Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Yes, You CAN Drive a Tesla in the Snow [Video]

I know the video is a little grainy, but let's hear from Elon Musk the CEO himself. This video is from the grand opening party at the gallery in Boulder

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tesla Dealership in Boulder

I was on Pearl Street and happened to catch the new Tesla dealership opening. With $42,000 in tax credits for buying a Tesla, sales will no doubt be brisk.

Here's a few pics (too big? try the slideshow):

Here's one on a test ride..

Monday, October 19, 2009

Who Bought THIS? [Classifieds]

We were recently up in Aspen when I spotted this in the local newspaper. Seriously, who would buy this family truckster?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Which Ride? [Mechanical Viagra)

Spotted outside the gym:

So, who do you think arrived first? Did the guy on the low rider park next to the scooter? Nah, more likely the guy on the scooter thought he'd make a subtle point.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Check Maintenance Records [Car Buying Tip]

If you're shopping for a used car, look for one that has had extensive and regular maintenance.

Years ago, I sold a slightly modified Audi 200 Quattro for $4,500. During the preceding 18 months, I had fixed nearly every major problem with the vehicle. During my ownership, I religously changing the oil every 3,000 miles (or less). I put in a new timing belt, water pump, power steering pump, suspension, wheels, european headlights, and performance chip (+ waste gate spring). Another (older, wiser) enthusiast bought it, getting over $4,000 in recent (documented) maintenance.

Yeah, I got more than the average price but not by much. Certainly not enough to make up for $4,000 in work I put in. The buyer basically paid $500 for the car.

Why did I sell that Audi? Part of it was boredom. The other was a misguided belief that the car had become an endless money pit. The truth was that during my ownership tenure, I fixed nearly every major maintenance item on the car. I also learned all the major systemic failures and how to repair/replace them.

That Audi is long gone. The take home lesson for you, dear reader, is that if you're out there shopping, look for a car that has had extensive and regular maintenance. You can find real gems.

Here's a Volvo 240 Wagon, for example. Not only are 240 wagons becoming harder to find, ones with documented maintenance records for under $1,000 are super rare. In case the CL listing disappears, here's the description:
1991 Volvo 240 Station Wagon
Navy Blue
Automatic Transmission
230,000 Miles
Good Working Condition........Interior is in decent shape as well
Many new parts and recent work have been put into this car....
New Alternator
New Battery
New Spark Plugs and distributor cap
New Belts and Timing Belt
New Pulleys
New Mass Air Flow Sensor
Brand New Winter Tires and Brand New Three Season Tires

This car has treated me very well and i have invested a lot of work into it... these volvos really last forever..... I am only selling it because I was recently given a Toyota with very few miles...
I just cant afford two cars.... Asking $950 because the tires and recent work are worth at least that....

Please call if interested..........
Yeah, like the boys at Jalopnik, I seem to have a curious obsession with Volvo 240s.

Here's a closing thought. A car with about 80,000 miles on it is usually due for a huge variety of services, in particular the timing belt and water pump. On a european car, that can be a $1,000 service call or more. A car with 100,000 to 120,000 miles on it has likely already had that service. If the car was otherwise been well maintained, you're probably better off with the higher mileage option. You'll pay substantially less for it and you can spend the money on suspension or other tuning upgrades, rather on upcoming scheduled maintenance.

image: Dave_7

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dual Sport Motorcycle Update [Shootout]

A bunch of my ADV buddies have replaced their primary duty bikes with used Husky 610s, so many that I've been wondering what I'm missing. It's turning into a Husky cult out here in Colorado.

Time to update the F650GS PD vs KLR650 Shootout.

New Additions:
2007 Husky TE610
2007 KTM 525 EXC
2009 BMW F800GS

A couple of thoughts

2007 Husky TE610 - A very capable dual sport, lighter and more powerful than the KLR. Owners will also tell you that it's far better built (though I've seen them wrenching, feverishly). Many have replaced the stock seat (plank) with a Renazco or custom seat. If you plan on riding a lot, plan to shell out another $350-$500 for better seat or buy one already farkled.

