Sunday, August 22, 2010

Adventures in water crossing - Part 3

Since I haven't had much time to ride this season, when opportunity finally knocked several weeks ago during a period of fine weather, I jumped on the steed and headed for an evening cruise. In my haste to profit from this good fortune, I neglected to strap on my tool/spares bag which is wise insurance when riding out in Lanark County. Ah, but what could possibly go wrong? This was an evening stroll, not an adventure ride!

After a spin up to White Lake I decided to take a diversion back through Sleepy Hollow Rd, a nice unopened track that parallels White Lake Road through the woods. I've ridden it many times. A bit rough, it hides the occasional puddle but is otherwise quite innocuous.

About halfway along the trail is a puddle between two little slopes that I've crossed many times. It's only a few inches deep. However, this time, just as I slowed down and approached, I noticed a beaver swimming across in front of me. Uh oh. Couldn't stop, wasn't going fast enough to get through, and as I wallowed perfectly into the middle of the where the beaver just was, my front wheel sank into the mire. Crap! The water was about 2 feet deep! I came off on the right but my foot kept going down... down... where is the bottom?! Before I could stop it, my bike tipped over, the tailpipe filled with water, and the engine quit. I was up to my hips in soft gluey muck, struggling to keep my KLR above water. But with each heave, I just drove my legs deeper into the muck.

That morning I'd cut and stacked about 5 mature trees worth of firewood. After 6 hours of cutting, I was bagged. It was all I could do at this point to right my bike. Five times I deadlifted it before I was able to balance it upright and wiggle around to the front. By this time, the sun was setting and I had only about 45 minutes of light left. I managed to winch it out of the puddle by grabbing the spoke on the front wheels. Mud everywhere, I was soaked, and the deer flies and mosquitoes were fierce.

Frustration at my own idiocy drove me to push the bike about 200m down the trail. Mercifully, it was generally downhill, but eventually I hit a slope that I couldn't push the bike up and decided to just walk out. Incredibly I got a cell signal and was able to call my brother to bail me out. While walking out, I met a guy on a quad who graciously gave me a tow the rest of the way. The bike was flooded and not a chance of starting it with a dead battery that I had meant to change all season.

Next day, I disassembled my bike to inspect the damage. Incredibly, nothing serious besides water in the tailpipe all the way to the head. Once I drained that and installed a new battery and changed the oil, it fired up no problem. If I'd had my tools, I could probably have fixed it on the trail in a pinch. Lesson learned. Still, I'm amazed at how rugged the KLR is. Despite these tales of abuse, I really do try to look after it and perhaps in recognition of that, it rewards me with faithful performance.

Clayton 2B

Despite all the fine weather we've had lately, I've hardly touched any bike--motorized or not--for the past few months. Just been too busy this year. Today I had to break the spell. So, mist notwithstanding, I headed out for a little cruise on the KLR as a reward for cutting brush and firewood all morning. But, where to go?

Clouds seemed threatening up towards Pakenham, so naturally that's the way I headed. My bike led me, Ouija board-like, towards White Lake and before I knew it my knobbies were turning onto the California Road. Might as well go along for the ride by this point, so there I was, bouncing along this lovely favourite trail with fresh woods air in my face. It was almost a let-down ending up in the Tatlock core, battling traffic and waiting for lights to change. But got through rush-hour OK and figured a peek at the marble quarry was in order. Much expanded excavation since the last time I was there. It's a pretty nifty place to check out.

Procrastinating my way back to Almonte, I thought I should finally check out the 2B concession just off the Tatlock Rd. before Gemmill's General Store. It's alway's intrigued me, but being so close to it I've always figured "next time". Much to my surprise, it didn't end in a private laneway like so many other dead-end concessions in the area. On the contrary, there's a delicious old road sneaking off into the woods. I couldn't resist. I road about 2-3 more kms before my nagging sense of better judgement won the debate and I turned around to head home before dark.

