Saturday, December 27, 2014

Clubman

In the latter part of the 80’s, Honda sleeved down the motor from the off-road XR600, chromed it, mated it to a dual-shock vintage-y chassis, added a bum-stop seat, low clip-on handlebars, and wire spoke wheels, and created the GB500 TT, a stone reliable, retro-modern 1960’s café racer.

(Introduction paragraph paraphrased from the Clubman TT website, http://lovik.tripod.com/Clubman2.html.)

The café racer is a light-weight, lightly-powered motorcycle optimized for speed and handling rather than comfort. The bodywork and control layout of a café racer typically mimicked the style of a contemporary Grand Prix roadracer, featuring an elongated fuel tank (often with indentations to allow the rider's knees to grip the tank), low slung racing handlebars, and a single-person, elongated, humped seat.

A signature trait was the use of low, narrow handlebars that allowed the rider to "tuck in" — a posture with reduced wind resistance and better control. These handlebars, known as clip-ons (two separate bars that bolt directly to each fork tube), clubman or ace bars (one piece bars that attach to the standard mounting location but drop down and forward). The ergonomics resulting from low bars and the rearward seat often required rearsets, or rear-set footrests and foot controls, again typical of racing motorcycles of the era. Distinctive half or full race-style fairings were sometimes mounted to the forks or frame.

The bikes had a utilitarian, stripped-down appearance, engines tuned for maximum speed and lean, light road handling. The well-known example was "The Triton," a homemade combination of Norton Featherbed frame and Triumph Bonneville engine. It used a common and fast racing engine combined with a well-handling frame, the Featherbed frame by Norton Motorcycles. Those with less money could opt for a “Tribsa” — the Triumph engine in a BSA frame. Other combinations such as the "Norvin" (a Vincent V-Twin engine in a Featherbed frame) and racing frames by Rickman or Seeley were also adopted for road use.

(Since Norton would not sell a bare frame, many riders would purchase the complete motorcycle and then remove the Norton engine. The famous frame got its name from Harold Daniell, a successful Isle of Man TT racer with three victories and several placings in the Tourist Trophy races and the Manx Grand Prix. After testing the new Norton frame in 1950 he declared that it was like "riding on a featherbed" compared with riding the "garden gate" — and it has been called the featherbed frame ever since.)

The Honda GB500 TT was a motorcycle introduced in the 1980s. First marketed in Japan in 1985 in two 400cc and one 500 cc version, followed by a third 400 cc version for Japan and finally a 500cc version for the US.

(The "Tourist Trophy," or TT, derives its name from the Tourist Trophy motorcycle races on a 37-mile road circuit in the Isle of Man off the coast of England.)

The GB500 engine was based on the motor from the Honda XL600, a dry-sump, four-stroke dirt bike. The four-valve single cylinder engine featured a radial four-valve combustion chamber, along with a tubular frame, wire wheels, clip-on handlebars, solo seat, seat hump, and pin-striped gas tank. The styling resembled TT single-cylinder racing bikes (such as the Manx Norton, the BSA Gold Star and the AJS 7R) that were prominent in the TT until the 1960s.

In the USA, GB500s were imported for model years 1989 and 1990. In 1992, a third-party exported 1,000 unsold Honda GB 500 Clubmans from the USA to Germany as unofficial import vehicles.

The GB500 looked like an antique, but it was a modern machine. A single-cylinder, 499cc overhead cam engine was similar to a multitude of British machines that had been powered by "thumper" engines in their heyday and the GB embodied the emotion. A two-into-one exhaust handled the departing gases and the muffler was finished in chrome. (Although a single cylinder, with two exhaust valves, there were two exhaust pipes.) Starting the GB was accomplished via electric start or kick-start pedal.

Released in 1989, it had been many moons since Honda included a kick-starting on a street-going machine. The solo saddle was truncated by a small rear cowling that, along with the classic shaped fuel tank, were draped in Black Green Metallic paint and offset with gold pinstripes. Everything about the Tourist Trophy said "classic," right down to the spoke wheels at either end. Low mounted handlebars or "clip-ons,” and a five speed gearbox complete the list of features. This bike would feel right at home at the Isle of Man.

A drop in the price of $500 for 1990 probably spoke to the poor sales of this very un-Honda, Honda. Dropped from sales in the US in 1991, perhaps it was replaced in the eyes of Honda management by the new, sportier looking Nighthawk incarnation of the venerable CB750.

It is hard to understand why Honda built a bike like the GB500. Its engine configuration, styling, and even its name tie to an earlier time in motorcycle racing. A time when bikes such as the BSA Gold Star were the sporting bikes of choice and the Isle of Man TT was the premier motorcycle event in the world. But that still leaves the question of "why?" It is almost as if someone at Honda suddenly realized that they had never bulit a 500cc single-cylinder sport bike, and decided that it needed to build one to fill a perceived void.

Even the numeric code was a bit of a mystery. Honda had well used the letter C and also V, X, F, S, and even R and P. GL, of course, was used since the first Gold Wing in 1975. But GB is rather unique. Could it actually stand for "Great Britain?" Is the 500 TT just a tribute from one small Pacific island country to another small island nation in the Atlantic?

The main feature of the GB500 was a 500cc, single-cylinder, overhead-cam four-stroke. The head had four valves in what Honda called a Radial Four Valve Combustion chamber (RFVC). To dampen the vibration inherent in a big single, the engine was equipped with a gear-driven balancer shaft.

The RFVC head has the valves arranged radially and none of the valves are on the same plain giving a hemispheric shape to the combustion chamber. Think of all the valve faces resting on the surface of a ball and how they all point out and away from each other.

Other four valve engines have a pent roof design where the intakes are usually on the same plain and the exhausts are on the same plain. This gives the combustion chamber a shape like a tent.

How is one better than the other … well … pent roof chambers have the advantage of a squish area that makes them less prone to detonation. Hemi's on the other hand have a nice even burn. In theory the hemi-head has advantages and disadvantages. I note that the latest designs of both automobiles and motorcycle heads tend more toward pent roof and squish band designs. The entire semi vs. pent-roof argument all goes back to european designs. Neither the Japanese nor the Americans were first to these high performance head and valve designs, although Honda certainly has made a name for themselves as a four- (or three-) valve engine company. One always wonders about the level of cross-pollination between Honda motorcycle engineers and the automotive group.

For relief from the ritual usually required to start a big single, the GB500 was fitted with an electric start and an automatic compression release. Honda claimed an output of 40 horsepower for the engine. Every bit a throw-back and every bit a modern example of precise Honda engineering.

With a counterbalance that quells vibration, about 33 stock horsepower, and a 7500 or so redline, it is an engine that needs to feel its oats. Somewhere, right now, on some winding slab of asphalt, there’s a happy owner winding this thumper out. I’m sure you couldn’t wipe the smile off his face with a roll of paper towels. I just wish that rider was me.

The styling of the GB500 is very attractive, particularly if you were fond of British café racer styling. With wire spoke wheels, dual rear shocks, a separate speedometer and tachometer in chromed housings, the small front fenders, clubman (clip-on) bars, the seat tailpiece, and the black green paint with gold pin-striping, and you had a bike that fitted the vision of what many people thought motorcycle of the earlier era should look like. A very attractive motorcycle, indeed.

Although only sold for two years due to poor marketplace performance, the bike has a special group of followers including this definitely anglophile rider. I’m actively seeking one of these special bikes for my collection.

There is even special websites dedicated to this single Honda model. Check out http://www.hondagb500.com/ and http://www.honda-gb500.layte.com/

At this website, the rider looks suspiciously like yours truly. http://lovik.tripod.com/Clubman.html

Owners of these special bikes are almost a cult. A much smaller group that those that still ride classic vintage Hondas such as a CB77 Superhawk of the original K0 or K1 versions of the CB450 known as the “Black Bomber.” The few lucky owners of this Honda “Clubman” would not part with their bike for love or money. I suspect they keep the machine safely parked in their living room, or — even better — their bedroom. But trust me, these are not museum pieces. No, any owner would spend his (or her) weekends out on the road, possibly humming some British folk song.

Check out these pictures of the original prototype, a 1962 AJS 7R, 350cc. Now you can see where those tricky Japanese got the look. It’s a simple recipe: one stone-reliable Japanese thumper in one British style frame, and you’re ready for a trip to the Isle of Man. I can recommend several good pubs in Douglas or Castletown. Just park your bike outside.

AJS

Norton Manx

Honda GB500 TT

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Tales

This has been an unusual Christmas. We’ve never missed a Christmas with our kids since we were married. And that’s coming up on 38 years. In fact, our anniversary is next week.

We almost missed Christmas one year. I think it was 1982. We still lived on Sherman street in Longmont and Linda’s parents lived out in the country near Berthoud. We took the kids out to their house early on Christmas eve. We still had some shopping and a lot of wrapping to do.

It started to snow rather heavy. By the time Linda and I had all the gifts loaded in the yellow van, the snow was several feet deep. We headed down the street … and got stuck at the end of the block. With the help of neighbors, we got the van back home. So the kids spent Christmas night at their grandparents, and we were stuck home … alone. Linda was in tears missing her kids for X-mas.