2007 KTM 525EXC - What's this dirt bike doing in here? Well, in Colorado it's relatively easy to plate a dirt bike and many owners have done so. It will suck cruising I-70, but on the trail I'll bet this little number will be a lot more fun than any of the others.

2009 F800GS - I've only seen these on the street, but look below for the video of some dude riding two up Murphy's hogback in Moab. I personally witnessed a half dozen bikes go down on this very spot, so keep in mind that a capable rider matters a lot more than a capable bike.

Final note - used prices vary tremendously on condition. Forget online pricing guides. I searched eBay, CycleTrader, Craigslist, and a few motorcycle forums to get a ballpark on pricing. YMMV.

Monday, September 14, 2009

2001 VW Camper [Vans]

We recently borrowed a 2001 Volkswagen Camper for a 3 day trip to RMNP.

The VR6 powered van provided plenty of getup and go, and I was surprised by how well it handled. Plus, who can argue with a vehicle that sleeps 4. Like most others in the late 90's and early 2000s, this one was a Winnie conversion with about 90,000 miles. Despite the age and mileage, most of its systems were fully functional. The tri-powered fridge was a notable exception.

We had a great time in the van. I found it a perfect way to camp out and haul around 4 people and their gear.

After the trip, I did a little checking on market prices for these vehicles. Most of the decent ones seem to be in the mid $20's. Some owners are asking over $30. That has to be one of the lowest depreciation rates ever. The camper vans have held their value exceptionally well.

Due diligence: A stack of maintenance receipts in the door pocket of our borrowed van pointed to expensive maintenance and repairs.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Goodbye Thinkpad T30, Hello ASUS G51vx-A1

It's hard to find good deals on used laptops. Yeah, I've done it before - my current Thinkpad T30 was purchased used more than 5 years ago on eBay. I probably could have found another one but given how long I tend to own hardware, I deicided that this time around, I'd look for something new.

Alright, I know, I know. Cop out.

Anyway, my new machine has more than 4x the processing power, 4x the RAM, 62x the graphics memory, and 21x the storage of my T30. It's an ASUS G51vx-A1 with quad-core processor and dual hard drives. With 5% Bing Cashback and $100 rebate from ASUS, the delivered price will be $1,504 from J&R. It's on order.

I looked at what Lenovo had to offer and frankly, it paled in comparison. I could have saved a bit and gone with a dual core, but with the video editing that I'm starting to do, a quad core processor is the way to go.

Now, about this gaming thing. I haven't played a computer game in ages. Given this machine's capabilities, I might have to check out what's available. My preference is for strategy related games. Any suggestions?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Goodbye Rio Cali Sport, Hello Sansa Clip [Reviews]

When I roll, I like having tunes.

My iPod is on the fritz, but even if it were working, it was never good workout partner. With an optical hard disk, bouncing around on a bike or hitting the gym never seemed like a smart idea.

So for the past 5 years, I've relied on my Rio Cali Sport. It was a basic barebones MP3 player and FM Tuner. Flash memory and no moving parts meant I could bounce it around all I wanted but with only 256mb of memory, I had to choose songs carefully. I was surprised by how reliable it was. It never skipped a beat, despite heavy use and tough conditions. And then one day...

I was flying down Table Mesa from NCAR on my mountain bike, rocking to the beats. Suddenly the sound stopped as the Cali rattled its way out of the arm band. The next thing I knew, it fell and was skittering along the asphalt at 40mph.

I gathered up the battered pieces and the Rio appeared intact. Only the battery cover and battery had been ejected. When I got home, I put in a new battery to test it and unfortunately it froze up. I took it apart, hoping to find something easy to fix. No dice. My much loved Rio Cali Sport was toast.

