Sunday, April 6, 2008

Anyone can get in on this fun!

I was hoping to influence people to get out there and ride, even if they never had before. I had no idea that my own wife would get the hankering though. Was it the fun she saw me having? Was it the promise of 80 miles to the gallon (at $3.25 per gallon) or was it that she just thought that scooters were cute? I'm not sure, but she bit the bullet and is fast becoming a rider!

We were sitting down the other night discussing life and out of the blue she said, "I want a vespa". Impressed with her taste in scooters but not impressed with their prices, I, with mixed emotions, let out a rather loud, "really?" I was excited at the prospect of adding another pony to the stable, but I knew how much Vespa's cost. Mixed emotions...wouldn't that be like seeing your daughter's teenage boyfriend going over a cliff in your brand new car? I'm speaking hypothetically of course...I mean she doesn't even have a (current) boyfriend...I'm just saying. I would never find joy in that...really...well...nevermind.

So I told her how much these little buggers cost and then suggested that maybe I could check on EBay. Wait, is this a moment or what? "Honey I want you to go to Ebay right now and buy a motorcycle"...a wife telling her husband to buy a that's the stuff dreams are made of!

Have you seen the offerings of restored vespas on Ebay? At any given time there are several really nicely restored classic vespas at real fair prices. But the newer ones have a "twist-n-go" automatic transmission and I thought it would be worth the extra thousand or so dollars for my wife to start with that. Then she asked if I had checked Craig's List. Nope, hadn't thought of it.

I asked her what color she would want and she said "tangerine, but since you'll probably ride it and that would be a little fruity for you, I'd like red". I appreciate a wife who is sensitive to my need to protect my machismo...course tangerine with little flowers on it might be nice...wait, I mean red, yeah, red that would be good.

So I open up Craig's list and lo and behold thar she blows! A red 150 cc vespa with a trunk and a windshield, with just 800 miles at three quarter the price of new! I called on it and the lady gave me the directions to her was the street right below us...I could have thrown a rock and hit her barn...of course if I had she wouldn't have sold me her vespa.

We went over, looked at amazing little machine, I rode it around the block, offered her $250 less, she countered back at $200 less than asking price and I said "SOLD!" Then I rode it home because my wife had never ridden before.

Since then, we ran out and bought her a "cute" helmet and started running the little thing up and down the street. Yesterday I followed her in my sidecar and we took a little 2 mile country road tour and I must say that I'm quite proud of her. There you go...anyone can get the urge to get out there and get bugs in their teeth or dust in their mascara, whatever the case may be. Happy trails sweety!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Natty Award!...wait, what is Natty?

The Idaho Vintage Motorcycle club held it's annual run and show in Caldwell, Idaho on March 29th and 30th. Every kind of old bike imaginable was there...even one with a flat-head Ford engine in it! There were about 140 bikes and I would imagine a few thousand visitors. The ol' beast fit right in. There were a few other sidecar rigs but generally I've found, like in this show's case, that they are pristine examples of a bygone era and have been relinquished to trailer queen status. A few of us still ride though.

At this show I felt like the mule entered in the Kentucky Derby...I didn't expect to win but just look at the company I'm keeping!

There were beemers (look at that 61' 500 with a Steib sidecar...I voted for that was rather Natty I think!). Then there was an Ariel Red Hunter, several old Triumphs and a real nice Lambretta (I think I may restore a scooter next). There were so many cool bikes and people who just liked jawing about bikes...these were my kind of folks! Some of the bikes were worth a mint and yet some of them, like mine, were just clean, cool old riders.


(I would trade with this guy and would even throw in my award, but I don't think he'd go for it...ain't that purddy?)

(This old Triumph looked to be a very clean rider...not perfect but still a whole of fun...hope he (or she) still rides it!)

Four hours of yakking with other enthusiasts, answering questions about the bike and overall enjoying watching people enjoy my bike and all of the others; it was a great experience. I was going to pack it up and head for home, but I noticed that people actually put their little red tickets in the cup on the floor in front of my old bike (this is how people vote on their favorites). Well out of curiosity, I stuck around for the awards. I couldn't believe it when they called my name.

