Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Doubletake mirror review

Since the stock mirrors on the WR250R do not fold away, you risk breaking your wrists or the mirror mounts in the event of an endo or hard impact on the stalks. I've also found it easy to whack my face shield on them when riding on technical terrain. A mirror that folds away easily can prevent all these problems in dual sport riding. I ordered the Doubletake mirrors from Motorcycle Innovations based on reports I read on ADVRider.

Doubletake uses the 1" RAM system to provide flexible adjustability on your bars and some structural forgiveness in the event of a wipeout. There are a few mounting and length options. I chose the 3" stalk and screw base which installs into the existing mirror mounts, although the 2" stalk would probably work just fine on the WR250R as well. Both the right and left mirror are the same. Note that your $65 or so only gets you one mirror! I overlooked this simple point and ended up having to place a second order. Not cheap!

Note that Yamaha uses a reverse thread on the right mount. Fortunately the WRR's stock right mirror incorporates a short little adaptor which you can re-use to install the Doubletake mirror. It's a good idea to put a dab of blue Loctite on the mirror threads before installation or the base can unwind when you adjust the mirror.

Adjusting the mirrors is easy when stopped, but not something you can do with one hand while riding because they'll just flop around. The RAM system is too grippy to allow even a slight frictional nudge of position without loosening the clamp, although I imagine (and hope) that they give under a good whack. I recommend positioning the clamp so the spring is on the top. This will retain pressure on the lower ball mount and facilitate wiggling just the mirror portion when slightly loosening the clamp.

The components are moulded from a tough, heavy plastic that resists vibration at speed and each assembly (3" stalk) weighs only about 20g more than the OEM assembly. The mirror itself is the same size as the OEM but seems slightly more convex or perhaps distorted. As a result I find it a little harder to focus on the image.

Despite -10C last night, I couldn't resist going for a 30 minute ride to see how the mirrors perform at highway speed. Overall pretty good, and I'm glad for this upgrade. It's easy to tuck them away for extended trail riding which is the main benefit I foresee.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Angola and Namibia adventure

This is a fantastic ride report on a tour through Angola and Namibia courtesy of If you haven't read it already, you owe it to yourself. Just stumbled across it on the weekend and ended up spending an hour poring over the incredible photos and story.

Reminds me of some of my own time traveling rough in Africa:

USB port and oversize bar adaptors installation on WR250R

Seems like everything has a USB port on it now, so why not install one on the WR? It'll be handy for charging my phone on long rides when my phone battery takes a beating from checking Google Earth.

Here's what it looks like installed, with the weather-proof cap flipped open:

As I discovered from a lot of Googling, there are many crappy USB adaptors on the market. Save yourself the hassle and order a 3BR Powersports model. It's overpriced for what it is, but the materials and quality are top-notch (if a little rough-looking). I got mine from Motorcycle Innovations--it's the 2.1 Amp model (not the "lite" version) which provides plenty of juice for more demanding loads like an iPad.

Here's what's in the kit:

First question is where to mount it? I was pretty much limited to the handlebar. However, I also wanted to remove the riser/adaptor that my bike's previous owner had installed, and use a lower clamp that fits an oversized bar. So let's take a detour from installing the USB plug to getting the bars in the right location. Here's the OEM oversize clamp kit from Yamaha--look for the small "GYT" part number on the bottom of the label:

There's a trick to accessing the nut under the triple clamp to remove and install the bottom bar clamp. You can't easily fit a 17mm socket in there unless you rig a universal joint like so:

The left side is then easy to access and wind off. However, the right nut is further defended by a little ridge in the head tube. To get the socket on, you have to crank the bar full right, slip the socket onto the nut, then move the bars back. This holds the socket in place on the little ridge and then you can crank it off. 

Installing the bottom clamps is the reverse operation. The bar offset should be to the front (moves the bars forward). 

To keep the clamps from spinning when you tighten the nuts, it helps to first install the bars. See the little dimple above the top bolt holes on the top clamps? Those should face forward. Install the front bolts first and wind them all the way down. Then install the rear bolts and tighten them by hand just enough to keep the clamps from spinning. Don't worry about bar location for now; you'll adjust that later.

Now tighten the bottom clamp nuts to 40 Nm. Then loosen the bar clamp bolts, adjust your bars, and tighten the clamp bolts to 28 Nm. Official instructions here in case you don't believe me:

That's it for the handlebars; now back to the USB.

