Red Dog and Me

This is an on-going dialog between me and a certain motor scooter, namely a 2009 Piaggio MP3 500 that came to live with me in October of 2009. I've named the scooter Red Dog and as yet have not determined its gender. In the past when I've named boats, bikes, and other like characters I've thought of them as feminine due to their behavior characteristics. Red Dog I'm not so sure about...we'll see. Update: OK, Red Dog's a girl...with an attitude

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

April 4, 2011 The Elusive Cruise Control farkle…

When it comes to cruise controls for motorcycles there seems to be no limit to design and function. For years there have been several “flip-over” models, all of which do little more than lock the throttle in whatever position it’s in when you set it. They’re inexpensive and for the most part seem to work pretty well; I’ve got one on my sidecar outfit and it’s been a blessing on long rides.
Releasing or cancelling the flip-over’s grip on the throttle is achieved by thumbing the control lever to the off position. For the most part these work OK but when it comes to hilly terrain they’re not much good. Imagine if you will the excitement of cresting a hill with the control set full on and suddenly you’re accelerating downhill with the throttle maxed…. Canceling the cruise setting can be a bit unsettling if not downright scary during those times.
Other types have come along that do a better job by incorporating easier shut off actions. Sadly all of those manufacturers warn against using their products on bikes equipped with heated grips. No one seems to know exactly why that is but I suspect it has something to do with liability, maybe those devices wear through the heated grips or something.  Of course that’s one of the most desireable options so naturally Red Dog is outfitted with Hot Grips.

Go Cruise Throttle Control

Recently  one of the MP3 forum members posted a link to, suppliers for a product called Go Cruise Throttle Control. Like many designs it’s simple as can be, works sort of like a clothes pin gripping the bikes throttle control. 

Mounted on Red Dog
The thing that sets it apart from the flip over type is part of the unit sticks out over the front brake lever so when you pull the brake it slides the throttle control back to a reduced speed.

Hey it even works when you're not on the bike!

This concept sounded like a good idea and I figured for the relatively low price of $27.94 delivered I had to have one. It turned out to be a slick device that seems to work pretty well. About the only drawback I’ve encountered on Red Dog is it’s possible to set the throttle and then start the engine. On an MP3 that's not a good practice as the front end unlocks at certain speeds…

Those who are familiar with that model will appreciate what might happen to anyone not paying close attention. I didn't drop Red Dog but I was fairly busy for a few seconds. Woo Hoo!

March 30, 2011 Red Dog’s Saddle – One more time

In February of 2010 I made the long journey to Rich’s Custom Seats way up in Kingston, WA. The round- trip from Bandon clocks just under a thousand miles which makes it a bit of an adventure if you’re riding a scooter. I chose to trailer Red Dog behind the RV as you never know what you’ll encounter. Like Zombies maybe...

Beautiful Leather but too slippery for Red Dog
Besides, it was February and camping doesn’t appeal to me when it’s nippy out. When the new saddle was all done up in gorgeous leather & tri-color stitching I headed home to Bandon and it was still raining hard.

A couple of days later the sun finally popped out for a brief time and I was able to sneak in a short ride of 100 miles or so. The new saddle wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for although the back rest felt pretty good. The problem with the saddle was simple: That gorgeous leather surface was slick as a whistle and I found myself sliding forward about every 11 seconds unless I hit a bump and then it was immediate.
This resulted with my being thrust into a laid-back slouching position, the kind I usually assume when I watch the tube. While that may enhance TV viewing it really doesn’t do much for piloting a motor scooter as I was continually having to push myself back to a more upright position. Remember your Mom yelling at you "Sit up or you'll get a crooked back!" Every 11 seconds kids, not good.
Figuring this must have happened to others I queried the members of the MP3 forum I frequent and a number of suggestions were proffered, the most common one being to raise the front of the saddle by installing shims under the front hinge. I tried this method and it helped somewhat but it still needed something more. The bad part of this solution was the saddle now allowed water to enter along the raised part which flooded the under-seat storage area.
My next step was to contact Rich O’Connor the owner of Rich’s Custom Seats to explain the dilemma I was in. He suggested sending the seat back and they would make some adjustments to it and return it to me. That sounded like a better idea than driving back up so I packed it and shipped it off.

