Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Outback & Forth - Shrug Down Under - Logistics Update


"I watched 'Tracks'.  You'll die out there!"

"Can I have Hester if they don't find your body? How 'bout Atlas?"

"Are you crazy?!"

Photoshop Bullshit? Click Here

Ok.  I get it.  It's Australia.  It's a long way across and the Outback is legendary for its hazards.  Realizing this, I reached out to several people online asking questions and received all sorts of responses.  Some were positive, most were warnings, and a few were over the top silliness such as the Drop Bear warning seen here.  For whatever reason, I think there are people in Australia who would just prefer visitors stay away.  Sorry to disappoint you blokes.  Shrug is coming.

To address the comments:
  1. No; I won't die out there.
  2. No; Whenever I do kick the bucket, Atlas, Hester, and Linus will remain in the Wilson clan.
  3. And finally, I may be crazy, but I'm not stupid.
Allow me to explain.

When I cooked this trip up last year, I knew the logistics would be tough.  In fact, the more I looked, the more seemingly insurmountable they appeared.  I did plenty of research and became aware early on that this was not something I could accomplish completely on my own, which I have to admit was a bit of a rub.  I truly love the camaraderie I experience with the groups I meet after my annual cross country solo rides.  Still, it's no secret that I relish the alone time I get when I'm on my trips.  But be that as it may, I know that other logistics aside, I'll have company to make this venture financially possible.  The necessary support arrangements won't be affordable for me unless they're spread among more riders.  Someone once said "Life's better with company" and I think I believe him, so if company makes this trip feasible, then company I will have.  I'm sure they'll learn to love me.  Who wouldn't?

I did some research and located a Swede who has lived in Australia for decades and who has crisscrossed the Australian continent in every conceivable direction countless times, including over forty Outback crossings.  Magnus Eriksson runs an operation that offers groups of six to eight riders at a time a chance experience parts of Australia that few humans, much less Americans, ever get to see firsthand.  I sent him a note and after some back and forth with he and a couple of riders who have used his services, signed up with him for an 18-day east to west trip that best meets my schedule.  This particular trip also includes two days for riders who want to participate in the Finke International Desert Race.

My Outback Accommodations - "Swag" to the Locals
(Girl Not Included)
Magnus' operation includes a rental bike, camping gear, food, fuel, water, and guidance across the continent

through the most scenic locations and hopefully away from (or at least through) the most hazardous ones.  While I was relieved to have the basic survival requirements out of the way, I was warned by everyone I contacted that intense physical conditioning is required to make it across; not only without injury, but to actually enjoy the ride and not simply endure it while praying for the next camping spot for relief.  Most of the bone-breaking ride-ending accidents (reportedly experienced by as many as one in four riders) are caused by riding beyond one's capability and/or insufficient conditioning to allow themselves to be responsive to the hazards fast enough to avoid them.  I have six months to prepare myself and no one else to blame if I don't.  No pressure.

Magnus' Outback Express
Magnus also has a custom vehicle equipped to traverse the wildly varying Outback terrain, which includes over 1,200 sand dunes in the Simpson Desert.  It is outfitted to haul food, fuel, our personal items, camping gear, spare bike parts, tools, and even carries a spare bike in case of catastrophic failure.  The logistics associated with transporting my gear had bothered me for months. Between two saddle bags and a tour pack with a luggage rack on top, plus an empty back seat, Hester had plenty of storage.  Adventure bikes are typically equipped with storage, but I won't be riding an adventure bike.  I'll detail why later in this article.  Magnus' truck solves the storage issue and will make my daily riding load much lighter.  On the Alaskapade, I had to completely unload the bike and unpack at each night's stop to set up camp and then repack and reload each morning.  On this trip, I am only responsible for getting from point to point without serious injury and/or holding the others up.  At each day's camp stop, I'll offload my gear from Magnus' truck, set up my swag each night, and then pack up to load it in the morning.

I could bring my own bike, but the transport cost from the States is insane and then I would be responsible for its performance when I get there.  I trust that Magnus' bikes are adequately prepared and configured to handle the abuse for which the Outback terrain is so widely known.  Such preparation is in his best financial and logistical interests.  I'm literally banking on that.