The track seems reasonably well travelled, although I saw no new tire tracks which suggests it actually goes somewhere useful and may even be a through-route. A look at Google Maps suggests many possibilities. There's a maze of lakes and swamps in that area, and the satellite imagery hints tantalizingly at many possible tracks through the wilderness. This is a route where you'll want to bring a GPS and a repair kit for sure.

I'll be checking out this one again at my earliest opportunity. It looks like there's about 8-15km of track to follow before you come out on a dead-end side road off a 90 degree corner on the Bellamy Mills Rd. There were many well-travelled side tracks to explore as well. I suspect they head to hunting or logging areas. It's rideable with dual-sport tires, but I would advise knobbies if it's wet. There are some good ruts, rocks and gravel that you'll need to wiggle around, and the trail undulates with puddles in the dips. It's about half a grade rougher than the California Road, and no worse than any of the off-road trails around the K&P, like the E series.

Hunting season is coming fast, so if you want to explore in Lanark County, you basically have until the end of September and then you'll want to paint your bike orange, wear a safety vest, and stay off the trails.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Why does mountain biking suck in the Ottawa region?

It does. And it shouldn't.

Notwithstanding the heroic efforts of the Ottawa Mountain Biking Association, who have selflessly and persistently built some fantastic trails in Kanata Lakes, the Ottawa region is inexcusably devoid of good mountain biking. This despite having a world-class landscape with immense trail potential and a vibrant local cycling community.

I'm not making an uninformed claim. As a mountain biker since 1987, when I moved to Ottawa in 1994 one of the first things I did was explore the region's rides. Since then I've ridden pretty much every metre of rideable trail and road within 100 km of Almonte, where I live. Those were some epic days. Now I'm exploring further by motorbike, trying to find untapped potential.

Tragically, much of the good stuff I used to ride years ago has disappeared under the developers paving machine, been marked "no trespassing", been legislated out of access by the NCC, or succumbed to the fear of liability. Consider the following rides:

- Gatineau Park. Once the local riding mecca with many kilometers of epic technical singletrack, the NCC has incrementally banned riding from almost every interesting area except the #1 fireroad. Great... your only option is to weave around families pushing strollers, pets on 20' leashes, and groups walking five abreast. No one's happy with that situation, least of whom riders. Of course, the NCC justifies their actions as "protecting nature". I'm all for protecting nature too, which is why it baffles me that the NCC's "environmental" activity includes allowing rich people to build houses in the park, roads to be blasted into tourist sites, and pristine remote singletrack to be bulldozed and widened so strollers can navigate it (think trails north of Lac Phillippe). Don't get me started on the NCC's rock climbing restrictions!

- Kanata Lakes. The poorly conceived Terry Fox extension planned for this year will destroy a major chunk of a unique part of the Carp Ridge. We already lost half of Kanata Lakes to vinyl-clad houses, whose developers blasted the crap out of every feature that made the place desirable in the first place, so they could create byzantine tangles of suburban sprawl.

- Mt. Pakenham. This area had mega trail potential just a short drive from Ottawa. I used to ride cross country there. I and a few others saw potential for 50-100km of world-class mountain bike park. However, I was told by the Wilderness Tours owners that liability concerns have shut the area to riders, so now it sits unused in the summer.

- Calabogie Peaks. Same as Mt. Pakenham, except they did have a short period of officially sanctioned riding. Unfortunately, it's just that bit too far from Ottawa to make business sense, but why not allow volunteer trail makers do some work?

- Wilderness Tours. The Rafters to Rapids trail is nice, but the minimal trail development doesn't justify the $10 fee and the one-hour drive each way.

- Eastern Ontario trails system. Now this has potential, but it's a looooonnnnggg way from support even for motorized riders, and the trails aren't designed for mountain biking. Still, an impressive epic potential--if you don't mind 100km between food and water opportunities.