The 3BR wiring harness includes a moulded-in fuse holder and rings clamps. I cut those off so I could wire directly into my switched distribution plug from Eastern Beaver. I didn't have a free plug slot, so I ended up paralleling my GPS wiring with the USB, and sharing a fuse. Note that the 3BR comes with a 7.5A fuse which is way too high for a 5V, 2.1A USB plug. The plug can only deliver 10.5W, which draws less than 1A at 12V on the feed wiring. I installed a 2A fuse which should be fine for running both my GPS and USB together, and yet protect my wiring if the plugs ever do short out (e.g. from swimming).

Wires were both crimped and soldered into the spade lugs before covering with heat-shrink tubing:

The Eastern Beaver switched buss is shown at the bottom with the red and yellow wires sticking out. The GPS/USB wires run to the right of the airbox vacuum actuator (silver thing) and follow the clutch cable under the gas tank and up the left side of the bike with the rest of the wiring harness. Very easy to thread if you start from the handlebars. A few zip-ties keeps it neat and prevents rubbing that can lead to shorts.

The 3BR isn't waterproof unless there's nothing plugged in and you have the cap on. That's not very helpful, so fortunately they sell this little kit to waterproof your USB cable end. Just slide your plug into the rubber cap, and wrap it with the included silicone tape. It makes for a tight, waterproof seal on your cable, and when you plug it in it'll be pretty much waterproof from rain or heavy splashes.

It even works with those tiny Apple USB connectors. No prizes for my wrapping job. That silicone tape is pretty nifty stuff... going to see about getting more for other applications.

Everything fired up and works great, and with my lower bars I hope to have a better riding position when seated and standing. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Wolfman Expedition Dry bags and Moto-Racks installation on WR250R

For trail riding on a small bike like the WRR, soft luggage offers some weight advantages over hard case options. Of course, there are as many different opinions as riders, and there's some debate over which type of luggage is more durable in the event of a crash.

On one hand, hard luggage is, well, rather hard and rigid. This means the gear inside is likely to be well protected in the event of impact. However, those same impact forces need to go somewhere and they are more likely to be transmitted into the racks or motorbike frame itself where they can cause more costly damage. By comparison, soft luggage is more likely to absorb the impact and simply tear. Sacrificing the luggage is more preferable to me than sacrificing the bike.

On the other hand, hard luggage is probably more likely to survive a slide on pavement and thus may have an advantage over soft luggage if you're doing a lot of road riding. It also offers better security, which tends to be more of a concern when in paved areas than in remote trail areas.

Soft luggage suits my needs, so the question was what type? After reviewing several popular brands, models, and online opinions, the Wolfman Expedition Dry saddle bags at around C$275 (motorcycle show special) seemed to offer the best value for size, construction, and fitment to the WRR. The pair holds 38L which, in my experience (including more than a year of rough travel on foot and bicycle around the world) is plenty of storage for extended tours.

In any case there's plenty of room for another 35L+ of dry bag storage bungied to the top of the rack and it doesn't interfere with ride position.

The design of the Expedition bags requires a rack on the WRR to keep them out of the rear wheel and away from the exhaust. Moto-Racks in Vermont makes a decent custom rack and I included the option for a RotoPax mount. At around C$350 after taxes, duties, and shipping, it wasn't cheap. However it is well made from welded tubular steel, is surprisingly light (a few pounds), the owners were good to deal with, and I like to support small business even if it's not in Canada.

They sure didn't skimp on packaging!

Installation using the included hardware was straightforward. Nevertheless, I plan to replace all the bolts with button head metric versions in stainless steel to simplify my tool requirements.

This bar installed under the seat provides a mounting point for the right rack. Since the topmost bolt is shared with my homemade top rack, I had to use my existing M6 bolt rather than the supplied M8 bolt.

Fit is excellent, no forcing, drilling, or filing needed.

Installation of the RotoPax mount is also a piece of cake since the optional side panel I ordered are pre-drilled for the mount. This is a great location for the extra can because it lowers the weight distribution and balances the exhaust. 

Unfortunately, I didn't consider that the side retaining straps for the left Expedition bag would no longer reach the rack! Turns out Wolfman sells an extension kit for exactly this reason, but none were available until June. Time to make straps!

