Sunday, May 22, 2011

Three Weeks and Counting. Here's the Route We Plan to Follow!

Route Planning Fun!

Time's passing quickly and the clock is winding down toward our June 12 departure from Martin Motorsports in Boyertown, PA. Aside from the bike mechanical work which continues unabated, lately I've been spending most evenings with my new favorite authors and websites, Rand McNally, MapQuest, and Google Maps. From the beginning this entire trek was envisioned as a transcontinental crossing routed entirely via secondary roads. Perhaps not quite so epic as the trip described in the road warriors' classic book Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon (a trip made in 1978, by the way. Hey, that mid-late 70s connection raises it's head again!) but at least our own little version. That book is still available on Amazon, by the way. Check it out. From the inception, one important goal was to never set foot (tire?) on an Interstate highway. The "no Interstates" thing isn't just about getting in touch with the  pulse of America. It's also about being at least somewhat prudent while traveling on a 125cc, 13 horsepower, 45 mph motorcycle that, frankly, would make only slightly more impact that a bug splatter on the front of a 75mph Freightliner bound for Salt Lake City! All that being said, we've now got an (approximately) 2784 mile route to Athena that hopefully meets our needs.

Because we're getting a little bit of a later start on Sunday the 12th, and probably not leaving Martins until about 9:30, we've set modest goals for the first day. The plan is to find our way through the middle part of Pennsylvania, across the Susquehanna River, on through State College, and overnight somewhere in the Clearfield/DuBois/ Brookville area of Central , PA. Less that 300 miles the first day.
Day 1 - Boyertown, PA to DuBois, PA
                                    
Day 2 we're aiming for Western Ohio, maybe around Napoleon or Bryan and then on to somewhere near Rockford, Ill the third day. After we turn the corner around the bottom of Lake Michigan we'll head a little more North before turning West. We plan to skirt Madison, Wisconsin and then head across the Mississippi at Prairie Du Chien, WI and on into Iowa on Day 4.

After Iowa we'll slowly work our way North and West and eventually get ourselves established on US Route 12 somewhere in South Dakota. We'll basically then follow 12 nearly the rest of the way, at least until we reach Walla Walla, WA where we'll make the brief southbound sprint across the Oregon border and on into Athena.
The Entire Trip - Hopefully!
                                       
The plan is loosely based on something like 300 miles a day. Sometimes slightly more, sometimes slightly less. Once we get to the wide open West, obvious towns in which to stop overnight will dictate out daily mileage. Everything panning out perfectly would find us in Athena after 10 days, arriving on Tuesday, the 21st. That means we've got 3 days or so of "gravy" - days to allocate to touristy stuff, resting our tired and sore butts,  or to replacing fried pistons alongside the road!  

Ten days on the road will be plenty of time to see the sights and there are more than a few along the way. The latter part of the trip, especially, is full of important historical highlights related to the Lewis and Clark Expedition and also the opening of the West in the 19th century.

Of course, another highlight could be just meeting friends and enthusiasts along the way. If thislooks as if it comes somewhere near you - feel free to contact us, or better yet, come out and ride with us for a while (If u can stand goin' bad slow!)

Gotta get back to work now. There is still lots to do on the bikes and this is a big week - need to do a bunch of miles and a bunch of maintenance work !

But before going, here's another thought provoker. I've told many people that these old bikes are easy to work on...that they're "simple like a lawnmower."  True enough. However when I was cutting the lawn yesterday I noticed something a bit disturbing.
 

Yup, my lawnmower has a bigger engine and, for all I know makes more torque. Geez. And I'm gonna ride this thing to Oregon? Sure wish my Hodie was "Guaranteed to Start."

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Monday, May 9, 2011

23 Million Revolutions?

Lemme get this straight. You want to ride all the way across the country on an antique device that's known to occasionally do things like this?