The bike I'll be riding is a Suzuki DRZ400, which is similar in design and purpose to my KTM, but with about 25% less engine displacement.  Smaller engine aside, it's bound to be newer than Linus.  In the past, Magnus supplied 850cc BMW adventure bikes, which are legendary for their capabilities and reliability.  Unfortunately, they're also legendary for having a high center of gravity and for being very heavy.  Power to weight ratio is very important when riding in deep sand and mud, so I can deal with less power if there's significantly less weight.  If, or in my case, when you dump a fully loaded adventure bike, you practically have to unload it just to get it upright again unless you have help from other riders.
Suzuki DRZ400                  KTM-520MXC
While this is considered a group ride, rider capabilities and comfort while riding at speed will undoubtedly vary.  We will have maps to group assembly/rest spots and to each days' camping sites and I'll bring a GPS, but logic dictates that I should expect that our group could be strung out over several kilometers at any given time, leaving every man to his own capabilities.  I should therefore be prepared to fend for myself.  On this trip, my coveted alone time will come with a price.  Once again, it all leads back to conditioning.

So there it is.  I will not die of thirst, nor will I wither away from starvation.  Better yet, assuming Wikipedia is correct, I will not be mauled by a drop bear.  Yes, there are snakes than can jump three feet off the ground, spiders the size of Maine Lobsters, and baby-stealing dingoes.  Those are threats I can mitigate with planning and by paying attention when my boots are on the ground.  I already have a plan to neutralize the dingo threat that I'll disclose on the trip.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Outback & Forth | Shrug Down Under - Australian Oddities - eBay Anyone?

In 2006, an Australian man attempted to sell New Zealand on eBay.  The bids reached $3000AUS before eBay yanked the auction.  I bet nobody would stop an eBay auction of Chicago or Detroit.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Outback & Forth - Shrug Down Under - Load 'Em Up!

One aspect of riding that always excited me was the prep.  Sorting out my riding gear, checking fluid and tire pressure levels on the bikes, packing some snacks, and ultimately loading the bike were all equally important steps to a successful riding trip, be it for a day or a weekend.  I don’t have a fancy trailer or even a nice folding aluminum ramp.  I have a pickup truck with a 2x12 board.  When we were riding in years past, we traveled in the relative comfort of an 18 foot camper/trailer/toy box hauler.  The couches and beds inside the camper folded out of the way to make room for the bikes and generator.  This left the bed of the pickup truck empty for riding gear, firewood, and maybe enough space for an annoying son with gas.  Upon arrival, the bikes were unloaded and the table and sleeping quarters inside the camper could be repositioned to provide creature comforts after a hard day on the trails.  It also had a small, but adequate kitchen and a combined shitter/shower.  By some of our friends’ standards, it was a cracker box.  But to us who had been tent camping for years before we bought it, our little camper was palatial.  When we quit riding, I sold the camper and the F250 Super Duty dual cab pickup used to tow it.  Years later, I’m back to the basics again with a pickup truck, a board, and the rudimentary camping gear I purchased for the Alaskapade. 

That Guy
The lack of more opulent digs did not dilute my enthusiasm.  I was loading Linus for the first time in almost 13 years and I was stoked about it. I positioned the 2x12 board on the truck tailgate and wondered if I still remembered how to run a bike up the narrow board alone without dumping it and feeling like a dick or worse, causing damage.  Thankfully, it all came back to me.  I stood on the left side and rolled the bike up the ramp in first gear with the kickstand down while holding the clutch lever. If I didn’t make it all the way up the ramp, all I had to do was release the lever and the bike wouldn’t roll back down.  This would have allowed me to reposition myself to push the bike the rest of the way up and into the bed and then lean it on the already extended kickstand.  I didn’t have to rely on the clutch as Linus, a featherweight compared to my Harleys, sailed straight up the narrow board with relative ease.  Pleased with my success, it occurred to me that back in the day, I used to just fire up my bikes and ride them up the ramp.  Maybe someday, but not on this one.  No way.

I cinched the tie-down straps from the handlebars, pulling the bike forward against the cab and compressing the front forks a bit.  This resistance keeps the front wheel straight and the bike steady for the road trip.  Confident I had all I needed, I took one last gaze before heading out.  For years since I quit riding, I would stare longingly when I saw other trucks on the road with bikes loaded and with dad and an eager kid or two in the cab.  Being that guy was some of the fondest memories I have of times with my now grown sons.  But I digress.  I shook off the sentiment and hopped in the truck cab.  I had a dirt bike in my truck by damned and I was ready to roll.  It was a chance to be that guy again, albeit solo this time.

