Friday, August 24, 2012

Sick as a dog, but the show must go on

Definitely the coolest thing I've seen in a long, long time!
  It's been quite an eventful week. The interview on Fox 26 has sparked a lot of interest in the race, and I've gotten a ton of messages from well wishers out there. All of the support is a bit overwhelming, and completely appreciated. Sometimes in the midst of wrenching on the bike, or readying the trailer, I ask myself "Why is it that we're doing this again?" However, one quick look in my inbox answers that question. My original goal was to create more interest in vintage motorcycles, and this has already been achieved. Thanks to some great publicity, our team has really gained a good hold in the spotlight.
Absolutely cool--running in style
  I've been incredibly busy over the last two weeks. It's kind of like the last minute mad dash around here. With my dad traveling all around the country with his work, most of the prep has been left up to me. Previously I had mentioned that my to-do list has shrunk greatly. Here's an idea of what I started with---15 pages, all sectioned up into "BSA, Truck, Trailer, Purchases, Misc" categories. Happy to say that all together, I'm about down to half a page. Whew. Talk about a ton of work. With several major tasks left to do, my body decided to go ahead and allow a summer cold/flu to rear its ugly head. As I sit here writing this, I feel like death warmed over. It's been a liquid diet today. Doctors appointment this afternoon--come on, I've got too much to do and not enough time to do it!!  Sick or not, I'll be working in the shop and trailer today and this weekend. I suppose I should begin packing one of these days....

  Anyway, this week also had another wonderful highlight--thanks to my local graphics company, the race trailer is glistening with new graphics. It really was a great feeling for me to see my computer design come to life. Clarence Russo and the team down at Signs and Printing in Livingston did an absolutely amazing job, and literally dropped everything else they were working on to make my trailer a priority. In addition to doing the trailer graphics, Clarence also printed up two magnetic signs for me, that I can stick on the truck doors. Another one of our supporters has sent the same door logo design to a printing company, and we will shortly have 300 decals made up. Great stuff.

Oh, I should probably mention the other exterior addition to the truck. Remember, the Motorcycle Cannonball has entrants from all around the world- 15 countries and 4 continents represented. Being from Texas we have to represent the Lone Star State in a big way, right? That being said, one thing that immediately comes to mind when people think of Texas is our longhorn cattle. So we found a shop in West Texas that deals in taxidermy--specifically Longhorns. Gracing the front of our Dodge Ram will be a 6 foot long set of real Texas steer horns. Obnoxious...? Possibly. Over the top...? Undoubtedly. One thing is for sure though--the Cannonball doesn't know what kind of shenanigans are coming its way with us Texans involved.

  6 days left, and we're rolling for the East Coast. Time to head over to the shop and get some more things accomplished. I'll put a more detailed post up tonight or tomorrow.


Buck Carson
Confirmed Cannonballer #3
Carson Classic Motors Race Team 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Cannonballer #3 hits the big screen......

Hi all,

Things are getting crazy here with 8 days left. I'm happy to say that my list is being worked through by leaps and bounds. I haven't had time to finish up my "long" blog posts, but wanted to put a link up and share my most exciting recent news. Last week the team and I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Don Teague, an anchor for the Houston-based Fox News affiliate, Fox26. This interview was possible thanks to my friend Jennifer Gauntt, who wrote the wonderful article for Sam Houston State University and pre-released it to Houston and College Station-based news outlets.

I had a great time with Don and the team, and was blown away by the amount of time that they spent with us. The interview was, for lack of a better description, kick ass. Without further adieu, check out our first foray into television. More updates as soon as I get the chance!

Lone Star Spirit - Young man takes history on the road, across the US: For most people, history is something we may think about, but we don't always feel a real connection to it.In tonight's Lone Star Spirit, we meet a young man who is more than connected to history. He's about to ride it across the country.

Buck Carson
Confirmed Cannonballer #3
Carson Classic Motors Race Team

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Elizabeth's Final Touches

  As I write this, we have exactly 15 days left until our big ole' rig is headed towards New York. Wow. I'm not sure how it got to be this close so quickly. With 12-15 hours of daily work on the bike and trailer, I haven't had much time for anything else except sleep. The past month has been a complete blur, and the next few weeks will blow by. Happily, I'm able to say that my master "to-do" list is getting pretty slim. My last few posts have really focused on the bike, and working through the bugs. Now that we're so close, it's nice to say that everything is just about complete.

