Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Santa came early


Thanks to my exceptional good moped karma, I've recently come into the posession of an A55 stator and flywheel. This is the older one without the tabby for the pickup, but if i'm not mistaken, i can get a 2 wire CDI box (some sort of thyristor setup, i'm sure) that will work from an A35 or pre-2007 A55, or i can try to adapt a pickup and get things working with a RM, or YZ80 CDI box... I'm not sure what i'll do yet, but this is a 100-some dollar piece of the high-rpm puzzle that has just magically fallen into my hands and i'm pretty excited. I'll be headed to the machine shop later today hopefully to trim off the stupid starter ring gear, so i can fit it under the stock e-50 magneto cover.

Just goes to show you, never burn your bridges.

Also, lots of new pics up, an article on refreshing a motobecane, and the long-awaited second part of the timing series are in the works... plus a quick and dirty (literally) piece on rebuilding cup and cone style bearings. Ooh exciting!

PS.. if you're as excited as me about this (doubtful) you can scope the first look at my porting pics... pretty gnarly.

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Motobecane L'amour !


Motobecanes are peculiar little creatures. Definitely the most spirited mopeds I've ever worked on. They can vary 10 mph in top speed from day to day depending on how they feel, and go from starting in one kick to frustrating you to the point of tearing your hair out, over night. While it is important, as with any moped, to maintain positive energy and respect the moped's spiritual soverignty, there are a few modifications which, when done correctly, will greatly increase the chance of him/her starting predictably. When done properly, these improvements will not upset your Motobecane, rather will strengthen your bond and make your moby a happier little animal.

To start with, any venture into moby-land is incomplete without a visit to Mabecane's Mobylette page. The virtual proprietor, MaBecane, is one of the most interesting people involved in mopeds. He loves these bikes like children, and shows an unmatched zeal for historical preservation, caretaking, and helping others keep their mobies running long after it makes sense. Check it out here for tons of info and pictures to get you excited about your build: MaBecanerie Also, grab a manual while your at it. The manual is a poor copy/translation, but the verbiage is really pretty, in french style. Lots of adjectives to fully illustrate the tenderness that is inherent to motobecane repair.

Esti (above) is a good friend and former neighbor of mine, she is a perfect candidate for a moped rider, and since riding some bikes when I moved in underneath her, she's been looking for a 'yellow moped.' Not many bikes came in yellow, but i knew of one brand that did, and a Motobecane was a perfect fit for her classy style. I found this 1976 50v in a friend's storage unit, in pretty good shape, completely covered in black greasy grime. The grease protected the paint and chrome, and whoever had it last managed to avoid bodging much besides the carb, seat, controls, and electrical. The cylinder was tight, had good compression, and all the important stuff was there. This is pretty typical of a 'barn' or garage find moped, so I'll go over the common problem areas and detail the repairs and modifications I made to her bike, so a novice could get her feet wet with a reliable and fast machine as she learns the ropes.

Most barn/garage rescued Mobies will have all the cables frozen on them. For some reason the grey cable they used cracks and rusts out like nobody's business. The motobecane uses knarps on everything, though, so you can pick up a full mountain bike cable pack at your local wal-mart, for $7 and cut all your own cables to fit. If you want to get crazy, and replace everything with OE grey cable, you can talk to my friend Matt Quirk, at Motorwest Motorcycles in milwaukee to get a roll of the grey stuff in much higher quality than Motobecane ever intended.

At the very least you'll need new throttle, front brake, rear brake, and possibly decompression. Choke depends on the carb you use.

Speaking of that carb... Motobecanes are notorious for the Gurtner carb. Many moby fanatics will tell you they can go 50 mph on the stock gurtner (i've seen it..). For someone who wants to eat, sleep and breath french, the gurtner is a perfectly workable unit. For most of us however, its much cheaper and easier in the long run to just swap out to a generic Dellorto SHA. You loose the extra cable of the choke, you get standard replaceable jets, air filters, a bigger throttle, and they are less likely to leak with the rubber-tipped float needle. You can use either the real-deal SHA 13 (vespa style), or the Spaco clone (kinetic), or go to a standard 14 SHA or 14 SHA clone (my favorite). The clones might have some issues with changing jets, but if you're hardcore and used to making weird stuff work, you already have a set of JET DRILLS to fix that. In addition to your fuel system woes, the stock petcock is almost invariably broken or leaky. seems to have these in stock more often than the other guys, so give Chad Burke a try first. If they aren't on the website, they might still be in stock.

