Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Dyno

A recent addition to the shop has been a dynamometer, a.k.a. the Dyno. Ian came across it via some techs at the downtown Harley shop, who didn't want to run it in their neighborhood.

A dyno is a like a treadmill for motorcycles, with a 350-pound steel drum on which the bike's wheel spins. A computer records and analyzes the bike's performance.

"It looks kind of rusty," I said.

"The rust is part of the uh . . . charm . . . yeah," Ian said. "One of these things brand new is like fifteen grand. For our tiny little vintage shop to get hold of a performance dyno is huge. It just doesn't happen."

To make room for the Dyno, Ian cleared out his "pile of crap," including "rat bikes" and parts bikes, and stuck it outside to rot in the rain.

"What's a rat bike?" I asked, picturing something out of Ed Roth. (I never pass up a good tangent.)

"It's any rusted-out bike that has sat around forever in a garage or a backyard," Ian said. "Some people build rat-style bikes, but basically rat bikes are roaches. There's no way to get rid of them except for the junk man or a shop like mine. We only use them for parts, so they're pretty much dead souls. If somebody stole one, I wouldn't really care too much. I'd just find another one for fifty bucks."

Poor things.

But back to the Dyno.

Ian's finishing up the platform, which still needs a ramp. The computer brain, which diagnoses all the information, is being serviced at Dynojet. The computer also needs a monitor--as well as a printer for printing out the runs.

"We're going to post the kings of certain classes up here," Ian said, "so that everybody knows who's the biggest dog in town to beat."

Ian had to steal from the Twinline Motorcycles race fund to cover the Dyno. He's planning a "dyno party" to top the fund back up.

"We'll do a keg and some live music and run motorcycles on the Dyno," Ian said. "This'll help us raise some money, so that we can go out and be competitive and have a good time at the raceway."

Ian plans to throw the party at the shop on a Saturday night in April.

"Hopefully it'll hit some nice weather," he said. "I think we're probably going to get forty or fifty bikes through that night, which is insane. It'll be eighteen bucks for a single run on it, and it'll be fifty bucks for three."

The party aside, Ian intends to use the Dyno primarily for vintage customers and for rebuilding motors for Twinline cafe bikes.

"We could line sport bikes out the door all day long," Ian said, "but that's not really what we want to do with it. We'll rent it out sometimes, but we're putting it in so we can build motors and build horsepower for our customers. This will also help with our vintage racing, because we'll be able to build horsepower for race bikes."

Ian wants to cater to vintage racers, so when somebody says, for example, "I need 45 horsepower," Ian can back up the completed work with a dyno report.

"The Dyno was just too awesome for me to pass by," Ian said.

Monday, February 25, 2008


Last Friday, amid the mild chaos of friends, beer, and the buzzing of Ian's work on the Dyno (article to come on that), I endeavored to interview Isaac, Ian's only paid employee so far. Isaac started at Twinline Motorcycles a month after Ian opened for business in 2006.

"I wasn't into motorcycles when I was a kid," Isaac said. "I was more into racing RC [remote-control] cars. They have little gas motors, and they can get pretty fast. I had to rebuild the engine just about every race, so I learned the mechanics of them and what went into building a good motor."

Then Isaac's buddy bought an '86 250 Ninja that needed some fixing up. It was the first bike Isaac ever rode, and he decided to fix it up.

"My parents were totally against it," he said. "I had to mow lawns for-fuckin'-ever. I got a big ticket on that bike for riding without a license, speeding, no mirrors . . . . I didn't know the cops were behind me. They didn't use their sirens. They called it evading and all this other bullshit, so I couldn't get my license until I was 18."

Isaac finished the 250. Then another buddy, doing some backyard cleaning, asked if Isaac wanted a little 125. Yep, Isaac did.

"So he dropped that off at my house," Isaac said. "It was five bucks for the title. I was going to sell it just to get some money, because I didn't have a job and it was in pretty good shape. It had a bent valve, though, so it wouldn't idle or do anything under 5,000 rpms."

"What's a valve?" I wondered. I'd heard of valves, but that was about the extent of it.

I got a good description.

"As the piston's coming down," Isaac said, "the intake valve sucks in air and fuel. Then the piston comes up, compresses them, and goes boom. The piston goes down, and the inertia of the crankshaft brings the piston back up. The exhaust valve opens and lets all the exhaust out, and that's how the exhaust goes into your pipe."

My brain's intake valve sucked in this new information and, I'm sure, will soon convert it into enough power to dominate the world (but don't tell anyone).

"When the intake valve closes," Isaac continued, "the pressure builds up. So when it's cracked open a little bit, it doesn't seal up and cause combustion. You don't get very much power. So I tore into the bike, and I found out the problem. It was no big deal. I ordered a new valve, dropped it in, and called it good.

