Sunday, July 31, 2016

Done and Running. Again.

The racer was finally assembled enough to fire it up and ride it this afternoon. The test ride was only a 1st gear lap around a nearby parking lot, but it went very well - well enough to look forward to a test & tune day at the track. And if that goes well, we go racing. 

Some details need work, like securing the wiring and lots of safety wiring. The nose section was structurally repaired, but not cosmetically finished. After successful track testing, the bodywork will get painted.

This has taken a lot longer than expected, but it has been worth the time and trouble.

11 August: Just signed up for the 29 August lapping day (Morning session) at High Plains Raceway. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Plans, fun, and loose screws...

Most of the repair and modification work is done on the racer. All of the machine work is done. The new rear suspension is structurally finished. The current pile of parts, mostly unpainted, isn't photogenic, yet. The Dunlop GT501 tires I used to run were discontinued, so Pirellis have taken their place. If all goes well, the racer will get some track time for testing and raced this year! While better lap times are expected, it won't come close to breaking any lap records or getting on the podium.

I'm still confident that the next and better racer will get a lot closer to breaking lap records and getting on the podium. The next and better racer will share the same configuration and fundamental dimensions, but little else. A much lighter steel or aluminum ladder frame would be easy to make, but it still wouldn't be light enough. Exotic motorcycle frame design and construction methods really don't transfer to this configuration, but there sure seems to be a lot of potential with advanced aerospace methods. Exotic fabrications using aluminum honeycomb sound amazing, even if those are somewhat obsolete. What could be more intriguing than a motorcycle constructed with early supersonic jet era methods instead of barnstormer era biplane methods? 

Well, frame design can be described as a structural connect the dots puzzle. It is fun to imagine really exotic solutions, and even more fun to talk about. Concerns about material expense, tooling feasibility, repairability, maintenance access, skill requirements, and speed of fabrication all reduce the fun quite a bit. While the leap from bench vise to autoclave is a large one, if one can leap, there's no sense in taking baby steps. The solution that increases the probability of getting to the starting grid on time and finishing the race is the best one.

Having a screw loose has really interfered with getting any work done for a while now. That reduces the fun quite a bit as well. That screw, along with the rest of the hardware, is getting removed soon! Progress on the racer should happen a lot faster afterwards. Faster is always better. 

07 April update: Foot hardware has been removed. By the doctor, in case you were wondering.

See you at High Plains Raceway soon.... 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

My idea of fun...

A big part of the plan for the next racer was to make a large displacement four stroke twin based on an engine design I've been working on (Both 2D on paper and 3D on a flowbench) for about a year now. Then, while standing out in the 100 degree heat while cornerworking at a recent MRA race, a very radical two stroke concept crossed my mind, man. I can develop it from an existing engine, while developing a new race bike around the existing engine. So I got another Kawasaki 500 engine.

More power with potential for a lot more power, a lot less weight (Goal: 265 lbs), a much narrower rider position (Much more aerodynamic and safer as well; the rider's squishy and crunchable bits go inboard the frame's perimeter this time), and loads more traction sound like my idea of fun. If all goes well, 2016 will see the current racer back on the track and construction started on the next racer. No idea what year it will be finished.  

The KX500 engine weighs 60 lbs, minus the radiator, carburetor, and exhaust. The EX500 engine, in the same configuration, weighs 126 lbs. The engines were weighed on the same calibrated scale. Both engine silhouettes above are the same scale and shown leveled with the output shafts in line. The length of the KX engine will increase when it gets a counterbalancer in front of the crankshaft. Only one pipe is required for the KX, but it sure is a lot larger and more complicated to make than the EX exhaust system! The power increase, as well as the improvement in sound quality, should be enjoyable.

By the way - ever compare a four stroke street bike wiring harness to two stroke race bike wiring harness? Wow! 

Oh, yes - the four stroke engine design can wait for another year. Or decade. It is still pretty neat.

Motorcycle roadracing is dangerous. Making roadracing motorcycles from scratch introduces even more hazards! As much as I like titanium, I prefer to use as little as possible internally. Every precaution is being taken; no expense has been spared in the name of safety!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Looking back and running ahead...

