Ducati Multistrada Ride Review

To me, this is the bike that invented the segment of the market I was interested in. This was the bike that promised that one bike could comfortably travel all roads, be as sporting as you could want on public roads capable of touring, and handle the odd unpaved (dirt) road as well. Put simply, it had built a big reputation, spawned a subclass of bikes and had a lot to live up to!

Ducati Multistrada

Photo courtesy of Werner Bayer.

What surprised me the most about this bike, was that after I rode it, I believed the hype! Unfortunately, the local Ducati dealer has to have someone accompany you on the ride (in other words: they lead the way). The previous test-rides were more in the vain of: throw you the keys and point you in the direction of fun roads. This turned out to be a requirement of their insurance policy, but did rather control the test environment as a result. Despite their location, they had an admirable “test-loop” which encompassed some twisty roads, some inner-city and a brief burst of highway.

My first surprise on this bike, was how low the seat height felt. I could comfortably flat-foot both feet at stand-still. The accompanying sales-guy was adamant that the adjustable seat was in the highest position, so I do wonder if taller riders would find the position a little cramped, but at 5”10, with 33” in-seam, it seemed both comfortable, and natural.

I have mentioned on numerous occasions, that I’m not a mechanic. I am also not a bike journalist! I suspect they become quite desensitised to the constant stream of new motorcycles they get to ride. It allows them to be not so “caught up in the moment” when riding new bikes as to notice subtleties of the bikes they test. Me, I was too busy idiotically grinning as to how cool the Ducati sounded as I blatted it through the city streets. The base model I rode did not feature a quick-shifter. Much like the Aprilia this allowed a liberal dosage of blipping the throttle on down shifts to complement the wonderful noise the bike made on the overrun. The V-Twin (or L-Twin as Ducati call it) also gave a slight pulse through the frame. It was not buzzy, like the BMW, just a gentle reminder of the engine layout (in case you were deaf)

Also not featured on this particular model, was the adaptive electronic suspension. The front end felt a little soft. Again, that overly long travel was noticeable to me, but really, it gave good feedback through the bars. I guess to describe it, it just felt “a long way away”. Judging by the speeds I was doing on an unfamiliar bike, it must have been pretty good… With familiarity, it would be a real weapon and give the average sports bike rider a real hurry-up on the roads.

Next part of the test-ride involved a brief highway stint – during which I tested the cruise control and adjustable windscreen. I found the cruise control intuitive and easy to use although I’ve heard the button layout is harder to control with thick winter gloves. The screen adjustability too was easy to manipulate on the move, but I have really yet to appreciate the difference this makes on any bike. One thing I have always admired was how good the wind protection is on the VFR. None of the potential candidates for the role of “my next bike” could really compare favourably against it. Anyway, it was easy to adjust allowing for long highway trips to allow plenty of contemplation and comparison between screen heights. If I had to guess, I would suggest that the bar-width on the Multistrada was slightly narrower than on the S1000XR. It seemed to be a more competent lane-splitter and commuter bike, if such things are important to you.

Overall, this is a seriously impressive bike. It lives up to the hype surrounding it. In a game of top-trumps, it loses out to a similarly specced version of the BMW S1000XR in almost every category. But, I agree with a lot of the reviews I have seen on it – somehow it ends up being a more desirable bike than the BMW. The new styling with the colour matched beak doesn’t look as good as the older black-beaked bikes to me, but I would never argue with someone if they felt otherwise. That’s always going to be a subjective opinion. In my eyes, the new “Enduro” Multistrada, with its 19 inch front wheel and wire spokes falls into the “ruggedly handsome” territory, but somehow the styling of the normal Multistrada just left me feeling disappointed. If you disagree with me on that, then this might seriously be your dream bike. It really is as good as that!

Aprilia Caponord Touring Review

Aprilia Caponord Touring
If I am honest, the Aprilia Caponord didn’t stand much of a chance.  While I suggested I wouldn’t make direct price comparisons between the bikes I reviewed, the reason this bike was on the shortlist to test-ride was that it was priced competitively against the other bikes I was interested in.  When I arrived at the dealership, they informed me that the current pricing was a “special running out the 2015 plated models” price.  All well and good, but they were extremely sketchy on whether they could get me one of those models anymore.  Apart from the demonstrator, the shop I went to certainly didn’t have any on the floor. On top of that, there seemed to be some doubt that the 2016 model would make it to Australia.