Because the Cali had been so durable, I looked online for another but it appears Rio isn't in this business now. So my next stop was eBay where I found several used Cali's with Buy It Now prices of ~$30 + shipping. I decided to do a little research before buying one. I considered several different options but after reading rave reviews, I chose a matchbox size 4GB Sansa Clip from B&H for $49 (including shipping).

So here's my new Clip next to my dead Rio Cali Sport:

So far, I'm impressed with it. The sound quality is awesome and this thing is tiny. THe battery life is very good and the built in clip makes it easy to attach to any article of clothing.

Caveats: For it to work properly, I had to upgrade Windows Media Player, otherwise it wouldn't recognize the Clip. After playing around a bit, I discovered Winamp (yes, that Winamp) is a good option for managing it. Winamp has an intuitive interface and made it easy to create playlists for drag and drop. The Clip supports DRM, so it's compatible with Audible. I went ahead and loaded a few books on it, no problems.

Two thumbs up for the initial experience on the Sansa.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Trailer [Obsessions]

Growing up, my parents had a trailer. It was a rusty flat bed model that came with an old snowmobile by father bought on an impulse one weekend at a garage sale. We used it to haul all sorts of ungainly stuff (even the occasional sled, an old Bombadier).

Once, my old man hauled all of our family's possessions when we moved to a new house. That trailer was awesome, and we got far more value from it than the snowmobile.

Ever since , I've wanted a trailer. Preferably one that can haul a car. Alas, the SWMBO says that we can't park one on the street outside our house. The perils of city living. :-(

But I can LOOK, right?

Besides, this is what can happen when you don't use a trailer.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

WHY Do You Want a Hybrid?

To be GREEN and save money, right? WRONG.

Earlier this week, Jalopnik reported that Honda was rushing a mid-model refresh of the 2010 Insight to make it more competitive with the Toyota Prius. So I took some time to dig a little deeper.

Turns out that you'd be FAR better off buying a USED Civic than either a NEW Prius or Insight. If you're a typical driver slogging out 15,000 miles a year, you can save more than $5,500 by buying a Civic. Despite promises of efficiency, it will end up costing you nearly 40% MORE to own a nifty hybrid.

Take a look at the spreadsheet below where I've laid out the essential specs:

Here's more food for thought.

The used Civic in the example above is more fun to drive than either Hybrid. For one thing, you can find it in a manual transmission. It's also lighter AND more powerful than the hybrid wonder duo.

Not only is it more FUN and will cost you LESS, you'll also be utilizing something that has already been produced. The dirty, inconvenient truth is that manufacturing a typical new vehicle takes enormous amounts of energy and natural resources. Production of the batteries and other components of hybrid drive systems add even more. A used vehicle has already been produced. Buying a used car means one less new car on the roads.

What about reliability and maintenance costs?

Are you serious? Honda Civics are so reliable that some enthusiasts actually avoid them. They're boring because they hardly ever break down. Even so, in the spreadsheet above, I added in a huge amount for potential maintenance on the Civic. I also used the Blue Book price, and if you can't find a price below blue book, you're not even trying.

If you want to be GREEN, skip the hybrid and buy a used car. Want to see how much GREEN you'd save? Download the spreadsheet and try your own scenario.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Alfa Shopping

Now that we know Alfa's coming back, maybe it's time to snag a classic.

Let's visit the usual dope pushers: CRAIGSLIST and EBAY

Here's a 1984 Spider. Low miles, will need some TLC, but only $5500 asking. (click if link broken)

How about a 1983 Spider? Even lower miles and possibly better condition, $6500 asking. Not sure about the snow tires though. (click if link broken).

So you don't want a Spider... How about a rare 1985 GTV? Clearly owned by an enthusiast with several performance mods. $6900. (click if link broken).

