Saturday, September 20, 2008

Frame Jig

The frame jig for this project is much simpler, as I already know the main frame is straight. I just need a base to block the wheels in line with each other, to ensure that everything is aligned. I bought a piece of 2x8 from Home Depot for under 5 bucks. Some time at school with the planer, the mitre saw, and the table saw, and I had a decent alignment tool.

The next step for modification was enlarging the sliders and slider holes in the swingarm to accept a 20mm rear axle. The dremel tool, and a 25/64" drill bit came in handy here. I have a 20mm spindle coming my way via the Performance Bikes list server. A fellow reader had one lying in his shed, with spacers and nut. Was going to give it to me for a pint, but seeing that I'm not nearby, I paid him 15 pounds to cover the cost and shipping.

The next step is to buy a swingarm bushing, some seals, and a set of new bearings for the swingarm, from AF1 in the states. I then need to get the bushings bored out to 15mm to work with the swingarm pivot diameter I require. I've put myself on a monthly budget of around $100 or so... that will eat up the month of October, and then I'll go about figuring a way to fit the rear shock.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Motive Power

As you can tell, I love eBay. While at times it can be a double-edged sword, I have been able to sell almost anything, and buy almost anything, online. At times, the prices listed or the closing prices for auctions are borderline criminal... every once in awhile, however, things go your way.

I needed an engine for the project. My plan was to get an idea over the coming months of the "going rate" for MX and/or enduro engines. I did take some measurements of Billy Martens' 650 ninja, but realized that the parallel twin was just a hair too wide to fit inbetween the frame rails. A single it would be.

I soon found that most 450 MX engines sold around the $1000 mark, depending on accessories, hours, and upgrades. A few shops sold brand new ones -- somehow they got bikes at wholesale and dumped the engines online. Those would have buy-it-now prices in the 2500 to 3000 mark. MSRP, for sure! As usual, the KTMs were more expensive, and while I was attacted to a late-90s Husaberg, parts availability made me rethink getting such an exotic engine, even if it did go for the one and only bid of $450.00

I decided I would focus on the big 4 Japanese manufacturers. A 650 rotax/can-am/bombardier/BMW was considered, but this engine was far too heavy for its output. I did a general search of "suzuki engine" (and got 1000s of hits), but stumbled across a DRZ400 engine starting at 250 bucks. It was a 2002 and included carb, electrical, and looked to be in nice shape, according to the pictures. The only reason I hadn't found it sooner was because the seller (a non motorcycle dude or dudette) called it a "DZR" -- the usual eBay queries would not have found it! As such, I put in a bid $1.00 lower than the still reasonable "buy it now" price of $650, and ended up getting it for $415. Score one for me! Shipping but the final price just over $500, but I got an incredible deal. Granted it has the Mikuni carb, but the FCR mod is pretty straightforward. It turns out that this engine is a suitable choice in more ways than one.

1. Someone has done it before, recently: I didn't see it up close, but Pearce built a "street" tigcraft that was featured in MCN this past summer featuring, you guessed it, a DRZ400 engine. The electric start, cooler running, 5-speed makes it a more suitable street mount than an MX engine. And, a HUGE range of upgrades are still available. You can see this bike online at: It is a cool youtube video of the bike.

2. I have a "real" DRZ400 closeby. Stacey Jones, all around nice guy and local supermotarder, allowed me to take some measurements and snap some photos of his 400. This allowed me to get an idea of the size and mounting of the engine (after I bought it!). And I'll rely on his experience regarding exhausts (he has a Muzzy), his upcoming carb mod (he's got an FCR to bolt on), and just general care and feeding of the DRZ. I think I'll let him do all the hard modding work and benefit from his experience! All told, he's told me its been bulletproof (although its an 06 or 07, I think).

3. Simplicity. Its a short-stroke single. It's liquid-cooled, but by all accounts, it doesn't have the silly waterpump seal on the camshaft tomfoolery of a KTM. The remote oil tank (dry sump) is a new one on me, but Pop is used to that stuff with aircraft. And, I should be able to fit a larger oil tank (1.7L is stock), with the associated benefits of more oil to cool and circulate. It includes an electric start, and the starter itself is included.

