Thursday, April 10, 2014

Post 5 - Smelling tyres and setting the sag

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts detailing my preparation for a trip to France on my VFR. 

Roads in Ireland are far from what they should be. They are often bumpy, badly laid out, full of potholes and areas which are sinking into bog, are cut up, gravel strewn and plain bad. Over the last 15 years a modern motorway network has developed throughout the country. Well, actually, a network which connects the major cities to Dublin but seldom to one another, has been developed and the surface and lay out these motorways is pretty good. But then motorways are pretty boring places to be. When on two-wheels you want there to be glorious sweeping bends, hairpin turns, elevation changes, and, importantly in terms of keeping your fun safe, visibility. Many of the hedges that go along Irish roads are not cut back to allow a rider or driver to see through a bend. You're simply expected to have x-ray vision and know. Perhaps road designers have some form of telepathy going on. Or radar. Whatever it is I don't have it and blind corners are often the order of the day here. 

New Metzeler Z8 waiting to be fitted before Sunday.
In planning this trip I have been looking at routes and using Google Street View to get an idea of what I will be looking at as I exit Cherbourg on Monday and set off to Le Mans. Coupled with knowledge from a previous trip (where I flew over) the roads look pretty bloody good. I find it hard to see any giant, bike-swallowing, potholes (there are at least two on the approach road to my house here) and most of the corners I have seen are easy to see through. I have promised myself that I will stay off of the toll roads unless it is absolutely necessary to use them, they don't look like fun over there at all and while they would get me to the destination a little quicker, the time difference is actually not that big. Either way I need to put 4 hours away to cover what I need to cover. The other thing to consider is that I will be driving on a different side of the road than usual and the extra concentration required will no doubt leave me feeling tired at the end of my trip despite the lack of a huge amount of hours in the saddle. 

And this is where we come right back to it. The hours in the saddle are hours that you want to spend being comfortable and having fun. I read somewhere before that the best suspension is one that is as soft as possible whilst still allowing the greatest amount of control. You essentially want the best of both worlds. When I first bought the VFR I wanted to try and keep it as standard as I could but the front forks had been crying out for some sort of attention for a long time. About two months ago I embarked on an adventure which involved trying to pull one of the fork legs apart using a car. Surprised at how easy the job seemed, for a first timer, I seperated one fork and emptied it of the smelly fork oil inside and then began working on the other leg. However it seemed that the bushings inside jammed into one another and there was no way of seperating the leg from the stanchion without serious heat. We tried a car first, tying one end to a caego container and the other to the two-hitch on the car but that didn't do anything bar snap some rope. When all was said and done I had new seals, new bushings, new Progressive Suspension springs and new 10wt fork oil to boot. The front was now a lot more refined, not diving heavily under braking as it had done (particularly annoying with a pillion) and yet was still supple enough to soak up imperfections on the surface. I had even painted the fork legs as I was at it and was very pleased with the whole job. However, one thing that was not done, and which I bet a lot of motorcyclists have never done, is set the static sag of the suspension.

You do this in order to ensure that the suspension is working in the middle of its range, the optimum part, so you get a full use of the whole spring. Many are riding around using just the top of the spring due to incorrect sag and so are not getting the benefit of the full suspension components. There are plenty of online guides as to what to do if you search and I would recommend you do. Wanting my bike's suspension to be as good as it can be for the trip to France I was helped, very graciously by Martin and Eddie and Gary, with setting my front sag. Apparently it had been too soft. We did not go near the back as we had run out of time at this stage but with luggage being loaded up I wonder what the damper will make of it all. I reckon the Showa OEM part is past it's best at this stage and is due a rebuild. From various readings the Showa kit is actually decent quality but the oil inside breaks down over time and needs rebuilding. Having ridden a Bandit for a good while anything feels harder after that but over long undulations on the road you can feel the shock becoming a little boingy and overworked in the damping compartment. I suppose the best I can do with the luggage on the back of the bike is keep the heavier stuff, whatever that stuff will be, low down in the soft panniers and put light stuff in the top box. I tend to put clothes in the topbox by default in order to keep things dry and might do likewise this time as well. Once all loaded up I think I will just wind the preload to the max and that should see me through. For the next trip I hope to have the shock rebuilt and good as new to match a completely revitialised front end.  

In other news the Metzeler Z8 rear arrived today and it looks very big. Tyres always do when off the rims. This will need fitting before Sunday, I don't think they allow tyre fitting on the ferry and I think I'd have trouble fitting it into my tankbag anyway (!), but tyre fitting isn't as bad as it might seem. Although the times I have seen it done manually involved a lot of sweating and swearing. Still, a bit of shouting can be therapeutic

Seeing as I only have one picture on the blog today I will leave you with this promotional video which Honda made for the fabled NR750 in the early 1990s. The looks of the RC36 VFR 750, my one, was very much influenced by the NR. The air ducts are a direct relation, the dashboard as many similarities as well as the general shape of it. They also share gear driven cams and a design attitude of "all-roundedness" which is great for some but others don't like the lack of a particular flair for one small area of biking. Each to their own. One thing we can all agree on though is just how much of an engineering triumph the NR was. Oval pistons which worked everyday and a basic heads-up-display in 1992... If you cannot afford one then buy an RC36, it's not far off it in terms of design anyway and if you want to changer the screen you won't have to mortgage the house. Even a screen for an NR costs several thousand euro as they are titanium coated. And if you need another spare part Honda locate the original worker who made the original part and have him/her supervise the making of the replacement to ensure it is exactly as it should be. That is a level of precision, not just on an engineering scale, but on a human scale, that is typically Japanese. If I end up on straight miles of road at least this gives me something to think about!

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