The next morning the snow had stopped and the plows had done their best. We jumped back in the van (after shoveling off our sidewalk and driveway) and headed north. No problem getting across town or down US 287. We turned onto Caballero, the street Bob and Bea lived on. It had been plowed by a local farmer and was one narrow lane through four feet of snow. I got two blocks down the street before I became stuck.

With snow up the side of the van, I couldn’t open the doors to get out. I went to the back of the van and pulled the “second door release” latch. I was able to force open the two doors with that latch released. We walked the last block to Linda’s parents and Bob came back with two shovels.

We did some widening of the single path, got the van backed up up a bit, and … with a run … made it to his driveway. He had shoveled it off using his little garden tractor and a plow blade. So soon we were spending Christmas morning (or noon) with the kids and we had a very merry Christmas.

Plus, it gave this tale to tell.

Another time, in the 90’s, I was on an “emergency customer visit” with a valued customer in Philadelphia. I had been there all of Christmas week working on a very intense technical problem. I was there with a senior vice-president who was looking over my shoulder every step of the way … often reminding me just what this client was worth in annual IBM revenue.

Although the problem was a "class-one," critical situation, we did take a break for Christmas. I flew home on Dec. 23, and came back to Philly the day after Christmas. Actually, that wasn’t a bad time to fly since most holiday travelers take a week or more off.

Plus that customer threw a big dinner for us when the work was done a few days later and that V.P. was forever in my debt. In fact, he was a key person in getting me promoted later to a senior scientist position at IBM called STSM. That was my last promotion, and put me into financial security such that we had Christmas turkey ever year after that. Heck, we could have afforded Peking Duck after that raise. So all’s well that ends financially well.

This, then, is the first Christmas in 37 years that I didn’t spend with my kids, although Linda is here and so is my dad. That’s OK. We had a wonderful Christmas party and gift exchange on Dec. 12 when we were back in Colorado for a short time. We reserved space for over a dozen guests at the T.G.I. Fridays and had a wonderful time, wonderful dinner, and the usual great memories.

For most of our married life, we had dinner at Linda's parents. Bea was a wonderful cook and we always enjoyed the hospitality. A couple of times we slept over on Christmas Eve. A few, very special Christmases included family from Alaska. In the early nineties, both of Linda's brothers and their whole family came down and spent December with us. We have a great family portrait with all the Lincoln grandkids in memory of that special year.

Later, after Linda's mom turned 70, she turned the meal preparation over to us. She still helped and our sons both chipped in. We often wonder how Bea was able to prepare those wonderful meals all by herself, when it takes four or five of us to duplicate the feat.

Christmas dinner varies at our homestead. It is often turkey with possibly more dishes such as ham. But it can also be lasagne, a specialty Linda and I prepare. Two years ago, being somewhat burned out on turkey from Thanksgiving, we had cold cuts and salads … all from “Our Butcher Frank.” One year we went to our oldest son’s for dinner and had pasta. That was a good break.

One time, about ten years ago, we had Prime Rib. Earlier in Dec. that year, as a department event, our IBM group of 8 went to a chef school for a special day. We were taught french cooking techniques and enjoyed wine and cheese and bread while we prepared a meal for about 20. We then sat down with the chefs, instructors, helpers, and had our self-prepared feast. The star was the Prime Rib. It was a “Rib Roast — First Cut.” I did the potatoes. Under mentorship of the chef, I sliced them very thin and quickly browned them in a skillet with butter. I then piled them, one on another, in a round bowl with a flat bottom. Next I turned the bowl over into a pan, creating a solid and nicely sculpted potato dish which I baked. Others made the salads, home made vinaigrette dressing, and side dishes.

It was a wonderful experience, and I learned a lot about cooking, knife skills, and other preparation methods. I used a “mandolin” to cut the potatoes as thin as paper. Not a stringed instrument, but a thin slicing kitchen appliance. I ended up getting one for Linda as a Christmas present (from McGuckin’s for those familiar with Boulder, CO) and used it for the meal after she opened the present. We still use it to this day. (If you watch “Chopped” on the Food Channel you’ll see them in use.)

I repeated the meal for our family a couple of weeks later. One reason one has turkey is lower cost for a large meal. I paid over $100 for the roast. When I got back to work after the holidays, my boss said he’d done the same. Only his roast had cost over $200.

By the way, the little event at the cooking school cost $325 per person. IBM had a fund that paid for events for the departments as morale boosters and teamwork builders. We would often spend our money on a luxury box at the Rockies games. One year it was two-for-one, so we got two wonderful days at the ball game in the luxury boxes. And, let me tell you, this luxury boxes are pure luxury.

Another memory from Christmas long, long ago included our best friends, Steve and Sandy. I don’t remember where our two boys were that night, or their two girls, but it was just the four of us out driving around town on Christmas eve. It was around 8 or 9 at night, and all the restaurants were closed. We found a Chinese restaurant that was open, as they didn’t celebrate the holiday. We had a wonderful diner … we were the only ones in the restaurant at that time of night.

Later, about ten, we were riding around enjoying the lights. There was very little traffic. Sandy said they didn’t have a tree, and we passed several lots that sold trees. They were all closed at this late hour of Christmas Eve. Steve said we should just stop and take a tree. They weren’t worth anything now with the holiday almost over, and it wouldn’t really be stealing. We thought about it pretty hard, but decided not too. I think that decision was made right after we passed a police car on patrol.

So we drove around until midnight looking at lights and enjoying the solitude and each others company. Finally we took them home and returned to our abode to await the sound of tiny reindeer on the roof.

Speaking of reindeer, Linda would always try to trick the boys on holidays. After they went to bed, she would make footprints on the living room floor using white powder. She'd tell the boys it was Santa or, in the Spring, the Easter bunny. We always had stockings filled with candy and toys that we’d put up after everyone was in bed, and preserved the Santa myth as long as we could. It is fun to pretend.

We often spend Christmas eve now driving around and enjoying the lights. We go up to Fox Hill because they always do luminaries in the entire neighborhood. These are paper bags with burning candles in them.

Recently, for about the last five or ten years, we've been attending a candle light service at our church. I remember the first one. After we all sat down and sang some carols and prayed, our paster, Tom Beaman, came out dressed as Joseph. He said Mary and the baby were sleeping, but he could tell us all about the miraculous night and the shepherds and wise men visitors. He was dressed authentically and told the story beautifully in a sort of "you are there" style.

Then, they turned out all the lights, including the decorations on the tree. It was black as pitch. As Tom spoke of the light that came into the world, he lit a candle. The ushers lit their candles from his. Then they went down the aisles lighting the candles on the end. Each person would light the candle next to them and the room was soon filled with light. This was how the story is told. This is called "evangelism." It is a beautiful thing. Don't hide your light under a hat. Rather, shine your light like a city on a hill.

For those that don't know, Colorado is the official Christmas state. That's true. Think of all the Christmas specials filmed in Colorado. Think of a cabin and a warm fire with white snow outside. (Think of skiing and hot tubs.) You see, it is true. Colorado is the official Christmas state. Right now hollywood stars and millionaire are celebrating in Aspen and Vail. Merry Christmas to Colorado.

Many memories. That’s what Christmas means to me … memories. I hope all of you reading this little note built some more good family memories this Christmas season. This will always be a special Christmas to me. The Christmas I spent away from Colorado with my wife and my dad. Great that I can spend time with him. No one knows. This could be the last Christmas with him. That is a great gift in itself.

God bless us all, Tiny Tim.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Crazy Larry and the MG B

There’s one in every fraternity. You know … a kidder, a jokester, a trickster. In our frat it was Larry. We even called him “Crazy Larry” because of the escapades he would perpetuate. Larry had a nice MG sports car, and he and I were out on a ride one day. We were on a back road near Bozeman, Montana, and it was fairly straight.

Suddenly, Larry lifted the steering wheel off the post and handed it to me. I was flabbergasted. Sure the car was going in a straight line, but you know how cars can drift on the road. And I was holding the steering wheel.

I didn’t know what to do. I was too scared to scream and too nervous to really make any sudden movements. I tried to hand the wheel back to Larry so he could put it back on the steering column and keep us on the road. He just laughed and refused. The car was still going down the road straight and we weren’t going too fast, only about 45 mph, but I just knew, at any point, the car would head for the ditch and there wouldn’t be enough time for Larry to reattach the wheel.

I started to beg with Larry to take the wheel back, but he just laughed. You know how those kind of people can laugh. And the more nervous and frustrated I got, the more Larry laughed. Finally, as a curve approached ahead, he agreed to take the wheel back. He fit it back on the column and steered around the curve, all the time laughing so hard he had tears. After that I am afraid I blacked out and didn’t come back to my senses until we returned to the fraternity house.

That night, as we gathered with several other foolish college boys and discussed the day, Larry performed a great imitation of my expressions as I pleaded with him to restore the steering before we crashed and burned. I was the object of much laughter and derision, but I still didn't understand. Then Larry explained things. Apparently everyone else was already familiar with Larry’s car and his little stunt.

He explained that his car pulled a bit to the right if no steering correction was provided. Most cars have this tendency to creep either right or left when unattended due to some unbalance in the suspension.

