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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lego Motorcycle (non-VFR related)

Lego was my favourite toy as a kid. It was all I wanted for christmas and birthdays. I wasn't very good at "playing" with my creations, I just liked building them. I read recently that the founder of Lego is a billionaire and the wealthiest Dane. I guess I'm not the only kid who liked it.

I found myself in a toy store on Sunday and I couldn't stop myself from buying this kit. It's a fully functional streetfighter motorcycle with working suspension, a 3-cylinder motor with functioning 180' crank and pistons, primary drive, transmission countershaft, final drive and functional roller chain. The kit also has alternative instructions for a chopper-style bike, but fuck that, choppers are dumb.

I bet with an unlimited supply of technic parts in front of me I could build a wicked VFR1200... V4 engine, shaft drive and all.

Dear Santa: Please bring me a Lego Technic Unimog kit for Christmas. I've been a good boy and I promise to leave you gluten-free cookies and nonfat milk.

467 pieces, took about 2 hours total

Coming together nicely. You have to build the chain from individual links

Finished. I left out the corny decals

Yellow pistons, rods and crank are visible here

Yup... pretty badass

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

VFR1200F at the Dragstrip

I always wanted to try dragracing. Race City provides an easy and cheap introduction with their Friday night grudge racing known as "Secret Street". Every Friday night at 6pm in the summer, anyone can bring their car, truck or motorcycle to the strip, pay $25.00, go through a brief tech inspection and get 3 passes down the quarter mile, complete with time slips. It has a lot of support in the city, as it keeps the racing off public streets, and the enthusiasts love it because it sorts out the bullshitters.

I went out of curiosity with zero experience so I wasn't expecting to break any records but I wanted to run respectable times. My friend Brad wasn't able to go faster than 11.0 at 134MPH on his 2010 ZX10R and a little over 12 flat on his 2011 R1. The VFR doesn't have as much power as those litre bikes but I figured it would be easier to launch, with its long wheelbase and short first and second gears. I decided I would be happy with low 12s on my first try, and I'd be happy to be any faster than that.

There weren't many bikes around when I arrived, but soon an experienced drag racer with a heavily modified CBR1000RR showed up and was happy to give this first-timer some pointers. I didn't get his name... let's call him "Cletus". First and most important: Don't wait for the green; go when the bottom yellow is lit. There are four tenths of a second between the bottom yellow and the green; this is where your reaction time is measured. If you even see the green, you waited too long. He had never seen a VFR1200 before, but based on the large engine size and a lot of torque, he suggested that I would want to launch at about 3000RPM and feed the clutch out smoothly rather than pop it open. He showed me how to stage and where to do my burnout. I decided I wouldn't bother with a burnout. Tires are expensive and burnouts are messy.... I like to keep my 1200 clean. A burnout might gain me a couple tenths, but I wasn't here to compete, just for fun.

Bikes line up separately from the cars, and have to cut in when it's their turn. All of the bikes race at once, then the cars come back on.  Eventually another bike showed up (CBR600RR) we got our turn. Cletus said he would go first solo, then I would race the guy on the 600. He didn't think it would be a good idea for me to line up with him on my first try, because he would do a big burnout, and his bike would make a lot of noise which might "intimidate" me. I smiled and nodded... I appreciated his concern. (#rolleyes)

Cletus did his burnout with his wide drag tire and extended swingarm, staged, and laid down a 10.56. He said he could have done better, and he generally runs low 10s.

I lined up next to the guy on the 600RR, who had dragraced a few times before. I staged, held the revs at 3000, and when I saw the bottom yellow light fed out the clutch quickly and smoothly and fired off the line. The surface was sticky so I didn't spin much, just a little fishtail, and I didn't wheelie. I didn't see the green light, so I knew my R/T was good, and I didn't see the other bike, so I knew I beat him. I missed my shift and banged off the rev limiter in second so I knew I probably wasted a few tenths. I also shifted into 4th as I crossed the timing trap when I could have probably just over-revved a bit in third. The display board in my lane wasn't working so I couldn't see my time until I picked up my timeslip at the tower. 11.03@126! My "opponent" ran a 12.4. I was very pleased and it was a hell of a rush. I was excited for my next run.

Cletus looked in disbelief at this rookie's slip and decided that when we got our turn again he would line up against me. Some other bikes had shown up, mostly 600s and 750s. He told me that it's more fun to race someone with similar times, and while he would still "leave me in the dust" it would be closer than if he were to race the other bikes.

Our turn eventually came and I lined up against Cletus. I held the revs slightly higher (maybe 3300) and had another good launch, though I did spin and fishtail slightly more than the first run. Cletus didn't have a good launch. I saw him wheelie out of the corner of my right eye. Not a little wheelie where he floated the front end, but an out-of-control silly tire-spinning wheelie up over 45 degrees from the horizon and crashing down hard as he shut the throttle. If you've never witnessed a motorcycle with a stretched swingarm do a massive wheelstand, it's quite something to behold.  I held the throttle to the stop, kept my head down and  blasted through 400 metres. I kicked his ass! My time was 11.07 and his was 14.8. Granted, he made a big mistake but it still felt great. I think he wanted to teach this rookie a lesson and he got a little carried away.

When I circled back to the lineup Cletus was a bit humiliated and didn't really want to talk to me. I didn't want to wait around another 45 minutes for a third pass so I quit while I was ahead and went home with a sense of smug self-satisfaction.

I understand how people get addicted to this sport. It's not just a cheap thrill, but a precision contest between perfectionists, where every thousandth of a second counts. After only 1 pass, I was thinking about where I could have shaved tiny fractions of a second.

I had a great time trying a new sport and I exceeded my expectations. I like to imagine that the spectators (there were a lot) were bewildered at how this big red shaft-drive sport-touring bike was going faster than all the "crotch rockets". The fact is, the VFR1200 happens to have a few qualities that make it very quick in the quarter mile. Long wheelbase, short first and second gear, great traction, awesome power that builds quickly and a relatively aggressive riding position. If I could do 11.03 with no experience, no preparation (other than letting a few pounds of pressure out of the back tire) no burnout and a hard-compound touring tire, what could I do with some practice and sticky rubber? I think low 10s would be very achievable. That achievement, however, will remain in the realm of bullshit, because I don't plan on doing much more (if any more) drag racing on this bike. I really enjoyed myself, and the bike was quick, but I have to think that this is pretty brutal on the drivetrain and I don't want to subject the VFR to the abuse.

Still... I wouldn't mind seeing a "10" on a timeslip.

Tech Inspection
Waiting for other bikes to show up
long lineup of racers

Time Slips (I'm number 90)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Skalkaho Pass

I finally got around to producing the footage of this crazy road from my trip last month: