Lock the welder
I am back in frozen CT after another CA adventure. This latest trip lasted a little over a month, and culminated with finding a great shop space. The move west will happen as soon as I settle some business here, and pack up the critical tools and furniture from the current shop. Once again, this latest scouting mission would not have been possible without the help of a few good people, namely John, Brooke, Agatha, Steg, and of course Candice and my dad. Without their generosity and input, this move would not have been possible. From storing the bikes, giving Fre and I places to stay, educating us on the ins and outs of LA, and holding down the CT shop while I was gone, I owe them a huge thanks.
Here are a few random shots from the trip:
The trusty "Interceptor" was my chosen transportation out there. I rode it relentlessly, and it performed perfectly.
Getting used to the riding in LA is somewhat terrifying. I don't think I have ever ridden in a place with such bad drivers. Maybe bad isn't the right word, more like intentionally careless. I witnessed at least 5 accidents, all of which occurred right around me! Not bad ones, but slow, casual smash ups. People out there drive as if cars are disposable, and as if occasionally wrecking your car is just a way of life. The average speed is not really any faster than other cities, but the awareness just isn't there. I phones are looked at more than windshields, literally. Riding a high powered bike through the mess is an exercise in restraint for me. Its hard to exploit the occasional stretch of open road, because at every intersection there is some brain-dead housewife or teenager just waiting to ambush you. Making direct eye contact as you approach does seemingly nothing. On a bike, you just don't exist in Los Angeles.
The good news (at least from an east coast perspective) is that you have quite a few privileges that cars don't, namely being able to park almost anywhere, ride between cars, and cut to the front of traffic lines. Come to think of it, I was amazed by how few people were riding bikes, despite the weather being above 60 every single day.
Luckily motorcycles were not the only vehicle I got to play with during my visit. My friend Jackson invited Fre and I go flying with him in a helicopter, specifically an "R44 Raven 2". It is a cool little amalgamation of aluminum, plastic, and a fuel injected flat 4. We flew out of an airstrip in Camarillo, and just flew around the surrounding area for about an hour. Jackson practiced landings, which was probably the most entertaining part for me. here is captain-jackson giving her once-over.
Fre looked a bit skeptical....
I also spent an entire day exploring the "Angeles National Forest", a great spot not far from the new shop location. The main road that winds through it is amazing; an endless series of smooth turns and switchbacks. Unfortunately the "Interceptor" lacked the range necessary to get from one end to the other, so I made a decision a ways in to turn back. I little extra fuel in a jug should get me through it next time.
Thats all for now. Next up: the drive out
Oil Tank, battery box, regulater/rectifier mount installed....
Vent and return lines plumbed...
Notice 3 wires coming out of that alternator! 48 amp 3 phase charging system from Cycle Electric feeding an Anti Gravity lithium ion battery. Less drag, lighter weight, faster recharge times.
Making stainless steel exhaust clamps. I made a simple fixture to form the flat stock to the correct diameter.
After a lot of metal finishing....
My only gauge will be cylinder head temp, which is the hottest part of the engine. Gauge itself is from an airplane.
This box got recessed into the top of the gas tank, and the other cutout is for my two mil-spec toggle switches. This is all cut out with basic hand tools and my sander.
Gas tank is mounted on three points, here are the front two mounts
The exhaust pipes are 1 3/4" OD, the common header pipe size. The problem with that is the actual exhaust port size on twin cam heads is 1 5/8". Usually there is an abrupt step where the heads meets the flange. I machined the flanges with the inside tapered to perfectly blend the two sizes. Also, they have a flat, perfectly matching taper on the outside of the flange, so there is no way the gasket material can squeeze into the exhaust flow. This happens often with aftermarket exhausts! These are machined from solid stainless steel on my manual lathe.
Here is the underside of the gas tank, with two giant mounts welded in. They are 1.5" OD flange, milled down where it goes through the tank. This distributes the load over a larger area of the floor of the tank (which is made from 1/8 chrome-moly flat stock).
