The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride.

Ready for the Gentleman's Ride.

Getting togged up for an autumn sunday ride normally involves donning your favourite jacket, picking out some warmer gloves, pulling on those comfy old boots and changing the helmet visor for one not so darkly tinted. It does not usually involve pressing a clean shirt, selecting an appropriately coloured neck tie, applying polish to shiny black shoes, fiddling with cuff links and putting on a suit. But this is exactly what I found myself doing last Sunday as I prepared myself for the London staging of The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride.

 

Initiated a few months ago by a bunch of guys in Australia in an effort to bring Cafe Racer and modified bike riding people together, the event has spread across the globe encompassing groups in cities across Australia, North America, Europe and beyond. The basic idea, to dress up nice and smart and gather at a pre-arranged location, before setting out across town together for a gentle ride to a destination where we can all park up, have a good chat and enjoy a drink (no-alcoholic of course).

 

As you can see I elected to take the 250, being the most modified of my two bikes. After a quick polish on the Saturday, and resplendent in its new fork gaiters and mini Bates style headlight, it certainly looked the part. The little bike performed perfectly, managing to hold its head high amongst a sea of much larger, more eye catching and certainly more noisy machinery. There must have been about sixty of us in total.

 

It would be impossible to estimate the number of photographs taken on the day by various attendees suffice to say that various albums are now posted on various sites. Anyone interested can find them at the excellent page for The Bike Shed here http://www.facebook.com/BikeShedMotorcycleClub  and at other various locations like the Sideburn Blog here: http://sideburnmag.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/distinguished-gentlemans-ride-photos.html .

 

It was an excellent day and a huge thanks must go to Adam and the guys at the Bike Shed MCC for putting in the effort to organise a brilliant event. Great people on lots of great bikes. Roll on the next one, it can only get bigger.

 

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The 250 build, nearing the end.

A slight diversion today as finishing the story of the 250 build is way overdue. So some words and pictures of painted bits, metal bits and a nice piece of leather.

 

With three coats of base black applied, a series of white stripes were then masked and added. Everything was left for a couple of days to harden up before a very fine rub over with extra fine paper prior to the lacquer going on. For reasons of cost more than anything I’d elected to use rattle can lacquer rather than 2-pack on all parts apart from the fuel tank, which would be treated to a good couple of coats of petrol resistant lacquer, again from a rattle can. In retrospect I wish I’d gone the 2-pack route but it made the whole paint phase way too expensive, the petrol proof stuff works well but has yellowed in places and was quite tricky to apply evenly. With the lacquer all hardened it was time for a good polish and I can’t recommend Autoglym Super Resin Polish enough. Fantastic stuff and everything was just so shiny shiny.

Two important pieces of metalwork remained to be fabricated as all the painted parts made their way onto the bike for the final assembly. I knew the area at the back of the seat needed tidying but hadn’t been able to do much about it without the seat so it was stroke of luck that the seat arrived back just in time from being recovered. The first task was to make a piece to shut off the open area between the new mudguard and the seat mounting assembly. this then wrapped over the seat mount and formed an infill sitting below the rear of the seat base moulding.As before I worked it all out with thin card first which meant I could create a pretty accurate template for marking and cutting the sheet steel which was cut flat and then bent up in the bench vice.

For ages I’d been wondering how to finish off the rear of the seat. Knowing that there would have to be some kind of cover plate didn’t seem enough, there needed to be something else in there to give a more finished look. The answer came to me out cycling one day when I spotted and old bicycle with a little pouch hung from the back of the saddle. I ventured onto the internet to see what I could find for motorcycles. As it turned out, not too much unless I wanted something that looked like it had fallen off the back of John Wayne’s horse, and tassels are definitely not my thing. Taking the bicycle route proved more fruitful and in a fit of extravagance I splashed out on this lovely little number from Brooks the saddle makers. I quickly made up an angle bracket to fix the panel to, mounted to the seat base, and again using some card drew around the profile of the seat and transferred it to another template for cutting. A couple of holes and two slots later I had a neat little cover panel that the pouch straps attached to directly.