Shrug Clampett
As I drove north in the direction of the riding trail park where we spent many of our non-racing weekends, my mind was awash with memories of races, fun rides, camp outs, and Spode Fests with my friends, most of which took place at the Red River Motorcycle Trails north of Dallas near Muenster, Texas.  Red River had just about everything for just about every level of rider.  There were wide open pastures for newbies, dozens of river crossings, tight and nasty handlebar busting trails through the woods, and steep, gnarly hill climbs to challenge even the most advanced riders.  I had ridden every square foot of the 2,500 acres there over the years.  In fact, this was the very place that ended my dirt riding on Thanksgiving weekend 13 years ago.

I unloaded Linus remembering that steering the bike backward to off load it and keeping it centered on the narrow board was actually more difficult than loading it in, even with gravity on my side.  Again, this action conjured more  memories of all the races and other events I attended at Red River and places like it.  I could almost smell the exhaust, hear the distant echoes of bikes roaring through the riverbeds, and the cheers from onlookers gathered to watch riders as they challenged the seemingly impossible hill climb of the day.  Then suddenly, just as before I left my house, I snapped back into the reality of the present and realized that none of that really mattered on this day.  After all, I was just dropping Linus off at the KTM shop to have my carburetor issues tweaked by someone who was hopefully capable of sorting out the problem without setting his hair on fire. 

Babyface Shrug - 1998

I’ll get another practice run at loading and unloading when I pick Linus up and bring him back home; hopefully this coming weekend.  I have a personal goal to make the trip out to Muenster on the 13th anniversary of the very day that it all came to an end for me.  When I last got home from the Red River Cycle Trails, I couldn’t even help unload wash Linus, which was a hard fast rule and somewhat of a post riding weekend ritual for my sons and I.  The bikes and our gear had to be washed and ready to load and ride before we called it a day.  On this day however, I had a cracked left collarbone, a fractured right ulna, a chipped vertebra in my neck, a severely bruised ego, and a badly broken spirit.

It’s now 13 years later and for the last 15 consecutive months, I’ve thought constantly about my Australia trip and I’ve worked tirelessly, albeit successfully thus far to fund it and sort out the somewhat complicated logistics.  As such, I now have a renewed spirit and a stronger sense of determination.  Both are fueled by a goal – an absolute necessity, actually – for my technical riding proficiency and mental confidence to match or exceed my physical conditioning when I hit the Outback six months from now in June.  Anyone who knows me knows that mental confidence and stubborn determination are not an issue for me and I am doing all I can to address the riding proficiency and physical conditioning.  Those are totally up to me and are well within my grasp.

It's 2015 and the ghosts of 2002 no longer haunt me.  I’m going back to Red River with a plan to hit the trails (figuratively speaking), play in the sand (probably eat some too), ride wheelies through the streams, and to get lost in the woods and find my way out again as the fuzzy memories from years past of some of the best times in my life become clearer with every tree I dodge, every creek I cross, and every mile I ride.  This time…this time, I’ll drive home with renewed confidence, eager to perform the unloading ritual and plan the next trip out.

Stay tuned for the rise of the Great Pumpkin and more importantly, the return of Spodekill.  For better or worse, it's gonna be a wild ride!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Outback & Forth | Shrug Down Under - KTM Chronicles "Fire in the Hole!"

This entry picks up where the last one left off.  If you missed it, you should probably go read it first.

After enthusiastically tearing him apart last weekend, I left Linus in pieces in my garage in order to travel for work.  Before leaving town, I had ordered parts and a fork seal driver tool from a KTM dealer about an from my home.  I got lucky and the dealership showed up in a Google search.  When I hung up my helmet fifteen tears ago, KTM was producing the most advanced four stroke racing bikes on the planet and yet dealerships in the States were few and far between.  I ordered Linus sight unseen from a dealer in Indiana.  Fifteen years and several US and world racing championships later, KTM dealers are far more common, so I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that there were several in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.  I dropped a pin one the one closest to me and phoned in my parts order.  They seemed as surprised that I had a 2001 as I was that they were there.  I arranged the pile of suspension parts neatly and tried to focus my attention on preparing for my upcoming week's travel to fabulous Minneapolis.

