Monday, October 12, 2009

Polini Cup Finale: The Agony & The Ecstasy

Mosquito Fleet has no shortage of awesome people. A lot of people pitched in to help me out at the last minute, literally! The last several weeks, prior to the Polini Cup, were a near constant buzz of activity to try and finish the bike and otherwise get ready to roll. Parts need customizing, refitting, assembled and disassembled and reassembled in order to chase down all the little details. Getting a bike together is really just a laundry list of all kinds of tiny projects which are hard to predict just what's going to happen. This increases with every customized part you have, as they all need tweaking here, etc.. I realize I'm preaching to the choir, but there are some folks, with say a brand new stock Tomos, or an otherwise easily tuned bike who don't understand why I couldn't just build this bike in a day or two.

In the final day or so, I realized that if the bike was going to be finished, it would get built on the bus, or at the track. So I focused on gathering parts and doing the things I couldn't on the road. The bike was mostly in one piece at this point, but the goofy lawnmower belt I had on the bike, seemed to be getting zero traction on the variator, and thus the engine wasn't cranking over. Additionally, other than the condensor (hot) lead cracking against the engine, when throwing the flywheel by hand, I had no verification of spark. So it was a very fresh bike that went on that bus.

Meanwhile, since I was the only fleeter going to race, Jihee crafted some BAD ASS Nerd Speed T-shirts to rep, which is still blowing my mind!! Thanks to Phil for grabbing a shirt for me during my ultra-busy moments. I was working on the bike up until a 1/2 hour before boarding the bus. We drove through the night on friday, collecting a few puddle cutters en route (Nice to meet BFA, Jesse & Joe of Uphill Battle) and at first light, I started to wrench on Plan B. To my knowledge it needed to be completely cabled, to have the not-turning-over issue resolved and set up for ignition. Since I had a healthier clutch with me, I started work on that. Joel 'Gunshow' Kvernmo jumped right in and helped me build up the bike, basically from that point through the rest of the day - and some of the night.

Together we disassembled the old clutch and rebuilt it around the slightly better one, using tools in the Bus's toolbox, some of mine and stuff we bought at a truck stop. After that was rebuilt and reinstalled, a new problem surfaced. Early in the build, I noticed that the rather meager stock Si subframe had been tweaked out of straight. I attempted to lever it back into true, but without the proper tools, my leveraging seem to only stress the subframe further. So instead of running the wheel on crooked, I shimmed the mount bolts to straighten it out. But this created a new problem, as the distance shimmed now meant the clutch couldn't be fully secured, because of the threaded distance, or the fully secured clutch was locking up the clutch pulley against the subframe. Joel and I tried a number of different shimming combinations and couldn't make it happen. It was very frustrating to have to choose between a crooked wheel or a loose clutch. At this point, considering all the other existing problems, I truly doubted that the bike would ever see the track. Phil finished his driving shift and jumped into fray, he convinced me that we should just keep finishing the bike and until we had exhausted our options. So together we all cabled the bike and got the clutch/wheel situation to a compromise. Some time thereafter we arrived at Atwater and Phil, Joel and I kept working on the bike. Using another bike to 'wheel start' Plan B, we tested for spark, which was dead until we borrowed the HT Coil off of Phil's Astro-Daimler. Once we had confirmation of spark, we begged some fuel off a creature and tried bump-starting the bike. At near sprinting speeds, the bike would crank over and bark. With the sun already set on Saturday, running down the access road next to the track, Plan B finally started for the first time. Phil, Joel and I then spent the next few hours trying to adjust the rather persnickety Tillotson carb. Joel did this for the most part, based on his experience with his own Tillotson. At some point we realized that tuning the carb in the cold night wouldn't help us the next with the sun up, so we quit for the night.

It had been quite the day. Joel & Phil really made the difference in getting the bike to run, I consider them to be life members of Team Nerdspeed, if they have any interest in that.

The next day, I used Lee's welder to zap the clutch nut, as to prevent it flying off during the race. Then I started tuning the carb again. The tillotson uses a fixed idle jet, and two screws, a low range and a high range, the two screws ranges overlap to form the mid-range. During our tuning efforts, Phil noticed that my variator wasn't operating until the very top of the rpm range, it seems that the bike was overall geared too tall. Instead of the standard 16" wheels most Vespas have, Plan B has 17" wheels, as well as the Malossi overdrive gear set. Combined with the cheesy lawnmower belt, and the not quite right carb settings, Plan B's low-end power was abysmal. The bike stalled when qualifying was sent out, and I scrambled to restart the bike. With a fresh plug, the bike restarted, and I got out right as the white flag dropped, just barely qualifying for the day.

