Sunday, January 3, 2021

Cleaning a vintage CCM bicycle wheel

The Canada Cycle & Motor Company (CCM) has a fascinating history. For many middle-aged Canadians today, during their childhood CCM was a respected household name for hockey equipment, including ice skates, pads, and sticks. But the company's origins date to 1899, when CCM manufactured high quality bicycles in Toronto as part of its operations with the Russell Motor Car Company. The picture below is from CCM's 1918 catalogue.

CCM's bicycle products carried through to the company's demise in 1983, although by the end they had gained a reputation as a cheap department store bike that competed with increasing low-cost imports from other markets, such as Asia. 

Although the lustre of CCM bikes has long since waned, many years ago I considered myself fortunate to have found a rear wheel from a CCM bicycle in a now-defunct antique store in Carleton Place. It's been on my to-do list for years to clean up this wheel so I could give I could display it in my office. 

According to information from this interesting site (based in nearby Perth, Ontario), it appears my wheel could date to 1908-1918. The hub is a "Hercules" armless coaster brake, one of CCM's models manufactured under license from Musselman (patent number 106391). 

The oil port in the middle of the hub is inscribed with what appears to be "JOSLUCASL2", "No 1" and "BIRMM". (I'm guessing this is a part made by Lucas Industries in Birmingham, England, which was a major centre of bicycle and motorcycle manufacturing and home of BSA.) Apparently, CCM marketed oil specifically for their Hercules coaster brake hubs in the late 1920s. Their brake grease didn't appear until the 1930s and even then the company recommended the periodic addition of a few drops of oil to preserve performance. (As a footnote, there was debate among cyclists as early as the late 1890s as to whether grease or oil was better for hubs!)

Since it's not a "New Hercules" model, it's almost certainly the original 1908 model as shown in the patent and product sheets below. 

The wooden rim was painted black and appears to lack evidence of pin striping, which was added to later, fancier models. It also lacks a metal rim strip added to reinforce later wheels, although there are two small nails and some cloth remnants near the valve hole, which probably held a cotton rim strip. As with modern rims, the valve hole is opposite the rim seam, which in this case is a glued finger joint. The wood is fine-grained and appears to be hard maple or maybe birch.

The hub and spokes are nickel-plated, the nipples are brass. 

I disassembled and cleaned the bearings and coaster brake mechanism, and straightened and chased the threads on the axle. It now works smoothly when reassembled! I also removed surface rust from the spokes and applied a conservator's microcrystalline wax to all metal parts to retard further corrosion. Varsol and linseed oil were used to clean and protect the wooden rim, as I felt this was an authentic and appropriate treatment given the probable age of the wheel. Unfortunately, there's too much corrosion to risk tightening the fragile spokes, so it won't be possible to true up the wheel. However, it holds its shape well enough as-is. 

As a bicycle enthusiast, I'm thrilled to have this wheel on display as a reminder of Canadian cycling heritage. I wonder who, a hundred years from now, may admire some of the wheels I've built?

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Fat biking in Bennies Corners

This is part of the trail network I helped create with Phil Maier and a bunch of other dedicated volunteers. 2020 was my last year of direct involvement in building and maintaining our local trails, after 10 years of sweat and smiles. The trail-building torch is now passed on to a new group of volunteers who have done a great job of building out the network, leaving me more time and options to ride!

The Bennies Corners and Sugarbush sections (located across from each other on the 7th line Ramsay Township) are groomed with a Snow Dog by Phil and his crew. This year there's been unusually little snow, so the trail is bare, icy, and treacherous in many places. Studs recommended, although I don't ride with them. (I refuse to pay $350 per tire for studs!) Also strongly recommended that you bring a spare tube if you ride tubeless, and unless there's snow, keep your tires pumped above 12 psi or you're likely to pinch-flat on jagged rocks. Of my last three rides here, I flatted and broke a crank bolt on one (resulting in a 3 lm walkout because I forgot my tube in the car), and bent a derailleur hanger on another. Third time lucky: no damage!

