Monday, October 31, 2011

Best Riding Advice

P1020130 by Jack Crossen
P1020130, a photo by Jack Crossen on Flickr.
A good goal when riding a motorcycle is to keep the word "smooth" in mind when you stop, start, accelerate, and turn.  It's not too hard to lock up the wheels when stopping or spin the tire when starting/accelerating - so the "smooth" mantra helps.

Turning is a little different. Smooth is still good but it's not enough. On dry/clean pavement it's harder to lean the bike over to the point where the tires lose traction than some riders assume. The result of this is that when a rider enters a turn too fast, some accidents happen that could be avoided.

Two things can happen that cause this - (a) the rider applies the brakes non-smoothly in the turn causing loss of traction or oscillation and subsequent low side or high side crash or (b) the rider "gives up" or panics in the turn and stands the bike up thinking if he/she leans the bike over anymore it will slide out from under them.

The goal when entering a turn is to slow before the turn and then accelerate after the apex. It's possible to brake in a turn but it must be done with care and it's not something you want to practice the first time you go into a turn hot. Try some front/rear braking in a turn at slower speeds and see what it feels like.

In some rare situations it may be possible, and your only option, to stand the bike up in a curve and apply the brakes in time to stop or at least reduce kinetic energy. Examples would be road debris, an animal or a stopped car is in your path and there is no option other than to slow as quickly as possible.

The point of this post is that I wanted to repeat what I thought was one of the best pieces of riding advice I've read/heard/practiced.

When you enter a curve too fast and aren't sure if you are going to make it - KEEP LEANING.

The first line of defense is to not enter curves too fast of course. If you happen to get into a curve where you think you are going too fast, rather than giving up and running off the road or into oncoming traffic, keep leaning.


If you can ride on a dirt or gravel road it helps to get a feel for how the bike handles and brakes work (or don't) on a surface with less friction. When considering how to use your brakes during a turn on dirt or a slippery road it's of some interest to note that dirt flat track motorcycles originally had no brakes, since 1977 and to this day - they have only a rear brake. Those riders slide the rear wheel out to bleed speed in the turns. You probably won't be doing that on the street (and your front brake is your friend a lot of the time), but if you can get some experience riding a light bike on a dirt/gravel road or track that's great.

Growing up in Montana there were quite a few dirt roads. I never thought it was anything special to ride on a dirt or gravel road - it was just something you learned to do and put up with. I'd much rather ride on a smooth paved road, but every so often I like to ride on a gravel or dirt road to see what it feels like. The only problem is the nearest gravel road of any length is about 50 miles from my house.

To this day I remember riding my Honda 350 on a dirt road fourty years ago and coming into a corner too fast. I locked up the wheels and made a perfectly straight exit from the road and into a field - turned around and continued on to work. The part that sticks in my mind is seeing my perfectly straight skid mark through the corner and out into the weeds, and thinking - that wasn't very smart but at least I was lucky.

Now that I'm older and have used up a lot of my luck I try to ride smart most of the time - not always though. I'll do a few stupid things now and then just to keep things interesting or because it's fun. I have pretty good risk assessment skills so nothing obviously life-threatening. One of the advantages of age is you can choose your stupidity - not like when I was younger and did stupid stuff  fairly regularly with no real idea why other than it seemed like a good idea at the time.

If I have to ride a motorcycle at a sedate pace all the time, I'm hoping it's when I'm 80 something, but not quite yet.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Hot Water Heater Repair

I was feeling pretty good Sunday morning when I took this picture. Betsy had left me a note saying the hot water heater wasn't working and I had the parts to fix it in that plastic bag - so I thought.

Here's the long boring story...

When I tried to light the pilot light it wouldn't stay lit once I released the reset button. Most likely cause is the thermocouple (copper tube inside the plastic bag). That piece with the tubes and red wire sticking out of it is the burner assembly. The assembly is made up of - the burner (that rusty looking thing), a gas tube for the burner, another for the pilot light, a wire for the piezoelectric spark generator and another copper tube that holds the thermocouple. You have to take the burner assembly out of the hot water heater to remove the thermocouple.

 I was pretty happy that Lowes had a new "universal" thermocouple for about 7 bucks - until I figured out this particular Whirlpool hot water heater has (had) a unique thermocouple.

Little did I know that  this hot water heater is quite famous on the internet for it's thermocouple design. It was the subject of a Class Action, a couple of videos by a home handyman - Left Hand Thread Thermocouple Water Heaters and many web forums documenting Consumer complaints about Whirlpool Water Heaters.