Not rare enough for you? Try this slightly used 2008 8C Competizione. Only 500 built worldwide, you buy it now price for $279,460. (click if link broken)

p.s. ... nobody tell my wife I'm looking at these.

image: orsorama

Alfa Romeo Strikes Back

I still remember the first Alfa Romeo I ever saw. For a teenage boy, that slinky Spider was sex on wheels. That evening, I recall thumbing through Road and Track's annual buyers guide for the specs.

The best part? Unlike the other Italians, this one was reasonably affordable. It retailed for $13,000. But then Alfa pulled out of the US market in 1995, crushing my hopes and dreams.

Well after nearly 15 years, Alfa is finally returning to the United States. According to the Times, the MiTo and 500 will be the first models to arrive.

Who can we thank? The (mis) management of Chrysler, of course, and the oh-so smart private equity team at Cerberus. Because of its financial troubles, Fiat (the parent of Alfa Romeo) acquired a large stake in distressed Chrysler. Voila! a dealer network. The missing ingredient.

Of course, there is no guarantee that the Spider will come back (but it should!). And don't expect to buy parts for your Milano at your local Chrylser dealer anytime soon.

image: Dave 7

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Thursday, June 25, 2009

2009 Jetta TDI Sportswagen

Two words: I want.

Of course, I won't buy the first year of production. I'll also probably wait at least 3 years for the first wave of depreciation to pass. Guess I'll start shopping for one sometime around 2013.

Here's a first drive. And another and another and another

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Side Glances -> Egan Still a Great Wtier

Peter Egan created my obsession.    It was over 20 years ago that I stumbled on his articles in Road & Track and Cycle World.   There was just something about his storytelling that captured my imagination.   I ended up subscribing largely because of him and as a boy,  remember eagerly awaiting each new issue.   

First stop:  Side Glances, his monthly column. 

Over the years I've read about his adventures fixing old race cars, flying planes, and buying or selling various vehicles.   I'm glad to report that Egan is still belting them out.    After reading this month's piece on hitchhiking, I almost feel like sticking out my thumb and taking a ride.    Well, ok.. maybe not but I will definitely give the next hitchhiker I come upon a serious glance.   

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Bright and Shiny

I never really understood why parts are chromed. Turns out that chroming makes steel more durable because it resists corrosion. The shine is a side effect. Unfortunately there are heavy environmental costs.

Looks like an alternative is in the works...
Initial tests showed that when materials were coated in the nickel-tungsten alloy, using a modified electroplating technique that keeps its crystals particularly small, the plating remained stable indefinitely at room temperature. Nor did it easily degrade when exposed to great heat. The nickel-tungsten alloy can be extremely bright and shiny, and even made to become harder than chrome. All in all, its characteristics and absence of environmental hazards make it the most appealing replacement yet found for chrome. The researchers intend to report as much to a forthcoming conference of the National Association for Surface Finishing in Louisville, Kentucky.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Tire Repair FAIL

Update: 7 of the 8 tires were OK.   1 had a hole.  

First trip back - they couldn't find the hole so they dismounted the tire, cleaned the rim, and remounted.   The tire still leaked. 

Second trip back, they found the hole.   A nearly new Eagle LS was rolled out and mounted.   24 hours later and it's still holding fine. 

I still bought 4 tires with 70% or better tread for about 75% less than new.  The added hassle of two trips to the tire store sucked, but I had some free time.    If they last 12 months, they'll be worth it.  

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Saving Money on Tires

Flat tires suck.

Luckily it rarely happens.   Most last until they wear out and then I just go to Costco for a new set. 

But what happens if you run into this kind of situation? 

Both of our cars were parked on the street and now each had two flats, all on the street side. Turns out some clown with nothing better to do slashed our tires overnight.   He also slashed the tires of more than 20 other cars parked on the street.   Thousands of dollars of damage, liklihood of the guy getting caught - low. 

Now what?   Replacement tires were needed immediately.  

