Saturday, November 8, 2014

Yamaha SR400 Review Update

The miles on the SR are slowly building.  Like many that own an SR, it is not my only bike, so it shares duties with others.  It has given us exactly what we had expected and it is a very good bike.

Some months back we did the 600 mile check on it and thought I'd pass on what we have learned.  Well, experienced maybe, I am slow to learn and it is too early to know if anything has stuck.

I have a copy of the Yamaha service manual and spent some time reading and studying.  The 600 mile check looked very straightforward and in fact it really was, after a fashion.  I thought the oil change would be a little messy and I had paper towels on hand and my oil catch pans in place.  There are a few more steps than I would have expected.  I warmed the engine but didn't get it hot.  I don't like hot oil running down my arms.  First the oil filter housing is drained, then you can remove and replace the filter.  The oil from the housing ran down the right side of the engine, dribbled on to the exhaust pipe and then dripped down to the floor not far from where the oil drain pan was placed.

Next I drained the engine sump.  The SR uses a dry sump, but there is still a bit of oil in the sump that must be drained.  The sump plug is on the bottom rear of the engine and it is easy to catch the oil.  The remote "oil tank" is actually the frame.  To drain the frame, a plug is removed from the from the front side of the down tube.  A catch pan had been placed under the down tube and the plug was easily removed.  It was at this point that my planning (or lack of it) let me down.  The front down tube is essentially a tall column and the plug is located at the bottom of the column.  There was more head pressure on the plug than I had planned.  (I had not planned on any)  So when I removed the plug, warm not quite hot, oil squirted forward onto the front tire.  In my rush to "plug the dike" I managed to get my hand against the hot exhaust pipe.  I still have a burn scar to help me remember to do it different next time.  So now I have a burned hand, an oiled tire, and a second oil puddle on the floor.  Once the head pressure dies to a dribble, the oil follows the front down tube and flows behind a small skidplate.  I cleaned and dried the area around the skidplate, but the oil managed to find its' way to the floor for a good day after the oil change. Of course I had removed the oil catch pan because I absolutely knew I had wiped up all the oil...   I replaced the oil with Mobile synthetic.  The shifts were always good, but now they are butter smooth.

A couple days later I checked, but did not need to adjust the cam chain.  I then set the valves.  Setting the valves is pretty easy. There is a little work to get down to the engine, although nothing like a full faired bike where you can lose half a day removing plastic.  First I removed the seat and the fuel tank.  I had run the tank nearly empty to make it as light as possible and followed the manual to empty the fuel lines.  By doing this, I did not have any fuel dribbles as the tank was removed.  There are a number of lines to remove as well as one electrical connection.  With these disconnected the tank lifts off easily.

Next I removed the spark plug so I could turn the engine over easily by hand.  The left engine side cover is removed so the TDC marks can be found.  I turned the engine over counter clockwise to TDC on the compression stroke.  I had expected the valves to be a little loose as I could hear some pecking.  Turned out the intake was spot on and the exhaust was a little tight.  Now there is a little more valve train noise than before, so that must be a normal noise for this engine.

Reassembly of the parts was easy except for one fuel hose that connects to the bottom of the tank.  A long 90 degree needle nose pliers are a big help for this chore.

After reassembling everything, the bike started right up and settled into a smooth idle.  As it has broken in, it is running freer and is noticeably quicker than when new.  It isn't quick, but it is quicker...

The fuel mileage has seen a low of 68 and the high tops 75, but I have noticed when we ride the SR and the TU250X (a well known standard of accuracy) together the SR manages to travel a little farther than the TU.  So the mileage could be a little optimistic.  I have measured the odometer using mile markers and in 10 miles the odometer will read 10.1, so that isn't really too far off.  The speedometer reads a couple miles per hour more than the TU at the same speeds.