After a stressful week on my rather arduous IBM project and then fighting the Friday mass exodus from the Somali immigrant capital of the US, I was looking forward to getting some grease under my fingernails; especially on my index finger, in which I had finally regained feeling.  It finally stopped throbbing, but it still looks like I squashed a bug under it.  But I digress.

I made the trek across town to Adventure Moto KTM to retrieve my parts and the tool I ordered.  As I walked in, I noticed a decal on one of the racing vans in the parking lot that read "SMS Racing".  Many years ago, I was sponsored by SMS Racing, but this SMS was in the tiny town of Smackover, Arkansas. This explains the "Smackover" decal clearly visible on my front fender.  Most people who have seen me ride figured Smackover was descriptive of my riding prowess; colliding with things and flying smack over the handlebars.

A year or so before I pulled my Superman stunt, another riding friend named Brian Storrie had launched an upstart operation called Storrie Motor Sports and he called his team support operation SMS Racing.  So the decal on the van caught my eye and it got me wondering how Brian's business had been doing over the years.  I walked in the door and there sat Brian in the office, seemingly no older than he appeared when I last saw him over a decade ago.  I'm sure he recognized my face, but wasn't totally sure who I was.  When he did remember me, he was probably shocked to see me alive, much less walking.  We chatted for a while while he showed me the latest lineup of KTM bikes.  I still get wood thinking about those shiny, aggressive looking machines that looked blazing fast sitting still in the shop floor.

I told Brian about my upcoming Outback adventure and explained my motive to use Linus as a training platform to compliment my cardio conditioning for the trip.  He related that he had ridden in Oz before and offered some advice.  He also mentioned a few local riding areas with deep gnarly sand that would provide good ground to re-acclimate myself to those conditions.  When it comes to riding, Brian is the real deal.  He has consistently qualified for and competed on the US team in the International Six Days Enduro events over the last twenty years; a couple of those years in Australia.  These are the most grueling events on the planet on the worst imaginable terrain for the toughest of the tough. He also described a guided trip he took last summer down the pacific side of Mexico, which got me thinking that my dream trip to southern Argentina might actually be possible.  Nevertheless, that dream is on hold at least until I conquer the Outback.

I described to Brian the issues I was having trying to start Linus and he I should bring it in, that his guys could sort it out pronto.  I told him I had a few more things to try and added that I would definitely use his shop if I couldn't solve he problem myself.  It's comforting to know there's a local shop I can trust to not screw me over.  I headed home to rebuild my suspension and try the ideas I had in mind to get Linus to start.

Having the right tool for the job sure makes the job easier; even if that tool is rarely used.  (that's what she said.) Such is the case with the fork seal driver tool I bought from Brian.  The front suspension went back together quickly with the aid of the tool and the photos I had taken of how it all should look.
Some people can reassemble this mess in their sleep.  I am not one of those people.
With the suspension rebuilt and installed, I mounted the front wheel, bled the brake system, and turned my attention to the motor.  What I didn't disclose last week was that I tried seven ways to Sunday to get the damn thing to start - with no success.  Luckily, I have an electric start, so I connected my jump start battery system and was able to crank on the starter all afternoon without wearing my leg out on the kickstarter.  The motor would crank but there was no fire at all.  I yanked the spark plug and checked for a strong spark, thinking the coil had died out during its decade long slumber.  The spark was strong and the current nearly made me shit myself when I held the plug with my fingers too close to the grounding electrode and the arc of current jumped from the plug, through my thumb and to the motor like lightning in a Frankenstein's laboratory.  Yep. Plenty of spark.  Oh great.  My index finger was finally healed and now my entire hand throbbed.

I ran the starter so long repeatedly that my jump starter ran out of jump juice.  I had spark and the carburetor was clean and appeared operational.  I decided to try spraying some ether starting fluid into the air box that feeds the carburetor intake manifold.  I had the air filter removed, so it was a straight shot in to the carb. If there's spark and nothing electrical preventing it, ether will fire up an engine.  The ether based ignition usually serves to create enough suction to fill the carburetor float bowl and more/less prime the fuel system - allowing the engine to run.  Think of how your car behaves if you run it dry of gasoline and have to pump the pedal to get it started.  Ether helps facilitate the pumping action and primes the carb.  At the very least, it will fire and run long enough to burn the off ether.  This is a good indication that the timing and electrical systems are in good shape.  If it sputters and coughs after burning off the ether, it's a fuel system problem, meaning I probably porked up my carburetor rebuild.

