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Oil analysis for a longer engine life

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This is a first for me. I must be getting old or maybe it’s because I have finally realised the importance of taking care of things properly rather than just trusting to fate. Just changing the oil and filter regularly on a marine diesel engine should be enough to keep it running well for years but how do you really know?

There are very few instruments on a boat. All my Yanmar 3YM20 has is an oil light, charge light and a temperature light. This is all very well but it gives no indication of gradual changes like a regularly studied gauge might so what can we do about it?

This engine is actually a replacement from Yanmar as the original engine was nothing but trouble with repetitive coolant leaks, exploding water pumps but worst of all, a clogged exhaust riser after just three years use! I won’t bore you with the details but it seems that the cast iron exhaust riser Yanmar sell is one that was originally fitted to an 8 hp engine 40 years ago and is ridiculously small inside which is why it clogged up so soon.

Never in twenty years of sailing had I seen a riser clogged that badly that quickly. It just goes to show what can go unnoticed until it becomes so bad that the engine begins to suffer. The worst case scenario of this is that when the exhaust gases cannot escape, some of it makes its way into the engine and then into the oil. Microscopic pieces of carbon act like sandpaper on the bearings and slowly destroy the engine and you won’t even know.

It is incredible that Yanmar still sell this tiny riser and for a shocking price as well! They get around it by telling you to check the riser for clogging every year! I have talked to a lot of marine engineers and they agreed that it could do no harm checking annually but that they had never seen a modern engine clog like that even after a decade.

So rather than risk that happening again I have fitted a much better quality cast bronze riser with a considerably larger diameter and the engine feels better for it. The old engine was always sluggish to pick up revs. So hopefully that will stop the same thing happening again. Of course, I could check the riser for clogging every year (and I might well do that yet) but the easier and possibly more sensible way to keep an eye on it is by checking the oil.

If I regularly get the oil from my engine analysed not only can I keep an eye on this problem but also on wear and a host of other potentially engine damaging issues. By building up a record right from the very first oil change, I will be able to track small changes. A higher rate of fuel in the oil may not be enough to cause problems but seeing the increase could indicate a problem which could be corrected long before it causes expensive damage.

Oil analysis isn’t cheap but compared to a damaged engine because you didn’t do it, it suddenly starts to look like very good value indeed. There are plenty of companies out there willing to take your money and the rate varies considerably.

After some research online I came across Blackstone Labs in Indiana. Their website was simple and easy to navigate and their terminology easy for the layman to follow. They offer a free oil test kit which is an excellent idea. They were quite happy to send it to me here in Europe, even though the postage and cost of the kit must dent their profits.

What sold me, apart from the very reasonable $25 charge for oil analysis was the site’s FAQ. You can learn a lot about a company from their website and what I learned was that this firm has a sense of humour. I will always choose the company with a quirky name or a humorous attitude over more staid and boring ones.

See for yourself. Check out a few of the questions on their FAQ here. Well it amused me so I emailed them and received a prompt and positive reply. A week or so later their oil sample kit turned up.

It contained of a small transparent plastic container about 3” high and about 1.5” wide was placed inside a bigger black plastic container. Both are made with good sealing lids. I know this sounds obvious but oil is a hard liquid to contain well. To further ensure they don’t have to endure the wrath of the post office, the instructions tell you to wrap the smaller container with your sample in it with the special absorbent square of cloth they supply, and put that into a small ziplock (also supplied) then put the whole lot inside the bigger one and pop that in the post. Brilliant.

So I waited and waited. No fault of Blackstone, but of the postal service. It arrived eventually just as I was about to send another sample off to them. It would always be wise not to throw away all your old oil before the lab has received it just in case it goes missing in the post!

As soon as they had the sample, they got on the case and I had the results emailed me just a day later.

Here’s what it looks like:

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So what do all these numbers mean? Well before I go into that let me explain what goes into a standard oil analysis. Basically the sample I supplied went through 4 processes. The first was a spectral analysis using a special plasma machine. This determines what metals, elements, additives or contaminants are present in the oil. If you want to read a more detailed explanation click here

The next check is the oil’s viscosity. It’s not strictly necessary but many people want to know so it’s part of the standard oil test. Of course if for some reason you had a lot of fuel in the oil, this would show up in a viscosity test. If you would like to learn more, click here

Then the oil will be checked for insolubles, or in other words stuff that won’t mix with the oil. The insolubles are checked as a way of seeing how well the engine’s filtration is working. Again, if you want to learn more, click here

The final test is the flash point. Normal oil will ignite at a certain temperature. If fuel is present in the oil, the sample will ignite at a different temperature warning you that something is wrong. For more about flash points, click here

This is the standard oil analysis. There is a lot more that can be done but the standard test is generally enough to warn of any impending problems. Another important factor with oil analysis are trends. A lot more can be learned about an engine by studying previous results.

For example, if you look at the report above, it shows that there are high levels of silicone. This could be a result of a dirty environment or a poorly operating air filter. But because the engine is new, it is more likely left overs from the casting process or excess sealant from when the engine was built. The next oil analysis should show a drop in silicone levels. The sample also shows high levels of Boron and Molybdenum which are oil additives. Their presence in the oil is perfectly normal.