Since returning form California I have been focusing entirely on the new bike, the "Iron Triangle". It will be powered by a new engine I am building, which I have nicknamed the "Mini Stroker". I will attempt to explain why I named it that: It is a hybrid of a Harley Evolution motor (built from 1984-1999) and a Harley Twin Cam motor (built 1999-present). In a nutshell, what I am taking from the Evo are the case mounting system, the bore and stroke, and the wrist pin. The Twin Cam parts are the cams, oiling system, heads, and crank assembly. The reason for this is because I feel that the Evo bore and stroke combo is superior, in many ways, to the twin cam. However, the Twin Cam is a far stronger motor (due mostly to the robust flywheel design) , and has a far more reliable oiling system. So, since a first generation Twin Cam was 88 cubic inches (3.75" bore by 4" stroke), and an stock Evo is 80 inches (3.5" bore by 4.25" stroke), that means that in a Twin Cam crankcase I have increased the stroke from stock, making it a "stroker" motor. however, due to the reduced bore it has less displacement than a stock Twin Cam- hence "Mini Stroker".
In addition to all this, I also changed the cylinders from stock cast aluminum with an iron liner to billet ductile iron. This is heavier, but also far stronger and more dimensionally stable under heat. In other words, as it gets hot it doesn't change shape as much. This means tighter tolerances all around. I also used a head/ base stud pattern for attachment to the case and heads, instead of the thru-studs an Evo or Twin cam would have had. Again, stronger. In order to make the Twin Cam heads work with my new bore and stroke combo, (as well as a copper o-ring head gasket) modifications had to be made. I wanted to reatain the stock Twin Cam combustion chamber, but it needed to be reduced to 72 cc's of volume to achieve my 10.5-1 static compression ratio. This meant decking (milling down) the heads significantly. In addition, the new flange system was milled into it to accept the o-ring gasket.
Ok, enough about all that, here are some pics:
I was lucky to have two trusted advisers here to help, my main man Alex Lerner from SL NYC in Queens, and Satya Kraus from Kraus Motor Co in northern Cali.
This is the "cam-plate", the component that supports the cam shafts, routes oiling, and holds the oil pump.
Installing the bearings on the flywheel
Checking the endplay on the left case half
Completed short block
Here is completed frame. All chromoly, all made here at Efab
closeup of front motor mount
More to come!
I got a phone call from my friend Matt Olson asking if I wanted to ride out to Born Free this year from his shop (Carls Cycle Supply) in South Dakota. We had 4 days and had to travel approx 1600 miles, and would do it on our rigid bikes. I'm not one to pass up something cool, so I was in. I arranged to have my bike (Icarus), shipped from the shop here in CT to SD, and chose AA Motorcycle Transport to do it. Mind you this was over 2 weeks before we were planning on leaving from Matts. The person on the phone assured me that despite the "remote location" Matts shop is located in, it would be there well before the departure date. I faxed in some forms, gave them the credit card, and a few days later the bike was picked up.
Mind you, anytime I ship a bike I spent over a year of my life building from scratch, with almost $35,000 invested in components and materials, I am a little nervous. This time I had reason to be.
A few days after the bike was supposed to be at Matts, I began to get worried. After the runaround trying to get the right person on the phone, and giving them dozens of confirmation numbers and codes, I was told that because of the "remote location" Matts shop is in, the bike was being held at some shipping terminal in Minneapolis, and wouldn't be to Matts for another 10 days or so. No amount of pleading would motivate them to get it there in time, so Matt sent one of his friends to pick it up for me. This took her over 6 hours of driving, but got the bike safely to the shop in time for us to leave. Thank you Terresa!
Lesson learned- FUCK AA TRASPORT. Don't use them, they tell you what you want to hear, take your money, then don't deliver.
Anyway, here we are at our first fuel stop in SD. Matt is riding his mint 1936 knucklehead.
The trip across the plains of South Dakota and Nebraska are fairly boring, but amazing none the less. Doing this on a bike is an eye-opening experience- so much land. I can't imagine doing this in a covered wagon.
We didn't take much, just a few spare socks, and about 50 pounds worth of tools and spare parts. We could go about 100 miles between gas stops, thanks to both of us having about 4 gallon tank capacity.
We crossed the Rockies in CO, which is the dividing point between tons of flat grass, and tons of flat desert. A welcome change in scenery. The massive changes in elevation and temp forced us to stop often to adjust our carburetors.