Rich looked it over and performed a few tweaks on it and shipped it back. It was a bit better but the sliding continued and on rides of any duration it was still pretty miserable.

Thinking maybe I needed to sit differently on a scooter I decided to live with it for awhile to see if I could adapt. Months went by and instead of taking Red Dog on my 2010 summer tour I left her in the barn and went with a different rig, a new Kawasaki Vulcan 900L.

When I returned in late summer I once again turned my attention to making Red Dog into the grand touring machine I felt she was capable of being. Over the course of the next few months I tweaked and fussed and messed with all sorts of ideas about where to ride her and how long I’d be on the road, etc. Still the moderately high level of discomfort of the saddle haunted me and I decided the only solution was to have the cover redone in a non-skid material. I again contacted Rich’s and after discussions they mailed two samples of material they thought might resolve the issue.

One sample was a bit heavier than the other which meant it would wear longer and the other had a much courser surface grain which would provide the most resistance to sliding.

Super non-skid vinyl
I chose the latter; I wanted the problem to go away for good. It was time for the return run to Kingston, WA. 

Ready for the return trip to Rich's Custom Seats

On Tuesday March 29th I loaded Red Dog onto the bike trailer and headed north, stopping in Portland for an overnight visit with friends.

As a side trip I'd also scheduled a meeting with the Aussie Rescue people in Molalla, OR. We’d recently lost Daisy, our 13-year old Australian Shepherd and it was time to start looking for another one. There are an amazing number of homeless dogs in the world and our place is perfect for a couple of them.

The Molalla agency turned out to be a good call; the dog I’d been scheduled to see was fine although way too jittery for my liking but while I was there they brought in another candidate, a one-year old male Aussie. He’d just arrived back at the shelter that day after spending 4 days on a trial period with a potential family. Evidently it didn't work out for them but I liked him right away and in less than two hours we were on our way to Portland.

What a happy face!
They say that traveling with someone is one of the best ways to find out how compatible you are. Toby and I spent the next few days bumping along in the motor home and we soon discovered we like each other.

* Update note at home: Contrary to what I'd been told he isn't house broken and his pretty wary of kids, especially 6-year olds like our granddaughter. The question of cats is still out there as we don't have one right now. None of the above items are deal-breakers, Toby's already worked his way into our hearts and he's found a home.

Back to the story about Red Dog's saddle redo. We camped that night on the parking lot of a small office building in Portland and in the morning we set out early for Kingston. The drive north was easy, barely 250 miles and we arrived at Rich’s right at lunch time.

They have a small RV area for out of town customers so after off-loading Red Dog I set up camp. Rich's facility is better than nearly any campground you’ll come across and he lets you stay there free while they work on your bike. Service like that is practically unheard of, isn’t it?

That afternoon they took the scooter right in and began work on redesigning the saddle. Rich’s goal was to reshape the underlying foam material into a new base with a higher rise to the front.

Tear it apart & start over

Checking the fit

He also wanted to see if we could save the leather cover but it was no use; for this particular application it was just too slippery.

Rich returning from one of several test rides

Cutting the pattern for the new cover
After shaping and reshaping and multiple test rides he decided to give it up and go with a totally new cover, this time using the vinyl with the super sticky surface. Both of us hated to see the leather go but sometimes even the best laid plans…

Antonio sewing the new cover
 Antonio, one of Rich’s key employees did a lot of the work with Rich doing the design changes and critical cutting of the foam. Antonio handled assembly and sewing of the cover which he made using patterns he created from the foam base.

The new saddle ready to ride
 The whole process took hours, all of the rest of Wednesday and with an early start on Thursday they finished mid-afternoon. It was raining when it came time for me to do the test ride, the same as it had been doing last year only this time I was determined to pay very close attention as to how well it fit me and whether or not there was any tendency to slide around.