Further, the brakes, when applied, pulled a bit to the left. So, with the natural tendency to shift to the right and the brakes applying a bit of force in the other direction, Larry could keep the car on a straight line for hours by just applying a little brakes. He had pulled this trick on half the guys in the fraternity and everyone had a great laugh at my expense.

That was Crazy Larry. Always laughing at someone else’s expense. That also explained why he had removed the nut securing the steering wheel to the column. This was one of his favorite jokes played often on unsuspecting fraternity brothers and anyone else foolish enough to get in his car.

A few weeks later I scored a date with a local prom queen. She was a senior at the high school in Bozeman, and I met her and, through considerable effort, I convinced her to go out with me.

It was a beautiful night in Bozeman, and I borrowed Larry’s car. I had the top down, and we were driving down a country road when the idea struck me to play the trick on her that Larry had pulled on me. Not to be cruel, but just to convince her I had a great sense of humor.

Soon we were on a straight stretch, so I pulled off the steering wheel and handed it to her. She had the same reaction I had had a few weeks earlier. She tried to hand the steering wheel back to me, but I pretended I was going to get another radio station on the dial.

Just as Larry had predicted, the car started to drift to the right. I touched the brakes slightly to compensate, but it had no effect. The car continued to drift to the right. I pressed the brakes harder before I realized they were not correcting the drift toward the ditch on the side of the road.

Realizing my trick wasn't working, frantically I tried to get the steering wheel back from my date and reattached to the column before disaster, but she had it in a death grip, no doubt expecting that to be her fate in just a few moments. The car left the road. Fortunately there wasn’t much of a ditch and we quickly smashed through the fence and started plowing across a farmer's corn field. Corn was flying through the air and landing in our open compartment before I could apply enough brakes to get us to a stop.

Without saying a word, she handed me back the wheel. As I repaired the steering and drove back onto the road, she said just three words, “Take me home.” It was then that I noticed the corn cob in her lap and the corn tassels in her hair. Not a word was spoken as I drove her back home, all hopes of a successful evening smashed by Crazy Larry’s car trick.

I stopped in front of her house. She got out without a word, slammed the car door, walked up the steps, slammed her front door, and I never saw or heard from her again.

I got back to the frat house where the usual bunch was hanging out watching TV, drinking beer, and — of course — laughing at some story Larry was in the middle of telling. One look at me with the remnants of a corn field all over my head and clothes, and they quickly turned to me for an explanation.

I told the whole tale in agonizing detail, including the silent trip back to the girl’s house, and the very real likelihood that I’d never get a date with her again … or a date with any of her friends as soon as she filled them in on my rather unorthodox behavior.

Larry turned to me and said, “How did that happen?” I said I didn’t know. The car drifted a bit to the right, just as he had described. But, when I stepped on the brake, it failed to correct. I said that he had told me the brakes would pull the car to the left. He replied, “Yes, they used to, but that was before I got them fixed. Now they don't pull at all!”

The laughter didn’t fade as I headed upstairs to bed. Damn you Crazy Larry. Damn you and your MG B.

Now you may wonder if this is a true story. No. It is not. It isn’t even my story. I never went to college in Bozeman, and the only fraternity I ever belonged to was an honor society. I just got a plaque … no Crazy Larry, no MG B, no frat house, and no date with a prom queen. I don’t even know anyone named Larry.

But I didn’t make this up. I actually heard it on the Car Guys. “Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers.” Channel 141 on Sirius Satellite plays Tom and Ray reruns every day around noon. They’re up to 1992 at this point. I heard this story on one of my trips.

This is just too good of a story to leave it only on the radio waves. So I’ve written it down for posterity. I only recall the basic plot. I turned that into a story that certainly could of happened to me. Maybe it did … in an alternate universe. Love those alternate universes. They can explain so much.

It isn’t even Tom or Ray’s story. They read it in a letter. I liked it. I hope you did too.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Honda

Honda started making motorcycles over 65 years ago and, Nov. 26, they announced a huge milestone: producing their 300-millionth motorcycle. Current population of the U.S. is 323,700,000. So that’s about one motorcycle for every person in the United States including the little babies.

Of course, the 300 million number includes a lot of sales in other countries, but it is a tremendous number, exceeding by far the total manufacture of any other motorcycle company.

In 1958, Honda introduced the Honda 50, known globally as the Super Cub, which would go on to revolutionize the industry. This iconic bike paved the way for Honda’s expansion into the U.S. in 1959 and Canada in 1969. The Super Cub, which has sold nearly 90 million units globally since its inception, was the focus of a mid-1960s advertising campaign, "You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda," that played a major role in the transformation and growth of the U.S. motorcycle market.

The Super Cub and it’s fraternal twins with up to 90cc engines are the all-time best selling single model of a transportation devices on two-, four- or any number of wheels.

In 1949, Honda started mass production of motorcycles in Japan with their 98cc Dream Type-D. Today, Honda produces motorcycles and related vehicles: ATVs and UTVs (side-by-sides) at 32 plants in 22 countries, including two plants in North America.

In the 1960s, Honda established Honda of America Mfg. and the company’s first U.S. production facility, the Marysville Motorcycle Plant. The plant, which opened on September 10, 1979 in Marysville, Ohio, produced both motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) until 2009. Production of ATVs has since shifted to Honda of South Carolina Mfg. (HSC) in Timmonsville, South Carolina.

Since the start of production in 1979, Honda has manufactured more than five million power sports products in North America using global and domestically sourced parts. Today, Honda Power Sports manufactures FourTrax ATVs and Pioneer side-by-sides and engines, while the Honda plant in El Salto, Jalisco, Mexico, produces motorcycles.

The successful startup of motorcycle production at Honda of America Mfg. in 1979 was soon followed by the auto production at the Marysville Auto Plant in 1982. Motorcycle production continued in Ohio until 2009 and planted the seeds of manufacturing expertise that has led to many Honda facilities across North America. Today, Honda operates 17 major manufacturing facilities in North America, producing a wide range of Honda and Acura automobiles, automobile engines and transmissions, Honda all-terrain vehicles and side-by-sides, lawn mowers and power equipment products, and the HondaJet light jet.

The Honda HA-420 HondaJet is the first general aviation aircraft developed by the Honda Aircraft Company. [Wikipedia]
Range: 1,358 miles
Top speed: 483 mph
First flight: December 3, 2003
Length: 43 ft
Unit cost: $3,650,000 USD
Engine type: GE Honda HF120

That’s right. Honda makes a jet. I know! Who knew?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Little Honda

I got a new bike.

Bicycle?

No, not a bicycle, a motorcycle.

Brand new?

New to me, but it’s a 1980 vintage. That’s 34 years old.

What kind?

A Honda.

Wow, a Gold Wing?

No, smaller.

Oh, one of those CBX six-cylinders?

You call that smaller? No.

A Magma V-4?

Nope.

CB750 four? 550 four? 500 four?

No, no, no, smaller I say.

Some kind of hawk? Night Hawk?

No and no.

CB 450? CB 350? A CB77 Super Hawk 305 like Robert Pirsig rode in ZAAMM?

No, no, and … sadly no … I’d love to have one of those.

[That's Robert and his son Chris in the little, blurry, black and white that starts this note. Sadly, Chris was stabbed and killed in 1979.]

A Dream 305 or 250? A Benly 150, Super Sport 125?

No or no, and no and no. Still smaller.

Well what’s smaller than that? A 50cc?

Yes, you’ve got it, sort of, but a little bored out. Forty-seven mm rather than the 39 mm of the C50. Same stroke, however, 41.4 mm, so it’s a little “over-square.”

It’s a 70cc Honda Passport which is really the more mature version of the original Super Cub. Same three speed transmission and an automatic clutch. Nothing for the left hand to do but to carry noodles. (Japanese joke.)

Actually the Super Cub family includes motorcycles with a four-stroke, single-cylinder engine ranging in displacement from 49 to 109 cc. The first Cub rolled off the assembly line in 1958, and they’re still being made today. Over 60 million by 2008, making this the most popular single model of transportation in all the world. They sell well in the first, second, and third world and are manufactured in about 23 countries. Mine was built in Japan.

Today, fifty years since its birth, the Cub’s market continues to expand while its design remains fundamentally unchanged. Each year, close to 5 million units are produced worldwide. The Cub is truly a global standard, reaching production volumes unrivaled in the history of motorized transportation. While styling and other details vary slightly by location and application, the Super Cub has always retained its identity as a useful vehicle that is easy for anyone to ride. This is the bike that you "Meet the nicest people on."

The little Cub single-cylinder engine produces between 4.5 and 6 hp (in the larger models.) Two valves and a single overhead cam driven by chain. Many models have electric start and a kicker to start when the little 6-volt battery is dead. The top models have four speeds, but most have just three shifted by the left foot.

They get great gas mileage. Cycle World magazine's Peter Egan and Steve Kimball entered a stock Honda C70 Passport, exactly like mine, in the 1981 Craig Vetter Fuel Economy Challenge, competing against specially designed high-mileage two wheelers built by teams of engineering students and an entry from American Honda. The course was a 65 mile loop near San Luis Obispo that had to be completed in 1 hour and 40 minutes, give or take 10 minutes, meaning an average speed of 35 mph . Kimball, riding the Passport, won the event through skillful and error-free riding, with 198 miles per US gallon.

