One of the things you notice about Florida, especially the end facing Cuba, is that they seem to be prepping for an invasion or something. For otherwise unknown reasons, there are double height chain link fences along the freeways and a lot of cold war era military bases that are still off limits as they rust into the swamp. Even the Queen’s “Navy” of the Conch Republic, who long ago surrendered to the United States and is as loyal a citizens as you’ll find, frequently gets hassled by the Coast Guard… Who alternately accuses them of either running quasi legal water taxi and “freight” service to Cuba or drug smuggling. Then again, for an industry that cut it’s teeth on piracy, would you expect anything less? So we have a swampland frontier, none too subtly fortified against a Cuban invasion… And President Obama just opened the docks and MIA to Cuban consumers, no gunboats or surplus MIG escort needed! No doubt, late into the night, aging Cuban expatriates, good ‘ol boy cops, and unemployed soldiers of fortune will be making plans to fight the Cuban “invasion”…

But I suspect the major targets of the Cuban “invaders” will be WalMarts and used car lots… Anybody remember when the Berlin Wall fell, and East Germany’s frustrated consumers cleaned out West Berlin’s stores, even bringing back newly purchased mopeds as well as TVs by the truckload? And despite what we’ve heard about Cuban poverty, no communist economy can function without a black market, which means there’s plenty of currency in Cuba but little consumer goods to spend it on… Until now! Miami traffic is crazy enough already, now add thousands of drunken Cuban shoppers who are getting their first driving experience to the mix. Then remember that Cuba is within not just Ro-Ro ship but ferry range, being barely 90 miles from U.S. highways. Can fit a lot of motorcycles on a ferry, the U.S. has the lowest prices in the world for used motorcycles, and ain’t Cuba just the perfect climate for motorcycling?

And this moto-tourism will not be a one way voyage- I imagine the Ural folks will be the first to stage a Cuban rally, followed closely by BMWMOA with an all-inclusive several hundred buck a day luxury tour. And the old cabbies still operating those 50s american cars? They’ll sell them for 6 figure prices, buy a new Japanese econobox, and retire. Same with the narrow gauge steam locomotives that still work the sugar cane farms and the legendary prewar Macks working the docks.

So just as Levis, McDonalds, and Pepsi brought down the Berlin Wall and most all of communism, one of it’s last holdouts, Cuba, is about to surrender to big screen TVs and cheap wheels. And from their bunkers overlooking the overcrowded Walmart parking lots and bumper to bumper traffic on the Florida Turnpike. a few aging anti-Castro militias await an armed invasion… But these Cuban invaders will be armed with cash and soon to be acquired credit cards. And south Florida’s graft fueled business sector which owes it’s loyalty to profitable corruption more than any nation… will suck it all up!

Despite management’s best attempts otherwise…

DSC_3191To the point that it’s hard to get a picture of the train without a horde of happy humanity framing if not obliterating the view of the train. I caught last night’s stop at Cottage Grove and it was typical… Attendance of at least 1400 (that’s how many glow sticks they gave out before they ran out), traffic jams on the 4 lane freeway leading to the stop, and folks not complaining a bit about parking half a mile away. ‘Twas a successful fundraiser for the local food banks too, being the focus of a fundraising campaign that brought in over $100,000 and filled a good sized truck with food to boot.

DSC_3205The music wasn’t as good as previous years, and by now I’ve pretty much got the script of the ceremony with the local food shelf head and politicians memorized… But who cares! Canadian Pacific’s top management of course has far divergent goals for their railroad, more along the lines of chasing away those pesky new (and a few old) customers so they can concentrate on running predictably profitable unit trains of oil and frac sand… The farmers who kept CP alive for over a century be damned. Heck, CP management even had the nerve (or stupidity) to propose a merger with Norfolk Southern. That’s roughly equivalent of the fat chronically unemployed nerd who lives in his mom’s basement proposing marriage to the young starlet who’s preoccupied with picking between multi million dollar contract offers from the studios, and even the management of what I’ve heard referred to as the “Nazi Southern” gave CP a prompt and terse “NO!”.

Being on paper the least profitable train that CP runs, the Holiday Train has thus become a target for CP management’s machetes. Used to be that every CP employee on the sub accompanied the Holiday train, a virtual army in orange vests that assured the train’s safe passage. Despite the fact that most of those folks would have been on the clock anyway, CP in their infernal wisdom seems to be trying to turn those duties over to whatever volunteers the community the train is stopping in can muster. Heck, used to be that even Santa was usually a CP employee, and rode the train from stop to stop… CP has now advised the local food shelves and their supporters that if they want a Santa, they’ll have to supply ‘em.