My Facial Expression on the UFO Album Cover  - Coincidence?
It's the mist of the ether that actually causes combustion.  A puddle of ether will burn, but not explosively like atomized fuel does.  I sprayed the ether into the intake while pressing on the starter button and the motor roared to life...for a few seconds.  I tried it again a with a twist of the throttle and it revved...again for a few seconds.  I never noticed the puddle of unburned ether that had pooled in the bottom of the air box.  I didn't notice that is, until the engine backfired and burped up a huge ball of fire straight up into my face.  At this point, any fecal matter left in my intestines after the spark plug jolt was probably now running down my pants leg.  I tried unsuccessfully to blow out the fire, forgetting in my panic state something I learned as a Cub Scout - that one of the three elements needed to sustain a flame is oxygen.  I already had plenty of the other two (fuel and heat) and the harder I blew, the more the flames grew.  I grabbed a towel I had been using to wipe the bike down as I reassembled it.  That towel was apparently covered with its own assortment of flammable chemicals because it burst into flames the instant I shoved it into the air box.  I quickly yanked it out and tossed it out of my garage.  The flaming ball soared in an apparent slow motion arc trajectory, landing silently on the driveway where it continued to burn for several minutes.  What a (brief) relief!  It was at this point that I noticed that my shirt sleeve and right hand were on fire.  Confident that my home might be spared a flaming demise, I calmly responded and began to put myself out.  Calm in my case meant flailing my arms with enough force and sufficient velocity to damn near attain vertical flight while jumping up and down twisting in circles, forgetting once again that all my flailing only served to provide more oxygen for the fire.  Looking like a kid experiencing his first mosh pit at a Suicidal Tendencies concert, I almost knocked myself out when my knee struck my chin.  So here I was in my garage, my freshly recovered right hand was on fire, I was spitting blood from biting the inside of my lip thanks to my new found flame-induced flexibility, my three dogs were jumping up and down and barking at me, no doubt feeding on my own panic.  My motorcycle was aflame, and a small bonfire raged in my driveway out of my garage, but uncomfortably close to my boat.  The entire scene played seemingly silently; drowned out by the sound of UFO's Strangers in the Night live concert record blasting for the entire neighborhood to enjoy.

Other than that, this was all going just as I had planned.

Confident that I was no longer on fire, I fumbled for my phone and turned the music down
The Remains of My Fire Smothering Towel
just as UFO launched into an amazing live rendition of "Rock Bottom".  Strangers in the Night is considered by many to be the best live rock concert recording ever.  That thought enjoyed a nanosecond of time in my mind before it occurred to me that I had just now hit rock bottom myself.  The dogs had settled down and were now fiercely competing for my affection in the sudden stillness and I decided that this might be a good tome to extinguish the fire in my driveway.  I calmly (for real this time) strolled into the laundry room adjacent to my garage, filled a pan with water, strolled back through the garage staring intently at Linus as I walked by.  As I emptied the water pan onto the fire, I was instantaneously reminded of another Cub Scout fact I had overlooked.  Water doesn't extinguish chemical fires.  Water spreads chemical fires.  In this case, the flame that had by this point almost burned itself out spread out in every direction, including mine and now my shoes and jeans were on fire.  I leaped over to the patio and grabbed a handful of dirt out of a planter from which the plant had been extricated by my youngest boxer, Dolly.  Tossing the dirt at my feet and feeling comfort in the instantaneous subsiding of flames, I heard the sound of the doggy door slapping open and closed three times in rapid succession.  Not one of my loyal canine companions stuck around for me this time.  It was every dog for herself as even Dixie, my ultra-brave alpha protectorate bailed on me from the flames for the safety of the living room couch.  I sat down on and collected myself for a few minutes and then Dixie poked her head out of the doggy door scanning the scene before sheepishly strolling out to check on me.

Back in the garage, I inspected Linus closely for fire damage and found none.  Fortunately, the pool of ether burned itself so efficiently that nothing else was affected.  I decided that I had had enough for one day.  I installed the new battery and air filter, mounted the gas tank and seat, and hit the start button briefly once more and turned the motor over a few strokes, just to be sure there was no damage to the electrical system.  I had tossed some meat in the oven to cook for dinner before the garage festivities commenced and by now it smelled delicious.  Further olfactory analysis told me that it smelled like caramel popcorn.  As much as I love caramel popcorn, that's not what I was cooking.  Later that evening, I realized that the caramel odor I smelled was in fact my singed hair.  My eyebrows, forehead hairline, beard, and mustache were all singed.  Even my eyelashes were shorter and balled up at the ends.  A snowstorm of pubic like hair fell before my eyes as I rubbed my forehead.

