Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The VUN Homepage

I discovered a neat website last night: the VUN Homepage (www.vun.it). This is an interactive Flash web page which, I'm guessing, was developed for CR&S soon after the VUN went into production. It is available in four languages: Italian, Milanese, Spanish, French and English.

Web pages like this one are time consuming (and expensive) to maintain. It looks like the last updates to this site were in 2007, nevertheless this is a fun and informative site to play with.

As you move your mouse around, detailed images and information appear about the area you are pointing at. There is a neat Configurator section that lets you customize the VUN interactively and view the results. There are also hundreds of excellent photos and a detailed history of the formation of CR&S and the VUN motorcycle.

An early (2003) VUN prototype from the VUN homepage.

This site offers an excellent insight into the VUN and the philosophy and concepts that inspired and influenced its creation.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Bezzi's DUU Vision

Back in June, 2006 Italian motorcycle designer, Oberdan Bezzi, penned this vision for a CR&S DUU (two).

Click to enlarge

The concept uses a lightweight 650 twin cylinder engine, titanium tubular frame, and (as you would expect) top quality suspension, brakes and wheels etc, for a target weight of about 130 KG. Nice!

For more beautiful two-wheeled concepts check out Bezzi's Motosketches Blog.

To see the 'real' DUU concept from CR&S click here. The 'real' CR&S DUU will be unveiled to the public at the Milan International Motorcycle show (EICMA) in November.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

VUN Ace Café

Urban Motor Gmbh, IWAN-Bikes Gmbh, and CR&S, have colaborated to produce a special edition "Ace Café" VUN for the 2009 Ace Café Reunion in London in September.

I promised to bring you photos of this beautiful new VUN and here they are...

The base color is white with black & white race checkers. This is a style feature of both the Ace Café and CR&S. Ace Café logos, LSL clip ons and bar-end mirrors complete the picture for a lovely interpretation of a modern café racer.

The Ace Café VUN lines up well in front of the Rockers concert stage. This special VUN was a popular attraction among bikers at the Ace Café Reunion meeting.

Photos and information provided by Peter Dannenberg of Urban Motor Gmbh.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pubblicitá Due - Publicity #2

The last video I posted was nice but I like this one even better (in English & Italian with English Subtitles).

Pubblicitá - Publicity

Here is a nice VUN video I found on YouTube that I hadn't seen before (in Italian)...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Lightweight Battery (2 of 2)

(part two of a two part article)

Fitting the Speedcell Battery

Remove the seat: Unlock the the rear seat pad, remove the two bolts that hold on the seat, then remove the seat. This gives you access to the rear bolts that fix the gas tank. Remove the seat by sliding it back and up. Check the owners manual for more information and diagrams on removing the seat.

Be careful not to damage the rubber grommet which holds up the tail light assembly. Put a dab of Vaseline (petroleum jelly) or suitable grease on the inside of this grommet. This will help you replace the seat without damaging the grommet. When replacing the seat I also like to put a drop of Loctite on the bolts holding it down. These bolts have a tendency to come undone due to vibration.

Click to enlarge

Undo the gas tank: Remove the four bolts that hold down the gas tank (two front and two rear). Now lift up the front of the tank to give you access to the battery. Be careful not to pull the fuel lines and fuel pump wiring harness too tight. Support the tank in this position with a suitable piece of wood. If you have something the right size it can be slotted under the tank in such a way as to support it in a stable way.

The alternative is to disconnect the fuel line (undo the bayonet connection), remove the fuel breather hose, disconnect the wiring harness to the fuel pump and then completely remove the tank. I did not do this because I had trouble getting the fuel line disconnected and I did not want to damage the bayonet connector. This is probably just me not knowing how to do it properly.

I have a philosophy related to motorcycle maintenance. If it requires more force that you'd expect to undo a part then you are doing it the wrong way. Stop and think again. This rule only applies to modern motorcycles :-).