The wonderful combination of steel and plastic is a common sight in many Asian countries and are popular in the South America and Africa too. In Vietnam the name “Super Cub” has become to mean “taxi” because they are so common in that use over there.

You have to have a pretty steep downhill to get these bikes up to 50 mph, and they slow to 20 on a long hill climb, but they are as reliable as a rock and really started the entire Japanese motorcycle presence here in the U.S.

Actually some models of this simple design were good hill climbers. They had a sprocket on the back almost the same size as the 17-inch rear wheel. They could climb up a telephone pole, although very, very slowly!

Although American manufacturers such as Harley and even Indian have flourished, the four main Japanese brands pretty much cleared the field in the US of European competition. Today they continue to be low cost and high reliability transportation for those with a set of metric tools.

My little “Cub” is just an oddity in my collection, but I rode it just last Saturday, and it is as fun today as it was when I rode the first one back in 61. Vintage Honda technology. Carburetor rather than fuel injection and simple point breaker rather than electronic ignition. It is where I first earned my mechanic's chops, and this little baby is a labor of love. If you can’t time an ignition with a feeler gauge or tune a carburetor and change the jets, then you really aren’t a mechanic, just a computer operator.

[In 1982, for most markets, Honda fitted a new capacitor discharge ignition (CDI) system to replace the earlier contact points ignition, thereby helping to meet emission standards in markets such as the US. At the same time the electrical system was changed from 6 volt to 12 volt. My ’80 lacks those improvements.]

This little baby has responded very well to my wrenching. I’ve got the motor purring with a new set of points. There are still a couple of electrical problems: neither the neutral light nor the high beam indicator light work, although the turn signal indicator is fine. Headlight, taillight, and turn signals all work. I thought it might be bad bulbs, but that wasn’t it. Also the battery won’t hold a charge. Could be these two problems are related, but — since it has a kick starter — sort of belt and suspenders — a dead battery doesn’t stop the fun. I took it for the first ride yesterday all the way to Loveland and it performed magnificently, albeit somewhat underpowered.

I want to perform a compression check to see if the engine is really tight. I don't have an adapter to fit the small plug hole. The bike ran well after an initial rough time. At first it cut out a bit at speed, but, after a while, it started to run fine. I'm not sure when it was run last, and I just had to blow some carbon out. Now it runs great, fluids are all good, and it starts and idles like butter. After that long ride, I hope to check out some things like the new spark plug for fouling and how well the chain held tension, but I may not have time for that soon. The electric start worked with the fully charged battery, but — by today — the battery is dead again.

I had fun with the little dialog at the start of this note, and it is really sort of a shopping list for me. I’ve already got my eye on a Honda Dream 305 with good paint and both tank badges … which matters in restorations. Right now I’m tied up with other tasks, but I’d love to get my hands on that red Honda and tear down its engine and see what I can fix. This one is a ’65, so it’ll be the oldest machine I have yet … if I can get it.

Meanwhile, my little 70cc Passport is nearly as good as the day it rolled out of the factory in 1980. I wish I could say the same for myself. Sort of makes you want to sing. Go ahead. Sing along.

"Little Honda"

GO!

I'm gonna wake you up early
Cause I'm gonna take a ride with you
We're going down to the Honda shop
I'll tell you what we're gonna do
Put on a ragged sweatshirt
I'll take you anywhere you want me to

First gear (Honda Honda) it's alright (faster faster)
Second gear (little Honda Honda) I lean right (faster faster)
Third gear (Honda Honda) hang on tight (faster faster)
Faster it's alright

It's not a big motorcycle
Just a groovy little motorbike
It's more fun that a barrel of monkeys
That two wheel bike
We'll ride on out of the town
To any place I know you like

First gear (Honda Honda) it's alright (faster faster)
Second gear (little Honda Honda) I lean right (faster faster)
Third gear (Honda Honda) hang on tight (faster faster)
Faster it's alright

It climbs the hills like a Matchless
Cause my Honda's built really light
When I go into the turns
Lean [Tilt] with me and hang on tight
I better turn on the lights
So we can ride my Honda tonight

First gear (Honda Honda) it's alright (faster faster)
Second gear (little Honda Honda) I lean right (faster faster)
Third gear (Honda Honda) hang on tight (faster faster)
Faster it's alright

First gear (Honda Honda) it's alright (faster faster)
Second gear (little Honda Honda) I lean right (faster faster)
Third gear (Honda Honda) hang on tight (faster faster)
Faster it's alright



ZAAMM Post Script

[This is a picture of Robert Pirsig's Honda Super Hawk and his riding companion, John Southerland's BMW R60. From left to right are his son Chris, John, and John's wife Sylvia. I think this picture is probably taken at the top of the Cook City - Red Lodge Highway ride from Laurel, Montana, toward Yellowstone Park.]

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Why I Ride

Why do I ride? It is a good question. One I asked myself this morning. The temperature here in Portland was 41 degrees, high humidity, and 40 mph winds. I had been waiting all week for the rains to stop and have a sunny day. Last Friday and Saturday were good riding days, and the weather forecast showed sunny skies today, but high winds and cool temperatures. Tomorrow the rains return and no sun for days. So I got up early, dressed appropriately, and headed out.

At 45 degrees … at 45 mph or faster … it is cold as hell. (Odd expression. Hell’s reputation is for sunny skies and extra warm weather.) I was well dressed above the waist, but in plain old blue jeans which don't keep you warm under these conditions. Heavy boots and socks kept my feet warm, and good gloves and a riding jacket with wind screen, rain screen, and nice tight cuffs and neck. I wore a 3/4 helmet with full face shield, but my neck was exposed. Wish I had thought of a scarf.

At 35 things were pretty comfy, but higher speeds definitely introduced wind chill. Still it is better riding weather here than back in Colorado suffering from below freezing temps and snow. So I should be glad I can ride at all.

Yet I missed my Ford Flex for comfort. Driving it, like most cars, is like taking your living room for a ride. I set the heater thermostat to a comfortable 70 degrees. I tune in my favorite tunes or news or even the Car Guys. I lean back in my comfortable leather seat — seat heat available if needed — and enjoy watching life go by through my picture window. All the comforts of home, and the safety of half a dozen air bags and the convenience of a dozen cup holders and 12-volt outlets — what we used to call “cigarette lighters.” It’s a home on wheels.

A motorcycle, on the other hand, or even a bicycle, leaves you out there in the wind and rain and all kinds of weather. It is not as comfortable, nor as safe as being in a steel cage with the comforts of home. So, let me ask again. Why do I ride?

There are reasons. Let me explain. For young people it is a natural thing to be out there in the weather and nature and the risks only add to the excitement. A little adrenaline is a good thing. But what about us old guys? I know you’ve seen us. Our gray beards blowing in the wind. Our XL bodies stuffed into leather suits intended for younger men (or women). Our slight case of arthritis made all the more difficult as we operate hand clutches and hand brakes and lift our legs high over tank and seat to climb aboard or to put our feet down to the ground at every stop to keep from falling over.

Yes, riding is a young man (or woman)’s game. Yet I ride. At 67 when, perhaps, I ought to be thinking more about social security and a nursing home than displacement of a V-twin or helmet designs. It isn’t always comfortable. The clutch is hard to pull and the wind cuts through you. You are truly “out there” exposed to all that comes your way.

So why? I’ve thought about that answer. To quote Eleanor Roosevelt, “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”

No matter what your religious views or lack of religion, there is no escaping that we have a limited time here on this earth. I see no reason to waste any of that time sitting in a chair and watching TV. Maybe late at night, after a long ride, it would be good to enjoy a little tube time to rest the body and mind. But not as an avocation where you know the weekly TV schedule by heart and subscribe to TV Guide just so you won’t miss anything.

Oh, and what are you missing when you go for a ride in your car? Answer: plenty. You could roll down the windows in your steel Goliath, but it is really out here, on two wheels, wrapped up in the wind and elements, that you experience nature. Whether it is traveling down a city street and taking in the smells of garden, Laundromat, and bakery; or a windy (rhymes with "wine-y") country road filled with trees, leaves, and the smell of cows it is an EXPERIENCE. You may be cruising down the super slab, watchfully viewing the cars around you — EXPERIENCE. In any of these circumstances, you are in the moment. No day dreaming when your very life depends on keeping track of all that's going on around you, from that lady about to turn in front of you, to that teenager on his cell phone drifting into your lane, and that guy about to run the stop sign at the next intersection.

Danger

There is no denying the danger when you are riding on two wheels. There is no protection wrapped around your body except for your own skills and cunning … and a little good luck. (In my experience, most riders make their own luck.) As my good friend, David Hough, taught me, it’s about risks, dynamics, tactics, booby traps, special situations, and survival. Cars don’t worry about grooves in the road directing your front tire where you don’t intend, or a bug hit, or bird hit, or something else crashing into your bike. They don’t have to watch out for that odd obstacle in the roadway that only causes a bump to those big four wheelers, but can really ruin the day for you if you’re only on two.