I knew the bike wasn't competitive, but I was thrilled to be able to finally run the machine. If I had finished the bike about a week earlier, I could've sorted out some of the performance issues, but considering the marathon build session I was pretty happy about so much going right. In spite of a Lot of welding on the cases, the engine had no air leaks, the exhaust -also a lot of welding- and no air leaks. The carb has this awkward vacuum aperture that I was able to plumb correctly around the reed valve. The cylinder, despite being old and seized and me porting the shit out of it, had good compression and didn't hurt the rings. To not have to be disappointed all winter for not getting out on the track, was definitely worth being a road block to the other guys on the track. Sorry dudes! -but not really(?) The racing this year was fantastic, bikes have come a long way from the racing back in Ohio and Pennsylvania, when the Gilardoni was hawt shit, and a 21mm was 'probably too big'. The racers out there are really talented and super fun to watch. I look forward to next season, and hope more people come out to challenge the guys leading the way. Oh! It was great to see Travis on the track, who looked good and looked like he was having a good time, too.

Despite the running issues, I'm pretty impressed with the overall feel of the Si chassis, the frame feels rigid, the rear monoshock is great, and the front forks, while spongy by motorcycle standards, are pretty solid for a moped. I will probably end up fabbing a custom subframe for the bike, maybe a water-jet cut aluminum one, per Matt Smith's suggestion? I also need to rework the foot pegs, and the overall ergonomics.

The bus ride home started as an annoying chore, and eventually became a surrealist nightmare. Despite a very successful record to date, the rally season's wear and tear decided to emerge on the Bus at about 5:30AM monday morning, when the coolant filter bracket broke off and the filter was pierced falling against the motor. Scoob's, Phil and I were able to bypass the filter out of the loop and begin our merry way again. Next to fail was a section of hydraulic fluid line. The line burst, and the bus lost both the cooling fan and the power steering. After some limping down the road, Phil was able to locate a nearby NAPA store, who then directed us to a hydraulic systems specialist, where a new line was made up and installed, along with 5 gallons of hydraulic fluid. Back on the road, about 15 minutes along, the radiator overheated and we realized that the cooling fan was not operating, in spite of the new hydraulic line and fluid. We stopped in the next town and searched for options, wheeling into three different garages. The problem was believed to be located around the cooling fan solenoid. A lot of friendly advice was given, and some passing the buck, eventually some attempts were made at bypassing the solenoid, or locating a replacement, but alas it was not to be. So after securing the engine cover into an 'open' position, and opening the side covers, we were able to drive the bus at about 35-40mph indefinitely, usually stopping every 20-30 minutes when the engine would overheat.

My genuine thanks go out to Matt Smith, Phil and Scooby, who were definitely dozers in a bus full of fraggles. We made Portland by midnight, and pulled into the bowling alley around 7am. Total return time, around 35 hrs. I also want to thank everybody in general for being so supportive of my efforts to finish the dang bike, and busting my Awful Hen cherry. More thanks go out to Liz, who helped me out a lot on the last day before leaving, who fixed up the seat I used, and did some fantastic hand-lettering on Plan B.

One last thing: Liz & I will be in Columbus, OH. next weekend for Craftin Outlaws, the biggest alternative craft fair in Ohio, and the second oldest in the midwest, which Liz started and ran until we moved to Seattle. If you're in the area, you should check it out.


Philip Patrie said...

Well written, what an adventure. Long live Team Nerdspeed!

spookytunee said...


Josh said...

Oooh! Also, Thanks to Dean, for donating most of the bike that became Plan B.

Ian T said...

good job sir, I am sorry that I missed it (but not the broken bus part).

Wadowski said...

this was so entertaining to follow. Glad you got to compete with the bike even though it wasn't tuned to where it should have been. looking forward to see what you get out of it now that you have some more time on your hands.

Where can i get a nerd speed shirt?

Anonymous said...

like i said on the site, i was so stoked to see you out there! sorry i wasn't more help and we didn't get to hang out as much.. my ciao was giving me problems too, two flat tires and a broken variator return spring, among other things, and i was kinda stressed out a bit.
next year will be awesome! i really hope you guys can make it down more often!