The Motobecane AV7 (50v, 40t, 7, traveler) comes with either a long bendy intake, or a short stubby intake. The stubby intake is actually too small to easily mount a SHA carb (apparently with a little fin grindage the 13SHA fits), but either way, its much easier to just buy the Malossi SHA intake for av7, which is available dirt cheap from the major moped parts sellers.

I've heard some nightmares about Moby Electrical, in fact the first two mopeds I ever owned were mobies left outside for many years, and were hopeless, the coils were all rusted to hell. For most motobecanes in fairly good condition, the coils, condenser, and points are inside the flywheel and fairly well protected. The problem areas with moby electrical are the questionable connectors, namely the white plug thingy under the floor boards, the coil, and the incredibly awful spark plug wire.

The terminals of concern are the white ones under the floorboards. The prongs in them are very small and flimsy and prone to corrosion between the terminals themselves (easy) or between the terminal and the wire (very hard to diagnose) they also have a nasty habit of popping the terminal itself out of the white plastic housing, making it look connected when it isnt. If they look good, hose some dielectric grease in there and forget it. If they are really shot replace them with soldered or properly crimped on blade terminals.

The NOVI coils, white, strapped to the bottom of the tank, are prone to cracking and rusting inside from what i can tell. The spark plug wire is a proprietary unit with compression style terminals, and an obscure 5mm diameter. I would strongly reccomend buying the 'universal moped coil' that the major moped retailers have for sale. It uses a standard 6mm wire with screw post, seems to deliver an incredibly strong spark, and is all zinc plated and epoxy potted for long life. It grounds through the frame so the coil wire should work fine. Everything should be a very simple plug-and-play situation. You'll need two 5mm bolts to bolt it on. dont forget lock washers or nylock nuts. Set the point gap to stock, clean up the points, and you should be getting a nice fatty spark.

For performance stuff, you probably wont need much if you have the 'fast' 30 mph cylinder. They fly pretty well out of the box. Upper 30's with a 14SHA means everything is solid. If not, your timing, bearings, variator belt, or brakes might be at fault, or you have one of the slower cylinders (or your exhaust is plugged, but this doesn't seem to be much of a problem for moby). The only differences between the two is porting. I wont go into it in detail because there is much better info out there, but lowering the intake about 1mm, widening it 1mm on each side, raising the exhaust about 1.5 mm and widening it about .5 mm on each side with a nice radius up to the top, should get you close to the stock fast cylinder specs. It might be easier to take the engine off if you are going through this much work.

Yep yep, so thats about it. Moby refresher in a nutshell. The first time that thing pops to life, you will understand the beautiful feeling. They whirr, they rattle, they glow, they are strange little beasts, but when properly set up they can be amazingly reliable and a real pleasure to ride for many miles. Once you have your bike running and solid, you may also need to replace the rubber engine mounts (which i'll cover in another post sometime) or do some of the other basic tuneup things such as bearings and brakes, which are similar to the Puch demonstrations i'll post up here soon.

Au Revoir!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Timing Part 1

Timing Part 1- Theory

Ignition timing is a frequently misunderstood and misinformed topic in the moped community. A basic understanding of the physical principles occurring in the combustion process, and the system by which the spark plug motivates this controlled combustion, will allow the tuner to adjust ignition timing to the optimal point in the combustion cycle for maximum power. This article is the first of two parts, detailing the theoretical role of ignition in the power cycle, and the implications various performance modifications have on optimal ignition timing.

To begin, lets look at the role of the spark in the combustion cycle. The ignition event occurs between the compression and power strokes. After fuel and air has been forced into a small volume and raised to a higher pressure, the spark ignites that volatile mixture and the resultant heat and pressure force the piston down to provide motive force (powahhh!!). This at the outset seems like a fairly simple proposition, but in reality there is quite a bit happening in the few milliseconds during which the piston approaches top dead center, and begins its decent.