I received the "Natty" award. Wow...I'm not sure I've ever won an award, especially the coveted Natty award, I mean, who knew, that I, of all people, would get the Natty...wait, what is Natty? So I went up to accept my plaque, thanked them and then politely asked, "What the heck does Natty mean?"

Apparently Natty can mean a number of things like dapper or fashionable, but the definition I liked best was "oddly cool". Oddly wife says, "that fits you". Probably more odd than cool...but hey that works for me. I didn't expect to get any award with a $40 paint job, but it just goes to show that you don't have to spend a lot to have something that's fun to ride and enjoyable to look at and talk about.

Isn't that the essence of what this blog is all about? Get an old bike, don't spend your kids college fund to on it, spruce it up however you wish (don't be afraid of rattle-cans!) and get out there and get some bugs in your teeth. Don't worry about the "church-lady" (see one of my first blogs to get that) bikers who won't wave at you because you don't fit their idea of what constitutes a biker. Just get out and enjoy it.

Well, this old sidecar ain't no trailer queen, and though she is rather Natty, it's time to hit the road for more adventures. So stay tuned for the latest in sidecar diaries...thanks for reading!

Von Dutch I'm not!

If you're gonna try pin striping, try it first on a $40 paint job! I've never pin striped before, but like many others, I've been intrigued with the process and wondered if I couldn't do the same thing. Well, at this point, I CAN'T DO THE SAME THING. However, I did well enough for it to pass as a legitimate striping job and I'm not changing it. So here's how it went down.

I slapped the striping brush around in the one shot paint and started in. Then I wiped it off. Then I striped it again....then I wiped it off and then I stri...then I wiped etc. etc. If you hold your tongue just right you might get it right...but I was shaking so much that I couldn't keep the line from wiggling. So after I finally finished the first fender, I left the other one until the next day.

By the time I finished the whole rig I felt like I was sort of getting the hang of it...but I now appreciate all the more the skill and talent of a good striper. Von Dutch was amazing and I will admire his work even more than I did before. But I got er' done and I'm pleased with the result...for a $40 day paint job!

Before I striped the pieces I cleaned them all with Meguiars cleaner. After the striping was done I came back with cleaner wax. Then a few days later I finished it off with Meguiars mirror gloss polish. It worked pretty good. Here's what it looks like finished.

Now you can see how that longer fender gives an "age" to the bike and how those leather mudflaps, 99 cent leather hide and luggage rack and the model A tail light make a bit of a hot rod out of this ol' beast.

I have some straight pipes to add still but that will happen soon. Check out the cool suitcase I found in an antique store too. I bought some "real vintage" luggage travel stickers off of EBay, put them on and then scratched them up a bit to give them a travelled look. Makes for a cool looking little ride for a minimum amount of money. Well there you have it's time to take some trips...stay tuned!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Repaint - and thin no more!

I finally decided on the color. G.M. #1608 engine block blue! I was going back and forth on the color scheme and I saw an old Volkswagen (keeping with the German theme...well okay sort of) and I thought maybe I could find a color close to that. Well it was close, but not exact. But I like the overall outcome. I like bright colors if they're tasteful, simply because the brighter colors catch other driver's eyes least I tell myself that. The engine block colors actually offer a wide variety of "vintage" hues that can almost, in some cases, come off looking pretty "period" to certain bikes. You might want to check them out.

But here is a warning. I have discovered that most auto part stores stock only 2 cans of each color. I bought each lot of 2 cans at most of the stores. If you want G.M. #1608 in Nampa, Idaho, you may want to wait a few weeks, there isn't any more available! The paint is pretty tough, it offers a nice gloss with careful prep and spraying and it should hold up to the elements as long as I take care of it and keep it clean and waxed. Here is how some of the pieces turned out.

The shot of all the pieces together was after I painted the trim color and striped it but you can see how it ended up. Now I must warn the average painter, spray cans do not offer the same quality that a paint shop (a person who does it for you with a professional spray outfit) offers. But what I ended up with is a 10 foot paint job. At 10 feet away, it looks pretty good.