If you ride all the options at Bennies Corners, you can easily clock about 15km of mostly flowy single track. Highly recommended for a day trip in the Ottawa area. Parking available at the end of the 8th line (just past the Mill of Kintail), or along the road on 7th line. Note that the 8th line entrance can be mushy after a thaw. The 7th line/Sugarbush entrance allows you to warm up on the easy Sugarbush section before heading into the more technical options on the Bennies Corners side of the road.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Passages - A short ADV movie

Once again, the combined demands of work, family, and the pandemic have kept me away from posting updates, but I can assure you there's some good stuff to come. This past summer was spent riding as much as possible, exercising the Tenere and getting the suspension tuned, filming some rides, and prepping for another edition of the Ride Around Algonquin Park (RAP)--this time in a much more expanded loop up to Timmins, and with my two riding buddies from our 2018 Continental Divide Ride. More to tell about all that later.

Meanwhile, I've also been learning how to use Final Cut Pro to make movies and have just completed my first exercise which revealed a lot more learning is required. Anyway, I'm happy with the results--except for a few glitches which I had fixed but then must've accidentally undone before finalizing. 

So here it is. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Tenere 700: Tie-down bracket on passenger foot pegs for soft luggage

The set of Enduristan Blizzard XL soft saddlebags I'm fitting to my Tenere require a tie-down point at the passenger foot pegs. Since I'm not using and have removed the passenger foot pegs, I need a place to loop the lower bag straps since I don't want them wrapping directly around the frame (that'll wear through the finish). R&G Racing offers a nice pair aluminum tie-downs like the one below, which bolt into the foot peg holes. Nice design, but also about CAD$130 and overkill for my needs.

I opted to make my own brackets.  

The bolt holes for the foot pegs are on 70mm centres. I figured that one bolt alone (I'm using the original foot peg bolts) should provide plenty of mechanical strength for a 1" nylon baggage strap. But to ensure the strap stays in place, I needed to make a simple bracket from 3mm T6061 scrap aluminum I had lying around. The bracket bridges the two mounting bolts, providing some additional mechanical strength. A few minutes with a hacksaw, file, and drill press had two nice brackets fabricated. I used some aluminum tubing (1/2" dia.) cut to 14mm length as bolt spacers. Total cost about $0 and an hour of effort, since I had the scraps lying around. But if you had to buy the aluminum, tubing, and paint, you're still looking at <$20 with lots of material left over.

The tubing takes the bulk of the load from the webbing loop which pulls up to the rear, in line with the frame tube. Some light sanding, rounding of edges, and coats of Krylon had the end product looking pretty good. 

I though about sliding some plastic tubing over the brackets to provide additional protection for the straps, but this is probably unnecessary. 

Since the Enduristan Blizzard bags are a rackless design, they are meant to press against the rear body panels. While the bags have some nice padding on the inside, I opted to apply some 3M film to the lower section of the paint to protect again inevitable wear from grit. Not the neatest application job, but this was my first time trying a wet application. I'll post the template I used in case you want to cut your own film. 

Next up is fitting the bags. An Adventure Spec top rack is also on its way, which may change my mounting method slightly. Will post on how it all comes together.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

More mountain biking trails in Lanark County

If you're looking for new places to mountain bike in the Ottawa area, happily there are several more options today than even five years ago. However, for a region that's chock-full of beautiful forests, rocky Canadian Shield, rivers, and parks--all the raw material to become a world-class mountain biking destination--it's still somewhat incredible and disappointing there isn't more single track available to the public. Nevertheless, the Ottawa Mountain Biking Association (OMBA) has worked tirelessly with the National Capital Commission to slowly ease open some trail access in Gatineau Park. Larose Forest has seen the recent and rapid development of a well-regarded trail network for summer and winter riding. Further up the Ottawa River Valley, BORCA and others continue to improve networks at Forest Lea and along the Ottawa River near Beachburg. 

Just 30 minutes west of Ottawa in Almonte, I'm happy to report that the Mississippi Valley Trails (MVT) network I started with a small group of volunteers ten years ago is now enjoying rapid expansion and improvements for summer and winter riding as well. I've now passed over stewardship of the trail network to the Lanark County Mountain Biking Association (LCMBA) which is run by the same group of volunteers. Originally we had the trail insured and organized under the auspices of OMBA, but with the growth of local activity it made sense to form a new, separate trail management organization with its own liability insurance. 