In reality, considering the spark and combustion of fuel as a finite event (happening all at once), is an oversimplification. The piston is traveling at such a high speed, if you were to slow things down to a comprehensible speed, the movement of the flame itself through the combustible mixture in the cylinder, would seem to happen very slowly. This ‘flame front’ speed is based on the pressure of the mixture of gasses, which is changing as the piston nears top dead center, it is also based on the fuel/air ratio, and the temperature of the gasses in the cylinder.

Going back to the cylinder now, the piston is coming up from bottom dead center, the cylinder is full of air and fuel mixed. As the piston nears the top, the points will close, breaking the flow of current through them, and diverting the electricity to the spark plug. The point at which the points ‘break’ or open, is the point used to determine timing using a timing strobe, a test lamp, or a cigarette paper. There can be a little bit of dwell downstream in the system also, from 1-3 degrees. A hotter plug will spark more readily, also a smaller gap will jump faster, so if you change these, your timing might change incrementally.

When the spark jumps across the electrode gap, the mixture, which by now should be at a very high pressure, will ignite. If the fuel mix is correct, and the piston is still traveling upwards, the flame will burn up the fuel and air mixture in the cylinder just as the piston is passing top dead center (the most powerful combustion will occur when the pressure in the cylinder is highest- e.g. top dead center), and maximum power will be achieved as the pressure from the burning gasses pushes down the piston.

Combustion theory and implications:
Now perhaps it is a bit clearer why ignition timing is so important. If the timing is off by even the slightest fraction of a millimeter, peak power won’t be achieved. This is why many people will say ‘the power is in the points’. In fact there is no power whatsoever ‘in the points’ unless they are set wrong for your particular application. Understanding the various effects modifications can have on the ignition timing, will facilitate better ‘guesstimating’ as to the optimum setting of the points. The key is the relationship between the fuel, exhaust, and temperature conditions and their contribution to flame propagation.

Flame propagation in the cylinder is a relatively simple concept when we go back to thinking of the combustion in super-slow motion. Chemistry tells us that the rate of any chemical reaction is proportionate to the initial energy. In the engine, that energy manifests itself as temperature and pressure. We assume no change in temp. We started with an initial volume of fuel/air mix and compressed it by the compression ratio to get our final pressure. Compression ratio has a huge effect on final pressure, and reaction time- read flame propagation time, but its not the only factor.

The initial amount of fuel/air in the cylinder is called volumetric efficiency, the amount of the cylinder displacement that is filled when the piston closes the exhaust port. A more efficient intake and transfer tract, along with a pipe, or the timing can all change the volumetric efficiency. Anything that increases the VE, will make the flame propagate faster, and will require ignition retard. When a pipe comes ‘on’ the powerband, it is pumping more effectively, and increasing VE. Port timing also can contribute to varying VE at different points in the powerband.

The other major contributor to flame propagation is cylinder bore diameter. For the fuel to all be burned the flame must cross the entire surface of the bore. It might seem small, but going to a larger bore requires more time to burn the fuel.

There is a delicate balance when adding performance parts or modifying your bike. Everything has the potential to change the timing, and we have very little recourse with the simple points magneto system most stock bikes have. The original design is for a relatively constant powerband between 1000-3000 rpm. Wild variations in the efficiency of various parts at various speeds can require dramatically different timings.

Common problems:
Some commonly occurring problems with timing are pretty obvious, but the small, silent loss of power at various speeds that is frequently cited by the ‘power in the points’ crowd, is something that can only be avoided by painstaking tuning. In fact, points magneto systems aren’t nearly accurate or tuneable enough to deliver peak power at all ranges, but usually a happy medium can be found that allows for good performance across a wide powerband.

Should the spark jump too soon, a condition known as detonation occurs. This is frequently referred to as ‘knocking’ or ‘pinging’ and in a highly tuned moped engine sounds a lot like a tin can full of marbles being shook. It is confusing to troubleshoot because of its sibling condition, pre-ignition, which shows up in exactly the same way. Its hard to tell the difference because they both cause the same effect, the noise you are hearing is the fuel/air mixture in the cylinder igniting before the piston reaches the top of its stroke, so the upward movement of the piston is met with a downward explosion.