But you still don't get this quality if you just shake a can a few times and start spraying a tank like a hairdresser would spray aqua-net all over Grandma's new Saturday hair do. No, you have to read the instructions and actually follow them. With this particular type of paint, it required that all the coats be sprayed within 10 minutes of each other and all within an hour. I didn't read that closely at one point and had to go back and remove some paint accordingly.

The other thing you have to do, besides putting on a mask and making sure the place is well ventilated, is you need to patiently work from left to right making smooth, even strokes that keep the can about 6 inches away from the item being painted, consistently. Your lighting is crucial too so that you can watch the reflection and see the dull spots. When you make a pass and can see the gloss in the light, you go back to the left and make another one just under it, making sure that you don't leave a dry band of paint in between the two glossy ones. If you do, you quickly come back and double wet coat that dry band (you are spraying in between the two glossy bands over the dull one at this point) so that it blends in with the glossy ones before they begin to set up. It takes patience, but it isn't that difficult. And best of all...IT'S CHEAP! We like cheap.

After I coated everything with several light coats I let it dry. Several light coats may seem to be a waste of time initially. My tendency toward impatience makes me want to lay on a heavy, glossy coat the first time. The problem with that thinking is that in order for the paint company to make a can that can actually deliver paint, they must thin it down considerably. Because it is thin, when you put it on thick, IT WILL RUN. So as any good prophet worth his salt would tell you, REPAINT! (or is that repent?...who knows).

Runs are not uncommon though. That's why patience is required. On an enamel based paint, after 2 or 3 days you can wet sand the runs out and any other little the boogers with wings that will fly into your new paint job to get a closer look. After you've wet sanded them with a very fine paper, you simply respray with several light coats again.

I had to go to Hawaii...okay, got to go, so I rushed to finish the tins before I left. My wife and I celebrated our 25th anniversary in Kona and I knew that I couldn't touch the bike for 8 days so I wanted to use that as a curing time. I must confess that I thought about the bike while I was there. One night as we were drifting off to sleep and my eyes were staring off in some direction, my wife said, "you're restoring your bike right now aren't you?" Got me. Yes I painted and pieced this thing back together several times in my mind before I actually did it so that when it came time to actually do it, I had already thought the process out. And frankly, though I was having a great time (a bad day in Hawaii is better than most good days at home) I missed the ol' beast. I kept thinking how great that bike would have been to cruise around the island on.

Well, there you have it. A spray can job can turn out. I used more engine block paint (Cummin's diesel tan) for the trim, but didn't notice that it was a semi-gloss. Double check the sheens on the paint before you make your purchase to make sure they are consistent. I was disappointed, but after a while, I decided to stay with it because it gave it a bit of a contrast like the stripes on some of the early muscle cars. So I left it alone. The following pictures will show some of the process of laying down the trim color.

Now, please remember, this is a spruce up, not a restoration. So after the trim is painted on (by the way, I used very thin vinyl masking tape for this because it keeps the color from bleeding underneath the tape and it gives you a really nice clean edge) I decided that it needed a third contrasting stripe. I didn't want to use vinyl pin striping, because that would take away from the over all look. But I had never used a pin striping brush before. Do you know that all experts started someplace? There is always a first engine rebuild, a first piano piece, a first web-site, a first this and that. If you want to learn how to pin-stripe, what better place to learn than on a $40 paint job rather than a $400 or a $4000 one? I'll tackle that in the next blog.You can see the gloss that can happen after carefully prepping, wet sanding and painting with a double wet coat method. You can also see Daisy watching me, wondering why on such a sunny day we can't go out cruising in the sidecar. Soon Daisy, very soon.

Friday, March 28, 2008

To spuce up or restore?...that is the question!

When is a bike considered a custom? What is a rat bike? At what point do you cross a line between junk and simply "a clean old bike"? When does adding parts from other bikes and vehicles become ridiculous?