There was one problem staring us right in the face- heat. The further into the desert we rode, the hotter it got. Mind you it was hot the whole way, but now it was getting really hot. Our rest breaks were getting longer, we had to stay in long sleeves to keep from getting sunburn, and our bikes were on the verge of meltdown. We had no choice though- Born Free or bust.
By the time we got to Las Vegas, it was 120 degrees. Riding into it is like riding into a hairdryer on full hot mode. We adjusted our carbs full rich to keep the motors cool enough to survive.
Any shade was a welcome sight, like this bombed out crackhouse in the middle of nowhere. It was dead silent, except for the occasional gunshot from deep in the desert.
At this point I stopped taking pics, mostly because I was beginning to see the effects of heat stroke. Once we got across the mountains outside LA, the temp dropped to a survivable 100 or so. I spent the last night before the show curled up in a hotel bathtub puking my guts out and chugging water. Hey, if it was easy everyone would do it!
more pics of the show coming....
In between various customer projects, I have slowly been making progress on my engine. The Heads are twin cam 88 originally, but have been modified. I reshaped the majority of the fins, rounding them around many of the sharp edges. Here is an overall view of the cylinder, head, and rocker box mocked up.
A typical twin cam has aluminum cylinders with an iron sleeve pressed into it. I had Randy at Hyperformance make me billet iron cylinders. The advantage being that there is no way for the iron sleeve to become loose in the aluminum cylinder, because it is all iron! These are secured by a "head and base" stud setup, much like a knuckle, pan, or shovelhead would have been. Here a set of 4 studs hold the cylinder to the crankcase, and another set of 4 hold the head to the cylinder.
An evo or twin cam, traditionally, used a set of 4 studs that ran all the way through the head, cylinder, and into the case. This is a simpler way to attach all the parts, but not as strong.
In addition to the stud conversion, I have adapted the heads to use a superior head gasket method, the metal o-ring. On a stock twin cam (or any other harley) a composite flat gasket was used, sandwiched between the head and cylinder. They work fine, but can blow out if extreme cylinder pressures are achieved. The metal o-ring setup eliminates the flat gasket, instead using a series of steps machined into both the head and cylinder, with a copper ring integrated into it. All of the mating surfaces make contact with each other at the exact same time. This requires extremely precise machining, but results in a nearly indestructible union. I can only assume, too, that heat transfer between the head and cylinder will be improved, due to the metal to metal contact.
Here is the top of the cylinder. The surface rust inside the bore will be gone when the final honing happens.
You may have noticed that there are no oil drain passages in the cylinder. This is because I have re-routed them to the outside of the head and cylinder. This is good for 2 reasons. One is it keeps the oil cooler, since it is not touching the approx 300 degree cylinder walls. The second is that there is no chance of oil weeping between the head and cylinder surfaces, since it bypasses that area completely.
I had to machine a passage through the fins of each cylinder, through the wall, and into the oil drain passage inside the head. This was then tapped for a custom made fitting. Obviously, the original hole underneath has to be plugged as well.
Here is the stainless drain fitting coming out of the head. It has a 6 AN fitting on the end for hose attachment...
I have also added compression releases to the heads. Compression releases are simply tiny valves that allow the cylinder pressure to be bled off as the starter motor rotates the engine. This takes a huge strain off the starter motor and battery, and they simply pop shut when the first combustion occurs, allowing the engine to start. It is unusual to see them on motors with small displacement, but there is no downside to using them. Also, my compression ratio and the resulting cylinder pressures are far higher than either a stock evo or twin cam, so despite the small displacement, the starter will still need all the help it can get.
Installing compression releases is easy with the right tools. It requires a precise hole to be drilled and tapped, which enters the combustion chamber between the exhaust valve and the spark plug hole. More to come...
I have been committed to a trailer fender for this bike since the gestation. I have never used one, but always thought they were cool on the right bikes. I like that before there was a huge chopper aftermarket, this was one of only a handful of options for the home builder.
