Wow, another good day’s work

The rules of the place where the BTW clubhouse is hosted prevent us from doing certain “obvious” work during the day, but we are able to do quiet time work. We arrived about 2PM and left about 2AM.

We had a todo list and knocked these items off it:

degrunge tranny and frame
paint frame
paint trim
make dashboard
license plate light
alternator light
oil light (wiring done, but switch is bad; need to replace)
finish shifter
breather hose
spark plug wire keeper
handlebar and mirrors
first clear coat (more about this shortly)

There is still a substantial list, but I’m fairly confident it’s a one-day list.

As for the first clear coat, we’re using Duplicolor “Paint Shop” ready to spray paint, which greatly simplifies things for the do-it-yourselfer. No need to thin it, almost no need to strain it, but you should anyway. It cleans up with acetone. All in all, easy to use.

They also have a clear with prismatic sparkles in it. It looks great over the yellow, but it looks stunning over black!

We’re planning to shoot a couple coats of plain clear over it for depth, but wow! It looks pretty nice like it is.

Lick O’ Paint

We accomplished quite a lot today. In short, got the pedals on and operational and got a first coat of paint on 95% of the trike.

The pedals went extremely well. The brakes were even easy to bleed. The bad news, and it’s pretty minor, is that upon reflection, I don’t think the wheel will clear the fittings on the pedals in the event of a hard turn while braking, so I will need to move them. It’s just a matter of drilling 4 news holes.

The paint was really an all day affair that Toni was working on before I finished the pedals and could join in. In no particular order, we masked off large portions of the trike, removed the fuel tank, cleaned a LOT of surface with acetone, finished painting the front wheel, painted the ‘faux’ tank and the body of the trike. It will definitely all need another coat and we ran out, so we’ll have to buy another can.


Just about the the first thing that happened yesterday was that the driver side power lock actuator on my wife’s truck jammed. I spent about an hour getting it out, figuring out how it works and removing a gear to allow at least the key lock to work. Today’s projects will include securing a replacement and installing it. I found one at a wrecking yard for $40, about half the price of a new one.

After laying out and drilling for the pedals (the weights are soft cast iron and thus drilled very easily), we needed longer bolts. It was lunch time anyway, so we closed up shop, got lunch, bolts and matting to cut for the floor, all of which took a couple of hours.

We got a really good start on painting, especially the troublesome front wheel. The reusable aerosol can from Harbor Freight works pretty good for paint, so long as it’s thin enough. The spray head tends to sputter pretty badly when the air pressure begins to drop off, but it’s easy enough to keep it filled up.

I just barely got going on the pedals when a good friend called needing a rescue for the flat rear tire on his Suzuki M109. It’s a huge bike with a wide tubeless tire on the back and the bead had come unsealed, so there is no getting it to air back up so long as the bike is sitting on it.

We cleaned up the shop and I headed to Dallas with a trailer and picked him up, about a 3 hour adventure. It never fails to warm my heart to see someone who REALLY appreciates what you’re doing for them. My karma is balanced.

Speaking of diversions, I have been gathering some parts for the eventual EFI of my trike. The only thing left is a 36-1 trigger wheel. I think I have the plan for mounting one on a stock VW pulley, of which I now have at least a couple.
All that’s left after than is the manifold and all the work.

Since when last it ran, my trike engine was exhibiting symptoms similar to the yellow trike, I think I will see if the same thing seems to be happening with it, a leak around the throttle shaft in the carburetor. If so, I will borrow the new carb from the yellow trike and get the rest of my engine tuned and operational before I attempt the conversion, but I see no reason to spend the money on a new carburetor for my trike when the plan all along has been to run EFI and almost all the the major parts are in hand.

Busy Update

A lot has happened since the last update on the as-yet-unnamed Yellow Trike.

On the way home that afternoon, I picked up the control switch from Mid-Cities. It appeared very solid and had nice long leads.

