14 Cubic Inches VS. 14,000 Feet
I woke up too early – a byproduct of being in a different time zone combined with my anticipation of the day’s activities. Although I tried to get back to sleep, I finally got up and took my time getting ready for the ride. I piled on the layers, and headed outside.
I trailered the bike out to Colorado. This might seem a bit disingenuous, but I’ve been on this earth for about 5 decades and I didn’t have anything to prove – I was here to enjoy the experience, and the best way to do that was to be well-rested and ready to ride. Besides, my little cycle doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being a long-distance touring machine. Regardless, I carefully loosened the ratchet straps, and gently rolled the motorcycle off the trailer. I loaded the little saddlebags with the bare minimum of items I thought I might need for the ride: 1.5 liter container of gasoline (my tank capacity is only 2 gallons), spare spark plug along with a ratchet & proper size socket, a couple of bottles of water and some snacks.
And the moment of truth was upon us. I got astride my 14 cubic inch steed (that’s 229cc for those of you that prefer metric measurements), turned on the gas, flipped the choke closed, pumped the throttle a couple of times (there is an accelerator pump on the carb) and kicked. Now, I’m not sure what the temp was, but I do know that I could see fine snowflakes falling through the beam of the headlight – my guess is that it was just a bit north of freezing. Yet here I was in Colorado, kick starting a motorcycle with an engine smaller than most riding lawnmowers. And the little bike sprung to life, first kick.
Just a little bit of warm-up, and I rode across the street to fill up the tank. After topping it off, it started first kick again, and seemed to be raring to go. I knew that the gates to Pike’s Peak wouldn’t be open yet, but I decided to ride up there to scope it out. I had about an hour and a half to kill before they started letting people through. It was a dark ride up to the entryway.
There were people waiting for the gates to open when I arrived. I don’t know why it surprised me, but it did. I was the only idiot on a bike, though. Still, I got to chat with the nice guy who was tending the gate, letting other workers in to take their places up the mountain. There was a guy driving a rented Challenger, in the area for work. Both he and the gate guard were celebrating their birthdays that day – a cool coincidence. Another man was there with his teen daughter, in the area to look at colleges. We passed the time chatting about the bike, cars, and everything else until the cashiers started going down the line of vehicles – they got started a bit before the gates opened, getting the first few of us pre-paid to minimize the morning rush - very good of them to do so! My cashier took a quick look at the bike and myself before saying, “I hope you're dressed warm enough, it’s 18 degrees (F) at the summit right now.” I was also hoping I was dressed warm enough, but there was only one way to know for sure.
Paid up and waiting for go time, I kicked the bike to life (first kick!) and let the little engine warm up a bit. Now, this thing was born in Indiana and tuned at something like 800 feet above sea level. I was already at 7,400 feet, and going up from there. Carburetors are notorious for running richer as the altitude increases. Once warm, the engine was idling (I had set the idle speed up a bit to help) but did have a slight blubber to it. I was concerned about what the altitude and steep climb would do to gas mileage (hence the extra gasoline) as well as if the rich mixture would foul the plug (hence the extra plug, ratchet & socket). And now it was time to find out.
The gates opened, and I followed the vehicles ahead of me through the gate and up the mountain. The bike had no problem keeping up with the cars and trucks, in fact, the ride was a bit slower than I had hoped for. Fortunately, the string of vehicles were all fisher-persons, and every one of them turned off at the access road to the North Catamount Reservoir. Every. Single. Car.
I quickly twisted the throttle wide open and unleashed 14 cubic inches of fury upon the mountain. The bike instantly reminded me that we would proceed up the road at the pace it liked, not the pace I wanted. Fair enough. We went along at a moderately brisk rate, making the most of the sharp curves.
It was at the halfway point that the blubbering got pronounced. When a carbureted engine is blubbering at half or greater throttle openings, things are far from stoichiometric. I had read that this bike was actually a tad rich at WOT, and now I had proof. As the altitude increased, I quickly found out that the bike was happiest in the lower gears, engine at moderate to high rpm, and throttle at somewhat less than halfway open. Full throttle brought enough blubbering that the little motorcycle would start losing speed. And that was OK. I was going past 5-digit elevations on a 229cc carb fed bike – it wasn’t going to be pretty! And yet, the little engine soldiered on, nary a car in sight for the rest of the ride up.