Without trends to follow, it’s hard to give a precise analysis of the condition of the oil. It will become clearer after a few more tests but we can learn that there is no fuel or antifreeze in the oil. There are practically no insolubles in the oil which indicates efficient filtration and combustion. In other words, my engine is healthy!

Had the exhaust riser been clogging again the test would have shown higher levels of insolubles in the test. If the engine was wearing because of excess carbon in the oil, this would show up as high levels of metals such as lead from the bearings for example. So for a mere $25 I have a much better idea of the health of my engine and the condition of the riser without even getting my hands dirty.

Further more, should I ever have problems with this engine, these oil tests I have had done will confirm any issues and also demonstrate that I changed the oil at the correct intervals and was conscientious enough to go the extra mile and get an oil analysis done on a regular basis.

But the best of it is that should my engine begin to develop problems the oil analysis will give me warning long before it becomes an expensive problem.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. When you consider that it would cost about £8000 to replace the engine, it makes perfect sense to pay a few dollars a year for the piece of mind that an oil analysis gives.

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Motorbikes

Bridgestone BT 016 tyre review UPDATE

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This is the front tyre. Worn almost flat on the sides. Very strange wear.

It’s been a year since I bought a set of Bridgestone BT 016 tyres for the Monster. My initial thoughts can be read here. What do I think now after a couple of thousand miles?

Well, I’m still not convinced. These tyres just don’t feel right. Admittedly they turn in faster now that they are scrubbed in a bit and it has become easier to get the bike through the corners but I still don’t feel completely confident in them. Is this because they don’t give much feedback or is it my built in survival instinct keeping me reigned in?

They have not frightened me or done anything untoward, though today the front end did seem to lose it’s grip for a moment and I was surprised at that. The one thing these tyres don’t lack is grip.

The back tyre is wearing well and evenly although there is actually a step where the softest rubber at the edge of the tyre has worn more than the middle compound. This has not yet affected grip or performance, or at least I am unable to detect it.

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Back tyre wearing very well compared to the front although a slight step is noticeable between the softer outer compound on the outside edge and the slightly harder compound next to it. Softer outer edge quite visible.

The front tyre is another matter. The sides have a distinct flat on them. This is very unusual for me as I do not weigh much and am not a heavy braker. This must be why the turn is improved because of the slightly V shape the tyre now has. Normally when the back tyre is worn out I still have plenty or grip left on the front but with these BT 016s the front tyre is more worn than the rear already.

I’m not sure how many miles the tyres have done but it must be a couple of thousand so they are not doing bad. Mind you the bike is not heavy and neither am I. I’d like to think that my riding style is fluid and I don’t brake much so in theory I should get a lot more miles out of a set of tyres than most.

The question is really; would I buy these tyres again? The answer is a most definite NO. Mainly because I don’t like the way the front tyre is wearing unevenly and because the outer part of the rear tyre is at a lower level than the rest of the tyre but mostly because I just don’t like the way they feel. The bike is twitchy coming out of bends and on uneven surfaces. It never did that with the Pilot Powers. I don’t think it’s a problem, it just takes the edge of one’s confidence when the bike doesn’t feel completely planted.

Perhaps I could mess about with the suspension settings but I hate to do that, especially when the bike was so well set up for the Michelins.

What will I replace these tyres with? A mate has fitted Continental tyres to his Paul Smart and he seems to like them a lot but I still think those Michelin Pilot Powers were an excellent tyre at least once they were warmed up. I think that triple compound is a bit overkill for the road so I will probably go for something fast street as opposed to road/race. I’ll keep you posted on that!

So, conclusion:

The Good – Fast warm up. Excellent grip.

The Bad – Lack of feeling. Uneven wear. Slow turn in and direction changing.

Marks out of ten. A seven at best.

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Motorbikes

Swivel on that. The lazy mans way to turn a motorbike around

If like me you are vertically challenged you may find that this world we live in is made for bigger people. Everything is harder for us, from reaching the highest shelves in the supermarket to turning around a motorcycle. If you have a brain however, most of these problems can be solved. In the supermarket, I use pity to get what I want. I put on a pathetic expression and ask a tall person to reach for me. No one minds helping.

In the case of turning a motorcycle around, you don’t need brute force, you need logic and balance. I don’t know whether by design or by chance but the Ducati Monster is almost perfectly balanced around it’s side stand. Simply pull the bike onto the stand, lift the wheels off the ground and swivel the whole bike around on the stand.

It’s easy with practice and never fails to amaze and amuse fellow bikers, most of whom have not discovered this excellent way to turn a bike around and are still inching back and forth on tip toes. There are some who say that this will damage the stand and it may depend on the type of bike but I have had no problems yet. The one issue is with the ground. Don’t do this on your mates new tarmac driveway for example as it will mash it up!