I love the straight old bikes with N.O.S. (new old stock) parts and ground up restorations. But if a bike show has the name "coucours" in it or includes caviar or champagne for refreshments, it ain't my bag. I don't like junk or animal furs hanging from things either, but I do appreciate creativity. I think most folks do too. I found both of these rat bikes on the Internet...hope the owners don't mind me using them.

So I needed to decide if I just wanted it to be funky or to have enough custom pieces on it to compliment an overall desired look. I love old, so I stuck with that theme. I also love the rat rod scene with the flat paint, rusted metal, retro decals, Von Dutch pin striping and wrapped pipes. So old with some of that mixed in was what I was after.

I scored a large upholstery hide on EBay for the seats for 99 cents. I've never done auto upholstery but my daughter knew how to sew, so I think I paid her a few bucks to do that. I won the 32 ford taillight ($8) and a luggage rack from an early 80's goldwing too (that was 99 cents too). I found some "dinky" marker/ turn signals on a clearance rack at Cycle World for $6.99. And though they are l.e.d. they look subtle, yet really light the place up when I want to make a turn. I found some bar end turn signals for the front for $19 a car horn for $12. I think I may add a marine dual trumpet 12 volt horn at a later date. But that needs to have a few dings, pits and rust in the crevices...sometimes new stuff takes away from the overall look. Then I stumbled on to a guy who had found a supply of NOS leather Harley mudflaps without the Harley logo. I bought three of those for around $3 a piece.

After making my purchases, I tore the bike down. The frame had
been painted brown (over the factory black) at some point in it's history so I knew I needed to take it back to black. Here is where I faced my first dilemma over how far I was going to go in either sprucing this thing up (cheap, cheap, cheap) or restoring it (engine pulled, sandblast, powdercoat, expense, expense, expense).

A restoration is like an onion. One restored layer leads to the next one...and so on. Fixing a bike up is making it look clean and functional, but stopping short of spending the big bucks. So I found tractor implement semi-gloss black paint in a bomb can, rattle can, (whatever) and shot the frame with that. It seems to be pretty tough, the semi-gloss hides imperfections and it comes with a fan spray nozzle to help you put on the smoothest coat possible. All I had to do was a little masking. And by the way, plastic trash bags are great for covering larger areas (engines, tires, etc.).

Just before I tore it down, I installed larger handlebars, but noticed that my new bar-end blinkers didn't quite fit. So my friend Don who owns an auto shop and restores vintage aircraft used his "Mega-Dremil" to grind out the ends and WE MADE THEM FIT! Making things fit is not a restoration...that's a spruce up. When you add things to the bike that weren't there in the first place, modifications become necessary. A restoration keeps things as they were intended to be. I don't like seeing ads about "restored" bikes that are really custom. Just call it what it is.

At this point in the blog, I haven't broken the news to Don that I plan to use spray cans for my paint job. He is one guy that I respect when it comes to restorations. One of the planes he restored is in a full color coffee table book of vintage war planes. This guy knows what he is doing.

I'm sure he'll understand, but what I am doing to this old beast doesn't hold a candle to the machines he restores...BUT LET'S REMEMBER, we're after cheap fun here! If money keeps you from riding that bike you want then maybe your taste is a little too uppity for your current budget. Start someplace and have fun. You can always spend more money later.

Now it is time to take the paint off the "tins" or in the case of the BMW, "tins and glass". The fenders are stock fiberglass and the tank is metal. Either way I want to remove as much paint as I can. The fenders have almost a gel-coat feel to the paint so taking it off requires sanding. I allowed some of the old paint to act as a primer since it was adhering so well. I did sand the edges down where the original pin striping had been so it didn't come through the final paint job. For paint removal, I used aircraft paint removal (spray can-Walmart) and scraped, sanded, resprayed, etc. etc.