Mountain Equipment Co-op sells webbing, 1" D-rings, and other harness goodies that are identical to the Wolfman materials. Materials for four straps cost me $2. I used 13" lengths of 3/4" webbing, but recommend using 1" webbing in 11-12" lengths for slightly better fitment.

It's a good idea to melt the ends with a lighter to prevent the webbing from unraveling. (Note that some cheap webbing is highly prone to unraveling even after the ends are melted. The good climbing-grade webbing doesn't have this problem.) Also be sure to flip over one side a half turn. This lets the strap thread through the rack and lay flat. 

I sewed two bar tacks within an inch of the D-ring, tucking the main loop under the sewn flap. Use a heavy nylon or polyester upholstery thread and double back over your stitching to prevent the thread from unravelling. This construction is plenty strong. 

Half an hour later, four straps for about 10% of the cost of ordering the Wolfman straps online:

They thread onto the left rack like this:

Now the bags mount up and cinch down perfectly over the RotoPax. 

I used the paper stuffing from the shipping box to fill the bags while adjusting fit. Haven't tried riding with them loaded yet... hopefully soon! I'm curious to see how well those top straps stay in place, and how the position of the bags interferes with riding.

 Just have to remember to bungie down those top bags!

Update March 22, 2015: Out of desperation for spring (it's about -12C and windy) I've been ripping around the neighborhood and practicing 1st-gear skills in my driveway with the bags on. Positioning and stability seems good, and it's easy to move around the bike. Width isn't too bad either. The real test will be on the trail with bumps, etc.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Ironman sprockets for WR250R

Stock gearing on the the WR250R is a 13T counter sprocket with 43T rear sprocket. This gives a final ratio of 1:3.31. While this is fine for cruising on pavement, it's a bit tall for trail riding on a bike that's already anemic for torque. Consequently most dualsport riders gear down their WR and wring out the engine's high-rev capability to make highway speeds. The question is what ratio to choose?

Many riders online recommend a 13/47 combo for a ratio of 1:3.62. Consensus is this gives a good compromise between highway and trail gearing on the WR. Those favouring more of a trail-oriented ride opt for a 48 in the rear. The important thing seems to be sticking with a 13T up front rather than using a 12T to get lower gearing. Otherwise there is a risk of the chain wearing through the rubber guide and into the swingarm metal itself. Despite having just one less tooth, the 12T is a smaller diameter gear than the 13T and this significantly narrows the chain path in a critical area.

My bike was used when I bought it and it came with a 12T up front and the stock 43 in the rear. This gives a ratio of 1:3.58--almost the same as for 13/47 (1:3.62). Although I haven't had the wear problem that many other riders report when running a 12T, my rubber swingarm protector was well worn and I would probably have gone right through it and into the swingarm in another week of trail riding.

Time to switch to a 13/47. It'll put less stress on the chain and sprockets and probably run quieter too. I can also vouch it's a decent compromise when there are long highway sections of 100km/hr before getting to the fun stuff.

Ironman sprockets from Dirt Tricks are highly rated for their durability. After shopping around no one seemed to have stock or good prices, so I ended up ordering them direct from the company along with some new bolts. Apparently the MSR sprockets which look the same are made by Dirt Tricks.

These are some nicely made parts using hardened tool steel. The rear cut-out design results in the 47T weighing only 570g compared to the OE 43T which was almost a kilo! Not like I'm a weight-weenie for motorbikes or anything...

I hadn't really thought about clearances when I ordered these parts because no one else mentioned them being an issue. As you can see, the larger diameter of the rear sprocket puts the chain much closer to the lower chain guide and upper chain guard (not mounted in this pic). I'm a little concerned about wear on the lower guide. Chain line around the counter sprocket seems good though. 

As you can see I've also mounted a new Pirelli MT43 on the rear. This is a taller tire than stock and it has a fairly square profile. It's actually almost exactly the same rolling length as the Heidenau K60 (207cm vs. 209cm) which is also known to be taller than stock. Nevertheless, the MT43 has a squarer profile which rubbed on the inner fender where the K60 didn't. I had to move the axle back about another centimeter compared to the K60. Now it's a drag bike. 

To tie it all together I cut the chain to 112 links and used the new factory recommended method to set chain tension (8-10mm of clearance under the midpoint of the swingarm when chain is pushed up using 36lbs of force).

