Sunday, October 31, 2021

2018 Audi S3 Beauty Shots and Random Thoughts

As I'm coming up on a year with the S3, I thought I'd better take some pics with the summer wheels before I have to change back to the winter setup. I really like the stock 19"x8" double 5-spoke Audi wheels. I'll add some thoughts about the first year with the car near the end of this post.

Still on the stock Pirelli tires that really aren't showing much sign of wear.

Love the stubby styling of this car, the overhangs are so short.

Nice little decklid lip spoiler. I can see the appeal of a larger carbon version.

FFS - nice shot but some numpty left the filler lid open!

I attached the dealer plate frame with zipties - I think it looks pretty good, and beats the $400+ factory plateholder I priced out at the dealership.

Thoughts after a year with the car? Well, while I can tolerate the Audi dual-clutch transmission, I'd still rather have a six-speed manual. Not sure why this isn't possible - Audi offer a third pedal option in the Golf R, this car's fraternal twin. In any case I don't use the flappy paddles much at all, and the Sport mode is OK but not super-engaging. Fortunately the car is so quick you don't notice the gearbox much, except when just cruising along sedately. Unfortunately in those cases the gearbox seems to want to shift up ASAP and if you ask for power there's a delay as the gearbox shifts down. Sport mode cures this somewhat but keeps the revs high at cruise - perhaps this is the only alternative.

The only other minor niggle I have has to do with the ICE system. My old 2015 Volkswagen GTI had a touchscreen interface which was great - but for whatever reason Audi went for a scrollwheel-controlled system in the S3. This is quite a bit less intuitive. I do quite like the Virtual Cockpit but haven't reconfigured it much at all - I keep the speedo and tach in the middle and real-time fuel economy on the left. I should really play with that a bit more. Maybe if I ever take a road trip I'll try out the mapscreen. Apple CarPlay has been a bit troublesome as well, it just kinda stopped working one day. After a fashion I had to fiddle with the phone and the MMI and it seems to be on track now.

Other than those small things I still love the car. The styling really appeals to me and the colour still gets lots of compliments from random passersby. Maybe a tune is in the future - I like the idea of ~350hp and a sharpened DSG experience for about a grand. We'll see. 

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Yamaha R1 with Micron Slip-On Exhaust Sound Clip

So when I bought my R1 many years ago, it came with both the stock exhaust and a Micron carbon slip-on . I immediately removed the Micron and stuck the stock pipe back on, and have ridden the bike for years like that. However, I recently took a notion to re-fit the Micron for some more funky sound. It only took a few minutes and I didn't even have to remove the fairing lowers, although I did order a couple of springs for the muffler. 

The sound isn't obnoxious at all and I don't mind the look - although I prefer a round can to the oval one, the carbon fiber is nice and certainly waaaay more tasteful than the multi-coloured tat that people used to fit to their sportbikes in the late '90s. It's also a "period-correct" modification, unlike the stubby cans and bottom-exit exhausts that currently seem in vogue. An Akrapovic would be better but they're NLA now and to find a second-hand one in good shape is practically impossible, so I'll stick with this one. 

It's much lighter than the stock exhaust as well!

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Motolectric Battery and Starter Cables for the Ducati 900SS/SP - Review and Installation Notes

Starting up the 900SS/SP has always been a bit of a "will it or won't it" proposition. The starter churns the big pistons over soooo slooooowly and it's a toss-up whether the thing will fire before the battery runs out of juice. This is not to mention the frequent occurrence of a literally smoking-hot positive battery cable (!). 

After 15 years of ownership and probably five or six new batteries I finally decided to do something to address this issue. I'd long been aware of the upgraded wiring kits offered by Motolectric and others, and I decided to take the plunge and upgrade. Of course I ordered the kit for my 900SS/SP from Motolectric in the morning, and later the same day went to start the bike. As I touched the starter button I heard a tremendous BANG and saw smoke come out from under the fuel tank... the battery had exploded, sending lead acid and bits of Yuasa casing flying everywhere. Fortunately the acid damage to the bike was limited to just a few spots on the frame paint, but this underlined the urgency to Do Something about the wiring situation.