The SR has been a blast to ride.  It is happy running down gravel roads and it is quick and lively on the curves.  We are having a great time with both the SR and the TU.  They attract attention where ever they are parked.  Both bikes will introduce you to people and new friends.  Both are great accomplices for exploring back roads.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Ride to the Overstreet Landing on the SR400 and TU250

The rainy season is upon us, as is the hot season.  We are in a period of weather where we have beautiful sunshine until mid afternoon, then the build-ups start and we have a nice rain to help cool things off.  The evenings are just great as the air cools and the towering cumulus fade away.

What the heat and the thunderstorms mean to bikers is that it is best to get a ride in early and have the bikes tucked away by mid afternoon.  We don't always follow this guide and do get wet now and again.

Today though, we had a fantastic ride and stayed dry.  It felt like a thumper kind of day and destination, so I kicked the SR to life while Kim tickled the start button on the TU.

This ride begins by taking the Canoe Creek road south from St. Cloud Florida.  The ride down Canoe Creek is a nice bike ride in itself, but today, we turned east on Joe Overstreet Road and thumped our way toward Lake Kissimmee.

A photo stop along Joe Overstreet Road
The bird life is fantastic along this stretch of road and we snapped a picture a dead tree that was full of cattle egrets and one lone ibis.

An Ibis among the Egrets
Turkey Vultures are a light bird that soar effortlessly on the slightest rising air, but we had gotten out early and we found the vultures sitting in the sun waiting for the first thermals to kick off.

Turkey Vultures waiting for the day's first thermals
Joe Overstreet road is about 5 and 1/2 miles long.  It meanders through cattle ranches and pasture land.  It looks like the road may have been partially paved at one time, but it is now mostly gravel and sand.  I have had the Vulcan down this section of road, but the TU and SR are perfectly suited for this type riding.

The morning air was ripe with smells.  The swamp land has a very distinct smell this time of year.  It is a combination of the new green growth that smells so nice and the smell of green growth that has been under water for a little too long.  Today, we had the added smell of cattle.  A nice mix that is so easily missed when we ride in a car or blast through in a hurry.

You can see the water standing in the pastures.

Pasture land

Just looking at these two pictures, you can almost smell the green grass and cattle.  The cattle seemed especially inquisitive today.  They stopped grazing and watched us as we eased by and seemed to pose for us when we stopped.

Heavy traffic on Joe Overstreet Road
Some how I managed to forget to take any pictures of the Overstreet Landing.  The Landing is a small county park that sits on the edge of Lake Kissimmee.  It has a boat ramp and an area to park your truck and trailer.  There is also a small fish camp located there that has the normal fishing supplies.  The fish camp is home to Kissimmee Swamp Tours.  The wildlife is so abundant in this area that the airboat ride should be a real treat.  We chatted with the friendly folks at the Kissimmee Swamp Tours and enjoyed the air conditioned air in the fish camp.

Confident that we had done our of share of meddling for the day, we stepped back out to the lake's edge.  We stood on a dock watching the agile flight of dragon flies as they fed on hatching midges.  We were so intent watching this ballet of life and death that we nearly missed the low flying bald eagle as he skimmed over our heads as he hunted the shoreline for a morning snack.

We fired up the bikes and squeegeed our way back down the gravel and wet sand road.  Once back to the Canoe Creek road, we poked north toward St. Cloud once again.

We stopped to fill the bikes with gas just before we reached home.  The SR managed to break 71 MPG while the miserly TU topped 93.

The Mileage Champ

We had the bikes washed and put away before the day got too hot.  The rains came a few hours afterward.  It turned out to be a nearly perfect day to spend on the bikes and to share with my best friend and riding buddy.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Yamaha SR400 Ride Review

This is a very brief ride review of the newly introduced Yamaha SR400.  I am of the age that grew up with bikes that looked and performed very much as the SR400 does today.  Make no mistake that bikes have advanced in performance and technology since the heyday of single cylinder motorcycles.  The SR400 smiles in the face of those advances, and instead of giving us cutting edge performance and advanced gadgetry, it gives us an uncomplicated ride through our world.