There isn't much glory in finishing near the back and getting lapped, but I do learn a lot from the faster racers when that happens. And if you think watching racers from the stands or the return lane (Or better yet, while cornerworking!) is exciting, imagine the view from the track when they're just a few inches away! While I'm still optimistic about lowering my lap times and finishing better, I'll never get on the podium with this bike; that's for the next bike, and most likely, with a much better rider. Design work has started on the next racer.

Much of the design of the next racer depends on work that hasn't been done yet with the current racer. That new rear suspension system still needs finishing and installation. Crash damage still needs to be repaired. I'm still hoping to have it done before the end of the 2015. But my biggest source of enthusiasm and motivation is the next racer; the next racer has given me the confidence to make the current one worth the time, trouble, and expense. In the mean time, the door that leads from my desk to the shed has been upgraded to lower my house exit times by at least .2 seconds. No chatter problems, either.

I'm very happy to report that my foot is healing rapidly. The big goofy post-op boot has been off since early November. The crutches haven't been touched since the Christmas holidays. The cane only gets used on evenings of rougher days and to help make a point while yelling at kids to get off my lawn. I'm just left wondering if my right foot will still need a racing boot that's 3 sizes larger than my left foot. Either way, it would be a shame not to find out this year...

Top photo: Jim Browning, Rocky Mtn Photos

Saturday, November 1, 2014

2015(?) Racer Project Preview...

The original plan for the end of 2014's racing season was to finish Race #6 faster than ever, drive home absolutely thrilled, shove the racer back into the shed, tear it down, put the engine and chassis back on the bench, and get the new rear suspension system integrated for MRA Race #1 in 2015. Crashing and having my foot elevated for a few months changed that a bit. The good news is that the crash damage isn't going to cost much at all in time or money. I'm getting back on my feet very soon, which means I'm going back to work, both to my day job and on the racer. I'll get to make a few improvements to the racer that I otherwise wouldn't have done, like make safer pegs, bar ends, and much better mufflers.

While I'm still hoping to get it all done before the end of the 2015 racing season, if it takes another year, hey, that's how it goes. My sponsor (ME) isn't going elsewhere if it takes another year to get it done. That said, stagnation never does a racer (Man OR machine) any good.

Much of the reason for making the racer project was to implement what I learned from the experimental electric recumbent many years ago. But there was another project between these two. It was built in 2006 using cheap and popular aftermarket gas scooter parts. It was intended for racing in what was, back around 2002-2005, a very popular stand-up scooter racing series. I was also hoping to sell copies of it and start a business. Unfortunately, that racing series, along with the entire stand-up scooter fad, imploded in 2006.

It had a very nicely tuned 29cc long stroke engine that really screamed. Thanks to the low profile of the rider, it would top out about 8mph higher than the same engine/spindle combination would go with a normal stand-up scooter. And having your butt a few inches off the ground made the sensation of speed a lot more thrilling than the numbers would suggest. Being direct drive, it had to be push started by a second person - it was no good on the street, where it was probably way too dangerous to operate. The 2 wheel steering system both made it much easier to balance and corner much harder with less drama. It made front end slides very easy to manage. Feeling the back end steer into a corner was a little unnerving at first, but after a few minutes of riding, the improved stability and control made it a lot more fun to ride hard. Yes, the foot boom folded up, making it easy to toss into the back seat of any car. The whole thing weighed less than an awful lot of pedal powered recumbents.

This, along with the experimental electric recumbent, were supposed to be featured in a certain high circulation motorcycle magazine with the article written by a certain highly regarded (And personal favorite) motorcycle technical writer. But the magazine's top editor, I'm told, didn't think they were motorcycley enough, so the article was shot down. But they did publish a splended article about a lovely 2 cylinder Whizzer powered bicycle - no, I don't get it, either. I was holding on to these images for that article, but I'm guessing that, after 8 years with no contact from them about it (Even after the editor who shot it down got fired by one of the magazine's many owners since then), I'm guessing there's nothing to lose by publishing them now.

