29 December 2006

Where I work ...

Our intern Samantha's boyfriend on life since she started working at the shop:

"It's like she inherited four bad-attitude uncles."

Heh, keep it on the straight and narrow, boy.

19 December 2006


I always wanted one of these. Still do. Here's a guy with thirty of 'em.

The Metropolitan was a diminutive car that epitomized so much that is romantic and quirky about America's infatuation with the automobile. A "clown car," by Metz's own description, the zany, even precocious Metropolitan had a run of eight model years, 1954 through 1961, with nearly 95,000 of them sold.

It was a car that was way ahead of its time. It was small, especially compared with the wallowing Cadillacs and Buicks of the postwar years. It was economical -- it cost $1,445 in 1954, four years after Buick was asking more than $2,100 for its Super -- and it got up to 40 miles per gallon. Above all, in the words of contemporary collectors like Metz and others, it was cute.

If you didn't have to go very far very fast and didn't have to haul many people, these things made a lot of sense. And they're cuter than a bug's ear. The only thing cuter was Urkel's "Bimmer", the Isetta.

Metrosexual? Have a chiropractor on call if you try it!

The photo, and everything else you could possibly want to know about these little sneezers, is from NashMet.com.

14 December 2006

Old Friends

That photo was sent from Steve, on the left, to Larry, on the right, who forwarded it to me. I'll probably hear from both of them about the "old" in the title. Heh. Sue me.

Those guys are the best of friends, and they're both friends of mine for about 35 years. The photo warmed my heart so much I wanted to share. I asked their permission to post this, and since neither of 'em looks like their wanted posters any more, they OKed it.

The common denominator that brought us all together lo those many years ago is, you guessed it, motorcycles. Specifically, English racing motorcycles of the Flattrack and TT Scrambles persuasion, back when Motocross hadn't quite screwed everything up yet. Smooth tracks and high speed weren't good enough, I guess. Go figure.

I cannot begin to describe how much fun it is when a buncha young guys with a buncha fast bikes get together to go handlebar to handlebar on Saturday night or Sunday morning on a racetrack, of which there were plenty in Southern California in those days. Thrills, maybe a few spills, braggin' rights and maybe a beer or two. Good times.

Larry had quit racing when I met these guys, but Steve and I were in the same motorcycle club and raced with each other quite a bit. He could always beat me on the half-mile, and I could occasionally beat him on the TT.

Larry first threw a leg over a 500 Matchless single in 1950, when he was ten years old. That's a big bike for a 10-year-old, but when you tell a kid "if you can start it, you can ride it", the kid'll figure it out! He raced for several years, and went on to become a race mechanic, building and tuning Triumphs for professional racers Lloyd Houchins and "Little John" Hateley. At some point, I think when he started raising a family, sanity overtook him and he pursued other interests, but he has always been, and still is, involved in the motorcycle industry.

He and I talk on the phone quite a bit, but I think we put the government eavesdroppers to sleep. Just the other day we had an exciting chat about late-model Triumph timing gears and various ways of timing cams such as 'splitting the overlap' or the '10 to 2 method'.

There's two things we agree on: One is that each of us has forgotten half of everything we ever knew about motorcycles, but as long as we don't forget the same half, we're in business. The other is that retirement is designed so you can start lots more projects in the hope of completing a couple.

I didn't use Larry's last name because he's a regular citizen and I don't need to out his identity here any further than I already have.

Steve Storz, on the other hand, is already out, an internationally known figure in the motorcycle industry.

He started out welding chopper frames and went on to being a professional tuner for John Hateley at Triumph, and then to the Harley-Davidson factory race team, tuning for 'Rocket' Rex Staten, Ted Boody, Corky Keener and Steve Morehead.

He has a real technical frame of mind. He built a flow bench in his apartment at one time. It went where the washer and dryer would normally go. He was a bachelor motorcycle racer and mechanic. What the Hell did he need clean skivvies for anyway? More power!

In the late '70s, Steve returned to California to start a business. He actually flew me back to Milwaukee to help him move back out here. We towed all his extensive shit machine shop gear behind a van. The van and trailer weighed 13,500 pounds, and I'm not all the way over the experience yet. PTSD, I think. That's a whole 'nother story, but they have real good German food in Milwaukee. And, oh yeah, you can blow all the tires you want to without harm if the rig is heavy enough...

Steve's business is Storz Performance. He manufactures and sells quality parts, primarily for Sportsters and Big Twins. He also manufactures Ceriani forks and has connections in Italy and Sicily. Don't fuck with him. Heh. Click on the link to see some first-class parts and accessories, as opposed to the run-of-the-mill bolt-on Chinese chrome crap you can see on H-Ds outside any tavern in the land.

The motorcycle in the photo is a 1970 Triumph TR6C that I sold to Steve about sixteen years ago. The best you could say about it then was that it was rough but ridable. I think you'll agree that he did a fine job restoring it and converting it to TR6R specs. He did the project pretty quick, as he had his first son on the way, and knew if he didn't do it quick it'd never get done! Said almost-grown-now son, Neil, is 3 times National Youth Motorcycle Trials Champion. Different kinda 'trials' than I'm used to...

Steve sold stuff that would fit Triumphs, so he used the completed bike in his catalog so he could deduct the expense. Cagey devil!

Between Steve and Larry and me, we know everything there is to know about motorcycles. Larry knows half, Steve knows half, and I know the rest. Compared to those guys, I'm chopped liver, but they let me hang out with 'em anyway.

The photo was taken last month at the British Bike Rally at Hansen Dam in the San Fernando Valley, sponsored by the Norton Owners Club. Go see some cool old Limey Iron, along with some German, Italian, and Japanese bikes.

As you scroll down, look for Pat Owens' 'gazillion mile Triumph'. Pat is also a friend, and was my instructor at the L.A. Trade-Tech College of Motersickle Knowledge. He's pretty well known in the bike industry, and as Service Manager for Johnson Motors, the early Triumph distributor for the Western U.S., built quite a few winning race bikes.

Check out the bike. It has a blue gas tank with the names of all the places he and his bride, Donna, have been. The old sled has about half a million miles on it. I think they've been from Circle, Alaska, to Tierra del Fuego on the damn thing, and everywhere in between. He'da rode it to China if he coulda got it to float! Every time he managed to coax 99,999.9 miles onto a succession of Smiths speedos (no mean feat in itself, but they can be rebuilt with any mileage showing that you want), he'd mount it on a bracket.

Pat's a practical mechanic. He had an oil leak once that he couldn't fix without a teardown, so he ducted it to lube his chain. He taught me all I know.

I hope you enjoyed my ramble back through time, folks. There's so much more. I just can't remember it all right now....

13 December 2006

Very cool

As I mentioned over at the Brain this morning, I had to pick up the Mrs. from a late flight last night. A lot of you know, she's an executive for a big Japanese insurance company who has some big clients. Well, Honda's one of them and they're unveiling a new product. The Mrs. got the first-hand experience while she was away. Lucky woman.

11 December 2006

Hey Gord ...

What can ya do with these?

I hate NY 2

So today I have to go to Mercedes to pick up parts (for some reason, the uppity Krauts are the only dealership in the area who doesn't deliver). It's about 5 miles and on the way back, I stopped in several other inspection stations (I know everybody within 10 miles of the shop) to share my misery. Seems the state has been around. Out of 10 places within the 5 mile radius, 9 got the same letter I did. Looks like New York State is trying to keep us all honest and raise a little revenue in the process. Bastids.

I got a laugh in this guy Timmy's place. He's singing tales of woe because not only did he get nailed, he got nailed cheating on it to get the guy a sticker. They jerked his shit on the spot. At least I can still do inspections until the hearing. What would posess him to cheat for somebody he never met, somebody who doesn't spend any money in his place is beyond me. Moron. I don't cheat for long-time customers. In addition, he got a letter the same day from the IRS telling him to prepare for an audit. Merry-fucking-Christmas. I was laughing all the way back to the shop.

I just hope the state ain't dumb enough to schedule all our hearings on the same day. Lotta badasses to have in one place, all pissed off. Heh ...

Winter Driving 101

This article is geared to conditions in my town, but is more entertaining than most. From the Sierra Sun.

Tricky winter driving is just one of the facts of life for locals in the Tahoe-Truckee area.