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Motorbikes

Honda 400/4 From Cornwall to St Tropez

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All pics, Leica M3, 21mm Super Angulon f3.4 Apologies for the poor quality of the pictures. They were scanned from prints made from slides!

I remember well when I first fell in love with Honda’s 400/4 Supersport. The time: 1982. The Place: My mate Darren’s garage. The bike: A metallic burgundy model with a Dunstall silencer. I’ve only got little legs so it’s small size appealed. Besides, when Darren ‘borrowed’ the keys from time to time, we would start it up and delight in the sound that echoed off the walls. The streets outside beckoned but the knowledge that we were under age and that the bike belonged to Darren’s mum and if she ever found out… Well lets just say that we never took it out and had to content ourselves by sitting it and revving it up like mad.

It was 15 years until I owned one myself. In between times, a succession of cars and bikes have come and gone. I have happy memories of a Suzuki X7, Kawasaki 400/4J, a 1973 350 and various others. My first bike was a Suzuki AP50 and I passed my test on a Harley-Davidson, one of those little 90cc ones built under licence.

I bought a wreck of a wooden boat in 1990 and if I ever wanted to sail over the horizon I soon realised that every penny I could lay my hands on would have to go on the boat. I found myself without motorised transport for the first time in a decade. I bought a mountain bike and became a boat builder.

Some years and a lot of hard work later I finally set off and sailed west to Cornwall where I met my partner Celia. Then followed a couple of years in London where I worked with my brother. I was to have a company bike and my budget was £400. A look through the classified ads and I soon realised that I wasn’t going to get much for my money.

There was one 400/4 for sale for a bit more than that. I gave the bloke a ring and he said he would ride the bike over for me to take a look at it as he was just around the corner. His name was Rex and he was a gay biker. I think he liked the image of the bike but was hopeless at maintenance so had decided to sell it.

The first thing in it’s favour was that Rex had ridden it there. It had some MOT and tax left, the tyres were legal and all the lights and things worked. The frame and forks were straight but scars showed that it had been down the road at some time on both sides. The amazing exhaust system was rusty, dented and noisy. The fork oil seals were leaking. All the chrome was pretty tired, the red paint was terrible as someone had decided to repaint the tank and side panels and just masked around the Honda badges. I don’t know what paint they used but it was forever rubbing off on my trousers.

From about 20 feet away at dusk, there was just enough chrome to make it look alright, get any closer and you would see; the ripped and rusty seat, the dents in the tank, the broken side panels and bent clocks. In fact it was a dog. When I first rode it I was not impressed. There was loads of play in the gear lever and the chain was slack which made the gearbox feel terrible. The front brake didn’t work and the bike wandered about a bit. That’ll be worn swinging arm bushes then!

It really depends how you look at it. I thought; it’s taxed and ticketed for a while, it runs and it’s actually very original and besides I was too busy to spend the time trying to track down a bargain. Despite the state he was in he omitted a nice vibe. I know that seems ridiculous but I’m very sensitive to these things. It’s the same with boats. You could be sailing on the most extraordinary  classic yacht, restored to an as new condition ‘no expense spared’ keel up rebuild that took a team of shipwrights two years to achieve. But if the vibe isn’t there, then there’s something missing, and that something is important.

For two years I rode it about London and made a couple of trips to Cornwall, usually in February. If you’ve ever ridden a 400/4 you’ll know that on a twisty B road they are fantastic but on the motorway they are utterly soul destroying, revving it’s nuts off in top and only doing about 70mph. The only good thing I can say is that it is economical and I often returned 50mpg. In that time I did what I had to, tyres, chain and sprockets, a service, new points, new fork oil etc but he still looked a mess. This however was an advantage as a dog does not attract attention and no one tried to nick him during two years in Brixton.

I continued to improve the mechanics of the bike, who we called Rex after the guy we bought it off. It seemed to suit him, and he’s definitely a he, not a she like my boat. Funny that. So Rex’s engine came out and was found to be very original inside. I decided to rebore him and gave him a set of once oversize pistons. The speedo says that Rex has covered 44,000 miles and if that’s true, on the original pistons, that’s not bad at all.

A new cam chain and followers, a new primary drive chain, new gearbox bearings and seals, big ends and crank bearings, all you could wish. After the motor went back into the frame I tuned up the carbs and got them synchronised nicely. I changed the swinging arm bushes and that made a big difference. The front brake was horrid. In the end I bought another calliper from a breakers, along with a set of forks and a front mudguard. That meant that the front end looked almost respectable but the rest was still awful. He went better and started easier but was lumpy and snatchy at low speeds. Setting up the timing requires patience and precision.

One of the last things I did before I stopped working with my brother was to buy new rims and spokes. I polished the hubs and sent the wheels off for building. Nice. Still a long way to go but getting there. I rode Rex down to Cornwall and stuck him in Celia’s dad’s garage. I covered him in waxoyl, drained the carbs and disconnected the battery that I knew would be ruined the next time I saw him. I covered him and left him to Falmouth’s damp salty air.