I stuck with stainless steel throughout the process, polishing it as I went. Fender, struts, bolts, etc. Many people ask why I use stainless steel instead of chrome, a good question. For me, the main reason is durability. Chrome is only a paper thin coating of metal, bonded to the surface of the base metal. While extremely hard, chrome has a tendency to flake off, especially "show chrome", the type used for cars and bikes. Stainless is not a coating, so it cant flake off.
The second reason is that chrome interferes with part fitment. When two parts have to interact (bolted together), I like metal-on metal contact, which means two perfectly flat surfaces against each other. I try to never have chrome, paint, or powder-coating between two parts. The reason is obvious; as the bike flexes and vibrates, the weaker material will break down and compress, leaving you with a loose connection.
Third is because chromers are, frankly, a pain in the ass. It costs a fortune to get a bikes worth of parts plated- far more than the cost of the raw material in stainless. It is not unusual to have a frame plated for $3000, and within a year all the welded areas are rusted. And the time factor too, weeks and weeks waiting, can be very frustrating. Its another sub-contractor, and another variable, that I don't need to deal with. There are good ones out there, but they are hard to find. I'm sticking with stainless.
What I decided to do was mount the fender using a flange at the back of the toptube, and two struts per side. The fender itself is 13 gauge stainless, and combined with the 6 mounting points, should be quite secure. Here is the flange, about halfway through the process of machining. Prior to this pic I was in the lathe. This part started out as a 6" long by 4" round solid chuck of steel.
The surface you see here is slightly concave, which matches the surface of the fender perfectly.
For the fender itself, my usual routine is to make bungs or tabs that the struts can attach to. These are usually welded to the sides of the fender. I thought that if they were actually one solid piece of round stock inserted through the fender, they would be far stronger, as well as perfectly symmetrical. This bike afforded me that possibility because I wanted the fender to be mounted high above the tire. This gave me the clearance I needed. Here is one protruding out through the fender side. I have tack welded it, and will do the final weld later.
The rods were milled out for the portion under the fender to increase tire clearance and save some weight.
What is the downside to stainless? It is hard as hell to work with! It is extremely hard on tools, warps like crazy when welded, is expensive, and hates to be formed in any way. If you want it shiny, or even a consistent matte finish, I spend hours prepping it. This can involve hand sanding, bench sanding with an orbital sander, using the Burr King heavy sander, or abrasive cutting compounds on the buffing machine.
Here are a few pics of the strut making process. They have been sanded to about 500 grit in this pic, and will be sanded more, then buffed:
This part was a bitch to get symmetrical- the top section of the front struts.
Here she is now. The fender isn't fully polished, because I still have to do the final weld around the rods. The strut sections have been polished piece by piece, because there will be no way to hold the entire assembly up to the buffer. The back of the seat will be attached to the front strut assembly.
strut to frame mounting
Next post- seat pan making....
Finished the axle adjusters for the new bike. I have done many different types on my various bikes, usually trying to re-invent them in some original way, but this time I chose to do a more conventional style. That being said, I tried to make them very strong, accurate, and made of stainless steel.
The nuts are billet stainless with a self locking ring built into them. They don't wear out after repeated use like a nylock nut, and are more secure than a lockwasher.
I also made some progress on the frame. Next step is the fender mounting.
Trans is finished, except for one block off-plate I still have to make.
The front motor mount.
I am always experimenting with how my mind works when building bikes in different orders. For example, my first bikes were made mostly from the outside in; drawing the completed bike, then buying a motor, trans, etc and working inward until I achieved what I wanted.
As my motor building knowledge and skills have increased, I have began to build more form the inside out- starting with the bore and stroke, compression, type of case, etc. Then building the frame around the engine, then adding wheels and sheetmetal to it.
Since I cant escape my own brain, creatively, at least I can trick it into thinking differently by changing these processes purposely. Also, I want to have maximum control over what is happening inside my motorcycle, and the only way to achieve that is to start at the heart and then grow outward.
The motor for this bike is a combination of what I feel are the best characteristics of and HD evolution and a twin cam, in one motor. I am combining the undersquare evo dimensions (3.5" bore and 4.25" stroke), with the superior flywheels, bearings and oiling system of the twin cam.