Whether it's dealing with slippery roads after a storm, dodging chunks of ice flying off a car's roof as the driver motors blissfully unaware down the road, or watching car after car slowly spin out into a snow bank - everybody has had an experience.

That is, everybody but people like me.

Going into my first winter in the mountains after a snow-free life in the lower elevations of California, I thought it may be wise - and slightly entertaining - to seek out the experiences of others to prepare for the coming season.

After speaking to people whose jobs put them out in the elements all winter long - cops, tow-truck drivers and other locals - I found driving in the winter is more than a "winter driving tips" list in a Caltrans pamphlet (even though I read mine with absorption from cover to cover).

After talking to those people, sitting in on a winter-driving class and riding along with the CHP, I got the best winter driving tips and techniques, where to drive and where to avoid, and what one does and doesn't do to keep from irritating local cops.

One thing came through loud and clear, however: Winter driving is serious business.
"Our officers are going from crash to crash - constantly moving," says California Highway Patrol Officer Steve Skeen. "In a good snow storm we could get 20 to 70 crashes in a shift."

Hounded by students in the winter driving class for hands-on experience, Bousquet says an empty parking lot could be used as a place to practice, but as a liability-minded police officer he hesitates to suggest any place in particular. And, of course, he stresses being careful.

Once, after taking a squad car up to the parking lot at Boreal to train for winter driving - spinning out and regaining control - Bousquet says he came across a car full of snowboarders that had slid-out on eastbound Interstate 80.

"A passenger told me they had seen a police car doing it up in the parking lot," Bousquet says with a laugh.

Snowboarders are kinda spun out anyway...

Talking to locals about the traffic that comes with heavy snow and big ski weekends, I watch suppressed frustration come to a boil. But when I ask about secret backroads to avoid the mess, a few have a mischievous glimmer in their eyes.

"I'm not telling my secret back roads, that would ruin them wouldn't it?" jokes Tal Fletcher, owner of Mountain Cab and Squaw Valley Taxi.

That guy lives about a block from me. Most of his taxis are Ford F350 4WD crew cab pickups.

"One of the more annoying things I deal with is people not cleaning their windshield" of snow, says Truckee police Sgt. Jason Litchie. "That will get you a big ticket."

Nonetheless, we've all seen the snow-on-the-windshield, head-out-the-window driver and the four foot pile of snow on the mini-van roof. Some of us may even be guilty of such acts.

"I don't know why people do it. They may not have the tools to remove the snow or they may think it looks cool," says Placer County sheriff's Lt. Jeff Granum. "But the snow comes flying off and either blocks the view through the windshield, or can go off the back and hit another car or even a pedestrian."

A foot or so of snow will lay chilly (heh) and be forgotten until the car heater has warmed the roof a little and broken the bond between the snow and the roof. The first time the driver hits the brakes, the roof-size chunk of snow will slde off and come down right in front of him. This is wonderful in traffic.

Looking for the right gizmos for my car, I find different tools and technologies can help drivers get through the winter; some are under-utilized and others can make drivers over-confident.

Fletcher says besides having an all four-wheel-drive fleet, using studs is the most important thing he does to prepare for winter.

"It's one thing for people coming up for the weekends, but it blows me away when locals don't have studded tires in the winter," Fletcher says.

Studs are fine. They work good. I've run 'em, but they're a real pain in the ass if you leave town for warmer climes during the winter. Like your daily commute to or from Reno. They're louder'n shit on clear pavement and the pavement tends to shove the studs into the tire. It's called a 'stud puncture'. Carry a plug kit and a pair of pliers to pull the offending stud out with. Also a spray bottle of soapy water to find which of the hundred or so studs did it this time and an air pump. This is a real fun deal on the shoulder of I-80 at 8 in the morning in freezing weather. It's not worth the hassle to me, but maybe I'm just lazy.

During Sgt. Bousquet's winter driving course, nearly every-other slide in his Powerpoint presentation says "slow down, stay off the brakes, slow down, stay off the brakes, slow down, stay off the brakes."

That's it in a nutshell.

The CHP's Skeen says it is important to stay aware and not get too over-confident.

"More of the accidents are people who are unfamiliar - locals do a pretty good job because they have better experience and are better equipped," Skeen says. "But sometimes locals' confidence level can be too high and they will speed. But that goes for anybody really."

