Oley 2016

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Once riding season begins, the posts fall behind a bit. The annual visit to Oley for the AMCA swap meet took place in April. It is always a good excuse to ride (see Oleyonics), and never fails to entertain. 2016 continued the streak. There is always something German for sale despite this being a predominantly antique American meet. This year there was an Adler and an Imme in addition to several BMWs. There are also plenty of vintage Japanese machines scattered about, which adds to the sense that they are becoming much more popular among restorers. As usual, Excelsior machines had a healthy presence, and looked cool with their inline 4 engine layout. In the "never seen one of those before" category was a 1950s Puma motorcycle manufactured in Argentina, and a some interesting Harley Davidson variants such as the cool Sport Legerro from the late 1960s. We all noticed what seemed like a dramatic reduction in British bikes and parts at the event. A few Triumphs, and a few BSAs were about the extent of it. Quite the contrast to the Gathering of the Nortons a week prior. There was nothing on the Velocity shopping list this year, just a chance to walk around and marvel at the machines and their owners....

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Wind Resistance

In the fast lane of an interstate highway, very bad things were about to happen.  I was helplessly drifting in what seemed like slow motion, across the single yellow line that marked the median, and I could see the rumble strips just inches away. I had ridden on rumble strips before, but at maybe 40mph tops while going down the shoulder to avoid an accident, or at the direction of the local constabulary. This was not that. It was 75mph, and I had no idea what kind of traction or control would remain once I hit the strips. The assumption was that there would be none. Even if I survived the rumble strips somehow, the concrete barrier was another 12 inches away. In that 12 inches was the collective refuse and detritus of a typical American interstate. Rubber marbles, candy and gum wrappers, pieces of retread truck tires, cigarette butts, etc. And momentarily, me and a perfectly good motorcycle.....

The last time I had been in a situation like this, I was in Wyoming. There were no clues, as the road stretched arrow-straight across the mid-western plains where there were no trees to let you know visually that the wind was picking up. In fact, the first indication was a tractor trailer which veered toward me as I passed it in the fast lane. Once I passed the nose of the truck, I felt the crosswind as well. Then it gradually increased in intensity from a mild sensation of pressure on the right side, to a force that required me to lean into it. Not good. It was buffeting my helmet from the side, and moving cars around in their lanes. Very not good. The GPS said next exit 17 miles. I slowed down hoping the reduction in gyroscopic effect from the wheels would lessen the impact. It did. A little. I am not sure what I looked like from behind, but I thought that I was leaning enough in compensation to be close to touching down the luggage.

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And then it seemed to ease a bit for about a mile. There was very light rain, and I felt glad to have survived. That is when the gusts started. They came without warning and blew me right across my lane. Fortunately, there was no one in the fast lane. Everyone with sense (and a few thousand pounds of weight) had probably pulled over.  I am not sure how adrenalin works throughout the body in a fraction of a second, but I am glad it does. I weighted the right peg and leaned once more to the right like a Moto GP rider about to scrape knee pucks. I wrestled the bike back into the slow lane, and rode the very right edge. And then it was gone, and the bike almost veered off the road. @@##$!!&$%! Surely this is a tornado. Just about any motorcycle training tells you to avoid a death grip on the handlebars. My grip was such that I probably deformed them. This is dangerous. The next gust hit, and I leaned hard again. Speed was down to about 40mph. The light rain blew sideways with the gusts, as if someone was alongside me turning a power washer on and off. All the while, the plains looked perfectly calm on either side of the highway. All the while, the mountains ahead in the distance promised rays of sun and warmth. 

It stopped 4 miles later. It stopped, but I refused to trust the calm, bracing for the next gust that never came. In another 5 miles I took the next exit and went straight to the nearest solid building. It was among the most terrifying miles I have ridden. Until now.....

Slow motion ended. The shoulder rumble strips introduced a sudden noise and vibration that scared the stuffing out of me, even though I knew it was coming! I instinctively weighted the right peg hard, and pushed on the bar. The bike moved back into the lane, and I quickly got over to the right lane and reduced speed. This cross wind was more constant once it started, but I was in Pennsylvania this time, not Wyoming. Regardless, I was not taking any chances. Next exit 2 miles.