 

With these two new parts painted black final assembly could continue apace, my deadline for borrowing the workshop was looming.

 

 

 

Getting ready to paint.

All the prep was worth it.

Before getting stuck in to the painting of the bike parts I thought it might be useful to share some of the things I’ve learned about spray painting. This is not a definitive list of top tips merely some things I’ve picked up over the years through being taught basic technique and learning from some ugly mistakes.

My memory is full of useful tips passed on to me and hard learned lessons about putting paint onto objects. The first is that paint and its application is nothing to be scared of and secondly, that the process rewards the patient. All manner of practical skill areas are full of old maxims and adages that seasoned practitioners swear by, and for good reason. One that applies to painting anything is the six P’s, and it goes like this: “preparation and patience prevent piss poor performance”. The first two P’s are the critical ones I think. Over the years, working in modelmaking, prototyping and design it has been an often painful experience to witness hours of painstaking work be reduced to scrap because of a lack of patience and prep in the paint phase. For some unknown reason people often behave as if paint were some magical substance that has the ability to apply itself and achieve the most perfect of finishes by its own volition. This is not so of course. Paint needs a lot of help to do what it’s meant to do properly and, give you a finish that is both beautiful and durable. Paint needs time so the more you can allocate to it the better. Planning out all of the various steps that you will need to go through is a good habit as it allows you to tackle things in batches rather than individually, piece by piece.

It’s also worth taking time to prepare the area you’ll be working in with as much attention to detail as the part you’re going to spray. Dust and other airborne particles are your enemy so minimising their presence is worth it too. Sprayguns, mixing pots, stirring sticks and turntables all have the capacity to ruin your finish so making sure they are clean and dust free helps too. Similarly, cover up surrounding areas with dust sheets as any overspray will cover everything in the vicinity with a fine layer of dust which you will only have to clean off later. Obviously if you have a dedicated spray booth this helps but giving it a good clean is never a bad thing. In fact if you can hang some dust sheets around your work area forming a kind of cubicle to spray in it’s worth doing, but make sure you’ve got a bit of air flow in there.

There are many different paint systems out there so it’s valuable to know your paints. Ask your local supplier, research on the internet or talk to an experienced hand but, always make sure that your primers, top coats and lacquers are compatible with each other and with the material your object is made of. Nothing disappoints more than a top coat that crazes over a different formulation primer or decals that gently dissolve as the first coat of lacquer goes on. If you’re in any doubt, ask. Finding and getting to know your local paint specialist is well worth the cost of any time invested. Experts love giving advice if you ask for it nicely anyway.

Whether you’re using rattle cans or a spray gun apparatus, the technique is essentially the same. Any differences are really in how much control you can excerpt over each method. A can comprises paint, gun and air supply, or propellant, in one convenient vessel. Using a gun requires a compressor and all manner of sundry bits and bobs to effect the same result. But the can doesn’t allow you to control air pressure or flow, paint flow or paint consistency. Often the final result is reliant on knowing the limitations of each method and working within those parameters. It’s amazing what you can do with a spray can if you follow basic rules, and it’s staggering what messes I’ve witnessed people create with a spray gun set up.

Spraying to a high level requires a good deal of rubbing down between coats to key surfaces and to gently eliminate surface irregularities. Sadly there is no quick way to do this. But it helps to use warm water with your wet and dry paper whenever you can. It not only helps keep the grit on the paper from clogging, obviously, but also stops your hands from getting freezing cold in the process. Despite it being very tempting to rip into old paint with coarse grit paper to speed removal, it only ends up putting deep scratches into the base material which you only have to remove as well. It’s surprising how much paint you will need to eliminate all the scratches.

