Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mystery Engine: "The Racer That Captivated Hitler!"

When Cycle Guide magazine closed in 1987, I had no idea where I’d be working next, or when, for that matter. I’d been a freelancer before CG, and figured I could be one again. So during my last days in the office I gathered up all the story notes and photos I’d been storing in my desk and took them home, hoping there’d be something there I could turn into a buck later.

What you see here snuck in with the stuff I knew was mine, and has been sitting in a box since they locked the doors behind us 23 years ago.

It’s a two-stroke engine, what used to be called a “twingle,” I think, with two pistons, one on a con rod and the other on a separate rod that pivots on the first one.

The big piston at the back of the crankcase has two connecting rods, both drilled for lightness. My guess is this is some sort of crankcase pump to help push the air/fuel mixture up into the cylinders, like a crude supercharger.

I found this photo this evening in an unmarked folder along with a large-format black-and-white negative and three photocopies, two of hand-written text, and the third a very bad reproduction of a man sitting on an unidentified motorcycle.

The first of the two pages of text reads as follows:

1935 D.K.W.

Deutsche Kraftwagen Werke

Zschopau, Germany

The racer that captivated Hitler!

The second says:

German Road Racer
3 cylinder, 2 stroke supercharged

Used at Isle of Man and other Grand Prix events

This particular motorcycle was found in Rodashia, Africa abandoned by the German Racing Team at the start of World War II.

The motorcycle was raced at the Isle of Man and a more refined version won the Isle of Man in 1938 in the 250cc class.

The motor has 4 connecting rods, 3 pistons, 2 firing cylinders and 1 spark plug. It is water cooled and was the loudest motorcycle ever to race the Isle of Man. When raced it got 14 miles a gallon.

That’s all I know about this engine, but I'm sure there's much more to the story, especially the part about how it came to be abandoned in what I assume to be, despite the spelling, Rhodesia, South Africa. The folder the photo was in wasn't marked, so I don’t even know where it came from, or who sent it to Cycle Guide in the first place, or when.

If you can shed any light on the matter, I’d love to hear from you, either in the comments section or via email at treadlifeblog at yahoo dot com.

Update: Information about the Mystery Engine has been flooding into the spacious Tread Life offices. Here’s the latest.

From Paul d’Orleans, whose wonderful Vintagent blog is a wealth of information about old motorcycles:

Hi Jerry,

The 'Ladepumpe' was used extensively by DKW for its racers, pre and postwar. It is a method of positively charging the cylinder in the two-stroke engine, with less power loss than a conventional supercharger. That's the big piston at the front of the engine. These machines were incredibly fast, and incredibly noisy! I have ridden with one on the track at Hockenheim (I was on a Velo MkVIII KTT), and behind a DKW is not where one wants to be! So I passed him... that was actually a really fun ride.

Hope this helps.

all the best, Paul

My friend Larry Parmenter, whose most recent blog can be seen here, put the question of the engine’s identity to a few friends, and got the following responses. The first is from Dennis Guggemos:

I've heard of that thing. The 3rd piston was sort of a supercharger, compressing the crankcase mixture before it got ported to the combustion chamber(s). The 3rd piston did not fire or deliver a power stroke. Just as Smith says. Gawd that piston is HUGE.

A twingle was a parallel twin 2 stroke with one common combustion chamber. Not sure this qualifies. It might be a "split single". I've seen arguments on the W650 forum about what makes a twingle or a split single.

Check this out

"...Marcellino's design had the pistons one behind the other,.."

That url also makes reference to a twingle as a variation of the split single, but this argument may just be down to semantics, or just when the word twingle came about, and it's the same as "split single".

Note the 1 conrod, Y shape in this configuration (link)

You can see how people would argue what a twingle was these different designs. Anyway still googling around trying to get some idea of what that 1938 TT lightweight TT winner was. So far, a split single designed by Ing Zoller... (link)

scroll down a screen or 2 to the green bike with #plate 36. Can't say this looks like the pic on Smith's page. But the description of the engine is very similar. This is the "loudest motorcycle ever to race the Isle of Man". Smith's photo is of the 1935 earlier design. Don't know what's different about them.