So no surprise that the lights went out on the Holiday Train this year…

DSC_3195Fortunately was for but a moment. But in over a decade of following the Holiday Train, I’ve never seen the lights go out. Heck, they even leave every single light lit and flashing when the train’s parked deep in the rail yard or rolling across the empty prairies in the middle of the night. Then there was the acrid smell coming from somewhere around the power cars (good thing there were two, each with a pair of Cat gensets IIRC) Of course, in the mindset of the Wall Street wiz kids currently running CP, a couple boxcars with big ‘ol emergency generators is a total waste of assets, to be liquidated ASAP. And the boxcars fitted out with stages, that get used in this “non revenue” service for only a month a year? Probably giving CP’s top management ulcers!

But even the Wall Street wiz kids can’t derail the Holiday Train…DSC_3206

DSC_3188The quest to advance the science of mobility never ceases here at Gearhead Grrrl’s top secret Buffalo Ridge “Skunkworks”… Well, that’s the “official version”. Actually, I was wondering how well the Golf Variant would handle a sidecar on it’s roof, being as I’m probably going to be picking one up on the way to Florida. Now I just happened to have a sample of the same sidecar handy here, I wanted to play with the alignment of the chassis underneath it anyway, and there’s only five bolts holding the body on!

Thus the stars sorta came into alignment yesterday when the crossbars for the Thule rack were delivered and we had dry but cold roads today. With no less than three straps for securement, I drove about 12 miles at 65 MPH… And if I hadn’t been watching the mirror I’d aimed up at the ‘hack body and the MPG readout, I wouldn’t have known I was hauling around an extra half a square meter of frontal area in the form of a Motorvation Formula II sidecar body. With little wind at 65 MPH, MPG was down from 40 MPG bare roof to 32 MPG with the sidecar.

DSC_3189Rear view to better illustrate the Formula’s not inconsiderable 20% or better increase in the Golf’s frontal area. Given that the Golf is a fairly slippery little hot hatch with a CD in the low.30s, for the Formula’s body to increase fuel consumption in no greater proportion than it’s increase in frontal area suggests that it’s one slick side hack. There’s actually less wind noise with the sidecar atop than their is with the rack bare, and no buffeting… Somebody decades ago when Motorvation designed the Formula clearly knew their aerodynamics!

Not sure if I’ll haul the new (to me) Formula to Florida on the roof or inside the Golf, a 20% increase in fuel use does add up- I’ll probably do a test pack to see if I can get the hack and everything else inside before I kick the ‘hack out and onto the roof. But it’s nice to know I’ve got the option, and the Formula is as slick as a sidecar can get!

First off, last year’s guide (cause I’m too lazy to type up the same material again):¬†http://gearheadgrrrl.com/2013/11/22/the-gearheads-gift-guide/

Now if you gifted your gear heads all of the stuff in last year’s guide, thanks to the march of technology and my ‘fessin’ up that I’m getting’ older and slower has made a few new gift ideas apparent… So let’s get the plastic out and power shop!

Let there be (LED) light…

DSC_3179Couple months back I was (again) aimlessly wandering the aisles of Costco, when I came across a whole skid of “LED shop lights”. I couldn’t resist despite the $40 or so price… And when I got home and plugged it in, I vowed to get more. Looks like those lights were pretty popular because on my next Costco run a mere week later they were gone! Well, on my black (and blue) friday Costco run they were back in stock, and I grabbed another. The smaller portable light came from Costco too, about half the price and output of the big one. So yes, you can be green and save energy, save bucks too, and have better light at the same time!

Read the manual… And check the web too!

Last year I featured those eternal fonts of gear head knowledge, repair manuals. Hopefully you’ve got at least one manual for everything you own that has moving parts, and even if you’ve met that quota, you can always use more. But nowadays we’ve got even more accumulated gear head wisdom to draw on, on the “interwebs”, and dirt cheap memory to store it on too! One of the better examples is “Snowbum”‘s BMW airhead tech pages, as thick as the thickest manual and frequently updated with the latest tech wisdom, There’s countless other examples just a download away… Just put all this gear head wisdom on your hard drive, thumb drive, burn it to a CD, can even put it on one of them not even fingernail sized memory cards and have service info ready to go on your cell phone or bigger device.