- Stoney Swamp. Nice riding in a pinch or for beginners, but flat and limited in potential compared to other areas. Nevertheless, much kudos to the City of Ottawa for letting us ride there without the kind of neurotic, self-serving restrictions that some other government organizations would impose.

That's pretty much it for local rides. Quebec has its ATV trails, Toronto area has the fantastic Uxbridge Forest and Hardwood Hills, and there's the forest in Peterborough. Lots of ATV trails throughout the province. But only three hours away is the Adirondacks with a huge trail network and no bugs. I'd prefer to spend my money at home--even better, to ride right from home.

The Ottawa area has the raw ingredients to become a truly world-class ride center on par with centres in Oregon, Washington State, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, France, the UK, British Columbia, Switzerland, Slovakia, and many other places. It would be a great way to bring tourist dollars into the region. Worried about liability? How come the snowmobilers and ATVers can figure it out, with thousands of km of their own trails in Ontario accessible for only $150 a year? They have a great model. Mountain bikers know how to build trails, we have the labour and equipment, and we have organizations like IMBA to provide expert guidance on access and technical issues.

We just need our local government agencies to open their minds and consider cycling an important part of urban and suburban planning. Without that support, it's hard to get private landowners to take it seriously either.

Update (Aug 25, 2014): This post certainly resonated with readers. I'm happy to report that in the years since posting, I've negotiated land access agreements with local landowners, roped in some volunteers, and built 8 km of flowy single track connecting Almonte to the Mill of Kintail. We are currently working on a new trail network in the area, provided we can get all the necessary approvals. It's been challenging to work with the various public agencies (much harder than working with private landowners!) but fortunately some of them have been highly supportive of our efforts.

Update (March 17, 2015): Almost five years after posting this rant, and it's encouraging to see some real progress in local trails: OMBA and the NCC are working together to increase summer and winter (fatbiking) access to Gatineau Park; OMBA volunteers have further refined the South March Highlands trail network and undertaken some new trail development projects in cooperation with the City of Ottawa; Mississippi Mills (which includes Almonte) has been tremendously supportive of local trail initiatives, and we are in the process of extending our Almonte Riverside Trail through the Mill of Kintail to Bennie's Corners, which will give a total of about 20km of local singletrack; local landowners are stepping up to engage in discussions about how to secure trail access across their property. While the region is still not the dense trail mecca of a Kingdom Trails, there are many positive developments that should result in more trails over the next few years, with many benefits to the communities that support these efforts.

Old Government Rd. to Lavant

Lanark County is unusual in Canadian history in that it was founded as a military project following the War of 1812. Back then, Britain and the US held their grudge match following the US War of Independence, with the upshot that anyone with British inclinations still hanging around the US after the dust settled was vigorously encouraged to leave. The area around Kingston, among others, received a large influx of Loyalists and demobilized soldiers looking to start a new life.

The Brits suspected the Americans would try to pull a fast one and invade Canada. Those suspicions proved accurate, so the Brits undertook a massive military program to bolster security in Upper Canada (today's Eastern Ontario region). The Rideau Canal was part of this plan--it provided a secure means of transporting goods and people between Kingston and Montreal via the Ottawa River. Lanark County was another part of the plan. The British didn't fully trust the allegiance of those Loyalists-come-lately down in Kingston. So they wanted a bulwark of unquestionably loyal subjects along the upper reaches of the Rideau Canal. Who better to serve this honour than the Scots?

Hence the Crown arranged for several waves of Lowland Scots to settle Lanark County. Townships were settled in horizontal bands starting in the south. East-west roads were therefore important routes to link these early communities. The Franktown Rd. from Richmond to Perth was a prime example (who woulda thunk that Franktown was an important centre back in the day?). Perth was the lower county seat for settlement activity and Lanark was optimistically envisioned as being the upper county seat. Tragically, actually. Lanark's plan of survey is about three times larger than Perth's. But Lanark's on unforgiving terrain so we all know how that plan worked out. Anyway, Highway 511 linking the two towns was intended to be an important north-south arterial route and in fact it was one of the earliest settlement roads in Ontario.