Another of Larry’s friends, Paul Duchene, said:

... I used to have a Puch 175cc twingle. Puch actually made a 4-cylinder racing version in about 1938 supercharged version I've seen in action at the Isle of Man. At the time, it was said the only thing more painful than the noise was the mileage. I can vouch for former...amazing. The problem with mine was the automatic oil pump which was very careful to supply enough oil to prevent seizure. The net result was that at 65mph on the freeway, I looked like an ME 109 going down in flames in the Battle of Britain... Still, people followed at a respectful distance.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Screaming Deal: Valentino Rossi "Scream" Replica Helmet With Your Face On It

In 2008, at the Mugello round of the MotoGP World Championship series, Valentino Rossi debuted a helmet with his own face, mouth wide open in a scream, painted on it. Now you can follow in Vale's whimsical footsteps. Go here to create your own customized AGV helmet, which you can then have shipped directly to you. At least that's the idea, or so I'm told, although I'm not completely sure because the pertinent information is in Italian.

Still, it's fun to mess with the site and see how goofy a pic you can graft onto a helmet. Daisy, Tread Life's editorial assistant and morale officer, was initially thrilled with the idea, until it became apparent AGV does not make helmets in dog sizes.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Look, Signal, Manoeuvre: Where's Monty Python When You Really Need Them?

Here's a great piece of moto-nostalgia, a British motorcycle safety film from the 1960s. Note the the vintage bikes and riding gear, as well as the Orwellian undercurrent sounded by the grim-faced factory boss lying in wait for tardy worker drones. I wasn't aware that Britbikes of the era lacked throttle-return springs, but one of the ones in the video appears to since the rider pulls away from the curb...sorry, kerb, while signaling with his right hand. No mirrors or turn signals on the bikes, either. I guess safety was a relative term even then.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Inside Lines: Rossi to Ferrari?

With not much of anything else to talk about in the off-season, the racing press has been speculating about whether Valentino Rossi will leave Yamaha after his contract runs out at the end of 2010 and join Ducati. Predictably, the Italian press has been eating this up, despite Rossi’s father, Graziano, denying it.

While all this has been going on, Rossi himself slipped out the back door yesterday and turned up at Circuit de Catalunya to try out a different kind of fast red, Italian racer—a 2008 Ferrari Formula 1 car.

The nine-time MotoGP World Champion is no stranger to cars, or Ferrari. In 2006, at his first Ferrari test, he lapped faster than several seasoned F1 drivers, and was only a second slower than F1 legend Michael Schumacher, who opined that Rossi would make the transition from MotoGP to F1 quickly. Rossi has been competing off and on in World Rally Championship events since 2002, winning the Monza Rally in 2006 and 2007. Now, with the end of Rossi’s two-wheel career in sight, Ferrari F1 boss Stefano Domenicali is floating the idea of a third car for Rossi in Formula 1.

Based on Rossi’s performance at Circuit de Catalunya, Domenicali’s plan might turn out to be more than wishful thinking. By the end of his first day behind the wheel, Rossi’s best lap was 5 seconds off Kimi Raikkonen’s 2008 qualifying record at the track. Not bad considering the car wasn't set up to allow Rossi to stick his left leg out in the corners.

Update: On the second day of testing at Circuit de Catalunya, Rossi knocked off a lap of 1:21.9, just a tick slower than Kimi Raikkonen’s lap record of 1:21.67, set in 2008. It’s not a strictly fair comparison, since Rossi’s car was on slicks, and Raikkonen was on the grooved tires required by the regulations at the time. But based on his fast climb up the learning curve, don’t be surprised if, when Vale retires off a Yamaha, he promptly un-retires right into a Ferrari F1 car.