Even though this water heater has quite a reputation on the internet - the people I talked to at Lowes don't know much of anything about the water heater or parts for it. I tried ever place I could think of and no one has this part. Whirlpool told me to tell Lowes I needed the "A" kit - most of the time the answer was - "what"? "You need A kit?" The Lowes in Monroe told me they had the "B", "D" and "G" kit but no "A".

 It's pretty disappointing to me that two brands I've associated with quality products - Whirlpool and Maytag have ended up being not so great. This water heater has worked fine for 6 years so I can't complain too much. The Maytag Performa washing machine (another Lowes purchase) would walk across the basement since it didn't have an out of balance switch - I was glad when it quite working for good. We rolled the dice and bought a Kenmore that's working fine (fingers crossed).

 This water heater has a 6 year warranty on it. The manufacturing date was the August 2005. Since I didn't have the original receipt and never registered for the warranty, the warranty runs from the manufacturing date.

Whirlpool doesn't make water heaters - they just put their brand on them. This water heater is assembled in Tennessee by US Craftmaster aka American Water Heater. I'm getting the new improved thermocouple overnight from the manufacturer in Tennessee. It should show up Tuesday afternoon. Even though I was a member of the class (for the class action suit), Whirlpool told me they won't give me the new improved thermocouple since my heater is out of warranty. If I had most any water heater than this I'd be able to fix it with a 7 dollar part - I'm paying 65 dollars for the part and overnight shipping from Tennessee. There's no local source.


A thermocouple is a device made of two dissimilar metals that converts heat into electricity. Using this property, the water heater thermocouple senses when the pilot light is lit and sends an electrical signal to the gas controller allowing gas to flow. The thermocouple sits in the pilot light flame on a gas hot water heater and outputs a small voltage (20-30 millivolts) when it's heated by the flame.

If you've ever lit a pilot light and wondered why the directions tell you to hold the "reset" button down for a minute - it's because you need to heat up the thermocouple so it generates electricity. The reset button bypasses the thermocouple but once you release it the controller needs to see the electrical signal from the thermocouple to keep the gas valve open.

The thermocouple in the Whirlpool hot water heater is unique in that (a) it has left-hand threads (lefty tighty) and (b) it has a fusible link inside a bulb in the copper sheath. If the material in the fusible link gets hot enough it melts, interrupting the electrical signal and shutting off the gas. This is a one-time event since once the fuse melts it's not repairable or resettable.

The reason for the left hand (odd-ball) threads on this thermocouple is the engineers who designed this water heater didn't want you to install a generic thermocouple - since they don't have the fusible link.

The new improved thermocouple doesn't have the fusible link - it has a typical thermal overload switch (resettable) mounted in the burner door and it has an adapter so you can use a generic right handed thread thermocouple.

Hot water heaters built since 2003 are sealed around the bottom where the combustion chamber is except for an air vent/flame arrester under the heater that lets air in but keeps flames from jumping out if you happen to spill gasoline near the gas hot water heater. The term for this feature is - flammable vapor ignition resistant or  FVIR. Suffice it to say with lots of safety features it's pretty hard to start something on fire with your gas hot water heaters nowadays.

I'm glad I like to learn how things work and fix things that are broken, but I'd like to take a hot shower without having to drive to the gym - so I'm hoping the parts show up tomorrow and the hot water heater  is working by tomorrow night.


The kit "A" showed up about 3 pm Tuesday and I had it installed an hour or so later. Taking the old burner off, installing a new burner jet, reusing the old piezo-electric starter, connecting the new pilot light pipe to gas controller, new main gas pipe to gas controller, thermo-couple adapter and it's wiring was all sort of interesting. I'd rate this job about a 2 on a difficulty scale of 1-5. It's probably about a 3 on a potential danger scale of 1-5 given the danger associated with natural gas leaks/fire/explosions.

The mercaptan (a thiol) added to natural gas makes it pretty easy to detect a leak with your nose - so if you smell that stinky rotten egg smell don't try to light the pilot light, shut off the gas supply, and find the leak. Natural gas is odorless without the mercaptan, but as a result of the New London School Explosion in Texas in the 1930's it was mandated by the Texas legislature and it's use spread around the world. The human nose is extremely sensitive to some thiols - for example the smell of a skunk can be detected at 10 parts per billion. I love Wikipedia...

 If you read the directions carefully, take your time and have some experience with tools, electricity, gas, pipes and stuff it's not a big deal. If that's not your thing I'd call a repair person.