Sometimes it's a bit disturbing to have an engineering background. Part of engineering is anticipating problems, and their solutions, even before they happen. I went for a 50+ mile ride yesterday and another one today as part of the pre-ride testing program. Those thankfully trouble free hours of tiddling around the back roads near my home left plenty of time for my mind to wander. Unfortunately it wandered into a place that I would rather it had not gone. It strayed off into the mental gallery of pictures of motorcyclists (OK, me!) standing alongside the road, immobile. The victim of the treachery of old two stroke motorcycles. Of course it is necessary to consider this. In just 5 weeks now we're going to take off on a trip of almost 3000 miles. Now if I averaged a paltry 40mph for this trip it would take some 75 hours of riding time. Right. 60 minutes to the hour means that's it's a 4500 minute cruise from here to Athena. Now the disconcerting part. At 40mph the 125 Wombat engine is turning about 5200 rpms in 5th gear. Multiply that out and it means that my buzzy little ring-a-ding is going to turn over a minimum of some 23 MILLION REVOLUTIONS during the course of the trip. 23 Million! That poor little piston, which would fit nicely in the coffee cup I'm holding in my hand, is gonna go up and down 23 million times. The tiny crankshaft, now almost 35 years old, is going to spin around in those bearings 23 million times. The ignition points will have to reliably open and close, hopefully firing that poor overheated spark plug, over 23 million times! You get the picture. 23 million is a whole lotta times for anything to happen. The potential for mechanical heartbreak lurks everywhere. I guess that's why a lot of time and thought has been expended in upgrading an already stout (by 1977 standards at least!) piece with durability, reliability, and serviceability improvements. Here, for your consideration are a number of the things we've done to improve our chances of success.

Since we started this by talking about the piston lets begin there. Modern technologies that weren't readily available in 1977 are our friends here. In addition to having a new piston treated with a ceramic coating on the crown and polymer skirt by Swain Technoligies (who do a lot of this stuff for Nascar and such) the cylinder bore was redone in nikasil by our friends and neighbors (only 10 miles from home!) at Powerseal USA.



Hopefully this yields a power producing section a little more tolerant of heat, friction, and more resistant to seizing.





The crank got attention too. "Hodaka Dave" Rozier disassembled it, cleaned up the small amount of corrosion on the journals (the bane of old bike stuff that's been sitting around for decades!), carefully checked out the bearings and pressed it all back together while meticulously indexing everything to factory specs. Thanks Dave.

While that stuff was going on with the power producing bits, the transmission and the rest of the drivetrain was getting attention too. First, every rotating piece was crack checked with magnaflux and then shipped off to WPC Metal Treatment Technoligies in California
for their proprietary micro glass bead surface treatment (http://www.wpctreatment.com/). Better surface finish, less friction, and improved fatigue life are all proven outcomes of WPC's process and a really good thing for 35 year old gearbox parts.

Needless to say, the engine also got the usual new bearings and seals everywhere, not to mention the cleanup and careful inspection of the cases and everything else.

The question of whether to use the oil injection pump or go with premix of oil and gas has been a decision that has brought quite a bit of angst. In order to allow for all eventualities, I went ahead and made the case necessary modification required on 03 Wombats to provide an auxiliary port to let the left crank bearing receive oil from the fuel premix. This is done by drilling a vertical feed hole from the left side transfer port vertically into the bearing gallery.


Now I can run premix should I choose. Of course I also did a great deal of bench testing of the oil pumps that I have in stock and picked the unit with the highest flow. Final decision not made yet but at least I have options.