Update 2: Now with video. Watch it soon, because several other videos of this have been pulled from various sites.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Movie Preview: Charge

From Mark Neale, the director of the movie Faster, with Ewan McGregor doing the narration, comes Charge: Zero Emissions/Maximum Speed, about the inaugral TTXGP held on the Isle of Man last year. Here's a preview. Listen to that electric motor spool up, then look me in the eye and tell me you wouldn't want to ride one of these. I dare you. (Movie website here.)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Inside Lines: Buell Assets For Sale

"This factory was a state of the art, small scale factory. It's the type of facility that many tools and items will be of great interest to the home mechanic and motorcycle fanatic."

If you've ever looked at a motorcycle and said to yourself, "I could build a better bike than that," here's your chance to prove it. Buell Motorcycle Company's assets are being liquidated. On sale are manufacturing equipment; motorcycles, vans, and trailers; machinery; hand tools and workshop equipment; office furniture; and warehouse equipment. All you need is a building to put it everything in and you're in business for yourself.

The liquidation starts January 28 and will continue until everything is gone, so don't wait. One word of caution: Do not, under any circumstances, no matter how much you might want to, get involved with Harley-Davidson.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Product Spotlight: Tunebug Helmet Sound Generator

Installing speakers in a helmet often involves modifying the comfort liner or the protective EPS liner itself. Neither is an ideal solution, since the first method can affect the helmet's fit and the second its safety. A company called Tunebug has come up with what it believes is a better way—instead of putting speakers in your helmet, turn your helmet into a speaker.

The Tunebug Shake connects to audio devices using Bluetooth, and the Vibe uses a standard 3.5mm plug. Both are designed to be attached to a helmet, the shell of which is then "excited" by the sound generated by the unit, causing it to act like a speaker. The Shake and the Vibe apparently can be quickly and easily switched from helmet to helmet so you can enjoy your tunes while riding your motorcycle, bicycle, skateboard, or snowboard.

For more on both units, see Tunebug's website here.

Update: On further investigation (which is to say calling the company and talking to a real person) I learned that the Shake (shown above) is designed for bicycle, ski, and skateboard helmets, not motorcycle helmets; and the Vibe is a desktop speaker, not intended to attach to a helmet. The motorcycle unit is called the Quake, and isn't out yet. The final specs are still being hammered out, and might include Bluetooth two-way communication. I'll keep you posted when I find out more.

(Note: I have not tested this product, nor have I received any compensation from the manufacturer for including it in a Product Spotlight. I just thought it was interesting/innovative/clever enough to warrant bringing it to your attention. All specifications and claims for the product are the manufacturer’s.)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Incident At San Jose

I’ve always had an aversion to watching races from the grandstands, and in my youth I was adept at finding ways to get into the infield and take the kind of photos I just couldn’t get from the nosebleed seats.

On July 7, 1974, I had weaseled my way into the San Jose Mile and was standing outside turn three, behind the waist-high wooden rail fence that along with a row of moldy haybales was the state of the art in track safety. Turn three was a great place to shoot. In truth, there was no bad place to shoot at San Jose, but here I was able to see the bikes barreling down the back straight right at me and watch the riders flick them sideways to scrub off speed, then follow them through the turn, panning and shooting as they passed.

I had put my camera bag down on the ground next to one of the big trees—another safety feature—behind the fence and was leaning out over the top rail with one eye shut and the other looking through the viewfinder of a 35mm Nikkormat. I had snapped off a couple of shots of a group of bikes setting up for the turn when something—probably that very same keen instinct for self-preservation that prevented me from becoming a really fast racer—told me to get the hell out of there. I turned and ran.

The next few seconds were a blur, and they remain so today. All I remember is when I looked back, Jim Rice was standing in front of me—oddly, on my side of the fence—and dust was everywhere.

Out on the track lay Mert Lawwill. He was motionless in that way that is never good, especially when it’s the result of a hard crash. Track workers ran to him, and after a while he came to, groggy and no doubt hurting, but breathing.