You keep an eye on the cars in front, beside, and even behind. A simple “fender bender” when you are rear ended at a stop light is a quick trip to the insurance company for a fix and it is good as new in your car, truck, or wagon. The same accident can be fatal if you’re on a bike. I always watch my rear when stopped in traffic. Maybe this extra edge of awareness is what it is all about. I can’t really say.

It is dangerous. The facts bear that out. In 2005 there were more than 4,500 motorcycle fatalities. By the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration accounts, about 80% of motorcycle crashes result in injury or death, compared to only 20% for car crashes. The fatality rate for motorcycles was 4.8 times as great as for a car. With only 2.4% of the registered vehicles, bikes account for 10.5% of the fatalities. I expect that a statistic based on miles would show an even greater discrepancy.

Experience has a lot to do with this data. Those with 0-6 months experience riding in traffic have 1.4 times the risk of an accident compared to the mean for all motorbike crashes, while those with 48 months or more experience have about 0.83 times the mean. Interestingly, the rate drops with experience and then climbs again for those with 25-36 months and then drops down again with more time in the saddle. I suspect that is a peak where the riders lose their beginners caution, but have not yet gained real expertise.

Personally, I fit in the 48 month plus category, but I often don’t ride for a considerable amount of time, moving back into a high risk category. I try to practice panic stops and panic steering on a dry and safe parking lot regularly, but I really don’t brake as hard in those experimental situations as I would probably try when the mom with five kids pulls out in front of me from the grocery store parking lot.

ABS brakes are appearing on the large bikes, and that is a great (really great) safety feature. Some large models make it standard. Some charge extra, and usually around $1,000 more for the model with ABS. I hope that this brake technology continues to spread to more models and brands and comes down in price as an option. Unlike cars, bikes already have a tougher situation with separate front and rear brake controls which need to be modulated very carefully and skillfully to maximize control and minimize stopping distance. A lot can go wrong when braking hard on a bike, but a lot more can go wrong if you can't stop in time. I don’t have the feel for extreme braking that that I once had.

Collisions with other vehicles cause a little over 50% of motorcycle accidents, while issues like loose sand or gravel, edge traps (things that grab the wheel), slick surfaces, animals, and cornering errors provide the other half. So all things are considered as you motor down the highway.

Life can be rough and so can the road when you drop down onto the pavement and leave the bike behind. Metal and chrome have less friction than rubber tires, so it is better to slow down while still upright. Sliding is best left to baseball players.

People make very poor missiles and telephone poles don’t give. I look suspiciously at every tree and pole I pass. Which one will jump out and get me? Just down from my house is a straight road that takes a dog leg near the end. It has a 35 mph limit, but a biker tried it at 70 not too long ago. He lost it in the dog leg and collided with a light pole. Now people put flowers and crosses on that pole. Lesson learned. Of course, two other guys took themselves out on the other side of town in a Mitsubishi sports car going around 70, so crazy can be fatal on two wheels and four.

I’m not afraid when I’m on a bike. I am careful. Things a driver doesn’t think twice about: some wet leaves, a puddle of water or oil, a dog running out barking, people that don’t see you or think you are far away since you appear so small. These are on the mind of every biker as he or she rounds a curve or approaches a wet man hole cover. Traction can be gone in an instant, and there are no four wheels to keep you upright.

I like bright colors and bright lights, but I always assume those others don’t see me at all. I always have a plan at every intersection and every stop sign. I always assume that jerk will run the stop sign and pull right out in front of me. I drop speed 10 mph in every intersection and, when the light turns green, I let someone else put their toe in the water first. I don’t want to be first to the scene of an accident, and I can show how fast (and how loud) my bike is once I clear the intersection. Head on a swivel and hand on the brakes. That’s my riding style.

Riding Clothes

Safety is one reason why I wear riding clothes. That and comfort. I have mesh clothing that is cool in the summer, yet still affords protection to exposed elbows and shoulders and backs. A little bit of armor, a helmet and gloves. Ready to do battle with the road, the weather, and other drivers.

Heavy boots, not flip flops. Heavy pants, not shorts. These spell the difference between some scuffs and a stay in the hospital. Actually, I mostly wear Levi pants, and they don’t really provide good protection when one finds oneself sliding on the pavement. So even I don’t follow the “riding clothes” rules completely, but I do better than many that I see. Never mind the Interstate. Most accidents occur near your home. That’s where you really need the protective garb.

I always wear a helmet, even though it is not the law in Colorado. I think it would be best if all 50 states required helmets just like they require seat belts. Not all riders agree, and some even argue helmets block hearing and sight and are unsafe. The statistics say otherwise.

Sure, sometimes I only wear a half helmet, and I know the data on where on your head the crash will hit you. Really, the full coverage is the best. But I compromise. Depends on circumstances. I have a large collection of helmets of all levels of coverage just to allow me choice. It depends a bit on the weather and where I’m going.

A German book on motorcycles woke me up to the statistics on the part of a helmet that is impacted in a crash. Bad news for us 1/2 and 3/4 helmet wearers. Fully 24.6% are “on the chin.” It is the single most often hit area. Just above the eyes gathers another 18% of the impacts. The very top of a helmet only gets hit 0.8% of the time. About ten percent of the impacts are right in the eyes, so shield might help, but no helmet covers the eyes. Helmets protect. Helmets save. But you’re still in great danger.

It was after T.E. Lawrence died in a motorcycle crash from head injuries that doctors began studying helmets as a life saver. They are that, but don’t match up with seat belts, air bags, and collapsing car parts. Face it, the car is safer, a whole lot safer. Now I’ve even got myself scared!

No one lives forever, at least on this orb. It was said in the past that we have three score and ten on this earth. At 67 I don’t like to focus on that number which works out as 70 for those that can’t score a “score.” Hopefully modern medical science will stretch that out for ten or twenty more for me personally. For you? You’re on your own. But no one can count on much more than four score and ten, and I don’t know what will come of me. Therefore I don’t spend time worrying about that. I plan to slide into home plate shouting “safe.”

I don’t ride because of the risk or danger; even though I am well aware of the danger, as the above discussion proves. Rather, it is the risk that puts me in the moment. No one on a bike should be daydreaming or focused on the music on their iPod or the pretty girl on the corner. Certainly some adrenaline junkies ride for the danger. And they increase that danger with speed, daring, and sharp turns taken fast. You see them on TV, capturing snakes, swimming with sharks, jumping upside down on bikes, and skateboards, and on snow mobiles. I'm not one of those. You could say I ride regardless of the danger, but I try to ride as safely and sanely as possible.

On the other hand, all these difficulties just mean that bikers must always be in the moment, living an edgy experience that focuses all your attention on the simple fact of staying alive. It takes a focus on the road and a skill with what you are doing. These things strengthen the soul and the mind. Yogi Berra said you can "observe a lot by just watching." That's what I'm talking about. That's riding a bike. You really have to watch — out.

Comfort

I don't ride for comfort, although a bike can be very nice on a hot day. But after 100 miles, even on the best motorcycle seat, you really start to look for a chiropractor, or at least a good back rub. No, bikes are too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer. They are wet in the rain and don't even try going on snow. Bikes and inclement weather mix like whiskey and milk. Not to my taste.

As I mentioned before, motorcycles can really accentuate the bad weather. When it is cool, it will be cold at 55 mph. When it is cold, it will be freezing at 45. And if you're dressed for it, and stop at a light, now you get too hot. A helmet is uncomfortable on a 100 degree day, and all that protective gear is hot and heavy. There is a perfect temperature for a bike ride and a nice spring or summer day is quite enjoyable, but nothing really beats the comfort of a nice motor car, complete with heater and air conditioner … and cup holders.

Skills

There was a time when riding was also good for your mechanical skills and knowledge, because you often had to fix your ride to finish your ride. I love working on bikes, but when I’m riding, I just want to ride. Modern motorcycles, especially the ones from Japan, have freed us in most cases from being roadside mechanics. It can still happen, and a wise rider carries some tools, especially when a long way from home. I’ve had particularly good luck in that regard, but then I keep my bikes very mechanically sound … and safe.

I do enjoy the skill of riding. I've learned a lot of things throughout my life, and I think I handle a bike pretty well, although I'm no great rider. I even tried my hand at racing. I didn't do too well in that attempt. But I learned more about handling a bike and reaching the edge of performance.

Camaraderie

There's plenty of that in riding. Have you ever noticed how most bikers wave to each other when they pass? Oh, not a goofy wave, but a real cool, down low, peace sign wave. That is, other than me. I wave goofy: hand up in the air, waving like mad as I pass a fellow biker.

There are bike clubs … some of them outlaws, and colors, and meetings, and the AMA. (That's the American Motorcyclist Association.) There are group rides and Bikers for Christ. But I'm more of a lone wolf. I enjoy the solitude of riding alone and it is a lot more convenient as I don't have to communicate or synchronize or keep pace with or even dodge fellow riders. I know group rides can be a lot of fun, but I'm just not into that.

So Why?