In detonation conditions, the spark is jumping too soon or the flame is propagating too quickly (same thing, relatively speaking). This is why some bikes with aggressive porting or exhausts require more ignition retard than stock, or some bikes need retarded at higher speeds. As the pipe hits or the ports work more effectively, the amount of air in the cylinder (volumetric efficiency) can increase with a supercharging effect, causing the flame to travel faster throughout the cylinder.

In pre-ignition, the condition is being caused by hot surfaces inside the engine due to the wrong heat range spark plug, high cylinder temps, or too low of octane fuel for the compression. While both conditions result in the same effect, the causes are dramatically different, and the solution is as well. Due to the extreme risk of engine damage these need to be understood and correctly diagnosed.

On the other side of the coin, backfiring and power loss are telltale signs of the timing being too retarded. If the combustion occurs as the piston is already heading back down, it doesn’t take much time at all for the burning gasses to blow right out the exhaust. If this happens, the combustion only acts on the piston for a brief instant, and the piston cant harness the burning fuel. Backfiring can occur in extreme cases where the flames either blow out the exhaust, or even back down into the crankcase when the transfer ports open. Typically in cases where the timing is only very slightly retarded, the bike will have poor or no throttle response, or loose throttle response under load, but maintain it when it is on the kickstand. When there isn’t anything to push, it can rev up, but once load is applied the short amount of time the gasses push on the piston before blowing out the exhaust, isn’t enough to overcome resistance. The transfer ports can even flow backwards or stall depending on the extent of porting or the pipe.

In conclusion..
Timing need not be a mystery, or entirely guess and check. We are just starting to see the types of programmable CDI units that would allow us to dial in perfect timing, but in the meantime, the points magneto systems are perfectly workable, reliable, and offer a very simple, direct type of tuning. Having a good idea going into it about the effects other performance parts can have can facilitate easier tuning, and a better understanding of our bikes.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Crankcase compression: theory and implications

EDIT: MAY 2014:  
This is an article I wrote 5 years ago, since then I've learned a lot and realized that primary compression is a lot more complicated in its overall effect on an engine.

I don't necessarily agree with all the comments, but I don't really have time (and still probably don't know enough) to properly discuss or refute them. At face value this is a pretty basic article describing the basic crankcase pumping operation on a two stroke. I could take it down, but it helps to remember how far I've come and how much I still have to learn, so I'll leave it, but use it at your own risk.


I originally wrote this for a moped army forum thread located here:

With the increase of availability of moped parts here in the U.S., we've seen a huge boom in the technical sophistication of domestic tuners. With this availability, everyone seems to be pushing the envelope further, trying to squeeze out every last iota of power from our little machines.

A good example of this is the availability of 'stuffed' cranks. Many of us have purchased them for absurdly cheap through the US moped parts sellers, having only a vague idea of what it really means to 'stuff' a crankcase, why it can produce more power, and what the implications are for the rest of the engine.

Crankcase stuffing is decreasing the volume of the crankcase to improve what is called the 'primary compression ratio'- the compression ratio for the system comprising the bottom of the piston, crankcase, and transfer ports up to the edge of the piston.

Primary compression is defined as Vi/Vf which is:
volume final divided by volume iniitial.
final volume is the displacement volume of the piston plus the volume of the case. initial volume is just the volume of the case.
when doing this for a cylinder, the head volume is relatively small, so we can achieve 11:1 (11/1 = 50cc disp + 5 cc head volume/ 5 cc head vol.) or better. When we do this same thing in the case by either increasing the displacement, or decreasing the crankcase volume (say, by stuffing the crank) we can get better compression ratios...

so what? right? why does changing the compression ratio help us?
having a higher crankcase compression ratio lets us get more air in during the intake phase, and creates higher pressure pushing that air through the transfers.
This is obvious when we go back to high school chemistry and remember PV=T(nr): Pressure times volume equals temperature, if you decrease the volume of an area, the pressure or temperature MUST increase to compensate. In the very short time that the piston is going up and down, we can assume the temp cant change much.
This makes sense for the second part, the transfer pressure. The higher pressure from a smaller final volume will push the air through the transfer ports at a higher velocity, improving scavenging, and transferring more air in the very short time the ports are open. But this only makes sense if we are getting more air in the crankcase in the first place. The displacement of the piston isn't changing, so we cant change how much air gets into the crankcase right? Wrong.