I was snapping pictures when the roll in the camera ran out. I started to rewind the film and went to get a fresh roll from my camera bag...which was nowhere to be seen. Until they lifted Mert’s bike onto its wheels and rolled it away. The bag had been trapped under it, half squashed, but the other camera body and the lenses in it were undamaged.

Rice's bike came to a stop down the track from where he had jumped or been thrown over the fence. The action was red-flagged while they cleaned up the mess, and later Mert limped out there and gave it his best, just like he did every time he raced. I forgot how he did that day, but I bet he remembers, and probably wishes he didn't.

I had pretty much forgotten this incident until a couple of nights ago, when after years of putting it off I finally started cataloging and scanning the hundreds of black-and-white contact sheets and boxes of color slides I have from the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s, when I shot flattrack races and roadraces, first for myself and later for Cycle Guide. Depending on how quickly the scanning goes, I’ll be posting something from that era at least once every couple of weeks, either as part of the Flashback Friday series, or as stand-alones like this.

I’ve previously mentioned that I wasn't big on labeling photos back then—when I shot them they represented rent money, not history—so if I get some of the details wrong please let me know. And if you have a story of your own to add about any of the photos, please contribute that, too.

Harley of the Future?

There isn’t much to be cheerful about in Milwaukee these days. Harley’s sales are down, its stock is weak, and judging by the introduction of the new Fat Boy Lo (that’s not a typo), things are so tough the company is even cutting back on silent letters.

But this ought to get them laughing at H-D. It’s concept bike by designer Miguel Cotto, who has the foresight/chutzpah to suggest this might be what Harleys look like in 2020. It has hubless wheels, and presumably some sort of suspension, although none is apparent. Oh, and somewhere in there is an 883 Sportster engine, which is like powering the Starship Enterprise with a small-block Chevy.

See more of Cotto’s flight of fancy here. Then try really hard to picture a bearded and tattooed bro in chaps, fingerless gloves, and a cat-dish beanie helmet riding it, and laugh along with the folks in Milwaukee.

Flashback Friday

In late 1974 or early 1975, Erv Kanemoto—who went on to tune for Freddie Spencer, Eddie Lawson, Wayne Gardner, and others—slid a 750cc Kawasaki H2 three-cylinder two-stroke engine into a Champion frame in an attempt to poke a finger in the eye of Harley-Davidson, whose XR750 was nearly unbeatable in AMA Class C dirt-track racing. Kanemoto built two bikes, one for Don Castro and another for Scott Brelsford.

In this photo he’s jetting the carbs on one of the bikes at the San Jose Mile in, I think, 1975—I wasn’t big on labeling photos back then. I was just beginning my career as a motojournalist, and was wandering the pits that day taking photos courtesy of a press pass arranged for me by Cycle Guide magazine, where I would find myself on staff 10 years later.

I’ve read that Erv’s effort spurred Kel Carruthers to have a Champion frame built to accommodate Yamaha’s TZ750; the bike that resulted is the star of a video that’s been making the rounds lately (see it here).

Update: Now that I think about it, I wasn't yet freelancing in 1975; I didn't sell my first photo to Cycle Guide until 1980 or so. I recall now that around the time this photo was taken, they'd open a gate outside turn four during breaks between races so fans could cross the track and go to the pits. That's probably how I got there.

(photo by Jerry Smith)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Re-Volting Idea

This is the Roehr eSuperbike. It makes a claimed 96 horsepower and 210 foot-pounds of torque. It also doesn't exist yet, although Roehr says it will by the middle of this year.

It seems like everyone's talking about electric motorcycles, but few people are talking about the big problem with them, which is long recharge times. No one wants a bike they can ride for 100 miles and then have to park and plug in for the next 12 hours.

I think I've figured out how to get around this. I doubt I'm the only one who has, but if it turns out I'm some sort of visionary, remember you read it here first.

