Death and all his friends

February 16th, 2005

I’d got the call from my sister. “You’d better come”. My mum had been fighting terminal cancer since the previous August , and over the new year we were waiting for the other shoe to drop. She’d become increasingly frail and had lost a shocking amount of weight. A couple of days earlier – Valentine’s Day, just to twist the knife a little – she’d had a precipitous decline. I didn’t fully understand the biological mechanism, but her failing liver being slowly consumed by cancer (which would go on to kill her) meant she was slowly poisoning herself, most evident of which was the loss of mental faculties.

I had understood some of this when I arrived in Southwark, but not the extent of it.leaving the underground at London Bridge and walking to my parent’s flat, I did not know what to expect.

My sister opened the door. As I walked into the vestibule I caught sight of my mum moving upright in bed, apparently trying to get up.

Is that my boy?

“Is that my boy?” It would be the last coherent thing she said to me, and through the cell her body and mind had become she had somehow managed to put on appearances for my benefit. I sat next to her on the bed to cuddle up to her tiny, emaciated frame, and realised something was very, very wrong.

want to trip inside your head
Spend the day there
To hear the things you haven’t said
And see what you might see
I want to hear you when you call
Do you feel anything at all?
I want to see your thoughts take shape and walk right out

There was no life in her eyes. I remember looking deeply into them to see If I could see any remnant of my mum in there (that U2 lyric would be swimming around my head for days. I still cannot listen to that song.) I was visited by the thought that his person – my mother – was no longer there; that all she was and ever had been had been taken from me, leaving just an automaton, an empty shell. It sounds dramatic, but I had about 15 minutes alone with her and the memory is still devastating to me. The slow destruction of a person is a terrifying thing to behold. In time I recognised this was worse than anything that followed. I wanted to scream, I was so upset, but I kept it all in, because i was trying to reach her.

She would hang on for another 9 days, before passing away with us all there around 6.30pm on February 25th, 2 days after her 62nd birthday. Fuck this fucking disease.

I swore at the time that if anything like this happened to me I would not let it go that far, that I would not want anyone to see me like that. I have no idea what that might have entailed. Maybe I would jump off Beachy Head, or go and walk into the sea somewhere, let the waves claim me. I was, of course, completely full of shit, because I would get to find out.

Who said God had no sense of humour?

Fate would have its way with me. I would get get the disease, not the same kind and mercifully not as severe. I may be half-blind, but in all likelihood it’s not going to kill me (if it ever looks like it could, remind me I wrote this. I will laugh, I promise)

it’s easy to retreat into solipsism and self-pity, and I have definitely had those moments (“why me?”) but you have to just keep going and be there. It’s a different story when you have a family; . You have to learn to eat some shit and smile, then eat some more. Every day is a small victory. I know that if the worst were to happen to me, my family would be there to the end, and they would deal with everything that followed, because when the time comes, people find it in themselves. Every three weeks I sit down and get 200mg of immunotherapy drugs. The people there always impress me. Some are very much in the trenches with their illness, but they have such incredible spirit. It’s not at all what you might imagine a chemo treatment centre to be.For obvious reaons, I’ve a bad association with hospitals – carbolic acid and death – and I’ve come to realise it’s not like that at all.

This helped me understand what happened with my mum that day, finding that last shred of strength and dignity to try and show me that she’s okay; that through all she was enduring she would stand tall for her son.

I recently started to dream about her pretty regularly. The illusion of dreams is that you don’t really question context – “What am I doing here? Why can I fly?” I never question that she shouldn’t be there – although I had those dreams in the past. It’s just normal, she’s alive and we’re doing mundane things. I don’t question it too deeply, but it’s a pretty nice thing for my brain to do.

LON_0023_1024
MCT, 23/02/43 – 25/02/05

I hope for a lot of things. I hope my eyes recover, I hope to be completely clear of cancer, I hope my wife gets a break. Most of all, I hope it stops at me.