  In one of my last posts, I included a picture of the "Texas-style" saddlebags that we had sourced. These bags were actually meant for a horse, so the strap between the two was going to be too long for the bike. Marking off where the material needed to be cut and re-sewed, I dropped the bags off at a local leather tooling shop for alteration. This should have taken about an hour or two to finish.....note the word "should."   Three weeks and daily phone calls later, I was finally able to pick them up. If we weren't in such a time crunch, I wouldn't have worried about it. Happily, the bags fit right on, and look absolutely perfect. I love the way that they match the color of the new seat. A quick addition that we made was to the saddlebag lids was to include two Texas star leather conchos. Hey, I have to make a statement somehow, right?

  My saddlebags were the last major addition to the bike, and really finished things out. I'm pretty sure that just about everything has been lock-tited, though I plan to sit down with the rest of the team this weekend to do a final check. Yesterday, my crew chief Shawn built a small "pigtail" electrical connection for the battery so that I can have a battery charger quick connect. In reality, I'm not exactly sure how well this will come into place--the original plan between Ken, Mike, and I was to utilise two separate 12v batteries. With our updated LED lighting and horn systems (we all have the same) Ken came up with a figure of 8 solid hours before the batteries would need re-charging, at which time we could simply swap out batteries. So having a quick connect may, in fact, prove useless, but I won't know until we're out there.

Santa Claus came early...

  Recently, it was like Christmas morning here at the house. Up to now I had waited on buying all of my "techy" and comfort equipment because I was busy readying the bike and trailer. A couple of weeks back, I went on a bit of a shopping spree for these needed items. Here's a look into what I purchased:

  • Airhawk Motorcycle Seat cushion- My friend Cris Simmons used her Airhawk cushion on Cannonball I, and said that there was nothing else like it. Airhawk cushions are made from neoprene rubber and feature interconnected air cells that act as an additional shock cushion. Mine takes up basically my entire seat (which isn't that graceful for the aesthetics of the machine), but improves the ride by 10,000 times.

  • GoPro Hero 2 Motorsports Video Camera- GoPro cameras have been the leader in outdoor camcorders for years. While not exactly cheap, at $300 a piece MSRP, the photos and videos that it presents are absolutely unbelievable. My camera came with multiple mounting options, making opportunity for differing shots possible. What's nice about the camera is the high definition quality photos and videos that it takes. I have the option of shooting in 1080p, 960p, or 720p and can take 11, 8, or 5 megapixel photos. I tested it last Friday, and was completely blown away by the quality (video to come soon).

  • SPOT Connect Satellite Tracker- After doing quite a bit of research, I kept getting sent back to the SPOT Tracker. I've been telling my fans for months now that I'd like to keep them posted on my progress along the run, and this is the way to do it. No larger than a deck of playing cards, this satellite device is connected to my iPhone, and will provide fans with a real-time progress track of where Elizabeth and I are in the US, presented on a "Google Maps"-type display. In addition to tracking my progress, there is an SOS feature which will allow me to send out an emergency distress call to my crew or local rescue workers if the need arises (which I hope it doesn't!!!!!) With this tracker, I also bought a "RAM" Mount for it to fit securely into.

  • Twin fire extinguishers- Something that I hope I will never have to use, but a needed item nonetheless. The extinguisher material is designed specifically for motorcycles or automobiles, as to preserve paintwork and not leave behind a filthy mess. I'll carry one in my saddlebags, and one as a spare.

  • NGK Spark Plugs- For some reason, walking into the local auto parts supply place with the exact make and model number spark plug seems to stump the employees with computers at their fingertips. No one could seem to understand "I need to order NGK A7 plugs..." and would usually respond with "NGK makes spark plugs?"

  • Camelbak Personal Hydration System- While I've never actually used one of these devices, I've seen and heard great things for years. Fitting on your back like a child's backpack, the Camelbak is a flexible water bladder with hydration straw. Filling this with ice and water will keep me plenty cool and hydrated throughout the day.

  My last major item on the list to order is spare chains and links for the timing chest, primary, and final drive. Other than that, there's really nothing left to do. I think Elizabeth is finally as ready as she'll ever be to cross the continent.