Secondly, I made the mistake of test-riding this bike on a weekday and managed to time my ride with the “pick the kids up from school” time, congesting the local roads to the point where true testing of handling was going to be difficult.

On a comfort and ergonomics stand-point, this bike was as comfortable as your favourite arm-chair (more figuratively than literally).  I’m unsure on whether the demo bike had the normal seat height, but it was far easier for me to put both feet flat on the ground than the two previous bikes I rode.  Despite this, the seat-to-pegs distance made it comfortable when on the move and somehow magically didn’t leave you feeling like you were going to “deck” the pegs when riding in a sporting manner.  Although untested, the pillion seat also looked large and inviting and sported large comfortable grab rails.

The large V-twin motor was a real double edged sword.  It had truck-loads of torque, almost making the gearbox feel like an irrelevant detail!  Around town, I never felt the need to progress beyond second gear.  Whether or not you consider the gearbox irrelevant, it certainly wasn’t an afterthought!  Gear changes were smooth and trouble free.  Although it lacked the quick-shifter found on the BMW and MV, the clutch was progressive and light enough not to be a burden.  Not having the quick shifter allowed a more liberal blip on the down shifts – not a bad thing when you have the glorious sound of a big V twin emanating from the exhaust. They were the good bits about the engine.

The bad bits related to the abruptness of the throttle when riding it in “Sports” mode.  The obvious solution was to use one of the other engine-maps, which helped the bike’s mannerisms to a fair degree, but never quite eliminated all the issues.  It was nigh on impossible to hold a steady speed in “Sports”.  In the “Road” mode, it was a bit easier, but still required more concentration than I would like to dedicate to that particular task.  You may think of this as a minor criticism, but when combined with the “instant power” of a V Twin, it made for a unpleasant arm-stretching / head-bobbling ride.  Maybe a owner would become adept at holding a steady throttle, maybe “Sports” mode would only be employed when riding “sportingly”, but it didn’t endear me to the bike…

Styling of these “pseudo-adventure” bikes is a bit hit and miss.  In my eyes, the MV Agusta was by far the prettiest bike and the BMW was quite “handsome” with its purposeful looks.  The Enduro version of the Aprilia Caponord shares this same handsome purposeful look, but unfortunately, the Touring model just looks dated. Badly… I’ve certainly seen plenty of reviews where they raved about the appearance of the Touring model, so I’ll respect your opinion if you disagree with me there…

The Aprilia shared the same indicator switch block as the MV Agusta.  As a result, the indicators felt vague under the thumb in exactly the same way. The other irritating control was the cruise control button.  You would think that one thumb activated button near the throttle would be simpler than the myriad of controls on the BMW but somehow reality didn’t reflect this!   You have to hold a steady speed, which combined with a really snatchy throttle is difficult to do.  I actually had more success, by using my left hand index finger on the button, than the thumb conveniently located next to the button!  (Even when I wasn’t in “Sports” mode)

Overall, I felt as though the Aprilia was a budget imitation version of the BMW.  Sure, it had a glorious sounding engine with instant grunt whenever you wanted it (and often when you didn’t) but that was its main party trick.  I could see how that V-Twin sound and power, combined with the comfortable relaxed riding position and easy to manage seat-height could well be very appealing to some riders.  It certainly wasn’t a bad bike, but I just don’t think it’s the bike for me.

 