Quit fighting gravity…

DSC_3143For the past couple years I’ve been repeatedly tearin’ up the same groups of lower back and abdominal muscles… It was time for a change. Sure, a couple decades ago I would have just put that pickup bed on my back and moved it around… But nowadays I let hydraulics and the wheels do the work. On black friday I picked up a trailer tongue jack for $20, it’s a lot easier to roll something around when you don’t have to lift and steady it to. Which neatly sagways us into…

You need to get hack’d!

P1030130Getting’ old trying to keep the bike upright when you have to wiggle it from side to side to get it into the house for winter? No center stand and/or a GS airhead side stand? Jonesin’ to ride, but it’s snowin’/muddln’/or worse out? Or you gotta watch the kids, and no sitters available?

Get hack’d! All of a sudden everybody (‘cept the real grouches) is your friend, Costco runs no longer require an SUV, you can bring that thick air mattress and big tent to the rally, and every trip is potentially a shopping trip. The cost? Usually less than half the price of the bike it’s hooked to, and double the capacity. What’s not to like? At this point the self appointed experts will chime in warning of instantly worn out tires, busted frames, horrendous accidents, ad nauseum… Ignore them, get hack’d properly, and learn how to ride your ‘hack… And you’ll always ride with a smile!

As always, we’ve got a bumper crop to choose from… And some we don’t even get to choose, being “free range” turkeys that come crashing in during their fitful attempts at flight. Now you’d think the producers of this years bumper crop of turkeys would quit glutting the market with cruiser motorcycles and monster pickups, but by some strange logic CEOs figure that if it sold like hotcakes a decade ago, it will again. So gather ’round the fire, and let’s get these turkeys properly incinerated!

the ugliest turkey… Ferguson Police Department:

Now turkeys are naturally ugly critters, but this one is especially ugly. The Ferguson PD probably would have escaped the headlines if they’d stuck to their normal business plan of overzealous traffic and parking enforcement. But a few months back one of their inept officers decided to respond to an alleged shoplifting with guns blazing, and he managed to literally execute his suspect, a geeky overweight teen, for what in Ferguson is apparently the capital felony crime of suspected shoplifting. This naturally got the neighborhood, many of whom have paid all too many tickets for 2 MPH over the limit at 3 am and such, rather riled up. Tripling down on the stupid, Ferguson and every other police force and even the Guard dumb enough to answer their mutual aid call put on their armor and played army against a rag tag bunch of kids that thoroughly out maneuvered them. Now I suspect that Ferguson and their PD will escape the oven this year, but their zero tolerance parking and traffic enforcement that provides a quarter of the city’s revenue has now been exposed, and Ferguson’s armed Keystone Cops are too busy defending their city hall to write tickets nowadays. Add in the cost of replacing all those torched squads, the newly acquired “tactical gear”, and endless police overtime… And the turkey that is Ferguson and it’s police will probably get roasted and carved up in bankruptcy court to satisfy the debtors.

An old gobbler makes a comeback: GM

The more I look at the “new” GM, the more I see the old GM that just managed to dump a bunch of liabilities in bankruptcy court and go right back to their old stupid ways. Always wanting to be the biggest if not the best, GM has now managed to eclipse Toyota’s massive unintended acceleration recall with a defective ignition switch that in the usual GM manner, they bought and installed by the millions. And then as turkeys tend to do, GM multiplied the stupidity by delaying a response, even telling a vendor to take their sweet time making replacement switches. Of course, for GM, a membership club that specializes in mediocre cars and the financing thereof, it’s part of the “business plan”… Why build a competitive product when millions will buy their tasteless turkey cars and trucks just because GM gave them an “employee”, “supplier”, or “fleet” ¬†discount and everyone else used to buy them? Granted, once in a while GM screws up and builds a decent car like the new Impala… But more often turkeys like that exercise in throttle delay, the diesel Cruze. That was fortunately a small volume screw up, but the vertically enhanced ’64 Chevy remix without a trunk lid, the new full size pickup they spent a billion to bring to market, is already having trouble competing with MoPar’s air suspended and diesel powered offering and is about to be totally eclipsed by the new aluminum F-150. GM is another turkey that will probably survive a few more thanksgivings, but with a stock trading for less than when they came out of bankruptcy, they’re probably going to get roasted in another bankruptcy.