Once I had the paint off and sanded down I made my repairs. I used lightweight Bondo on the tank to cover small dings and dents. On the fenders I first repaired the fiberglass before I used Bondo. Bondo doesn't bond two pieces together, it covers over a multitude of sins...that's all. So if there is welding or fiberglass repair to do, now is the time to tackle it. Then I took a good sandable black primer (I knew that the original color on the sidecar was black and I didn't intend to completely take all of it's paint off, so I wanted my base colors to all be the this case, black) and shot the fenders and tank. I wet sanded everything after that and then repeated that process until I had it smooth.

Now with a solid primered and smoothed tank and fenders, it was time to choose a color for the top coat. I researched this because I was concerned about gasoline spillage on the tank. I'll have to be very careful when filling it with gas, but I still want a paint that will be as tough as possible. Then standing in a parts store one day, it occured to me..."ding" engine paint! It's tough, has some sort of ceramic in it and it is designed to withstand a certain amount of gas. Now all I had to do was decide on a color.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Modifications and Rattle Cans

As the snow began to fly, it was time to tear into the bike. But before I started ripping it apart, I needed to make a list of modifications that I wanted to make and then to determine, most importantly, how I was going to paint this beast.

"You can't paint a motorcycle with a spray can". "The "properly mixed" paint store kind has hardener and gasoline won't melt it". "Spray can paint is too thin and you can't get a smooth shiny finish, because you have to put on so much paint". I heard all the reasons to not do what I was seriously thinking about doing, but I was looking at the difference between $40 and $400 and I wasn't convinced I was wrong. So I did some research.

There are plenty of sites that encourage rattle can paint jobs and several even provide very detailed and helpful instruction. I think I googled "spray can paint jobs". You might want to try that to see what you come up with. I had painted an old truck and a couple of trailers with a traditional auto spray outfit so I knew about painting a double wet coat (that when you make smooth even strokes the length of the object being painted then return overlapping with the next pass so that there isn't a dry dividing line in between strokes). So I just read the instructions on the can and thought to myself, "I think that this could be accomplished".

But before I painted, there was repair and modifications that I want to make. I made a list of the things I wanted to change.
1. I didn't like the tail light assembly (it looked too 70's). It needed something else...ah hah, I'll go to EBay!
2. The back fender bobbed off too needed to be longer to give it more of a vintage
look. I could use one from an older Beemer or I could try out my fiberglass skills (did you
know that BMW fenders from 1970 on are fiberglass?).
3. The front fender was broken and needed some fiberglass attention.
4. The solo seat needed to look more vintage...what to do? And after 4000 miles I noticed
that it could stand to be a bit softer.
5. The sidecar needed a luggage rack...mostly for the cool appeal. It also needed some
upholstery and every time I washed it or it rained a strong mildew smell came from the
seat area...had to check that.
6. I wanted handle bars that swept back a bit more...for looks and my back.
7. The pipes sounded good but I never liked how the post 70's Beemer pipes bend upward
just south of the foot needed some chromed shark tail tips for the real cool look!
8. I've always wanted to know how to pinstripe with a brush and the proper place to test
one's skills are on a $40 paint job, not a $400 one.

So now that the snow was covering all the roads, I could talk myself out of riding the bike to work. Once I started I knew that this job would take me a few months. So I started with pulling it apart, carefully labeling all the parts, even the ones I didn't think would be put back on the bike. You know, things happen.

Here is the bike just before I started the "customizing". Notice the location of the tail light assembly and the length of the traditional slash 5 rear fender...that is about to change.

I wanted to modify the back fender when it was still on the bike so I could get the "look" I was after, so I built a form to lay my first layer of fiberglass on. I used galvanized sheet metal jammed into place using hard construction type foam to keep it tight against the fender. I then drew the new fender contour I wanted. I then pulled the metal out, cut the pattern out with sheers and then "jammed" it back into place.

At this point, I started to lay the first layer of fiberglass. You'll see that I've added about 4-5 inches to the length. After the first layer of glass was solid, I removed the rear fender with the assistance of my daughter's boyfriend. I lifted the bike while he slid the fender out. He was very helpful. She broke up with him. I'm sad...not about the break up, but the fact that he won't be there to lift the bike up at the point of re-assembly. Frankly I wish my daughter wouldn't date or marry until she's 27...not because I'm a conservative though, just because I don't think the guys who want to date her deserve her. Am I being biased here dads? That's what I thought...of course not!

