Due to low post and reader traffic on the [tfg] blog, I’ve decided to re-consolidate the blog with my personal blog:
I’ll be posting details of my upcoming solo Grand Canyon trip there.
I’ve been contemplating taking the Z up to Sonoma to enjoy the final days of sun and warm weather. There are few fantasies more beautiful than humming past rolling vineyard fields, with the sun squatting down behind golden California hills in the distance.
Except being parked on the shoulder, with oil, water, and pride hemmorhaging out of the bottom of the motor, with the disapproving sun scowling down from above.
So I’ve been trying to figure out how to avoid this disastrous situation. Things that need to be worked on:
It’s a little hard to find the good roads in the Midwest, and I’ll admit I haven’t actually been trying that hard as of late. But this weekend I’ll be doing a lap of Lake Michigan on the CBR in what will sadly be the first and last trip of this season. My route above hits two recommendations I found on the net: the Red Arrow and Blue Star Highway coming out of Indiana into Michigan, and the Tunnel of Trees towards the top.
Other than that, I followed two rules. Rule 1) Stay close to a body of water Rule 2) If a road looks squiggly, take it. The map is a bit complicated, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to follow all the directions without a proper GPS. And you’ll notice the shot from Chicago to Green Bay is straight up highway. I couldn’t find any good roads inbetween here and there because most of it is part of Greater Chicagoland anyway.
We’re going to leave tonight and book it up there while we’re still fresh. Might as well get the boring stuff out of the way first.
I have to share this brilliant piece of auto journalism with you. This one quote demonstrates how far I am from being an excellent writer:
Hyundai looks to be breaking from its American past in a way that could leave future drivers incredulous when they hear about a thing called the Excel. With the Genesis and now the Equus – and what’s to come after – it’s like Hyundai has risen from vaudeville actor to perform Hamlet for the queen. If you told the monarch who only knew the actor as Hamlet, “You know, that guy used to wear a clown suit and get sprayed with seltzer water?,” she’d laugh, thinking it was a joke.
(taken from Autoblog’s Quick Spin of the Hyundai Equus found here.)
Alright, here’s a piece of technology I can stand behind. It’s called Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer, which, judging by the picture above, is science talk for “miracle material.” According to Autoblog, this little piece of amazing weighs just 7.5 lbs and features only FOUR layers of carbon fiber weave!
Why am I so excited about wings that we can stand on, and not excited about bikes with hydraulically powered front wheels? Simple: this technology adds speed without adding complexity.
I haven’t read the full article yet, I just wanted to bring it to your attention before I go out to dinner.
OCC builds an all electric chopper:
Looks pretty cool. Unforunately it suffers the same fate as all electric motobikes today. Mainly, it sucks. From Autoblog:
“Commissioned by Siemens USA, the zero-emissions motorcycle is powered by a 27-horsepower electric motor from Advanced DC and can go an estimated 60 miles after a five-hour charge. Top speed is listed at 100 miles per hour, likely making this one of the fastest bikes ever to roll out of the OCC showroom.”
27 horsepower gives about as much power and top speed as my 1966 CB77 has. 100 mph makes it one of the fastest bikes ever to roll out of OCC? I highly doubt that when they’re putting 2-liter v-twins into stripped out bikes on a regular basis. Batteries by the way, are really fucking heavy, and 60-miles means that you can travel 30 miles away from your house maximum before you can’t make it back home… about half an hour away by freeway.
Considering this bike is built to be a cruiser I’m not surprised it’s not headed for the mass market.
This Sunday, I got an opportunity to drive my friend Henry’s second generation Mazda Mazdaspeed Miata.
Let me begin by saying that I have always wanted a Miata. Possibly the greatest cult car of all time, the Miata draws scorn and misconception from most of the ignorant public while delivering top-notch handling and open top fun to those who dare face its stigmas. There is no doubt about it, these are well handling, genuinely sporty roadsters with good racing credentials that will inevitably gain you scorn and emasculation from most anyone you might try to impress. Even if it has a roll bar. And racing stripes. And lowering springs. And testicles.
Speaking of testicles, the “Mazdaspeed” badge on the rear trunklid of this particular car tells potential naysayers that this particular Miata has been surgically beefed up where it counts. A turbocharger boosts the 1.8l engine to a healthy 180hp, a factory attempt to correct one of the Miata’s biggest “weaknesses”: lack of power. The suspension has also been stiffened with Bilsteins to make it even more sporty. This is not your grandmother’s Miata. It’s my friend Henry’s, actually.