All this brings us to Old Government Road. The question is, which one? Pretty much every early road in Lanark County was a "Government Road" because the military drove settlement activity until about the 1820s.

My 1879 map of Lanark County shows an intriguing route from Hwy 511 to Lavant, north of the road that today runs through Poland. In Lavant today, there's a trail out of town named "Old Government Road" that aligns with the historic route. It's closed in summer (private access) but open to snowmobilers in winter. The E104 trail follows Old Government Road on its way to the ghost town of Lammermoor, but I suspect the historic route diverges to further north along Waddle Creek Road, which intersects the 511 at Brightside. It's really hard to be sure. Correlating old maps with new is more art than science, so I'll be out exploring more of this route to see what clues I can find.

An interesting side trip turned out to be the E104 where it crosses Hwy 511 to the east, just north of Hopetown. This track, as shown in the above photo, has signs of being an old road and not just a snowmobile trail. You can only get in about a kilometer or two because it descends into swamp. Maybe by late summer the swamp will be passable and can be linked up to Pretty Drive.

As a footnote, the E104 west of Lavant (up Lavant Mountain) was in fantastic shape last weekend. Mudholes that are usually axle deep--or deeper--were bone dry. There are still some gnarly riding sections but this is definitely the driest I've ever seen this trail. Highly recommended from Lavant to Bottle Lake Road, but you'll benefit from knobbies and good low-end speed control. I just switched my countersprocket to a 14-tooth which should help immensely in the technical sections. You're hard pressed to ride 20-40km/hr on these trails on anything as heavy as a KLR. That is, I won't because I tend to ride self-supported. Don't need a breakdown, thanks!

Contact me if you want a guided tour of any of these trails. I've ridden a lot of the dirt within 200 km west of Almonte. Knobbies are ideal, but you could manage with dualsport tires if you're patient and confident on loose surfaces. You'll also need a Gold Trail Pass, available at Carson's in Perth. Keep it legit and no one can complain if you accidentally go down a trail you're not supposed to.

Clayton floating bridge

Head west of Almonte on Wolf Grove Rd. until you hit the 12th concession on your right. It's about 16km out of town, past Union Hall Road with the tall antenna.

At the end of the 12th is the narrows between Taylor and Clayton Lakes. There used to be a famous floating bridge here. It's shown on my Lanark County map from 1879 and was in use until 1964 when it was destroyed by Hurricane Connie. Photos of the bridge from the 1950s show it was in pretty rough shape by the end. If you're paddling here, apparently you can still see the timbers on the lake bottom.

In the photo above you can just see a light spot on the far shore where the 12th continues. This stretch of water used to be a lot narrower until about the 1980s, when the dam in Clayton was improved and the lake levels raised considerably.

The bridge served as an important shortcut through the lakes and swamps that appear along a line drawn between Clayton and Middleville. If you lived north of that line, you'd want ready access to the Upper Perth Road, which you can see today just south of where the 12th intersects Wolf Grove Rd. The Upper Perth Road was the main drag from Blakeney to Perth via Bennies Corners (intersection near Mill of Kintail--another ghost town whose population left to settle Almonte), Clayton, Fergusons Falls, and Balderson. The ride's a piece of cake today, but accounts of this trail from the mid-1800s describe it as a muddy track winding through massive old-growth pine and hardwood forests.

Google Maps shows the town of Lloyd just before the floating bridge. It's not shown on my 1879 map and there's nothing to see today.

Boyd Caldwell Mine - Found!

