Sunday, November 26, 2017

Adventures in Ketosis - Part 2: Adaptaion

In my last post, I discussed the basics of a Ketogenic diet, and what I was going to monitor while adapting to it. I've found very little about what to expect during the initial adaptation phase of the diet, other than to expect some lethargy and brain fog in the first few days, aka "Keto flu." So I decided to give a detailed account of my experiences.

I have no idea if mine are typical or not, they just are what I experienced. I'd love to hear if other people's adaptations were similar or different.

To begin, I should note that I am a bartender, so my work hours and lifestyle are atypical. I usually work 4 days a week, but could work 3 or 5 days. I usually don't work more than two days in a row, but could work five in a row during busy seasons. On weekdays, I usually go into work at 3:30 in the afternoon, and work until between midnight and 1am, depending on how busy we were and how long it takes to clean the bar. On weekends, my in-time is either 6pm or 8pm, and I usually leave about 3:30am. Which means I usually go to bed between 2am and 4am, even on nights I don't work. Mondays and Tuesdays and usually my "weekend."

I rarely set an alarm, and tend to wake up between 9am and 10am, but sometimes as late as noon, if I had a particularly rough night at work.

Because of the nature of the job, meals are also atypical. All employees share a "family meal" before we open week days, prepared by the cooks. It could be anything, chicken wings, lasagna, ribs, stew... No way of knowing before I get there, so I'll be packing my meals for that, to make sure I stay low carb and better count my macros and calories.

 At home, I use a digital kitchen scale for all my food, and track everything I consume with a the Cronometer app. I do a fair amount of meal prep. Since live alone, I tend to make something and eat the multiple servings over the course of several days. Which makes it easier to track. I love eating out, and thanks to my career, I have the "in" at some of the best restaurants in my city, however, I'll be forgoing that for the next few weeks at least (sad face).

On any given night, we're allowed to take a short break (10-15 minutes) around the time the kitchen closes (11pm weeknights/1am weekends) to eat, if we're not too busy (if we're busy, then no food, its the nature of the business). If I'm the only bartender working, I generally just grab a bite of food between serving guests. Meals are always on your feet. I'll be bringing snacks for this, since our menu doesn't have much keto friendly food, and the kitchen staff gets grumpy with elaborate custom requests from the staff 15 minutes before they want to go home.

My prefered exercise is weight lifting. Currently I'm on a three day split, usually Monday, Wednesday and Friday, for big lifts (Bench Press, Squats and Deadlifts). I'm also working a specific pull-up regimen which has me doing multiple low rep sets throughout the day, almost every day. I rarely do cardo, for a lot of reasons, but mostly because I hate it. If I do, it's HIIT, but I don't expect to do any during the next couple weeks as I'm not training for anything specific.

My unpaid work, my passion, is writing. Currently I'm working on a screenplay and try to put in at least a couple hours five days a week. The mental focus and cognitive boost ketosis is supposed to give is one of the main drives for me, as I feel it will improve my writing.

Week One

My first day in the diet was a Sunday, I had to work that night, but it was only a 4-5 hour shift, then I had two days off, so I figured that was going to be a good time to get through the worst of it.

My goal was to keep my carbs below 50g/day, in reality, I was below 30g almost every day. Most of my carbs were veggies, and since only net carbs (total carbs minus fiber) count, I set my tracking app to account for that.

Hunger was the first major hurdle. Filling up on fat based foods, like bulletproof coffee, and homemade bone broth (I kept the fat, didn't skim it off), didn't do much to stop the cravings for carbs. It was particularly bad at work where there's food in front of me constantly. But I kept at it.

I tend to drink at work, usually a shot or two after we close. I don't drink much or at all on my off days. Since I was monitoring my blood, I figured I'd see if it messed with me ketosis. It didn't. I drink straight liquor, usually whiskey, so no carbs from beers or wine or mixers.

On my second day, I worked out. It went well, setting a new person record for my bench press, in spite of feeling a bit lethargic.

Day three is when the worst hit me. I woke up feeling like crap. It took supreme effort to drag my ass out of bed. I loaded up on high fat foods, but basically, I sat on the couch all day doing nothing. It was a little better the next day, but still pretty tired and lacking focus. My workout suffered from either lack of strength or just lack of will power to push through.

I also realized I had to stay off my motorcycle, and limit driving altogether for two days. My focus was so bad it scared me to be on the road. My mind kept drifting, and I had one close call.

My glucose was staying low, sub 90, but my ketones were also low, staying below threshold (0.5mM), until Thursday, when they suddenly jumped to 2.7mM and continued to say in the 2 to 4mM range.

By day four, I was feeling pretty good, but every time I did anything that required real physical exertion, I drained quickly. On Friday, I was able to set a new personal record deadlift, but literally could not do a single power clean after. My HRV score tanked the next morning, which I would normally expect after a deadlift workout, so not surprise.

The biggest issue the first week, besides the couple days of lethargy and brain fog, were hunger pangs. It gets easier to walk by carb loaded foods as long as I have snacks (Cheese, nuts, avocados, etc.) available, but I still feel hungry a lot, despite having eaten plenty of calories.

In the middle of the week sleep was an issue also. I would have a hard time getting to sleep, I'd lay in bed tossing and turning. That lasted a few days, but seems to have stopped.

The other thing I notice is I feel tired, like I've just run out of energy. Which I normally associate with not eating enough in a given day. But I know I've eaten plenty of calories, and I feel better after I've eaten a snack. I'm assuming this is because my body still isn't burning the available fat, is looking for carbs, and in the end settling for food that just came in rather than stored energy.

The mirror tells a tale, too. Years ago, in preparation for a photo shoot, I did a crash no carb diet, followed by carb loading, similar to what body builders do before competition to look swollen. As the carb stores in my muscles was depleted, I began to look smaller and scrawny. I'm seeing that again. Hopefully, its a temporary side effect.

Body weight and body fat stayed consistent over the course of this week. A lost a bit in some of my measurements, which I expected as the carbs and water drained out, but nothing too significant.


Week Two

Had a rough night on the bar Saturday night, then woke up very sick Sunday morning. Not Keto flu, but genuinely ill. I rarely get sick at all. Its been a few years since I can remember anything worse than a runny nose. So this was out of the ordinary, and I felt really terrible.  HRV was in the basement (expected if I'm ill), but Ketones and glucose were good, so the diet is on track. I felt better Monday.

The whole second week, my workouts suffered. I failed all my major lifts, but easily got all my warm ups (up to 90% of target), so I feel like I'm at least maintaining so I'll be able to get back on track once I'm through adaptation.

I have no endurance for anything physical. I'll feel fine, then do something physical, like change a keg (which weighs less than half what I just deadlifted a few days ago) and I'll be out of breath for 5 minutes.

That lack of strength and endurance  lasted all week, and its depressing as hell. I'm nearing the end of a 12 week workout cycle and I've been breaking personal records for a few weeks, and suddenly that's stopped. Its a big temptation for me to carb load pre-work out, but I believe this is temporary and will pay off in the long haul, so I'm sticking to the diet.