So, getting back to why I ride. It is not because of the danger. It isn’t for comfort. That’s not it. It's not for the skills. It isn't for convenience or gas mileage, although those are advantages. It isn’t because I think I’m Peter Fonda in Easy Rider, although I do get a few stares when I roll by. It’s not for safety, nor is it for the risk. It isn’t for the mechanical challenge or even for the glances one gets from the loud muffler’s announcement that something special is coming down the street … although that is fun.

The danger simply puts me in a good mental state. Aware of what is around me. Taking in the sights (and the sounds and the smells) in an exposed manner that no car can duplicate. The world rolls by my view and my focus is on that world in its beauty and its danger. It is living in the moment and fuzzy thinking better be postponed for the evening review at the pub with other riders. While the pavement races by at speeds even the fastest four legged animal can’t catch, like those predators, your senses are on keen aware mode and you are always on the lookout. That is living. In fact, the danger is really off-putting to me; so's the discomfort and pain and the cold. I don't really like any of those things.

Although there are lot of reasons to ride, there may be a list of equal length why not to ride. But it really comes down to this. I ride because it is FUN. Kids have their toys. So do us grown ups. Our toys just cost more. I do it for the grins. I do it for the giggles. I do it for the highs. I do it for the sighs. I do it for the lifestyle.

That is how I like to live … life … to the fullest. I’m not an adrenaline junky nor a big risk taker. However, Eleanor was right. Reaching out for newer and richer experiences. It is the experience. There’s not much like it. Some might sky dive. Some might mountain climb. Some might scuba dive. Some might fly airplanes. Heck, some just play softball or bowl or play chess. It doesn’t matter. The key to living is to “live.” That’s why I ride. I ride to live! (And for fun.)

There might be a slogan in that: “Live to Ride, Ride to Live.” I think I’d better get down to the tee shirt store to see if that one has a copyright. I might be sitting on a million dollar idea. I’ll just ride my bike down. It will be fun!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Secrets of Design

A recent article in Cult of Mac has the intriguing title of 12 design secrets spilled by Jony Ive. Of course, I would love to learn some of the secrets of one of the leading designers of the current age. Although Steve Jobs is no longer at the helm, it is the skill and talent of this proven designer that keeps me optimistic about Apple’s future, even with all the copy-cats and wannabes that are buzzing around the company.

Jony even had a response to that when he was asked if copying is the sincerest form of flattery. He replied, “Eight years of work can be copied in six months. It wasn’t inevitable that it was going to work. A stolen design is stolen time. Is it flattering? No.” Since you can’t copyright concepts or patent ideas, it is the way-of-the-world that success is xeroxed by the competition.

In fact, some of the copies are improvements. That is also the way-of-the-world. Just as the Microsoft/Intel copies of Apple's leadership sold more than the original, but also gave a variety of choices and options that the single company, Apple, could never produce. Shame on those making a profit off of Apple's example, but yeah for the consumer with lower prices and wider choices. Capitalism at its raw best.

I expect Apple to learn from past mistakes and evaluate weaknesses and continually improve their products. They do that. But I don’t always agree with Apple’s choices and I’m very aware when the competition does something incrementally different that looks like a good improvement. The latest models of iPhone show that sometimes Apple will copy the competition as the larger phone sizes seem to be quite popular and Apple responded with their latest offerings.

Just one brief example. Before the iPhone, a stylus was a common input device an small screens such as the Palm Trio smart phone. Jobs hated styli and criticized them loudly. Yet, when I try to mark a section of text in the Kindle app on my iPhone or iPad, I wish I had a "sharp" stylus instead of a fat finger. The fact that some Android phones have a little pen for writing on the screen makes me jealous any time the folks at the Apple Store or anyplace else using Apple screens for point-of-sale ask me to sign the screen with my pointer finger. Oh brother! I sure wish Steve had seen this differently.

In any case, being first means you have a head-start. If you work hard, you can maintain that lead. I consider that the case with Chrysler, who invented the minivan. They stayed ahead of the completion for many years, as last year’s model was copied by other companies, only to be outdid by the next MoPar minivan. (Don’t keep that comparison too long. Chrysler quality was never on par with Apple, or Honda/Toyota.)

I was not surprised when Sir Ive spoke about “stop rendering and start making.” I know that Steve Jobs like prototypes, models, physical objects that he could hold in his hand. Sure the modern design tools can display wire-models, 3D models, colored and shaded models; but you can’t touch them. Touch is an essential part of the high tech experience and no one knows that better than Apple.

Hold an Apple product in your hand. Feel the heft, the texture, the rounded corners. That is a key part of the experience. The Mac are bare aluminum. Sure IBM tried to be cool with their black ThinkPads (which were cool), and extended that color scheme to their biggest products. It seemed like Big Blue was becoming Big Black. Apple experimented with clear plastic rainbow colors and white laptops. White is still a popular color for Apple accessories and cables. The color and finish of Apple computers and phones, pods and pads, is real 21st century. Raw metal in its unpolished and polished glory.

What surprised me about the interview was when Jony said that “Making gadgets smaller is inevitable.” He gets a lot of flak for shrinking Apple devices down to impossibly small form factors, but according to Ive, he’s not doing it to be cute, it’s just the inevitable progress of technology.

“It’s our human condition: when you see potent phenomenal technology you want to make it smaller cheaper better more reliable”

That statement made me reconsider the iWatch … or any copy of the iWatch. (Ironic that so many other companies already have wrist attached offerings, including Microsoft. Yet we’re still waiting for Apple’s product. Some of it is because the iWatch was a rather poorly kept secret or the subject of a lot of good guesses. Some of that is because Apple wants to get it right the first time.)

I have written about the iWatch before. I’m frankly not exactly sure what will become of this product line and its hundreds or even thousands of copy-cat products. I get the idea of body sensing and health applications. I get the idea of checking and answering a phone call or text on your wrist without having to remove your phone from your pocket. I get the idea of personal electronics from computers in clothes to computers in glasses to computers on your wrist. But I still had doubts and need someone to “show me.”

I found it very interesting, and typical of Apple, that so much thought went into the user interface of the iWatch. Jon said that was really the toughest design he’d ever done. Now I think I understand the motivation better. What is next? Could it be the iRing? Or the iPostageStamp. Or the iContactLens. Maybe it will be the iDot. (Here. Stick this dot in your eye.)

Like a game of limbo, how "low" can you go? As Ive said, “when you see potent phenomenal technology you want to make it smaller, cheaper, better, more reliable” … and more "Apple."

I expect Apple to do that. I expect Apple has done that. I expect that the iWatch will be as revolutionary as the other diminutive Apple products from pod to pad to macAir. I'm just curious what will come after that.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Daytona 200 Speed Week

Not the Daytona 500, the famous car race. This is the Daytona 200, the famous motorcycle race. Racing in Daytona began back in 1902 on the beach. The Daytona Beach Road Course was a race track that was instrumental in the formation of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, or NASCAR. It became famous as the location where fifteen world land speed records were set. The first was in 1927 when Henry Segrave broke the 200 mph barrier for the first time. The last was 277 mph set my Malcolm Campbell in March of 1935. Six months later he raised the record to 301 mph at Bonneville Salt Flats, and that was the end of the "beach records."

Daytona became the core of the three essential and legendary motorcycle event locations. (The other two locations are Laconia, NH and the Bonneville Salt Flats.) For years, from its inception in 1937 until the early ’60s, the prestigious Daytona 200 motorcycle race was run at Daytona Beach. The 1948 event, which attracted “375 helmeted daredevils and plenty of non-racing hell-raisers,” ultimately, as LIFE magazine tersely reported, “155 motorcycles started, only 45 finished."

Winning rider, Floyd Emde, averaged 84 mph, got $2,000.” What LIFE failed to mention is that Emde (who was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998) won by the sliver-thin margin of 12 seconds; 1948 was the first time a rider led the race from flag to flag; and it was the last time an Indian Motorcycle won the 200.

The main event moved from a 3.2-mile beach racing venue in 1937 to the 2-mile Daytona International Speedway course in 1961. During the 1960’s my personal heroes were regular winners: Gary Nixon, 1967 (Triumph); Cal Rayborn, 1968, 69 (Harley-Davidson); Dick Mann, 1970 (Honda) and 1971 (BSA); and Floyd’s son, Don Emde, who started a stretch for Yamaha that lasted until 1985 when Honda broke the string. Since then its been all Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda, and Kawasaki until Ducati got the big win in 2011. Triumph returned to the winners circle for the first time in over 40 years with the win this year.

Indian, Harley Davidson, and Norton fought it out from 1937 until the 50’s which saw Harley pretty much dominate the winners circle with a couple of wins by Triumph and one by BSA in that decade. In the sixties, the last of the British corporate attempts succumb to the onslaught of Japanese factory contenders while Harley just "ran out of gas" as new tire technology turned it into a race for the most horsepower.

This was a much storied race and it capped off a week of celebrations and motorcycles. The annual trek by bikers to Florida were rewarded with flat track racing featuring many of the 200 participants riding “just for fun.” You would want to keep your eyes open for Steve McQueen or some other celebrity competing under a stage name. Later a large motocross event became part of the festivities.