45 pt. 2

Eyes

By March my vision had continued to deteriorate to the extent I was becoming quite afraid. I made an emergency appointment to try and figure out what the hell was going on. I got a visit with an ophthalmologist that just happened to be a retinal specialist. She is French, had only been in the country a few months, as luck would have it, she was absolutely brilliant.

Generally speaking, nost of the senior female medical professionals seemed better listeners, and thus far I wasn’t convinced I was being heard. My wife describes this as a ‘specialist trap’, in other words if a doctor can’t diagnose a problem, they become indecisive and fail to advocate for the patient. You must see the right people. The right doctor at the right time makes all the difference. In the US system in particular, you must learn to stamp your feet. It’s very hard for me, as I am a classic British never-complain type, but when you’re really sick, that attitude can kill you.

This particular specialist took complete ownership of everything, and the more difficult the case got, the more interested she was.

I had some images taken of the eye, and she immediately identified inflammation of the nerve bundle behind the retina. This is generally known as posteriour uveitis, and it’s potentially very serious.

I had to undertake a lot of tests, includng tuberculosis and syphilis,(symptomatically similar) which amused me (yes it came back negative, you shits).

I ended up being prescribed an oral steroid (prednisone) in a shock dose, tapering off as time went on.

Steroids do odd things, it felt to me like I was highly caffeinated; I couldn’t sleep, put on a load of weight (yay!) but avoided going crazy -Apparently some people don’t respond well to them.

My vision stabilised, you wouldn’t call it good but at least it wasn’t getting worse. Uveitis is idiopathic in about half of the cases. In simple terms, it it not known what causes it. At this point it was purely hypothetical that my vision problems were linked to whatever was growing under my arm, immunology is complicated and requires highly specialised domain knowledge, there isn’t a magical test for it. The test is basically ruling out everything else.

Tumour won’t wait

The mass under my arm was no longer leaking, had fully re-accumulated, and was now starting to press on surrounding tissue, which caused pain. Around 1am on the 3rd of Aoril, I realised I could no longer sleep. Heat, painkillers and and ice-packs did nothing. I remember sitting on the bed in front of the wardrobe mirror thinking that I have to do something.

My wife had a continuing concern that it might burst, which could be life-threatening. My plan was to go to the ER, perhaps they could drain it, or at least get me some pain relief.

The emergency room reception wasn’t busy, a TV played one of house-hunting shows where a couple have an incredible budget. It was set in Fareham, just a few miles from my previous home, which made me laugh at least. I got triaged quickly. The feeling of the nurses – rarely hesitant to give an opinion – was that this thing needed to be out. No shit. A young doctor told me she couldn’t do anything invasive as if it was potentially malignant as that could be harmful. so, no drain. In the meantime she saw me wincing with pain and suggested an analgesic. I got a long lecture about opioids “You’ve seen the news, right?” And then they injected something with a long name into my IV

It felt a bit like the drop off the lift-hill on a rollercoaster, I actually held on to the sides of the bed, I felt a kick of nausea, thought I might throw up, then it passed. I was now, to use the medical term, as high as fuck.

The doctor got on the phone to the surgeon (I think it was 3am) and got it done – I would be operated on the next day. My bed was moved to a remote end of the ER and I entertained myself sending Beavis and Butthead gifs to my sister.

Beavis_Butthead

I don’t really know why, when you’re stoned everything is funny. It had to bag up my clothes and belongings and put on a gown.

.

Dark, dreamless sleep

I got visited by the anaesthetist, who explained that I would be asleep through it all, and a reflexologist, as the surgeon was concerned my nerves were getting damaged by the tumour, but this was luckily not the case.