The tires on the Lexus were nearly worn out but the Michelin LTXs on the 4Runner were practically new.   Meanwhile Costco doesn't have 'em in stock and we didn't have time to wait for an order. 

Costco has brands other than Michelin available, but it would have meant buying 4 new ones for the 4Runner at a cost of over $800 installed (again).  And we'd still need tires for the Lexus.  If we went with Costco for that as well,   the damage would be over $1,600.  Ouch! 

Craigslist to the rescue.  

Searching by tire size, I found a couple of options - in an industrial part of Denver about 30 minutes from my house.   One seller even had Michelin LTX's in precisely the size I needed and claimed the tread was 80%.   

Since I had a little extra time, I decided to give it a whirl.   I felt a little uneasy about buying used tires but the way I looked at it, both cars already had used tires.  What did I have to lose (or save?).    Money, of course.   So  I exercised my negotiation skills and over the phone, we agreed on a price. 

I pulled all wheels on the Lexus and just the two slashed tires on the 4Runner.  With a borrowed pickup, I hauled 'em in.   

I saved some cash but it didn't turn out exactly how I expected.  

Here are the results:

4 Eagle GL's size 225/55/17 with about 70% tread:  $150 (mounted and balanced)

4 Michelin LTXs in 275/70/16 with about 70% tread: $210 (mounted and balanced)

Total:  About $360 + 2 hours of driving and some more time spent waiting at the shop

The catch:  There was an unexpected $10 upcharge for cleaning one wheel's mounting bead with a wire brush.   I wasn't expecting that but worse, it turns out they should have cleaned more than this one wheel.  I  ended up having to drive back the next day when one of the tires on the Lexus developed a slow leak.   Meanwhile, the Michelin LTX's turned out to be A/T versions, a little meatier and gnarlier looking than the regular M/S versions.   So I ended up visiting yet another shop to have the other two tires installed so that the set matched (price included in above).   

The tires are in pretty good shape and will probably last another 2 or 3 years.  And when they wear out on the 4Runner, I will only need to buy 2 since I still have 2 practically new tires. 

Caveat:  I found one guy selling nice wheels and tires, for about the same price of just tires.   Unfortunately, he didn't respond to my email fast enough.  I would have preferred to simply buy his full set of wheels and decent tires (from a 2007 4Runner) for a negotiated price of $275.  

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Mark Levinson Amp Replacement

IMG_0323, originally uploaded by oparvez.

This is what a Mark Levinson amp looks like as installed in my 2001 Lexus LS430. Apparently these amps are prone to failure, which kills the stereo system entirely. The dealer wanted $2,000 to do the repair but offered to sell me the amp alone for about $800 (with exchange of my existing bad amp). After doing my research on part numbers, I bought an upgraded used amp (p/n ends with 01) from eBay for about $325. Described as remanufactured, I was hopeful it had already been through the dealer process but the amp that arrived was missing the remanufactured sticker. Bummer. But I decided to go ahead and install it. It took me a little over an hour to do the work. It now seems to work fine. Here's a link to the full photo set.

You can also find more information on how to diagnose and replace your ML amp here and here.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

KLR Brake Lines

KLR Banjo Fitting Broken, originally uploaded by oparvez.

On a windy night, my wife's nighthawk fell over onto my KLR, damaging the brake line. Riding a motorcycle without a front brake is probably not the best idea, so time to order and install a new one.

what brake line?

The OEM line was $70 plus shipping from a dealer. A quick check of the aftermarket showed stainless steel lines were surprisingly less expensive.

Years ago, I installed stainless steel lines on an Audi and it provided a noticeable improvement in braking performance. Given the KLR's notoriously weak front brake, going to stainless steel lines is a no brainer.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year, Big Plans

Happy New Year everyone.

As it turns out, there were a few gadgets under the tree that will help bring much to this little hobby of mine.

Canon FS100 + Go Pro Motosports Hero + Obsession = Killer Content

Stay tuned...