We went sailing again. We crossed to France and spent a few months heading south on the amazing canals there. We finally came out in the Med and decided to winter in the little seaside town of Bandol, whose claim to fame is Rosé wine. It was sunny and windy there. The next summer we explored the whole south coast of France, met up with mates and basically did bugger all. Then the following summer we sailed to Italy, Sardinia, Sicily and Corsica and back again to what has become our regular winter haunt a few miles from St Tropez. In 2001 we sailed back to the UK to see what all the fuss was about at the 150th anniversary of the America’s Cup, see some mates, and joy of joys, get Rex out and go for a ride.

I washed the Waxoyl off with petrol but despite my precautions with the carbs, I had to remove them and clear the jets. After three years the battery wasn’t even worth looking at. I borrowed a car battery and cranked him until he started, reluctant at first. How I had missed that sound although I think some more of the already patched exhaust had corroded away because he sounded louder with a pronounced backfire on the overrun. A good laugh once in a while but tiresome all the time. I went for a short ride just to loosen him up after his hibernation. He was going really nicely, the weather was fantastic (July) and it was a joy to sweep around those Cornish bends.

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When we got back to the Med we were faced with the same old transport problem. Second hand bikes and cars are too expensive and besides I had a perfectly good bike waiting for me in Cornwall. So I flew back to the UK thanks to Easyjet, then to London and on to Cornwall by train (incidentally the train ticket was considerably more than the flight from Nice).

Gawd knows what I must have looked like when I set off aboard Rex. Not only was I wearing leather jacket and jeans but on top of all of that I was wearing my YELLOW waterproofs from the boat. They are actually the best you can wear on a bike in shitty conditions and being YELLOW means that there’s a chance that the snug, warm and complacent car driver will see you in time.

I broke the journey up into three. I’m not as young as I used to be and three hours on a bike in the UK in November, sitting upright and unprotected in a constant hurricane was enough for me. (Beaufort wind scale: 12 is a hurricane, winds of over 64mph). At least it wasn’t raining and not really that cold for November. It was eight degrees and I was happy to get to Jay and Luke’s house in Totnes. ‘would you like a coffee?’ Asked Luke. What a great bloke! I sat in front of their fire for a couple of hours before I finally warmed up. I tried not to think of the next stage; Totnes to Brighton.

I set off late the next morning as we had all been to the pub for breakfast. It’s always good to fill up before you go a long way in the freezing cold. I was worried though. Rex had started to make some worrying noises at Bodmin of all places. It never got worse, and if I tilted my head forwards a little and pressed my knees into the tank I couldn’t hear it. So this is what I did. If Rex was going to blow up I probably would have left him at the side of the road and simply returned to France (sans moto).

As it happens whatever it was got quieter and quieter until I couldn’t hear it anymore over the normal cacophony of pistons, valves and chains thrashing away. The ride was cold and uneventful. By the time I got to Brighton it was dark and I remembered why I hated riding Rex at night. It’s because his headlight is pathetic. It’s not the original one, more evidence of past abuses. I then realised how tired my visor was, I slowed down and got there more by my senses than my eyesight. A hot bath and some good grub followed.

Brighton to Dover. A piece of cake. The bike going well, mysterious engine noises a thing of the past, good weather still, though cold and only 100 miles. It took a while as I chose to ride on the more interesting B roads. On the ferry, the one way trip for me and bike in November was over £70 and to top the insult off nicely, you don’t get a proper space for your bike, no, it’s stuffed into a corner they couldn’t use for anything other than a bike.

From Calais to Lille to find the train station where I planned to load Rex. After getting lost, I finally found the place, not in Lille but 3 miles south of the city. Not sure how I found it as the signs were very poor and it was getting dark. But find it I did and met up with the only other biker on the train, a bloke called Greg who had a 750 Trial bike. And so we had each others company for the 15 hour train journey. You get a bunk and a half litre bottle of water but nothing else, even the coffee machine was broken. That’s a long time without coffee. Incidentally, the price for one bike, one rider, one way was about £130.

When we arrived in Nice the sun was shining and suddenly I was ridiculously overdressed in all my clobber and I was sweating like mad. I got rolling as soon as possible just to get the air moving over me…aahhhhhh.  I stopped in Antibes and was able to dump all my luggage off to be delivered later. This meant I was able to really enjoy the N98 the coast road to St Tropez. After Cannes it’s just superb, a road designed for the 400/4. If I was rich I would buy the road and race up and down it all day. I finally arrived home relieved to have got there with no major problems.

Celia was keen to go for a burn so we blasted up to Le Garde Freinet, which is another amazing road that goes up and down and left and right in all the right places. That was the end of the exhaust pipe as the baffles blew out. It was now so loud it just wasn’t nice any more. One fax to David Silver and a new one was on it’s way. I received my new genuine Honda exhaust pipe just 4 days later. What a difference that made but oh no, look at  the tank and seat now. Will it never end?

I considered what colour to respray him and decided on a 1971 Jaguar shade of Racing Green. Through my sail maker friend I was able to order up some lovely Rolls Royce Connolly leather, hard to believe it’s real it’s so perfect. Celia sewed it into the lovely seat you see today. It’s a nice match, the paint and the leather.