Recently the weather was crappy and I wasn't feeling so hot myself, so I figured it was about time I gave the "Mayor of Wilbur", Bud Thomas a call to see if I could interview him. Bud grew up in Wilbur out on the K&P rail line, and his grampa worked in the Boyd Caldwell mine nearby back in the late 1800s. His mom cooked and cleaned at a local rooming house which has long since disappeared. She'd been down in the mine as a little girl. Bud is a rare treasure of oral history about a fascinating and all but lost part of early Canadian settlement. I spent three hours with Bud asking him about his experiences growing up in the Lavant Station area and recorded all of it. I plan to edit and submit the recordings to the local archives, and will post some clips here.

Bud's getting on in years and his health isn't so good, but he's full of energy and stories. We started our conversation in the kitchen of his old frame house, wood smoke in the air and whisky on the table. As you can tell from the audio clips I'll post, I'm no professional interviewer. I just wanted to get Bud talking. Before long we were out sitting in his white Lincoln Town Car (license plate: "KP LINE"), bouncing along the KP Line itself on a mission into the bush. I have to say, I'd never gone off-roading in a Lincoln before. It was touch-and-go several times as Bud patiently and expertly guided us down narrow trails, through beaver floods, over boulders, and down wet grassy slopes. But we made it to our destination: the site of Wilbur town, and the sites of the old Boyd Caldwell and Wilbur mines nearby.

I'd been in this area before, looking for evidence that there used to be a town of 250 people here. I thought I knew where I was looking. I was wrong. The signs were so subtle there's no way anyone would see them unless you know exactly where to look. Bud described how the area used to look 70 years ago. There were open meadows, roads, houses, train tracks, tall piles of mine tailings, boardwalks, and electric lights. Both Wilbur and nearby Lavant Station were important industrial towns in Eastern Ontario in 1884. Kids came from all over to attend the Wilbur school. Miners, lumbermen, farmers and their families came to town to drink, dance and socialize. Then the bottom fell out of the iron market in the late 1800s. It was no longer economical to run the Wilbur mines and ship the ore to Pittsburgh for smelting. The mines shut for good. Or did they?

Bud told me a story about how the mine owners tried to raise money to "reopen" the mines. They visited all the hardware supply stores in the area and bought up all the tar paper that locals used to roof their shacks. Then they burned the tar paper down in the mines to create thick clouds of smoke, like the coal-fired water pumps and air compressors made. Photos were taken to show how the mines were "operating" at full steam in an attempt to persuade people in New York to fork over more capital. It was all a scam of course, and the mines soon shut for good.

With no hope for a local economy, the town of Wilbur on its spur of the K&P quickly faded away. Locals pulled out the rails and any other metal they could find to sell for scrap. Beavers blocked a stream which flooded a marsh and submerged the old rail spur past town. The rail line to the mine head washed out as nearby ponds flooded. Shacks and houses decayed, bricks crumbled, and nature worked its inexorable fingers into anything manmade. By the 1930s, Bud said there were only foundations covered with old flooring left to see. Forestry operations soon ran over those remains.

Now, as you walk around the dense bush that has overgrown the town and mine sites, you need a keen eye to see signs of former industry. Bud hadn't been back here in 65 years and he was surprised by how much it had changed. But he has a keen memory, and he recalled where the trails were, where so-and-so's house used to be, where the caves were that a childhood friend of his used to crawl into, and where a huge henhouse used to stand. He showed me a square-cut cave in a rock where a local used to store his food. Now all that remains are vague impressions in the ground on suspiciously straight lines, and scraps of metal, brick and old railway ties.

I've been in touch with local landowners about getting access to more of the site and family archive so I can do more research. Unfortunately, there's been a longstanding dispute about who owns what in the area and access has been a bit delicate. While I'm no Pierre Berton, I'm passionate about studying our heritage and I hope that we can overcome these challenges together and better document this story for future generations.

Photo 1: Entrance to the "Lower Road" off Bottle Lake Rd., which leads directly to the centre of old Wilbur. Bud used to maintain this road. It's been impassible since the ice storm of 1998.