Mentally I feel pretty good, but still feel like I'm hitting the wall when I should not be. For example, I went to work Saturday night at 8pm. By that time I'd already eaten over 2500 calories, about 80% fat, 21g carbs, and around 100g protein. My daily minimum is 2300 calories to maintain weight. I try to get about 500 more than that to help gain muscle mass. So I was well within my normal range, and should have been fine all through the shift.

But by 11pm, I felt like I was hitting the wall -- tried, mentally unfocused and starving. I ate some cheese and that helped, but I had to eat again an hour later. I at a whole avocado, and more cheese. All in, my calories for the day were over 3400, (almost 150% normal!) but I still was hungry and feeling like I hadn't eaten enough.

Coming to the end of two weeks, its clear I'm still not adapted. Hunger pangs have gone from every couple hours to virtually constant, no matter how much I eat, there's a constant dull hunger. My guess is this is the last desperate attempt by my body to get me to eat some carbs, but instead I just give it  more fat.

(Sidebar-- I've never had to diet to lose weight, and I've been guilty of judging others who fail at their diets. No more. I now know what's like to feel hungry ALL THE TIME. I can manage to get through a couple weeks of this, but if I was facing a life of constant hunger and food cravings, like a typical weight loss dieter, I couldn't stick to it either. I think after a month I'd fail, too. So to all those people I secretly judged, I'm sorry.)

I do have periods of really good mental clarity and creativity that I've noticed. I don't know if I can attribute that to ketosis, but I do feel like I'm having that "spark of inspiration" more often than normal.

In addition, I've gotten much better at doing chores. I'm a terrible housekeeper, always have been. But in the last couple weeks, I've managed to get myself to do daily cleaning and housekeeping, book keeping/finances, and other dull but necessary life stuff that I usually put off until the stress of not doing is too much to take. Caused by keto? I don't know, I don't have an MRI or whatever to measure brain function, but I'll take it whatever it is.

I also started practicing piano again. I started about a year and half ago, then fell off after a couple months. Now I'm back at it. I felt like I only had so much time and energy to devote to learning something new, so I choose writing instead of piano. Now I feel like I can devote plenty of time to both, but nothing else has really changed in my life, its an attitude shift I can't explain. Keto? Maybe, I don't know.

Overall, I'm noticing changes in my behavior and thinking, even how I interact with guests at work (I'm more tolerant, less easily frustrated, and more creative in conversation), that I believe are attributed to keto, but I can't quantify those changes. The changes I can quantify are blood glucose and ketones, which are where I'd expect them to be, and energy levels/strength versus caloric intake, which are not where they should be... yet?

My HRV scores are yoyoing, but I expect this. I'm in week 10 of a 12 week cycle, pushing for new personal records, so I expect my HRV to drop the morning after a workout. It is bouncing back up the next day, signalling a good recovery. Keto is supposed to aid in recovery, but so far, what I'm seeing is normal.

My body weight is down 4 pounds, and body fat is down 1%, which equates to about 2 pounds of lean mass lost, but this is also well within the normal deviation for me, and could easily be nothing. According to much of what I've read, about 50% of weight loss in the first two weeks is usually water, since hydration is an issue when adapting to ketosis (I have been peeing a lot!). I'd personally rather see the scale go up, while my body fat stays the same or drops, but maintaining for two weeks is nothing to worry about.

Week Three

On Monday, day 15, I woke up feeling great. The constant hunger pangs were gone, replaced by seemingly normal hunger around meal times. Meals made me feel full. My energy and focus throughout the day were good and constant. My workout didn't totally drain me, instead I felt good after.

I woke up around 7am (VERY early for me) feeling great, and when I finally went to bed around 1am it wasn't because I was exhaust, it was because it was time. I slept great.

I was also extremely productive that day. I've said before that my productivity has been rising, and it has. I studied new drink recipes I need to know for a new bar opening a couple weeks, I practiced piano, I tried three new recipes (including keto cookies for the holidays), I cleaned house, I still manged to watch several episodes of a TV show I'm binging, started a new book, went grocery shopping, did a little work on my motorcycle and worked out. And I never felt like I had "too much to do" for the day. 

I think its safe to say I've made it through the initial transition.

Thanksgiving!

The rest of the week has gone really well. I was a bit dumb in planning this whole journey right before the holidays, so half way in to week three was Thanksgiving. My plan was to spend it with my brother and his family who live an hour away, so I planned ahead.

I baked some keto-friendly almond shortbread cookies, I tried two different recipes, both were good. I also made a keto-friendly peanut butter mousse (basically peanut butter and heavy cream, because my brother loves anything peanut butter. Just being a good guest, I also made an asparagus dish I knew was keto friendly.

At dinner, I ate dark meat, a lot of it with gravy made from the turkey drippings (the gravy's only carb was corn starch, about a teaspoon for the whole batch, so not much per serving), and veggies. I skipped the sweet potatoes and stuffing and rolls, which were temping. I forewarned my family of my restrictions so no one was pushing those things on me.

I also had a couple glasses of whiskey and water, instead of beer or wine, and began the day with 500 cal coffee, and ended with 500 cal Chia (with 2 Tbsp each of butter, coconut oil and heavy cream blended in), to push my fat to protein ratios up.

I didn't measure my macros, I just tried to eat smart and get lots of fat. I'm pretty sure I way over did my protein, and was way over my calories for the day, but I expected both of those. Around 7pm I checked my blood work, ketones 0.3, glucose 79 (this is about 30 minutes after finishing the chai. So I crashed my ketones, but had kept my glucose down. I also felt sleepy, so I took a nap in front of the TV.

I woke up about 30 minutes later feeling pretty good. I checked my ketones again, 1.6, so I was back in. I was awake of productive the rest of the night (I even experimented wit making sphereified cocktails around 11pm). The next morning, ketones were still in range. I survived.

Sunday, day 21, I woke up feeling good, well rested, which is not always the case after a Saturday night behind the bar. Hunger pangs have continued to reduce, and the feeling of being full last longer after each meal. I'm definitely through the worst of adaptation now.

I've been really good about my meals, and having a lot of fun cooking new things that are keto friendly. I've felt good all week, waking up rested, and having consistent energy all day. I've found several good resources for keto-friendly food recipies that don't taste like "diet food" substitutes. Keto Connect and Carrie Brown (She has several cookbooks, including one very promising one all about keto ice cream I'm dying to try! I miss ice cream!) and Ketovangelist kitchen also has an associate pod cast. So there are lots of resources for cooking.

Thoughts and Observations

The first 10 days were tough, especially the Keto Flu. Getting genuinely ill didn't wasn't great either, but I think that's anomaly. My energy level suffered, my workouts suffered, and I was hungry most of the time, craving all my comfort foods. It was depressing and I was plagued with concerns that it wasn't working that whole first week.