BMW S1000XR Ride Review

BMW S1000XRRuthlessly efficient. Those two words effectively sum up the BMW. I rode this bike straight after riding the MV Agusta and the contrast between the two could not have been any more striking! Whereas the MV was all about passion and soul, the BMW just got on with it. I rode this bike with no preconceived notions about what it would be like, unbiased by internet forums and reviewers opinions. I hadn’t been particularly interested in it as I have a bias against inline four cylinder motors. I have owned three bikes with this style of motor and compared to a large capacity V-twin, they just seem… kind of “dull”. That’s not too say they aren’t powerful, they just lack the urgency of other engine formats. They sound great when they wind out to redline, but they just drone on when holding a constant speed. Even at a steady pace a V-twin sounds good! On the plus side, the engine does allow you to behave yourself when you need to – it doesn’t encourage you to constantly misbehave. Its seat height is enough to be an issue for the vertically challenged and I couldn’t really detect much difference in a bike that supposedly had the lower seat option fitted. The shape of the seat somehow encourages you to have one foot flat on the ground, but when going two feet down, I found myself to be in a similar predicament as when on the MV Agusta. There is something completely natural about riding this bike. It instantly felt familiar, inspiring confidence to push on in the corners. Fitted with the dynamic suspension, it offered a plush ride. The longer travel suspension of these bikes takes a little too get used to.  Compared to regular sports bikes, the suspension can soak up more. Unaware of any scaremongering internet forum topics, I did note how buzzy the bike was.  From around 4 to 5,500 RPM, the bike gets a fair amount of vibrations.  I have since seen that this is the major criticism of the bike, although most people complain about it most in the handlebars.  It would appear that the severity differs from bike to bike, and then how much that bothers you will be a matter of personal opinion.  To help ease the sensation of numb hands, the BMW is equiped with an excellent cruise control.  Controlling the cruise control was similar to most cars, with on/off, set/resume/cancel functionality and incremental and decremental speed adjustments all possible by buttons.  The control blocks actually featured a staggering amount of buttons.  I am not sure whether that is a good thing…  Still, it does reduce the number of times you go “diving” through menu options to get to the feature you want.  One button may work for an iPhone, but the level of user involvement required to make use of limited buttons costs the rider far too much in attention that is better spent on looking where they are going. Unlike the MV Agusta, I found adjusting the screen on the BMW while travelling an altogether more difficult proposition.  It only has two positions and no immediately obvious way to adjust it.  This led to a rather “interesting” moment where I managed to trap my thumb in the mouse-trap mechanism used to alter the screen height.  After the initial pain caused by the sudden clamping of the trap subsided, I was left with the predicament of having the glove (and hence my hand) caught.  After briefly worrying about it all going terribly pear-shaped, I managed to free myself from the dastardly contraption.  Apparently, the store had heard of similar stories where the rider had managed to engage the cruise control with the wrong hand, before freeing themselves.  Later I discovered it is possible to adjust the screen safely with one hand, by grasping the top of the screen and either pushing away or pulling it toward you.  Regardless, I didn’t really notice much difference in screen position – the wind levels seemed about the same at both levels.  When one was “motoring along” in the corners the raised position caused the top of the screen  to be right in my eye-line and somewhat distracting.   My selfies need work...

Overall, the BMW is one seriously impressive motorbike.  It handles exceptionally well and the brakes can put out a serious amount of stopping power.  The engine is happy to let you pootle along at sedate around town pace, but just as happy to tear your arms out of their sockets with the sort of ferocity that you’d expect from a Wookie losing a game of chess. Some may find the vibrations a “deal breaker” and others may call it “character”.  I would call them neither.  Really my only criticism of the bike is it felt quite soulless after riding the Turismo Veloce. It’s easy to see why the BMW riders I know stick with their bikes for years.  There’s something not quite as “whirlwind romance” about them.  More like they inspire a “lifetime partnership”.  They’re almost Honda-like…

 

Test Ride Impressions: MV Agusta Turismo Veloce

MV Agusta Turismo Veloce

Let me start by saying that the rear wheel hugger with integrated number plate and indicators does look a bit naff.  Not completely ugly, but it does have a degree of “well, we have to do something to make it road-legal”  It is a concession to the fact that someone, somewhere dragged out some technical document which stated something about having the rear wheel covered at a  certain point and declared that if you didn’t – you weren’t on a street-legal motorcycle.  There’s no way that it will look good, so this is the best compromise the MV Agusta designers could come up with.

Now that I have stated that caveat, let me state: I think that MV Agustas have to be amongst the prettiest motorcycles ever made.  The Turismo Veloce is no exception.  Whatever angle you view it at, it is just gorgeous.  I was lucky enough to spend a bit over an hour on the bike, hooning around the local hills and backroads, plus a bit of time in regular Saturday morning traffic. So, I took off from the store, down the road – quick U Turn and back past the shop and straight into my first false neutral!  This is the first bike I’ve ever ridden with a quick-shifter. Twenty years of muscle memory argued with computer controlled fuelling and ignition – the result of which was a short, noisey and embarrassing argument as the engine shot to redline and I clunked the bike into the next gear.  After that momentary faux-pas and wondering how many people had seen/heard the commotion, I noticed how much of my jacket sleeves I was looking at in the mirrors.  Much to my amazement, despite how close the mirrors are to your hands, it is possible to get a reasonable rear-view out of them.