Remove the old battery: Black = negative, red = positive. Always undo the negative battery terminal first! This is because the negative terminal is connected to the metal parts of your motorcycle, making them all negative (also known as "earth"). If you undo the positive terminal before removing the earth, then you could short-circuit the battery by touching any metal part of the motorcycle with your metal spanner. You do not want to do this! Once the negative terminal is undone, it is safe to put a spanner (or screwdriver) on the positive terminal.

Looking down. Note all the extra space. Click to enlarge.

Fit the Speedcell battery: Do not remove the plastic cover on the new battery's negative cable just yet. This is to prevent the two leads coming together and shorting the battery (bad).

The new battery fits snugly into the existing battery box. I fitted a strip of rubber adhesive padding between the metal bracket at the front of the battery box and the new battery (see right-most red circle in image above). This makes the fit tighter and prevents the battery from rubbing directly against metal.

I used two fairly heavy duty cable ties to secure the new battery. One at each end of the battery (see photo). These simply go under the metal battery box and over the new battery. I wrapped a smaller cable tie around these two to stop them from being able to slip apart (this is not shown in the photo). You might want to wrap a third cable tie around the middle of the battery for extra security.

Remove the black cable that used to connect to the negative terminal of the old battery. The new battery's negative lead will bolt directly to where the other end of this cable connects to the frame (top red circle in the image above). But don't connect the negative battery lead yet as this will earth the whole bike. Use the rubber protective caps from either end of this old cable to fit over the two red and black (positive and negative) leads of the new battery.

Now bolt the battery's positive (red) lead to the two cables that used to connect to the old battery's positive terminal. I used the old battery's terminal bolt for this. Now cover the exposed metal where these wires are bolted together with the black rubber protective cups. I used a small cable tie to secure the positive lead to one of the cable ties that hold down the battery. Position the lead so that the join is not able to contact with any metal part of your VUN. See bottom red circle in the image above.

Now it is safe to remove the protective plastic cover on the Speedcell's negative (black) lead. Bold this lead into the position where the old negative cable used to connect to the frame and place the protective black cap over it (see top red circle above).

Test that the battery is securely positioned and that the positive terminal is not exposed to any metal parts of your motorcycle.

Now you can replace the tank and seat.

Testing the new battery

My Speedcell battery arrived in the mail fully charged. If your's is not charged then you will need to do this first. With the new battery fitted my VUN started right away. I have been using the VUN fitted with the new battery for a few weeks now and I can say that it works fantastically well. I have had absolutely no problems and the bike always starts strongly.

It is probably an illusion due to the fact that I just got back from a long trip with a heavy tank bag attached, but the VUN does feel lighter. Whether or not I can really 'feel' the difference, the VUN is 3KG lighter than before. I am very happy with this change and I can't wait to take the next steps towards a lighter VUN.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Lightweight Battery (1 of 2)

(part one of a two part article)

After years of riding bikes that are complicated and heavy I have become a little bit obsessed with weight, motorcycle weight that is. Generally, having low weight means: better cornering, better braking, better acceleration and easier to ride. Also known as... more fun.

This is why I chose a VUN in the first place. The VUN weighs around 135kg (dry) if fitted with Marvic Mag wheels. This is light, but it could be lighter. I have set a goal to get my VUN down to around 120KG (dry). I'll be documenting each step I take to reach this goal here on this Blog.

Choosing a Lighter Battery

The VUN's standard battery weighs about 3.7KG. How much of that can be saved by using modern lightweight battery technology? I did some research and found a bunch of solutions ranging from regular lead-acid batteries with carbon fiber casing to lithium ION battery packs. Some people recommend just getting a smaller (and thus lighter) lead-acid battery.
  • Carbon fiber cased lead-acid batteries seem like a waste of money. The weight in any lead-acid battery is: 1) the lead and 2) the acid. Paying money to make the plastic casing lighter does not make sense.
  • From what I have read, 'regular' Lithium ION batteries are not suitable. They would require special charging circuits and seem to be unreliable (even potentially hazardous). I would keep away from these.
  • Do not fit a smaller (less powerful) lead-acid battery to your VUN. See below to read why.
Lithium Ferrous Technology