I donned my one-piece Roadcrafter which is a super rain suit, added helmet and gloves and headed out. The rain was coming down fairly hard but it was easy for me to feel the difference; this time the saddle felt like everything it should be, comfortable fit and no sliding around whatsoever. I headed back to Rich’s shop and gave him the thumbs-up sign, we were finally done.

It was nearly 3:00pm by the time I got Red Dog reloaded and all strapped down for the run home. We were planning on another overnight stay in Portland and then would make the final 250 mile drive to Bandon. Everything went smoothly; we arrived in the late afternoon on Friday without mishap.

This has been one of the longest on-going projects I’ve encountered with Red Dog and certainly the most expensive. It was an essential one though and I’ve learned a lot during the process which will serve me well should I ever require another custom saddle. And I can truthfully say that any future saddle work I have done will be at Rich’s Custom Seats; their level of customer care is the best I’ve ever experienced. FYI -

Overall this has been a great trip, I came home with a much improved saddle for Red Dog and a new Aussie Shepherd pal. What more could you ask for?

PS – This part is just for fun: Besides being a skilled saddle maker Rich’s interests range far and wide when it comes to military collectables. One of his many on-going fun projects has been the creation of a sidecar rig using a bomb shell for the sidecar. Sure, it’s an old kiddy car but isn’t it great?

Bombs Awaaaaay!

Monday, April 4, 2011

March 24, 2011 Auxilary Power Outlet

After only a year and a half I’ve finally gotten around to installing a power outlet that I can plug my battery charger and new electric vest into. I’d already installed a controller for my old vest but last year I had to buy a replacement as my original one went kaput just before I was to leave on tour.

The Auxilary Outlet installed

All of this may sound a bit fuzzy but the bottom line is the two vests require different outlets and their respective cords are on opposite sides.
Think planned obsolescence and you’ll get the picture.
I chose to mount the plug just below the main body panel where it’s convenient to connect the vest. You’ll need to drill one hole in the plastic panel for this purpose.

To begin the wiring process you must first select a point where you can tap into the bike’s 12 vdc power system. For this application the nearest and most convenient spot was the backside of the power plug located underneath the saddle.

Back side of power outlet underneath saddle exposed

To access the back of the power plug you need to remove the left side plastic body panel. This exposes the interior light which you can see lit up in the photo and the plug which is located to the left of it.
Power to the plug-in is on all the time so it is necessary to remove the 15amp fuse located in a fuse panel just to the rear of the battery. The panel is located in the under-seat storage area which makes it a simple task.

Once the plug has been powered down you can roll the weather proof shroud down that covers the back of the plug. This exposes the two wires feeding it which you can use as a point to tap into. Using a #1 Exacto knife I carefully trimmed away ¼” of insulation on each wire; then wrapped the two new wires onto each and soldered the connections.

When finished you need to wrap each one with electrical tape and then pull the weather proof shroud back over the connections and plug. Don’t forget to re-install the 15amp fuse when you’re done. You can see in the above photo the lead wires hanging down from the plug, ready to connect to the new Auxilary Power Outlet.

New Weatherproof Power Outlet

I bought my auxilary power outlet from Aerostich Riders Warehouse but they’re also available at electronic suppliers; just make sure the one you choose is weather proof and of high quality.

While I was doing this project I also ordered a right-angle male plug to use with the new outlet. This makes for a tidy connection that doesn’t stick out as far and also helps keep  the vest's power cord from flapping in the wind.

Right Angle Plug with 2-wire connector
The right-angle plug came ready for hook-up so I shortened and connected a standard two-wire “flat trailer connecter”, available at auto parts stores. This plug is compatible with my electric vest, Battery Tender, and tire pump.

The amount of time required for the project was only a couple of hours and as you can see in the photos it makes for a very sanitary look.

New Auxillary Power Outlet

Weatherproof cover is spring loaded

For those who are interested here’s a link to AeroStich Rider Warehouse.
If you spend money there tell Andy he owes me big time.