I'm confident that all Linus needs is some carburetor tweaking, but I also realize that the goal here is to have a bike to ride so I can regain my sand riding skills and rebuild stamina.  To do this, I need not only a running bike, I need to be physically capable of riding that bike and the afternoon's events were a sufficient demonstration that the bike prep was probably best left in more capable hands.  I decided at that instant that Brian would get my business next weekend.  In the meantime, Linus lives again.  He just needs a little TLC.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Outback & Forth | Shrug Down Under - KTM Chronicles

At one time, I was a pretty decent motorcycle wrench.  I had brown hair at one time also, so I suppose I just negated my own first sentence.  [Earliest digression in Daily Shrug blog history]  I've ridden my Harleys over 100,000 miles and have always performed my own maintenance over the years.  I even did two oil changes in parking lots on my Alaska trip.  I have to admit that preventive maintenance and minor modifications are pretty much all I've done on my street bikes.  Back in the day, I could tear a top end off a two stroke motor and change a piston and rings between afternoon races.  During one race I while I was chasing the 2000 championship title, I had a flat rear tire.  I removed the tire from the rear wheel, removed the inner tube and patched a puncture, remounted the wheel, inflated the tube with a micro compressed air cylinder, and still placed second in my class.  That's how we rolled in the woods.  We carried tools, spark plugs, zip ties, duct tape, pain killers, and whatever else we had room for in our backpacks.  When there's 50 miles of woods between you and anything resembling civilization, your Boy Scout motto intuition kicks in and you ride your best prepared for the worst.

Last weekend, I rolled my KTM into an open space (in my freshly cleaned out garage), jacked it up, and then just stared at it wondering what the hell to do next.  I think I was mostly confused over where to begin.  Linus hadn't been ridden in almost ten years and while I had a firm grasp on the technology as it was back then, I found myself battling a fuzzy memory today.  When a motorcycle sits that long, every element of its operation has to be considered; engine, electrical system, carburetor, cooling system, suspension, bearings, and tires.
The Garage Didn't Stay This Clean Very Long

Emasculating Street Gear
My first order of business was to remove the turn signals, mirrors, and other paraphernalia I had installed when I neutered Linus to make him street legal.  The result was a small pile of plastic, lights, wiring harnesses, and the license plate.  I felt like I should have thrown it all away, but as of this writing, it's still in a pile in my garage.  I reconnected all the stock electrical plugs as best as I could recall and hoped for the best.  Even sitting still in my garage, Linus looks faster without all those lights.

I know the motor overall is in good shape as it cranked smoothly when I stomped on the kickstarter.  It didn't start, but the valves and overall movement of the piston led me to believe that motorwise, I'm in good shape.  I tested the spark plug for spark while cranking and it looked good.  A single cylinder motorcycle engine is a simple machine.  If it won't start, it's typically either fuel or fire.  I knew I had spark, so the carburetor was next.  Confident in my assessment, I commenced to stare at it for another ten minutes.  I glanced up at the wall where Linus had been parked and noticed the black and orange satchel containing the factory service manual I bought with the bike 15 years ago.  I may not remember all the internals of the motor, but do I remember how to read!  I decided to remove the carburetor and then realized that I couldn't locate any of my metric tools.  Harleys use SAE sizes, but Linus is of Austrian descent and the bolts and fasteners are all metric.  Fortunately, I kept my dirt bike tools and was able to locate most of them in my storage building.  As I dug in, I was reminded that damn near every bolt on the KTM is either 8, 10, or 12mm, making maintenance a bit simpler.

Carburetor Coronary Surgery
I yanked the carburetor and tore into it.  After all these years, I expected the worst and the more I examined the components, the more my expectations were met.  Carburetors are essentially orifices and chambers where fuel is atomized and mixed with air before being passed into a combustion chamber and exploding after a precisely timed spark.  Every orifice and chamber of this carburetor was clogged and/or coated with a thick lacquer like residue.  This was going to be more than just emptying debris out of the bowl.  I took photos at various stages of disassembly because I knew better than to think I could actually remember how it all goes back together.  That old rule about leftover parts at the end of a job doesn't apply to carburetors.  Don't ask me how I know.  I dumped damned near every carburetor piece into a container of solvent to let it soak a while and turned my attention back to the motor.