Food prep is key. Keto is a new way of eating, so its not automatic to choose the right foods. Over time I know this will get easier as I learn, and as cravings fade away. I'm used to trying to force tons of protein to build muscle, now I have to be careful not to over do it. As I progress I'm sure I won't have to prep as much or plan ahead, there's just a learning period.

Learning about keto, and how the body processes excess protein has been an eye opener for me. As someone who has always been underweight, and worked hard to build muscle for nearly two decades, I was always of the belief that extra protein was good. Now I understand that excess protein is converted to sugars and spikes insulin, which can be bad for people who are insulin resistant. So not having to focus so much on proteins will be a shift for me.

I'm interested to see how keto effects my performance and ability to build strength. Its supposed to produce quicker recovery, which should improve muscle growth. In the past I've had problems gaining weight because I couldn't eat enough calories, with keto, that's much easier, just down a couple tablespoons of olive oil! 

My goal is to keep going for eight weeks total, and see how I'm feeling, and assess how its impacting my life. A Keto diet is "limiting" from the stand point of not eating a lot of things that the average population eats, so there could be a sense of missing out. On the other hand, I get to eat a lot of things they don't, like tons of fatty foods. And, if the reports are true, the desire for sugary foods will wane as I progress. 

Socially, I've made one important observation: When sharing food I made, like desserts, unless I want to have a long conversation about what a keto diet is and the health benefits, and argue that fat is healthy, just don't tell anyone the food is "keto friendly." People tend to look at anything that's a "diet food" as not tasty and don't want to try it. Most keto food isn't traditionally diet-food, they're full of fat and salt, which are two of the major flavor enhancers, so the food tastes great. If people don't know before trying it that something is "healthy" or diet related, they taste it with an open mind, and I avoid yet another long explanation.

Besides the social aspects of food, I also want to see how it affects my overall life. Will I have more energy? Will my workouts and recovery improve? Will I be able to build muscle? Will I get shredded? Will be more focused? Will my moods improve? If I'm feeling great, and energetic and happy, and writing a lot and being creative, and productive, those things will easily out weight any social-food related issues.

I've already had several people comment that I look really good. I've not lost any weight or fat (Remember, those aren't goals for me. A lot of people are very successful using keto to lose fat.), but people are still commenting that I look better and asking what I'm doing.

Guess I'm gonna find out!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Adventures in Ketosis - Part 1: Gearing Up

I'm always looking for natural ways to improve my health and sense of well being. Not long ago, I stumbled upon the concept of Ketogenic Adaptation, a.k.a. Ketosis or Keto. The science behind it is a bit complicated, but the short version is this: Adapting your body to prefer burning fats over carbohydrates -- not only for weight loss, but as a life style the has scores of scientifically proven benefits from diabetes control, improved cognition, reduced risk of heart disease, improved athletic endurance and performance,  even reduction of epileptic seizures, and many more.

I'm looking for the increased energy, cognition and performance aspects of it, along with reduced food cravings and, to be honest, getting my body fat below the 10% level out of pure vanity. The numerous other health benefits are a wonderful bonus. 

I won't go into all of the details, because frankly there are lots of resources (Check out The Art and Science of Low Carb Living for the single most comprehensive I've found.) It's similar to Paleo (but grounded in more science, from what I've seen) and Atkins (but less focused on short term weight loss), in that it requires a dramatic reduction in the amount of carbohydrates one eats. But the most important part is a dramatic increase in the amount of fat one eats, up to 80% of calories.

The basic principles to keep in mind when doing this type of diet are:
  • Keep net carbs (total carbs minus fiber) below 50g per day
  • Keep protein between .7g and 1g per pound of lean body mass per day (too high can throw you out of Keto, to low can cost you lean mass)
  • The remainder of your calories (60-80%) are from healthy fat sources, mainly saturated and monounsaturated. 
  • Stay away from polyunsaturated fats, too many tend to make people feel ill.
  • Increase sodium intake, because you'll be excreting more than on a high-carb diet. 
The goal is to restrict your carbs enough to force your body to convert fats into chemicals call ketones, and to use those as an energy source. However, it can take two to three weeks for this adaptation to take place, and afterwards, increasing your carbs too much can cause your body to switch back over to the preferring carbs.

There is an important distinction a lot of discussions about Keto seem to miss or gloss over: being "in ketosis" is different from being "keto adapted." Ketones are specific chemicals your body produces from fat. When you're body produces enough to put your blood serum levels of ketones between 0.5mM and 8.0mM, you are considered to be "in ketosis." This does NOT mean that your muscles, organs and brain are actually choosing to use these available ketones as fuel. In other words, just because there are ketones available, does not mean your body uses them.

There are now a number of performance supplements available that will very quickly increase your blood ketone levels, but if you're body doesn't choose to burn them (because it is carb adapted), they won't do you much good. Being Keto-Adapted is when you're body recognizes ketones as a primary and preferred source of energy. That takes a couple weeks to reach, and must be maintained through diet. 

Once keto-adapted, I expect the performance benefits of keto supplements are probably very good, but they're pretty new in the market, and I'm not a competitive athlete, so I'll leave them alone for now. Besides, the science already shows the endurance increases of a keto lifestyle are pretty remarkable, I'm not sure the unknown risks of supplements are even worth it.

There's tons of info available about the sciences, the body chemistry, recipes, etc. But little about what to expect while going through adaptation, the initial two to three weeks. What I've seen says many people experience a initial period of lethargy and mental fog, some so bad its called "Keto flu," and that after about two weeks, you suddenly feel fantastic. But not much else about the day to day, hour to hour things you'll experience.

I know when I begin making a lifestyle change, I become hyper aware of my physical and mental state, and constantly wonder "is this normal?" Since I couldn't find anything detailed about what to expect, I decided to document my experience for others considering this change. 

My documentation will be as detailed as I can make it, but I am not a scientific or medial expert, so follow at your own risk. And please, consult your doctor and read the research on Ketosis and Low Carbohydrate Diet before trying this yourself. 

Keto is about using diet to make some pretty radical physiological changes. Fortunately, I love tracking numbers, so I have a solid base line of my own data for months, and even years, across a variety of bio-markers which I will continue to monitor as I go into Ketosis. Here's the various types of data have been and will continue to monitor through the next few weeks.

Heart Rate Variability (HRV): This measures the variation in time between heart beats and is a measure of the your bodies ability to recover from stress, both physical and mental. It is taken every morning upon waking. I've been tracking mine consistently for a couple years as a way to know if my body is ready for another hard workout, and it's very effective in telling me when I need to take a break. I use a Polar Heart Rate monitor chest strap and Elite HRV app

Body Composition: Body weight and body fat are important to know together. I have tracked both for years, and recently began using use a Skulpt Chisel, which is accurate to within 2% of a DEXA scan. I have data going back to July 2017 from the Skulpt, so I can monitor any changes in my lean body mass and body competition. I typically weigh myself first thing every Monday morning, take 8 body measurements with a tape measure, and do a full Skulpt scan (16 readings) for body fat and muscle quality. 