After some research I chose a 4.6 amp hour Speedcell Lithium Ferrous battery. Here are the specs:

- Pulse discharge @ 10 seconds = 240 Amps
- Continuous discharge (MAX) = 140 Amps
- Cycle Life = 1,000 cycles

- Dimensions = 10.5cm (L) x 5cm (W) / 4.13" (L) x 1.96" (W)
- Rating = 4.6Ah
- Weight = 766.57g / 1.69lbs!

Yep, that's 766 grams vs. the standard battery's weight of 3.7KG. A weight saving of 3KG.

Speedcell battery - side view. Very light and small too.

Important: VUN Starting Requirements!

I could have chosen an even lighter Speedcell battery and saved another 300 grams, but this would have compromised the ability to quickly and easily start my VUN. Never fit a less powerful battery to your VUN! The VUN requires a strong battery for no-fuss starting.

A big (650cc) single is hard to start. Singles also have a tendancy to "kick back". This is what happens during starting when the fuel ignites as the piston is still rising up in its compression stroke. If this happens then it can reverse the direction of rotation of your engine for a short period. This is not very good for your starter motor gears.

The VUN electronically retards the ignition timing for 3-seconds during starting. This prevents kick-back. However, if your engine does not start within 3-seconds, then you run the risk of a kick-back and potential damage to the gears that engage your starter motor. This is why you need a strong battery. A strong battery will always start your bike quickly. A battery that is not so strong will not.

The moral of this story: After 3-seconds take your finger off the starter button, no matter what... and if your battery is getting weak, buy a new one.

More About the Speedcell

Unlike a lead-acid battery, Motowheels.com claim that the Speedcell will only drain by about 2% when left off charge. This means that you never need to run a trickle-charger to keep it topped up. Its operating temperature is from -50 C to 49 C. Battery life should be at least equal or greater than that of a lead-acid battery (depending on how well you look after your lead-acid battery). The battery is designed to work with your standard charging system.

Lithium Ferrous cells are currently the battery of choice in electric vehicle applications.

Buying the Battery

I bought my battery over the web from Motowheels. Their price is $250, for the 4.6Ah SBK model I chose. This is much more than the cost of a standard battery obviously, but it is pretty good value in terms of $/KG of weight savings. Think about the cost of a carbon fibre seat for your VUN. The seat costs  €803 (plus tax) for a savings of about 1kg.

The Motowheels website was well set up and ordering the battery was easy. The battery arrived after about 2-weeks. It was well packaged and arrived in perfect condition and 100% charged! I guess the "no-loss" claim is true. It also weighed slightly less than advertised: 650 grams against 766 grams so I was happy about that.

What I was not happy about was the shipping costs of $145. This was 60% of the cost of the battery and seems excessive. I knew in advance what the shipping costs were but the Motowheels web site actually said that this would be the "maximum" cost and they would refund any difference between this and the actual cost. Instead, when I checked my credit card, I found that the cost had increased by an additional $35 (total shipping $180), so I feel like I got ripped-off. Maybe this is one of the disadvantages of living in the Czech Republic.

If you are based in Europe then I would try to find a local European source and avoid all this shipping rip-off nonsense. Durbahn, is a German manufacturer and reseller of performance motorcycle parts. They offer a similar product in their English-language web-shop. The 4.6 Amp-Hour model costs €176.31 (including tax) which is almost the same cost as the Speedcell at today's exchange rate. I have never used Durbahn or their products so I can't vouch for them, but it looks like you will get the same product without the high shipping charges if you are based in Europe.

(in part two: fitting and testing the Speedcell battery)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Feature: The VUN Carbon

The standard specification VUN is the the one VUN that nobody owns. It has been deliberately designed as an 'empty canvas' leaving space for the owner's imagination and a huge selection of technical, performance and aesthetic options.