As with any trail network, maintaining access depends on users respecting the landowners and trail rules. This spring we lost access to one section of private lands connecting the MVT section to the Mill of Kintail and Bennies Corners sections. This was unfortunate, because it meant splitting what used to be an almost 30km out-and-back ride into two separate areas with no good connection between them. However, it's understandable why the landowner closed access: a small minority of riders and dog-walkers consistently ignored requests to stay on the trail (or stay off it altogether when the entry was barricaded) and trespassed onto actively farmed lands. 

On a personal note, after ten years of grubbing out single track and wrangling land access, I need a break to deal with other life events and to spend more time actually riding. LCMBA has a good handle on taking the network to the next level. I'm thankful for LCMBA's efforts, and the growing popularity of the trails is proof that things are headed in the right direction for year-round riding. Ten years ago I knew everyone who rode; now it's rare if I run into someone I know. If you haven't checked out the LCMBA network, it's well worth a day trip. Almonte also offers many excellent options for food and drink before or after your ride. You can even jump into the river to cool off at Rock Bottom, the historic swimming hole just downstream of the town along the MVT section. 

As always, please respect the core trail rules: stay on the trail, ensure your pets are leashed, and do not leave litter or poop bags. If you're considerate of the landowners, there will be more opportunities to grow and maintain the network for many more years to come.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Review: Motorcycling with a DJI Mavic Mini drone

Bringing a drone along for the ride opens up some interesting possibilities for exploring beyond the trail and capturing great shots of your adventure. After spending far too many hours researching drone options online, I bought a DJI Mavic Mini from Dr. Drone (excellent service and pricing!). A key reason for choosing the Mini was that at 249g, it's just under Canada's 250g limit before a drone pilot license is required. While I plan to get certified some day, for now I figured it'd be smart to learn with something relatively cheap before splurging on more expensive gear (e.g. a Mavic Air 2). 

DJI makes high quality products and the Mavic Mini is no exception. It packs a decent camera with gimbal stabilization, high quality components, and up to 30 mins of flight time per charge into a package that folds up neatly and fits into the palm of your hand. This makes it ideal for carrying along on hikes and rides. However--and as with any gadget--if you don't make it easy to access, you're unlikely to use it and then it just becomes aspirational deadweight. So the challenge was how to make the drone readily accessible on the Tenere 700 while riding solo, so I could get some interesting shots while actually riding with gloves and helmet on. 

Like most of DJI's drones, you need some kind of screen (mobile phone or tablet) to view and control the camera while in flight. It's important that you check the compatibility of the phone or tablet you plan to use, because not all options will work (or work reliably) with DJI's flight apps (for the Mavic Mini, it's DJI Fly). DJI has put most of their effort into being compatible with Apple devices, so if you're using Android it can be a bit of a compatibility crap-shoot. I originally used an iPhone 8+ for flying, but since that's my company phone and short on storage, it wasn't a long-term option. The DJI Fly app and the video it record during flight can quickly fill several gigs of storage. 

At the same time, I wanted a screen for two other purposes on my bike. One is navigation, hopefully to replace the outdated and clunky functionality of my Garmin Montana GPS. (More on this in another post, but for now I'll say that the OsmAnd+ and Locus Maps Pro apps are solid options.) The other reason for a dedicated second screen is to control my GoPro Hero 8 camera. The GoPro app provides a camera preview mode, remote control, and other features that become essential when your camera is mounted where you can't easily see or access it with a helmet and gloves on. Between the DJI, navigation, and GoPro apps, a dedicated screen and mounting solution compatible with gloves was essential. 

