Monday, March 28, 2011

To be printed...

It is decided. Head Full of Snakes is to become a published-in-print motorcycle fanzine. It will be lo-fi in production but will look good and will be an artefact certain types will enjoy materially as well as for its content I hope. I will print it on the risograph at Canterbury University. It will be 2 colours only, and will reflect in its production a preference for simpler things. This will work in parallel with the sort of content it might contain. It will look back to a motorcycle culture that has seemingly died out, or at least become uncommon nowadays. It will look both backwards and forwards at the same time. A new future for motorcycling. A manifesto!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Design Doing, rather than 'Design Thinking'...

Handmade Portraits: Liberty Vintage Motorcycles from Etsy on Vimeo.

This short video of Adam Cramer has been doing the rounds. I watched it a couple of weeks back and then watched it again recently. I originally started this blog thinking I'd force myself to try and write about design more. Graphic design. But all I ever really think about these days is motorcycles. I do sometimes, however, make some strained connections between the two. Like this...

I've been thinking about manual labour. About working with your hands. And about how this sort of work was quite blatantly discouraged when I was at school. I'm thinking about high school. Classes like woodwork and/or metalwork were for the dummies. As a slightly-above-average student, I was encouraged into more 'academic subjects' – maths, science, etc., with the view to becoming a doctor, or a lawyer, or an architect. Obviously that didn't work out, and I managed to slip classes in art in under the radar there somehow. Anyway there was an obvious preference (amongst parents and teachers) for working with ones 'brains' as opposed to working with ones hands.

In this video Adam Cramer says something about the "de-industrialization of America". I thought about what he meant, he's complaining about the younger generations lack of industrial skills and/or interest in those skills. And I thought about my experience at high school. I also thought about the sleeping bag I bought recently. It says on it "Designed in New Zealand". And then if you look real hard deep down on the inside hidden away on another tag it says "Made in China".

It's becoming clear that in the West we don't 'make' stuff anymore. We just 'design' stuff. And then we send it to China, or India, or Malaysia, where it can actually get made. I know the reason for this. It is because "it's cheaper over there" and "we can't compete price-wise". But I'm also wondering now if it might have at least something to do with the long-term effect of my generations high schooling? And that attitude we have developed towards manual labour? It's for dummies.

I went to a design conference a couple of years ago. It was in London and Richard 'Dick' Buchanan spoke at it. I hated him. He had the stage presence and shonkily-tried-for charisma of a practiced TV evangelist, and he was saying that "the window has closed for graphic design". What he meant was that talking about graphic design wasn't very interesting and that we all needed to evolve into more complex 'Design Thinkers', applying our ability to think like designers to larger more complex situations. I thought that was fine, if you were wanting to become a managerial middle-man, or run a business or whatnot. But I couldn't, and still can't, see how that helps graphic design? Which, despite the window supposedly closing, still exists in exactly the same shape and form it always essentially has.

I might be misrepresenting Dick's talk here. My point though is, I think, valid. This idea, 'Design Thinking', has had a lot of sway in recent years. especially in academia, where, lets face it, a lot of design academics don't have much interesting to say about the actual 'doing' of design.

My obsessing over motorcycles seems to grow exponentially as my interest in graphic design wanes. I've been trying lately to try and fix this, and to become more interested in design again... interestingly enough my way to do that was to try and force myself to read more. To think more! But now I'm thinking what I really need to do is just DO more. I'm thinking again about Stuart's blog here, and it's so cool to see the obvious link between his bike project and his design work... it's all manual labour, it's rolling your sleeves up and getting your hands dirty! It's also that ability to do-it-yourself that I really like. And the printing, on the risograph or the letterpress, is somehow parallel to the bike there.

Getting back to Adam Cramer here, I think I share his anxiety, and I think it's to do with the separation of thinking and doing. We do the thinking here, and they do the doing over there. I keep thinking it won't be long until all the books we 'design' in New Zealand will be 'made' in China. The Julian Dashper book will be hitting the press in Hong Kong in about a week.