After riding many different types of motorcycles, there is something I like about the small bore and longer stroke of shovelheads and evos. Obviously every motor combination has its pro and cons, and the twin cam 88 and 95's are amazing engines. However, twin cams never seem to have that "break your neck" torque that evos have right off the line. And I don't think they sound quite as nice either. In reality, these observations are just an excuse to engineer something you cannot buy.
The bike will also be a tribute to some of the bikes that I loved when I started building in the late 90's. I always liked NYC style choppers, early Indian Larry, Steg, Psycho Cycles, Queens County Cycles, etc. That influence has been in all of my bikes, but especially this one.
The frame is made entirely of 7/8" chrome-moly tubing. A smaller diameter than most frames, but the end result will be stronger than a typical rigid frame of larger material. Chrome moly is an amazingly strong steel, used extensively in the motorsports world for chassis work.
I am often asked, "why do you build these elaborate, expensive motors when you could simply buy a new one?". The answer is that I am dedicated to being a motorcycle builder in the truest sense, and without getting "inside" the motor, I feel as if I didn't go "all the way". I need to understand exactly how my machine works. I am a very visual person, so for me to understand something I need to hold every part in my hands and see it work. Once I began to understand, exactly, how these engines worked, it was impossible for me not to change them.
I am at a point now where the rest of the bike is simply being wrapped around my engines. This is a form of bike building that I have always been trying to achieve, but didn't know it for a long time. I think that this is the main reason why the majority of "choppers" don't look quite right; they are built from the outside-in. I want my machines to look like every part came from the same factory.
I am going to be documenting this project extensively from this point on. I hate to give away the surprise factor, but it is the only way to show the amount of work involved in a full scale custom motorcycle.
For the past 3 weeks I have been up in Calgary, Alberta, at Mad Jap Kustoms. Dale Yamada is the owner of this operation, and has quite an impressive thing going. I would encourage anyone needing a custom bike in Canada to look no further. I have known Dale for a few years now, and we have became close friends. I was there to help out with a custom bike dale is working on for Born Free 5. Neither Dale nor I were invited builders (there is a chopper build off as part of the show), but wanted to build a bike anyway. Sometimes you need to set a goal for a bike, and if last year was any indication, this should be a great event.
Unfortunately I cant show any pics of the bike as I left it, because we'd like to keep it a secret, but we are also doing a documentary about the build. Here is a link:
And to add to the madness, now that I am home, my full attention can be paid to MY new project, the chopper that will house the Efab "mini stroker" experimental v-twin engine. Detail of the bike are, at this time, sketchy, but suffice to say that it will be of extremely high quality, structural integrity, and anti social aesthetics. See you at Born Free!
Now that I have had Icarus on the road for a while, I have been constantly tuning and refining it. Simply having it run is not good enough for me, I want it to be fast and indestructible. Bear with me here. The Continental heads and rocker arms I used on the bike use automotive style rocker arms, unlike the harley style rockers most people are accustomed to. The original Continental boxxer aircraft engine from which these parts came used hydraulic tappets and solid pushrods, so it was a one shot deal as far as valvetrain adjustment. I prefer to have the ability to remove the pushrods from the engine without taking the entire head off, so I built some harley style adjustable pushrods. For those who don't know, they are simply a male and female threaded rod, so that the length can be adjusted in order to collapse them enough to get in and out of the engine while assembled. In this case they also have oil pressure fed through them.
They worked fine, and survived several high speed test runs without any failure. However, that doesn't mean they aren't going to eventually fail. It is common knowledge that a solid pushrod is stronger than an adjustable one, but how to get them in and out of the bike without pulling the motor?
The answer is by removing the top section of my rocker box and loading them into the tubes from above. Unlike the stock Continental rocker boxes, mine are 2 piece so this can be done easily. I had previously converted to solid tapped blocks, so there now I absolutely have to have a way to adjust valve lash, but no longer have my adjustable pushrods to do it with. The solution is one that car makers have used for years- the adjustable rocker arm!
Of course, there are no commercially available adjustable rocker arms for a Continental 0 200, so time to get busy. I also decided to make the tips "roller rockers", another trick from the car world. Here we go kids....
6061 bar stock..
machined to basic size. no CNC here...
roughing out basic shape...