This ended up hanging over my desk as a decoration, conversation piece, and inspiration for designing, making, and racing something a lot more serious at serious speeds on a serious race track. But I didn't want to get the reputation of someone who started out with what the easily confused might see as silly toys, so it was deleted from this site. It also served as a depressing reminder of work that didn't generate the expected career change, so I ended up parting it out in 2010 and throwing out the rest, much to my current regret. While it was as low tech as a motor vehicle can get, it was still fun, interesting, and very effective. It also would have been the most fun way possible to get kicked out of the pits at High Plains Raceway. 

Live and learn and live some more...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

5 minutes of fame...

Discovery Canada's Daily Planet show ran their RoadWarriors segment on the racer project yesterday. It is a fun introduction to the project that was fun to make. Five minutes means that it isn't a PhD level vehicle dynamics video dissertation or season long bio-epic.

June 2015 update: If the above video links are off line, watch the Rohorn Racer segment here.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Race #4

MRA Round 6 on Sunday 24 August at HPR, Colorado Class, started with a lot of enthusiasm. The first lap (From a dead stop) was my fastest lap, ever. And while I've finally been able to get my corner speeds up, (Mostly in Turn 1, where I've been able to slide it uneventfully a few times this month!), a much longer than anticipated slide on lap 3 told me I'm as close to the edge as I should get - time to get as smooth with that speed as I can make it!

My higher level of confidence got me going faster up Turn 7, where I knew I could make up some time. A little too much throttle and little too much lean angle/speed at the apex resulted in a lowside crash. My battle with gravity was a very easy one - it felt like I fell about 2 inches before I was completely on the ground. It was the battle with inertia that ended badly.

The footpeg broke when we hit the dirt, injuring my foot. NO injuries anywhere else. My helmet never hit the ground. The new isolated gas tank structure worked perfectly, even though the fairing is damaged.

This was going to be my last race of the season, but it didn't end the way I hoped. As bad as that feels sometimes, enough was learned to make the next racing season much safer and faster. Faster and safer is always good!

The day was made better by the HPR staff who got us back to the Rat Van, and fellow MRA racers, track marshals, and enthusiasts who helped us get the Rat Van loaded. And best of all, the support of my wife and family - without them, I wouldn't be sitting here feeling this good about it.

Top photo: Jim Browning, Rocky Mtn Photos

Race #3

The MRA Round 5 weekend was my my first time at HPR with the North Course configuration. I attended the 08 August HPR lapping day to get some North Course experience. After every lap, I thought I would have Turns 9A/B figured out, but the next time around would prove otherwise.

The Colorado Class race on 10 August went well enough. The final lap was my fastest and finished 13th out of 16. The bike behaved perfectly.

Sure, the racer was made for racing. But that doesn't keep it from being a very good conversation piece!

Last photo: Santiago Shirtz

Saturday, July 26, 2014

In the mean time...

A morning spent at HPR's open lapping day on 21 July was very encouraging. I don't have any numbers, but I feel even better about the direction my riding is going. Working on my riding has been frustratingly incremental, but it is far more satisfying than working on crash repairs. 

Round 5 plans at HPR: Afternoon lapping session, Friday, 08 August and Colorado Class, Sunday, 10 August. I will not be there at all that Saturday.

Progress on the new rear suspension continues! The rear hub in the above picture might look unusual, probably due to the larger than normal brake disc. If all goes well, it will be used for the 2015 racing season.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Race #2

The Colorado Class on Sunday, along with the rest of the day, went very well. Only placed 17th out of 18, but shaved 6 seconds off my best lap time, with my final lap being the fastest. The race start went a lot better. The race didn't feel like it was too long this time, which also meant that I remembered to use the headrest and had no neck strain trouble. Almost pulled out of the race when the left exhaust baffle started coming off, but I really didn't want to DNF, so I grabbed the baffle while at speed  between T3 and T4, twisted it tight, burnt my gloves pretty good, burnt my hand a little, but was able to finish. The baffle never moved before and technically shouldn't (Yes, it was safety wired), but it did, and it will get fixed so it can't happen again. I won't describe how and where that malfunction initially diverted my attention...