First, talk all the electric motorcycle manufacturers into adopting a standard battery, so the battery in a Roehr will fit in a Brammo and whatever new electric bike comes along, the way a 9-volt battery fits about a jillion things. Make the batteries small enough to be easily removable without taking the entire motorcycle part.

Next, get some major gas-station chain like Shell or BP to carry charged batteries for electric bikes along with gas and oil and junk food. You pull up on your electric bike, and instead of filling it with gas, you (or the attendant) remove the depleted batteries, put them on a charger, plug in a fresh set, and off you go. The station keeps enough hot batteries on hand that they're unlikely to run out before the depleted ones are recharged.

That's pretty much the entire plan. There aren't many places in the U.S. where gas stations are more than 100 miles apart, so an electric motorcycle with a range of 150 miles could always make it to the next battery station. You could ride all day and never run out of juice.

You'd still have the long tailpipe problem (the pollution that doesn't come from your e-bike's engine comes instead from the powerplant that generates the electricity to charge its batteries) but maybe a wider acceptance of electric vehicles as a practical alternative to internal combustion would spark (sorry) interest in generating more electricity from solar and wind power. Or maybe the utility companies would just build more nuclear and coal-fired power plants. I never claimed it was a perfect plan.

Anyway, there it is, my idea to help save the planet and make electric motorcycles more than a curiosity. The Nobel committee can contact me any time at Tread Life's email address. Sooner would be better than later; I could really use the cash prize that goes with the nice medal.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Product Spotlight: Lee Parks DeerSports PCi Gloves

I prefer heated grips over heated gloves because I don't have to string cords through my sleeves every time I go for a ride or stop and take my jacket off. Also, I can wear thinner gloves and still have warm hands. But when it gets colder, I have to switch to heavy gloves to keep the backs of my hands warm. Heavy gloves, however, usually have insulated palms that partially block the grips' heat. What I really need is a glove with more more insulation on the back than in the palms. The DeerSports PCi gloves from Lee Parks Design might be what I'm looking for.

They're built with a liner made of a phase-change material that is claimed to keep your hands warm in cool weather and cool in warm weather. (I'm unclear on how that works, but for now let's just say it does.) Another quality of the magic phase-change stuff is that it pulls the heat from the grip (warm) side of the glove and distributes it to the back (cold) side. And the back of the glove has Thinsulate Flex insulation. Now we're talking.

The DeerSports PCi gloves have a lot of other nice features, which you can read about here.

(Note: I have not tested this product, nor have I received any compensation from the manufacturer for including it in a Product Spotlight. I just thought it was interesting/innovative/clever enough to warrant bringing it to your attention. All specifications and claims for the product are the manufacturer’s.)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Product Spotlight: Aerostich Electric Warmbib

Heated riding gear can't be beat in the winter, but if you ride a bike with limited alternator output, a typical electric vest can put a strain on your electrical system that could leave you with a dead battery when you need the spark the most. The Electric Warmbib from Aerostich covers just the front of your torso, and draws a mere 30 watts/2.5 amps, which should be well below the maximum juice available from even a single-cylinder dual-sport. It packs small in a built-in zippered pouch, and comes in two sizes depending on your height. Read more about it here.

(Note: I have not tested this product, nor have I received any compensation from the manufacturer for including it in a Product Spotlight. I just thought it was interesting/innovative/clever enough to warrant bringing it to your attention. All specifications and claims for the product are the manufacturer’s.)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Inside Lines: Drivers To Become Even More Distracted

We motorcyclists are already familiar with the consequences of driving while using a cell phone, or texting, or applying makeup, or eating, or fooling with the sat-nav. The most worrisome consequence involves becoming a hood ornament on the cars being driven by people engaged in one or more of those activities. While the government is trying to make the public aware of the downside of DWD, car manufacturers are hell-bent on offering more attention-diluting features in their new models. Jalopnik, a very fine and refreshingly snarky website for car (and occasionally bike) junkies, made a list of the top 10 most distracting new-car technologies. Some entries are best read with tongue firmly in cheek, but others will make you cringe if you ride a motorcycle.