A Cancelled Combination

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The Konig 500 was a competitive racing machine in the 1960s. As mentioned in Konig: From Watercraft to Motorcraft, the origin of the Konig 500 was a 494cc two stroke flat four engine that powered a racing outboard boat. Packaging problems to overcome, particularly when the boxer engine was placed in the chassis lengthwise like an early Douglas, rather than across the chassis like the BMW boxer. Clever packaging, innovative valve configurations, and enhanced cooling, helped to make the bike a strong performer. But this is only partially about the Konig.

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As the 1970s began, Konig translated its' success into race-ready lists, but they also attracted a surprising potential partner. BMW expressed an interest in building production road machines based on placing the Konig motor in a BMW chassis. Discussions progressed, and two prototypes were built in 1972. One was a 350cc sport model, while the other was a 500cc tourer. The motor was rotated 90 degrees into the familiar BMW layout, and it was placed into a modified R90 chassis where it was mated to a BMW gearbox. Unfortunately, it never progressed beyond the prototype stage, as BMW ultimately rejected the idea of a two-stroke. 

Both prototypes still exist. The 350cc in the Konig museum, and the 500cc has been privately restored. 

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Porsche Sportomatic: Visionary or Delusionary?

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Nobody asked for this. Not in a Porsche. Not in 1967. Some say that this was the emerging influence of Sales and Marketing. Some say it was just being responsive to US customers who had to deal with traffic, and who were lumbering along in high gears at low revs. Some say it was preparing for an inevitable full automatic (Porsche did call it an Automatic). Regardless, it was a relatively surprising option for the Porsche 911 in 1968.  The idea was pretty simple. Allow shifting without using a clutch. Eliminate that pesky third pedal. This was not born out of an avalanche of complaints about coordinating the clutch pedal. There was no such barrage, at least not from 911 owners. Porsche was not losing sales to Corvette because people did not want to change gears. Porsche was doing quite well.

From an engineering standpoint, this was interesting stuff. Developed by Fichtel and Sachs, the gear lever actuated a switch, which operated a vacuum servo, which operated the clutch. A torque converter prevented stalling (along with  the choke/throttle handle between the seats) and allowed the driver to start in any gear. There were 4 forward speeds labeled L, D, D3, and D4. There was also a "Park" setting which fixed a countershaft gear in position. Operation was often described as odd or quirky. The lever was sensitive to touch, and to drive in a sporting manner, you needed to keep your hand suspended above the lever. This gearbox would be fine in a VW beetle or a Karmann Ghia, but not efficient in a pure flagship sports car.  Period Porsche literature described the gears as follows :

 L (Low): For ascending and descending steep grades or for slush, mud and snow.

D (Drive): Normal driving from 0-60 miles per hour. For rapid acceleration, the transmission can be shifted through all ratios like a typical manual transmission.

D3 & D4: For highway cruising. D4 is essentially overdrive, while D3 can be used for passing and downshifting under braking.

P (Park): This is necessary since due to the torque converter there is no mechanical link between the engine and transmission.

R (Reverse): Acts as it would in an automatic. It can only be selected if the car is at a complete stop. Slight increase in engine speed may be necessary to actually move the car.

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The press was mixed. Car and Driver said "So we’re unhappy. And we’re unhappy be­cause the 911 is still something of a stan­dard for judging roadholding and ultimate cornering ability."   Road and Track liked the speed of shifting, but thought the car sounded like "A GM City Bus".  Sports Car Graphic said "Putting an automatic transmission in a Porsche is like artificial insemination: it's no fun anymore."  Motor Trend said "We'll agree with Porsche that the Sportomatic is easier to shift......But do Porschephiles resent shifting?" Motor was more positive, stating "...it doesn't detract at all from the pleasures of fast driving on twisty roads....easy to drive for those who spend a large time motoring in particularly dull conditions.." Autosport indicated that "It has proved unexpectedly popular in Europe...Only an idiot would attempt to compare the Sportomatic with the five-speed box.."

In 1972, the Sportomatic was strengthened by using the type 925 with a case similar to the 915. In 1975 it was reduced to 3 speeds and strengthened once again. It remained an offering until 1979 when full automatics were offered. Of course today, a semi-automatic transmission is common even in economy cars. Porsche went on to develop Tiptronic, and PDK, while paddle shifting is now acknowledged as the fastest means to get from one gear to the next for any marque, and in F1 at the pinnacle of Motorsport. When looked at in that light, the answer to the question that nobody asked, is now the best answer to the question of how to shift.