Blood Markers: Blood glucose and Ketones are the things I want to know, they should be inversely affected, as Ketones rise, glucose should decline. I use a Keto-Mojo, which monitors both with different test strips in exactly the same way a diabetic would measure their glucose, by pricking my finger and getting a little blood. Prior to beginning the diet, I measured both ketones and glucose for a couple weeks to get a baseline.

Ketones can be measured three ways, with urine test strips, with a breathalyzer and in the blood. Urine stripes only tell you what you're excreting, and are effected by hydration, so they're not very accurate. Breathalyzers measure acetone in your saliva, which again is an excretion, so not as accurate, and the device is expensive.

Keto blood test measure ketones in your blood, which are the ketones you're body can access to energy, so its the most accurate. Until recently, the blood test strips were expensive, about $5 each. Keto-Mojo now offers them for $1 to $2, depending on if you get into their "Founder's Club." 

Macro Nutrients: To make sure I'm doing the diet correctly, I'm recording everything I eat with the Cronometer app on my phone. It can measure net carbs, which makes it much easier, and includes alcohol as a fourth macro, which I do drink, so that's handy. I don't expect to track my food so meticulously after I'm fully adapted, but it'll help to learn what I can and can't eat and how much.

Those are all the things I'll be tracking, along with keeping a journal of my experiences. In my next post, I'll give you details about how it all went! 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Suches Loop and Unexpected Challenges

At Neels Gap, GA, almost finished with the Suches Loop, before I got really challenged.
Yesterday I passed 7000 miles of riding since I bought my motorcycle last year. I guess 7000 isn't really a milestone, but I did pass it while on a day trip to Suches Loop in the north Georgia mountains. The Loop is 11 miles of winding mountain roads that involves 318 curves, its sometimes called the "Georgia's Dragon's Tail."

I had the day off, and the weather was looking perfect, so I took the opportunity to drive the two hours north of Atlanta to experience the loop for my first time. I went solo, as always, I don't have any close friends in Atlanta that ride. Heading out solo on a motorcycle for any distance away from home always produces some anxiety. But it also creates a real feeling of accomplishment when you get home. 

I was a little anxious about this trip. Curves are one of the funnest parts of riding, but also can be the most challenging, especially when faced with back-to-back curves, sloping roads, blind curves around cliffs and through woods, long drop offs, narrow roads, down hill sharp curves, spots of gravel and whatever else the world wants to throw at you. Driving a bike through such roads takes focus and really test the skills of an inexperienced rider. Which is what I was looking for. 

Despite the perfect weather forecast, I did decided to take along my chaps and a rain liner for my Kevlar mesh jacket (it provides protection in a slide, but no protection from rain without a liner). It was a good call.

About 30 minutes from my destination, in the middle of nowhere, under mostly blue skies, a cloud decided to open up and dump buckets on me. Fortunately, I could see it coming about a half mile off and was able to pull off on a side road under a tree for some shelter. I pulled on my rain gear and saw blue skies ahead, so I pulled back out onto the four lane state road and continued on. 

I hate riding in rain. I avoid as much as possible. Besides just being uncomfortable, its scary. Helmets don't have windshield wipers, so visibility is impaired along with tire traction, and braking becomes far more dependent on the less powerful rear brakes. I've gotten caught out in the rain a few times, but only on city streets. The worst was in stop and go traffic, where I basically just got soaked for an hour. This was my first time riding on a highway at speed in the rain. Fortunately, traffic was light and the road was long and fairly straight.  

A few minutes later, the rain stopped and I kept riding until I was dry. Challenge faced and conquered! On to the curves!

I stopped for gas and headed into the mountains, north of Dehlonega, GA. The Appalachian Trail passes through this area. Its mostly national forest and park, lots of green trees, parting for occasional overlooks -- and LOTS of curves. 

The first stretch wasn't bad. I arrived at Two Wheels of Suches, a burger joint and camp ground for bikers only. What I didn't know was that the restaurant was only open Friday through Sunday, so I wasn't going to get the burger I had planned on. Having missed my chance for lunch in Dehlonega, I opted for a soda and candy bar from the gas station across the road and figured I'd get food after finishing the loop. There really weren't any other options. 

I headed up Wolf Pen Gap Road, the heart of the loop. This is a well maintained, if narrow, two lane road where the curves come fast, with banked roads, steep drop offs, switchbacks, steep dropping curves and lots blind curves. It was challenging, constantly managing the brakes and shifting up and down between 2nd and 3rd gear to manage speed and power as I went up hills, then engine braked on steep declines. 

One of the most critical skills of motorcycle riding is managing brakes and turning. Bikes have separate front and rear brakes, which affect the handling of the bike differently, and which must be handled differently in the event of a skid. Braking and turning both require increased traction, and tires only have so much traction to use. You cannot brake hard while turning, that's a good way to wreck. One of the cardinal rules of motorcycle riding is brake before the curve, accelerate (slightly) through the curve. Needless to say, coordinating both brakes, gears and throttle through constantly changing directions and elevations tests ones ability to keep it all upright. 

Add in the distraction of cliff faces and long drop offs, plus on coming traffic and you have another issue: Target fixation. One truism of riding is that the bike goes where you look. If you get fixed on looking at something that scares you, like an on coming car as you go around a curve, your body unconsciously tends to steer the bike toward the car... Or off the cliff, or where ever it is your mind and eyes have fixated.  This is the mental, and emotion challenge, of riding something like the Suches Loop. In my opinion, its the more critical part of the equation. You must be in control of your mind.

I'm proud to say I managed it all, including a few unexpected things, like spotting a gravel patch at the apex of a downhill set of switchbacks, which I had to navigate around at the last second while avoiding an oncoming car that was very close to the yellow line, with a drop off on my right. A scary moment, but I was impressed with how calmly and smoothly I handled it. Of course, my instant of self-congratulations was short lived because I had to immediately lean the bike the other ways and enter the next curve. Focus.

At the end of Wolf Pen Gap Road, I turned south onto Georgia 19, which is still a curvy mountain road, but wider (three lanes in some places) and most of the curves are not as intense. Following this up hill, I finally stopped at Neels Gap, the top of the mountain, for a scenic over look and to stretch my legs and hips. 

The view from Neel Gap, GA
From there, I figured it was relatively easy riding to the bottom and on to lunch. I head down through more curves. But those fluffy clouds had other plans, and I found myself looking down hill, into steep declining curves on fairly new (read "slick") black top as rain began to fall.

It was the kind of rain that you see like a curtain crossing the road ahead. Only I didn't see it until I rounded a curve and it was right there, and I didn't have time to stop. I found a spot to pull off under a tree where it seemed a little dryer to decide what to do.

