3.1 Location, Location, Location

Liberty Walk Ferrari 458

So I lost a few months with my relocation to the West Coast. I’m getting settled in, getting my LA-legs back, recalibrating my head to match the traffic, and finding my way across the sprawling landscape.

I have a friend who details high-end cars for wealthy customers, and I used to spin tales of streets paved with Lamborghinis. It’d been a long time since I spent any time here and I’d begun to think I was exaggerating.

I wasn’t.

It’s almost embarrassing, the amount of conspicuous consumption going on in this town. But mixed in with the Plain Jane Mercedes, Jaguars, Porsches, and Maseratis are some really exotic cars.

Parked at the curb on Sunset was this Ferrari 458 Italia, with a Liberty Walk-styled overfender kit and a set of wild wheels. I happen to like this kit, and particularly like the understated grey paint. The wheels themselves weren’t really my thing, but were impressive just in terms of sheer over-the-top style. I’m sure they’re worth more than my college education, and arguably more useful…

The body shop down the street had a McLaren SLR Roadster with what had to be a vinyl wrap, since it was metallic red… In pretty poor taste and not particularly flattering, but I guess that’s easy to change, since it’s just a wrap. I wasn’t going to include a picture of it, since I didn’t bother taking a good one, but I can’t resist.

McLaren SLR Roadster

I was so distracted by the red-chrome McLaren that I almost missed the coolest car of the day parked nearby, what looks to be a genuine RAUH-Welt Porsche 964. Not sure if this one got shipped off to Japan to fall under the master’s knife, or if it’s simply a set of fenders, but I was still excited to see it.

Rauh Welt Porsche Convertible

The Porsche even had some kitty footprints across the driver’s side fender that had clearly been made in the morning damp, something I imagine Akira Nakai would appreciate.


Volvo Grille

2.8 Der Panzerwagen Updates

Things have been moving along on the Volvo, although slower than I wanted. One of the lower controls arm broke, causing a horrendous clacking noise that alerted me to my impending doom. Luckily, the part was $45…

I also got my hands on an aftermarket grille that I like much better than the stock one, along with a nice little “R” badge. Overall, the look is pretty slick, with the blacked-out wheels and de-badged grille. I may decide to black it out, but I’m going to leave it alone for the time being.

Now I just need a new front spoiler so I can fit the replacement fog lamps I have lying around. Once I fit a roof-spoiler and maybe some new headlamps, she should look the way I want her to look.

Finished Clutch

2.7 New Clutch

My Ducati Monster, until very recently, had the stock clutch:original steel basket, steel plates. With 30,000 miles on the original unit, I was impressed at its durability: it never slipped at all. But the steel plates rusted when it rained and stuck until the bike got hot and they worked themselves loose. Which is a pain on a cold-blooded bike with no choke…

And worse, while the clutch gripped very well, the fingers on the steel plates were badly worn, looking more like an I-beam in cross-section than a nice healthy rectangle.

Clutch Worn Plates

The extra play this caused led to a hammers-of-hell sound at idle that had more than a few bystanders trying to tell me that my bike was “broken”. Which was both true and not true, depending on how you feel about a worn clutch that still grips.

I finally decided to order a new clutch from MotoWheels, a nice EVR unit that had more teeth than the stock unit, and was much lighter, to boot. Unfortunately, MotoWheels didn’t warn me that it was out of stock when I ordered it, and didn’t mention the backorder situation until the second or third phone call…

Three months later, it arrived. Hey, I’d already waited this long…

Clutch Old Steel Basket

I’d read through my Haynes Manual to make sure I knew what I was doing and booked some time with my friend Greg, who has much more skill than I do, figuring he’d come in handy when I tried to pull apart a 19-year-old dry clutch without factory tools.

Also, he has a nice torque wrench.

"Now, me and the Mad Scientist got to rip apart the block... and replace the piston rings you fried..."
“Now, me and the Mad Scientist got to rip apart the block… and replace the piston rings you fried…”

In lieu of the clutch-holding tool, Greg ingeniously fabbed up a tool to lock the clutch and engine by welding a steel and a friction plate together. Which worked great, except we kept turning the engine over… I definitely need those high-compression pistons! Eventually, we got it apart, and then back together using a bit of angle-iron cut to the right length and some elbow grease.