Here you can see that the fender has received a few layers of glass and is now in the Bondo stage. It is beginning to take shape, giving me that extended length that I was looking for. You might also notice that at the top of the notch where the light assembly used to be has now been "rolled", glassed and smoothed. This will allow me to put any kind of tail light I want to there and place it anywhere on the fender I choose. I just put an EBay bid in on a 32 "Model-A" tail light and I think it would look real cool. This is getting fun...and dusty!

Trailer Queens or Fun Machines?

What do you want a motorcycle for? Do you want a restored "trailer queen" that only takes short cruises down parade routes or do you want a cool old bike that you can really ride? I found this picture of "the three amigos" on the web and thought, "there's the reason I want a sidecar outfit. I want a cool bike, but I want to go places!

When I was in China I was very intrigued by all of the Chang Jiang sidecar outfits. I heard from somewhere that most of these restored PLO (People's Liberation Army) hacks are purchased by ex-patriots (foreigners living in China). Here's a little rig parked outside of a 3-self church in Shang Hai...maybe it was the pastors!

It lacks the "cool" look of the old sidecars, but it definitely was in use as a practical and inexpensive means of transportation. I much prefer the restored army rigs. This (below) is a picture of one of the companies in Beijing that restores and ships these little rigs. Although from what I've heard, it is safer to buy them from the Stateside importers because they have taken care of the paperwork...but that you would have to check for yourself.

"Practical-vintage" is what I like. I like cool bikes that actually go somewhere. I bought the movie "Burro has three wheels" about the guy who heads out from Portland, Oregon in a new Ural sidecar. He winds up making it all the way down to the tip of South America. Now that's ambitious. His rig was a new Ural, but any vehicle would be "tested" on a trip that long. Most of us don't have the time or the money to accomplish such a trip, so my concern was to have a bike that will make a 300 mile loop without breaking down. South America is not in my plan, but Canada might be.

The Chang Jiang, the Dnepers and the Urals are all BMW copies of the bikes they all "borrowed" from the Germans during and after World War II. They've done an excellent job at copying them and have provided us all an opportunity to buy a cool looking bike for a low price that with normal maintenance and tinkering can accomplish some smaller trips. I wanted a distance bike though, that could go over 55 m.p.h. that didn't require constant tinkering. So I chose the real McCoy...a BMW. Generally, they can be had for about the same price, depending on the deal you strike.

I'm not being critical of these other bikes, but I would prefer to make cosmetic repairs than mechanical ones along side the road. And the BMW has proven itself to be a reliable motorcycle with a sufficient amount of cool to go with it. So that is what I bought. I've put about 4-5 thousand miles on the bike and my theory has held so far.

Once I established that I didn't want a trailer queen, but a clean, cool bike that starts conversations as well as starts when the button is pushed, I sat down to consider how I wanted to paint it. There's a lot of metal to cover, so the traditional means of auto painting could cost a little more than I wanted to spend. Do I want to do any modifications to the bike before I paint? Do I want to do some trim colors? Do I want to match the upholstery of the car to the bike and tie them together better? I had to make up a plan.

I drew out a picture of the bike based on a photo. Then I photocopied that sheet so I had several "blank" line drawings. I then proceeded to color different paint schemes with my kid's color pencils (they don't use them any more, but I saved them) to get some ideas. I ransacked classic bike magazines for cool colors and patterns as well trying to stay in the spirit of BMW styling yet wanting to add a little personal character to it as well. This is not restoring the bike, it is "spiffing" it up.

I started thinking about doing something that was very sacrilegious though. I shared my thoughts with a few BMW enthusiasts and they looked at me as if I had just sung the Star Spangled Banner like Rosanne Barr. I had committed motorcycle sin by even suggesting what I had in mind. I thought that a practical bike that doesn't require a heavy investment of cash might look just fine with a few body modifications and a paint job done with spray cans! Well let's just see what happens next.