My abiding memory of ‘serious hospital stuff’ is the flourescent lighting scrolling overhead as you are moved on a stretcher,that and the smell of alcohol swabs and the chirp of ringing telephones. The operating room actually resembles a hotel kitchen, lots of stainless steel, aluminium, and dark tiling. Only the huge overhead lights set it apart, and large pieces of equioment that go ‘beep’. I had to move laterally onto the OR bed and had my inflatable stockings switched on, which feel a bit like a python constricting around your shins. That’s all I remember

Waking up from a general anaesthetic is abrupt, it sounds like people are shouting.You wake up with a start, It’s such a deep sleep. I wasn’t aware of any pain, but my armpit felt like it was completely gone, which was weird but also a relief. My treat was a cup of crushed ice. I hadn’t eaten in about 17hrs.

I spent a night in the hospital in a very pleasant room, and stood up for the first time in hours. I had a drain fitted, which is a plastic line from the surgical wound terminating in a rubber bulb.

surgiclvwound
Wound and drain line

This fucking thing would be the bane of my existence for a week. A fwwnurse ran in and told me if I needed to urinate it had to be into a plastic flask about the capacity of a litre. I filled that fucker to the brim, handed it to her and said “enjoy”. She didn’t even smile- heard it all before, I expect.

The surgeon visited and instructed me to monitor the drain, as he did not want it in there any longer than necessary, as it’s an infection hazard. He also explained the surgery was a success apart from having to leave some tissue which had tied itself around a vein. This would cause almost 5months of discussion as nobody seemed to think anything should remain in there, given how fast the tumour developed, but that story will have to wait.

At home, I had to learn to live with the drain, which was a great annoyance as the slightest pull on the tube was sharply painful. I had to sleep on my back (which I never do) so it was a tough few nights. On the very day I had just got used to it, I made the appointment to have it taken out.

It would be many weeks, and several labs before the tumour’s classification was known. In the meantime my oncologist wanted to discuss options. At that time it was possibly some radiation therapy along with some chemo. Great.

Black May

I had so many appointments in May I lost count. I’d had my drain and stitches out, my oncologist informed me that the mass was classifed as a ‘metastatic melanoma of unknown primary’ in other words, skin cancer, but no skin lesion would ever be found. This supposedly true in 10% of cases. I had the feeling the onvologist was not that convinced, but genetic markers gave him treatment options. I would be put on immunotherapy, which had the reputation for miraculous results.

I would require immunotherapy every three weeks for a year. I watched an educational video about chemo, and I mostly learnt to be grateful I wasn’t having chemo. The treatment building is a squat, brutalist structure near the mall. It struck me that nearly all of the people there looked very worse for wear. I asked the nurse if they looked like me when they walked in, but I don’t think she saw the funny side. </p

To be continued

45

December 27th, 2018

On the morning of my 45th birthday, I stood before the bathroom mirror’s harsh, yellow light, looking at a lump where my armpit should be. I’d felt something under my arm in the shower, a bulge where the hollow of my armpit is, the ‘axilla’ as I would learn to refer to it. The lump was alien enough to be worrisome. When I lifted my arm up, the raised spot looked like half a tennis ball was stuck under the skin. It was soft to the touch, and at that moment, painless. Happy birthday, James.

I showed my wife, who immediately looked concerned, “That looks like a lymph node, is it hard? You should get it looked at”. I had no intention of doing anything that day, I think my exact words were “I am not going to the fucking doctor on my birthday.” I resolved – unwisely, in retrospect – to wait and see. Dr. Google said If it got any bigger, harder or didn’t go away, I should go and get it looked at. When? Who knows. This was really the stupefying cloud of denial and fear, leading to poor decisions

What the hell is wrong with my eyes?

Earlier, around Late September, It had become apparent something was abnormal with the vision from my right eye – the good one – in that a little patch of my visual field had a distinct blur, as if there was Vaseline smeared on it. This got bad enough that I was worried the retina was at risk of detaching (lottery-like odds of this happening to both eyes) but a trip to the eye doctor revealed absolutely nothing unusual, and It felt better – a good example of white-coat syndrome, as I would later realise. A bit like the way toothache stops in the dentist’s waiting room.