Some not-insurmountable challenges:

  • oil tank -- fittings, location, volume, construction, materials...
  • radiator -- sourced from what? Lots of room on the bike, but I need to figure what would suit the engine best. An SV650 rad is small and should keep the engine plenty cool...
  • exhaust -- the Muzzy offers great performance for a good price -- couldn't get a custom one built for the price of a new SS/Alu Muzzy -- should I fabricate the engine mounts around the exhaust? That would mean buying/borrowing one now (at least the headers).
  • will the stator run a headlight stronger than 35watt?
  • there is a wiring harness included, but is it for a dual purpose or enduro bike?
  • tank will be a simple gravity feed to the carbs... is there one that will work, or will I have to fab a custom one?

These are the questions that make fabricating fun!!!!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Tigcraft Visit, and the origin of a new Project!

After we got back from France in late July, I phoned up Dave Pearce, who owns Tigcraft manufacturing, and arranged to pay him a visit. I came for the sole purpose to see his bikes up close, and to "interview" him for awhile. I had hoped to get the article published in a Motorcycle magazine in North America. I still haven't heard back from any of the zines I sent the draft and pics to, so I guess that won't happen.

Turns out Dave is one of the friendliest, smartest, and modest guys I have ever met. His "factory" is a shed smaller than my garage, and the sum total of all of his equipment is a lathe, a tig welder, and a tubing bender. Of course, he has 2 frame jigs as well, one for his minimonos, and one for his classic racers he builds.

Near the end of the visit, I asked specifically to see a the frame he built for a very rich US customer that actually owns a real Ducati Supermono, as well as a spare supermono engine. When he was mucking about in the rafters, he also pulled down a Supermono frame he built for the MUZ factory in the early 1990s. It was designed to house a Yamaha 660 single. He offered it to me for 200 pounds... and threw in rearsets and a seat in Kevlar! I couldn't refuse. I actually dragged it "home" to Ickleton in a makeshift bag, through the tube stations as well. The next problem was how to fit it as carry-on baggage... and it fit in the spare rucksack we were going to leave behind! No extra duty, no extra baggage costs... it was meant to be!

Once home, I set about finding some of the parts I would need to turn it into a rolling chassis, and eventually a supermono streetbike and/or trackday machine. First, I was able to get wheels, forks, and triples from an Ebay.UK seller off an RS125. Its from a 2008, so it actually has a radial front caliper, and the wheel design does not have traditional spokes... I have to flip the rear wheel in order to use a traditional LHS drive countershaft, so the rear wheel won't look weird compared to the front.

Based on Dave's suggestion, I also got an Aprilia Pegaso rear swingarm. Steel, relatively light, and if I get an MX engine (more on that later), I can use the rear swingarm pivot point on the case as an engine mount, already squared up to the rest of the frame.

My hope is to use one of the two swingarm dogbone bosses as a lower rear shock mount. A Honda Hawk NT650 shock should work, as its design is linkageless, with the requisite 1200lb spring to suit.
The frame design is full 4130 chromoly steel, with all the joints tig-welded. Thankfully, a short trip to Brandon Bearing got the upper bearing race, and the triples went in as easy as pie. Nice!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Big Europe Trip

Not much was done on the bike during the month of July as Kate and I went on a trip to the UK, France, and Ireland. 5 years in the making, we wouldn't have been able to do it without the generosity of my friend Mike, who teaches in the UK and lives in Ickleton (near Cambridge). Mike had spent this summer cycling across Canada, and so we "house sat" for 5 weeks. The reality is, we squatted in his place and used it as a base. Again, without his place, there is no way we would have been able to stay as long as we did!

Now, there were a million stories, and nearly 1000 photos that came of the trip. This being my blog, I will focus on the "bike" portions of the trip, as this is what this site is all about. Prior to going, I had planned on attending the BSB race at Oulton Park, near Chester (in the norther part of the UK, near Liverpool).