"Then I started playing around with horsepower tricks. I smoothed out the passageways from the carburetor to the intake valve, because usually there are a whole bunch of bumps in there from casting that the factory doesn't smooth out because it would take too long.

"Then I cut the exhaust pipe to make it louder. A bike like mine is so small, most people can't see it, so it's better if you hear it.

"I started cafe-ing it out. I dropped the handlebars. I moved the rear sets from the swing-arm to the frame."


"The swing-arm is what the rear wheel attaches to," Isaac explained. "It's called the swing-arm because it swings with the suspension. The sets were mounted on that, which feels kind of weird when you're riding. You hit a bump, and your feet come up. So I put them on the frame in the same spot, with a different connector."

The more Isaac worked on the bike, the more he loved it. He did as much as he could without a license, up to riding around the block. He took an Auto Body class.

"I didn't want to paint car parts," Isaac said, "so I decided to bring the bike in and paint that. While I was in there, I also made a cool-ass seat. It was a whole bunch of pieces of steel that I just kind of bent around. I welded them in and cut off what I didn't want. Most of the time, seats are fiberglass, but I didn't know how to work with fiberglass."

This is right in line with Twinline bikes. A Twinline bike usually gets a tunnel seat: a piece of sheet metal bent into a tunnel shape, which is aerodynamic and has room for a taillight under it.

"So that's basically how my love affair with cafe bikes started," Isaac said. "I had no idea what was out there. My parents split up, so my dad and I moved out to West Seattle.

"I was out looking for a job at Delta Marine. They make kick-ass boats--really expensive ones--but their hours weren't going to work for me. I was driving home and got lost. I drove by here and saw a whole bunch of vintage bikes! So I tried calling, but Ian was never here because he just had his baby. Matt and John didn't know what was going on about a job opening, so I decided to stop by and hang out. I brought my truck down, and everyone loved that. It's a '63 Ford Econoline--a van with a truck bed on it. It's pretty cool. Orange and black. I brought my bike down, and they loved that even more. Then I got to see all of their bikes, and that was awesome. Then Matt and John asked me to go hang out with the Cretins. It was totally eye-opening to see all these other people with cafe bikes. I didn't know that anyone in the Northwest was doing it. Georgetown is the right place."

"Tell me about your differences with Ian," I said.

"Ian and I butt heads about everything," Isaac said, "but it's not a bad relationship. Our creativities are on totally different levels, but it's not in levels of quality. It's all just in levels of taste, like the Bat Seat. The Bat Bike is growing on me, though."

"What are your plans for the rest of your life?"

"I want to do this for the rest of my life. I'm so young right now that I don't really get all the credit for what I do. People are like, 'Oh, this kid's building motors. He's only 20 years old. What the fuck does he know?' But if I put enough bikes out there . . . ."

Isaac now owns four bikes, including his white Transformers bike, which is coming along, and his next big project: a bike he's building for racing.

Friday, February 15, 2008

KO 360

What Isaac has dubbed the "Knockout 360" is a 1974 Honda CB 360 twin. This model had slick shifting, was a six-speed (versus the five-speed 350), and had superior--albeit vibrate-y--power, but it sat on the showroom floor.

The KO 360's previous owner had turned it into a chopper with plus-ten-inch forks--raking it out, setting it sky-high, and making it uncomfortable to ride. The guy who consigned it, upon later finding out that Ian shortened the forks, said, "Oh, good, I'm glad you took those things down. That was tough to ride around on."

Ian and Isaac had just begun work on the KO twenty minutes before I first came on the scene at Twinline.

Look at these handlebars," Ian said. "They're disgusting. They're like, 'Yeah! Easy Rider!'--but with a reject Honda 360. This bike can really be fast, though--and it's gonna be."

So we started taking the bike down to nothing, stripping weight off of it. Removing 7 pounds from a bike is equivalent to adding 1 horsepower for acceleration.

For the taillight, Ian got a chopper-style lens shaped like a diamond and then took seven hours to build a scrap-steel seat to complement it.

"Usually I go with cat-eye lenses--elliptical lenses--that reflect the roundness of the bike," he said. "They're smooth and blend in pretty well. But with this one, I wanted something more angular."

During the seat build, Isaac offered constructive criticism. "That looks awful," he said. "It's like the Bat Bike." This from the guy who wants to put the Transformers symbol on his bike.

"Dude, this is cool," Ian protested.

Later, Ian told me, "Isaac's a genius, but he's also a twenty-year-old kid. People come to him and say, 'What should I do with this?' He gives them the answer, but he doesn't tell them about the twelve other things they have to take into consideration. So they go out, follow his advice, and wonder why there are problems. He says, 'Oh, after you do that, you have to do this and this and this and this and this.' And they go, 'Uh, what?!' The twelve other things aren't a big deal to him, but to everyone else in the world, they are.