I try and ride bikes on a test-ride, the way I would ride them if I owned them.  This can be summarised as: “sedately – most of the time.”  It took me half an hour or more on the MV, before I discovered it could be ridden sedately!  The engine is such a hoot – it just encourages you to behave badly on it!  The acceleration is instant and the throttle response is “precise”.  Fuel injection has come along way since my model VFR…

There were a couple of little things that weren’t the way I would like them to be.  These may have been characteristics of the particular demo model I rode.  Firstly, there was a lot of rear-brake lever travel before you got any real response.  I trail-brake using the rear brake a lot – especially in slow commuting or car park manoeuvres.  It didn’t bother me at other times and it may just be that the demo required a brake bleed, but I noted it at the time.  The other thing was with the switch gear:  The mode selector has the same motion as the indicators. In both cases, you can push them left-right, or “in”.  (i.e. the “cancel” motion on the indicator, is the same as the “OK” motion for the mode selector)  These feel natural to reach with the left thumb and despite their proximity, I didn’t confuse the two.  But, neither the “OK” nor the indicator cancel gave any real haptic feedback.  The OK selection didn’t appear to work terribly well and was too distracting to really bother with on  a test ride of an unfamiliar bike.  Back in the shop, I tried the indicators on a Brutale model and was surprised by how much more feedback it gave.  (I was also surprised by the fact it had different switch gear! )   There was evidence that the demo model sat out in the rain, so maybe a quick squirt of WD40 on the switch gear would improve matters.

I have seen various discussions on the web, wondering if the seat height is too tall.  For the record, I’m 178cm (according to my driver’s licence) and have a measured in-seam of 88cm when wearing my bike boots. When stopped, I could comfortably have both feet “two-thirds” on the ground, with just the heels not touching.  If I went for *ahem* an “uncomfortably forward and upright stance in close proximity with the fuel-tank”, both feet were flat on the ground.  Given the light weight and wide bars of the bike, I didn’t once feel in danger of an embarrassing car-park style tumble…

At first, I positioned myself a long way forward on the bike.  Seated like this, I found my knees were too low, gripping the tubular frame of the bike, rather than the tank.  This was uncomfortable for me.  Once I settled down, I was seated slightly further back and the whole seating position made a lot more sense.  The tank was easy to grip with my knees, the reach to the ‘bars felt natural and the view in the mirrors was good (and not of me!)  It was superbly comfortable –

I could easily imagine riding for hours in this posture without tiring. The more I rode this bike, the more excited I was about it.  So what if it doesn’t have 150 rear-wheel horse power?  The power and torque were such that it just got on with it…  Make no mistake – it is not slow!  It would do small controlled power-wheelies out of the traffic lights and would overtake traffic with just a quick blat on the throttle.  It left me cackling like the wicked witch and my helmet was only just strong enough to contain the ludicrous grin the bike gave me.  The brakes were superb and it would change direction with just the slightest input on the bars.  The long-travel suspension dealt with the worst of crappy back-road bumps and delivered a clear indication of the grip levels you had available to you.

Where I live, the authorities take such a dim view of people who dare to speed, it makes sense to have a bike that’s more capable on back-roads away from public scrutiny.  This bike definitely ticks all the boxes there. Niceties such as cruise-control and up-right seating position  meant that the unavoidable straight-line drone that riding in Australia entails would be handled with a minimum of fuss.

Speaking of such, I didn’t spend any time sitting at length on the open-road speed limit, so can’t really comment much on the wind/weather protection the adjustable screen affords – either up or down.  I can tell you, it’s beautifully easy to adjust while you’re going along. Overall, I loved this bike.  Despite being a “sports-tourer” it feels vastly different from bikes I have previously owned.  I find it difficult to express, but it would take me some time to feel truly comfortable riding it at speed.  Maybe it did everything I asked of it so easily, I felt like I was wobbling around on it?  It didn’t do anything untoward and put up with any ham-fisted gear shifts and dodgy lines in corners that I threw at it.  I’m sure with more time, or in more competent hands it would be an amazing bike.

