It’s about six months following surgery for the rhegmatogenous retinal detachment of my left eye. The good news is that the retina has recovered very well; at four months an Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) scan of my eye showed nominal recovery. I was somewhat relieved.
A complication of the surgery, which involves a vitrectomy – a draining of the vitreous fluid in the eye – is a subsequent development of a cataract, in about 80% of cases. This has begun for me, and the brief moment of improvement in my eyesight is now stalled. My central vision in the left eye was slowly returning, but is now partially obscured again. I can’t do anything about it until March, which is four months away.
I have also developed age-related presbyopia in my right eye, so I now require reading glasses. It’s not been a great year for my peepers.
Still, there’s much to be positive about. I am likely looking at a full recovery for the left eye, assuming the cataract surgery is straightforward. We will see.
I give it a very short amount of time before these are getting pushed over or vandalised by irate drivers. They’re all over the East End of the City, occupying car parking spaces. If you’ve travelled to London, Paris, Madrid or anywhere with a true multi-modal transport network you’d think this was absolutely absurd. Why don’t they use dedicated parking, or those nooks and crannies that so many cities have? Well, this is Pittsburgh.
Scoobi is a mobile application based on-demand mobility service for individuals in need of rides to their preferred destination by way of an electric scooter.
Translated, somebody has secured VC funding for a fleet of battery-powered scooters in a season-bound city that it is a textbook example of the primacy of the automobile.
I cannot think of a worse place to try this, apart from perhaps Antarctica. Somewhere with the cultural and legislative foundations like California, despite being worse for just about everything else, gets it right when it comes to two wheels. PA is still stuck in a time when two wheels means you’re either broke, a hooligan, or a dentist playing Easy Rider on a $30k Harley. Scoobi, for what it’s worth, is a great idea on paper. However, this progressive, environmentally friendly platform is in a city whose culture is heavily, but not totally (more on this later) dominated by the car. For example, here is an excerpt from the PA Driver’s Handbook:
A motorcycle is a full-size vehicle with the same privileges as any vehicle on the roadway.
Yes, dear reader. You read that correctly. And yes, these are considered motorcycles. Just roll that around in your head for a moment; savour the utter madness.
A motorcycle is a full-size vehicle
A motorcycle is a full-size vehicle
A motorcycle is a full-size vehicle
A motorcycle is a full-size vehicle
A motorcycle is a full-size vehicle
A motorcycle is a full-size vehicle
This removes the inherent advantages of a powered bike at a stroke. You can’t filter or lane-split; you are limited precisely to the same freedom as a car well over four times your size. There is zero dedicated infrastructure around the city for scooters and motorcycles. What could be a burgeoning market for deliveries and efficient commuting is stymied by totally backward legislation. Instead you wait in traffic and park as if you are a car.
The result? Individual scooters and motorcycles using a full car parking space, which – if you are familiar with Pittsburgh drivers antipathy to anything that isn’t a car – is not going to have a happy ending. Why use one? What you are you gaining?
The Exception that is BikePGH
BikePGH are little short of amazing. They have done an amazing job in cycling advocacy, and it’s fair to say they’ve successfully challenged the dominance of the car, at least in the city limits. Pittsburgh now has some dedicated bike lanes, and a growing cycling culture. It’s helped by some unusual unspoken privileges granted to cyclists; namely filtering and being able to sensibly roll some intersections; consequently cyclists that have overcome the fierce topography of Pittsburgh can get around more efficiently than anything else.
Realistically, powered bikes need their own version of BikePGH, or the roads will never be opened up in a manner which makes them truly practical. I can’t help but think Scoobi has put the proverbial cart before the horse.
I bought my stainless ‘ebay exhaust’ – the one everybody uses – months ago but never had the chance to get it fitted. These kits almost fit the TT250, but there’s one definite modification required; you have to widen or cut the flange as it’s not drilled wide enough for the 229cc engine’s exhaust port studs. My neighbour (actually the maintenance guy for place I live in) offered to help me cut the flanges with his grinder and vice. On friday night we did this with the accompanying (somewhat terrifying to the uninitiated) shower of sparks.