Initially I looked for a small tablet since the larger screen size would aid visibility when flying or navigating. Samsung's ruggedized Galaxy Tab Active 2 tablet seemed perfect, but its hardware is now outdates and slow, and I could find no information to confirm its compatibility with DJI Fly. Next I considered an iPad Mini, since there are lots of good used options. However, it has questionable durability and an unknown IPX rating against dust and moisture ingress, and apparently it doesn't support the DJI Fly app at native high resolution, defeating the whole purpose of a larger screen. Eventually I settled on a used, unlocked Samsung Galaxy 8 Active in pristine new condition. This is a ruggedized version of the regular Galaxy 8 and has a similar screen size to the iPhone 8+. Even better, it has an SD card expansion slot which is perfect for caching video images, map files, GPX files, etc. and the touch screen works with gloves on. No fingerprint reader to obey! Without a SIM card and stripped of unnecessary software, it's performed well in controlling the Mavic Mini. I've also paired it with my Packtalk Bold helmet comms so I can hear important notifications from the DJI Fly app. The question then was how to get everything set up on the bike.

Recently I bought two Mosko Moto tanks bags in the hopes their ready access to gear outweighs my dislike of how tank bags interfere with standing on the pegs. The larger of the two, the Hood model (5L capacity) provides a nice flat top with Molle straps for attaching gear. The other bag is the Pico. Here you can see the two bags side-by-side. 

At 1L capacity, the Pico is just large enough to hold the drone and two extra batteries (giving a total of 90 mins flight time). It too has a flat top with Molle straps, so this is what I decided to work with. In practice, the Pico has far less than 1L of capacity because of the internal frame design. It should be called the Femto since it barely fits my iPhone 8+ or eyeglasses case.

After looking at various gadgets to connect DJI controllers to larger phones and tablets, I decided that Velcro would likely suffice and got some of the 10lb-rated self-adhesive patches. These have a thicker, heavier hook pattern than regular Velcro. 

I cut and stuck small patches to a phone case for the Galaxy, and to the DJI controller. The result is a reasonably solid connection to Mosko Moto's Velcro pad which attaches to the Molle straps. The Velcro pad will flop around a bit unless you offset it to the Molle straps and then weave it into place using the pair of Velcro straps it comes with. The result is a surprisingly stiff yet sufficiently flexible base to attach the controller and phone. The pad can be affixed to either the Pico or Hood tank bag the same way.

The Mavic Mini kit includes a cable to connect the controller to the phone, but it's too short for my setup. After much searching online, I eventually found a slightly longer Micro USB to USB C cable. A quick test confirms this cable supports the video data rate transmitted from the controller (some cables only support charging, not high-speed data). 

Having experimented with this setup, I can say it works very well for quickly setting up the drone, launching, and positioning a shot--even with gloves on and while sitting on the bike. Now I'm able to start filming within a couple of minutes, and once the drone is in place, I can ride through the scene to get some action footage with little risk of bumping the controller and moving the drone. For multi-day trips, I'd use the larger tank-bag so I can include the various chargers needed to keep the drone and GoPro running. Their proximity to the USB port I installed in the dash make them easy to plug in with a standard cord.  

While the Mavic Mini is a great starter drone, it has three significant constraints which aren't deal-breakers, but do limit what and where you can film:
  • The camera, while generally excellent at this price point, has limited ability for manual exposure control. There are some excellent videos on YouTube about how to work around this and improve image quality. It's worth spending some time to figure it out before you try to ride and shoot. Note: DJI has now issued a firmware update (V01.00.0500) to enable manual exposure control. It requires DJI Fly v1.0.8 or later and includes some other valuable video and control improvements. (Update: Combined with a set of neutral density filters--I'm using the Freewell set--the new manual camera settings produce great image results.)   
  • There's no "follow" mode, which means unless you're an incredibly talented pilot, you're pretty much limited to static shots that you ride through. The Mini has three built-in dynamic shots, but setting them up for effective use while riding requires significant practice. It's understandable why DJI didn't include follow-mode in an entry-level, low-cost drone since it requires additional sensors. Still, if they offer this capability in a future Mini model, it would be a category killer and yet unlikely to cannibalize sales of their larger drones because of the next point. 
  • Being so light, the Mini struggles to fly in breezy conditions. I've found this generally limits flying to mornings and evenings, before the heat of the day stirs up wind. You need to be mindful of potentially strong winds up high, even if things seem calm at ground level. Otherwise the drone could simply blow away, and there you are in a helmet and riding gear wondering how or even if you can retrieve it.
Technology aside, the real fun is in finding creative ways to get interesting shots with what you've got. Moreover, none of these gadgets are useful if you don't do something with the footage. That means developing your photography and film-making skills, learning how to use video-editing software, and becoming disciplined enough to edit down hours of probably dull content to show off just the bits that tell an interesting story. For software, I started off using iMovie because it was already installed on my computer, but I quickly found it to be too limited in capabilities. Final Cut Pro was a reasonably priced upgrade and has powerful editing features that are easy to use. Still, lots to learn before I have any results I'll feel comfortable sharing!

