of consumer DSLRs and affordable pro-grade editing tools meant their world had changed; the barrier for entry was lower, their slice of the pie just got that little bit smaller.

YouTube is no different. The barrier for entry is again very low, and the productions standards on many channels are really very impressive, and this can only mean more competition for views. Some of those guys that are at the top of the pile now would certainly struggle if they were just starting out, but that’s capitalism; ’twas ever thus.

I feel bad for a lot of these kids, because they’re talented and they are entertaining enough, but YouTube’s model is based on a tiny number of winners and a lot of losers. Is it fair? No, but when was life ever fair? I suspect if you crunched the numbers, it would not be that different to the rest of the entertainment industry

Should they be paid? Unfortunately, that decision has already been made. You can consume gigabytes of video entertainment on YouTube for the cost of an internet connection and a device to watch it on; you just have to put up with the ads. Where that money then goes is up to Google, but you can be sure they’re the biggest winners. That leaves Patreon and similar services, but given the huge number of free channels out there I’d be surprised if there’s much money to be made there if you’re not already a giant channel somewhere else.