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I didn’t want the original Honda transfer, although I am a great believer in ‘Original’, I have no objection to changing things such as paint which can easily be changed. I sourced some replica works stickers through the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club (VJMC) Autojumble and cut off the word Honda to leave just the wings and the HM initials, it just didn’t look right otherwise. It took days to decide where to place the stickers. It’s not an easy thing to do and I must admit that the sticker’s shape doesn’t lend itself naturally to the shape of the 400/4 tank. What you see is a compromise but the stickers were so cool they had to go on. I lacquered over them and so ends the story of Rex.

There’s still more to do (always) but finally I think he’s in nice enough condition for a 25 year old bike. I shall improve him more gradually now. Finally my dream came true, 20 years since I first drooled over a 400/4 I finally have one that I can be proud of even if I am his 14th owner.

Originally published in Tansha, the magazine of the VJMC April 2002.

Categories
Motorbikes

Tear along the dotted line

Here’s a 10 minute video I made using the GoPro® HD Motorsports HERO™ Camera mounted on the Ducati Monster M900. Filmed in the south of France.

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Please Click here to watch the video and enjoy!

Categories
Motorbikes

Bridgestone BT 016 Tyre review

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Leica M9, 21mm f2.8 Asph. ISO 250 f11 @ 60 secs

Well, I’m not quite sure what to make of these tyres. They feel so very different to the Michelin Pilot Powers I had before. I like the look of them and I like that the tread doesn’t go right to the edges unlike the Pilot Powers. This just makes sense to have as much rubber on the road at extreme lean angles. There’s no need for getting rid of water as you wouldn’t be leaning to the edge of the tyres in the wet. Well, not unless you were completely mental that is!

The shape of the tyres seems very round with a symmetrical radius and this is noticeable on the road. When in a corner you can choose the angle of the bike whereas with the Pilot Powers the bike would lean over always to the same point. It’s a strange sensation indeed but not unpleasant, just different.

The biggest difference is when weaving through tight S bends. The bike needs quite a lot of input from the rider to get the bike from one side to the other. It’s a fluid motion but quite unlike the Pilot Powers which almost snapped from one side to the other. That suited my small stature as the bike did all of the work. Now I have to make some effort.

The grip from these tyres is extraordinary and they seem to warm up almost straight away unlike the Pilot Powers which took a few miles. After the tyres were scrubbed in I went along one of my favourite roads to give them a proper test. The bike can certainly lean further than the Pilot Powers and frankly the angle I could achieve was ridiculous and had me laughing at the exit of every corner. I tried leaning more and more until I had my boots scraping the road. No big deal you might think but this Monster has rear sets fitted which are much higher than the original pegs and I can’t see how it’s possible that the bike can lean so far as to get my feet touching the road. It’s almost like riding on a wall of death!

Having these levels of grip is very reassuring. It’s good to know that there’s plenty in reserve if ever I need it. It will be interesting to see how long they last! The front tyre has two compounds and the rear has three which is a brilliant and very logical solution. If you look at the picture below you can see the slightly different colour on the last 25mm or so of the tyre where the softest compound is.

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Leica M9, 21mm f2.8 Asph. ISO 250 f16 @ 60 secs

On the road the tyres are comfortable and reassuring but somehow my suspension feels too soft now, like it is under damped so this must mean that the tyres are more supple and are absorbing some of the shocks from the road. I put 2.5 bar (36 psi) in the front and 2.8 (40 psi) in the rear. This is what the guy in the tyre shop put in and it was what I used on the Pilot Powers too. The Bridgestone website is pathetic and I was unable to find the recommended settings but a few people said that they were 2.5 front and 2.9 rear so since I’m only small It’s probably about right.

Some mentioned they were running much lower pressures but this caused the tyres to go greasy after a while. I tried dropping the pressure on the Pilot Powers once but I didn’t like it so put them back. If you are going to get these tyres, I would start with higher pressures and see how you go. That said the bike has developed a twitchy front end on bad surfaces and under power and the bars slap about a bit. This never happened with the Pilot Powers. I tried lowering the forks a bit (11mm) and this has made a huge difference. Turn in seems unaffected but a bit more of my weight forward has really helped and the bike seems much more planted.

These are excellent tyres there’s no doubt about it. All that remains to be seen now is how long they last. If I wanted to be critical I would say that it takes a bit longer to get the power on coming out of bends. It feels like there is a lack of grip in the middle compound area, but it’s more probably the shape of the tyres that makes it feel like this. The Pilot Powers were excellent for getting the power on early coming out of bends and these BT016s just seem a bit slower. I would also say that they are slower to turn in and require more rider input to switch from one side to the other through the bends.

I’m nitpicking of course. The bottom line is that I am faster into the bends and faster out of them and I can lean more even though they don’t feel as reassuring as the Pilot Powers. Maybe it feels that way because I am going faster? In any case, if you do buy these tyres because you want to ride fast and have tons of grip then you won’t be disappointed.