Monday, August 3, 2020

Tenere 700: Review at 3800km

Everyone wants to check out my bike and asks me how I like it. I love it. Now that some of the lustre has dulled and it's covered in dirt (as it properly should be) after 3800km of mostly gravel and forest roads, here's my update on how the love affair continues. For reference, I'm coming from a modified WR250R (which I still have) and a 2019 Africa Twin (which I bought new and sold after only two weeks of riding because it just didn't click with me). 

Isn't is top heavy? 
Nope. Even with a full tank, it carries its weight surprisingly well. Cornering and low-speed handling is precise and controlled, even on dirt. There isn't that feeling of "oh sh*t!" when leaning too far; the bike just turns and sticks. Even on dirt at speed, it doesn't have that feeling of running away from you if you hit a corner too hard and risk going into the rhubarb. For comparison, my Africa Twin felt ponderous, like a container ship plowing through heavy seas. The Tenere feels like a speed boat going over the waves. It feels about as top-heavy as my WR250R which is taller and has an aftermarket tank with the volume as the Tenere's. 

Yeah, but my 790 Adventure R / Modified DR650 is way lighter!
So what? There's always going to be some other bike that does something else better or worse, or has better specs on paper. What really matters is how your bike feels for you. Does it let you ride what you want and have fun? The Tenere does that for me: it feels just like my WR250R but with 2.5X more power, which really puts a smile on my face. It has way better traction control because of that smoooooth CP2 engine. My riding skills are absolutely the limiting factor in what the Tenere can do; not the extra weight. Pol TarrĂ©s is proof of that!

How's the suspension?
Now that I've got it mostly sorted out, it's pretty decent. Most reviewers agree that the rear spring is too soft if you're over 65kg (I'm 87kg buck nekkid). I upgraded to an 80N-mm spring from Rally Raid and, with the preload at zero, the rider sag is now -60mm (which will go down to the target -70mm or 30% with my usual gear on, since ridin' nekkid is generally frowned upon). For the forks, I kept the stock springs but installed the Rally Raid preload fork caps with 5mm spacer and three turns of the pre-load adjustment. This gives me -64mm of rider sag (30%). After fiddling with compression and rebound I found a decent compromise between street and dirt. Traction in dirt--even with the stock tires--is surprisingly good even at speed, so I figure the settings are good. However, I'm considering some re-valving this winter to improve high-speed compression/rebound performance. Overall though, the suspension is fine. I'll be loading up the bike with soft luggage soon and then will have a chance to see how it performs under load. 

Isn't the tank too small? Aren't you worried about running out of gas?
Nope. The gas gauge is a little wonky though: It doesn't move for the first 100km, then it drops a bar, then it starts racing towards empty. The Low Fuel light comes on when there's about 1/4 tank (3-4 litres) left! There's a solid 300km range, and probably 350km if you aren't hard on the throttle. I'll carry a 1-gallon RotoPax for longer trips because I don't like to plan more than 300km between fill-ups to allow for the inevitable extra distance from wrong turns, etc. Overall I've been seeing about 3.6-4.6 l/100km fuel economy under spirited riding, and I'm probably averaging about 4.3-4.5l/100km on longer, steady stretches.