That evening, I had enough of a break in the rain to allow me to rearrange the driveway so that I had the trike under the 10×20 garage tent that we use to expand the driveway. When the rain really came down, I still got soaked with a lot of mist, but at least I was out of the direct precipitation, so I could continue to work even in the weather. It was still pretty miserable. πŸ™‚

Just about the first thing, I worked the throttle a couple of times, gauging how much work it was going to take to get throttle effort down to a more reasonable level. As I was doing that, smoke suddenly started emitting from all along the frame tube and another pocket of smoke came from the battery area. My first thought was to turn off the key. Um, I hadn’t turned on the key. So, the only other electrical control was the headlight switch, so I toggled it a time or two. The smoke stopped, but as I suspected, it had nothing to do with the light switch.

The previous owner had a cigarette lighter socket on the left side of the dashboard. It turns out that when I moved the handlebar, working the throttle, the wire feeding the lighter socket had gotten pinched between the triple tree and the dashboard, shorting to the dashboard. Whether the 18g speaker wire powering the socket burned in half somewhere along its length or if my panicky gyrations had relieved the short, I don’t know, but the wire was now good and melty.

I should probably mention at this point that, as some builders will do, EVERYTHING on the trike except for the starter is powered from the same power lead going through a 30A self-resetting circuit breaker. Even doubled up 18ga will yield before a 30A breaker does.

After that little adventure, I tested everything else… well, everything that had previously been working… and found that no other damage was done. I had a moment’s panic when steam formed off the exhaust. Looked a little too much like smoke πŸ™‚

So, now began the task of wiring up some lights to the new switch. Of course, that meant decoding the existing wiring.

The wiring was essentially functional, and since people I know know the previous owner, I will say only that I don’t think automotive wiring was their first language. To their credit, the trike is several years old and they rode it all over the country for most of those years, so it couldn’t be TOO out of whack. There appears to have been a few repairs done over those years, wiring spliced and respliced, often with what was apparently the wire on hand. There was THHN insulated 12ga spliced to PVC insulated 14ga, using crimp connectors that had seen inside the jaws of a pair of vise-grips. Though I was under the gun to get the trike inspected the next day, I determined pretty early that I would be rewiring the whole thing.

The switch pod is pretty cool. It’s designed to help make a dirt bike street legal and most features are to that end. It has a parking light/headlight switch that actually has an off position. According to the installation sheet, this switch is intended to serve as the main switch in the absence of a keyswitch and pretty much everything depends on this switch being on. It also has a press-to-cancel turn signal switch, a horn button, a kill switch and a blue high-beam indicator LED.

It took till late in the evening, but I got it in place and as operational as I could. The front signal lights were pretty pitiful, so Saturday morning, we got some nice little lights from Mid-Cities and I returned and finished up the wiring and took it to be inspected.

Our usual inspector was out of motorcycle stickers, so we had to find an alternate. Now, inspections are a minimalist affair in Texas, pretty much verifying you have insurance and that you aren’t so stupid that you drop the bike. Consequently, it’s pretty standard faire for a motorcycle to be inspected on a trailer or in the back of a pickup. This guy refused to do so, insisting that I ride it into his shop. First time EVER that’s been an issue. When we told him that we’d never had to do that before, he said that the state requires it and those who don’t are not following the proper procedure.

So, I get out in the rain, unhook the trike from the trailer, uturn on the side street and pull it around into his garage. After this is done, he begins the proper procedure for inspecting a motorcycle in Texas. This procedure *apparently* consists of not testing the brake lights, turn signals, headlights, horn… He doesn’t test anything, but he fills in his paperwork and puts on a sticker.

I prefer to think that he just didn’t want to get out in the rain. In any case, the trike was now legal. Probably.

We took gathered some general working supplies and tools and such and arranged to meet a keyholder at the BTW clubhouse where we could work on the thing under a roof with lighting and powertools.

First order of business, get the wiring stable.

Very quickly, I decided that stabilizing the existing wiring would likely result in years of psychological therapy, so it needed to be scrapped. It took several evenings, but in short, there is now a fuse panel, relays and terminal strip in one of the storage boxes. I found a Honda keyswitch in the club junkpile that fit the forks and had keys, so I was able to eliminate the dashboard. This put more wiring to front, but I was still able change the ugly frayed bundle of wiring into a nearly undetectable sheath that has far more circuits in it. The only existing wire left are leads coming out of lights and the distributor.

I started the trike on the new wiring at 11:57 one weekday night, barely meeting the goal of “finishing the wiring tonight”.