Norton gearbox strip down

Last Saturday I went to John Taylor-Leigh's house (well garage mostly) and he helped me pull the guts out of the Norton's gearbox. I met John through the Norton Owners Club here, he has an 850 same year as mine ('74) and he's owned it since new. It's the only bike he owns and he rides it daily! Anyway one of the big problems I had been having with the Norton was that when I'm accelerating out from a standstill, so in 1st gear, the kickstart was pulling itself down. I'd been riding around like this until I heard that it's a sure sign your gearbox is about to seize! Which would leave me in a bloody mess on the side of the road somewhere. The theory was, from a few different guys I talked to, that it would be a collapsed bearing on the layshaft... hence the bike not being ridden for ages, and now this — a complete strip down of the gearbox.

I took photos of the process as a reminder and thought I'd put em up here. This (above) is the gearbox with the outer cover removed. I'd done this much before, but hadn't ever gotten in any deeper than this before now.

The kickstarter pawl is pretty worn and I will replace it, but nothing to do with the problem according to John.

So this is the gearbox empty, and with all bearings looking just fine!?

Second and third gear have a bit of wear on them and we will replace these as well, but still haven't found anything that would obviously be causing the problem?

To get the mainshaft out we had to also pull the clutch basket out from the primary chain case. I've done a lot of work on this clutch but haven't had to remove the basket before. I've just been pulling plates out and cleaning them and whatnot. To get the basket out we had to remove the front sprockets, the alternator and everything.

That's the basket. I had the clutch center replaced about a year ago. I asked for a hardened steel center, but John seems to think this one might not be hardened?

There she is empty! One thing we found on this side that was 'odd', according to John, was a rubber o-ring on the mainshaft. He reckons that shouldn't be there, and looking through the exploded diagram of this area I sure don't see any o-rings there either. Could this be my problem? We won't know til we put it all back together. Which is the plan now... rebuild it to original spec, while replacing some worn parts (since we're in here now it makes sense), and then road-test it.

We're currently waiting on some parts to arrive from Norvil in the UK. And then as soon as they're here I'll be back to John's garage to put it all back together. Which I'm thinking will be a much bigger learning curve than pulling it apart! It's fuckin great that John's into this. Originally I thought he'd just take the bike, fix it and I'd get it back. it wasn't until after I'd dropped it with him that I asked if I could come back and actually go through it with him. I thought he'd tell me to bugger off, but actually he was stoked I was interested to see how to do it for myself. Great guy! I'm slightly worried about my bike being up on that workbench while we are having all these bloody earthquakes, but apart from that I'm pretty stoked to be getting my hands dirty again, but with some expert help this time.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Patch Collection

I found this on the El Solitario MC blog here. This guy, Jeff Decker, his collection of stuff is insane. Where's he get the money for all this shit from? Anyway, there's an interesting bit where he's in this room full of gang memorabilia... mostly jackets and patches, but also some bikes. The old patches are interesting, especially the names. I've been thinking about Max's project (that I'm sure he'll never get around to!?) to document NZ gang patches for The National Grid. Maybe this'll get him going again?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

James 'PZ' Meharry's Commando fix up...

This is my buddy James, better known round these parts as 'PZ' (I don't know why? It might have been a DJ name or something like that?). And that's his MKIII Commando that he's just finished fixing up after a decent crash last year. We'd been for a ride out to Oxford together, and just after we parted ways he hit some gravel on a corner going over the Port Hills. This bike used to look completely different, it was a kind of mongrel cafe racer, with a little P11 tank, downturned bars, and a single humpback seat. It looked pretty cool, but that's another story (which I'll come back to here when I have some photos of it in it's previous guises).

I thought it was interesting that James rebuilt this back to it's standard Interstate trim. He generally likes customised bikes, especially rough ones. This was an odd decision for him I thought. That's not to say I don't like it. As an owner of a 'Roadster' Commando I've always sort of lusted after the bigger 'Interstate' tank. I love that tank. I'm assuming his single seat didn't fit on with it? Anyway apart from painting the tank James did all the repairs himself. James is a sort of self-made 'renaissance man' and likes to do everything himself.