Even though there still a foot of snow on the ground I couldn't resist going for a rip around the block last night. Everything worked perfectly.

Next up is a Scorpion Rally for the front. Once I have some miles on the tires and sprockets I'll update my review. Meanwhile...

Quick update: Took another, longer rip on the bike and have to say the 13/47 gearing is a lot smoother than the 12/43, especially at low speeds and when slowing down at low rpms. Better control, less jerkiness. Much easier to control the bike while standing.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Wilbur Mine presentation: May 20, 2015

By the early 1900's the Wilbur Mine near Lavant Station on the K&P rail line in Lanark County was one of the largest iron mines in Ontario. As many as 250 miners, engineers, laborers, woodcutters, their wives, and children eked out a tough existence in the community of Wilbur that waxed and waned with the fortunes of the mine. Today the bush has taken back all but a few traces of this fascinating history.

For the last few years I've been researching the lost mines of Lanark county, with a focus on the Wilbur mine site, to try to build a sense what was once there. On May 20, 2015 at 7:30 p.m., I'll be presenting my findings to the Rideau Township Historical Society at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Kars. This will be a repeat of the presentation I gave last year at the Almonte Lecture Series. 

The public is invited to attend.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Motion Pro tire-iron/axle wrench combo

Every now and then I run across a really well made tool that just begs to be used. The Motion Pro combo tire irons/wrenches are one such example that should be in any dual-sporter's repair kit.

Just look at these beauties:

That's forged T6061 aluminum, strong and deceptively lightweight as you can see from the scales. I ordered the 27mm and 22mm box-ends to fit my WR250R axle nuts. Beware that the rear nut should be torqued to125 N-m torque and the wrench is only rated for 90 N-m. 90 should be plenty to get you home to a torque wrench, but if you're stuck in the bush with a nut already tightened to 125, you may not be able to undo it with the Motion Pro. Something to test beforehand, for sure! 

Changing tires is also dead simple with these wrenches. The spoon is perfectly shaped, there are no sharp edges to cut your hands, and pushing aluminum against aluminum is much less likely to scratch your rims.

Edit: These are now part of my trail tool kit.

WR250R swingarm bearing replacement

The WR has four needle bearings in the main swingarm pivot, two on each side set to precise depths from each end. During disassembly and inspection I noticed the steel tubes that slide into the bearings had some wear. While they may have survived another season, I figured it was worth replacing them now while I have the time and everything's apart anyway.

I only found replacement bearing kits from Moose Racing and All Balls. The Moose kit was cheaper so I ordered it, but the package I received was labelled in fine print as being made by All Balls. Go figure.

Removing the old bearings

The outside bearings on each arm can be removed using a blind bearing puller like the one shown below. It's a handy kit and well worth the $150 to save hassle during inevitable bearing replacements on any two-wheeled (or more) toy.

Unfortunately, impact forces from using a bearing puller are not nice for precision aluminum parts like the swingarm. So to remove the inner bearings, I used my little arbor press to push out the inner bearings with an aluminum cylinder I turned on the lathe to just fit inside the tube. The bearings came out like butter, no impact needed.

Pressing the new bearings

Amazingly, the swingarm fits perfectly within the frame of my arbor press. This means I can press all four bearings in to the correct depth using a simple tool.

The WR manual says the inner bearings need to be pressed in 8.5mm from the inside end, and the outer bearings 15mm from the outside end. I wrote these numbers on the swingarm. On my lathe, I machined a simple aluminum cylinder with a cap to push on the bearing. The part that goes into the tube was machined to 8.5 mm long, and then I made a short piece that was 6.5 mm long (labelled 15 mm in the photo). When stacked together, they give 15mm of pushing depth.

Now it's a simple matter of pressing the bearings. 

First the inside bearings. After applying some grease to the bearing exterior and tube, I carefully started them into position on a chunk of aluminum and then pressed them flush with the end, using the cap to push on the swingarm. 

Then I swapped the locations of the tool and aluminum bar, and pressed again so the tool pushed the bearing in another 8.5 mm from the end. 

Same process for the outer bearings, except I added the little 6.5mm stacker piece to press the full 15mm.

If you don't have an arbor press, it's well worth the $70 to be able to precisely apply these kinds of forces. It only took about 15 minutes to press in all four bearings, nothing misaligned or damaged.