Photo 2: The cold storage cave in Wilbur town site where a man Bud knew used to keep his meat, vegetables and butter. From marks and other signs in the area, it looks like it might have originally been a test shaft for the mine.

Photo 3: Bud looking over the old rail spur beside the mine. This gully was blasted out of the rock and now a stream flows where rails used to be. Remnants of rail ties and the odd scrap of ballast give it away. Behind Bud and over the slope to his right is the main mine shaft. There are huge tailings pile nearby.

Photo 4. The mine head. I'm not sure yet if this is the Boyd Caldwell mine or the Wilbur Mine, but I think it's the latter. Bud showed me the other minehead on the hydro cut. It's not at all obvious. This one still had rails sticking out at an angle, and nearby you could see where the mine lift was located to pull ore out on the rails. This mine was about 70' deep. The pool is about 80' across. It was pouring rain and hard to get a good shot here.

Mexico trip

My stepfather, Mike (seen here on our Lanark tour last summer), told me about a great motorbike trip he did across Mexico in March. He and a buddy trailered their BMWs down to Texas, then rode a few thousand kms across the mountains of central Mexico to the west coast and back. Perfect weather, nice people, good food, no problems at all. I'm bugging him for some pics and a story which I'll post when I get them.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Motorcycling in Pakistan

The Karakoram Highway on a Honda 125. Great story in CMG.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Best WRC story ever

While it's not about two wheels, knobbies are involved and this is such an awesome story of underdog win that I'm pretty sure any dualsport fan would appreciate it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

California trip

Obviously not that California. This is the one past Tatlock--the unnamed squiggle off the Darling Rd at the top of the map. Had to check out the trail as part of testing my rebuilt water pump. Still lots of frozen sections, squishy ground which makes for a some surprises when cornering, and muddy holes to douse your boots. Not recommended just yet. But give it another few weeks and things should firm up nicely. If you haven't ridden this trail, it exits at White Lake and makes a great first DP ride. Knobbies not required in summer.

Given how mucky the Cali Rd. is, the K&P is almost certainly worse because it's much more shaded. Last year, by the time there was hardly any snow anywhere, the K&P still harboured long sections of thick ice and surface meltwater which proved a real challenge to ride. Felt like the bike would twist out at any instant.

That extra little bit of elevation of the highlands drops the average temps a few degrees. While nice in the summer, at this time of year it turns a borderline rideable day into a popsicle marathon. Only 80km and I was pretty frozen.

Friday, March 19, 2010

New water pump seals

Sounds like a show at Marineland, but in fact I discovered my crusty KLR was weeping coolant and thus needed some hot wrench-on-engine lovin'.

For excellent step-by-step instructions, click here. Big thanks to MarkNet for his great KLR info. It's a pretty straightforward job; the biggest pain is pulling the old seals if you don't happen to have exactly the right length of threaded rod right where you thought you left it from the last job.

Kawasaki part numbers and prices from Ottawa GoodTime Centre are as follows:

Mechanical Seal, 49063-1056, $25.46
6mm O-ring, 670B1506, $1.76
Oil Seal (SC10227), 92049-1157, $8.42

Total cost with OEM shipping charge ($3) was $43.66. Also factor in the cost of an oil change and about 4 hours of wrenching if you're not perfectly set up to work efficiently. Like working past dark in the driveway. At least the mosquitos haven't come out in force, although I did see one.

Turns out the oil seal was pretty worn. There was corrosion inside the weeping chamber. Although the repair was a pain (drain the oil, drain the coolant, wipe up spills of both, forget there's still oil trapped under the oil filter and spill more oil, get interrupted by dinner, etc.) I feel a lot better knowing my water pump's good for the rest of the time I'll own this bike.

Props to my neighbour Ken who graciously held my trouble light and entertained me with stories, then buzzed off a water pump gasket on his nifty laser cutter. Took about 5 seconds to cut, not counting the hour or so I spent a couple winters ago scanning the pump cover and tracing it in Illustrator so it could be laser cut. I have a few gaskets on file now, any of which can be made on the laser using almost any material.