Of course there are other potential sources of mechanical disappointment beyond the engine. This led to a contemporary o-ring chain,

new wheel bearings, and of course, new tires equipped with Michelin Ultra Heavy Duty tubes. These things are 4mm thick and I swear they are so heavy that one could probably ride to Oregon on just the tubes! And, spares will ride with us.
Of course it's not always the complicated, highly technical stuff that gets ya. It's often the simple stuff. Nuts and bolts for example. So torque locking nuts are all over the bikes, even where none were found originally. Thread locking compound (Loctite!) can be found many places and a liberal application of safety wire will also be noted by the keen observer. Here on lower shock mounting bolts but also on oil drain plugs and elsewhere.
 Electrics are always suspect on motor vehicles from the 70s! To help out here we've liberally employed better /more abrasion sleeves on much of the wiring and also helped out a bit where the original wiring left a bit to be desired. Like here under the seat where a great deal of wiring passes through a large hole punched in the frame. Unfortunately that big punched hole has some pretty sharp edges so here (and a couple of other places) a grommet has been fashioned from a split piece of hose, glued in place with weather stripping cement and the risk of a short is dramatically reduced.
Another issue of some concern is the durability of light bulbs, especially the headlamp which is required to be on in most of the states we'll be passing through. Here's the thing...it's only a 6 volt unit. It's a fairly large item to carry as a spare. And we can't buy a new one at the local NAPA store. We also know that our friend Mike Perrett , who has actually made the trip we're contemplating, got pulled over in Wyoming for not showing a headlamp. The clever solution we've cooked up is a supplemental LED lamp that runs on it's own AAA batteries. Probably won't run it continuously but it'll be there when/if needed. And we can get lots more batteries at Walgreens!
As a last item, I think I mentioned serviceability. A good example is that we've replaced all the phillips head screws that hold the engine side covers on. They are just too much trouble, hard to reliably torque down, subject to getting all bunged up and becoming unusable. We don't want to have to mess with that sort of nuisance when replacing the points along side the road in Iowa so we've gone for socket head cap screws everywhere. Just a couple of allen wrenches and we can field strip our motors to our hearts content!

So there you go. By no means is this list complete but it does represent a smattering of the things we've done, and are doing, to help our odds of success just a bit. Testing continues and new items are added almost daily. But in the end it's still an act of faith that these tired old things can endure just 23 MILLION more engine revolutions!

More info to come soon! Enjoy! And thanks for joining us!

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Monday, May 2, 2011

And Those Other Two Strokes - What's Up With Hodakas?



This whole trip is a hearty serving of "not so easy" and it might seem that we've complicated things by electing to travel on a pair tiny two stroke bikes built over 3 decades ago. By a firm that went belly up only about a year after these bikes were shipped! Uh, yeah. We've had several questions about the whole "Hodaka" thing and our connection to same, so we thought we spend a few moments here telling a bit of the story of the brand and a little about Hodaka Days, the event we aspire to travel to.  Here ya go....



The Hodaka Story (Our Abridged Version)
In the early 1960's, in the tiny town of Athena, tucked away in the northeast corner of Oregon there was a firm known as the Pacific Basin Trading Company - PABATCO.  PABATCO dealt in farm supplies - grain, fertilizer and such. Seeking to expand an existing market for their products beyond their home in the Pacific Northwest, they entered into a trading relationship with Yamaguchi Motors of Japan. In a 60s world where international currency exchange was hampered by substantial regulatory hurdles, Pabatco ginned up a scheme by which they essentially traded wheat to Japan in exchange for Yamaguchi's line of motorcycles. No currency involved! Brilliant! Did I mention that PABATCO was inhabited by an inordinate number of motorcycle enthusiasts. By the end of 1962 Yamaguchi Motorcycles had become the mainstay of PABATCO's business - thousands of units had been imported and were being distributing through a dealer network of some 400 shops nationwide.

Then in early 1963 there was what one might consider a minor setback. Yamaguchi declared bankruptcy and, almost overnight evaporated from the face of the earth. This not only left PABATCO in the lurch, with no product, but also threatened to bring down Yamaguchi's engine supplier, the Hodaka Industrial Company of Japan. One can only imagine the frantic phone calls, telegrams, and telexes (telexes? - prehistoric stuff. Look it up.) flying back and forth between Athena and Japan that, in very short order, yielded a decision to build a whole new series of bikes as a cooperative effort between the two companies, PABATCO and Hodaka. The hard core dirt bike nut jobs in Athena would both design and market the new line of motorcycles and Hodaka Industrial would manufacture not just the engines, but the entire bike! Thus was born the Hodaka motorcycle brand.