Spraying to a high level requires a good deal of rubbing down between coats to key surfaces and to gently eliminate surface irregularities. Sadly there is no quick way to do this. But it helps to use warm water with your wet and dry paper whenever you can. It not only helps keep the grit on the paper from clogging, obviously, but also stops your hands from getting freezing cold in the process. Despite it being very tempting to rip into old paint with coarse grit paper to speed removal, it only ends up putting deep scratches into the base material which you only have to remove as well. It’s surprising how much paint you will need to eliminate all the scratches.

If you can, and have the room, create separate areas for paint mixing and storage, spraying and drying. Helping to minimise contamination from one part of the process to another can save a job from ruin. Small splashes from mixing and cleaning can travel a lot further than you think. It also enables you to store your paint and work piece at the same temperature. Cold paint on a warm object and vice versa can often be a sure fire way to achieve a dodgy finish.

As a final cautionary note, always wear an appropriate mask or respirator. Those flimsy paper things may protect you from some dust but not some of the rather nasty solvents that paints often contain. And get some protective gloves too, vinyl or latex. Personally I use vinyl as latex can irritate my skin, and ones without talcum powder keep your hands free of white dust that only ends up on the work piece if you’re not careful.

So there’s a bit of background to set the stage for spraying up the bodywork parts.

A return to the bike build.

 

 

Minimal fuel tank!

In the last installment of the bike build, which was let’s face it, too long ago and must be wrapped up soon, the exhaust was coming together. In order for me to be able to hear the results as the pipe came together a small tupperware container got a makeshift outlet fitted into its base and was then mounted to the main frame spar with a cable tie. With a bit of fuel onboard the engine could be started and run without the fuel tank in place and the exhaust listened to. The tank meanwhile was being prepped for painting.

The “silencer” that had been ordered came with an internal baffle already, if that’s what you could call it. You see these pipes everywhere on custom modified bikes so it will come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever had one that internally they are rudimentary to say the least. There was a piece of glass fibre packing inside the pipe but this was as good as useless. It would have disintegrated if you’d held it behind you and broken wind, frankly. So, first job was to get some proper packing material and firmly wrap the baffle so at least some of the noise could be absorbed. It was still too loud.

After a quick discussion about exhausts with the guys who’s workshop I was borrowing it was decided that the best thing to do was make a smaller secondary baffle that would fit into the end of the main pipe. Reckoning that the area of the holes in the internal cylinder should match that of the outlet it was time to have a go with the MIG welder. Not having used one much before, a quick session on the net provided some basic guidance to supplement the rather sketchy instructions contained in the user manual.

So a few hours later we had a finished baffle piece that fitted into the end of the main one that could be secured with three self tapping screws. Easy to remove and modify if need be and pretty much hidden behind the reverse cone end cap of the silencer. A couple of coats of aerosol heat resistant paint and the job was a good ‘un. This made a real difference to the sound and would be easy to remove if greater fruitiness from the pipe was wanted.This was the last fabrication job to do before the final build. What was up next was the biggest job of all, painting the bodywork.

 

Before moving on to that episode here are a couple of thoughts about MIG welding. Never having done any before, the thought of using the welder was a little daunting. Welding in all its forms has always come across as a bit of a black art, a deeply skillful craft practiced by wizards of metalwork with years and years of experience. This is all true but, it is also not as scary as it would seem. They say that every journey starts with the first step and so it is with MIG welding. Taking the plunge and having a go can lead you, with patience and concentration, to a thoroughly satisfying learning experience and hopefully a new found skill, and a finished part that you can be proud of.

 

My own introduction to this skill took me from making a simple baffle on the first day to knocking up a small paddock stand for the bike, to use during routine maintenance as I’d seen fit to remove the centre stand as part of the weight loss program. All within a week.

 

As mentioned before the manual that came with the welder was a little thin and searching the internet for tips and tricks threw up some really useful information and some tips which I never would have considered in my inexperience. Here are a couple of links to the two most useful websites found. The first one was the best: Firstly Tips and tricks and the second one here. Sadly the need for welding anything in my everyday work is rare but it hasn’t stopped me from wanting to buy a welder and start making something.