I was a bit worried about the studs and cap nuts, already haven taken the bike through winter. In fact they came off with just a light turn of a ring spanner; however the bottom stud unscrewed from the cylinder block rather than the cap nut. The threads were in good condition; but I couldn’t get the cap nut off so resolved to get a spare. Autozone and Advance Auto Parts didn’t have anything suitable – they sold M8 x 1.25 studs but they were too long. A local hardware store had a good selection so I armed myself with a couple of spares. I also bought a nut splitter and some small locking vise grips, placed the grips on the smooth part of the stud and was able to turn it off. My cleaning and scrubbing the nut while it was on the bike had let a lot of WD40 penetrate in and gum up the threads, but it was basically fine, so I put it back on the bike, screwing it in with my fingers. No problems. I bought new nuts and lock washers.
Next challenge was the gasket. I’d ordered a new one from ebay and it’s basically a little copper ring, but I couldn’t see the existing one; I then noticed the exhaust port appeared to have some weirdly machined interior edges. The ‘wet’ spots are some cleaner I had sprayed on earlier:
The photo revealed these were deformed at the top, and I realised I was looking at the existing gasket which had a squared cross section, and had been pretty well squashed. I grabbed it with some needle-nose pliers and it popped out. I put the new one in (I dabbed a little grease on it to make it stick as it kept dropping out and tried the new header for size, screwing the nuts on finger tight to get an idea of fit.
Some people have got lucky with the fit of these things. I knew straight away the clutch arm was going to be close, and I figured it would be a little clearer when it was all tightened up, but for now it made a little ‘tink’ every time I let the clutch lever out.
Secondly on fitting the mid pipe and muffler, it cleared the frame by about 5mm and easily passed under the airbox, but there was absolutely no way I could get it to meet the bolt eye under the seat where everyone usually fixes it. It had about an inch to spare:
I could not move it up as this would bring the pipe into contact with the frame; I could try and bend or dimple it, but it really didn’t have much motion available at all. So I knew I had to make some sort of bracket.
I haven’t made anything out of metal…well, ever, really. I went to Home Depot and found a length of Aluminium ‘flat’ that was three feet long (lol) and two inches wide, and a mini hacksaw. It was .0125 thick, so plenty stiff. I reckoned that If I cut a simple rectangle 12cm x 5cm I could drill holes in it and make a bracket, so that’s what I did. Well, I sort of butchered the holes a bit (I didn’t measure well) but it fitted; you can see it here:
Exhaust clearance to the license plate holder is marginal (I used the included spacer and even bought some nylon ones from Home Depot in case I needed more room) but it’s fine. Lots of riding today, no melting:
I was still unhappy about the clutch clearance, so I Googled some advice about how to, er, ‘shape’ exhaust pipes and the most simple way appeard to be to whack it with a ball-peen hammer. So I got a regular ball peen hammer (6 bucks, Harbor Freight) and marked the spot with a sharpie where the clutch actuator was touching, and set about whacking my exhaust. A few blows made the material dimple enough to give about 2mm clearance (it actually increases when bike is hot) and it’s on the underside so not visible.
Last job was to take the carb off and fit the 115 main jet (already had a 27.5 pilot which I knew is a little rich so should be fine with a more open pipe) and put it all back together.
It sounds great, and the bike pulls strongly throughout the rev range. I was pretty pleased with the result.
As winter got underway, I started to consider whether I should get a second car. My reasoning was it would cut the mileage on the family Toyota (I don’t use the bike on snow or ice days, I might be British, but I’m not that crazy) and would limit inconvenience to the family when I had to take it for the day. Secondly, I wanted to take the strain off my Ninja 300, which was clocking up nearly one-thousand hard commuter miles a month at peak use. I really didn’t enjoy how much work it was in winter time; it isn’t the easiest bike to keep the weather off, and it’s surprisingly heavy on consumables like tyres and brake pads. Maintenance could be stressful if there were delays due to parts, my incompetence, or visits to the shop. It could really disrupt my transport arrangements, not to mention piss off my ever-supportive wife when I have the car for days on end.
I quickly dismissed the idea. I didn’t want to pay for another one; I could scarcely afford something decent, anything I could afford would become a maintenance money-pit (been there) and I would resent the thing for the majority of the year when I wouldn’t be using it and it would be sitting in the car park eating money.
I’d thought about a second bike, and reckoned I could make it work as long as it met some criteria:
It had to be cheap to purchase and run.
Simple to maintain and clean, the former more important than the latter.
Suitable for the rough winter pavement conditions present in Western Pennsylvania.
I’d been reading a lot about the various offerings from China, with the knowledge that you get what you pay for, and an awareness of the strong prejudice toward Chinese kit, but I’d been impressed by the commitment of CSC Motorcycles in California. They’ve built something of a reputation for selecting good bikes from Zongshen (a giant Chinese manufacturing concern) and applying some American customer service know-how with the proviso that the owner is part of the process (no dealer network, you wrench the bike with support from CSC). I’d been through a lot of wrenching with my Ninja, including the hell of shimming the valves, so I reckoned I could handle it with enough support and reading. CSC’s best-known offering nowadays is the RX3 Cyclone, a 250cc adventure bike which has carved out a market that was practically non-existent in the US.
However, the RX3 was not in my plans. It was a out of my budget (although clearly outstanding value) and a little too similar to my Ninjette in terms of my needs. I would probably replace my Ninja with something like an RX3, not supplement it.
No, I was looking at something like a dual sport. I liked the utility of it, and the fact that I could take it on some trails if the mood caught me, plus it would easily handle some bad back roads I had purposefully avoided beating the Ninja up on. Enter the CSC TT250
Here’s the TT250 as described by CSC:
The CSC TT250 dual sport motorcycle is rewriting the definition of affordable quarter-liter enduro riding! Featuring a digital speedometer (new for 2017), counterbalanced air-cooled engine and 5-speed transmission, the TT250 was identified by Motorcycle.com magazine as the best motorcycle value in the US! The lightweight TT250 has 18-inch rear and 21-inch front wire wheels, knobby tires, hydraulic front and rear disk brakes, inverted forks, adjustable suspension front and rear, a 300-watt alternator, handlebar-switch-controlled underseat accessory outlets, and more. The TT250 is perfect for riding around town or around the world on both paved and unpaved roads. When coupled with CSC’s free Service Manual and online maintenance tutorials, the simple-to-maintain and highly reliable TT250 is a great motorcycle!
I had actually toyed with buying a TT250 not long after they were released much earlier in the year, just for the hell of it, perhaps as a gateway drug into a different kind of riding. I hadn’t considered it would make a really good second bike in its own right.
I pulled the trigger one Saturday night over a few beers, and went for a great end-of-year deal. I’d considered waiting, but I didn’t know when CSC would get the 2017 consignment, and if they would have any issues – the 2016 model was now a known quantity. The snags had been worked out (minor things like the occasional wrong countershaft sprocket, or the odometer being in KM). Plus, it was nearly Christmas and my birthday, so screw it. Retail therapy.
One week later on a chilly December morning, a truck turns up outside and deposits a tidy-looking crate in a parking space I’d set aside for the purpose. I eagerly got to work hacking into the cardboard and freed the bike rolling it around to my patio. The bike ships ready to roll, with a small amount of petrol (I assume from a test engine-firing and drive) and a crank case full of 10w30 engine oil. You only need to attach the mirrors.
First impressions? Build quality is good. I would happily say the fit and finish is as good as my Thai-manufactured Kawasaki. It looks the business. No loose fasteners, and the bike had been prepped properly. I wasn’t sure about the tyres, they had the look of ‘just good-enough no-name OEM rubber’ to me, but I’d soon learn that things aren’t always what they seem.
Was there any China showing? Not really. Some of the plastics like the muffler guard and the fork covers appear a little shiny and cheap, but they are sturdy. A couple of design details are telling,- the rear brake master cylinder and pedal assembly is a bit clumsy, the shift lever is long and ungainly-looking, and some welds though solid enough look a little rough to my untrained eye. Generally though. this is a well put-together bike. The hand controls and switchgear are well made; the levers have no slop or play, and the throttle action is superb. The engine looks gorgeous with its smooth black finish.