Decision time: Wait it out, or make for the blue sky in the distance.
I had two choices, wait it out under the tree (which wasn't providing much protection), or brave the wet, curvy mountain roads to try to get out from under it. I could see blue sky not far away, but with all the switchback on the road, who know how far the drive actually was?

I decided to ride and face my fear. I knew the real risks were higher than on dry road, but I also knew they were not as high as my anxiety riddled brain was screaming. I had learned, and had some practice, with rain riding techniques and the roads were mostly free of other cars, so I set out.

Ten minutes or so later, I was on dry pavement that hadn't seen a drop all day. I had faced the challenge and over come it.

Challenges come in different ways in life. Riding a motorcycle, like many other things, is objectively a skill that anyone can learn. Taken in progressive steps and with practice, the skill can be mastered. But the real challenge is overcoming your fear. Your mind gets filled with images and ideas of everything that can go wrong, and you think about that, instead of what you need to do to be safe.

I chose to ride the Suches Loop to challenge my fears. I knew I was capable of riding curves. I wasn't trying to take them at full speed or prove what a bad ass I was. I just wanted to prove to myself that I had the skills and experience to take curve after curve after curve, of all variety of sizes, slopes, lengths, diameters, etc. And I did, the small fears of falling, of skidding, etc, that I feel every time I get on the bike were still there, I just had to push them down and focus on the task, like I do every time.

But the unexpected challenge of rain... That brought up a whole other level of fear. I would not have faulted myself if I decided to wait it out. It wasn't what I had set out to do, I had not mentally prepared myself for it, and it wasn't "do or die." I 'm glad I decided to face that fear, too.

There are challenges in life that we choose, like riding the Loop, and there are those life chooses for us, like riding in the rain. But a challenge is a challenge, whether we choose it or not, it is faced the same way: with courage and thought. Courage to acknowledge your fear, and thought to navigate the challenge safely.

The more challenges I set for myself in life, the more easily I find I can overcome the ones life throws at me. And that is how I create an amazing and interesting life for myself.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Interpreting Meanings

People get tattoos for a lot of reasons, and I'm not going to say there is a good or bad reason to get one, its your skin, your money, your life.

For me, my tattoos all have meaning to me, meanings that were (at least when I got them) deeply significant. What I find interesting is how some people misinterpret the meanings according to their own view of the world.

Recently I had three bees, as in insects, tattooed on three different parts of my body. Each bee was customized to represent a different individual, all of whom happened to be women, and this caused a bit of jealousy in another woman in my life. As she saw it, I'd just had the equivalent of three women's names tattooed on my body, and she wasn't included.

But that isn't how I view it at all. These tattoos represent a nick name I was given at Burning Man last year, one which I felt helped clarify a part of my own identity. Here's the story:

At Burning Man, I met a group of three first time Burners, three women. They were all in their late twenties, had all gone to college together and all shared a house in college. During that time, they called their house "The Honey Pot," for obvious college-girl reasons. Since graduating, they have all taken very different paths in life, but remained close, despite being spread out all over the world.

At Burning Man, I was one of the first to welcome them, and in a very real sense, they adopted me into their little tribe. We spent a lot of time together that week, and had many adventures. There was no romance or sexual interactions between us, but did connect on a deep and intimate level.

One night, while we were out on an adventure, they gathered up, and after a discussion, pulled me close and announced I was "the Bee Keeper"!

At Burning Man, nicknames can take on an important meaning, they allow one to step outside the identity you have in the rest of the world, the one you probably didn't choose, and embrace other aspects of your personality you'd rather showcase. So this new name caused me to think a lot.

As I interpreted it, a bee keeper, in actuality, is a person who provides a safe place for the bees to live, protecting them from harm, while at the same time allowing them to roam free and go about their natural lives, doing what bees do. There is obviously a symbiosis, the keeper gets honey or his plants pollinated, while the bees get protection, but the keeper does not try to shape the bees into anything they aren't already, he nurtures them, without directing them.

Applying that analogy to myself, I felt it was appropriate for how I did a lot of things in life. I find my self mostly surrounded by younger, less experienced people, and I have a paternal nature which leads me to want to guide and protect them. Yet I also do not wish to stop them from seeking and becoming their true selves, regardless of who that is, I just want them to do so in a healthy, safe way. This is how I tend to treat the younger people in my life.

Over the years, I've had many, many people come back to me and let me know how I positively impacted their lives, often by simply being the one person who let them be themselves. That is what being The Bee Keeper means to me.

To commemorate this new realization about myself, I decided to get a tattoo. I thought a lot about how to represent the idea, a bee hive came to mind. Then simply bees, but I would need a few, to show it was about many bees, not just one. Soon I decided on one to represent each of the people who helped me understand myself in this way, and that's what I got.

The tattoos, while representing three people, also represent Burning Man and its impact on my life, and the quality of my character I've come to understand through my experiences there. So while each be represents a person, its less about them, and more about recognizing how they helped me -- The honey I got from the bees, so to speak.

I don't even know if I'll ever see those three again (we are still in contact, but not deeply involved in each other's lives.) I haven't told them about the tattoos, because I don't want them to misinterpret their meaning. Though I will be proud to show them if I meet them again in person.

This experience also helped illustrate to me how people view the same thing differently, and is a constant reminder to take those potential different views into consideration when dealing with other people. My lesson about myself, lead to a lesson about the world! Pretty cool!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Passion or Security?

The other day, I saw a post on Facebook by a person a couple decades younger than me asking which was the smarter choice, as they looked for a career: One that would help build financial success for them or one that allowed them to pursue their passion? Its a questions we all face, whether we ask it or not. Given my life experiences, I offer my humble thoughts on this subject.

First, its important to recognize financial "success" is a variable goal, and not necessary mutually exclusive from pursuing ones passion. For one person financial success might mean being able to pay their bills, house, clothe and feed themselves and be relatively free from worry over basic money issues. For someone else, it might mean having more money than they can ever spend in a single life time, to have virtually nothing out of their financial reach if they choose to pursue it.

Each choice has pros and cons, but its important to determine for yourself what level of financial security you are comfortable with. What your personal financial expectations for living are will greatly determine what choices you have for following your passion. If you insist on extreme wealth, and your passion is painting watercolor landscapes, chances are you'll have to keep painting as a hobby and devote the majority of your time to pursuing money. On the other hand, if you're fine with a modest lifestyle, and your passion is analyzing markets and investing, you might find you have more money than you need.

Now, the more interesting and less academic part of the question is what is your passion? As a culture, we seem to be under the impression that we all have one thing we are passionate about, and if we just figure that out, we can build a happy life around that. There are untold numbers of self-help books and gurus devoted to helping you find your "one true calling." That belief is wrong.

Everyone has many different and varying interests, and these change throughout your life. There is no single thing that will make you happy, you have lots of options. Which ones you choose to follow will determine a lot about your life -- up to the point where you choose to follow a different one.