Before we went for a ride I took some photos in his garage. At the back of the garage is an old Harley frame with a springer front end. I think he has plans for this but they are somewhat in the future...

He also has a seriously cool Triumph Speed Twin in there. He used to ride this a lot... and hard! It has some engine trouble now though and so is waiting on a strip down. James has big plans for this bike. He has a hard-tail back end for it, and at some point soon it will begin it's transformation into a seriously mean bobber.

Monday, March 7, 2011

I need to visit Stuart in Melbourne!

This is a project a friend of mine in Melbourne has underway right now, and shit am I jealous. The good man's name is Stuart Geddes and he's also a really great designer. We met while I was doing my Masters at RMIT a few years ago now. Stuart has a really nice image-based blog (I think you still call it a blog?) here called Before & After Science.

This bike started life as a pretty stock standard Honda CB175 (circa 1975 I'm guessing). It was, when Stuart got it, exactly the same as my first motorbike... it was even the same colour. Gold. I'll try and find a picture of mine somewhere, but you can see this one in it's original state on Stuart's blog.

I've been really impressed by Stuart's willingness to strip this thing down to it's bare bones and to literally 'start again'. I understand he is receiving some very useful guidance from a Mr Christian Condo, founder of Melbourne's The Modern Motorcycle Company. Actually I believe Stuart's studio is in the same building as the MMC, but I probably should check my facts? No I'm pretty sure I'm right. Anyway I'm still impressed as fuck with Stuart's display of balls here! I wish I had this kind of patience. I'm always too eager to get shit on the road and ride it. I'm definitely thinking I need to use the Triumph as my main ride, and then get something else in the garage this year that I can seriously fuck with. I'm not sure the Norton is the bike to do this with though? I'm still thinking that once I get it going it might be best to sell it and put the money into something rougher and less straight? It's just so hard to cut up and modify such a good original condition example of an old bike. Here she is again for memories sake:

Sometimes I forget how cool this bike is. The sound, smell, and feel of this thing running hot is something out of this world I swear. I wish I could just put it in the garage and get something else to work on as a project bike, but I can't really afford it and I also don't really have the space. I think I'll advertise it for a good price and see how it goes...

Looking through Stuart's blog and his progress with his Honda really makes me eager to get something I can really mess around with. Check out his skateboard-deck seat. And those header pipes are pretty mean. He's done most of the work himself I think, he even re-spoked the wheels...

That man deserves a beer.

I think I might just have to pop over and buy him one... and have a good nosey around the studio/motorcycle workshop.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Cafe-bobber mongrel, etc...

I keep driving round Dunedin thinking up shit to write about the earthquake, but a bit like Kurt Vonnegut Jr. and his book about Dresden, it just doesn't seem to want to happen. I get home sit here for a bit and then look at motorcycles on various blogs. Maybe it's best not to think about the earthquake, about where we're gonna live, about whether or not I should be looking for a job in some 'safer' town. I don't know.

Anyway this bike came up again. Fuck I love this bike. I've actually stuck it on here before, but a different shot of it. I can't remember where I got it from last time, but this time it is from Cafe Racer Culture. There's no info there about it. Who built this thing? I like it because it mixes the traditional stance of a British classic cafe racer with the more American bare-bones bobber style of build (interestingly not going for the hard-tail frame that is all the rage with the kids these days). I love the hand-painted Triumph logo on the tank. The seat is crazy. The exhaust coming out under the frame like that...

Meanwhile I have just got the Triumph back from the shop in Dunedin today so I can finally ride again! Looking at this I think maybe it would have been cool if it had got a bit more fucked up? The Norton survived fine. Not a scratch on it. It's actually in someone else's garage (luckily), a guy from the NOC, he's doing a gearbox recon on it. Can't wait to ride the Snortin' Norton again!