I'm still way too slow. But the long list of areas for improvement is getting easier to see and harder to resist. HPR is starting to feel like home - and that is a great feeling! I'm getting bored with my current pace and feel a lot better about: Getting my corner speeds up, not coasting up to my braking points ("It's like you're on final approach for landing in the corners!", I remember one instructor saying a few years ago, and not in a complimentary way.), transitioning and driving through the chicane much more aggressively (Where the bike excels, but my nerve doesn't), working on my body positioning (I'm getting more comfortable moving around but getting too comfortable about not moving enough), and better shifting technique (2 botched shifts can really rattle the concentration, but were probably caused by not concentrating enough in the first place). The tires picked up an awful lot of rubber at both ends, which means that they could be used a bit harder. Retreading one's own tires with the stickier bits of other racers' tires isn't a speed secret.

What I'm starting to refer to as Byers Syndrome (That coming down after the post-race high, where I get all resentful about my performance when driving home) was remedied by remembering that 6 second drop in lap times. Just think: If that can be repeated, I'll be competitive in ROR by the end of the 2015 season! Why, I might even be on the front of the official 2016 MRA T-shirt!! Isn't that great? No, that's delusional! Seriously though, getting into the 2:20s is now a goal I'm far more optimistic about for 2014 - something I was despairing about while approaching Byers the last time/first time. And 2014 is just prep for 2015. The EXperimental500 will make a lot more sense by then.

OK - this site is supposed to be about the development of the racer project, but until the new rear suspension is done, the most important project is developing the biodegradable guidance unit. But while this bike was getting built, there was never any doubt who was going to test ride and race it. Nobody has ever said: "Hey, I just built this roadracer that violates all design conventions, has an unproven front suspension with unproven steering geometry, and places the rider in an unfamiliar position, but while my mental test rider likes it, I don't know if it will work in the real world or will become unrideable at certain speeds and lean angles - would you like to have a go on it?" 92 laps later, I'm very happy with that hardware, enough to know that a vastly better rider should get vastly better results. So when an MRA multiple champion comes up and says that he'd like to have a go on it after the race, well, that made my day. Not sure when it will happen - or if he'll like it and offer to race it, or point and laugh afterwards - but that is a monumental step forward.

While this isn't a secret website about a secret project, I don't promote it much outside of forum signatures or Facebook, either. That made an unexpected call from Discovery Channel a very pleasant surprise. They expressed an interest in videographing the racer and other projects both at home and the track, which was a real honor! No details yet, but will post them when they become available. Round 2 photographs are easy to spot from the cluster of Go Pro video cameras they mounted on the racer!

I used to joke that the real work involved with this project was going to start after the racer was finished. It isn't a joke anymore! So many years of dreaming/making stuff/testing (Repeat) went into this that I can't believe this is actually happening! It also wouldn't happen without the support of my wife, children, family, friends, everyone in the MRA, and so many more. Thank You!!!

Photos 1-4: Margaret Oliver, Colorado Photosports
Photos 5-6: Jim Browning, Rocky Mtn Photos

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Race #1

My goals for the MRA Round 1 race weekend were to finish the race, learn as much as possible for the next race, and best of all, finish ahead of at least one racer. In the first of two races I entered (LW GP class), all three goals were reached: 24th out of 25. The second race I entered (Colorado class), where the racer fits in a lot better, was cancelled due to snow (No kidding!).

The bike is still better than I am. I'm still rolling off the throttle too early, braking too soon, and apexing the corners too slow. But I am trail braking less to the apex and rolling on the throttle both earlier and more than before, which is helping the bike track better and making the tires wear more evenly. Speaking of tires, my choice of rims (Hey, they were free) limits me to Dunlop GT501s. They sure aren't race tires, but they are sticking  better than I expected. Neither end slid the entire race by intent or mistake. The bike has the potential to go faster.

The bike launches like nothing I've ridden. Unfortunately, that doesn't do much good from the back of the grid when I'm not sure which line everyone else is taking into T1. Playing skittles with the other racers makes for amusing video but is generally frowned upon by both the racers and the starting line marshalls. Whenever I can work my way ahead in the start grid, hard launches should be a lot of fun!

After the (Dismal) start, I had a blast blowing past people on the back straight. After that, it was obvious that the better skilled riders (22 of them...) were faster into the corners, where the speed really matters. I was more interested in crossing the finish line safely than being a rolling roadblock, so I "Settled down" and somehow managed to drop my lap times for each lap...until the red flag came out. The cooldown lap was surreal after that, followed by cruising back to the pit with lots of waves, thumbs up, and enthusiasm! Nothing like the post-race high while loading everything back into the Rat Van and heading back to Denver while replaying the thrill of racing in your head! And then somewhere near Byers, thoughts about all the mistakes, hesitations, and misjudgements take over! Well, I've since found out that is typical Racing On The Brain syndrome and it all balances out before the race weekend. It's why we go back to the track. Round 2, May 31/June 01.