Look mom, no exhaust!
As a side note, I've only had a couple of minor repairs. In one of my previous loc-titing binges, I neglected to think of the downside of putting the stuff on my crankcase drainplug. Engine heat actually caused the threadlocker to pool into the bottom of the plug and melt itself together--inside of the plug tube. Of course, the newly melted threadlocker wouldn't come out with a set of picks, so I had to remove the exhaust and pull the entire plug assembly to clean it out. Beyond this small lack of thinking, the only other mechanical issue that I've had came from the manual oil pump. Recently, I trailered the bike down into Houston for a sponsorship interview. All of the jostling from back to front and side to side on the trailer created an air bubble inside of the manual oil pump, breaking the vacuum seal to the crankcase spray line. By removing the three brass screws securing the pump to the oil tank, and disconnecting the crankcase spray line, I was able to fill the pump back up and get the air out.

And this time, I do believe I'll put teflon tape on it....

I think Elizabeth is anxious to make her debut on the big scene, and is raring to go--more than I can say for me!


Buck Carson
Confirmed Cannonballer #3
Carson Classic Motors Race Team

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Cannonball Road Training Video

Here's a short video we shot last week on the first road run with the BSA. In this video, you can see that the speedometer on the Victory reads 50 miles per hour, and I quickly pull away. This was a great run, and I'm really happy with the operation of the machine. Oh, and by the way- NO, this is not my Cannonball safety apparel. Haha.


Buck Carson
Confirmed Cannonballer #3
Carson Classic Motors Race Team

Veteran Motorcycle Adventures (Part 3)-- Fuel and seating modifications

My pal Dale Walksler and his 1915 Harley. He suggested that
 I do something similar for extra fuel
With Elizabeth chugging away once again, it was time to continue prepping her for some long days of touring again. In Part 1 of this series, I mentioned how the main fuel tank would give me enough supply for 45 miles between fill ups. The days of riding on the 'Ball will already be long enough without stopping every hour or so for gas. My dad and I have been trying to decide the best way to add extra fuel capabilities. When I spent some time with Dale Walksler in June, he recommended that I follow his lead from the pre-1916 Cannonball. His entry, a 1915 Harley Davidson, had the same problem that I face in fuel consumption. Rather than tying a jerry can on the back, Dale installed a 1960's Harley Super Glide fuel tank on the rear and plumbed the fuel lines directly into the carburetor. While this idea is very utilitarian, I wasn't too fond of having a huge fuel tank strapped up high on the luggage rack. Enter Rotopax.

Made in the USA, Rotopax fuel cells were
developed for off-road vehicles

Following along with the conversations on our Motorcycle Cannonball Facebook page, I noticed that several of my fellow riders were going to use Rotopax fuel cells as a spare jerry can. Rotopax were developed for off-road enthusiasts, and several different models for gasoline, diesel, and water were offered. The innovative mounting system for the cells allows for easy removal. After discussing it, my dad and I ordered two of the Rotopax to mount on both sides of the BSA. Rather than having all of the weight up high, like Dale did, our packs would be mounted low.

Then came the thought: "Instead of pulling each one off and filling up the main tank, why couldn't we tap the bottom of the cells and install a petcock?"   Bingo. With a little Texan ingenuity and elbow grease, we installed two petcocks, then reamed out a 45 degree banjo fitting for plumbing the lines into the carburetor. A little black plastic furniture paint, and Elizabeth had two extra gallons of fuel added that would be very functional, but disguised well. Even better, the two saddlebags that we bought for her would cover up the majority of the cells.

Re-designed fuel system...check out the petcock and
 fuel line coming out of this puppy!

Already pretty well disguised, my Rotopax will be
 hidden further by this gorgeous set of hand-tooled saddlebags
The search for saddlebags was long--finding the "right" one was fairly involved. The first set of bags we bought online were actually vintage World War I German cavalry saddlebags that were entirely too big. Shortly thereafter, my dad found a great set of brown leather bags in Oregon on eBay. These bags were hand-tooled with some western influence. We had to say that we're from Texas somehow, right? This set will work beautifully, and is off at the local leather shop being altered. The bags also match the custom seat we installed.