I'll use my life as an example. As a young child I was very creative, I built toys out of cardboard I scavenged from dumpsters, for a time I was obsessed with doing pencil drawings of geometric shapes. In my teen years, I became interested in photography, and I choose to go to school for that after high school. At this point, it looked like I would probably lead the life of a "creative." Except I had no interest in business, in book keeping and marketing and all the things I'd have to do to make a living that way.

Instead, I worked in restaurants and picked up photo jobs on the side. I was poor, but pretty content at 21, living week to week. Most people would say I wasn't going anywhere, that I'd never amount to much. But I was pursuing a passion and not that concerned about money.

Then my circumstances changed, I became a single father. Now the priorities shifted, being a parent was most important, which made money more important. I had no real skills of value and had not gotten a degree.  I had to take the jobs I could find and live in my parents' basement for a few years.

Eventually, I stumbled into a job making counter tops. Not glamorous or high paying, but good work and I enjoyed building things. That lead eventually to a job with a kitchen designer who was very supportive of me as a parent. Again, the money wasn't going to make me rich, but I was able to move my son and I out of my parents house. Most importantly, I was able to be a good father.

During this time I still did some photography, but mainly work related, not the artistic stuff I was passionate about. Designing and building things used my creative skills, and was satisfying, but the things I created where never purely my own, they were meant to fill a need for someone. In my parents basement, I tried to start a graphic arts company, but that didn't go anywhere.

I also limited my potential income early on by choosing not to work over time or weekends, because I was parent. A choice I never regretted, but it didn't make things easy. I chose passion (parenting) over finance.

Eventually, my boss retired and helped me start up my own business as a custom woodworker, simply turning the best of what I did for her, into my own business. For several years I did very well. I was good at what I did, had a reputation for quality work and for being a problem solver. My business expanded and I was able to buy a house. To some extent I was following my passion, but it also was a financial decision.

I was never very good at running the business. Just as years before, I had no interest in the business side of things, I just liked building and creating. It never grew into more than a one my operation. If I had prioritized growing the company, adding employees, and expanding, I would have probably made more money and been more secure, but I also would have had to spend less and less time doing the hands on things I enjoyed. Passion over finance.

In a perfect world, I would have been just fine doing my one-man business for a long time. But that's not the world we live in. When the Great Recession hit, it hit the housing market first and that was me. I lost everything, including my house. I was nearly 40 and starting over with nothing.

It was an extremely stressful few years of my life. It took a toll on my health and relationships. My self-esteem and confidence were shattered. I questioned a lot of my life choices. Had I chosen a more financially secure path years ago, thing might have been different for me. If I had gotten a degree, I would have had more job options when I lost my business. I considered trying to go back to school, but I had a child with college dreams of his own and now money to help him, let alone my self. Financial security looked really good and completely out of reach during that time.

I found work managing a warehouse, that didn't last. I pursued acting as a career for a time. As any cliche will tell you, actors need other jobs to support themselves. So I got back into restaurant work. I started bartending in chef-driven local restaurants and discovered I loved bartending. For the past 6 years I've been doing that, building on my successes to reach a pretty comfortable point.

There's one passion of mine I haven't talked about: Writing.

I hated school. I have always been a terrible speller. So many of my childhood memories revolve around my struggles to spell and being bullied by teachers and made fun of by kids and constantly disappointing my parents.  In high school, I did finally have a teacher take an interest in my writing and encourage me, but after school, I didn't do much.

When I had my woodworking business, I kept a blog detailing projects for people. As a bartender I also have blog that I occasionally post to, but not regularly. I always seem to want to write about things, to tell stories, to explain things (thus this very post!)

Remember my brief foray into acting? That's because I love movies. Its a serious passion of mine, one that has consumed a large part of my life for as long as I can remember. But not one I ever even considered making a career of, until I tried acting. Acting was the first time I saw how screen plays were written.

My whole life, while I spent long, quiet hours alone working on projects (wood working can be a lot of repetitive steps) my brain was always thinking, holding conversations, creating stories, coming up with interesting ideas. From time to time I had tried to write some of them in book form, but I never seemed to be able to make that work.

Screenplays on the other hand were a format that made sense to me. So I wrote a short one. Then I began trying to write a longer one. Then I gave up. Then I tried again. I gave up again. Then I tried again, this time diving into books and video seminars and podcast about writing, and I finished it. The another, then another... And I have many others in my head waiting their turn. I spend hours a week doing it, and it hasn't made me a dime. Maybe someday it will, maybe not.

Turns out writing is a passion of mine, too. Looking back, it should have been obvious from the beginning, but it took me four decades to recognize it.

How does all this relate to the initial question, passion or security? Some people think that if you work hard and save money, you can ensure financial security, which will allow you to follow your passions later. That may work out for you, but as I found out, it can all be taken away from you by circumstances out of your control.

You could get hit by a bus, the economy could collapse, you could get sued, or choose the wrong partner, your job could get outsourced. A million random things could take away years of hard work, and then you're stuck starting over, your back against the wall, with less time than before, to build your security -- And your passion postponed indefinitely. There is no guarantee.

Other people will tell you, follow your passion and it will lead to success. Will it? How many starving artist are out there? How many millions of unpublished authors are their? How many would be actors are serving tables or tending bar? How many high school athletes dream of going pro and how many actually make it?

I followed some of my passions, and some worked out, others didn't.

There simply are no sure-fire answers. What I can tell you is this: Try to find a balance. A life spent postponing the things that give you joy, the things that make hours slip by unnoticed is not a life worth enduring. The things make you feel accomplished, even before another human being knows you did it, those are the things you need in your life. If they won't bring you the financial security you want, then make time for them outside of work. If your work isn't your true passion, try to find something you can at least enjoy.

Do not neglect your financial comfort either. If you can't pay your bills, the constant stress ruins your life, your health and your relationships. I know, because I've experienced it more than once.

You may get lucking and make a fortune following one of your passions, but the odds are against it. That does not mean you can't live a fulfilling life doing something else, as long as you seek balance.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Motogadget M-Unit Installation on a Honda Shadow VLX

For my first ever adventure into wiring a motorcycle I decided to install a Motogadget M-Unit into my 2004 Honda 600 VLX.  It isn’t a glamorous bike, but its mine. Over the next few months I will continue on with other more noticeable changes, but since its my only bike, and I would prefer not to have it down for weeks or months at a time, these changes will be done piecemeal.

Because of this approach, it became clear that the first thing that needed to be done was upgrading the electrical system to accommodate new lighting and controls. The M-unit offered a very elegant and simple way of doing this, which to me, a total novice, seemed well worth the $300 price.

There are some forums dedicated to the 600VLX,but  it seems very few owners are interested in doing the kind of changes I want, or at least none that post. What posts I could find about wiring were pretty simple – The most complex issue was dealing with installing LED turn signals on the harness which wasn’t designed to accommodate them. All this meant that to install the M-Unit, I was pretty much going to have to figure it out on my own.