Clutch New Basket

The bike is much, much quieter, shifts better and revs a bit smoother: a definite improvement! Now I just need to sort out the suspension…

Rizoma pressure-plate back in place!
Rizoma pressure-plate and spring-caps back in place! Note cool oil filler-cap temp gauge.
bikes go to heaven

2.6 How I Spent My Summer Vacation

My first track day of the summer, a two-day bash over the Fourth of July weekend, got crashed by Hurricane Arthur. We drove down the night before through scattered rain after loading up the bikes in the dimming green light between showers. That night, we stayed at the suites above the pit garages at NJMP, and the heavy rain beat an ominous tattoo on the corrugated roof, while the grass tufts in the paddock formed bristly islands for a small army of hopping toads, out enjoying the weather.


The morning wasn’t much better, with a light but steady rain and winds that made for a less than ideal environment for a couple of novice track-day riders out for the first time in nine months. But sessions began on time, with predictions for a clear afternoon. We sat out the morning and watched from our room as a scattered few folks threw up rooster tails of spray down the main straight.

the cooler king

Lunch break was early and, as predicted, the clouds cleared out by noon, leaving the track bone-dry by 1pm. We ran a few sessions with a beautifully clear track: most riders had just gone home or not showed at all with the weather looking so grim.

njmp july2014 the bridge

I’ve had a few sets of tires on the Triumph, and a few on the Ducati as well, but no tires I’ve ever fitted really gave me any “ah ha!” moments. However, the new Dunlop Q3’s I put on prior to the weekend were absolutely the best tires I’ve tried yet, and made an immediate difference in feel. Combined with strong, two-finger braking from my new Brembo RCS master cylinder and some suspension tweaks, my riding was much more confident and aggressive than last year.

njmp july2014 greg1

Saturday was gorgeous, with the sky swept clear of clouds. Riders were split into four, rather than the usual three, and Greg and I got a bump to the Yellow “experienced novice” group. The novice group we’ve decided has by far the most disparate skill levels, and that makes things a bit hairy for us as we progress: we’re by no means especially fast yet, but we’re working on it, and folks out there wobbling around the track for the first time are unpredictable and need to be approached with caution.

It’s not speed that kills, it’s the speed differential that gets you, and a rider wobbling across the track going 30mph less than you are is a recipe for disaster.

njmp july2014 daytona1

There were definitely some slower riders in our group, but everyone at least kept to a predictable line, which made passing them relatively simple.

I wanted to see what my body-position was like on-track, so I mounted my GoPro on the fairing, facing back towards me, and was pretty happy with how the video turned out.

For some reason, pointing the camera backwards really reduced wind noise, so you can actually hear the bike for a change, and can even hear my knee dragging a couple times. The bike had some major surgery to replace the charging system and, when I got it back, it had developed this annoying, part-throttle hesitation below 4k rpm. But that doesn’t matter at all at the track and it absolutely screams all the way to 14k, so I’m not going to mess with it for now…

njmp july2014 crashed cbr1

Volvo Wheels

2.5 Volvo Update!

So the Volvo has been coming along: I ordered a set of decent Yokohama tires for it, which I mounted up on the 16” wheels I painted. Not bad for a first attempt.

Volvo Wheels Installed

I will do a better job next time, but they’ve gotten several compliments so far and they look great from ten feet, which was really the point.

Volvo Front Right Wheel

I also installed ipd’s short-ram intake, which looks cool and lets you hear the wastegate working, although much more quietly than an actual external wastegate would.


Volvo Intake

Something’s still dragging out back: I think it’s the parking brake, which is a rusty mess at the moment. But I’ll have to disconnect/remove both sides and test it out to be sure. If not, it could mean stuck calipers. Which aren’t too horribly expensive, although between two bikes and a car, there’s at least a dozen other projects crying out for my money. Not to mention the mess and annoyance of bleeding car brakes.

In the plus column: I’ve had those rear brakes on and off so many times now that the bolts aren’t solidly rusted in place… I miss working on California cars!

Next job planned for the Volvo is that broken driver door stop and a nicer pod for the boost gauge.

2014-05-31 17.47.29

2.4 Summer of Projects

I haven’t had the chance to talk write too much about the Volvo wagon I’ve named “Der Panzerwagen,” which is German and not Swedish, but it’s my car so I can name it whatever I want.

What I hoped would be a fun but practical project car has gotten stalled out, as funds are tied up in the Dodge Dakota I’m having a hard time selling at the moment and I really can’t justify spending money on two cars since I barely need one. But while I’m waiting for that situation to resolve, I at least got started on some low-cost upgrades.