MV Agusta Turismo Veloce
The biggest problem I would have if I owned this bike is: “Would I ever get out of the garage, or would I just get stuck admiring it?”  In the red/silver combination, it is just so gorgeous to look at… even with a naff rear hugger…

It is time…

It looks like the planets have aligned and it is time for a new motorbike.  I’ve had the Honda VFR 800 for almost ten years now – over twice as long as any other road-going bike I’ve ever owned!  Part of the problem with getting older is that somehow changing motorbikes every couple of years is harder to justify (especially to significant others)

This time around, I’m determined not to buy another Honda. – There’s nothing particularly wrong with them, but after three in a row, it’s time to try something a little different.  There’s no doubt the riding I do these days is substantially different to riding I did ten and twenty years ago.  Part of my problem is, I’m not entirely convinced I know what sort of riding I want to be doing…  I am leaning towards a slightly more “adventure” style bike (hey, I fit the demographic) but I’m not absolutely convinced…

So, in up-coming posts I’ll be writing up test-rides I have on various bikes.  You can read far more objective reviews on these sorts of bikes elsewhere – so expect a fair amount of subjective criticism.  If I don’t like something on a particular model, I’ll let you know.  Remember though, these things are only my opinion.  You shouldn’t take offence if I don’t think much of your favourite bike – I’m buying one for me, not you after all!

I also won’t discuss bike pricing.  The world is a big place, and you could be reading it anywhere.  The one thing I’ve learnt is that pricing of particular models varies wildly from country to country.  What might be competitively priced and technologically superior in your market may be way more expensive here…

So, with a couple of test-rides already done and dusted, the first review will be of an MV Agusta Turismo Veloce.  But, that is a story for another time…

 

 

Track day tribulations

I keep assuring you, my dear readers, that I am not a mechanic. It is about time I write a post that helps illustrate that point.

The last track day I did on the RGV was not the biggest success. The bike was failing to accelerate in the top gears and by the “seat of the pants dyno” was even a little weak in the lower gears. Apart from some cursory inspections and a new set of spark plugs, I hadn’t really done much on the bike since the previous track day, so it was not much of a surprise.  I can’t even say “I should have known better”, because I do know better… As they say: “Proper preparation prevents poor performance”

Anyway, both the bike and I survived the day, so back at home, it was time to work out what went wrong… It didn’t take long – the left carburettor float bowl was leaking fuel. Put simply, the top cylinder was unable to get the fuel it needed when running at full throttle.  The float bowl o-ring had a gap if about 3mm, through which the fuel was able to escape.
Where the carburetors are situated, meant the fuel leak was relatively safe.  The fuel would fall on the crank case, which was hot enough for most of it to evaporate off.

The reason there was a gap in the o-ring was no mystery: I had cut it. Of course, I hadn’t done this without a good reason. At a previous track day I had to take the carburettor apart to clean one of the jets that had become blocked. The o-ring had stretched and no amount of careful prodding, cussing and holding my mouth correctly was going to get the o-ring to fit. One truism of track side maintenance has always been “No matter what spares you have with you, you’ll need something you don’t have.” Faced with the choice of “go home” or “improvise” I chose the latter and cut a small section of the o-ring out.

Why did the o-ring swell? Truthfully, I do not know.  I am guessing it reacted to something, but I could not correlate what the Internet tells me and anything that I remember doing.   I think I may have fitted the o-ring with some rubber grease, but that is designed not to react with it!  Most likely, I got some carby-cleaner on the o-ring and it  reacted to this, although I don’t know for certain.  As I had now discovered, it eventually returned to its normal size, thus leaving me with a gap.

Whilst on the matter of mechanical confessions… That day, when I refitted the carburettor, I broke the thread of the plastic choke nut. These are hollow, allowing the choke cable to pass through them. As a result they are incredibly easy to over-tighten and snap. Without it in place a lot more air would be drawn through the carburettor, causing the engine to run dangerously lean.

Plastic choke nut assembly

There was insufficient thread left on the choke nut to hold against the spring tension, but another RGV owner came up with a clever way of using cable ties to hold the choke nut in place. It was certainly a bodge job, but it easily held up on the day.

So, what did I learn from my mistakes? Lots of things, really!

  1. Do your preparation before the track day, not at it.
  2. If the manual doesn’t suggest using sealant or other consumables, then you probably shouldn’t.
  3. A twenty-four year old bike that you thrash when you ride it needs plenty of TLC/maintenance when you aren’t riding it.
  4. A post track day inspection and service is a good idea.
  5. If you can’t have the right spares with you, at least have plenty of cable-ties!