They are not the cheapest tyres on the market but considering the technology that has gone into them I think they are a good investment. After all it’s the rubber that keeps you where you should be so not skimping on tyres is a good move.

I can’t comment about wet road riding since I am a fair weather biker but I have no doubt they would work just fine. These tyres don’t grip on the white lines and road markings in France. But then neither did the Pilot Powers. This is due to the crappy teflon coated paint they use, it’s no fault of the tyres.

Marks out of ten? I’d have to give them a 7 which is slightly less than I gave the Pilot Powers. The reason I have only given them a 7 is because of the slower turn in and somehow softer more wallowy ride they give. If nothing else, they have made me realise what excellent tyres the Pilot Powers were. Next time I would like to try the CT2 Michelins which are the dual compound versions of the Pilot Powers but sadly they don’t make them in a 170/60 size so we’ll have to see once the BT016s are worn out.

Update: 2000 miles on…

Categories
Motorbikes

Ducati Monster M900

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Leica M9, Elmarit 21mm Asph, f5.6 @ 30 sec 160 ISO. (Lightroom preset ‘Nostalgialicious’)

The thing I noticed most when I first saw Ducati’s new Monster M900 was that incredibly wide back tyre. Of course I also noticed the massive twin discs and upside down forks. It even had trick little carbon side panels. Even when it was stationary it looked like it was going fast. It looked pretty bloody good back in 1995. It still looks pretty good today too.

My first impressions on riding it was that it was totally planted. It went around corners as if on rails soaking up bumps and completely ignoring irregularities in the road. Even when I opened the taps a bit I soon realised that this bike had very high limits and I wasn’t anywhere near them. I doubted I could even get close to them. This kind of realisation makes riding a Ducati special.

The power was fabulous, even though there wasn’t really that much of it. 85 hp is not very much by today’s standards and the engine doesn’t rev very high. There isn’t even a rev counter. But it’s got grunt, an immediate rush of power no matter what gear you’re in. It’s quite possible to ride a Monster very fast without even having to change gear very often.

Then there are those brakes. Awesome is the only word for it. Just the pressure from one digit will pull you up fast and true from any speed. The brakes hiss when applied. I have never heard that before.

Being a short bloke who only weighs about 60 kilos has a large bearing on the kind of motorbike I can ride. One of the good things about the Monster is the low seat height but it’s also very light at only 180 kilos so that low hp figure is somewhat misleading. My old 400/4 Honda weighed as much and had only half the hp. A mate has a Bandit 650 which has the same hp but that weighs 50 kilos more than the 900cc Ducati!

OK, so it’s not really a bike to ride long distance, with no fairing it’s just too tiring, but if you want to ride far buy a Honda Goldwing or a BMW. The Monster is about enjoying yourself. It has no redeeming practical features at all. The pillion position is terrible and neither comfy for the rider or pillion. The grunty nature of the motor and the amazing brakes means you’re constantly being nutted by your passenger. There isn’t room for a spare change of pants even.

It has a lousy turning circle, thanks to the shape of the frame and this can be annoying in town but here’s a clever way of turning the bike around. Out on the open road it’s never an issue and this is where this bike was designed to be, not in a car park. It’s quite economical and the quoted 17 kms per litre is about right. This means about 100  – 120 miles on a tank. Not a huge range but like I said if you want that kind of stuff you need a different kind of bike.

The funny thing is, I was always a Japanese bike man. I liked high revving, small multi cylinder bikes. I had ridden plenty of other bikes of course but all the big twins that I rode vibrated and made my vision blur and I didn’t like the way the engine snatched at low speeds. I didn’t even particularly like the sound they made. They were also pretty heavy and that’s no good for a little bloke so I was always happy with a 400 or 500 cc bike. Anything bigger would be too much for me in every sense.

A year with the Monster has changed this attitude completely. I never knew that a big twin could be so light and agile. I have to remind my self that I am riding a 900cc bike. That’s a big capacity engine. Bike insurance might be expensive but I’m now of an age that makes a real difference. A clean licence and plenty of no claims bonus helps too.

I really do feel at home on the Monster. It might be a 900cc bike and capable of going like one but it feels much smaller when you’re riding it. You don’t have to ride it like a nutter to get satisfaction from it unlike the Monster 696 I tried. Far better to have a quick bike that you can ride slower and still enjoy. If you want to ride fast you can, the Monster is a very capable bike in the right hands.

It’s always a treat to be able to keep up with the serious boys on their new road rockets. They always seem surprised that such an old bike can do so well against their modern high tech ones. They are even more surprised when they get overtaken coming out of a bend. That instant power delivery from the Monster’s twin means that while their motor is just winding up towards the power band, you’re already in it and it can make a big difference.

On paper the Monster M900 doesn’t appear to be any kind of threat to any of the latest bikes of a similar capacity but in the real world it does very well thank you. There are some who say that Ducatis are too expensive or unreliable. The bike I am riding is 15 years old and it has been reliable for the year I have had it. Everything still works. There is no play anywhere and the chassis and running gear still feels very tight.