About ten days later the Motolectric kit arrived from California. It is comprehensive, containing beefy cables to replace the stock ones that run from the negative battery post to ground, from the positive battery post to the starter relay, and from the starter relay to the starter. The kit also includes rubber terminal boots, a pair of latex gloves, a microfibre towel, some cleaning supplies, and many zipties to ease installation. There are no instructions included, but general instructions are posted on the Motolectric website. These were frankly insufficient for the 900SS/SP installation but proprietor Michael Heth was very generous with his time in responding quickly and clearly to my emailed questions.

Here's some of the wisdom he imparted as well as my own experience in installing the kit, assisted in no small part by my good friend Andy.

NEGATIVE (GROUND) BATTERY CABLE: the new cable is NOT installed directly in place of the old cable, which runs from the left-hand (negative) terminal of the battery to a grounding stud on the upper left side of the frame. Instead, it runs across the centre of the bike to the right side, and behind the cam belt cover through a gap between the cover and the vertical cylinder, and down to ground directly on the engine near the breather. You can tell where the ground is because another grounding wire comes out of the frame and is secured to the ground. It was a bit of a faff to get the thick cable through the gap behind the cam cover, but I did it using a ziptie to "extend" the cable give something to grab onto to get it through the tight spot. Use the supplied bolt in replacement for the stock grounding bolt, and be sure to place the new cable end lowermost (next to the engine casing) when retightening.

Ground bolt on engine case (centre left)

New ground wire connected

POSITIVE BATTERY CABLE TO STARTER RELAY: Contrary to what it says on the website, this one does require cutting of the stock wiring. The Motolectric cable contains a pigtail with a yellow screw-type wire connector. The stock wiring consists of a cable connected to the positive terminal of the battery that itself connects to a box mounted on a flat metal piece. The box unites two smaller boxes: one containing the wire that runs to the starter relay and the other with two red wires that go elsewhere. Take the box apart by pressing the plastic connector levers, and cut the two red wires, stripping the insulation down about half an inch from the ends. Put the ends into the detachable half of the yellow screw-type wire connector in the new cable pigtail, and screw the connector together, sealing the connector with the supplied heat-shrink wrap.

Photo: Motolectric

STARTER RELAY: This was the trickiest part of the install as it involved some delicate work around a VERY hot engine. First, get in there and disconnect the white plug from the relay and then dismount the relay from its metal mounting. Just work the rubber sleeve off the mounting and then take it off the relay. Once this is done the relay has a lot of room to move and is much easier to access. Remove the boot from the positive input side, remove the bolt and the old cable, and attach the positive battery cable there. Do the same with the other side - attach the new cable that goes to the starter. We had to cut the "lips" off the new boots to allow the white plug to reseat properly. Then put the relay back in the rubber sleeve and reinstall on the metal mount.

STARTER RELAY TO STARTER: be mindful of where the stock cable runs and cut the zipties securing it to the frame. Run the new cable along the same path. You may have difficulties unscrewing the nut from the threaded post on the starter where you attach the cable coming from the relay. It is down below the engine and directly in the path of road muck. The one on my bike was so crusty it was nearly unrecognizable. Still, once some penetrant was applied the super hot engine helped it work. It's a 9mm nut but was starting to round, so we pounded on an 11/32" socket and hey presto, it came off. I was warned to be careful to secure the post with a thin wrench lest it rotate and twist up the wires inside the starter, but this turned out not to be an issue. Attach the terminal of the cable to the post and use a new 9mm nut to fasten it up, then ziptie the loose cables back into their positions. Sorted!   

The theory behind the upgrade kit is that the stock wiring and ground routing don't enable efficient current flow, and this limits the cranking power that can get from the battery to the starter. Less cranking power means the starter has to crank longer and the battery has to work harder, wearing both components (especially the battery) prematurely. Beefing up the size and quality of the cables means current flows better, the starter cranks harder and the bike starts better. I'm optimistic that the cable upgrade will help my bike to start better, but it's hard to quantify the effect at this point as the battery is brand new and started the bike instantly anyway. Hopefully the cable upgrades will help preserve that battery capacity for seasons to come. As for the Motolectric kit, I recommend it - the cables look impressive (there is an explanation of the technology behind them on the Motolectric website) and the kit is comprehensive. As noted, the installation instructions on the website are generic and some of them were inapplicable to my bike, but Motolectric was very helpful in sorting it out. Installation took a couple hours altogether.