Cruisers, again:

One would think that by now that the captains of industry, powersports sector, would figure out that the cruiser’s core market, aging boomers, isn’t going to be around forever. Like a cornfed barn raised turkey suddenly turned loose, HOG(NYSE) is standing around waiting for the customary feed and water bins to be refilled, ignoring the nearby pond and the bounty of food around it. Yup, HOG(NYSE) could have leveraged their products into a full line of powersports toys and exported them worldwide, making Milwaukee an industrial powerhouse. Instead, they clumsily triked their baggers and gave us an unridable shrunken water-cooled “revolution” twin and a battery powered PR exercise. Proving just as inept, Polaris slavishly rushed into the same shrinking market with not one but two “Indian” cruisers. While both companies will live on at least a few years and maybe even survive cruiser addiction, let’s get all these turkey “cruisers” into the oven ASAP, even if the scrap iron prices are down!

Borg Trucks Worldwide, AKA Volvo:

I used to admire Volvo- Back in the days when ‘Merican trucks were dumb and crude, Volvo made a real drivers truck that was easy on the fuel budget too. Then Volvo bought and killed off White and Autocar, and a few years later added Renault and Mack to their haul. And while Volvo saved White Motor from bankruptcy, they ended up killing off most everything White made and replacing it with a Volvo design, for better and oftentimes worse. So here we are a decade after Volvo took custody of the Bulldog, and while Volvo hasn’t been quite able to kill Mack, the bulldog is on life support. It is still possible to buy one of the legendary Mack trucks with the torquey Maxidyne engine, indestructible Maxitorque transmission, and the legendary Mack rear axles and suspension. But surf the Mack website or Mack’s brochures and you’ll be lucky to find any mention of those options; Instead Volvo is pimping their automated manual transmission uncreatively rebadged as “M-Drive and a Volvo “T Ride” rear suspension renamed “M ride”, Said transmission has a generous warranty, but after that runs out there’s no parts available, and the cost of a factory rebuild from Volvo may exceed the trucks value… Deeply cutting into the “value proposition” of these Volvo trucks with the legacy Mack cab and bulldog hood ornament. And it get’s worse… Rumor has it that the legacy Mack cab is soon to be replaced with a Volvo one. Yup, Volvo has bought one of the world’s most recognized and revered brands, so they can slowly kill it and replace it with their own. Meanwhile, Volvo’s own truck has become a generic product, a rapidly depreciated fleet truck interchangeable with the similar offerings from Daimler, DAF, Iveco, ad nauseum. With a stock price that’s going nowhere, the turkey that is Volvo trucks today should be expedited to the oven and replaced with real Macks.

the petroleum prohibitionists, AKA Sierra Club et al:

Now I’m no lover of big oil, and all too tired of paying a buck a gallon premium for diesel fuel when it’s cheaper to produce than gasoline. But dang, we need the stuff, and no complete replacement for dinosaur derived fuels is on the horizon. But the environmental extremists of the Sierra Club and their ilk has adopted a tactic of opposing carbon based fuels at every turn… They oppose pipelines, oil trains, oil tankers, oil drilling… There’s no pleasing them. Same with coal, though given that coal is dying a natural death of financial causes anyway, they’re wasting their time. Yup, like the prohibitionists of a century ago, these holier than though moralists are aiming to cut us off, cold turkey, just like the prohibitionists did near a century ago. And that worked so well… NOT! As we learned from the error of prohibition, reducing consumption and more safely producing, refining, and ¬†transporting oil will accomplish more than trying to make the world go “cold turkey” without oil… So lets take this, the environmental extremist’s idealogical turkey, and boil it in oil!

the polar vortex, again:

One of the paradoxical things about global warming is that it’s uneven, and sometimes it ain’t getting’ any warmer! Thus we have arctic ice melting, hurricanes hitting New England as well as Nor’Easters, lake effect snow measured in feet instead of inches, and another polar vortex in north america bringing the ridin’ season to an early end. We may not be able to strangle and roast this frozen turkey… But damn it, throw some more logs on the fire so we can at least warm up!

Being really bored today, I made another attempt to make my ’98 Ford Ranger fire up in a repeatable manner. Having replaced the fuel pump and now the idle air control with no effect, other than on my bank account, I thought it might be time to consult the manual in hopes of figuring out how the fuel system works… Or in this case, doesn’t work. So I consult my dogeared and rapidly disassembling Haynes… And find a smattering of info, much of which doesn’t even refer to my Ranger. So I google “Ford Ranger fuel system” and check out the images of what comes up… Which was pretty much the same images as the half useless Haynes manual has and some even less useful other stuff.