If you want the hard numbers on the bike, you can find them on Yamaha's website, but you need to ride this machine if you are to appreciate what it is and is not.  The bad thing is, there will be few of these bikes brought in to the US this year, so you may have trouble finding one to ride.  Yamaha says they plan to bring in 500 units.  I suppose they will see who buys them and what demand they bring.

Physically, the SR400 is small.  Most dimensions are within an inch and a half of the Suzuki TU250.  It also tips the scales at only 384 pounds with a full load of fuel.  The paint is very well done, flawless and with a nice silver grey metallic finish.  The frame welds are smooth and pretty, at least if you are strange enough (I am) to think a well done weld can be pretty.  There is little plastic on the bike and the chrome is smooth and bright.

Let's start it up and take a quick ride.  Turn on the key and you'll hear a subdued hum as the fuel pump builds pressure for the fuel injection system.  Swing the kick start lever out into position and push it through gently and feel when the engine comes up on compression.  Release the kick start lever to the normal position.  Now pull the compression release lever with your left fingers and press the kick start lever slowly until you see the silver indicator in the little window on the top of the right side of the cylinder head, then release the compression release and return the kick start lever to the normal position.  (with practice, you can do this without looking at the little window, but for now...) Once you have completed these little tasks, the engine is in a position that you can build a little momentum before it comes back up on compression as you kick it through.  Put your foot on the kick start and kick down like you want to start the engine.  Nothing crazy here but you do need to use a solid quick movement, after all you are starting a motorcycle engine.

The engine will come to life on the first kick and settle into an immediate and smooth idle.  Let the bike warm while you pull your helmet and jacket on and it is ready to go.

I have very few miles on the bike so am still following the break-in procedure that limits engine RPM.  Nevertheless, the bike pulls away from a stop effortlessly and works smoothly through the gears.  I have been riding it at only about 45-50 mph to stay within the break-in limits.  At these speeds it is smoothish.  Not as smooth as a multi cylinder engine, but then how could it be with just one piston moving up and down.  It has gotten smoother as the miles have built, but I suspect it'll always let us know that it is a single cylinder engine.  There is no where near enough vibration to make hands or feet tingle like we have had on many bikes of the past.  Instead, there is just enough to let us know that it is alive and enjoying the ride with us.

Riding the bike is very simple, it is light to the touch with no twitchiness.  It seems to follow the curves just by thinking about making the curves.  The light weight and the 29 inch wide bars make steering a breeze.  The narrow tires track straight and true through the curves and it is easy to change lines mid curve.  It is as if the road is suddenly wider than you remember it being.

The SR400 had a full tank of fuel when I picked it up at the dealer and the first fill-up netted 74.6 miles per gallon.  The tight engine no doubt reduced the mileage and the gentle riding increased the mileage.  We will keep an eye on it and report back as it breaks in.

This bike is everything the TU has been for us.  It invites us to enjoy the ride, the journey, the world.  It does not have a clock and that is good.  You are not supposed to ride this bike just to get somewhere and especially if that means getting somewhere at a specific time.  Instead it wants to show you the long horn cattle that you would otherwise blast past.  It wants you to enjoy the serenity of a stop at a park, or to ponder the past and the future fate of a vacant building.  To smell and feel your world.

The Yamaha SR400 may very well be a time machine that can take us back to a more relaxed state of mind.  A gentler and kinder world where we appreciate the sight of dragon flies and the smell of horses.

The SR now has a few more miles on it and it is getting smoother and freer everyday.  The engine revs easier and feels less tight.  I'll be changing the oil and setting the valves soon as it is nearly due for the first check-up.

So far the bike is everything we expected it to be.  That is it is light and agile enough to make you feel the bike reacts to your thoughts rather than your inputs.  It has taken us down some nice back roads and yet it is capable of cruising at highway speeds.  Still, like the Suzuki TU250, it is not very happy on a turnpike or any other real highway.  It wants to enjoy a more leisure poke through a rural setting.