Except, that the ride didn’t get to 14,000 feet. No, fate conspired with construction and road conditions to limit the ride to a paltry 13,000 feet, where I was waved to a stop by a serious looking young man at the Devil’s Playground parking area.
“You have to take the shuttle to the top.”
“Awww, I came out here to ride my bike to the top, not ride in a shuttle.”
“Nobody is here, can’t I just ride up, take a picture, and come back down ASAP?”
“Can I take a picture here on the side of the road?”
And I took my picture. In retrospect, I wish I had tried bribery – I really wanted a picture of the bike in front of the sign at the summit.
The ride back down was exhilarating. With the help of gravity, there was all the speed I wanted, which – at this stage in my life – isn’t all that fast. The engine might be blubbering, but the disc brakes were up to the task. I stopped for the occasional picture on the way down, but again didn’t have to deal with a single vehicle impeding the ride. Absolutely fantastic.
I rode back to the hotel, very pleased with the ride, the scenery, my comfort under all the layers of clothing, and (most of all) with the motorcycle. Yes, we’re in the age of fuel injection, computer controls, and mega-cubic-inches, but 14 cubes and a carb are still able to conquer the mountain.
jminer last edited by
@StephensonValveGear this is very good oppo. Thank you for sharing the story. I've always dreamed of riding a bike to the top of pikes peak but never made it happen - well done!
You'll have to let us know more about your Janus bike, they're pretty interesting.
beefchips last edited by
pyroholtz last edited by pyroholtz
@stephensonvalvegear this is a great write-up. I looked through my Pikes Peak photos and couldn't come up with anything that added value here. I'm not a 2-wheel guy but totally appreciate what they offer and for you to take such a low displacement bike up, is impressive. I'm convinced every oppo needs to make Pikes at least once.
Fun fact, there is 43% less Oxygen at the top, 14k (about 39% at
14k13k) compared to sea level. Assuming perfect air:fuel mixture you can assume this same loss in power. The bummer about carburation here, you run overly rich and it can be a problem.
Shop-Teacher last edited by
@stephensonvalvegear What a great adventure! I love it!
I've taken multi-hundred mile trips on scooters for the last three years in a row. I've never thought about riding a scooter up Pike's Peak, but now I want to. Darn right, I'll trailer it out there if I ever make it happen. I may be crazy, but I'm not THAT dumb
Longtime Lurker last edited by
Great story. Thanks for writing it out.
pip bip last edited by
@stephensonvalvegear take off and go straight past him
Old Busted Hotness last edited by
That's a proper adventure, even if it's only a few miles.
Zaphod's Heart of Gold last edited by
I can feel the joy of that ride from where I sit, being alone on the mountain to set your own pace and ride freely. That feeling where it's only you and the machine, nothing else mattering at that moment. What the machine is does not matter much, only that you are the one on it and in control, feeling every nuance in the road and its reaction. Glorious ride
BicycleBuck last edited by
Old airplanes have a mixture control just to deal with the changes in oxygen availability at altitude. It sounds like your bike could use one too.
Roundbadge last edited by
@stephensonvalvegear This is awesome. Seriously, among the best Oppo content ever, let alone the Hyphen.
Certainly puts me in mind of the day I attempted to drive Mt Washington, but they wouldn't let us pass the halfway point. That was in a rented Passat though, rather than an aged beast like yours.
"Fun fact, there is 43% less Oxygen at the top, 14k (about 39% at 14k) compared to sea level. Assuming perfect air:fuel mixture you can assume this same loss in power. The bummer about carburation here, you run overly rich and it can be a problem."
@pyroholtz So, let's see if I do the math right - 43% less oxygen means that the engine will be making (1 - 0.43) x 14 = 7.98 So, if the bike truly makes 14 HP at sea level, the best I could hope for is a touch under 8 HP at 14k feet... and even less since the bike was running so rich. It's quite possible that I was puttering up Pikes Peak with mid-single digit horsepower, strongly down in pushmower territory. Yeah, that's pretty much what it felt like!
@jminer and @beefchips - I'll write some more about the Janus in the future. I brought it home just in time for the 4th of July weekend this summer, and have put over 3k miles on it since. I'll acknowledge that they aren't for everybody, but I love it!
Thanks to everyone for the kind comments on the article and ride.
davesaddiction last edited by
@stephensonvalvegear Moved to Best of OPPO.
@davesaddiction Thank you!