Fletcher, meanwhile, simply says, "Watch out for crowds. Watch out for Northwoods."

I'm glad he mentioned Northwoods. Northwoods Boulevard is the main thoroughfare out of the large Tahoe-Donner subdivision. The top of Tahoe-Donner is the same elevation as Donner Summit and right on the same storm track. They get a lot of snow in big storms, measured in feet, not inches. The plows do their best to keep up with it, but you know how that goes. The road is very steep, dropping 1000 feet in just under a mile. Heavy weekend traffic compacts the snow and turns it into ice. The locals will go ten miles out the back roads to avoid that one mile stretch, which tees at the bottom directly across the street from the High School.

Tahoe-Donner has a high percentage of second-home owners who just come up to ski and may not be all that road-wise under heavy snow conditions. City drivers, they tend to follow too close and drive too fast.

Here's why you always want to carry your skis bottom-up on the roof rack of the Bimmer X5 that you don't really need in the Bay Area, but feel justified in lugging around four wheel drive components the rest of the time because you go to the mountains three times a year and it really impresses the neighbors.

You're heading out for the slopes of a fine winter's morn, and you're in a hurry to beat the crowds so the lift lines won't be so long. Maybe you're on the phone telling the folks you left three minutes ago how you're doing. You're maybe just a little too close behind that slowpoke local who doesn't understand how important it is that you save thirty seconds. His brake lights go on just for a second. You hit your brakes just like you would at home. Funny thing, instead of slowing, your car speeds up! You push 'em harder. Still won't slow down. Won't steer either. Must be something wrong with the car...

There's a little jog in the road here. Your car slides off the road up onto a snowbank. Then it turns over, and it's a straight shot to the traffic light at the bottom of the hill, a quarter of a mile away.

The skis are now flat on the ground. Should you avoid hitting any cars (locals coming down that hill watch their mirrors for this very reason) you'll be going as fast as you possibly can when you schuss upside-down through a main intersection into the High School.

Locals may applaud and hold up numbered signs for style points.

That scenario has happened more than once. I may have made up the part about the style points.

Drive safe, folks. Common sense is the key.

Drivers who are learning winter driving techniques the hard way are very entertaining if they don't include you in the learning process.

10 December 2006

I hate NY

Well, not really. I love my home state but the folks running it piss me off. Let me explain.

As most of you know, I'm a New York State Vehicle Inspector. That means I'm licensed to inspect your car for safety and do emissions testing and issue you a new sticker. Every once in a while, the state slides an undercover test car though. Now, I realize there is a lot of fraud going on when it comes to the issuance of inspection stickers and the need for them to do this. For $150 (as opposed to $37 for a legit inspection), you can go into Brooklyn or Queens and get somebody to put a sticker on your car, no questions asked. But, on the day before Thanksgiving, didja have to set me up?

It was 2:30 in the afternoon, Indian was gone, Harry was at lunch, and it was just PDB and me there, scrambling to get everything done so we could get out on time. This idiot in a '97 Taurus asks me if I had time to inspect his car. In the holiday spirit, I told him to leave it for a while and get a cup of coffee. Usually, I would have made him an appointment for later in the week but we were going to be closed Thursday and Friday for Thanksgiving and I didn't want the guy to get jammed up over the holiday.

So, I inspect the car, fail it because the 'check engine' light didn't come on with the key turned to the 'run' position, charge him the $37, and send him on his way.

Day before yesterday, Harry gets a letter at the shop that somehow, while inspecting this car, I broke a motor vehicle law (even though I failed the car and it didn't get a new sticker). He and I now have to go to a hearing where we'll probably both be fined and have our licenses suspended for a period of time. I need this.

So, here goes. All you people who need an inspection at the last minute and I tell you I can't do it today, you can thank the state of New York. I don't give a fuck if you have to drive through a police roadblock on the way home and your sticker is expired. If you're depending on me to save your ass from a ticket, think again. Like they say, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions and I ain't taking another fine for you. Sorry, but being a good guy will cost me a couple hundred bucks at the least. You, and your little problems, ain't worth it.

03 December 2006

Eye Candy

If you think of motorcycle engines as art in metal like I do, go see The Up-N-Smoke Engine Project by Daniel Peirce. There's 30 of 'em to look at.