The Monster is an iconic bike. It has influenced the look of many of the bikes on the road today. It has it’s faults but when it comes to smiles per miles you can’t do better. If you want a bike purely for the pleasure of riding and don’t need any practical aspects why not try an original Monster? Low mileage old ones can be bought for a fraction of what they cost new. These were very expensive bikes when they were first sold.

Recently I hired a Ducati 696 for a weekend and although it was a very competent bike, I felt it was trying to be everything to everybody and had lost some vital element. Given a choice between a brand new 696 or my 15 year old M900. There’s no contest. I would take the original without question. It’s a great bike and a true design classic.

Categories
Motorbikes

How to turn a motorcycle around easily

 

 

Here’s a helpful trick that all Ducati Monster owners need to know. The Ducati’s have a very poor lock so turning them around so they are facing the right direction can be a right pain, especially if you only have little legs! Here’s a simple way that requires very little effort and is very quick.

Categories
Motorbikes

Michelin Pilot Power tyre review

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Leica M9, Voigtlander f4 21mm 160 ISO Michelin Pilot Power

Before buying some new tyres for my cousin’s Ducati Monster M900 he’d been kind enough to lend me, I did some research online and soon realised that there is a huge choice of rubber out there. Actually it’s just plain confusing. I tried reading reviews of tyres but everyone seemed to be happy with their choice no matter who the manufacturer was and anyway, how can one know the experience of the reviewer?

In the end I decided that since the Monster is a powerful bike and I want to live for many years to enjoy it I’d go for a high performance street tyre and sacrifice a certain amount of wear for more grip. Since tyres are what keep you planted it makes sense to me to buy sticky tyres plus I wouldn’t be touring or going long distance on the Monster because without a fairing it’s just too tiring to ride.

Not sure why I chose the Michelins over any other brand but in the end I went for the Pilot Powers, maybe it was the tread pattern which is about as minimal as you can get. It looks pretty slick. I wanted to try the dual compound version but they didn’t do one in the right size for the Monster so single compound it was. The Pilot Powers are made from synthetic rubber straight from Moto GP land so should still be pretty good.

Another thing that I like from a tyre is a nice clear end to the tread. I want the tyre walls and the tread to have a sharp angle and not be rounded off. It just looks better to my mind. The Pilot Power is a good looking tyre. Some might say that it doesn’t matter, what matters is performance, not how a tyre looks at standstill. But the designers of bikes go to a lot of trouble making their bikes look a certain way and there’s no denying that tyres can completely change the look of a bike. Don’t agree? Put some trial bike tyres on a Ducati Monster.

So choice finally made, I took the bike down to the garage to have new shoes fitted. I was glad to be rid of the Pirelli Corsas that were on the bike, especially the rear, it was too wide, a 180/55 and not the correct 170/60/17. It’s not much, but I always think that designers know what they are doing when they specify a certain size of tyre. If they had wanted to fit 180/55 they would have done. It still had plenty of tread but the tyre gave me absolutely no confidence at all. Every corner I went around filled me with terror. A Ducati Monster is a great handling bike and shouldn’t feel like that.

The Pilot powers looked much better on the bike and the back tyre better proportioned to the wheel. After a warning from the fitter to be careful until the mould release has worn off the tyres I set off and wheelspun out on to the road. I had not intended to at all but the low down grunt of the 900 cc engine was enough to spin the back wheel. Guy wasn’t kidding.

Right away the bike felt better. The ride was softer yet firmer and the steering neutral. After 100 kms or so of gradually riding faster and faster and building confidence I realised that these were bloody good tyres with excellent grip and feel.

They need warming up for about 10kms but once up to temp they just do their job. The only time they aren’t very good is when riding over white lines. That may just be because the French have a rubbish reflective paint that appears to be made with Teflon on all their roads. Someone told me it was because the high quality Patented grippy version in the UK was too expensive. Who knows, perhaps with some other tyres it might not be so bad.

On one trip with a mate following on his Hornet 900 I was told that I was leaving black lines on the road coming out of the corners! The power of that big V twin must have been pushing the back tyre to the limits but I had no inkling of any drama being played out, the bike just goes around corners like it is on rails.

The turn in is very fast with these tyres, I think I read somewhere that the front tyre has a slight V shape which aids this. The bike lays down in the corners and stays there, the angle of lean stays fairly constant. They were never tested in the wet so I can’t give any feedback about how they might have performed but in the dry they grip very well.

They lasted well too. I managed to get about 3000 miles from the rear which, considering the kind of abuse it was subjected to was quite impressive, or at least I thought so, no doubt some reading this would be horrified but from what I can tell this is about right for a high performance street tyre. The front has plenty of tread left but it is lightly deformed but that’s hardly surprising considering the awesome stopping power of those 8 pot Brembo brakes. Both tyres wore evenly but that’s mainly because I rarely ride on straight roads.

I have been warned though by someone who gets through a hell of a lot of tyres on his bikes that Michelins can become suddenly unpredictable near the end. I have recently noticed a couple of little twitches from the back end when well heeled over but I couldn’t say whether it is the tyre going off or just an irregularity in the road surface but in my mind it could be the tyre, it probably is the tyre and so it’s time to change it.