By tomorrow the gasket sealer will have set and I'll fill up the oil and coolant, take a test ride, and do an oil change to remove any debris that got in. Ready for the trails!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

New bike

A set of knobbies on here, and this'll be perfect for those long trail rides out in Lanark County!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

First tracks!

Geese flying north? Check. Sap running? Check. Driveway clear of snow? Check. New motorbike? Oh yeah!

Nothing like a little spring sunshine to stir the loins for a ride. It doesn't hurt when there's a sweet little used CRF70 waiting for my kids to learn to ride on. Just picked it up last night from Powersports Canada in Ottawa. While I appreciate them responding to my online ad for a kid bike, I was annoyed to get the bike home and discover that the $150(?) "dealer prep" I was obliged to pay apparently only covered some gas and an oil change. The body work was missing an important (and obvious) bolt, other hardware was loose, the right hand-guard mount was broken, and the chain was flapping like a sail. Not even a squirt of lube on it! How much would it have cost to just fix those things? Anyway, some tinkering later and the little beast was ready to roll.

This is my kids' first introduction to riding, so they were pretty excited last night when we picked up the bike and shopped for gear. Ottawa Goodtime Centre was helpful (despite almost closing time) with picking out helmets and some body armour for my son, who's almost 8, and daughter who's almost 10. Got a good deal on Fox Tracer DOT MX helmets at $99 each. They seem to fit well, and hold goggles nicely. For body armour we picked a one-piece SixSixNine upper with integrated arm protection and a spine protector. The kids can share it. Given the speed of the CRF70, this combo should be fine. After all, they ride bicycles fast on hard pavement wearing only regular clothes and a bike helmet. Too much protection and the false sense of invulnerability leads to bad judgement and risk taking.

I really wasn't sure how interested my daughter would be in learning to ride. She's the cautious type. But she surprised everyone by being tenacious and really giving it a go. She's hooked. Although my son is the more natural risk taker and quite athletic, he seemed a bit overwhelmed by all the things to learn. Late night last night didn't help. He'll figure it all out soon enough.

So today we all got to give the little '70 a go--my wife included, after some persuasion. She was hooked too. We may have to get her a scooter one of these days. And I suspect the kids will outgrow this bike by the end of the summer. Next step up involves a clutch.

I also exhumed my KLR for its first ride today. Ran into Ottawa on errands, got caught by some rain on the way back. Bike and rider rode like champs nonetheless. Unfortunately, the water pump is dripping at the weep hole which suggest the seals are going. I ordered new seals today and get to enjoy draining the oil and tearing off the clutch side to replace the seals next weekend. Too bad I didn't notice *before* I put the bike together and filled up the oil and coolant. Sigh. I suppose I should be thankful this bike's been utterly reliable. But I'm Jonesing for newer, lighter ride--maybe a EFR450X that's been dual-sported.

Those Honda SH150's sure look attractive for running into Ottawa. Maybe I'm just getting old, but poking along in stop-and-go traffic for an hour is mighty tedious on a regular bike. One of these days I'm going to scratch that scooterlust itch I've had for the past 25 years...

Friday, January 22, 2010

Get your bearings

[Note: My apologies for the layout of this post. Blogger's content editor is really unhelpful and unpredictable.]

As much as I miss riding outside at this time of year (my indoor CompuTrainer is a necessary evil), I appreciate the downtime to inspect and repair gear more deeply than the riding season normally allows. Suspension bearings are a case in point.

Last winter I disassembled my KLR (bravely: inside my office) and discovered, to my horror, that almost all the OE bearings were contaminated and in some cases scorched and pulverized. (Those little blackened toothpicks in the photo? Those are heat-charred rollers that fell out of the bearing. Check out the scoring on the bearing shaft beside!) Given the mileage on the bike (some 25,000 km) and its previous rider history (mainly commuting), I expected the bearings to be in much better shape than this. However, some internet research suggested that the OE assembly is somewhat lacking in grease, and these kinds of problems have sometimes shown up after only a few thousand km off the showroom floor. Ouch.