 

Are you being Agile and should you care?

Agile Software Development is not a new thing. As an exact “thing” it has been around since 2001, making it more a surly teenager than a brilliant new idea. Just like some teenagers, it has not always turned out quite as well as the ideals its creators had for it when it was just a babe…

The agile manifesto was set out by some pretty cluey people – people who were quite competent at thinking for themselves. Unfortunately, some people look at the manifesto and think that it means “rules” rather than “policies and aims”. Sometimes people want to have rules to follow and the manifesto simply does not provide enough rigidity for their needs.

The most obvious example I can think of is when I have heard people misquote: “Working software over comprehensive documentation” as a reason not to write any documentation! (When misquoted, the word “comprehensive” goes missing) The fact that the manifesto is quoted as though it is law should be the first warning sign that you’re doing it wrong! The Agile Manifesto is not a development methodology and shouldn’t be treated as though it were one. As the scrum methodology website states:
“The Agile Manifesto doesn’t provide concrete steps.”

At the bottom of the Agile principles there is this gem:

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly

I like to think of it as: “Remember the aims of the manifesto and do what works for your team”. If you claim to work in an Agile Software Development team – but you have worked the same way for as long as you can remember, then it might be time to shake things up a little.

At the heart of the problem is that not everyone is passionate about their job. Sometimes, even the passionate ones can be at a point where external events mean that they are not focusing this passion on their work. That’s okay! It happens! But when it does, expecting these people to work in an agile manner is not being realistic.

The Agile Manifesto and the Principles behind it are worthy goals to strive for in software development. Lean, hungry successful startups seem to naturally gravitate towards most of the principles outlined. For them, I imagine, spelling it out is just common sense. (Although the principles also talk about working at a sustainable pace. – That doesn’t seem to align with the stories you hear about successful startups!)

If you are working in a Software development company that claims to abide by the Agile Software Development Manifesto, it is worth going over these principles and the manifesto itself periodically. Make sure you are on the band-wagon, not just claiming to be! If you read them and decide that they do not suit your team at all, maybe it is time you claim to be something else!

I must be getting old

Having successfully fixed the VFR I could not help but notice how much my neck and back had not appreciated the time spent in the garage. Years ago, I would have thought nothing of it, but I decided it was time to get a garage workshop stand to put the bikes on when doing work on them.

There are plenty of commercially available solutions. Some are air, hydraulic or electric powered lifters and some are merely a “bench” that the bike must be wheeled up and onto. Cheap(er) versions of these lifters are available on eBay too. Compared with the US and European markets, Australia’s low population and large geographic distribution means that low-priced options available in a bricks-and-mortar shop are not available here. I am sure there is nothing wrong with the eBay specials, but I could not find a cheap lifter with a platform length that I felt was suitable for my needs.

So, I decided to see if I could build a bench for a fraction of the price. Price was always going to be the largest factor in the build. If it were too dear, I might as well spend extra on an eBay special and hope it suited – I could always cheer myself up by playing on the lifter if it didn’t… Second largest factor, is my lack of finesse when building things out of timber. It had to be easy to construct and require minimal precision with cutting. I will always remind people that I am not a mechanic – but I place my mechanical skills above that of my carpentry skills!

Building a workbench out of steel was never an option – I don’t have a welder (yet) so armed with a printout of a sketch-up model that I had made, I went to the local hardware and timber supplier to discuss my idea. He took on the challenge as I laid it out to him – made some alterations to my original plan (mainly to add strength), and we got the price down to an acceptable level. Buoyed by an unjustified level of self-confidence and enough power tools to make the job easier, I set to work!

Leg length cutting jig

First job was to cut the six legs to the same length. To make it easier, I made up a small jig to help me position the circular saw. A drop saw, or a table saw would have been more accurate, but as I had neither, this has to suffice.

Three pairs of legs

Once cut to length, I joined the legs in pairs. To fasten the timber together, I was using long hex-headed screws . I chose to drill pilot holes, although because I was using pine, it should have been soft enough timber to not require them (according to the man at the hardware store…)

With the three pairs of legs made, I then attached the two length pieces.

Workbench taking shape

Next were two additional braces to support the surface of the bench. Suffering from a bout of OCD, I really would have liked the middle legs to be braced on both sides, thus enabling symmetry between the front and rear half of the stand, but we had quite literally only enough timber for the single sided brace. So the additional braces were placed halfway between the end braces and the middle. This means that they are further apart on one end of the bench.