The higher ratio means that when the piston goes up and creates a vaccum in the crankcase, the vaccum is stronger. Even though transfer pressures can be as high as 50 PSI, the intake pressure pushing air through the carb and past your reeds is only 1 bar, because it is being pushed in by the atmosphere. You want to get as close to a perfect vaccuum as possible to get air to transfer as quickly as possible. (This is why piston port engines can blast reeds at the top end, the piston port has much less resistance to flow, but i digress. ) Having a compression ratio of infinity, as in 0 crankcase volume, with no leaks, would create a 'perfect' vaccuum, This would provide 32 PSI across your intake tract from the air filter in. In reality this is impossible, the ratio drops very quickly with increase in volume in the case, and the potential transfer pressure drops from 32 even faster, by PV=T. The time your piston is going up is limited by your RPMs, and the amount of air that can transfer is limited by the pressure, restrictions in the intake, and time. Therefore, if you can make more pressure (by improving the vaccuum in the case) you can get more air in the case on each stroke, which means you get more air into your cylinder, and can burn more fuel.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Current Project Teaser

I've got four major performance builds right now that are newsworthy:

Sally Balboa
Sachs 505-2BX- Hand shift, manual clutch, long stroke motor from Roald in the Netherlands
80 cc Athena reedvalve kit
Puegeot 103 pipe by Simonini
Mikuni VM18 carb
More time and custom parts than i want to admit...
From Sachs 2bx-80

Annie 'Black Magik' rebuild- at one time a swinger 2
70 tccd
lots of fancy schmansy custom junk.
From Black Magic motor

From Black Magic motor

Tomos sprinter
70 Alukit, 2 petal polini reed block, 22 mm kehin clone...
custom everything, including beefed up bottom end with roller bearing con-rod, caged bearings, mod. clutches
rigid with dropped front end.
homemade hydroformed pipe
needs to be tuned for E85 and needs some sort of CDI.
From Sprinter

And, last but not least, a project for my buddy Dez, the roadBLASTER
Low budget, old school tuning:
porting, reeds, grindin' up shit.

From Projects

For my pictures

Picasa integrates really well with blogger, through the googles, so i'm using it to host all my pictures. Some stuff will be for sale, some is teaser pics for posts i'll write later, lots of Milwaukee ride photos. Check it out if you're really bored.

From Cranks

The workshop.

June of 2009, My lovely girlfriend Caitlin, and I signed a lease on an adorable cottage/back house. The place was rough, the rent was cheap, but the basement had a 4-Step egress door and a derelict, cluttered workshop. I wish i had some before pictures, because it was a mess; wood everywhere, no light bulbs, dirt floor, trash from the previous tenant all over. The potential was there however, and over the summer of 2009, I've cleaned out the junk, burned the wood scraps, patched up the dirt floor with other scraps, cleaned up the workbenches, and generally improved the heck out of the place.

Fast forward to November, I'm settled in for the long hard winter with a ventilation blower, air compressor and tools, workbenches all around, 'grinding station', lighting, spray booth, and almost every tool i could need to do top shelf moped repair.

I've been rediscovering some long-dormant writing skills, and now that day-to-day repairs are slowing down for winter, I have more time to work on performance tuning, which should be more interesting to write about.

From Cranks

So, I've decided to start blogging as much of this as possible. I've never done a real good job of documenting all my moped projects, but I think its a good idea to make myself work cleaner (as other people will be seeing it) and share ideas with other tuners in the MA online community.

I'm trying to turn writing into a career at some point in my life, technical or otherwise, so please critique the heck out of my posts. I'll do my best to write them in a clear, concise, professional style, and doccument with good pictures.

As you guys correct me technically and verbally, I hope to improve as a writer and engineer, so Thank You for reading! I'd also like to thank Caitlin, my girlfriend for putting up with all of this garbage, noise, and still letting me use her camera and computer to do this. I'd also like to thank the bloggers i've linked, as they all do a great job and motivate me to push harder and work cleaner.

Friday, November 13, 2009


its got that new website smell, hopefully i'll do something with this.