The M-Unit is designed to simplify wiring and can, apparently, work very when building an entire harness from scratch. However, going all the way to scratch was beyond the scope of what I thought I wanted to do (In retrospect, having accomplished what I have and learned as much as I have, I will start from scratch next time.)

What I’m going to attempt here is to break down, piece by piece, how to integrate an M-Unit in the a Honda 600VLX wiring harness,  keeping all the functionality of the original system, while adding the functions of the M-unit and removing the bulky and ugly stock controls. For simplicity sake, I’m going to use the OEM wiring diagram as reference and simply work my way around it, clockwise, item by item, and explain what to do with it. After which, I will discuss the new wiring added for the M-Unit and new controls.


NOTE: When I say “Cut and Cap” I’m saying a wire is not needed, and can be removed. If you want to open up the wiring harness and removed all the excess wires, like I did, do this carefully. Several wires branch off to multiple items. When removing a particular wire from a particular item, trace it back to the main wire of the same color where you’ll find the soldered splice. Do not cut the main wire, only remove the spliced on piece you don’t need any more.

My understanding is that many Hondas of this type have very similar harnesses, so a lot of this should translate. I hope you find this helpful.  Here we go!

Mounting the M-Unit: Under the seat, there is a black metal brace, on which is mounted a black cube – The Turn Signal Relay, which isn’t needed any more, so getrid of the relay, and mounted the M-Unit to the metal bracket, by drilling two holes in it. Easy.

At the top end of the Unit, I attached a ground wire and grounded it to the frame with a self-tapping screw (I think the metal plate could have served as a ground, but I felt a wire to the frame was more certain).

The M-Unit mounted and grounded where the turn-signal relay used to be.


THE OEM HARNESS

Ignition Switch (Key): Three wires: Red leads to the M-Unit Positive power input screw on the lower right. Red/black goes to the M-unit LOCK input (I soldered this wire to a smaller gauge wire to plug into the M-unit). Cut and cap the Blue/Orange wire, you won’t need it.

REAR LIGHTS (Tail, brake, turn signals and license plate): Disconnect all these connectors. If you want to reuse the nylon OEM connectors, cut the wires a few inches on the main harness side to attach to later. If you’re going to install new connectors or simple wire directly to the existing wires, cut them on the non-harness side of the connector.

Cut the three wires leading into the tail/brake light connector (Green, Brown, and Green/Yellow), a couple inches on the main harness side of the connector. Splice them all together into a single wire, and attach it to the M-Unit BRAKE output.

When programming the M-unit, set it for a single-wire brake system (LED or light bulb, which ever you have) and the tail/brake lights are all set.

Rear Brake Switch: Both brake switches are wired together with a Green/yellow wire. From the connector there is a black wire that goes to ground, leave it. Follow the Green/Yellow wire to where it leads to the tail/brake light connector (which you probably already cut), before it reaches the tail/brake light connector, cut it and plug it into the M-Unit BRAKE input.

Basically, what you’re doing here is placing the M-unit between the brake switches and the brake lights, by cutting the Green/Yellow wire and attaching switch end to the input and the lights end to the output.

Fuse box:  Remove the box and toss it, you don’t need it anymore. Four wires lead out from the connector: The Black, Black/brown and Blue/Black wires all attach to the M-Unit AUX output (which is a solid state fuse box) by soldering them all to a single wire. The Black/Red wire is cut and capped, its not needed anymore.

Main Fuse/Starter Solenoid: Four wires. The Red wire connects to the M-Unit at the Positive Power input screw, along with the Red wire from the Key Ignition. The Yellow/Red wire plugs into the M-unit START output. The other two, (Red/White and Green/Red) stay as is, leading to the Regulator/Rectifier.

Regulator/Rectifier, Alternator, Ignition Pulse Generator, Ignition Control Module: Leave these.
Turn Signal Relay: You removed this when you installed the M-Unit. Cut and cap all three wires. DON’T wire them to each other, cap them off individually.

LEFT HANDLE BAR CONTROLS:  The plan is to lose the whole bulky button housing. The only two wires to keep are the Green/White and Green Red wires, which connect to the clutch switch.  Everything else gets cut and capped (Drk Blue, Blue/white, Green, Orange, gray, Lt Blue, Black and Black/Brown).

NOTE:  If you choose to remove the clutch wires too, all that happens is you can’t start the bike with just the clutch pulled, the gear box will have to be in neutral.

Dimmer Switch: This feeds low power to the turn signals, so they are also marker lights. I plan on switching to 2-wire LEDs anyway, so I discarded this all together.

NOTE: The M-unit does have a programmable setting to fill this feature, however, the way I choose to wire, that program did not work. In my case, the OEM turn signals function only as turn signals.

Front Turn Signals: Disconnect both. Just like with the rear, if you’re going to reuse the connectors, leave yourself a few inches of wire to connect to, then cut and cap the remaining wires.

NOTE: I think, but I’m not sure, that if you solder the solid colored wires and the color/white wires from each turn signal together, creating a single wire, the marker light feature of the M-unit will function. But I have not tested this, since I really don’t care.

Headlight: The M-unit will now handle this. Cut the Blue and White wires a few inches back from the bulb connector. Attach new wires to each and run them to the M-unit, White to the LIGHT LO, and Blue to LIGHT HI. Green is your ground, you can leave it.

Indicator lights (Turn signal, Neutral and High-beam dash lights):  The single turn signal light and High-Beam indicator light will be powered through the M-Unit, so cut those wires a few inches back from the connector on the main harness side, and cap the remaining wires. Leave the Green and Lt Green/Blue wires.

Gauge Lights (Meter light, Temp Indicator, Oil Pressure): Leave these.

RIGHT HANDLE BAR CONTROLS: Even though we’re losing the bulky Starter/Engine Stop box, we need some of these connections. The Brown wire needs to be connected to one of the Black/brown wires. Do this either by keeping the other side of the connector where a small loop of Brown/Black wire makes the connection, or by cutting and splice the two wires together. The Black and Black/white wires need to be spliced together. If both of these loops are not made, the bike won’t start.

Cut and cap the Blue/White, Black/Red, Yellow/ Red. Keep the Green/Yellow and other Black/Brown wires (these are your front brake switch wires).

Side Stand Switch, Diode, Fan Motor Switch, Temp Unit, TP Sensor: Keep. The Diode, in case you’re wondering, is actually just a connector with a black cube plugged into it and wrapped in tape inside the wiring harness, if you don’t open up the OEM harness, you won’t even see it.

Horn: There isn’t a nylon connector here, just two black wires that plug into two tabs on the horn. The M-unit will control the horn, so you’ll need to connect one of these to the HORN output (by cutting and extending it) and the other to ground. One of the black wires does connect to a green wire if you follow it, that is the ground - leave it connected. Cut and extend the other wire to plug into the HORN output of the M-unit.

Neutral switch/Oil Pressure Switch: Leave these wires.

