Archive | May, 2011

EFM Auto Clutch — Almost-But-Not-Quite-Final Impressions

18 May

Working in a courtroom for 27 years taught me to always wait until all the facts are in before making a final decision.   Oftentimes things turn out exactly the way you expect, but sometimes new, unforeseen details show up that eventually change everything.

In the case of the EFM Auto Clutch installed on my V-Star 1300, so far things are turning out exactly like they’re supposed to.  I’ve taken several day trips and purposely ridden through long stretches of Austin’s stop-and-go traffic — and it’s as if my left hand never left home! 

I say “so far” the EFM Auto Clutch is turning out like it’s supposed to, because it’s easy for a new mod or gadget to work well on familiar day trips.  The real test comes when you do a several-day, several-thousand-mile road trip.  Touring has a way of bringing out unexpected, challenging situations, and that’s where the rubber meets the road.  In June I plan to do this Lake Superior Circle Tour and that will be my final EFM test!

In the meantime, this review is an attempt to share my experiences with the EFM auto clutch after riding with it for a little under 2,000 miles.   Of course, these are my personal impressions about the EFM on a midweight cruiser, and I can see how it could be different for other people on other bikes, especially dirt bikes.

EFM Auto Clutch — First Impressions    gives some important basic information about the auto clutch and talks about my impressions after riding a few hundred miles.

New Year’s Solution gives an explanation of why I had the auto clutch put on the bike.

*   Without a doubt, the hardest part about getting used to the EFM Auto Clutch has been giving up clutch-lever control during slow-speed maneuvering.  There’s a reason Jerry Motorman Palladino emphasizes clutch control so much!   I gotta tell you, it’s challenging to make tight U-turns on big ole Lizzie without it.  I’ve been practicing slow-speed parking lot drills and am definitely improving; but, frankly, I wonder if I’ll ever reach the same skill level as before.   I expect this clutch-lever-control issue may show up on the Lake Superior ride, especially if I have to deal with gravel parking lots (which I despise!), so ask me about it again in July!

*   Back in December and January when I was doing internet research about whether or not to buy the EFM Auto Clutch, I read somewhere that you can feather the clutch for slow-speed maneuvering.  I have not found that to be true. 

*   One thing that’s taken getting used to is that for smooth shifting, the auto clutch dictates when you have to upshift and downshift.  For example, on the V-Star you need to shift from first to second at about 20 to 22 mph.  If you shift at a higher speed, the bike will lurch or jerk.     The higher gears are much more forgiving if you don’t get the mph exactly right, but they will let you know if you’re off too much.  Because of that, I’ve had to break some old habits about when to shift.  Not a big deal and I’ve gotten used to it.  When you get it right, the shifting is smooth like buttah!

*   When you come to a stop and you’re still in gear, the bike wants to creep forward, so you need to lightly apply the brake.  It’s like when you come to a stop in an automatic car and you have to keep your foot on the brake to keep it from rolling forward.  With the EFM, if you don’t want the bike to creep forward at a stop (like when you’re heading downhill!), a quick pull and release of the clutch lever does away with the forward pull.

On the other hand, I’m learning to use that forward motion to my advantage.  For example, if I’m slowly inching along in stop-and-go traffic, I don’t have to use the throttle to move forward.  All I have to do is keep one finger on the front brake and let the bike pull itself along.  Couldn’t be easier!   I used to go to great lengths to avoid rush-hour traffic because of the strain on my left hand, and this is a huge relief.

Another example of  the forward pull being helpful is that taking off from a stop seems smoother and quicker with that little bit of pull.  I totally get why an auto clutch is a major asset at the starting line of a race.

A third example of using the forward motion to my advantage is that I recently discovered that coordinating the forward pull with the rear brake sort of simulates using a regular clutch and throttle for slow-speed maneuvering.  I need more practice with that technique, but I don’t expect it will ever be as good as traditional clutch control.  I’ll give a better report about it after the Lake Superior Tour.

*   When parking the bike, even though it might be in gear, it rolls like it’s in neutral, so you need to be able to set the brake when you park on a hill.  I’ve been in that situation only a few times, but, fortunately, I was ready with some heavy-duty hook-and-loop tape from REI.  The self-adhesive tape works well because you can easily lash it on with one hand while you hold the front brake lever with the other hand.

*   Here is the worst thing I can say about the EFM.  On a few occasions while taking off from a stop, I’ve heard a one-to-two-second loud rattling sound.  It’s rare so I haven’t figured out a pattern, although it seems like it’s happened within the first ten minutes of riding.   The sound is unnerving, but the take-off feels normal.   

In conclusion, so far I’m very happy with the EFM Auto Clutch, but I won’t stake my reputation on it until I’m back from my long ride.  Sure, traditional clutch control is a lot to give up, but that’s nothing compared to giving up the motorcycle!  If my U-turns aren’t pretty, big deal.  At least I’ll be riding,  right?

Biketrash Holiday ride reports will begin on June 7th for the Lake Superior adventure, so check back for details.   Weather permitting, I plan to take plenty of videos and pictures and hope to spend some time in North Dakota and South Dakota while I’m that far north.   It’s gonna be a good one!

Peace on the Road!
BT

Update

Read about my final conclusions at EFM Auto Clutch — Final Review.

Discussion about a problem with the auto clutch and the solution in EFM Auto Clutch — One Year Later.

