NC500 – 500 mile trackday with stunning scenery..

I’d been aware of the North Coast 500 (NC500) for some time but when my son suggested we do it in his MX5, it was one of those offers you just can’t refuse.

Map

For those that don’t know, the NC500 is 500 miles around the northern coast of Scotland, starting and ending at Inverness. It’s been voted the fifth best coastal road trip on the planet and is Scotland’s answer to Route 66.

Ocean views, dramatic mountains, white beaches, picturesque fishing villages and lonely lochs are all visited on route.

And of course, there’s mile after mile of twisting, rising, falling black stuff, or tarmac to you and me, that’s just perfect for a nimble MX5. The route can be completed in as little as 24 hours (crazy people in sports cars), or as long as a fortnight (crazy people in camper vans) but we chose a sensible 4 days. Accommodation is key to route planning, as it can be hard to find away from centres of population, which are few and far between in the North West.

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We started at Inverness Castle on a surprisingly sunny, late August day and headed west to do the circuit in a clockwise direction.

 

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Day one was 150 miles of this

 

 

 

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and this

 

 

 

 

 

with the highest point being Belach na ba on the Applecross peninsular and yes, that’s the road in the background.

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And the next 3 days were pretty much the same. You can google fantastic photos of NC500 so I won’t bore you mine which can be seen here if you wish (not too good due to weather – at least that’s what I’m blaming. Either that or I need a new camera).

NC500 photos

What I will do however, is recommend you add NC500 to your bucket list, near the top – do it in whatever transport you’ve got and you won’t regret it.

And I’ll share my top tips to help you,

  1. Don’t worry about their being too many camper vans. In our experience the vast majority were very considerate and usually let you straight passed at the first passing point.
  2. Don’t make enemies as you go (or grudges) as you keep meeting the same people and may even be in the same B&B. We were, with the Citroen driver we passed in a passing point when a car was coming the other way.
  3. Watch out for Mercedes SLK drivers (or SLGay as they are often called) as they don’t like being overtaken. One tried to keep us behind him (I was driving) but he didn’t succeed and was history after a few twisty bits.
  4. Also watch out for any car that’s gold or beige, as they are often “slightly nervous” drivers. We went to pass one and it wandered in panic, then tried to dive off the road.
  5. Keep alert for cattle grids. I came across one in the middle of a very fast, downhill, left hand sweeper. Fortunately, I was able to straight-line it as nothing was coming the other way but it could have been “nasty”.
  6. Fill up at every petrol station you come across as you can’t be sure when you’ll find the next one and it may be closed – it happened to us in Aviemore as the BP station was closed for refurbishment.
  7. Make sure your brakes are it top condition AND check the inside pads for wear. We only checked the rear outers which were 5mm and the inners ran to metal shortly before we arrived home. Don’t assume they wear evenly.
  8. Don’t forget the midge cream or assume they won’t like your blood group or aftershave; they will. They are so small you can hardly see them but I’m sure they’d be nothing but wings with teeth under a microscope!
  9. The curries at the Lockinver Mission are excellent and great value. Also the “all you can eat” 3 course meal at the “La Taverna” in Aviemore is not to be missed.
  10. Continuing the food theme, if a B&B asks you what you want for cooked breakfast the night before, refuse to tell them. We didn’t and got a warmed up breakfast out of the microwave that was the worst I’ve ever had. I eat everything but drew the line at rubber bacon and wet soggy mushrooms. Probably the best breakfast I’ve ever had (not just on NC500) was at The Old Armoury Guesthouse in Gairloch which is run by really nice lady called Pam.
  11. And finally, the Moray Motor Museum is definitely worth a visit, to complete your motoring extravaganza. It’s in the centre of Elgin which is only a short detour from the route south. The exhibits are of the highest quality and even include a Cyclemaster – but it’s not as good as Sir Walter!

Finally, relax and enjoy the drive. There are no speed cameras and we only saw one policeman. But please do obey the speed limits in build-up areas; there’s no excuse as they use a count-down marker system which works great.

Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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the search is over and quicker than I thought…

It was probably an omen, when the Facebook post from my last blog selected the MV Agusta as the banner photo. Because that’s what I’ve bought. Not a black and red MV Agusta CSTL (as shown in the last post) but a red 175 Sport Monoalbero “CS57” (as shown below when it arrived home).

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There was only 500 of this model made, so it’s a fairly rare piece of equipment.

Vintage Motorcycle Photographs

However, it’s the last model in a family of MV’s that include the famous 175 CSS, or “Disco Volante” as it became known. This name translates to “Flying Saucer” and was given to the 1954 CSS due to the shape of the petrol tank. Very unusual, very attractive, and one of the most desirable motorcycles ever produced.