Well, even so, it’s not *quite* finished. The oil and alternator lights do not yet have a place on the as yet unmade instrument panel. The speedometer is mounted on it’s original bracket, but the bracket has been flattened and cut to mount with the keyswitch. I will be making a replacement of this bracket with room for these and other indicator lights.

Some place in there, the newly covered seat came back. Almost immediately, we saw that it was not up to the usual standard of the shop doing the work. We took it back and had them tighten up the fit and generally just redo it. This time, it came back looking like it should.

The next big thing that needed attention was the engine. It was not obvious when we tested it out, but it would not idle when warm. In reading about idle problems with aircooled VW engines, it seemed like a vacuum leak. Long story short and $160 later, a new carburetor eliminated the leak around the old one’s throttle shaft. Oh, my, what a difference it made! It’s fun to drive now!

It’s too bad, we now have a very clean yet utterly useless used H30/31 PICT carburetor. Somebody makes a throttle shaft bushing kit and I may experiment with that, for my trike has similar problems that were undiagnosed when last I played with it.

We also got quite a few engine dress up items like pulleys, distributor cap, wires, coil cover. At this point, we’re going to wait to replace the tins, but they will one day be either replaced or painted.

Besides paint, the last *big* thing is the replacement of the pedals, which I’ll be working on today. We got pedals with a 3/4″ and a 7/8″ master cylinders, nylon lines and a new clutch slave cylinder. I’ve already made a bracket for the slave cylinder, to eliminate the side loading inherent in mounting a cylinder in place of the stock cable. Installing the new pedals will involve cutting out the old foot throttle and obviously the old brake and clutch pedals and their linkages. The biggest problem I see, short term, is that I must drill through the old weights welded to the bottom of the floorboard in order to mount the new pedals.

Yellow Trike Work

The rains came just as I got home.

I spent the time inside putting the end on the throttle cable and assembling the throttle, well, assembly. I have just about decided that building my own cables, especially custom cables, is just way less frustrating than trying to shop for one that will work, so long as you have all the parts.

I got all my cable parts online from Flanders Motorcycle Accessories. Knowing the size cable, sheath and ends you need will help a lot. Use your digital caliper a lot when or you will be destined to either not have the right parts or order a bunch of stuff you don’t need to get, hoping you get the right one. Even so, it takes a while to get good at remembering all the separate parts you really should order, like adjusters and boots and such. If I were doing full time building, I would try to stock a lot of parts to sort of standardize on, then I could build them as needed and just reorder stock instead of designing every element of a cable before ordering the parts for just that cable. I digress.

I’d hoped on being able to keep the foot throttle (easier for highway cruising) but I didn’t have a good way to attach both devices to the carburetor. I have a couple of ideas that I can try later, but for now I’ll just use a hand throttle only.

The throttle lever and spring on the carburetor is designed for foot-type forces and thus is hard to turn with the hand throttle. I will first try lightening the spring. If that doesn’t work, I will reconfigure the throttle for better leverage. There is more than enough travel in the cable to allow for some adjustment room there.

After the throttle, I did some electrical reconnaissance. The dashboard switch that we were lead to believe was the turn signals, is in fact the headlight switch. The headlight works! All we had to do was turn it on.

The turn signal switch is an after market affair kludged into place on the left hand control, where the stock one might have been many years ago. The baton for this switch is broken off, which is why I never noticed it before. By shorting the proper terminals together, I verified that the turn signals do indeed work.

We ordered a left hand control switch from Mid-Cities Cycle, which is due in this afternoon. Assuming the weather holds, I should be able to install the switch tonight then take the trike down for inspection tomorrow and it will be completely street legal!

I should probably bleed the clutch to make it easier to drive, though… πŸ™‚

Well, there is one caveat. The seat is out for recovering, so for the inspection, I will probably need to attach a temporary seat, rather than just sit it there. Our inspector is as lenient as one could hope, but he’s not actually corrupt!

Nearly ready for paint

I called Bondo to ask what about painting Buzz with a single color and while I had him on the phone, we talked about the fenders and what he’s having to do to make them pretty. Lots of filler, unfortunately, as I had expected. In any case, it’s nearly ready for primer, which means the whole thing is nearly ready for paint…

As an added (though welcome) distraction, my wife just bought a home built VW trike. It’s already road worthy with the exception of troubleshooting the turn signals and headlight. Get those done and get it inspected and it could be driven anytime.