Oh yes - as far as anyone knows, this is the first recumbent (Or Feet Forward, as my British friends call them) roadracer ever entered in a sanctioned roadrace. Thank you for all the support and patience from family, friends, and fellow enthusiasts!

Photos 1-3: Margaret Oliver, Colorado Photosports. Photos 4-5: Jim Browning, Rocky Mtn Photos.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Forward Thinking Friends...

While the racer has a much lower frontal area than a stock EX500, it still has a Cd range in common with farm implements. Streamlining could seriously add to the acceleration on the faster sections of the track without making any changes to the engine. But that isn't news, especially to Craig Vetter, who recently PhotoShopped streamlined bodywork on the racer.

Read more about it on Craig Vetter's website.

So when will that happen? Not this year. Approaching the corners even faster than I am now would not help my lap times at all, but that'll change with experience. And I am very optimistic about what a combination of experience, superior aerodynamics, and the new rear suspension (Currently being machined and fabricated) will do for improving lap times in 2015! And after that comes the really exotic racer! 

But first, there's the 2014 racing season, with the bike as it is. It isn't slowing me down; I'm slowing it down. The solution? Track time! 

I've never had more fun in my life...

Monday, April 21, 2014

Racing Season Is Here!

The MRA's race school was held on 19 April. After running about 40 or so laps over the course of the day, I got my racing certificate.

The first event is at High Plains Raceway, 10-11 May. I'm registered to enter the Lightweight GrandPrix and Colorado Class.

During the racer school, someone asked me the bike's name. It never got one! Well, it's been given a few (Just ask the MRA's New Rider Director...), but it needed one for the race registration that I'd also want to say out loud: Kawasaki EXperimental500.

Photos: Jim Browning, Rocky Mtn Photos.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Is it summer yet?

See you at High Plains Raceway in 2014!

28 December: Got to ride it at HPR during their "Customer Appreciation Day" today - everything went very well! Only ran about 13 laps, but it was enough to get more experience and reveal what I need to work on next time out. Smoother corner entrances resulted in higher cornering speeds, less panic, and earlier drives out. I also discovered that this bike, like any other, responds well to body positioning (And poorly to bad positioning, such as leaning the shoulders the wrong way to keep my head level when cranked over), but this one doesn't need nearly as much gymnastics to make the handling more neutral while cornering. When your butt is just over a foot off the ground, the idea of getting it even closer (Especially to the curbing!) seems just wrong at first, but the way it improves the handling inspires loads more confidence. The speeds are up to the mid '90's between turns 3 and 4; when you're that close to the ground, the sensation of speed feels absolutely insane. But as exciting as that has been so far, that speed is still too slow and uncompetitive for a 500 twin. The good news is that we'll go a lot faster with higher turn 3 exit speeds and later braking before turn 4. So far, I've been braking way too early for, well, all the turns, but that'll change!

Sorry, no lap times and no video, yet.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Crunch time!

The Dynojet kit #2728 I installed two days ago worked great (The Keihin CR33s are on backorder). In spite of internet guru warnings against it, that jet kit completely fixed the flat spots and throttle control issues I had 2 weeks ago. The complete kit was installed as instructed, but with #136 jets and needle clips one notch above center (That works at 5100 ft elevation). The CR Specials will still get installed to sharpen the throttle response some more, but the original CV units now work amazingly well. A foam headrest on the rear shock reservoir solved the neck strain problem.