Cost: ~$200CAD including shipping


Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Moto-Science FAR Mirrors for the Ducati 900SS/SP - Review

Hands up, 900SS owners who are fed up to their tits with their Vitaloni Baby Turbo mirrors!

They look great, but over time the ball and socket joints begin to lose their stiction and the mirrors sag and flop around. The Internet is full of fixes - use sandpaper or a Dremel to scuff the ball in the joint, tighten with Locktite, secure the joint with epoxy or superglue (be careful of adjustment!), fit a heater hose clamp... some work for awhile, but if the ball and socket at the mirror head itself loosens, you're screwed. There's no way to get it apart, or to get in to tighten it. 

Plus, for many riders the mirrors give a really limited field of view - basically, a good look at your elbows.

Solution: FAR replacement mirrors from The mirrors I ordered were p/n 5479/80SS, to fit Ducati 900SS 1992-98.

The mirrors are made in Italy but arrived quickly from Moto-Science in California, albeit at an exorbitant shipping cost. The mirrors are basically OEM quality, with metal stems and textured plastic heads. Two Allen-head bolts are included for each side to attach them to the bike. However, these don't fit the stock nuts, so I just reused the stock mirror bolts. 

Here's my only beef with the set - the fact that they were obviously not designed for the bike originally. You can see the original cast-in mounting holes just inboard of the 60mm-spaced holes drilled by the supplier. Not exactly factory-looking.

They do look nice on the bike, albeit somewhat more modern than the Baby Turbos. I like them better than the ubiquitous bar-end mirrors though.

Reach is a bit broader than the standard mirrors, giving a somewhat wider view.

After a test ride around our bumpy local streets I can say that I'm pleased. The mirrors give a pretty steady wide view and haven't shown any proclivity to move out of position. I'll provide a further update after a ride around my 100mph test loop :-D

PRO: low-cost (US$98/pair), look good

CON: kludgy mounting holes


Friday, June 25, 2021

Carbon Fiber Refinish - Ducati 900SS/SP

So the 900SS/SP is now 26 years old and has been in my care for nearly 15 years. The 900SS/SP model was distinguished by (among other things) factory carbon fiber fenders (front and rear) and a carbon clutch cover. For a long time now these have been affected by the ravages of time and UV rays, and were looking dull and faded. I've been meaning to attend to them accordingly. Well now, I finally have.

Parts after refinishing
Basically, I watched a few YouTube videos about refinishing carbon fiber, and picked the method that seemed like the least amount of work. The materials required are shown here - 320 grit dry sandpaper, 400 grit wet sandpaper, and rattle-can gloss clearcoat with UV protection. That's it. 

You start by cleaning your part with acetone or other grease remover, then scuff it up with the 320 grit. Rinse off the dust and dry the part, then wet it and your 400 grit sandpaper down and wetsand the part. Once you're done, rinse well and leave to dry. 

The part will look terrible once it's dried, but that's OK - once it's cleared you'll see a million percent improvement - the theory is that whatever the part looks like when wetted down with water, will be what it looks like once it's clearcoated. 

So then you apply the clear in light coats, from not too close up. I used three coats but had to sand down and recoat the clutch cover and rear fender because the clear ran all over the place. Looks better now albeit not perfect.

But whatever - the parts look far better than they ever have since I've owned the bike, and I saved hundred$ over the cost of new carbon in doing this basic refinishing myself:

  • 320 grit sandpaper: $7
  • 400 grit sandpaper: $7
  • Rattlecan of clearcoat: $9.50
Have fun and stay safe!

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Ducati 848 Moves On

Back in late 2015 I bought myself a Christmas present - a 2008 Ducati 848. I'd always wanted to own a Ducati Superbike in all its 4-valve liquid-cooled glory and a chance at one came along, so I grabbed it.

The bike is beautiful, obviously. The 848 and its big-brother 1098 looked like a more modern interpretation of the classic Tamburini 916 and were a revelation after the oddly styled 999.