By 1964 the first PABATCO designed bike arrived in the United States. That initial Hodaka Ace was a single cylinder 90cc two stroke machine that incorporated many of the best ideas brought forward by the Athena enthusiast crowd - like lightweight double downtube frames and other features that weren't found on competitors trailbike offerings. Using some of the best competition machines of the time as benchmarks Hodaka came to the market with a very advanced machine, and best of all it had the  lights and all the other street legal equipment necessary to allow riders to simply ride to the trailhead for a day of fun! Priced competitively, it was an immediate success!  

By 1966 Hodaka had shipped over 10,000 motorcycles. At the same time the brand was achieving success in a wide variety of competition venues - from Motocross, to road racing, flat track, desert racing, and even observed trials. Through the balance of the 1960s Hodaka was a important player - both in the dealership or on the track. An increasing variety of models were introduced. Among the notable were the 125cc "Wombat" and a ready to race bike, the "Super Rat"  for just under $500.

Unfortunately, by the early 1970s some other marketplace dynamics were beginning to emerge and these would ultimately prove problematical for the little powerhouse from Oregon. Most notably, the Japanese "Big Four" manufacturers (Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, and Suzuki) began to see major opportunity in the exploding dirtbike/trailbike niche. With their sheer size and resources, as well as their large dealer networks and the ability to subsidize dirt bike pricing with their street bikes, the Big Four moved inexorably into Hodaka territory. Hodaka fought back with additional new models incorporating many of the latest advancements such as 21" front wheels, oil injection, reed valve induction systems for increased torque, and even an all new larger displacement 250cc bike. In the end though, it was a matter of too little too late as the economic recession of the late '70s sealed the little firm's fate. Not only had the competition come directly after Hodaka but the dollar was devalued against the yen, making Japanese products increasingly expensive for the American market. Plus, there was a glut of Japanese competitors' bikes already landed in the U.S. that were being sold at "give-away" pricing. Like so many firms before them, the business model just didn't work any longer. The manufacturing contract with Hodaka Industrial was terminated and the company was shut down in 1978.

So how is it that an obscure brand like this, with probably less than 100,000 bikes sold over a period of less than 15 years still appeals to enthusiasts to this very day? Maybe it's because they truly were great little bikes. And there are still plenty of enthusiasts riding them daily in the dirt and in vintage competition across the country. Maintenance is fairly straightforward and parts are pretty readily available from dedicated suppliers like Strictly Hodaka.




And then there is HODAKA DAYS, the event we aspire to attend !

There are plenty of fun things to do with your vintage Hodaka but one event enthusiasts don't want to miss is the annual Hodaka Days celebration in Athena, Oregon.  This event, put together annually for over a decade now by the Hodaka Club and especially by the club's high energy president Paul Stannard, has become an fixture on Athena's calendar the last weekend of June. Hundreds of enthusiasts from around the country descend on the tiny town for parades, a bike show, the chance to schmooze with former Hodaka/Pabatco employees, competition, and bench racing of every type. This year the event is from Thursday June 23 through Sunday June 26. Our hope is to arrive on or about by Friday, the 24th. Check out some pictures from Hodaka Days 2009. What's not to love about a company who was confident enough to label their products with some of the quirkiest motorcycle names ever. Road Toad, Dirt Squirt, Wombat, Combat Wombat (!), and Thunderdog!  









Stay tuned for more info on our upcoming trip. Shortly we'll have some info to share on the specific bikes we're taking, preparation details, and more details about our route planning Only 41 days till we leave...doesn't seem like a lot of time does it?

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Sincere thanks to our supporters including Giant Loop Moto, REV’IT, Strictly Hodaka, Bell Helmets, Martin Motorsports.