One thing I like about working with your hands and head is the immediate unambiguous feedback that lets you know if you did a good job. The desired end result of this task is easy to define and measure - (a) don't burn down the house (b) don't  blow something or someone up and (c) have hot water.

No arguing, debating, speculating, guessing, just the facts - it either works or it doesn't. If only everything was so clear cut.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Thread of AWESOME!

I think the The Thread of AWESOME! at Adventure Rider has some cool, funny, weird stuff - like this awesome video about how an octopus can camouflage itself by changing it's skin color, pattern and texture.

There's a lot of different stuff people have posted on that thread; here are a few other videos that I thought were cool -

Brickies Labourering in Bangladesh
3D Printer
MikroKopter - HexaKopter.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Riding Gear

I bought some replacement gloves recently. One pair is the Olympia Sports Monsoon Gloves for riding in the rain and another pair of Olympia Sports gloves that are vented for riding when it's hot.

I'm not particularly pleased with either pair. The fit of the Monsoon gloves felt good at the store, but now I realize the thumb on one is longer than the other. I bought those to replace a cheap pair of Tourmaster vented gloves I bought on Ebay - which I really like but were getting holes in them.

The lining of the Olympia Sports Monsoon gloves has a weird plastic feel that doesn't breathe and it is not sewn to the glove so when you pull your hand out the lining tends to come out of the glove, so it's hard to put the glove on again. The length of the glove is wrong too - they are a little too long to go under your jacket - but not long enough, or wide enough, to go over.

The vented gloves have bumps and lumps inside from the way they are constructed. I also saw a pair of gloves in Harbor Freight that were sold as mechanic's gloves that look very similar for 1/3 the price.

When you spend a lot of time on a bike, or ride in different weather conditions - hot/cool/cold/wet you need the right gear, so you are concentrating on riding and enjoying the ride.  Little things are important. Anyone who rides on two wheels knows that a piece of clothing that feels good when you are standing/sitting around can become a big distraction while riding if you end up getting wet, blisters, chaffing, too hot or cold.

Conclusion - I won't be buying Olympia Sports riding gear in the future. They may make some great stuff but I'm not going to take the chance.

I have some Firstgear pants, jacket and gloves that are great. Same for the Tour Master rain pants I have and the Harley Davidson jacket and boots. They aren't motorcycle specific, but the Frye leather boots I have work very well. They are comfortable leather, good protection and can be relatively waterproof with application of Sno-Seal.

I've almost worn out a pair of generic elk skin gloves that I wear a pair of gel cold weather REI bicycle gloves under - those have worked well. I have some deer skin gloves I bought at the Farmer's Coop with Seirus glove liners from REI that are nice and comfy too.


One little (or maybe not so little in the big picture) thing that bothers me about the nice Harley jacket I have is that it was not made in America. I was surprised to find that on the tag...but maybe it's too much to think leather jackets, or much of any clothing, will be made in the U.S.A. I think Frye boots are made in the U.S.A. but I don't know for sure - their website makes it seem like they would be. 

The deer skin gloves I got at the Farmer's Coop have a big American flag and U.S.A. on the tag - which I was happy about when I bought them. Turning the tag over, it turns out the gloves are made in China - the deer came from America.

Beartooth Highway by Jack Crossen
Beartooth Highway, a photo by Jack Crossen on Flickr.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Riding in The Rain - Again

P1010197 by Jack Crossen
P1010197, a photo by Jack Crossen on Flickr.
I get to ride in the rain quite a bit this time of year. It's fine with the right clothes, traffic and light conditions.

Riding on I-5 during rush hour in the dark in the rain is right at the limit of my risk calculation strategy though. I would not do that on a regular basis. There's too much chance for someone in a car to stop short or pull into the car pool lane while your zipping by - and no matter how good a rider you are, you aren't going to be able to slow down in time. When traffic is heavy the car spray can cause a fog, you deal with the lights of oncoming traffic causing glare on the rain drops on your shield..etc. Once you get above 50 or so the wind will pretty much clear your face shield - certainly good enough for daylight, but not so much in the dark.

The main thing is to ride smoothly, slow down, ride at a pace that you are comfortable with, if possible stay off the road right after a light rain (when the oil and stuff hasn't been washed off), watch your following distance, plan ahead/look ahead, don't stop/start quick on the white slippery markings at intersections, and practice in low traffic conditions so you get a feel for the traction.