So, maybe it’s time to break down and buy a for real Ford manual? Following the links to Ford’s exclusive purveyor of manuals, I find there are no more manuals available, at least in the form that we’re used to, printed books. Heck, no manuals on CDs available either. All that’s offered is “online’ access, at rates ranging from $10 for a few hours to a couple thousand a year for a commercial repair shop. OK Ford, I can take a hint… I’m supposed to lease a new F150 and pay you folks a few hundred dollars a month in perpetuity, on top of the similar financial hit at the gas pump.

Contrast that to the information rich environment our old BMW airheads thrive in- Factory, Haynes, and Clymer manuals on good old fashioned bound paper. Online parts look up, the airheads e-mail list, website, and Facebook page. If that ain’t enough to solve the problem, there’s the airheads forum over at ADVrider, Snowbum’s exhaustive website, and at least a handful of others. Same for my ’03 VW Golf TDI- I got the VW factory manual, Haynes, and tdiclub.com online.

But not so much sweetness and light for my ’13 Golf Sportswagon- The last factory manual covers up to ’10 or so, which is pretty much the same as a ’13, and Haynes still hasn’t come out with a manual for the car. Not much better for my ’07 BMW F800S, but at least a CD manual and a Haynes are now available. But both all too often direct you to the non OBDII factory diagnostic tester, but at least aftermarket testers are available in the $300 and up range. Ford? Same problem, it’s beyond the reach of OBDII, and there are no consumer priced aftermarket solutions.

Are there any solutions?

Well, couple years back I watched with interest as the former Ford dealers in Starbuck and Glenwood closed and their libraries of manuals were auctioned off to old Ford collectors. No point in trying to outbid them when I own but one Ford and it’s only 17 years old… But I suspect that a ’98 Ranger manual could be separated from a collector’s haul for a few bucks, had I shown a bit more foresight. So when a dealer or collector lets go of their manuals, I’m gonna be on it! And while Ford’s manuals are no longer printed and in some cases even “burned” on CDs and DVDs, we need to “stock up” on manuals while they’re still available- My Haynes are getting pretty beat up anyway. And for those who can’t acquire manuals for whatever reason, we need to share ours- I’ve got a commercial grade copier here and damn near a ream of paper left over from the campaign, and I’ll be happy to run copies for anyone that needs them.

And how to deal with manufacturers that insult our intelligence and rob our bank accounts by making their service information so proprietary as to be unavailable? Well, I’ll only buy a new vehicle if I can buy a service manual along with it!

DSC_3170Decided it was ’bout time to put the ‘lil ‘hack (Motorvation Spyder) back on the GS, given that it’s my newest and lowest mileage airhead. This was my first ‘hack “romance”, the Spyder first being mounted in late february of ’94 right at the Motorvation mother ship in northwest Iowa. The GS had only covered 28k miles then, now the odo reads 67k while the Spyder has covered well over 100k… No, I haven’t been riding with the tug wheel in the air, though the ‘hack wheel has been occasionally aloft! The GS had a whole bunch of the typical GS maladies: tranny X2, pulled cylinder studs X2, alternator, starter, and of course the dreaded paralever. Thus the Spyder got hitched to my R65LS for a while, and when the GS studs failed a 2nd time, an R80ST was seduced to handle the tug duties with a bit more torque than the R65LS had.

DSC_3173And given it’s unreachable “auto-retract” side stand, the GS cries out for a hack to hold it up. Throw in the GS’ couple more inches of ground clearance and enough power to buck our “normal” 30 MPH headwinds at faster than 50 MPH, and the GS is the better tug for my Buffalo Ridge wanderings. I’ve kept the GS close to home since I put HPD inserts in all eight stud holes, but 6k miles later the repair has held up. This summer I finally found and installed the little known 1 millimeter tighter fitting gearbox rear seal, so now the driveshaft is running dry as BMW but not god intended. After the 2nd transmission failure I subbed a pre-missing circlip tranny, so other than the paralever driveshaft, this GS’s demons have pretty much been excised. And with only about 10k on the current paralever, I can put off getting it rebuilt with greasable & replaceable U-jounts for a while.

And what of the now lonely ST?

DSC_3181It’s still got my spare set of mounts and subframe, so I’m in the market for another ‘hack… Heck, my plan is to have every ‘hackable bike I’ve got ‘hack’d by the time I turn 70! Roger, the final drive is holding up fine, though the rear main or something is still leaking, though that was my own “work”. Maybe I should haul the engine to Florida for tech daze? Naw, already got the R65LS pollutin’ the place with it’s leaky rear main seal!

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