Workbench with additional bracing

With the frame now complete, I added the top of the bench (thick plywood) and used a generous number of screws to hold it all together.

A longer beam then sits on top of the bench at one end, to act as a wheel stop and provide mounting points for tie-downs. (Or possibly something to swear at when I accidentally walk into it)

Just needs painting

I also added an eyelet bolt to the end of the workbench, to allow me the option of tethering the ramp to the table.

Last but not least, I added three thick coats of polyurethane varnish to the top of the bench in order to protect it from accidental oil and water spills. Job done!

As for loading the bike, that can be done singlehandedly, aided by the fact that the RGV is light and some forethought.

I fitted the tie downs to the bench first, hanging the loose end from the roof, ensuring the hooks were at approximately the right height to attach to the bike on the stand. Next step was to put the tie down loops around each handlebar of the bike. I fitted the ramp with the safety strap and most importantly moved the other bikes out of harms way in case it all went pear-shaped.

With these preparations in place, the rest was easy!

  1. Roll the bike into the stand until the front wheel his the stop.
  2. Hold the bike with one hand and hook the two tie down hooks to the straps.
  3. Take the slack out of each tie down, so the bike can’t fall over.

I then put the bike on the paddock stand and removed the tie downs, but that largely depends on what work you are going to do on the bike.
So, what am I doing? Well that’s a story for another time…

Fitting a new stator to the VFR

Last time, we discovered the cause of the VFR’s battery eating habit. According to the workshop manual, the stator coil was no longer functioning correctly. As you may have surmised, I left out most of the charging circuit tests that passed. There is beauty in brevity and my posts are rarely that!

The stator coil on the VFR is on the left hand side of the engine, mounted to the inside of the alternator cover. This means it is submerged in the engine oil. (I’m guessing that most four stroke motorcycles would be the same). So, to replace the stator, you will also need a new alternator gasket and an oil filter (as you end up doing an oil change).

As usual, you should read my disclaimer, if you feel inspired to give this work a go. As a comparison, this is probably the trickiest procedure that I have blogged about. – You have been warned!

Start by removing the two side cowlings and the connecting front piece from the bike. These require a 5mm Allen key and patience as you struggle with the plastic clips that go together easily the first time and then deteriorate, get jammed up with road grime and go brittle with time.

Once the panels are removed, warm the bike up for a minute or two. The idea is to not make the engine too hot to work on, just to raise the temperature of the oil enough to reduce its viscosity. Stop the bike, do what you need to do to stop yourself from absent mindedly starting it with no oil and remove the oil drain plug.
Draining the oil

While the oil is draining into an appropriate receptacle, unbolt the radiator overflow bottle. The workshop manual suggests removing it all together, but I found that by using a zip tie, I was able to access the alternator cover without needing to drain it or disconnect the hoses.

Moving overflow bottle away from alternator cover

The astute reader may have noticed by now that while the stator is located on the left side of the bike, its connector is plugged in on the right hand side. This means the wiring is threaded through, from one side to the other. Pulling the old cable out is always going to be easier than threading the new one through… The workshop manual instructs you to remove the fuel tank, airbox and the throttle bodies to gain access to the wires. Removing all these parts would undoubtedly make routing the new stator cable easier, at the cost of making the overall job much harder! Instead, I tied a piece of string to the stator’s plug and carefully pulled the cable through the bike, such that the whole wire ended up hanging on the left side of the bike. The string is then left in place, to guide the new stator wiring back through.

Wrong Focus!

Once the wiring is clear of the bike, the bolts holding the alternator cover in place can be removed. Even once they are removed, the alternator cover is held in position by the strong magnets that generate the current as they spin around the coils of the stator. There is a lug on the alternator cover that, with a bar and mallet, I was able to tap on the back of to break the magnetic seal.

Burnt out stator

Despite what the workshop manual suggested, I found that the stator on my bike was held in place with Allen key bolts, rather than Torx head bolts. I have no idea whether this is common or not, but it meant my purchase of the torx head keys was unnecessary… One day I will have a use for them… You will probably find that the bolts holding the stator in place are on pretty firmly, so take care not to do this :-). If I had any good suggestions on how to avoid sudden knuckle/cover contact I would not have injured myself, so good luck with that!