From time to time I will be posting a 'Feature VUN' entry on this Blog showcasing a particular VUN and what makes it special. I can't think of a better place to start than the beautiful VUN Carbon belonging to Franco Cavina, VUN dealer for the Bologna region in Italy.

Click this image for a higher resolution view

The cheapest and easiest way to customize your VUN is at the time you buy it. This way you pay only the difference between the standard parts you are replacing and the custom parts that you have chosen. Never the less, this 'no expense spared' VUN will cost you around €30,000. Let's take a closer look at where this money has been spent.

Front End
  • BST 5-spoke carbon front & rear wheels,
  • Ceriani race forks with carbon-fiber surface treatment,
  • Brembo monobloc racing front brakes,
  • Carbon fiber front fender.
Click image to enlarge.

Back End
  • Pierobon alloy "banana" swingarm,
  • Carbon fiber rear fender,
  • Ohlins racing rear shock,
  • Carbon fiber seat.
Click image to enlarge

Up Top
  • Racing instrument panel,
  • Ohlins radial steering damper,
  • Carbon fiber fuel tank,
  • Lightec racing filer cap.
Click to enlarge


The list goes on: CDR light alloy radiators, chrome-plated frame, polished engine covers, etc. All this brings the dry weight down to about 120Kg. Not bad!

How Does it Ride?

In the back of my mind was an image of the crashed VUN Britten Tribute (see previous Blog entry below) and this bike's €30,000 price tag so I didn't really test the limits, but the VUN Carbon is inspiring to ride. You can definitely feel the lighter weight in acceleration, and quickness of turning. Franco is an expert bike tuner and the VUN Carbon has the best suspension and brakes that money can buy so the handling is sure to be way beyond my riding ability.

One interesting tip: Franco has changed the rim size of the rear wheel from the standard 4.5" to 5". He says that this size suits the 160/60 rear tire profile better giving it a more progressive cross section profile and better matching that of the front. I'm pretty convinced by his theory. The tire wear line on his bike is perfectly matched. On my VUN, with the standard rim sizes, the front tire is worn pretty much to the edge while the rear has a 1cm 'edge' of unworn rubber. Hmmmm.

Thanks to Franco for sharing all this information about his wonderful bike and especially for trusting me to ride it.

Franco Cavina with his bikes

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Britten Connection

CR&S's Roberto Crepaldi says there are two men who have had a profound influence on his life and work: Enzo Ferrari and John Britten. Roberto knew both men well. He worked for 20 years, with his father, as distributor for Ferrari in Italy's Lombardy region during Enzo's reign. Roberto had a personal friendship with John Britten and his workshop became the base for the Britten motorcycle's European racing efforts. Roberto is one of the few people in the world to have owned, let alone ridden, a Britten.

The Britten's glorious form watches over all work done at CR&S

Before his untimely death in 1995, John Britten had visions of building a single-cylinder superbike with power to weight specifications that would be incredible even today. In this spirit, the CR&S VUN is a fitting tribute to John Britten, his legacy and his machines.

Above, the VUN Britten Tribute

One of the first VUN's created was the Britten Tribute. This bike is painted in the color scheme of the successful Mk3 Britten race bike. It is a beautiful reflection perhaps evoking John Britten's dream of a super-single. Unfortunately, this bike has come to a sticky end at the hands of a moto journalist (who shall not be named).

It's worse than it looks I'm afraid. Almost every major component is damaged beyond repair. Witness the top of the tank and how the frame is pushed in around the steering lock.