Rotopax and custom seat..check out the Touratech route sheet
 holder that is alst mounted to the front
It didn't take too long of riding with the original, horsehair-padded seat to decide it was time for a change. I took a look through our pile of seats and found a brand new brown leather sprung seat for a custom bobber or chopper. Surely that doesn't sound like a very good idea---but after laying it on the frame, we all knew it was meant to be. The brown leather compliments the black frame and green gas tank very appropriately. Upon installing, we found that the springs were too long, and instead bought a pair of 3 inch brass springs. When we put them in, everything clicked. More importantly the comfort of the ride improved greatly, and putting miles on the bike didn't leave a dull pain in the rear.

In addition to installing a new seat and springs, I also ordered an Airhawk seating cushion. My friend Cris Sommer Simmons rode her 1915 Harley Davidson across America in the Pre-1916 Cannonball and used her Airhawk all the way. Originally I had considered using a gel pad, but was advised by Cris that the gel can get extremely hot in the sun. Steering me towards the Airhawk, she told me how easy it was to install and adjust the unit. Unlike gel pads, the Airhawk has multiple neoprene rubber air cells that are interconnected. With a mouth valve, the AH can be adjusted to any rider. All of the air cells double as shock absorbers, which is much appreciated by my rear end. Another great feature of this cushion is that it is ventilated and doesn't absorb heat.

Airhawk Cushion will make my ride quite a bit more comfortable

More soon,

Buck Carson
Confirmed Cannonballer #3
Carson Classic Motors Race Team

Veteran Motorcycle Adventures (Part 2): Breathing fire back into the beast!

As Scooby Doo would say:  "Ruh roh, Raggy!"
Months back, I had mentioned that magneto failure was the biggest cause of problems during the pre-1916 Cannonball. Most of this was due to the extreme heat along the route, namely in Texas. For a bit of background, magnetos built during the early 1900s, especially Bosch and Lucas, utilised a non-conductive resin to encase the coils. This material, known as bakelite, was literally melting in the Texas heat and forced riders to do multiple rebuilds along the way. Proper magneto rebuilds do not use bakelite these days, rather other materials not prone to melting. Knowing that my Lucas magneto had been rebuilt in England before the bike was re-assembled, I wasn't sure what kind of internal material was used and thought it could have melted. Had this been the case, it would have been "bad ju-ju" to say the least.

Instead, the cause of my power loss was actually quite simple to diagnose. Removing the timing cover, I found my timing chain laying slack and the exhaust cam sprocket almost completely off of its shaft! It turned out that both of the machine screws that hold the timing chest to the motor, as well as the sprocket nut hadn't been loc-tited and therefore backed right out. Where most applications like this would use sprockets with keyways, both the exhaust cam and mag shaft sprockets are actually sitting on tapered shafts with no key ways, making it relatively easy for them to pop off in a situation like this. It was relatively simple fix--except that it would require re-timing the motor, which is something I had never done. (Insert comment saying "What kind of mechanic doesn't know how to time a motor?")
This tiny little machine screw was the cause for all my failures!
 A quick call to my friend and fellow C'baller Jim Crain provided some great advice on how to go about this. Not to be discouraged, I was determined to teach myself the right way to fix the problem, and would use the "roadside" method as if I was broken down on the roadside during the 'Ball. What makes this motor a bit more difficult to time is the fact that she's a four-stroke. For my non-motor fans, the way that Elizabeth's motor works involves four strokes of the piston.

  • Stroke 1: Intake-- intake valve opens and fuel air mixture from the carburettor enters the cylinder.
  • Stroke 2: Compression-- both intake valve and exhaust valve remain closed as the mixture is pushed towards the top of cylinder, to the sparking plug.
  • Stroke 3: Combustion-- a correctly timed spark from the magneto travels through the spark plug and detonates the fuel/air mix. This detonation must occur a few degrees before the piston is at the very top of its stroke (known as Top Dead Center), and forces the piston back down.
  • Stroke 4: Exhaust-- hot exhaust gasses from the detonation are expelled from the motor as the exhaust valve opens. This process then repeats.
Poor quality picture, but shown here is the spark
plug, nickel-plated valve caps, and compression tap in the background.