Last tank of gas gave 75+ MPG.  I have still been riding it gently, so we'll see if it continues to get this mileage as I begin to ride it a little harder.

Yamaha SR500 / SR400 Review

Airboats, Alligators, and riding Florida Back Roads

We had a nice day on the Vulcan last weekend.  The plan was to explore the back roads around home and stop for a sandwich at one of the many fish camps in the area.

We rode south on Canoe Creek Road toward our first planned stop at the no name park on Lake Marion.  As we arced past a small stand of cypress trees we came across a small group of bison.  Florida does have a small herd of re-introduced bison, but these big guys were more likely an experiment by a cattle rancher.

Bison remind me of a powerful steam locomotive.  All strength and business.  They were not super happy with me trying to take their pictures, they all turned their backs to me and ambled away.

A few miles south of our "buffalo" stop we had to slow to a near stop to let a couple sandhill cranes cross the road.  Sandhill cranes are big, they can get 4 feet tall and their wingspan stretches to 7 feet.  They are also one of the tamest of wild creatures.  We have had them walk into the garage while we were in the driveway washing our bikes and they will peck seeds out of your hand if you allow them to.

Sandhill Cranes
We continued to shuffle our way south and found ourselves on the Pea Vine Road, a small gravel road the runs from near Kenansville to near Yee Haw Junction.  Pea Vine meanders through pasture lands and hammocks.  There is little traffic and plenty to look at and enjoy.  The smell of the hammocks was wonderful and we tried to keep breathing in and not let the air back out.  It seemed a perfect place to snap a few shots of the Vulcan.

I brag about the beauty of central Florida's "old Florida" and then make everyone look around my bike to see what it looks like...

From the southern end of Pea Vine, we worked our way north and east to make a stop for eats at the Lone Cabbage Fish Camp.  I had my usual dish of gator tail.  While at the fish camp we talked our way into an airboat ride on the St. Johns river.  The St. Johns meanders through flat swampy land.  A good knowledge of the area is needed or you can find yourself lost and among hungry alligators.

While awaiting our boat ride we found a brown water snake swimming by the dock as well as turtles and gators.

If you are unfamiliar with an airboat, let me tell you that they are extremely shallow draft flat bottom boats that are powered by either older air cooled aircraft engines or modern automobile engines.  Either way, the engines power pusher propellers that propel the boat across the water.  They can slide across damp ground and over plant growth in and along the rivers without leaving any harm.  They are noisy and an absolute blast to ride.  They can also take you very close to wild life such as birds and alligators.

Alligators of all sizes can hide easily in the water

This is a small guy that has just his head sticking out of his den.

He was not happy with me being close to him

Another small one. About 4.5 feet long

This is free range country
A big boy sunning
Florida has quite a bit of free range in this part of the state.  I am told that gators do not bother the cattle much.  There are so many alligators in the area that it would be easy to get into trouble with them if you were not careful.

After enjoying a day on the bike and spending time on the St.Johns, we chugged our way back home and rolled the bike into the garage just as the sun set lit the skies with beautiful shades of reds and oranges.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Yamaha SR400 Teaser

Some photos of the SR400 & TU250.  More when I have a little time.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Goodguys Rod and Custom Show Kissimmee Florida

This is a little departure from my stories about riding the backroads of our country.  Thought you might enjoy seeing pictures from a street rod and customer car show that was held this weekend in Kissimmee Florida.

There were acres of cars, no doubt there had to be thousands of custom cars and hotrods of all types.  It would have taken most of the day to walk by all the cars and displays, and a full weekend to actually spend much time looking at the cars.  We walked and gawked until our feet hurt and the day got too hot to be in the sun.

There seemed to be something for everyone and the workmanship had to be seen to be appreciated.