Well, there is a major design flaw that makes it VERY difficult to drive the trike on an incline. The placement of the brake pedal and accelerator makes it impossible to feather the throttle to gently climb an incline, you know, like our driveway. These engines are notorious for a low torque idle (at least in my experience), so I can’t feather the clutch without feathering the throttle and I can’t get to the throttle without releasing the brake.

She would rather have a hand throttle anyway, though there’s no reason we can’t have both.

It’s been hot and I’ve been busy

… but not busy on my trike.

However, stuff is happening.

I spoke with Bondo Joe a week or so ago. He’s almost ready to paint the body. There were a LOT of stress cracks and pinholes and general agedness to contend with. I mentioned that I was planning on putting on some fenders and he has asked to have them so that he can paint them to match, which means I need to get that together right away!

I tried standard trailer fenders (from Northern Tool, though you can get them other places) but the widest they have is 9″ and my tires are 11″ wide, so it didn’t look right.

After reviewing various methods of widening the fenders, I elected to do it by purchasing a third fender to use as donor material. I split that fender down the center, leaving two 4-1/2″ half fenders. I split one of the other fenders at 7″ then welded the 7″ and 4-1/2″ pieces to form a 11-1/2″ fender. Blending this weld is turning out to be a lot more work than I had expected, but a couple more evenings and I’ll have the fenders ready to deliver.

Well, there is one thing that must be done first. The fender mount on the left side was bent in the old collision. I need to straighten this bracket, which will be easy if I can get enough heat on the bends. I may not have enough torch to do that, so I may need to get some help with that. I need this repaired so I can have the fender drilled before it goes to Joe. If he puts any artwork ont the fenders, as opposed to single color, he’ll know where the holes are going to be and can accomodate them.


Or, I may be able to secure mounting brackets on the bottom of the fenders to leave the tops pristine….

We’ll see…

Wires, wires, everywhere!

Crankin’, but not runnin’…

I have the engine wired up. It took several days, mostly because it was hard to dedicate much time to it.

After much waffling, I finally decided to put the fuse block on the frame downtube. It will be more accessible for troubleshooting there. Almost everywhere else within reach would be exposed engine heat.

I welded two tabs to the pipe and drilled them to fit the mounting holes in the fuse block. The fuses face downward so they will be visible from underneath once the body is back on.

For weeks, I’ve been spending time trying to draw up a wiring diagram, but I’ve started it over repeatedly. Just can’t seem to get it together. I decided to kind of wire and draw simultaneously, based on a checklist of things that need wiring. For example, I need to wire everything on the engine that needs straight 12V when the key is on, so I list them: electric choke, fuel cuttoff solenoid, coil (through ballast resistor).

On the checklist, I set the wire colors, based arbitrarily on some concepts in my mind. For example, red is almost universally 12V power, but I like to think of things that always have power should be red. What’s reddish, to indicate 12V, but not always? Ok, orange. πŸ™‚

So, I cut a piece of orange wire long enough to go from the choke to the fuel solenoid. put my nice quick disconnect spade connector on one end, cut another orange wire for solenoid to the ballast resistor, then put both of those in a spade connector for the solenoid and a ring connector on the resistor end of that one. Then run a wire from there to the fuse block, cut to length, put another ring on the resistor end and for now leave the other end a little long, but cut it.

There is a stop-run switch on the handlebar, so I guess my orange wire should extend up there before plugging in to the fusebox. Of course, that requires that I decode the wiring to the switches and connectorize it. The connector itself takes a while, but when it’s all wired up and ready to go, I meter it all to make sure they all work and then I finally draw out that bit of the diagram, remembering to include all the connections and connectors. I also try to draw the parts in a rough representation of where they are on the trike.

Ok, next wire.

So, you see, it takes a while.

The payoff is that by dedicating my thoughts and wiring retentiveness to the job one circuit at a time, with a big picture in mind, I think the trike will be well wired, reliable and easier to troubleshoot when something does crop up.

In the beginning…

I tend to go on. You have been warned.

For now, I will skip much of the detail about how I came to seek and acquire my VW trike, but some details will be handy at some point in the future.