As Autumn receded and Winter started to take hold, I realised my vision was not improving, daily tasks like driving were becoming difficult – depending on the angle of the sun and cloud cover, It could be very difficult to see clearly. In January, I had a light bulb moment: Could these things – this lump and my sight – be related? I was starting to feel the first nips of panic, for such a condition could potentially be very serious. Did I have a big, dangerous cancer hiding somewhere? Was I already too late? It was strange, because i felt absolutely fine. The only physical symptoms I had were the lump and vision problems, which is fairly bad, I suppose. I hadn’t been ill for months, and I always got colds in Winter.

The end of the beginning

I couldn’t get a doctor’s appointment until March, and this was hardly a job for a walk-in centre, so I resolved to go to the emergency room. It was January 29th.

Medical staff are careful not to give anything away, but they don’t always hide their emotions that well. On lifting my arm up, it was clear from the ‘ohs’ and ‘whoas’ I should have got it examined earlier. I got a minor telling-off from a nurse to that effect, and the doctor, whom I swear was barely a day over 20 informed me I had to have a CT scan, the first of what would be many.

…soft tissue material likely represents a Rokitansky nodule
related to a mature teratoma. The lesion measures 10 cm
craniocaudally…

Jesus Christ, 10 fucking centimetres? Teratoma? Big relief, that’s just a harmless, big ‘ole fatty lump. I get a referral to a surgeon and am sent on my way, hugely relieved. I would need to have it removed, but that’s no big deal, right?

Not so fast..

My ‘surgical consultation’ was with a typically brash but professional general surgeon who promptly went on to scare the shit out of me. He told me that he did not want to operate until he had a biopsy, as he was concerned it was lymphoma. Lymphoma is not a word you want to hear, and I had already persuaded myself this was not serious. The Biopsy came round a couple of weeks later, and I reported back to the hospital to have it done. Essentially I had a local anaesthetic and then the physician’s assistant uses ultrasound to poke around with a huge needle to identify and capture some samples. The first thing that happened was I started leaking, so the fluid had to be removed. In totals 225cc of reddish/pink stuff was drained out; the swelling all but disappeared, like a deflated balloon. I left with a warning that there is a risk of infection, and to be watchful. That turned out to be an interesting bit of foreshadowing. Meanwhile, my arm felt normal for the first time in weeks. It wouldn’t last very long.

The biopsy results came back as inconclusive, by now this wasn’t surprising, and this pattern would repeat for some time with my eyes, too. Nobody seemed to have any idea what the hell was going on.

It would turn out that my case was ‘rare on top of rare’, to quote one doctor.

A frightful referral

The surgeon called me, and casually notified me he wanted me to see an oncologist. I knew full well what that meant. I was worried sick. The appointment would not be for two weeks, plenty of time to tie myself in knots. In the meantime I had undergone an MRI to try and get to the bottom of my eye problems, and that had a neutral result too. Whatever was going on, it was not in my brain, thank God.

Infection

The biopsy site got infected on the day I had to see the oncologist, of course. This doctor was a mild-mannered Indian chap, and he was not able to tell me much I didn’t already know, outside of the fact a gang of them had discussed my case at a ‘tumour board’, which sounds like the shittest party ever. They only knew that it wasn’t a teratoma, because those don’t grow this fast. I would need another scan and lots of blood work. The proposed scan would be a PET, and would be six weeks later. This wait was important to ‘allow things to settle’, inflammation from the biopsy could produce a false positive, but more on that later.

The infected site responded almost immediately to antibiotics, but would continue to leak. My wife, ever inventive, devised a dressing using my youngest son’s diapers (much to his annoyance – “you stealin’ my diapers!”) And I continued like this – changing it twice a day – right up until the lump was excised. It leaked a ferocious amount, my morning routine involved pulling off the dressing which would typically be a bloody pulp after soaking through the night. There was a distinct relationship between pain and the volume of the mass, as it filled with liquid, it got painful, so the leak was a blessing in disguise as it relieved the worst of the pressure.