The trick to correctly timing the motor involves finding TDC by removing the compression tap and sparking plug screwed into the top of the motor, inserting a rod inside the cylinder. Because the valves are on the side of the motor, as you rotate the engine, the different strokes can be determined easily. As the piston comes to the top of the compression stroke, the rod will rise up and pause momentarily before moving back down. This is known as TDC. Next, you must remove the points cover on the magneto. Elizabeth has one set of platinum points, and the gap between them is .0013mm--otherwise known as not much. The exhaust cam sprocket needs to be tightened, and the magneto sprocket loose. With the motor just before TDC, you rotate the mag shaft and examine the points spining inside the casing. Just as the contact is about to break, you tighten the mag shaft back up and make sure the timing chain is tight. Rotating the engine, you should note the position of the points and make sure they break at the same point. Re-installing the compression tap and sparking plug, the motor should fire to life. Well, three days and two sleepless nights, hundreds of curse words, several thrown wrenches, and a lot of sweat later, I figured it all out and Liz roared back to life.

I rewarded myself and the BSA by going on a threadlocking binge that lasted three days. Now, just about every single nut and bolt has been removed, cleaned, threadlocked, and re-installed. She's a happy girl.

All tidied up and re-assembled


Buck Carson
Confirmed Cannonballer #3
Carson Classic Motors Race Team

Veteran Motorcycle Adventures (Part 1)---Rockin' Down the Highway

A few more days have passed than I intended before I posted this, but I'm sure you can all understand how busy everything is getting. 25 days left after today. Whoa.... Anyway, this update is pretty long, so I've got it split up into a few posts.

The end to a long battle with government...finally mounted.
Previously I had talked about finally getting Elizabeth legal here in the USA, and what a hassle it was. After 7 weeks of dealing with bureaucracy, I finally had a legal Texas license plate. An hour later, I had bent up a piece of aluminum flat stock for a license plate mount and the BSA was sporting a Texas registration. Whew....finally. It wasn't long before I stapped on my helmet and hopped on for the maiden voyage on a pulic road. Talk about a successful feeling; plus it was nice to know that not only was the bike legal, so was I!

With my dad following behind on his Victory Crossroads to warn motorists of my slow moving vehicle, we set off. With the amount of vibration coming from the motor, I learned one lesson really fast: invest heavily in threadlocker. In the span of 15 minutes, two fairly critical components vibrated off and found their way into the black hole on the side of the road. I lost the float bowl cover for my Amal 276 carburetor, as well as the velocity stack. Oy vay...hopping on the Victory, I ran back to the shop and borrowed the parts from our 1935 Norton 16H and 1946 Norton ES2, as well as picked up some lock-tite. With Elizabeth running again, we set off as evening approached to put some more miles on her in the first major road test. Happy to report that she chugs along quite nicely at 50 miles per hour, which is the Cannonball minimum speed requirement. Up til now, I had been slightly worried about the capability (I had only been able to reach speeds of the low 40's in my neighborhood). As a matter of fact, I even recorded a top speed of 58 miles per hour--with plenty of throttle left to go! Overall day number one was a wonderful first showing for Elizabeth and I, successfully completing 40 miles.
Amal 276 carb with borrowed parts: Float bowl cover,
and velocity stack. Stay tuned for more info about the dual fuel lines.

Trust me when I say it was difficult to come back and get some sleep that night. I spent about 5 hours in the shop cleaning everything and examining the operation of all critical points. Plenty of time was also devoted to removing nuts and bolts, cleaning the threads, and threadlocking them before re-installation. Hitting the sack around midnight, I knew road test number two would come quickly.

Day number two saw about 35 miles completed before a decently-sized problem decided to rear its ugly head. Having just filled up the fuel tank (my consumption rate is about 45 miles to the gallon, or about 45 miles between fill ups, according to our calculations.), we were homeward bound. Suddenly, I lost all power. Pulling off to the side of the road, my first assumption was that my high tension sparking lead had broken or become disconnected. Finding it attached, I went through a mental checklist to see where the problem might lie. One can only sit out in 108 degree heat for so long, so it was another jaunt on the Victory to swap for the truck and flatbed trailer.........

This little Trelock bicycle speedometer has been
working quite lovely, and is very accurate

Buck Carson
Confirmed Cannonballer #3
Carson Classic Motors Race Team