I figured I could change the oil while the carburetor parts soaked. Oil changes are easy; remove the drain bolt, swap filters, refill the crank case, and you're done.  Oil changes are easy if you can actually loosen the drain bolt.  I installed a metal skid plate under the engine cradle to protect the crank case from rocks and other crap that I ought to know better to avoid.  That skid plate has some serious marks on it; worth every penny.  The plate is held in place by four allen bolts and has a cut out barely large enough to get a socket wrench through to loosen the drain bolt.  My first attempt at removing the bolt
Ouch! Shit! Ouch!
stripped the edges of the bolt itself.  Shit.  I figured I should remove the skid plate to get a better grip on the drain bolt.  Those scratches on the bottom of the skid plate weren't limited to the plate itself.  All our of the bolts were banged up beyond getting them out with an allen wrench.  I'll have to use a Dremel tool to cut the bolt heads and/or drill them out to remove the plate.  I decided an oil change can wait; but that decision came after I smashed my index fingernail causing it to swell up like a cartoon character.  Double shit.  It will have to wait now.

I refocused my attention on the carburetor.  The gummed up parts were as clean and shiny as a recently swallowed penny fresh from a baby's bowels.  I reassembled the carburetor - incorrectly a few times before I remembered I had photos, after which, it went back together.  Shoving it back in between he motor and the air box was much harder than yanking it out.  Realizing I still had daylight (and some interest) left, I removed the front wheel and forks for disassembly.  I know I need seals and a special insertion tool before I tear into them.  The tool is to press the seals into the forks; get your mind out of the gutter.  Besides, while my "insertion tool" is special, it's not metric.

I ordered the suspension parts, a new battery, and an air cleaner.  They should arrive by the time I get back into town and make time to get greasy.  Maybe by then I'll be able to use my right index finger again.

Pieces & Parts in My Once Clean Garage

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Outback & Forth | Shrug Down Under - Australian Oddities - Hold The Pickles

At one time, there were over one million feral camels in the Australian outback.  The government launched the $19M Feral Camel Management Program, which aims to keep the pest problem under control. Saudi Arabia imports camels from Australia, primarily for meat production.
I wonder what the t-shirt says.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Outback & Forth | Shrug Down Under - Breathing Life Into the Still (KTM Chronicles)

I mentioned months ago that successfully completing this trip would not only require physical conditioning, but intense training using a dirt bike on the terrain I expect to encounter during my crossing.  For my physical conditioning, I have my Concept 2 rower, the nearby and previously described two-mile bridge to walk, fitness centers at the hotels I frequent for work, and the right foods to eat.  My uncharacteristically heavy travel schedule has precluded me using the rower and from walking the bridge on any semblance of regularity.  That same travel has been my excuse for not eating the right foods and the reality is I have no excuse for not using the hotel fitness centers.  So here I am, 14 months after cooking this trip up in my head and I'm not in much better shape now that I was then.  OK maybe a little, but I'm nowhere where I ought to be by now or should be by next June.  I suppose recognizing it is part of the solution.  But I digress.

