Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Motorbycle: A Bigger Electric Vehicle... Or So I Thought

After the Electric Orbit Wheels and the extremely fun nights/early mornings in the Stata Parking Garage with Ben's Trike, I started thinking about a bigger, faster electric vehicle. The Electric Orbit Wheels are great for short commutes around MIT, but not for midnight garaging. 

I started playing with the idea of returning to my childhood and making a small motorcycle (not a pocket bike, but a small motorcycle similar to Mars's). (I also wanted to make my own Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) to help with drag racing in the garage.) I've actually been riding motorcycles for most of my life, I've just never taken one apart or built my own. It's time for that to change.

I don't remember this story from my point of view, but this is similar to how my Dad tells it. 

When I was two years old, my Dad bought a small 50cc Yamaha motorcycle and put it in his old 1966 LandRover Series II A as a way to hide my birthday present. Somehow I found out and kept telling my Mom, "There's a motorbycle in the police car!". She had no idea what I meant until my third birthday. 

I first learned how to ride a motorcycle with my dad walking behind holding the back. Ever since, we've been riding as a family out on trails in the middle-of-no-where on dirt bikes and four-wheelers.

Here's a few of our trips out to Old Murphy Dome Road and Moose Mountain (a ski resort in the winter):


My Dad would ride a slightly bigger motorcycle, so when I grew up, I would use his and upgrade to a bigger bike. After the little Yamaha, I progressed to a 110cc Kawasaki. After that, a 125cc Yamaha (in the picture above).

Moose Mountain Ski Trails
Forest Fire Dead Tree Zone
We actually couldn't ride on our preferred trails one year, because the fire fighters were using it to fight the fires.

When I went back this past summer to film the 24-hour sunlight up above the Arctic Circle, I tried out my Dad's new motorcycle.

Riding that bike was SO much fun!!! I felt so powerful! It's a four cylinder and is super quite. I can be cruising at 70mph and then still accelerate like I was going 20mph! It felt great. And I definitely want a sport bike now...

After seeing Bailey's $50 bike with a frame, wheels, brakes, and everything, I decided it would be much more cost effective to buy a bike and turn it into an electric motorcycle. It would have been fun to make a frame, but it would have been twice as much if not more. 

So I began craiglist motorcycle hunting. I searched for motorcycles between $2 and $500 to weed out the super expensive new sports bikes. I also had the picture option selected and then scrolled through the various motorcycles in grid view. 

After about a month of searching and a few failed attempts, I found a red Kawasaki Ninja 600R for $225.

The guy offered to deliver it for $25, and before I knew it the bike arrived at MITERS.

It has 15,177 miles, which is pretty far for an old 1989 bike. It would have been fine for an electric bike used in parking garages, but for going long distances it only has about another 5,000 miles.

I got a pair of matching keys, a broken key, a bill of sale that the seller wrote with the previous owner when he was buying the bike, and a registration that expired in March of 2013.


The keys ARE the same and they do go to the ignition, fuel tank, and seat which makes me think this bike has a verified history of ownership. That might make it a little easier to get a title. I bought it without a title thinking I wouldn't ride it on the road and just convert it to electric. But now that its running, I kind of want a title.

Time to take off the covers fairings and see what's underneath.

While I was taking it apart, I was trying to find clues that might prove that this bike had verified owners. The matching key was a good clue, but there may be more. I was also looking for what the previous owner had done to try and make it work (to learn from it and to help problem solve).  

I found a bare wire. Along with a connector that wasn't even connected.

It looks like it goes to a 12V "Regulator Rectifier" which is used to charge the battery from the engine. So, I plugged it back in.

The back light and back blinkers had a big white connector and crimps that could be easily disconnected. These were connected to the back fairing, and came off when I took the fairings off.

There was some evidence that the bike had been laid on both sides. It didn't look to scuffed, which would indicate that it probably just fell over at a stand still.

For a 1989 bike, it's in great shape! 

Wait... What? Why does that say 88???

The registration has it registered as an 89 with a valid VIN. The fairings are probably interchangeable between 88s and 89s. (Which would also explain the different color and texture paint job from the bikes frame).

The frame is a solid black color which feels and looks like a proper paint job (but again, I'm not an expert on this at this point in the game). The fairings seem like they were spray painted (or maybe they just have a different but proper paint texture). 

Also, I've never seen this logo before on the Internet. It didn't have the classic Ninja logo with Kawasaki to the left. The old registration does confirm that this bike was built by Kawasaki.

Maybe the fairings are just aftermarket replacement parts.

This bike was manufactured by Kawasaki, in Japan, with Metric screws. Most of the fairing bolts were 10 mm. This might also be a clue that someone didn't just refurbish the fairings and use handy Standard bolts lying around. Metric screws are a good sign.

The front blinker assembly was cracked pretty badly; it was probably caused by dropping the bike. 

I tried to take pictures of which screws, nuts, washers, and grommets went where. They may come in handy later on, when I've completely forgotten.

This bolt was bent! Maybe a result from dropping it (though the fairing isn't scratched up)?