PET time

A PET scan involves being injected with a radioactive tracer; essentially it measures metabolic ‘uptake’ of the solution. Cancerous cells absorb this solution at a significant rate. The bottom line is the radiologist gets a 3d image of the body, and can pick out hotspots of high uptake.

The scan was straightforward, it takes about 20 minutes after a 40 minute wait for the solution to be metabolised. I would have to wait to see my oncologist for the result.

Late, in the oncologist’s office the flat-panel monitor showed the images from the scan. Scrolling through the cross section with the mouse wheel, the Dr. indicated the mass under my arm lit up like a stadium in a sea of dark greys and browns. The high absorption rate was pretty clear; a child could read it.

FINDINGS:

…intense metabolic activity within the relatively large and

lobular malignant appearing mass of the right axilla. The mass

contacts and possibly invades the lateral margin of the right

pectoralis major and minor. Soft tissue infiltration extends from the

mass to the skin surface at the upper right breast with high

metabolic activity at the skin surface,,,

‘Malignant’.‘invasive’ These were words I expected but I had not wanted to read. I still had inflammation because the axillary mass was by now permanently agitated in a cycle of muscular stress, draining and re-accumulating. There was a chance this caused the high-uptake indication.

There’s a paradox when you are unwell and nobody knows what’s wrong with you. You want a diagnosis, no matter how bad, because there is then a way forward. When I had the MRI, I wanted something to be found, despite the fact that this could only be very bad news, and felt despondent when no abnormalities were found. By the time it looked increasingly obvious I had some sort of cancer, I was – in a small way – relieved. I knew what I was facing, what the fight would look like.

Oncology were still a little puzzled, because none of their blood work had shown the slightest trace of anything unusual. This would set the tone for the invesigation that followed. little about this would be straightforward.

The Doctor quite memorably summarised “We don’t know precisely what it is, but it should not be there, and it needs to come out, sooner rather than later.

It did not appear to have spread anywhere, which is a huge bit of luck. I just had to wait for surgery.

Around this time, the leak stopped, and the pain started to become significant. The mass was also harder, feeling more like a waffle of pulpy tissue than a hollow sack. My proposed surgery was three weeks in the future. I was not convinced the mass would wait that long, and I still wasn’t getting anywhere with my eyes.

At this point all I reallly knew was that i very likely had cancer, and was possibly going blind. I was otherwise perfectly healthy; 2019 was going to be great.

To be continued

The continuing saga of my Eyes

The rough with the smooth

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.

Why Scoobi Is Probably Doomed, In One Picture

A Fish Out of Water

IMG_20180801_124314
Utter madness.

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.

Not Hotdog

Scoobi, in their own words:

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

hle

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.

Fitting The ‘ebay’ Exhaust to my TT250

N.B. this post originally appeared in edited form at chinariders.net

I bought my stainless ‘ebay exhaust’ – the one everybody uses – months ago but never had the chance to get it fitted.Screenshot from 2018-05-13 18-48-23 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:
exhaust port and studs

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:
exhaust mount gap

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:
Fabricated bracket

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:
Muffler clearance

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.
TT250 with exhaust fitted

Hope this helps somebody.

Eastern Promise

Part One

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.

The CSC TT250
The CSC TT250, in the fastest colour.

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!

As If Right On Cue…

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.

Oct 14th 2016
First frost of the year.

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…

…And Winter Is Coming.

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.

Ninja 300, 19th Oct. 2015
Below freezing, warming the donk up.

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.

NWS wind chill chart
Wind chill chart. National Weather Service

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…

10,000 miles.

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.

wgnepjp

From this year, a number things have stood out:

  1. 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.
  2. Cheap running costs are obliterated by the amount of biking-related stuff you will buy.
  3. Dealerships are full of worthless, lazy arseholes. The service departments are particularly well-represented.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.