Moving on. Slipping into the leather seats, I immediately felt comfortable in the little roadster. The cabin, with the top down, feels small but uncramped, and all of the controls and plastics bear the same quality I have come to expect from recent Mazda offerings. The dometers, which I recall have white faces, are well visible and attractive. The soft top came down quickly and without drama, exposing me to the Sunday sun. So far, so good.
Pulling out from the parking spot, the first thing I notice is excellent control feel. The steering is quick but the wheel has a solid heft, the shifter is precise with very short throws, and the clutch effort is light but not insulting. Flicking the wheel from side to side, the body rolled very little and the car felt taut and controlled. The handling, I could tell, would be everything I’ve been told it would be.
But not everything is ice cream dreams and bubblegum:
Push the throttle all the way down at about 10 mph, in second gear, and your foot falls into a bowl of pudding as the revs crawl up towards 4000 rpm. Ok, maybe I’m being a little unfair, having been driving my 2800 lb, 220 ft-lb torque V8 powered Z around for the last few months, but the turbo lag on this car feels worse than my WRX did. Make no mistake, this is not a muscle car. This is not a “point and shoot” kind of engine, it’s an engine that likes to be kept on the boil.
At around 4500 RPM, the car hauls forward with unexpected urgency. Running through the revs is like vacuuming a coin off the carpet. As you first maneuver the vacuum cleaner closer to the unexpecting object, it doesn’t move at all. Then, as the vacuum moves closer, it starts to twitch a little bit, showing the first times of life. Then, all of the sudden, the penny is snatched into the vacuum at an alarming speed, making some horrific metal-on-plastic clunking noises as it hits the vacuum. Instead of hitting the vacuum, though, you smash into the rev limiter, leaving you frantically searching for third gear.
The power delivery can best be described as “creamy.” The Honda S2000, killbam’s old ride, sports an engine with very, very direct power delivery. The raspy, two liter VTEC engine screams to life as you rev past 6000 RPM, and the pedal feels like it is directly connected to the engine. It’s like a vingarette – direct, pointed, and very elemental. This is not that kind of engine. Instead, the power delivery feels like the automotive equivalent of ranch dressing: it has a comforting, round quality to it, with a powerful thrust but an insulated feel. Part of this feeling might be from the sound: there isn’t much. The Miata engine is very quiet, which is another reason why it’s easy to have unexpected encounter with the rev limiter.
Yes, it handles very, very well. Even in its somewhat heavier, second generation guise, the Miata is every bit the go-kart that everyone says it is. The engine is probably pretty decent in the twisties, too, as an experienced driver will probably learn keep the revs high and push the throttle down a little earlier in each corner than you normally would in a NA car, the same way that you drive a WRX in anger.
This is not a WRX though. I love turbocharged, creamy engines, but I think they should go in creamy cars, like the WRX, with its long suspension travel, heavy curb weight, and tall center of gravity. This car, I think, is a Miata that is missing a little bit of its Miataness.
I’m having a hard time sleeping tonight, so I thought I would share a funny story. OK, only the mechanics out there will think this is funny, but I’ll try my best:
On top of my engine, there is a little threaded hole for a temperature gauge sender. The sender screws into the hole and measures the temperature of the water inside of the engine, relaying the information to the driver electronically. My old sender broke, so I ordered a new one from Motorsport.
If you look to the right of the picture, you can see that it actually came in two pieces (the old one, in the center, just looks and feels like one piece), a sender and a retainer nut. So far as I could tell, the sender slid through the nut freely, so the nut really wasn’t “retaining” anything. Instead of sending it back out of sheer confusion though, I decided that I would attempt to solder the pieces together. Piece of cake, right? I fired up the heat gun and tried my best to make a mechanical solder joint (with resin solder, the WRONG type of solder for the job) and screwed it on, where it held just fine.
Until last week. I went to redo the teflon tape on the sender threads, and plop! The sender fell slightly into the engine, balancing precariously near the surface. I cautiously tried to pull it out with needlenose pliers. Fail. I then tried to pluck it out with a pair of small center punches manipulated like chopsticks, but as I did that I knocked it in, and it slipped quietly into the deep green depths of my engine water passage.
Further research has revealed that the part it fell into was at least as deep as about six inches, so I really have no idea where that sender has ended up – I hope only that it’s not blocking a passage somewhere, causing one part of the engine to heat up disproportionally, which has the potential to cause overheating, warpage, or both.
It’s funny thinking that there’s a gauge sender sitting somewhere inside of the engine though.