The American Motorcycle Association contest for Grand National Champion, NUMBER ONE, was based on points earned in many kinds of races. The Grand National Series raised the form of competition to its highest level. This championship series was founded and sanctioned by the AMA in 1954. Racers would earn points at various sanctioned events and, at the end of the season, the rider with the most points won the number ONE.

The series combined four dirt-track variations: mile, half-mile, short-track, and TT steeplechase racing — with road racing to crown the best all-round rider. There were short, middle, and long flat-tracks: the constant left turning, dirt covered, quarter-mile to mile long courses that were the original core of the sport. There were also TT “Steeplechase” races which were also on dirt but had left and right turns with one jump. Motocross, which was much more twisty-turny-jumpy didn’t count back then. The final points were earned on paved tracks by “road racers.” This sport had evolved from Daytona’s hard packed beach to the windy tracks at locations like Laguna Seca in California, Laconia, and the Daytona Speedway. The championship was the premier motorcycle racing series in the United States from the 1950s up until the late 1970s when, supercross (motocross) events held in easily accessible major league stadiums became more popular.

Laconia Motorcycle Week is a motorcycle rally held annually in June in Laconia, New Hampshire. The rally has its origin in the Loudon Classic motorcycle race started in 1923 and the Gypsy Tour, where many motorcyclists passed through Laconia. Events were scheduled, including races, shows, and a motorcycle hill climb competition. A few dirt track heroes earned their paved skills at this and other Northeastern tracks.

The top 100 racers in the AMA competition had regular individual numbers so you could recognize them at any race. The previous year’s NUMBER ONE winner got the single digit “1” for the following year. The other single digit numbers were given to previous Grand National Champions as long as they remained in competition.

My buddy, David (Woody) Woodman, and I were both motorcycle and running buffs back in the 60’s and 70’s. We ran five miles almost every day. To maintain our pace and breathing, we would recite all 99 AMA national numbers and racers in order. Woody did much better than me … both at the names and at the five mile pace. Those were the days … eh Woody? When was the last time you ran five miles? We were before our time. Long before our time!

Bart Markel, was a three-time Grand Champion winner and rode under #4 when he didn’t have the #1. Known early on in his racing as “Black Bart,” he ended his career with a reputation for good riding and sportsmanship. The Daytona 200 was one race Markel never mastered. His best finish there was fifth in 1961. He rode Harley-Davidson bikes.

Gary Nixon, #9, won the Grand National twice racing for Triumph. He was the winner of the 1967 Daytona 200 motorcycle race on a 500cc Triumph Daytona. Nixon was also known for his partnership with legendary tuner, Erv Kanemoto, when they won the 1973 U.S. National Road Racing Championship for Kawasaki. He competed at the international level in the 1976 Formula 750 championship, laying claim to the Formula 750 world championship on a modified Kawasaki KR750 until international politics denied him that prize.

Mert Lawwill won the 1969 AMA Grand National Championship and was voted AMA's Most Popular Rider of the Year the same year. His popularity earned him a co-starring role in Bruce Brown's classic 1971 motorcycle epic, On Any Sunday with actor Steve McQueen and off-road legend Malcolm Smith. Mert rode under number 7 on Harleys for his professional career.

Gene Romero, #3, was one of the best-known motorcycle racers in the U.S. during late 1960s and early '70s. Romero won the AMA Grand National Championship in 1970 riding for Triumph. Known as a TT specialist early in his career, Romero became a top contender in all forms of Grand National racing and won nationals on miles, half-miles, road-racing circuits and TT tracks.

Dick "Bugsy" Mann, #4 after Markel retired, will go down in history as one of the most versatile racers ever to throw a leg over a motorcycle. A two-time AMA Grand National Champion, Mann was one of the very few riders to compete on the national level in dirt track, road racing, and motocross. He won the #1 in 1963 and again in 1971. An “old man” in a young man’s sport, he demonstrated the skill to remain on top for over a decade. Mann turned expert in 1955 and finished a very respectable seventh in his first Grand National race, the Daytona 200.

Of all of his national wins, perhaps the most fulfilling for Mann was his 1970 Daytona 200 win riding the new Honda CB750. After all, Mann had been racing in the 200 for 15 years and was runner-up three times, but could not quite find a way to finish atop the podium. To say he was long overdue for a win at Daytona was an understatement. Finally his time came in the 1970 race. He ran strong all day and held off early challenges by former world champion Mike Hailwood and, later in the race, rising stars Gene Romero and Gary Nixon. The win not only gave Mann his first victory at the Daytona classic, it also marked Honda's first win in an AMA national. Returning to BSA in 1971, Mann made a brilliant comeback at age 37 and won his second AMA Grand National Championship, becoming the oldest rider in the history of the series to win the title.

Mark Brelsford was the 1972 AMA Grand National Champion, riding for Harley-Davidson. During his short six-year racing career, the Californian won seven AMA nationals.

Mark Brelsford will forever be remembered for the fiery crash he suffered at Daytona in 1973. Riding at a high rate of speed through the speedway infield, Brelsford hit a rider whose machine had broken and was going slowly and his Harley road racer burst into a ball of flames with Brelsford still aboard. The impact and huge fireball was captured on film by a photographer for the Daytona News-Journal. The infamous photo ran all over the country and became perhaps the best-selling motorcycle racing poster of all time.

Kenny Roberts was racing at Daytona in 1973 under #80. Although he didn’t win the Daytona 200, he did capture the AMA Grand Championship that year and the next with total points. He then settled in under #2.

In the late 1970s, road racing was given separate championship status by the AMA, and production-based Superbike racing evolved into the premier class. The AMA U.S. Superbike Championship is the proving ground for machines and riders on factory teams representing six motorcycle manufacturers and dozens of privateer efforts.

Roberts became the top road racer in the country. In 1977 he won six of the seven AMA Formula One races, which at the time were also part of the Grand National Series. Roberts won the 1977 AMA Formula One road racing championship before storming into the European Federation Internationale Motocycliste (FIM) World 500cc Grand Prix Championship Series. In 1978 he garnered world-wide respect — and stirred the pride of U.S. riders and fans — by becoming the first American to win a World 500 Grand Prix title. In the following years Roberts dominated the World Grand Prix circuit, and by 1980, he had captured three consecutive World 500 Grand Prix titles. Since October 1970, the AMA was the sole U.S. representative to the FIM.

In 2008, the AMA announced the sale of certain of its AMA Pro Racing properties to the Daytona Motorsports Group (DMG) based in Daytona Beach, Florida. The move was brought about by the need for the association to place the management of pro racing in the hands of a well resourced motorsports entertainment company. Under the terms of the sale, DMG purchased the sanctioning, promotional and management rights to AMA Pro Racing. Without the burden of pro racing, the AMA was free to refocus its resources on strengthening its amateur racing programs, as well as other member programs, and especially its advocacy for America's motorcyclists.

I’ve left out a few other heroes including Joe Leonard, Gary Scott, Kel Carruthers, Don Castro, Dave and Don Emde and father Floyd, Steve McLaughlin, Fred Merkel, Jim Rice, and Mr. Daytona: Scott Russel. He is a former World Superbike and AMA Superbike Champion, has won the Daytona 200 a record five times, and won the Suzuka 8 Hours in 1993. Russell is the all-time leader in 750cc AMA Supersport wins.

The Daytona 200, held at the Daytona International Raceway, was essential source of points required to win the national championship. In the past, great riders could gain enough points only racing on dirt, but in the 70’s some road course finishes, if not wins were required most years to gain the AMA title. The Europeans were dominate in these kinds of races, but American filled the tracks here in America.

In 1973, I headed down to Florida with several Navy buddies to participate and spectate the spectacle. After meeting up with my close friend and former roommate and motorcycle aficionado, Woody, who lived at the time in Orlando, we drove the short distance to Daytona Beach and spent the week in revelry and the fumes of competition motorcycles. We even made it to the NHRA Winternationals. I’ve got a ton of pictures from the 200, but — unfortunately — my little camera lacked any zoom or telephoto lens, and everyone appears as small dots. Some examples are spread throughout this text.

(Here's a hint to make the tiny dots larger. If you click on any of the pictures in this text, you will get larger versions and a screen that you can click through all the pictures. That helps make out the bikes and their numbers.)

I’m not sure who all was along. I know Mike Bott was there and I think Joe and Pat Eden. We had other trips down to Orlando to visit Disney World. So if you were on this trip with me, let me know. My memory is lacking here.

But I’ll never forget the week of fun and races and the event that ended up being the turning point for motorcycle racing. Prior to 1969 in AMA competition, side-valve or “flat head” engines (like the Harley-Davidson KR) were allowed 750cc, and overhead-valve engines got just 500cc.

When new rules for 1970 made it 750cc for everybody (to make a place in racing for the cool new Triumph Trident, BSA Rocket 3, and Honda CB750), few people realized what a can of worms had just been opened.

BSA and Triumph had special race versions of their new Triples for Daytona 1970, with BSA pulling Mike Hailwood out of retirement to ride one of them (along with David Aldana and Jim Rice). Triumph had Gary Nixon, Gene Romero and Paul Smart. Honda threw four of its new CB750s into the 1970 Daytona 200, and Dick Mann was there at the end of an atrocious battle to take the win on one of them (after 13 years of trying). To celebrate, Honda promptly dropped right back out of road racing. Mann won again in 1971 anyway, this time on a BSA. The British were still hanging in there.