If I was planning a trip where I might be riding in the rain/cold,  hot, or even a little snow I'd try and practice that riding and make sure my gear is adequate, on short hops first. If snow was sticking to the road or it's icy - I'd pull over no matter what. When I rode up from San Luis Obispo a couple of years ago in February I'd been using my gear around town and had practice riding in the rain - but I'd never been on that bike, and I've ridden when there was a little ice and snow on the road - so I don't always follow my own advice, but as a general goal it sounds good to me.

I was accelerating onto I-5 this morning going 55-60 mph - in the dark in the rain, and gunned it just a little too much - the rear tire started to spin up and I got a little weave going. Live and learn. I like the challenge/focus of that - you don't get a lot of free passes to learn so you ride with care, smoothly, taking into account your abilities and the bike. It seems very elemental? to me. It's you and the elements - the cars, rain, road - and your concentrating on surviving some times - enjoying the ride most times. It can be very relaxing in an odd way since you are going to forget about whatever else was on your mind  as you focus on what's happening in the moment.

Which brings up one final point - if you find you can't focus for whatever reason, you're very tired, really stressed out to the point of not being able to let it go, intoxicated, too cold or hot, - it's best to stay off a bike. I know from experience you can survive doing that for short periods of time but over the long haul it's asking too much of your guardian angels/luck/karma or whatever you like to call it.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Good Weekend

Quite a few things going on this weekend.

The painter finished the house painting earlier in the week. He did a good job and we are pleased with the quality of the work. My job was to finish the trim/fascia board on the garage which was just about the right amount of time on a ladder, prepping and painting for me. I'll paint the body of the garage next summer.

I installed a new metal screen door on the back door since the old wooden one I'd put up years ago had reached it's service life. The metal door was easier to hang than the simple wooden door, since it has a frame - making working with a non-plumb door frame easier. It still took a fair amount of fussing around to get it to swing and latch - but I'm satisfied with the end result. The only bad thing is the window is up too high for Edgar to look out - but he can keep an eye on the front door.

Becca had sent me an offer from Living Social for coupons at Lynnwood Harley Davidson which seemed like too good of a deal to pass up. You got a 100 dollar gift card for 50 dollars. The limit was two per customer. I used my first coupon to get a couple of pairs of gloves - one waterproof pair and one warm weather vented pair. They are Olympia brand gloves. H.D. gloves are good quality but the price differential for the Harley brand adds more than I wanted to pay. I got a H.D. stocking cap and a Flydanna cotton head wrap (doo rag) to get to a hundred dollars worth of merchandise. I like to wear something under my helmet that is washable since you tend to get dust/road grime inside your helmet over time - especially the open face helmets.

I think I'm going to get a nylon H.D. jacket with the other coupon. I was going to get air and oil filters but I can get a K&N filter from Amazon for a good price with free shipping so I'm going to do that.

On Saturday we took pictures of Becca and Alex at Grand Avenue Park to use for their wedding invitation - what a good looking couple. Later in the day we went to Alex's parents house for dinner - which was really nice.

On Sunday I replaced the front brake pads on the Concours with some new EBC sintered pads from Murphs that I'd bought some time ago. I was holding off replacing the pads on the bike since they had lots of  pad material left, but one of them had worn at an angle which was causing some pulsing - so it seemed like false economy to take the risk of trying to completely wear out that set. The brake caliper pistons were dirty and a little corroded so it was a time consuming task to clean those up with brake cleaner and 2000 grit wet/dry sandpaper. Everything was nice and shiny when I was done though.

I finished reading the Motorcycle Consumer News magazines I'd checked out of the library. I think that's the best motorcycle magazine available - they don't have advertisements so the reviews are unbiased and they cover a variety of topics - new bikes and products, history, safety, maintenance, and rider health.

I washed my KZ1000P, oiled the chain and took all three bikes out for rides over the weekend. I think the best thing for a motorcycle if you want to keep it running is to ride it regularly for at least 20 miles at a stretch - long enough to get the oil up to temperature and evaporate the moisture inside the engine. I also like to exercise the carburetors running them wide open for awhile and doing some engine braking.

Rachel and Kelly went to the Seahawks game on Sunday (we all got to go last weekend to see the Hawks win over the Arizona Cardinals). I hope they didn't leave early since that turned out to be a close game with the Hawks almost winning in the final seconds with a 60 yard field goal, which didn't work out. Still I think it was a lot better performance than a lot of people expected.

I'm looking forward to this week - getting my rain gear on, trying out my new waterproof gloves, watching my favorite TV shows (Project Runway and Parks and Rec), working - just the usual stuff.