Riding, of course, was only moderate torture in the city and on straight roads outside town. I have a high tolerance for race-replica riding positions, being a fairly... "compact" person and not very heavy, but it wasn't the riding position that was the worst thing about this bike.

The worst part was definitely the underseat exhaust, or "nut roaster" as I call it. On any day warmer than about 20C/70F your bottom is in for a full heat soak treatment. Leather riding pants are a must but that gets a bit much when you just want to ride a bit around town.

However on the open road and in sweeping curves the bike was awesome. Handling was telepathic, the engine powerful, and the sound from the Termignoni cans... amazing.  

Here's the text of the ad I put on kijiji:

"2008 Ducati 848 in pearl white. This was the first year of production of the 848, and the bike was originally purchased at Wildwood Sports here in Winnipeg – I understand it was the first 848 in the city.

"There are a few mods installed – Ducati Performance/Termignoni slip-on exhaust and ECU, carbon fibre front fender, one-tooth-smaller front sprocket, and Ducati mirror extensions. The stock exhaust, ECU, fender, and sprocket are included, as well as a rear paddock stand, “Ducati Superbike” cover, extra tinted windscreen, scratched stock windscreen, and owners manual. The bike does not include the red key. A new AGM battery was installed last year.

"I purchased the bike locally in January 2016 with 9071 miles and have only added 618 miles during my ownership (current odo reading is 9689). Tires are excellent, the bike was safetied when I bought it in 2016 so should not need anything to pass.

"The bike is beautiful and the single-sided swingarm harkens back to the 916-era of Ducati Superbikes. Its 849cc Testastretta L-twin engine is rated at 134hp and retains the flexibility for which these large twin-cylinder engines are known. Handling is first-rate and the bike is very light, scaling in at a claimed 370lbs dry. This example is lovely and well-kept, and represents a great opportunity to acquire a like-new Ducati Superbike at a reasonable price. I love the bike but am selling it because I have too many motorcycles and not enough time to ride them! No test rides of course but you are welcome to come hear it run.

"**This is not a suitable motorcycle for a novice or beginner motorcyclist**"

I added the last sentence to try and ward off the many beginners who seemed to flock to this bike like moths to a flame. One guy even sat on it and as it rolled forward slightly, pulled in the clutch lever. "Brakes not working?" he asked when the bike didn't stop. "That's the clutch lever" his friend said, shaking his head. The dude had never ridden a motorcycle before and figured a 134hp 400lb superbike would be a reasonable first bike. Believe it or not I had more than one person like that look at the bike. The attitude seems to be "I don't want to buy something I'm going to grow out of" and I get that... but when you unpack the concept, it makes no sense. Everybody who rides remembers low-speed tipovers happening when they first learned to ride (I know it happened to me) - so why would you have as your first bike a machine that would cost you thousands to fix when that happens? The seat is high ("can it be lowered?" I was asked) and steering lock is hand-pinchingly limited, another recipe for tipovers. Never mind that, there's a larger safety issue of learning to control a very powerful, very light machine when you've had no experience of riding on two wheels before. The 848 has the power of a small car at an eighth of the weight. Its performance is explosive, and meant for experienced riders. If you're a beginner, buy a small Honda or Kawasaki (or even a KTM 390!) for a couple grand, learn to ride it well, sell it for a couple grand, and buy something nicer. This is like buying a Ferrari as a first car!

In any event, a reasonable young fellow who works selling luxury cars at a local dealership came to see it, fell in love, and handed me over a stack of cash for the bike and associated bits (stock fender, cans, ECU, front sprocket; paddock stand, two windscreens, cover, and manuals). I got out of the bike exactly what I'd paid for it, so ownership didn't cost me much, and I've had the experience of owning (and going very fast on) a Ducati Superbike. 