 

Although my skills remain relatively basic I’m no longer reluctant to consider using a welder for smaller jobs. Welding bike frames is something best left to experts for now but, with a new skill in the back pocket, the options available when making more complex ancillary parts has now grown and that can only be a good thing for when the next project comes along.

 

The welder used was a small portable unit with up to 150W of power, switchable. It had a variable speed wire feed, a small remote gas bottle (Carbon Dioxide/Argon mix worked best) and nice hefty earthing clamp.


 

Don’t buy it, build it.

A couple of years ago I came to the end of a long term contract which had seen me running a modelmaking and prototype workshop for a small Industrial Design company in west London. I’d had, and in fact still do have, a very good relationship with the guys at the company and had often been able to work on small personal projects after hours over the course of the contract. Before I headed out into the world again to look for more work I had a desire to make something substantial for myself. After not much thought I decided I’d like to build a motorbike, or at least modify one to my personal spec. This is something that I’d actually been wanting to do for years but never had the time or opportunity to have a go.

Over the course of an evening, armed with three of my favourite creative tools, a pint of beer, a pencil and a pad of paper I sat down to plan my project. I had managed to persuade the guys to let me use the workshop for an extra month before going, so that set my timeframe. But what bike was I going to modify? I wrote many lists covering capacities, bike type and performance criteria in an effort to get a clear idea. I’ve always had a soft spot for 250cc bikes and after rejecting many other larger alternatives (I’ve already got a big bike anyway) I settled on the idea of creating a small runabout for town use based around a single cylinder 250.

I wrote a little brief for finding the donor bike in the form of a list. It had to be light and manoeuvrable, cheap to buy, run and fix but, most importantly it had to have potential. With only a month of workshop time available I knew I wouldn’t have time for complex frame work or to farm stuff out, I had to do whatever I could myself and quickly. I set myself a budget and dived into the web in search of a likely candidate. I finally settled on Suzuki’s GN250, an oft maligned little commuter custom like a Yamaha SR250, but better looking and with more appropriate geometry. Although they turned up on ebay fairly regularly the prices were high and condition questionable. I tracked a good one down in Gloucester – lady owner, low mileage, big rear rack. Perfect. I took the train down, and rode it home the same day.

I was as excited about going to get it as I’d been some years ago when I went to pick up my new Triumph. It was everything I wanted it to be. The dealer had serviced it for me and put in new oil etc. It started easily and coped admirably with everything I threw at it on the ride back to London. Assuming an “aero” tuck with my nose buried in the clocks we hit an indicated 80 mph, the brakes worked ok, and despite minimal suspension damping, floppy steering and a totally square rear tyre I stayed out of all the hedgerows. It was 120 miles of fun. And it did the whole lot on less than a tank of juice.

Once my mate Richard and my girlfriend had stopped laughing at my new purchase it got a good clean and I took some quick photos outside Rich’s garage so I could chop the thing about in Photoshop and sketch out my planned mods.

Ever since I’d decided that I wanted to create a little roadster for town I’d not stopped thinking about a retro styled scoot with a single seat and so this was my start point for mucking about very roughly in Photoshop. Without much work it turned out that I could get close to what I had in my minds eye quite quickly. One of the reasons I’d gone for the GN was that geometrically it already possessed the right kind of stance, not too high at the front end, with a short wheelbase. As a result I could leave the wheels where they were, and the frame too for that matter and just chop the rest around, creating mudguards, seats etc as I went. This was a Sunday, so I gave myself until the end of the day to reach my final idea.

Inspired by classic bikes of the 50’s and 60’s I’d very much latched onto the “Bobber” style, though I had no intention of giving the little 250 a hard tail, really not a practical solution for London riding. Other details would be changing though, like suspension, fenders, handlebars and exhaust but, for now these simple visuals gave me enough information to get on with the task of planning the build.

Next up, where to start and where to get the bits I was going to need.