Drove out to HPR for the MRA racing school this morning. The bike sailed through tech. I thought the first hour on the track went fairly well. Then my instructor suggested some really good changes to my lines and turn-in technique. The bike is extremely easy to roll into a turn, which makes it all too tempting to turn in far later than normal, late apex it, then drive out without needing the whole track. Great fun, and feels safer than it is since I felt like I was never in danger of running out of track at the exit. The real danger comes from lowsiding while rolling it in stupid late, which hadn't happened to me, yet. Next time out, I was rather happy with the much smoother way I entered/apexed/exited turn 4, only to not stay focused and completely blow my entry point going into turn 5. I tried to tighten my line and dive harder towards the apex, only to lowside hard onto our left side. We slid to the outside of the corner, hit the dirt, then rolled over onto our right side and slid some more. I got a jolly good beating, felt really stupid, but had no broken bones, abrasions, dislocations, or any other of motorcycle racing's occupational hazards.

The bike is quite repairable. The worst of the damage is a split gas tank inside the nose section. Fabricating the unit fairing/gas tank seemed like the path to simplicity in maintenance and lightness, but it made crash damage vastly more complicated. And it was a real pain to make in the first place. Wearing a full tank of gas while stuck under the bike with a hot engine is a thrill I'd rather not repeat! The handlebars are bent, but they are cheap and easy to make. The hard plastic footpegs (Originally sold as BMX grind pegs!) saved both me and the bike from a lot more damage. Then there is the dirt - it gets everywhere when crashing off the track. The frame got rashed, but that's fixable. The exhaust will need a little hammer time and paint. My helmet never got a scratch, my gloves and boots are still good (And match my leathers better now), and my leathers only need a small patch on the arm.

A surprising number of racers asked if I'd have it ready for the first 2013 race on 11/12 May, which was very encouraging. If I focus on getting it trackworthy and get my race certificate, well, it could happen before the end of this racing season. My other option is to take the bike down, leave it on the bench for at least another year, and get the new rear suspension done. That suspension system should help the cornering a lot by making the bike even more responsive while making front end slides far easier to control and reducing lean angle. But time at the track should provide some badly needed experience. While I enjoy spending time working on the bike in the shed, good results are only going to happen after I spend a lot more time on the track.

25 April: The van blew the transmission and took the year's racing budget with it. 2013's racing season is over. Lots of prep time available for 2014...

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Track time!

We got the opportunity to test the racer at High Plains Raceway on March 30th. It handled extremely well! No chassis or suspension adjustments were required. It has lots of steering feel. It is dead stable yet very responsive. I had absolutely no problem either maintaining or changing a line.

Only 7 laps were done. Poor carburetion made the engine very difficult to control. And neck strain made life at higher speeds very difficult. A Keihin CR33 carburetor kit is on the way to fix the former. A headrest will fix the latter.

While we went a lot faster and cornered a lot harder than I expected the first time out, we still have a long way to go towards generating respectable lap times. But I'm approaching the next time out with a lot more confidence. Is the development of a new racing motorcycle concept with unproven geometry on a racetrack by a 50 year old novice racer a good idea? Can't think of many other things I'd rather do.

That's my wife, Suzi, sitting in the Battlewagon. I'm thrilled to have her company at the track. And Suzi's thrilled when she doesn't have to drive me back from the track.

The next track date: MRA racing school, April 13th (April 21st, in case of bad weather).

Monday, December 10, 2012

Done and Running!

And we are finally ready for some track time!

Frequently Given Answers:
  • The race number has no deep meaning - it was just an available number.
  • The exhaust exits out the side, not to the rear - there are no "flaming butt" issues.
  • The steering axis is not parallel with the front fork - there's a virtual pivot at the hub.
  • The EX500 engine is internally stock.
  • The rear swingarm, vertical link, and drum brake are temporary - a more advanced system will be installed later.
  • NO street conversion or version is planned. Ever.
  • NO movie replica bodwork is planned. Ever.
  • The bodywork could be a lot more aerodynamic, but finished bodywork beats unfinished bodywork every time.  
  • 4 years construction time in a garden shed at a budget of under $1.00/day.
  • The donor bike cost $500.00 - the leftovers were sold for $600.00.
  • Having a full time job not even remotely related to the motorsport industry, younger and older children, internet connection, lack of money, etc... didn't stop this from getting built.
  • Work has started on the replacement rear suspension.
  • No, I'm not giving away any design or making advice. Nor am I asking for any.
  • 414 pounds ready to ride except fuel, 50/50 weight distribution with fuel and 150 pound rider. 74 inch wheelbase. Just over 4 inches of trail.