In mid-July, after 3 days in Belfast, our quick and rediculously cheap RyanAir flight landed at John Lennon Airport, and Kate and I made the trip to our B&B in Chester. Unfortunately, there is NO public transit to the track. The closest we could get on race day was Tarporley. Another 6 miles of walking awaited us!! Thumb out on fast and narrow roads, no biker or car driver was willing or foolish enough to stop and give us a lift. In the end we did get to the track prior to the racing, but we missed the paddock tour and most of the autograph signings. When we did finally get to the gate, the marshals were astounded we had walked that far. Despite our aching legs, we at least had some decent weather.

Outlon Park is a lot like the track at Brainerd, MN -- laid out beautifully, but impossible to see much more than a turn at a time. Not exactly spectator-frendly, although that did not stop the thousands of fans who came on their bikes. The photo at the left is just a small sample of the number of machines that were parked up by the time we made it to the track.

There were also some cool machines, of course. The Ducati at the left is a 1098 -- an "S" in tricolor livery.

Another bike that was neat to see up close was the new KTM Superbike. I definately prefer the orange, rather than the white ones tested in UK magazines. Very few have made it to North America so far... I think they will eventually be released as a 2009 model. Probably close to 20,000 bucks as well!

The racing action was great. Sykes won both on the Rizla Suzuki, his first wins of the year. An Aussie on a Triumph 675 won the SS class, which was pretty cool to see. Those bikes sound unlike anything I have heard before. I was wandering the pits and paddock during the 125 and Superstock races, so I wasn't clear on who came out on top there. While we are impressed with our digital camera, the action photos are not too hot.

I really wanted to get autographs from 2 racers -- Mike Rutter and Guy Martin. In the end, I came out at a 50% average... Red Torpedo clothing had a 2 pm autograph signing, and I muscled my way to the front to see Martin. I said something stupid about coming all the way from Canada, and wishing him luck at the TT in 2009 -- he is on the cusp of a Dunlop or McGuinness-like TT soon, as in 2008 he was leading several TTs only to have electrical problems. Kate got a decent pic!

The idiot with all the Ducati swag is me... I fell for the incredible clothing, jackets, and whatever else for sale near the paddock. I've been following Rutter in the NW200 team this year, and that the jacket and cap I am wearing in the above pic. For full effect, we stopped at both the:

hospitality centre

the NW200 garage, all in a vain effort to meet and get Mike Rutter's signature. According to one of his mechanics, he had trouble with traction control in Race 1 (ending up 8th or so), so he wasn't in the greatest of moods, and spent most of the time looking at the telemetry. Me, being a slow-arse with the camera, missed Niall MacKenzie stopping in for a visit. Luckily Kate take directions well, and she got some snaps of John Reynolds and Shane Byrne:

As ostentatious as I might look with the Ducat gear on, I was definately not alone. Those fans who rode there via bike were all in full leathers, boots, and etc all day, sweating it out watching the action. Others had brought or bought jackets, caps, shirts, etc of their favorite rider or team. Definately a bunch of knowledgeable fans, and rabid supporters.
Immediately following the 2nd superbike race, Kate and I started the long walk back to the bus depot. Once again, we revelled the residents of Chester with our willingness (at least my willingness) to walk 12 miles in a day to watch racing. I am amazed to this day that Kate put up with me, and didn't find a better looking bloke to give her a ride back to town!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Finished.... for now.

Here are the "finished" pics I took today. Realistically, a few bits and gubbins to get, but as "done" as its gonna get. Unless a really cool exhaust system comes along for a good price. Should leave well enough alone, of course.
This 3/4 view to the rear is the "best", I think.

Side view, compared to the one below, shows how much better it looks with the vertical muffler NOT extending beyond the tail section. A little lesson in aethetics...

Bike looks "long" from this angle. Lack of an upper fairing seems to make the forks look "chopper"ed. It does have a long wheelbase, this bike!

These sound awesome!