But when 1972 came around, hard times for the British industry had caused it to greatly curtail its lavish racing investment and lay off much of its talent; the young Don Emde was forced to trade in his BSA for a new Yamaha 350 Twin and promptly won the 200 on it — the smallest engine ever to do so, and the first two-stroke.

My RD350, which also saw some road racing in its day, was a descendant of that hot Yamaha factory racer. I, on the other hand, never finished first in any of my races. On the other hand, I didn’t finish last. That’s a victory. Oh, and I never crashed in a ball of flames. That’s a REAL victory.

Suzuki and Kawasaki had also picked up the plot by 1972 and showed up with seriously racerized versions of their GT750 and H2 street bikes: identified as TR750 and H2R respectively. These 100-horsepower Triples were able to motor right on through 170 mph; unfortunately, lagging tire technology meant all that power didn’t really help them escape the much slower British machines, and other key components were also longevity-impaired. DNF (did not finish) was a common acronym.

Art Baumann’s Suzuki’s magneto gave up the ghost nine laps in while leading. Yvon DuHamel’s Kawasaki packed it in not much later. Gary Nixon’s Kawi broke its gearbox. New Zealander Geoff Perry’s Suzuki broke its chain one lap from the end while leading the 200, handing the race to Don Emde’s little Yamaha. In 1973, Perry would again be leading the 200 only to have an ignition failure. Later that year, he was aboard an airliner that crashed into the Pacific. It seems that if it weren’t for bad luck, he’d have no luck at all.

That brings our story to 1973. That year, in an effort to slow the fastest bikes down and give their tires a break, the chicane was added at the end of the Daytona back straight.

A chicane is an artificial feature creating extra turns in a road, used in motor racing and on streets to slow traffic for safety. For example, one form of chicane is a short, shallow S-shaped turn, requiring the rider to turn slightly left and then right again to stay on the road, which slows them down. Chicane comes from the French verb chicaner, which means "to quibble" or "to prevent justice.”

— but the Kanji (Japanese letters) was already written on the wall. This one would be the last Daytona before Yamaha grafted two 350s together to produce the TZ700, before Goodyear and Dunlop filled in all the tread with rubber and produced the first racing slicks, and before death came for a couple of road racing’s rising stars; both 200-winner Jarno Saarinen and Cal Rayborn were killed in racing accidents that same year.

At Daytona 1973, though, with a grid full of British Triples, Harley-Davidsons, a couple of Nortons, and all the Japanese, it still looked like motorcycle racing might keep on being a wide-open game almost anybody could win. A sport only slightly removed from the beach where it had all begun just a generation or two before.

High-tech trickery and advanced aerodynamics without big horsepower aren’t worth much at Daytona. It’s a fast track. Norton’s Peter Williams cruises to 24th place. Dick Mann finished fourth on his three-year-old BSA painted Triumph colors after which the sun set on the British Empire at Daytona. Who knew? English bikes lost factory sponsorship and the venerable Harley 750's just couldn't keep up with the reliable and powerful engines from that other small island country.

After 1973, tires with tread and motorcycles other than the Yamaha TZ700 become quite passé. Kel Carruthers had to fix Kenny Roberts’ Yamaha and ride his own. In ’73, he finished second and then called it quits. Ironically, Gene Romero’s blazingly slow Triumph was one of just a few bikes to use Goodyear’s new racing slick tires in 73. Gary Nixon’s Kawasaki H2R led for 10 laps before crapping out at the 80 mile mark. Kenny Roberts, my personal “greatest road racer of all time,” didn’t finish Daytona ’73 for the second year in a row. It wasn’t until ’78 that he finally finished the race … and in first place. He popularized that leg out, better get a metal plate on the knee cap, form of racing that I adopted, but with less success.

Mert Lawill placed 17th on his Harley. Gene Romero’s Triumph Trident ends up losing in ’73, but he wins it in ’75 … although on a Yamaha. The new H-D XR750 was ready to roll in 1973, but Cal Rayborn didn’t finish the race. Finnish phenom Jarno Sarrinen’s new water-cooled, six-speed 350 Yamaha twin had the right combination of power and reliability to win the 200. After this win, saddly, Jarno died a short time later after running into Renzo Pasolini at Monza.

Fast motorcycles are just like fast women. It can be fun while it lasts, but it is very dangerous.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Spira Mirabilis

There’s beauty in math and math in beauty. As a mathematician, the first part of that first sentence is self-evident. We find beauty in mathematics in its terse statement of deep understanding and processes. The fact that the irrational value of pi can be combined with exponents of the base of natural logarithms (itself an irrational number) and the even stranger “imaginary” number to produce the most base integers of zero and one is a mathematical portrait of exceeding beauty in the eyes of those beholders who understand these mathematical concepts.

Irrational numbers are values that can not be expressed with a finite decimal expansion. They show no pattern as you expand them to larger and larger number of digits. Pi is the ratio of a the circumference of a circle to its diameter. Pi to 50 digits is 3.14159 26535 89793 23846 26433 83279 50288 41971 69399 37510, but that still isn’t exactly the value of pi.

“e,” the base of natural logarithms, is is the limit of (1 + 1/n)n as n approaches infinity, an expression that arises in the study of compound interest. It can also be calculated as the sum of the infinite series. It is sometimes called Euler's number after the Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler. e to 30 digits is 2.7182818284 5904523536 0287471352 6624977572 4709369995 and it keeps on going too.

And imaginary numbers are based on the square root of minus one. That’s a number that can’t exist and can only be imagined. Yet it is surprisingly useful in math and physics to describe the real world.

The fact that all these strange and some “unending” numbers can be combined to make the simplest number there is seems like the punch line of some celestial joke that we just don’t get.

(See my earlier note on what many feel is the “The Most Beautiful Formula in All of Mathematical Thought.”)

There are many other equations, conjectures, and formulas that mathematicians find most significant for their aesthetic charms. The symmetry and mystery of math is as much a cause for our wonder as is our artistic appreciation of a natural object such as a beautiful sunset, a flower, or the view of a powerful mountain range.

On the other hand, you often find mathematics in beauty. The “Golden Rectangle,” (and the underlying golden ratio and Fibonacci Series) a pure mathematical concept, is found frequently in drawings, paintings, and architecture. It is often the basis of classical views of beauty and art, even by those that didn’t recognize its mathematical significance.

In fact, the specific mathematical object that is the subject of this essay is related to the Golden Rectangle.

Of course the motivation and realization of both mathematics and beauty is often found in nature. This is particularly true of my discussion today of the Spira Mirabilis.

Of the numerous mathematical curves we encounter in geometry, in nature, and in art, perhaps none can match the exquisite elegance of the logarithmic spiral. This famous curve appears, with remarkable precision, in the shape of a nautilus shell, in the horns of an antelope, and in the seed arrangements of a sunflower.

It is also the ornamental motif of countless artistic designs, from antiquity to modern times. It was a favorite curve of my favorite artist, the Dutch illustrator M. C. Escher (1898–1972), who used it in some of his most beautiful works, such as Path of Life II.

From a mathematical perspective, The logarithmic spiral is best described by its polar equation, written in the form r = e, where r is the distance from the spiral’s center O (the “pole”) to any point P on the curve, θ is the angle between line OP and the x- axis, a is a constant that determines the spiral’s rate of growth, and e is the base of natural logarithms. Put differently, if we increase θ arithmetically (that is, in equal amounts), r will increase geometrically (in a constant ratio).

The many intriguing aspects of the logarithmic spiral all derive from this single feature. For example, a straight line from the pole O to any point on the spiral intercepts it at a constant angle α. For this reason, the curve is also known as an equiangular spiral.

As a consequence, any sector with given angular width Δθ is similar to any other sector with the same angular width, regardless of how large or small it is.

This property is manifested beautifully in the nautilus shell. The snail residing inside the shell gradually relocates from one chamber to the next, slightly larger chamber, yet all chambers are exactly similar to one another: A single blueprint serves them all.

The logarithmic spiral has been known since ancient times, but it was the Swiss mathematician Jakob Bernoulli (1654–1705) who discovered most of its properties. Bernoulli was the senior member of an eminent dynasty of mathematicians hailing from the town of Basel. He was so enamored with the logarithmic spiral that he dubbed it “Spira Mirabilis” or Spiral Wonderful, and ordered it to be engraved on his tombstone after his death.

His wish was fulfilled, though not quite as he had intended: For some reason, the mason engraved a linear spiral instead of a logarithmic one. (In a linear spiral the distance from the center increases arithmetically — that is, in equal amounts — as in the grooves of a vinyl record.)

The linear spiral on Bernoulli’s headstone can still be seen at the cloisters of the Basel Münster, perched high on a steep hill overlooking the Rhine River.

But if a wrong spiral was engraved on Bernoulli’s tombstone, at least the inscription around it holds true: Eadem mutata resurgo— “Though changed, I shall arise the same.” The verse summarizes the many features of this unique curve.

Stretch it, rotate it, or invert it, it always stays the same. BEAUTIFUL!