Even though the front tyre looks OK, I’ll change it as well just to have a new matching pair from the same maker. One set of new tyres every year seems fair enough and the Pilot Powers were bought and fitted for about £200 which isn’t bad really, the Monster has big wide wheels after all.

If all I could get was a new set of Michelin Pilot Powers as before I would not be disappointed at all. Marks out of ten? I’d have to say at least a 7, maybe an 8 but I really haven’t tested that many different types of tyre so this is fairly meaningless although it can act as a bench mark. Lets go from here.

This time I am going to try the much rated Bridgestone BT 016 (read the review here) just because I feel that the bike deserves it and can you ever have too much grip? Will the BT 016 be better? I’ll let you know in a few weeks after I have thoroughly tested them in the real world.

Categories
Motorbikes

Ducati Monster Quat D Ex-Box exhaust

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Leica M9, Summarit f2.5 50mm f2.5 @ 20th sec, 2500 ISO, Ducati with ExBox exhaust. See how clean it looks with no visible pipes. This is one clean back end.

When my cousin lent me his M900 Monster it came with the noisiest pipes you ever heard. He had the pipes made up for the bike when it was new and instead of having one pipe on each side, it had them both on the right hand side, quite forward thinking at the time. It looked excellent and the sound was awesome if you like that kind of thing which I did but I didn’t think our neighbours would.

To give you an idea of how loud it was when it fired up, windows would open and people would be wondering what the hell had happened. I tried to ride it quietly but even at very low revs it was very loud. The funny thing is, I rode it like this for a few months until I could finally afford to do something about it yet no one said a word, if anything people would say they liked the sound. I have said it before and I’ll say it again, the South of France is biker heaven!

One day I arrived at a roundabout where there were 4 bike cops all standing watching me arrive, arms folded. I would get tugged for sure… I tried to keep it quiet but wasn’t fooling anyone as I burbled, popped and rumbled towards them, I just rode confidently, turned my head to look behind me as I slowed and then powered on through the round about.

Eight eyes followed me around. Obviously they were not after bikes, so just as a treat for them I gave the bike some gas, not too much obviously but just enough to really enjoy that big twin sound. They didn’t come after me and I got the distinct impression that they quite enjoyed seeing the bike. I would have been pulled over in the UK for sure. Then consider that the bike has no indicators and a tiny number plate, easily enough excuse for a British cop to bust your ass! Like I said, it’s biker heaven in the South of France.

Even though no one seemed to mind about the noise I was feeling rather conspicuous all the same so I decided to look into some quieter pipes. My original idea was to simply change the cans and leave the beautiful custom made stainless downpipes in place but I just couldn’t find anything that would fit properly and nothing looked as good as the Supertrapps originally fitted. I decided to try another approach.

Then I saw some pics of a monster with the entire exhaust under the engine. It was the Quat D Ex-Box. I liked it and it seemed that it was road legal but could be easily adapted to be louder by unblocking the top of the two outlet pipes in the box.

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Leica M9 Elmarit 21 Asph, f8 @ 500 160 ISO. M900 with Ex-Box Oct 2009

It cost a whopping 1000€ and was interesting to fit. The downpipes are made in pieces which slot into one another and are held in place by strong springs. It’s a crazy system but it looks quite funky and does work. The box itself is very nicely made and quite heavy. In theory the weight so low down and central would help with the handling a little.

The first issue soon came to light. The tyre was touching the exhaust pipe because the chain was too short. One new chain with two extra links later, we were in business. For the first test I left the exhaust road legal as supplied and started the bike.

‘Wow’ I thought, that dry clutch really is loud. This is perfectly normal of course but I hadn’t heard it before over the noise of the old pipes. The Ex-Box in legal mode is very quiet indeed. I quite liked it though for it may have been quiet but it was still deep. A test ride was in order.

As soon as I pulled away I noticed the lack of power, I reckon it lost 20% right away. Normally the front wheel will lift in first if you accelerate hard, now no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get the wheel off the ground. The bike felt very civilized but gutless. Maybe not gutless but it had lost the immediacy of the original delivery and the power curve felt very flat.

So I turned straight around and got the allen keys out and removed the capped top hole and installed the uncapped piece that comes with the exhaust. This meant that both holes in the exhaust were now open. I started the bike. The sound was deeper and louder. Nice.

A ride soon confirmed that the power was back. I was surprised that the original pipes were so effective. Loud they might have been but they were obviously well set up. So I had achieved my goal, a Ducati that sounds like a Ducati but won’t upset the neighbours too much.

The best thing about the Ex-Box is that it makes the back end of the bike so clean and mean looking. The bike is very narrow and the Ex-box emphasizes and enhances this feature.

Everyone notices this exhaust and most people’s comments are positive. I like it because it makes a nice sound, cleans up the back end and is a little different. You don’t often see bikes with them fitted.

Conclusion: Expensive but well made, nice sounding with clean looks but you might need a slightly longer chain.

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