How's the wind protection?
I'm just over 6' or 183cm and I wear a peaked helmet (Shoei Hornet). There is almost zero buffeting of the helmet, quite unlike my experience on the Africa Twin. If I duck down about 2", there's a quiet pocket of air and the wind noise is substantially reduced. Anyone shorter than me is going to have a great experience with the wind protection. I don't find the wind noise too bad though; I ride with ear plugs anyways. It's not so loud that I can't enjoy music on my Packtalk Bold headset. Overall I find the protection pretty good and I don't plan to change anything. It's a motorcycle, not a luxury car. 

What would you change?
These are the mods I've made, and all of them have proven worthwhile:
  • Rally Raid fork preload caps
  • Rally Raid shock spring (80 N-mm)
  • Rally Raid stainless steel from hub spacers
  • CamelADV anti-bobble brace for tower
  • Outback Motortek skid plate (essential; the stock guard is pretty flimsy)
  • Outback Motortek lower engine guards
  • B&B Offroad tail tidy
  • Eastern Beaver PC-8 switched power bus
  • Oxford heated grips
  • USB port
  • R&G Racing case covers (protects the water pump and more)
  • Barkbuster Storms
  • Doubletake Mirrors
  • AdventureSpec rear rack (on order; not installed yet)
  • Rally Raid GPS mount
  • Yamaha chain guide (essential)
  • Yamaha radiator guard (essential)
  • Wider pegs (to come)
I didn't mind spending a couple grand on the above farkles because it got me the bike I wanted and all bikes need some customizing anyway. I didn't spring for the adventure seat because I'm waiting to see what Seat Concepts comes up with. The stock seat isn't too bad for me anyway. It's a more compact riding position than on my WR250R, but somehow not as uncomfortable as I initially expected. 

I plan to install a set of Cyclops LED lights because the stock lights, while not bad, don't provide as much coverage as I'd like for our gloomy fall riding.

The stock tires, Pirelli Scorpion STRs, handle very well on gravel and pavement. Kudos to Yamaha for putting on decent rubber. I have a Motoz Tractionator Adventure rear and Shinko 804 front waiting to go on next. 

But don't you miss all the electronics and traction control?
Nope. Had that on the Africa Twin and found it got in the way of just enjoying the ride. I wish the Tenere's ABS off-switch stayed off when the ignition is on but the engine is killed, because that would eliminate a lot of button-pushing during frequent stops. Overall the display works fine. I spend most of my time watching the scenery anyway.

If there's one thing I would change, it's Yamaha's location for the selector switch on the right side. It's almost impossible for me to push it with my right thumb while riding. A thumb switch on the left side would probably work much better. This winter I may see what I can rig in parallel to the OEM switch. 

How is it to service?
Yamaha has put a lot of thought into how this bike is assembled and as a result it's extremely simple to strip down for access to things like the oil filter, air filter, etc. Changing tires is a bit fiddly with the twin front rotor, but entirely doable. By comparison, the Africa Twin was a nightmare in all respects.

The engine is only 72 HP! Every KTM since 1973 is at least twice as powerful!!1!1! 
Yeah, I don't feel like I'm missing out on power except maybe when I'm passing at top highway speed in a headwind going up a steep hill. But that's a tiny percentage of my riding time. Most of the time I'm on rural roads, gravel, dirt, rough terrain. The 72 or however many ponies are more than enough to spin the tire and have a blast. What that number doesn't tell you is how electric-motor-smooth the engine is, and how torquey it is at low RPMs. You can crawl along in 2nd or 3rd, give it some gas, and spin up to speed in no time. The engine is a beautiful work of tractable power. Easy to ride all day long at any speed, standing or sitting. 

Does it need bar risers?
No. At 6' tall, I find the riding position nicely balanced in stock form. I did rotate the bars forward a touch though. 

If you like the WR250R, you'll probably love the Tenere 700. It's just a big WRR, with all the power that the little 250 could never deliver, and at only a small perceptible weight penalty. If you prefer the edgy, full-concentration, high-strung power and handling of a KTM, you'd probably find the Tenere to be a little boring perhaps. If you're riding an 800GS or similar BMW, you'd probably find the Tenere to be just as much bike but slimmer and lighter-feeling in your hands.

This summer I'm doing a longer tour with luggage, and we'll see how the Tenere performs under load.