I spent the next few weeks disassembling my KLR so I could bash out the suspension and bearings. It really was bashing: hidden corrosion had seized things that should've moved with gentle persuasion. Pulling the bearings wasn't too big of a deal. Finding replacements proved otherwise. The obvious first stops, the local dealer and some online parts stores, led to costs that would represent a significant portion of the bike's value. For example, the dealer wanted something like $150 for ONE BEARING! And I had many to replace. Forget that.

Next I tried the local bearing suppliers. Upgrading to a -2RS bearing (double rubber seal) is a significant improvement over the single-seal OE crap. A good replacement bearing averaged about $8-$15 depending on size--one tenth the dealer pricing and available off the shelf! In the end, I found that Industrial Solutions in Ottawa (613-731-6161) had just what I needed for about half the cost of bearings from General Bearing. Sure they were lower-quality parts--but this is suspension we're talking about. The bearings don't need to be very precise since they don't even make a full revolution, never mind hit high speeds. It's more cost effective to have them sealed and greased properly in the first place, and replace them more often if necessary.

I reassembled the KLR using a high-quality marine grease on all internal parts that could be exposed to water. The resulting suspension was buttery smooth and seemed more compliant, and close inspections after some filthy dirt rides showed the grease sealing well.

From my KLR experience, I knew it was time to give my Giant Trance X some equal loving. I've had just two hard seasons of riding on this frameset, and the bearings seemed to have no play. But I wanted to get my hands dirty now rather than risk a mid-season rebuild which most likely would be required during the only nice weather.

Sure enough, disassembling the suspension and inspecting the bearings revealed some indexed movement and a less-than-fresh feeling. Time for a rebuild.

Pulling the bearings was a bit of a challenge. Using a fine threaded bolt and some carefully sized washers and nuts, I was able to wind out the bearings in most cases. Failing that, a strategically placed socket, wood blocks, and hammer blows drifted out the rest. Try to avoid this latter method if possible. The aluminum is fragile, and you risk ovalizing the bearing seats if you mess it up. I managed fine, but I don't like hitting bikes. It just feels wrong.

As with the KLR, OE bearing kits proved ridiculously expensive--over $100! A trip (actually several trips--I had problems counting to eight) to Industrial Solutions got me hooked up with approximately $4 bearings that were perfect--double seals and all. I saved at least $50 over alternatives I found online.

Reassembly proved challenging using the bolt/washer method alone, so I fired up my metal lathe and quickly spun off aluminum bearing presses for the three sizes of suspension bearing. These greatly aided pressing in the new bearings square to the seats. You could probably rig something using sockets and a really long threaded rod, but this worked for me and eliminated any risk of damaging the seals.

What a difference new suspension bearings make on a mountain bike! Because it's such a light machine, any misalignments or unnecessary friction has a dramatic effect on your ride. With the new bearings my bike regained its original plush travel and responsiveness to fine trail features. It's amazing how over time you become habituated to gradual loss of performance.

Not sure what bearings you need or how to replace them? Drop me a line and I'll be glad to help.
Here are the suspension parts I replaced on the KLR:
- 2 needle bearings on dogbone coupling shaft: IKO/Nachi TA2025Z. ID 20mm, OD 27mm, L 25mm. $9.94 each at Industrial Solutions
- Sleeve for needle bearings: Kawasaki 42036-1205; 15x20x8mm. Approx $22 at dealer.
- 2 large bearing seals on rear shock linkage: Kawasaki 92049-1181; Approx $14 at dealer.

I also replaced the F&R wheel bearings with good aftermarket parts. Again, much cheaper than dealer.