My bike shares many parts with the “Disco” and is often called the “Discette” – same engine with lower power and same cycle parts with the exception of the front forks and that tank. Key design features are:

  • Large fin alloy cylinder head.
  • Double hairpin valve springs (reduced moving mass so engine can rev higher – 8k)
  • Single overhead camshaft, chain driven (with adjustable cam timing in the case of the CSS)
  • Alloy rims with full width front brake (aids heat dissipation)
  • Composite tubular and pressed steel frame, with engine as a structural element
  • Sporting set-up with low bars and narrow seat
  • Large 22mm Dellorto carburetor with inlet trumpet – 25mm on CSS.

These features made the MV Agusta CS series the small sports bike to have in the ’50.

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Racers bought them to compete in the up to 200cc class and Mike Hailwood won his first race on one, at Oulton Park in 1957. The factory race version, right, was given the name “Squalo” which means “Shark” due to the shape of the nose cone – stunning!

MV Agusta were undisputed world leaders in this era, so my CS has a lot to live up to.

The official line is that it needs “light recommissioning” which could be changing the oil to a full re-build; only time will tell. Fortunately, the seller got a bit obsessed with buying spares, (his admission) so the bike comes with a comprehensive set, even including a full engine. For now, I can ony drool over the beautiful design features below.

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My broad plan is to simply “bed-in” all of the work that has been done to the MV over the last 15 years, as it hasn’t been used much in that time. For example it’s been running-in since 2004 when a new barrel liner and high-compression piston were fitted. The first action will be to sort the fuelling as it refused to run at low revs, most likely due to a blocked primary jet from rust in the petrol tank. When I’ve done this, I’ll use “Harvey” a little and decide what needs doing over the winter, in preparation for next years adventures.

Let the fun begin..

 

 

 

This dream came from reading a Classic Bike mag …..

Classic bikethe June 2015 issue to be exact that featured an article on the Motogiro d’Italia.

I’d never heard of it before but riding 1500km around Italy, on 50’s bikes, appeals to me. And of  course there’s pasta as well …..

It’s what’s called a “regularity” which means it’s not a race, as racing on public roads in Italy is banned. What you have to do is start at a given time and place, then arrive at a given destination after covering the distance between the two points at a given average speed. And of course the given average speed is always within the legal speed limits, unless you get delayed of course. And then you have to catch up or get penalties for late arrival, so you ride like a bat out of hell – so to speak.

The Motogiro had its hayday in the 50’s, when the Italian manufacturers used it to prove and then sell, their machines. Motorcycles up to 175cc were very popular and it’s fair to say that the Italian manufacturers were world leaders in small capacity machines at this time. In those days the Motogiro was a high-speed race over a long distance, with special works bikes, ridden by factory racers. It was banned by the Italian government in 1957 in the aftermath of a terrible accident in the Mille Miglia. However, it was successfully relaunched in 1989 as a road time trial and has gone from strength to strength since then.

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There’s also the “Milano Taranto”, an event that covers 1400km over 6 days, from Milan in the north to Taranto on the Mediterannean coast – just on the instep of the boot. Currently, I like the feel of this event better as it’s a linear event with the start and finish at opposite ends of Italy, whereas the Motogiro comprises a series loops mainly in Northern Italy. (hence the word giro, meaning gyration).

However, I have a lot more research to do, if this dream is to ever become reality.

There are several categories in both events, including modern machines but the essence of the event for me, is the Historics – machines of the type that were used in the 50’s.

So, what I need is a Gilera?

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or a Moto Morini?

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or a Ducati? (but I’ve never really liked them)

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or an MV Agusta,

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or a ParilaParilla 175_51

or even a Guzzi.

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What would you buy?

Let the search begin….

 

 

 

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we have lift off – thanks to Bernoulli…

and a few other things as well.

First, there’s the engine de-coke and re-build. Whilst doing this, I opened the exhaust port a little and opened the exhaust port throat a little more, smoothing the flow as best I could. A new crankshaft seal was fitted on the drive side and I took particular care to seal the small gap above the key way slot, in the primary drive sprocket, as some primary compression can be lost here. The little end bush also seemed a little tight, so the bush was gently eased using 1500 grade wet and dry sandpaper.

Second, I’ve flexibly mounted the carburetor. Now I was quite nervous about cutting the inlet manifold as there’s no going back but I did it anyway and fortunately, it worked out quite well.

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The advantages I hope to gain are:

  1. Reduced vibration of the carb that could be causing the float to bounce and flood with petrol; a persistent problem I’ve had,
  2. Reduced heat transfer to the carb from the engine, that I suspect is causing vapour locking , NB: Petrol boils at 95C, however ethanol boils at 78C, so modern fuel are far more prone to this. Sir Walter has always been a bad starter, 10 and 20 minutes after a hot stop.
  3. Increased clearance between the carb and the wheel as the petrol connector nut can touch the wheel, particularly if the wheel bearings are set a little loose. I cut 6mm out of the manifold and left a 3mm gap between the ends.