"I like to be challenged and I like to challenge him, though," Ian said. "When we collaborate, we're really happy with the way things turn out."

When Ian got the seat finished, Isaac said, "Okay, yeah, that did turn out nice, even if it is the Bat Bike."

"This has no need to be the Bat Bike," Ian said. "It's it's own thing."

In addition to constructing a new seat, the guys have rebuilt the carbs, put on new tires, drilled out the rotor, and put homemade, race-style, ghetto rear sets on it. Ian built a wiring harness from scratch, forgoing turn signals, high-beams, and an electric starter in order to save about three pounds.

"The old, hack wiring job was a fire hazard," Ian said, "but I don't know how mine is going to work until I actually get the motor running."

They're running a non-standard-size battery and building out underneath it to hide it, since there will be no side-covers on this bike.

"It will still be a very serviceable bike," Ian said. "My goal is to be able to service the bikes that I sell, because what's the fun of having a custom bike that nobody can work on? We can take apart our bikes and put them back together in no time. All the work is in getting them from their crummy condition to where we want them.

The guys have also made a custom tailpipe, painted Ian's favorite color: flat black. They also painted the forks black. Guess what color they're painting the rest of the bike?

Next, the KO will get a new chain. It will get its motor running and a proper tune-up--a lost art, according to Ian. Ben from Hellbilly will follow up the paint job with free-form, gloss-black pinstriping.

"Ben's one of the most talented pinstripers, period," Ian said.

It'll get new handgrips. Shorter brake and clutch cables. An engine cleaning, to make it sparkly.

"One of my interns, Brian, is phenomenal at that," Ian said. "Everybody has their strengths. I try to put them where they want to be and where they're really good at contributing, and I try to push them to learn what they don't know--what they're not so comfortable with--and be there to get them through it. Once they're through it, they go, 'That's not so bad!' That's just how life is."

The KO is now more than halfway done, with just a couple of days' work left. When it's done, it will probably weigh about fifty pounds less than it did in stock form, and it should hug the road.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Superball Jess: Your New Blogger

I'm Jessica, a.k.a. Superball, joining Twinline Motorcycles to do some blogging in exchange for learning motorcycle mechanics. I found Ian on Craigslist while looking for random little jobs to fill out my job collection. (I have five.) I didn't even know it was possible to hope for something like this: the chance to learn motorcycles inside and out, essentially for free, from kick-ass teachers who make their living doing this stuff.

I've got a lot to learn. I love to ride--in fact, have rarely gotten around town in any other way during the past five years--but riding is about all I know when it comes to motorcycles. An example is in order: My boyfriend, Jack, has a 1971 Honda 350, and I mentioned that to Ian and Isaac.

"Oh, yeah?" they said. "Is it a twin or a four?"

"Um . . ." I said.

"Does it have one exhaust pipe or two?"

"Ya know, I never really took much note of the number of exhaust pipes," I admitted.

They didn't laugh. They didn't even blink. Well, maybe they blinked, but only once. All they said was, "That's all right. Hang around here enough, and you'll be an expert in months."


So how did I reach this sorry state of affairs? Well, unlike apparently every other biker in the world, I haven't been riding since I was a kid. After I got to ride on my dad's bike maybe once, he traded it for a gun. That has annoyed me to this day, but now I think my mother had a lot to do with it. (When I first told her I was getting a motorcycle, her response was similar to when, at age 18, I told her I was getting married: "Oh, no!" Of course, if I'd grown up on bikes, I'd be the first chick in the Moto GP about now.)

As soon as I finished growing up, I got married. My husband didn't want me to get a motorcycle. As soon as I got divorced, I bought my 2000 BMW f650 from a friend, who was a great riding mentor but didn't teach much in the way of mechanics. After failing to convince a BMW dealer to let me watch an oil change, I got a boyfriend who rides. I now know how to change my oil and spark plugs. (Hold the applause, please.) I'll need to know a lot more than that, though, if I'm ever gonna make it to Tierra del Fuego, not to mention Madagascar or Mongolia, on Jack's and my Big Trip.

Now I've met Ian and Isaac a couple of times. This last time, Ian planned to set me up for blogging, but the website was down--probably the fault of my electronics disruption field.

With that plan thwarted, they let me dive in head first with them on one of their pet projects: a 1974 Honda 360. I got to unscrew the handebars, headlight, and instrument panel. While Isaac held the bike, I pulled off the front wheel. Then I unscrewed the front fender and brake. (I seem to take to this unscrewing. I'll keep you posted when I try the reverse.)

And all of this on a hangover. (Okay, I was recovering from a few days of a bug that started with a hangover, but let's not split hairs.)

So it begins.