The shifter mechanism is a little loose, but it works well for first and neutral. Though, it doesn't seem to want to go into second. Usually you can shift a gear, roll it forward, and shift again. However, it just doesn't want to shift to second. Dgonz and Thomas suspected maybe the transmission gears weren't meshing (possibly because of a nasty jam). If that were the case, fixing it would mean literally disassembling the frame (because on ninjas, the frame is held together by the engine). 

This welded joint kind of scares me. I will definitely touch this up before riding around a bunch. However, MITERS is currently out of a welder.  

It looks like it helps mount the braking assembly to the swing arm. Therefore, if I brake really hard and abruptly it could get ugly.

That looks like a pipe for fluid near the rear wheel brake foot bar (pedal). Braking fluid?

Yep, it's brake fluid. 

One thing that surprised me, there was some slop when I was lifting the bike up by the back bar. Further inspection pointed towards a loose allen wrench bolt. Maybe the previous owner disassembled it and forgot to tighten everything.

Partially disassembled fairings. 

That's the horn in the lower-left corner. When all the lights and blinkers are off and disconnected, I can use the horn to test whether or not the electrical system is working. 

Fairings off, and ready to debug. 

There are four exhaust pipes which indicates that it's a four cylinder engine.

After I got most of the fairings off, I searched for a manual to help debug what may be preventing it from starting. I found a manual from this forum for a 1998 Kawasaki Ninja. I also found one on the Kawasaki site that was closer to a 1989 Ninja make. I ended up using this manual.

When I took this picture, I was trying to capture what I thought it's future would be like. Engine-less, and on its way to an electric paradise. But... I guess now that it's running, it's going to keep its guts.

The previous owner said he had replaced the battery a year ago. It didn't make the bike run, so it was left in a garage for a year. Dgonz and I checked the battery voltage and found it at 6.63V. For a 12V motorcycle battery, 6.63V is pretty much dead.

(Before Dgonz showed up and convinced me to test the engine, I was ready to take it all apart and convert it to electric) Thanks Dgonz!!!

So we tried one of the many Smart Dane batteries lying around MITERS. Since the removed fairings had all the electrical indicators, I plugged the tachometer set in to get feedback. And there were lights! It seemed like all the electrical systems worked: the neutral indicator, oil indicator, blinkers (relays were clicking fast without the resistance of the light, and horn were all working. 

We then tested the starter motor to see if the engine would even turn. And the battery kind of fizzled...

The starter motor sounded like it was turning very slightly, then drawing more than 30A and blowing the Dane battery (Dane actually designed these batteries when he worked for A123). Because Dane's batteries are smart, they would cut out and read 0.0V afterwards. Dgonz "woke them up" by connecting them to a  13.3V power supply.

These are casualties of our efforts...

I left my laptop on the hood of a car to have the manual handy while we debugged. I didn't even notice when that car started to back up and drive away! Thankfully they noticed before going to far.

After reaching a dead end on the electric start, Dash (a friend of Mars who works on mopeds), Dgonz, Thomas, and Mars helped me push start it. This entailed two people running behind, while the rider shifted to first, quickly pulled in the clutch, and twisted the throttle.

When we first tried to push start it, the engine purred like it was almost ready to start. This ruled out the possibility that the engine couldn't turn which was a relief. Maybe there's too much oxide built up on the pistons which prevented the starter motor from turning the engine and drawing infinite current. 

We tried a couple more times with longer stretches to push. The engine purred louder as we kept pushing, but it never took off. Dash pointed out, "An engine needs three things, Compression, Spark, and Fuel." So, I checked the spark plugs to see if the looked happy.

The spark plugs were easily accessible by moving the gas tank over a bit. They were pretty deep inside the engine. While I was trying to figure out the bolt size, I dropped a socket in the spark plug hole. I went socket fishing with a magnet on a stick. For future reference, the wrench size was 19mm.

The spark plugs looked in pretty decent condition. To test whether or not the engine had spark, we pulled out a spark plug and grounded it. Then tried push starting it again with a third person running along checking the plug for a blue spark.

Since the plug wasn't plugging threaded into the engine, we could smell gas fairly strongly. That indicated that the engine was getting plenty of fuel. After this test, we concluded that the engine was getting all three necessary ingredients. Then Mars suggested we hook a battery up, because some bikes require a battery to run. In effect, the battery acts as a wire or capacitor just completing a circuit.

So we strapped a "stupid" battery (one that won't safely cut out like Dane's batteries) to the gas tank with some electrical tap and gave it another try.

So... Yeah... It runs :) Now what am I going to do!?!? Rev it up and ride around the block (with a helmet of course).

The previous owner of the bike dropped it off at MITERS around 9:45AM, and I had it running before sundown. That's enough fun for one Sunday.

It joins the other bikes parked outside MITERS.

It seems I have a similar problem Charles has. Except that I didn't put in nearly the same amount of time and effort to get it running. I wonder what the previous owner did to deem this bike junkyard worthy? 

Well... the next thing to do is read up on the manual, and figure out how to get the electric starter working so I don't have to push start it every time.  

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