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…