Ending on a happier note

Sunday, September 13, 2009

VUN Power Upgrade #1

The VUN's light weight means that it can accelerate quickly to 100km/h despite putting out only 54bhp in standard trim. But there are a few things about the standard VUN's power delivery that could be improved. I'll go through them...
  • It is definitely sluggish in the mid-range. The engine doesn't really pull until you get into the power band. In the mid-range you can feel it is gasping for air (you can hear this too).
  • The rev limit is about 7,500 RMP. Because of the first problem, if you want to ride hard, you will be always trying to keep the engine RPM high to stay in the power band. I found myself constantly hitting the rev limiter when pulling hard out of slow corners in 1st or 2nd gears. When you do this it feels like you just threw out an anchor, there is just not enough range.
  • There is a slightly annoying splutter at very low throttle openings at any RPM (except idle). Actually, I didn't really mind this too much. It's fairly easy to ride around the problem by selecting a higher gear or by slipping the clutch at the right moment.
Air Filter Upgrade

I asked VUN dealer for Bologna (Italy), Franco Cavina, what simple things he would suggest to improve the power. He said the first thing to do is exchange the standard paper air filters with free flowing metal gauze filters. When you do this, a change to the fuel-injection map is also needed to keep optimum the air-fuel mixture.

Even though my paper filters were still in good condition I decided that, when I was in Milano, I would ask the guys in CR&S to make this modification as the mid-range flat spot was really bothering me.

A CR&S technician fits high-flow air filters to my VUN. Roberto Crepaldi is lurking in the background.

The VUN has two ducts either side of the seat that channel air into a still air box in the ducktail. From there the air is fed through two rectangular cartridge filters to the injector body intake duct. Changing air filters is as simple as removing the seat (two screws), then swapping out the air filters.

Select high quality, high-flow metal gauze cartridges. These cost more than the paper cartridges but it is worth it and they last longer since they can be washed whenever they get clogged up.

Dump those Catalytic Converters

Two catalytic converters are mounted inside small bulges in the header pipes, one on each side. I don't know how you feel about it but I resent catalytic converters. If you live in a country where you can still get away with not having them, then I suggest getting rid of them.

I don't know if it is possible to take off the headers and hook them out. In my case, I swapped the original header pipes with some "track-only" pipes which don't contain catalytic converters.

Software Upgrade

Changing the filters and removing the catalytic converters requires a new fuel-map to ensure the correct air-fuel mixture is maintained. I had this done at CR&S. It was pretty simple. They just plug a laptop into the communication port on the right side under the fuel tank and select an appropriate fuel map for the modifications.

I asked if they would also raise the rev limiter by 500 RPM. I figured that would be enough to stop me from hitting the rev limiter in 1st and 2nd gears under hard acceleration. They said it would be OK, so my rev limit has gone up from 7,500 RPM to a more respectable 8,000 RPM.

Testing the Changes

I would get these changes done at your friendly local VUN dealer. They should have the software, fuel maps and expertise to do this properly. Without changing the fuel map for the injection system the air-filter change will probably make your VUN run worse.

This all took just a couple of hours, then it was time to take the VUN for a test ride... WOW! I expected an improvement, but this was much better than I ever expected!

Someone once told me that it is hard to notice any power increase unless it's more than about 10%. I don't know if that is true but I could feel a definite power boost across the entire RPM range and at every throttle opening. The mid-range flat spot was completely gone and the peak power was definitely boosted. Even the splutter at low throttle openings has disappeared! It feels like my VUN finally has the power delivery that it deserves.

I would recommend these changes to every VUN owner. It is simple and cheap and it makes your VUN much more fun to ride.

I was able to make one fairly credible measure of the peak power increase. On my ride down to Italy I measured my top speed at about 182 km/h with a big tank bag and backpack (without the luggage I normally get about 192 km/h). Top speed is determined by the point where wind resistance and turbulence overcomes the power delivered by your engine. On the way home, with the same tank bag and backpack, I could reach over 192 km/h. That's a simple measure but it represents a pretty significant improvement.

The real payoff can be felt on those twisty, switchback, mountain passes... the "mistostretto". Pulling out of corners is smoother and more responsive. The engine now gives you more flexibility and there is no slamming into that rev limit.