For my bike conditioning, I have Linus, my 2001 KTM-520MXC.  Back in its day, this bike was a fire breathing two-wheeled monster that could be ridden wide open fast as all shit, or slowly climbing the side of a mountain with ease and unparalleled traction.  When KTM released this model, it was in such high demand and short supply that to get my hands on one, I had to purchase it from a dealer in Indiana and literally assemble it myself.  The dealer crated the bike and shipped to my office.  I brought it home after work, assembled it, and fired it up that same night.  All factories ship their dirt bikes in a native color that represents their brand.  Honda is red, Kawasaki is green, Suzuki is yellow, Yamaha is blue, and KTM (Kronreif-Trunkenpolz Mattighofen) is orange.  People often referred to KTM as the Great Pumpkin, so I aptly named mine Linus.  Unlike their Japanese competitors, KTMs were pretty much race ready right out of the box.  I rode Linus a few weekends before entering my first enduro race.  I won my class in the previous year's Texas State Championship Enduro Circuit on a much older bike and I was excited to try my hand in a more advanced class on my new ride.  I was a few races into the 2001 season when I sustained pretty serious injuries in a crash while play riding out in Muenster, Texas.  I don't recall many of the details, but I'm told it was pretty spectacular and that I was ejected from the bike headfirst into a tree about ten feet above the ground.   I landed at the base of the tree and then Linus landed on me.  This scene played out in front of one of my sons and all of my riding friends.  I awakened, mangled under my motorcycle, to a broken arm and collar bone and a badly bruised ego.  I somehow managed to ride Linus out of the woods and back to camp via a nearby highway with my son following.  He was excited to get to ride on the street.  I was excited just to make it back to camp.  I knew instantly that my racing season was over, but was not yet aware that my dirt riding was all but finished.  Several months later, a physician examining an x-ray pointed out a cracked vertebra in my neck that resulted in what is to this day a permanent subluxation.  I parked Linus in the garage and hung up my helmet, fully intending to ride and race again as soon as I healed.  At first, I religiously started Linus every week to keep the battery charged and the motor and suspension from stiffening.  These events became increasingly infrequent and eventually, Linus was relegated to a lonely existence indefinitely parked in my garage.  I considered selling the bike several times and was offered decent money for it.  After all, it was race ready and had less than 500 miles on the motor.  I just could never bring myself to sell Linus.  This was my first ever brand new bike and when I got it, people thought I was nuts for getting an Austrian bike with a four stroke motor.  I was stubbornly content to just look at it if I couldn't race it.  Today, KTM has numerous world championship titles and four strokes are the predominant race engines.

A few years passed and Linus collected dust as he made his way into different parking spots in my garage.  Then one day, I saw a KTM 400 (just like Linus, only less motor displacement) on the street and it caught my eye.  I didn't know there were street legal versions of KTM dirt bikes.  It turns out there weren't.  I asked the rider at a red light how he converted it and he told me that he installed a kit to make it street legal.   I found a kit on line and ordered it.  After all, I still had a motorcycle endorsement on my driver's license and this could be a cheap means of transportation that's already paid for.  Within a few weeks, I installed the kit, found some DOT rated knobby tires, and had the bike plated and tagged.  It was a novelty to ride such a strange looking an eye catcher on the street.  I had turn signals, a horn,  and little bicycle mirrors to be street legal, but I also still had the racing suspension and over the top torque.  In traffic, I could literally dart off the side of the road and take any shortcut I chose.  Riding this configuration had its drawbacks too.  It took months for the local police to recognize that this aggressive looking motocross racing machine was indeed street legal.
2006 Dyna Wide Glide

About a year after converting Linus, I bought my first Harley, a 2006 Dyna Wide Glide.  Riding the Harley was an entirely different experience.  I sat high on top of the KTM.  You sit deep and low on a Harley and the low center of gravity lets the bike practically ride itself.  Just point it where you want to go, sit back, and look cool.  Linus once again started becoming neglected as I opted for cool and comfort over terrain versatility.  I last rode the KTM in 2007 and it has sat patiently waiting ever since.

Fast forward eight years to October, 2015 and Linus is still sitting.  This Outback trip has damn near consumed every idle moment my brain has had for the last 14 months.  The previous blog entries are testimony to that and I've yet to squash the infinite scenarios I've pondered late at night while laying in bed unable to sleep.  One of those scenarios is my showing up in Australia in weight and cardio shape, but completely inept on a dirt bike except for a few memories, the last of which was a large tree rapidly approaching me as I soared ten feet above the ground.  It occurred to me that I've invested money, labor, time, and emotion into this trip and if I don't get serious about training for the terrain, all of that could be for nothing.  I need to get Linus running and ready as soon as possible to train under the terrain and weather conditions I anticipate facing during Australia's winter.

Winter is rapidly approaching in Texas, the sandy rock-laden terrain I need to train on is less than two hours away, and I have the perfect bike just begging for attention.  I even budgeted for KTM prep related expenses from the beginning.  The weather here on Sunday was dreary and wet, so I can't ride Hester or Atlas.  I literally have no excuses.  Today, I rolled Linus onto a maintenance stand and have begun his transformation from a street legal dual sport bike dust collector, back into the fire breathing terra firma punisher he started out as when I first uncrated and assembled him.  I'll post pics and updates of my progress and hopefully soon, a video of me staring up and breathing life back into my old pal.