Ok, that’s it for the OEM harness. The M-Unit should come on when the key is turned and do its little LED cycle, ending with the LOCK and AUX LEDs lit. If you attach a temporary button to the START input and to a ground, the bike should start up. You should be able to also turn the head light on and off, and switch between high and low beams, using the same button at the LIGHT input. Same for the horn and each of the turn signals (but you might need to configure some things first.)

Connect a temporary button to the CONFIG input on the M-unit, and to ground, and follow the instructions to program the M-Unit for “one wire brake lights.” Once that’s done, the brake lights should work from both the front and rear brakes individually.

If all that works for you, you’re in great shape!

Now onto installing new control switches. I opted for the 5-button setup with the M-unit. The buttons are headlight, right and left turn signals on the left, and horn and start on the right (thanks to the M-unit, a double tap on the start button will kills the engine.)

THE M-UNIT CONTROLS HARNESS

All the buttons I used with the M-Unit are “Momentary” buttons, meaning they only close the circuit while being pushed, as soon as you release them, they spring back to the open state. The M-unit can also be programmed to work with “Japanese and European” buttons setups, which is what you’d use if you kept the stock controls (but why would you? They’re so ugly!)

All buttons have two wires, one which leads to the M-Unit, and one which goes to ground. You can ground your wires however you like, and you can connect all your grounds together to reduce clutter/confusion and save space. The M-Unit uses very little power for the buttons, so you can use very thin wires (I used 22 AWG).

Start Button: Run a ground, and plug the other wire into the START input on the M-Unit.

Horn: Just like the Start Button, a ground and one wire plugged into the HORN input.

Headlights: Same as above, input into the LIGHTS input (see a pattern here?)

Turn Signals: Again, one wire to ground for each button, and one wire each to the M-Unit inputs, TURN L and TURN R.

That’s its you’re buttons are wired. Seriously, look at the OEM wiring diagram to accomplish what you just did, its insane how complex it is without the M-unit!

M- UNIT LIGHTING HARNESS

This is a bit more complicated, but if you take it step by step, its pretty easy.

Headlight and High-Beam Indicator:  Splice into the Blue Headlight Wire, and connect it where the Blue wire was at the Indicator lights harness. Where the Green wire was on that harness, should be connected to ground. Now when you turn on your high-beams, you’re indicator light will come on too.

Turn Signals: This is the complicated one, so take it one step at a time. Both left and right are identical, so just repeat the procedure.

Top: The stock headlight and turn signal controls. Bottom: New Motone Mini-Buttons, much smaller, cleaner look, plus Blitwell Kung-Fu grips. .


A wire needs to leave the M-Unit from the TURN L or TURN R output and split into three wires. One will go to the front turn signal connector, and one to the back and one will be bridged to the indicator light on the dash.

 The second single wire from each of the connectors needs to go to ground from each signal itself.
Once this is done, the turn signals should work. To make the dash indicator work, attach a 1N4001 Diode to the third wire from each of the turn signal harnesses.  Be sure the direction of flow for the diode is away from the M-Unit.

 Then connect the other end of both diodes to a single wire which will connect the either the Lt Blue or Orange wire from the Indicator Lights connector. The other unused wire should go to ground. Now the indicator light should work when the turn signals come on.

That’s it! You should now have everything on the bike working. Program which ever features you want for the M-Unit.

Fully wired M-Unit. 
If you’re leaving your bike otherwise stock, there’s probably not a lot of point in doing all this. But, if you’re planning on future mods which will impact the electrical system, everything should be pretty simple now, just plug into the existing wiring and, if necessary, change the programming of the M-Unit to accommodate the new item.

Any new accessories (hand warmers, ground effect LEDs, etc) get spliced into the AUX power lines. Changes to the lighting just plug into the connectors you already have.

I hope this was helpful!

UPDATE: One the second day after finishing, I took my bike out for a night ride and immediately noticed that all the lights were brighter. The headlight, which I had planned on upgrading, is suddenly perfectly adequate, the turn signals are brighter and the dash indicator lights are actually annoyingly bright!

I'm not sure exactly where, but its clear that somewhere this new setup is saving a lot of juice which it can now devote to the lights.

Monday, March 13, 2017

This is How I Learn... Everything

I'm sure it hasn't escaped my one reader, who ever that is, that my motorcycle is at the core of this blog. It wasn't meant to be that way, but the two came into my life at about the same time, so there it is. If this blog goes on long enough, that may change, but until then...

I've been struggling with getting my carburetor tuned properly. Since wrapping the exhaust pipes and removing the airbox, there have been issues. Mileage has decreased significantly, there has been "popping" in the exhaust when I throttle down, power at first seemed to increase, but has since declined, power does not increase smoothly as I throttle up... I could probably go on, but those are the main things.

So I've been approaching it from different directions. Trying different tuning approaches from various sources, some solved some issues, but increased others. Nothing seemed to solve them all, which proper tuning should do. I initially looked at all the issues from the perspective of how they related to the air-fuel mix, but when that continued to yield unsatisfactory results, I changed my approach.

Last week, I took one obvious symptom, the popping, and searched to see what other issues it might arise from. It turns out, it could also result from a poor seal between the cylinders and the exhaust pipes. Since I've removed the pipes several times and never replaced the gaskets (they're supposed to be replaced every time! opps!) I ordered new ones. (BTW, exhaust is closely related to the air-fuel mix, so this would be a contributing factor that needed to be fixed in order to get tuning corrected.)

They arrived today, so I set out to replaced the old ones... Only there weren't any. Apparently, I either lost them without noticing (unlikely) or the previous owner didn't replaced them when they put after-market pipes on the bike. Whatever. I put the new gaskets in, and the popping stopped. So I tuned the carburetor following the factory recommended procedure, using a new digital tachometer I also bought (my bike does not have one of its own) and got better performance immediately.

But now there's another problem... maybe. When my initial problems began, one mechanic suggested increasing the main jet size, so I did. It didn't make sense at the time, but I knew less then. Now I know that that may be the cause of my reduced fuel economy, So I have to go back, remove the carb and reinstall the smaller jet.

All this trial and error is annoying, but I realize its also the way I tend to approach and learn everything I do. I jump in, tear things apart, fuck with what's working, generally mess it up, and try to get it back into equilibrium, only different from how it started. Its messy and time consuming, and I tend to go over somethings dozens of times. But in the end, I understand them, and know things I wouldn't have if I hadn't been so messy about it.

I've never been one to just accept what I'm told, I need to know why. If I wanted to be a mechanic professionally, I would got to school for it, and dig very deep into the how and why of all these things. I'm not going pro, so the time and money for school aren't in the cards. But, I am giving myself a useful education on this particular subject, and it will be followed by another.

I did this with carpentry, with bartending, with writing, working on my car (fuel injected, not carbureted, or I'd already know this stuff), and with scores of other things in my life. If you were to study my relationships, you probably see that the numerous long and short term relationships also fall into that pattern (not on purpose, but still probably true).

This is how I learn -- by doing. By getting dirty, and making it real and tangible, not theory.