Appropriate Warnings

Raising the maximum RPM might void your waranty. This is probably up to the discretion of your dealer (or CR&S). Get this done by your dealer and make sure they are OK about it. Definitely don't do this until after your engine is properly run-in. I changed mine after about 5000 km.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Meeting the DUU

Last week I had the opportunity to visit the CR&S factory in Milano, Italy. That's where I met the new DUU motorcycle currently under development there.

CR&S are busy building prototypes of the DUU for the 67th Milan International Motorcycle show (aka EICMA) in November.

The first prototype is a fully functional running motorcycle but without any bodywork. Just a bare skeleton of a bike. I guess that CR&S are using this to develop the handling and riding characteristics.

The second prototype is currently under construction and this is the bike that CR&S will be taking to their stand at EICMA. The photograph below shows a part of the second prototype.

Here you can see the large diameter backbone frame, which doubles as part of the fuel tank, and the massive S&S V-twin engine slung underneath. Wide diameter tubing, struts, swingarm, axles and so on are a feature of the DUU and give it a distinctive, masculine appearance. Much of the rear bodywork was prototyped and attached at the time. I was not allowed to photograph the bodywork but it looked great, as do the in-house developed wheels.

The running prototype uses an MV Augusta rear wheel attached to the single-sided swingarm but Roberto said that it was simply not strong enough to handle the massive torque delivered by the S&S engine.

Later we went for a ride to Kaos Design where VUNs receive their beautiful color schemes. I was on my VUN and Roberto took the bare bones DUU prototype. Roberto doesn't wait around and I can tell you that that thing really moves. Tearing around the outer streets of Milano on that bike with its bare steel frame, he looked and sounded like an escapee from the set of The Terminator. Cool!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Milan, a Short Survival Guide

For the foreigner, navigating the streets of Milano can be intimidating. The first thing to understand is that you should not expect the road signs to make any sense. Instead, expect them to be either ambiguous or contradictory. Here are a few tips:

  • If a sign says turn down this street it probably means turn down the next street,
  • If you think it is saying turn left it is probably saying go straight ahead,
  • Some signs make no sense at all.
The road layout of central Milan is prime example of urban planning during the middle-ages. The car drivers aren't exactly homicidal, its just that they don't care one way or the other whether they kill you. The scooter riders punch above their weight while the pedestrians just add to the confusion.

The only thing crazier than the old roads from the middle-ages are the new roads. Specifically the spaghetti junctions. As you would expect, Italians take their spaghetti seriously, especially when it comes to road design.

Before trying to go anywhere, I usually studied the trip on GOOGLE Maps and taped precise instructions on the tank. Then I took a map along anyway because no matter how good your instructions are, you will not be able to follow them. In Milano, trying to read a map while riding a motorcycle is suicidal. Pull over before reading.

Is it worth all the trouble? Absolutely! Milano is a special place full of passion, great food, beautiful girls and, most importantly, Milano is where they make the VUN.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

VUNS at Loiano

The VUN PPP (Pronto Per la Pista) at the CR&S stand in Loiano.

Unfortunately day two of the "Motorhad Futa" show in Loiano was completely rained out, but the first day was really great.

My usual experience at motorcycle events is that it's just a bunch of guys who are into bikes. In Italy it was different. All kinds of people come along, guys & gals, young and old, knowledgeable bikers and curious newbies.

Me & my VUN being prepared for the show in Franco's workshop.

I was proud to have my VUN at the CR&S stand, watching crowds of enthusiastic Italians poring over it. Some celebrity VUN personalities were there too including CR&S owner Roberto Crepaldi and VUN Marathon rider, Claudio Zanoni.

Daboot Gang at Loiano

I never really paid much attention to freestyle motocross before, but after I saw the Italian Daboot Gang perform at the Loiano "Motorhad Futa" show the other week well all I can say is... respect.

Update: MotoBlog.it report that Daboot freestyle rider Alvaro Dal Farra has crashed heavily suffering a long list of serious injuries. The accident occurred while attempting a back flip during filming of a new video. For more information follow this link.