I found this on a CraigsList ad in Houston. We went to see it on a Sunday and I returned the following Saturday to pay for it and pick it up.

The previous owner found it in the back lot of a pawn shop in this condition. I believe he said it had been there for 8 years. He had it himself for several years. He had another project he wanted to take on and he needed the garage back.

While he had it, he repaired a big crack in the fiberglass, shot a coat of primer on it, made the gas tank removable, put a good 1600 dual port engine on it and changed the tires out.

There was a battery and enough wiring for the engine to start and run, but that was all. The alternator was not even connected. I’m a wire guy, so I kinda like that I have a blank canvas for the wiring.

In short, as I received it, it only needed all the wiring, brakes and a front tire to be road worthy. Not pretty, but road worthy.

The brakes were not difficult to repair. All I needed was everything but the drums. Luckily for me, that was still a pretty short list. Master cylinder, switch, 5 steel lines, 2 flex lines, two slave cylinders, a handful of springs and clips and 4 cans of brake cleaner. He stops now.

With brakes in place, I was ready to take a clandestine trip around the neighborhood. I had trouble keeping it in gear, but the thing worked!

The trike ended up at the pawn shop after a collision. The PO did a pretty decent job of repairing the fiberglass damage, but there were other things that, in analysis, was actually collision damage. The majority of it had to do with the shifter and things attached to it. The shifter itself was fine, but the mount was cracked, one of the linkages was bent and the nose cone on the transmission had a really nasty hole and crack on it.

To replace the nose cone, I should have had to remove the transaxle, but the mounts, especially the front one, were so shot that the transaxle could move enough to let to do that procedure with it still in the frame! The shift linkage is joined with rachet U-joints. The shift shaft in the nose cone was welded directly to one of these U-joints. I had to cut it short enough that the shaft could clear the bushing in the nose cone, but keep it as long as possible for reconnecting to the shift linkage.

All that helped shifting, but with the motor mounts set to extra sloppy, it was still hard to put/keep it in gear. I bought new urethane mounts that have only in the past week or so been installed. I’m looking forward to another ride to see if that finally fixes the shifting.

The motor mounts are just one of the items that I’ve been gathering since about Thanksgiving 2008 to be installed on the trike. We’re getting close to our vacation and it would be very cool to take the trikes somewhere for vacation, so for the last month or so, I’ve done a lot of work on the thing.

We attended a BTW benefit last fall and my most lovely and generous wife bid on and won a $1000 paint job for a trike or bike for substantially less than $1000. We wanted to make sure we had the bike titled before we sent the body off to Bondo Joe. I got that stuff out of the way and got the body to the paintshop a couple of weeks ago.

That evening, I received this email:

I’ve been back in the shop looking at your trike body and have come up with some ideas. What I need is some pics of the bike. You told me to do whatever to it so you must of talked to someone that knows me, so when I was looking at it a lot of things came into my twisted mind and I need to know if you like dragons because I came up with something that I think would look really cool. The way I see it a wizard rides a dragon. That’s all I’m going to tell you about what I’d like to do. If I do this to it nobody will ever call it the Enterprise again. It will be known as the dragon bike. And It will be purple. Do you want to ride a dragon? If not I’ll think of something else to do.

I definitely like dragons, so I’m pretty excited to see what he comes up with.

In the mean time, I had lots of shiny bits to install, like chrome tins and polished aluminum valve covers. I painted a lot of engine parts using Krylon’s X-Metal system. It’s basically a decently high temperature candy color paint intended to lend an anodized look to polished metal. They also have a silver base coat called “metal converter” for surfaces that are not shiny metal. In my case, I used the converter because all the stuff I wanted to make colorful were themselves different colors, so I ended up using it on everything. Everything includes the intake manifolds, alternator and distributor. Doesn’t sound like much when listed like that, but it looks pretty nice. I used the converter silver alone on the engine block.

Since that pic was taken, I have put the plug wires back on, mounted the ignition coil and ballast resistor (out of sight) and welded on tabs to mount the fuse block to. All I have left to do is wire everything. Everything.

I have 100′ each of 10 colors of wire, weather tight connectors, 8 circuit fuse block and a wiring diagram that is about 90% complete. I hope to have the chassis wired and ready to add lights, gauges and switches when the body comes back from Bondo Joe.