The first of which are the spare wheels that came with the car. The current set of 15” wheels are obviously not original “V70R” equipment and are wrapped with snow tires… The spare wheels are 16×7 MSW’s stamped “Design by OZ” and should work fine, once I can justify fitting them with tires. I’m not a huge fan of the wheel’s style, so I thought I’d paint them up satin black for a stealth look that should work well with the silver wagon.

2014-05-31 16.48.07

I hauled them up to my buddy Greg’s place last weekend to use his compressor/sand-blasting combo. Next time, I’m bringing some nice, dry sand straight from Home Depot: we were using his kids’ sandbox as a source of sand, and it was slightly wet and clogged the hose regularly. Or that could have been the leaves. Or hunks of chalk.

2014-05-31 14.15.24

But as a project on the cheap, it worked pretty well and the first pair look pretty great so far. They need another coat of satin black, but I’m pretty excited at how they’ve turned out.

After the wheels are painted up, we’ll be installing a nice little blue-faced ipd boost gauge in an A-pillar mount to hopefully keep me distracted from the boring slushbox the car is saddled with…

2014-05-31 17.47.29

Honda FT500 Grey Blog

2.3 Flashback 1996

I’ve been thinking recently about how I got into motorcycling. Digging through my LA photo files from the pre-digital camera era, I came across a couple old motorcycle images, including one of my very first bike: a Honda FT500 Ascot.

I was brought up in an extremely risk-averse family, but of course my car fascination did bleed through into bikes. I mean, what teenager, even one who doesn’t actually give a damn about cars, wouldn’t want to go screaming down the road, girl in cut-off shorts and a sleeveless tie-dyed shirt on the back? I just didn’t have any access: no one I knew rode anything but dirtbikes, and I knew my parents would severely frown on any interest in streetbikes.

Or dirtbikes. Or minibikes. Or gokarts. Or golf carts…

Also keep in mind: I grew up in an era and an area where lime-green and white Kawasakis and garishly painted “slingshot” GSX-R’s ruled the roost, and their screaming, bland-sounding fours somehow didn’t appeal to me. And I certainly wasn’t going full-on leather-pirate Harley… Although a glimpse of Ducati red and the unexpected boom of a set of carbon cans flashing through NYC did catch my eye. Somehow it wasn’t the sound I imagined an Italian twin would make…

I came to bikes when I finally decided maintaining an Alfa Romeo as a daily driver on a very limited budget and no garage access was a losing proposition. Since this was 1996, I heard about someone selling a bike cheap through word-of-mouth, friend-of-a-friend-of-a-guy-a-friend-was-dating, and I headed down to a tattoo shop on Hollywood boulevard to see what was what.

The Honda FT500 was in a back room, dusty and on flat tires. The rear mudguard/license plate holder was missing, and the plate was drilled into the taillight. It started right up, rattling exhaust bouncing off the walls and, five Franklins later, I was wheeling my new ride up to my apartment a few blocks away.

I took my written test at the local DMV and spoke with my friend Adrian, whose boyfriend at the time had some biking experience and had referred me to the bike in the first place. Sitting out front next to the Honda, new black full-face, over-the-ankle workboots, and hand-me-down, police-style leather jacket and I was ready to ride, waiting for my friend and her beau to show up and show me the ropes.

The fine print on the learner’s permit specifically said “no lane splitting and no freeway travel.” Guess what we did within the first fifteen minutes of our ride? Adrian’s boyfriend showed me no mercy and, two minutes into my very first time on a motorcycle, we were ripping along between cars to the front of queue at stoplights, blasting away on the green.

On the way home, I had the throttle twisted to the stop, trying to keep up along the 101 Freeway.

So the Ascot is exactly what it looks like: a big single-cylinder dirtbike converted to street duty with the kickstart removed and a notoriously unreliable electric start added. Mine worked fine from cold, but god help you if you stalled it: hot restarts would give you just one crank, so you’d better make sure it caught quickly… Just the thing for a learner out on his first ride in LA surface-street traffic! Luckily, it was very easy to ride and nimble. The front brake barely worked and today I’d just get the thing rebuilt. At the time though, I just counted on the rear to stop me, which worked okay when it wasn’t wet out…

The bike was ugly, but kind of a blast: bang down through the gears headed into a corner, wrench its bars around, power out. “Power” of course being relative. It was fun on the street but freeway travel had vibrations numbing your hands inside of twenty minutes.

I never did crash that first bike or drop it as they tell you you’re guaranteed to do, and I parked it up in an alley when I got my second bike. One day, months later, I went out to find it gone, probably assumed “abandoned”. I hope it’s out there somewhere, happily vibrating itself to pieces.