For my initial entry to our course blog, I’ll offer more of a resolution to restore previous behavior, rather than any new change to be implement this quarter. This behavior involves a particular machine which at an earlier point in my life was more of a prosthetic device than mechanized transportation. In 1988, I purchased a new BMW R100RS motorcycle. This picture was taken in 1992, during an epic 2 month tour between Rochester NY, San Francisco CA, Seattle WA, and the entire northern continental United States. In 2004, and after about 84,000 miles, I made the critical mistake of storing the bike in a basement that was damp, cool, and apparently more corrosive than I realized, as internal corrosion initiated an untimely catastrophic failure. The following season, the left cylinder connecting rod in the engine wore through the bearings and fused to the crankshaft, seizing the engine. That was an exciting ride, although not as exciting as a particular ride in 1995, when the rear shock absorber lower mount grommet failed at @40,000 miles. I was pushing way past the 25,000 miles scheduled for planed maintenance that required disposal and replacement of the factory stock shock absorber. More on that later. Back to the engine, after exhaustive research and gathering of rebuild quotations, the most cost effective solution will be finding a complete engine for transplant. My challenge is finding an engine for my bike’s vintage of between 1988 to 1996.
The relevance of all this to today’s blog topic is multidimensional. Environmental Sustainability in personal transportation means more than 45 mpg, which actually isn’t that impressive for a 1000cc bike that only weighs 450 lbs. More relevant is the basic idea of aggressively designing extended life cycles for capital equipment, such as a vehicle or any components critical to safe operation of the vehicle.
I consistently reminded others whom I ride with that if I had chosen any another bike, after 84,000 miles I’d be on my 3rd or 4th machine. Even with the modern manufacturing design philosophy of cradle to cradle products designed for several planned re-manufacturing cycles, a short product life cycle is mainly sustainable for the manufacture’s short term (read quarterly) economic performance. Motorcycle manufacturers on the Pacific Rim all seem to be working off a business model that delivers a new and improved machine to every one of their customers every season after perhaps 5,ooo miles of use, assuming their customer survived to want another. In contrast, BMW actually marketed their product with a presumption of long life cycle.
Even BMW wasn’t doing it all right in 1988, however. That disposable shock absorber which failed with potentially disastrous repercussions was replaced with an aftermarket shock absorber designed for re-manufacture, shown here. Notice robust machined forgings at the mounting points at either end of the shock, rather than the usual hot rolled steel straps forming the grommets of a standard disposable component. Consider that this component is also the entire suspension of a single unit design, and now designing for sustainability includes sustaining the life of the operator. When that stock unit failed, the lower mounting grommet was actually what failed. Then the rear suspension collapsed, and the back of the bike fell onto the rear tire. A severely raised seam on the road, which I had just taken at about 70 mph, had provided the impact for the failure. I continue to thank God I was not going through a curve, or negotiating any traffic situations, as this road happened to be Interstate 590 North here in Rochester. That was more exciting than I care to elaborate on the blog.
Consider the resource stewardship defined by restoring this bike for resumed operation. While low fuel consumption is obvious, conservation of raw materials and energy for manufacturing processes is what I will accomplish by putting this bike back on the road. The shock unit will go back to the manufacturer in California for a rebuild, which is actually just installation of a new gas chamber valve and a re-charge of nitrogen, and then a running engine already in existence will be installed into the bike along with the rebuilt shock, conserving the energy, material, and financial resources required for rebuilding the existing engine.
Several generations ago, a popular television comedy was oriented around constant ridicule of a salvage yard owner and his business operations. I don’t think “Sanford and Son” would play as well in the era of scarce resources and environmental awareness we now live in.