As ever, paperwork is the boring part, and a nice lady at CSC does the hard work for you and sends you everything you need to make registering the bike as painless as your state’s bureaucracy allows. I hadn’t done this before, and I ended up going through a tag notary, sucking up the fairly high fee as the cost of getting it done quickly. I got my plates same day, and was ready to ride. More of that in part two!
The weather has started it’s Autumnal swings. 36°F this morning. 36 is an interesting temperature for this rider, as last year I realised that is about the lowest I can tolerate without heated gloves. I don’t get numbness, just very sharp pain that I’m guessing precedes the numbness.
Of course, the afternoons are still too warm for a proper winter jacket, which is frustrating. Even with the full liner, balaclava, and sweater it is a little nippy, but will still be uncomfortably warm later. Also, the forecast is very warm (80°F, fuck yeah!) next week, so plenty of good riding left.
These last few days have got me thinking about wind protection more. I really like naked bikes but I’m wondering if they’d be good for my riding needs, if I had to have just one bike.
Next post will have idle speculation about what I want next. I thought I knew, or at least had a very good idea, but that seems to change weekly…
Predictably on the tails of my last entry, and because I am British, I’m going to moan about Winter. I live in Western Pennsylvania, and while it’s hardly Minnesota, it’s a somewhat harsher experience than my British homeland. The average January high for Pittsburgh is 37°F(US Climate Data, 2016); that is the average low temperature for January in my old hometown on England’s South coast(Met Office,2014).
The stats don’t tell the full story – it may be viciously cold when the sun goes down, but it’s usually tolerable for the morning commute, and crucially, usually quite dry, so there’s no frost to worry about, and a little less risk from ice.
What got me thinking about this is the last two days have seen cooler than average temperatures for my morning commute, around 50°F. I had to break out my waterproof mesh jacket liner (it traps heat), my Oxford neck warmer, and switch my Winter gloves for my thirteen-mile commute to work. I started to get that characteristic slight fogging of my face shield around the pinlock that the cold air causes.
There’s still a good four, maybe six weeks of good riding left for the normies; after that, the bikes get prepped for winter and put away, perhaps breaking them out on the odd sunny day, but generally, that’s it until April.
But not me.
Last October 19th, the morning temperature dropped to an unusually low 29°F. It would be the first time I had ridden in temperatures below freezing.
It was a rude awakening. The three mile stint on the highway caused my fingers to become, well, not quite numb, but extraordinarily painful. The wind blast forced its way past the gasket in my face shield, and hurt my eyes. My kneecaps hurt. I had real difficulty warming my gloved hands up again, and resorted to pressing them on the clutch and stator cover at traffic lights, which possibly gave the appearance I was attempting to mate with my bike.
I’d received a hard practical lesson in windchill, the theory of which I was only vaguely aware – this table tells the simple story, and it doesn’t even show figures above sixty mph.
I was a bit despondent as I’d already bought some expensive winter gloves, but I now knew with certainty they wouldn’t be enough. The problem was the highway. I’d need something heated, either grips on the bike, or my gloves, but that’s another blog entry…
Last month, I hit the milestone. I’d been managing around one-thousand miles a month since I got the bike; Winter had caused this to slip in January, when I had lost most of that month to bad weather. I knew I’d get back on target when summer came around; and so it came to pass.
From this year, a number things have stood out:
Motorbikes are a lot of work. A lot. Like, fucking seriously.
Two sets of tires, a new chain and sprocket set, a valve inspection and adjustment, twelve quarts of oil, four oil filters, a set of brake pads and a replacement rear rotor.
Cheap running costs are obliterated by the amount of biking-related stuff you will buy.
Dealerships are full of worthless, lazy arseholes. The service departments are particularly well-represented.
At six months, I realised I knew nothing about riding after three months. At twelve months, I realised I knew nothing at six. This seems set to continue, and I love it.
Most people,here in Western Pennsylvania, do not accumulate one-thousand miles a month. Perhaps one-tenth of that is more common. I want to write more about this another time.
I don’t blog enough; that’s my fault, but as a fact if not an excuse, I have been very busy. Family, work, and riding.
Quite a bit has changed since my previous blog entry in March. My first full Summer of riding, for starters. It was wonderful. Of course, as much as I love my bike, I want something else now. I’ve been here before. We will see.