The finished job looks quite neat, as shown. You’ll see I changed to a different rubber hose as the black one above was too tight. I just hope the clear reinforced hose I used is ethanol proof, or I’ve a breakdown waiting to happen.  I’ve also added some thick black foam rubber around the inlet spigot, so that it’s supported where it goes through the carburetor cover.

Third, I’ve lapped the float needle to the petrol connector using a new method. Previously I’ve spun the needle in a drill whilst holding the petrol connector between my thumb and finger. The problem with this method is the lapped seat may not be axially aligned as it’s done outside the carburetor body. Consequently, it may leak when assembled.

First step is to make a nylon plug on a lathe, that’s a tight slide fit into the float bowl. Also drill a 1.6mm hole in the centre of the plug (on the lathe) to take the float needle, thereby ensuring the 2 diameters are perfectly concentric.

Then fit the petrol connector into the base of the float chamber with its fibre washer and tighten. Next put a dab of fine abrasive paste (Solvol Autosol) on the needle seat and insert it into connector and up through the nylon plug. Finally carefully tighten the chuck of a battery drill onto the exposed tip of the needle and spin it slowly for a minute or so.

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Repeat this, cleaning the needle each time, until a good even seat can be seen on the needle. The beauty of this method is that the new seat is perfectly aligned and shouldn’t (I hope) leak.

 

Fourth, open up the silencer to improve gas flow. This also makes it louder and it’s a scientific fact that something loud goes faster; or so it seems. My silencer is the type that doesn’t come apart (for cleaning), so I simply drilled a 10mm hole in the baffle plate that I could see inside the tailpipe. Yes, crude but effective.

 

So what’s this got to do with Bernoulli? Well in 1738 Daniel Bernoulli published a book called “Hydrodynamica” (great title), in which he detailed some principles of fluid dynamics.

In a nut shell, he stated that, “if a fluid (liquid or gas) increases its speed, then the pressure drops” and this is one of the fundamental reasons that a 2 stroke engine works. As the products of combustion accelerate down the exhaust port, they cause a drop in pressure that sucks the fresh fuel charge into the cylinder. So it follows that the faster the gases exhaust, the lower the pressure, the greater the suck, the more fuel is drawn in and the more power you get – simple. And that’s what I’ve done to improve Sir Walter, (amongst other things) and IT WORKS!

He can now climb steeper hills without LPA, he’s revving out much, much better and he even sounds fast.

PS, Bernoulli’s principle is why aeroplane wings generate lift, a spinning football bends, ships can’t pass close at sea, jetties always have water beneath them and why a F1 car’s areopackage works, amongst many other things.  Where would we be without Hydrodynamica?

 

all is not well…

as Sir Walter has lost what little “get up and go” he had. Now he’s more “slow down and stop”. I always had to use LPA (light pedal assistance) on hills but now I’m doing it on the flat!  He also hasn’t revved out correctly for weeks, even when stationary with the clutch in.

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I’ve tried everything without success, so it’s time for a strip down to see what’s going on.

And the cause became evident very quickly. The Cyclemaster engine is already limited by the exhaust port area, so carbon build-up like this just stops it breathing. If the burnt gases can’t get out then the fresh charge doesn’t get sucked in.

Oddly, the transfer ports were also partially blocked up.

                           EXHAUST PORT                                    TRANSFER PORT

Restrictions like this have a very severe effect on a 2 stroke (negative unfortunately)  as they disrupt scavenging; the effect where the outgoing exhaust gasses suck in the fresh charge. Cyclemaster utilises Schnuerle porting, like the majority of 2 strokes.

Schnuerle porting loop scavenging

The cylinder has a single exhaust port and two transfer ports that are angled backwards. This causes the fresh charge to swirl away from the exhaust port and up towards the spark plug, minimising mixing of the burnt and fresh gases and improving efficiency. You’ll see the exhaust port opens before the transfer ports, when the piston is travelling down, causing the high pressure gases to vent through the exhaust. This flow of hot, expanding gases generates suction behind the flow, that helps draw in the fresh charge – at least when the ports aren’t blocked with carbon. And why have they blocked so quickly in less than 1000 miles?

I’ve added oil to the petrol in the correct ratio of 25:1 (or 4%). The recommended oil in 1952 was SAE30, so I’ve used Coma 2T that’s based on 30 grade mineral oil. It’s Jasco FB rated on ash content, so I expected it to be OK but it’s obviously not. Being positive, the engine hasn’t seized, which is a common problem with the Cyclemaster as they run very hot due to marginal cooling.

So what next?

When re-assembled, I’ll start with semi synthetic (Jasco FD) at 30:1 for a tank or 2, whilst the rings bed in. I’ll then change to fully synthetic at 35:1 and maybe even 40:1 over the cooler months.

And hopefully, Sir Walter will be back to climbing hills again.