Carefully note the positioning of the stator so that you can correctly orientate the new one and then remove the dud piece.
While you have the stator removed, take some time to remove as much of the old gasket as possible without gouging the alternator cover. Remember that the cover holds the engine oil inside, so a good smooth surface is important to avoid leaks.

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Once you are happy with your handiwork, use the dowel pins to hold the gasket correctly aligned and refit the cover. As per the workshop manual, the cover should get some gasket sealer in certain parts. Remember that the magnets in the generator will pull the cover on with a certain amount of force, so be careful to position wiring and hoses clear of its flight path!

Reassembly wasn’t quite as straight forward as I hoped. Although the string helped, I still ended up lifting the tank and airbox, as the wiring connector fouled on various bits and pieces. Still, I managed to avoid removing the throttle bodies with my mad-cap idea… For details on removing the tank and airbox, see this post from when the bike was newer and cleaner.

Fitting the oil filter is one of those few exceptions where I used my torque wrench. I am pretty good at not striping bolt threads – working on the 24 year old RGV teaches you to be careful with such matters, but the oil filter was too critical (and fragile looking) to warrant a careless approach.

The only other point to draw to attention is with refilling the bike with oil. Once the engine turns over, oil will be dragged around all the places it had drained from, so after a quick run, let it settle and recheck the oil level. You may find it needs more to reach the desired level.

Once I was happy that I had put everything back together properly, it was time to try the charging circuit. I didn’t have enough hands to take a photo when holding the engine at 5000 RPM, but as we can see, there was a healthy 13.80 volts at idle.

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Problem solved!!

Dealing with the Apple Push Notification Service

I have recently been working on sending Push Notifications for an iPhone app. The Ray Wenderlich web site has a (dated but still) great post to get you started with this and includes some PHP code for transmitting the messages to the Apple Push Notification Server (APNS).  I won’t rehash what Ali Hafizji went over in his post, rather just suggest you have a read yourself.

There are free and “nearly free” services that offer customers a service that communicates with APNS, but they just leave you communicating with their servers, rather than directly with Apple’s. At the risk of sounding like “not invented here syndrome” I wrote my own application.

Apple document the comms format used. It’s a binary message format. “Back in the day” I did more than my fair share of binary comms . Like a lot of my peers I had my share of writing Point of sales software. Most peripherals in those days used differing binary formats over RS232 to communicate. Apple’s format differs from how I remember binary protocols from working, so I wanted to share some potential pitfalls that I noted. (One of which I fell in, others I skilfully / luckily? avoided)

Numbers are stored big-endian.

If you are writing your application on a Windows machine, then your numbers will be stored little-endian. In my case, I was using C#. The BitConverter class provides methods to get the byte array representing the number, as well as a property that you can check to see if you need to reverse the array. I guess with Mono, there’s a chance that your C# code will end up running on an O/S that is big-endian – so it probably pays to check first, before reversing the byte array!

The frame data is not simply a in-memory version of the third table

This is the trap I fell in – and in retrospect it was a silly mistake caused by misinterpreting the sentence:

The frame data is made up of a series of items. Each item is made up of the following, in order.

Each item contains an item identifier, an item data length field, and the item data itself. Unlike previous binary comms that I have done, this means that length fields appear throughout a transmission. This is not exactly necessary, as there is only one variable length field. While I consider it “not exactly necessary” it does lend itself to forward compatibility that would otherwise not be possible.

The APNS servers only respond with errors – sometimes

When I was struggling with malformed frame data I would often not get an error message response from the APNS. I don’t know why this would be the case. In my experience, if your iDevice does not receive your notification within thirty seconds, you have probably done something wrong! My experience was most were received within three or four seconds…

Not every item-type needs to be in your frame data

Out of interest, I started experimenting with leaving out frame-data items. It appears safe to leave out the “expiration-date” if you wish. I would guess that leaving it out, is the same as specifying zero. That is, if the message cannot be delivered straight away, the APNS will not attempt any delayed delivery.

You do not have to reinvent the wheel!

Late in the piece, I came across the PushSharp open source library. Chances are, I will switch over the code I wrote to use this project instead. It supports all major mobile platforms, not just Apple.

Still, I wanted to rattle off what I learnt in building this app, in the hope that it may help someone avoid a gotcha!

Good luck and happy coding!