Why did I sell it? Well, I hardly rode it, and couldn't see that changing really. I wouldn't tour on it (far too uncomfortable and no room for luggage anyway) and if I have to take a bike somewhere in town, I'd be far more likely to take the R1, GSX-R1100 or even 900SS/SP. If I'm going to show something off at a cruise night or show, likewise. The 848 has no space to carry anything and the tank is plastic, so my magnetic tank bag is useless, and it's uncomfortable around town anyway. No, its sole purpose would be the run down south of the city, and I don't get to do that often enough to make sense having this bike. So I let it go. That's good for now, and in theory it frees up a spot in the garage for something different.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

New Garage resident - 2018 Audi S3

So with the 2015 GTI having reached the end of its factory warranty coverage, a search commenced for its successor... as I'd learned from experience with my Mk5 GTI that serious mechanical issues can arise just after the warranty expires.
The brief for the Mk7 GTI's successor was very similar to that for the Mk5's. Pre-owned compact sedan or hatchback with remaining factory warranty, four doors, AWD, ~300hp. I had dropped "manual transmission" from the spec as there are so few late model cars that offer one. 

I drove a number of cars since the Spring, including an Alfa Romeo Giulia (beautiful, fun to drive, great 8-speed ZF automatic, but increasingly hard to find a pre-owned one), Cadillac ATS (a little big, powerful but didn't seem really quick, best steering wheel I've ever held), Jaguar XE F-Sport (also beautiful but larger, with complex and confusing screen interface), and Genesis G70 (nice but new, and too large and luxe). I also drove a couple of Audi S3s which I loved, unsurprisingly. It's an attractive 4-door sedan and the right size, being based on the same corporate MQB platform as my GTI. Its 2.0 litre turbo four kicks out 292hp, and puts the power down through its Quattro AWD system. Boxes ticked.

But while I came close to buying a white 2017 S3 from a local VW dealer, I couldn't get comfortable with that car as it had some "stories"... a lease return from BC, it had a $9K collision repair on its Carfax report and several runs through auctions before it landed at the VW shop.
So I kept my eye on and the Audi Canada website's used listings, and came across this lovely 2018 S3 Technik in Navarra Blue, located at the franchise dealer in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

After some email exchanges with their salesman, we made a deal that included me trading my GTI towards the S3. This was really important to me, since while I have always sold my own cars privately, the GTI would be at a price point where many people would need financing and that makes private sales complicated. In addition, the pandemic means that offering test drives is not really possible, so trading the GTI was a mandatory part of any new car deal.
Having negotiated the price and made a deal subject to test driving the S3, I drove the GTI out to Saskatoon a week ago last Monday. It's an 800km trip more-or-less and since I enjoy highway driving, it was a pleasure to escape the city for a bit. I stayed at a hotel near the Audi dealer and rolled over to the shop first thing on Tuesday morning.

While I test-drove the S3, the dealer staff drove my GTI and confirmed that all was as described. All that remained was for me to go get a bank draft and arrange a transit permit from SGI (which it turns out I needn't have done since MPI allows plates to be transferred to a new car for a week after purchase... grrr).
With the deal completed I jumped in the S3 and headed for home via Regina and Brandon. The car's great on the highway - it's equipped with a 7-speed DCT ("S-tronic") gearbox that usefully reduces engine speed at cruise, when compared with the previous 6-speed unit.

The car also came with "Technik" equipment, which notably includes the fabulous "Virtual Cockpit" dash - which I felt was a must on my new S3. What the car didn't include, unfortunately, was a front license plate bracket... fortunately I had a temporary solution in the garage.
The S3 also came with winter wheels and tires (shown) in addition to the stock 19" wheels which I also brought home with me. I don't mind the black wheels but kind of wish that the previous owner had gone with red-painted brake calipers. Would've been a nice pop of colour to go with the lovely Navarra Blue paintwork.

The interior is certainly a nice place to spend time. Upholstery is leather of course, but sports seats weren't specified, which is OK. The Audi MMI interface takes a little learning and doesn't seem as intuitive as my old GTI's touchscreen. I'll get used to it though.

I love the car so far - it's a real rocket (0-60 in under 5 sec) and performance is very configurable through the Drive Select menu. It's really sharp looking outside and comfortable inside, but is a size that makes it handy and nimble. I think it'll be sticking around for awhile to come.

2018 Audi S3 Technik, Navarra Blue/Black
Black Optics, Advanced Handling Packages