I need a bronze bushing for the main pivot..might as well use the ones from the original rockers. Time to make a bushing pusher tool...
in press... comin' out
pressed into new ones...
oil must travel through the rocker to oil the three critical points, so I drew some guidelines for the drill...
Holes are drilled, now time to cut the notch for the roller tips (taken from old Chevy rockers). Every tip is offset slightly.
Axle hole for the tip..
Stainless axles made and pressed in, securing the rollers..
Now for the adjustable end. I used some Chevy ball end studs, drilled through them, welded up the top end, and then cut a slot for a screwdriver...
Installed in head. Lash adjusted. Locked down. The welds on the end is where I had to plug a cross drilled oil hole.
Since the new rockers are bigger than the old ones, I had to make domed lids for my rocker boxes.
There you have it!
We only made it about a half mile from Alfredos house when his bike ran out of gas, and he had to push it up Branford hill to the gas station. I guess the fumes in there weren't enough. As we passed through New Haven, The Fetus stalled and wouldn't start back up, so we dove into with the wrenches in a shitty mexican restaurant parking lot. We realized that the new S and S carb wasn't venting properly, and was getting starved of gas. We dismantled the carb, and found nothing wrong, so we put it back on. Then the bike started up and we rode away... now it seems fine.. weird.
We made it there in a few hours and without any drama.
I had never been to this event before, and found it to be a bit uncomfortable. The old bikes were amazing but it felt like everyone selling stuff had a secret they didn't want to tell you or something. A very strange vibe. I didn't care, it was more of a destination to ride to. There were some amazing machines though.
We met up with my friend Alex when we arrived. We unexpectedly ran into Matt Olsons dad, the Legendary Carl, and Dave from Morris Magneto. We showed Dave our three bikes parked, all of which are powered by his mags!
We passed out at a nearby motel for the night. This place was, lets just say, affordable. Luckily there was a bar across the street, with no one there! Perfect
The next day we woke up, found it to be pouring rain, so decided to head home. 120 mile ride home, pouring rain, neither bike had a single problem. When we got to Derby it had cleared up a bit.
We stopped by the harley dealership on the way home so we could get some supplies to do an oil change, and got the usual confused looks from the skull bandanna crowd. Some got out their cameras when Alfredo kick started the Fetus. We made it home and I hopped on the lathe...
Several years ago I built a bike I called "The White Horse", and sold it to a friend of mine. Recently he decided he would like a 5 speed with the new style electric starter setup, rather than the Hitachi style I built it with. He also had bought himself a 5 speed somewhere, so We decided to put it in. The thing is , a true 5 speed doesn't fit in a true 4 speed frame. Now of course you can buy a Baker "6 in a 4" style transmission, but you would be stuck using either the Tech Cycle electric starter kit (which is a pain in the ass), or the Hitachi system again, but not a true new style starter. what do we do?
I noticed that I needed to notch the rear of the electric starter mount, and the rear of the motor plate to clear the swingarm hub. This was done on the mill and with hand tools. This wasn't enough to make it fit, so i also had to notch the seat tube just in front of the trans plate. I gusseted it with 3/16" steel plate.
Now the 4 speed trans plate had to be swapped for the 5 speed one, except 2 of the 4 mounts on the frame are different. No problem; remove, build, replace.
Now the trans was in, but what about the primary? The distance between the sprocket shaft of the engine and the trans main shaft is now shorter than stock! I thought about using an FXR style belt, but it was too short. Luckily I have friends like the guys at Bandit Machine Works in PA. I told them about my problem, and before you can say "fuck Taiwan" a complete primary drive came in the mail- made custom to my new dimensions.
Here it is mocked up. Yes I know the coil is hanging there...
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the entire trans had to be about a half-inch further towards the carb side of the bike. This was because I re-used the right two trans plate mounts, allowing me to re-use the 5th mount. I only re-built the left two mounts. Anyway, no big deal, I simply milled the alternator cover down the appropriate amount, moving the front pulley inward a half-inch, then used a half-inch offset final drive sprocket (putting the chain back it the original place).
It also features a Baker hydraulic clutch cover. Just remember, at Efab "everything fits anything".