Side Trip Into Nature

2 May

Right now the entire State of Texas is in a severe drought.  Add some strong spring winds and 90-degree temps, and our Hill Country is left with dry creeks, brown roadsides, and clouds of dust.

While I have been riding, it’s been difficult to come up with a colorful AND interesting story to pass along.  For that reason, the latest BT Holiday  has nothing to do with two wheels  or even leaving the front yard.  It’s a remarkable side trip into nature that I have to share.

Towards the end of March I decided to get serious about planting tropical milkweed throughout the yard.  Conservation groups are asking people to plant milkweed to help offset the huge loss of the monarch butterfly’s habitat; and, in fact, nurseries in Austin are making a special effort to keep it in stock to help with the demand.

Monarchs are totally dependent on milkweed since they only lay their eggs on milkweed and the caterpillars only eat milkweed leaves.  Chemicals from the milkweed makes the brightly colored caterpillars and butterflies poisonous to birds and most other predators.

Less than two weeks after planting we have caterpillars gorging themselves on the milkweed, and the next photo shows two of them munching away.

Here they’ve eaten the poor little plant down to a nub.   They start eating at the top, where leaves are the most tender, and work their way down.  Fortunately, there are other milkweed plants close by and they move over to the next plant when nothing is left.

Another day goes by and the largest caterpillars crawl off to go into chrysalis.  One of them crawls up the bird bath and goes into chrysalis there.  It couldn’t have picked a better location for us to be able to observe!  (No picture.)

This link to the Monarch Butterfly Website explains what happens during chrysalis and their life cycle in general.  Fascinating stuff!

Fast forward.  Ten days later I bring Desha outside to show her how the chrysalis is no longer green, but you can see bright orange wings underneath.  As we’re talking about it, right before our eyes the chrysalis splits open and a butterfly emerges in just a few minutes.  Breathtaking!  Left us both speechless and our mouths hanging open!  Unfortunately, no camera, but I ran in and got it as soon as the “birth” was complete.

This next picture shows our wet and wrinkly firstborn and two caterpillars that had attached themselves to the bird bath the night before.  After the caterpillars attach themselves, they assume a J position and then rest for several hours before going into chrysalis.

Several minutes go by and the next picture shows the wings are drying out and inflating.

The yellow in the background is the tropical milkweed blooms.

An hour or so later the caterpillar begins an up-and-down rhythmic motion and starts the process of going into chrysalis.  In the next pic you can see the caterpillar has straightened out some, and the little bit of green showing down by the antennae is where the striped outer skin is beginning to split.

Here we are a little farther along.   At this point I stop taking pictures so I can sit back and take it all in.  The entire process of going into chrysalis takes less than five minutes.  The second bird-bath caterpillar goes into chrysalis a few minutes later.

Now we have a bright green chrysalis and our butterfly has taken a few more steps.  Hard to believe those delicate wings come out of such a small enclosure!  It’s difficult to see, but you can make out the little patches of white silk where each of the chrysalises are attached to the bird bath.

By now about three hours have gone by since our butterfly first emerged.  He begins to slowly fan and stretch his wings and takes short hops.  Here are his gorgeous new wings opened as he rests in the skullcap below the bird bath.  The two black oval scent glands on either side of the lower abdomen tell us we have a male.

Back onto the bird bath for a quick pose.  You can see the edge of the brand-new chrysalis in the upper right-hand corner of the picture.  After a few more minutes, he takes flight and disappears over our neighbor’s roof.  Godspeed, my winged friend!

But that’s not the end of the story!  We still have nine more chrysalises on a nearby Texas sotol, and most likely there are several more hidden in the bushes.  I expect them all to open on May 5th, possibly May 6th.

But that’s not all!  In a completely different part of the yard there are monarch caterpillars busily munching away.  This morning we spotted a bruised and battered female, presumably all the way from Mexico, laying eggs outside the back door.  Here she is taking in some nectar.  (After she left I found several tiny white eggs.)  You can see a caterpillar on the underside of the milkweed pod in the lower right.

And what about the poor ole milkweed plant that was eaten down to a nub three weeks ago?  Here it is this morning, on its way to a full recovery.

You know, it was so easy.  All it took was finding a sunny spot to put a few milkweed plants.  Mother Nature does the real work.  This experience has been wonderful and I’m totally hooked.  Now that I know what to expect. . . .

Note to self:  Start saving for a DSLR camera!

Right now monarchs are making their extraordinary migration to the Northern United States.  If any of you northerners are inclined to plant some milkweed, now you know what to do!

Peace on the Road!
BT

May 13th Update

Monarch caterpillars have been falsely accused of pilfering other plants by several of Auntie Biketrash’s devoted readers!  Slanderous!  To set the record straight, the monarch caterpillar only feeds on milkweed plants and does not ever feed on tomato plants or dill or rue or anything else — although the caterpillars that feed on those plants do look similar to the monarch caterpillars.  Monarch butterflies take in nectar from a variety of plants.

Since the May 2nd post, we’ve had at least 13 butterflies emerge from chrysalis — four males, seven females, and two unknown (didn’t see them, but found the empty chrysalis).  Judging by the number of caterpillars, I’m quite sure there were several that anonymously crawled off into the bushes.   Great results from my small effort!

It looks like the monarch action here on Brentwood Street is about over for this year, but I’ll leave you with a video showing  one of “our” females coming out of chrysalis.  I call it “Birth” of a Monarch Butterfly, because that’s the term everybody understands.  The proper term is “eclose,” which means to emerge from the pupal stage.

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