Finding Balance

Going off what little I could remember, what my friend Paul remembered, and reading what a few old-timers had to say about the lost art of bubble balancing, I started what became a long weekend project. It seems I’m not the only one who wants to remember and/or practice the old ways, as one thread I found on had only been dormant for about eight months. It was helpful enough that I decided to register for the forum and post a thank you comment.

I balanced and then rebalanced each tire a few times. Initially I was not exacting enough (unusual for me), or maybe patient enough. Using a bubble balancer is not the most technical, modern balancing method, and tolerating a half a bubble off is not okay, patience and precision are critical.

But there was much more to it than that. In addition to being patient and waiting minutes for the spirit level bullseye to settle before and after adding weights, there was the challenge of which method to use, this is what took so long. Learning. Several hours of attempting to adequately balance my tires, trying most of the methods a few times on each wheel.

Split the necessary weight on the inside and outside of the wheel but directly inline with the heavy spot on the other side of the tire? Or use the method that was patented by BADA of moving the necessary wheel weight out to approximately 3 & 9 o’clock opposite the point of imbalance? Of course testing the quality of the balance job requires putting the tires on the car and actually driving. For any of these techniques to work you must first level the balancer.

Experimenting with the BADA method.

Ultimately I had the most success putting tape-weights 180-degrees across from and directly inline with the heavy spot, on the inside of the wheel. This is the same groove my tire shops had been using for my machine, static balance. If the tire/wheel combination needed 4 ounces, I centered the strip of tape-weights opposite the heavy spot. This did help spread the weight over a larger area of the wheel, though not as much as using the BADA method.

Simple static method

After getting closer and better, I started focusing on the fronts and refining my skills. Discovering that one of my older FC II tires that had already logged 10,000-miles on the right side of the car, didn’t want to be run on the left helped tremendously. I eventually decided that the two new tires would go on the same axle, the front, and not on the left side of the car as I had hoped would work.

Should I start manually changing my tires? My friend Paul’s recent experience changing much smaller vintage Willys MB tires with spoons makes me think not. He tore his bicep.

RoadTraveler    rollin’ forward

Copyright © 2011 James Langan

Don’t Tolerate Half A Bubble Off

Cooper S/T 255/85R16D on bubble balancer

My friend Paul had a bubble balancer that his father purchased new about twenty years ago, and was willing to lend it to me. They used the balancer on a regular basis to maintain their tires when dad, mom, brother, and sister were all driving thousands of miles a month as couriers. It seemed like an interesting idea, and since I typically have my tires spin balanced using the static (single plane) method, which uses less weight and seems to work well for heavy light-truck RV tires (as they used to be called) I decided to give it a try.

This is one of those things that is better written about a few weeks after the exercise, as the hour-by-hour, day-by-day report would have been a bit too much to share, and would have covered your screen with dirt, sweat, and a few expletives. Like any new skill, there was a learning curve. I’d actually used a bubble balancer about twenty-five years ago when I briefly worked in a tire shop during my youth. Back then, the bubble balancer was only used for the thrifty folks who purchased a tire and didn’t want to pay for a machine spin balance. I didn’t bust tires long enough to become a bubble balance expert, and whatever knowledge I once had using a bubble balancer had long since faded and I was starting over.

Computers are surely a blessing and a curse, but when it comes to finding information the web is an invaluable resource. I can’t imagine having to go to a library and search through volumes of old books and magazines to find information on using a bubble balancer. Though like many things on the web, one must sift through the many of opinions hearsay to find proven techniques that work. It turns out there is more than one way to use a bubble balancer, and one of the methods was even patented!

Copyright © 2011 James Langan

A New Tire or Two

Old TXR 255/85R16D spare and a Not so old Dick Cepek F-C II 285/75R16D

Several weeks ago I cut a sidewall on one of my LT285/75R16 Dick Cepek Fun Country II (FC II) tires. The story about the sidewall cut and trail will be told later, but with only three FC II treads on the 4Runner I was in need of at least one new tire. Since I had been running a close enough 255/85R16 spare, I decided to buy two FC II to insure I had the exact tire in the unlikely event I ruined another casing in the near future. My calculations indicated that if I rotated the older three tires on one side of the car, all with 3/32″ of wear, and the two new ones on the other side, the wear would even out over the next 30,000-miles.

Most tire warranties don’t cover off-road use. This is term is open to interpretation, as many state and county roads in the rural west are not paved but are still very clearly roads. Regardless, since the three older FC II treads had been purchased mail-order and were not covered under any road hazard warranty, I decided to buy the new tries mail-order as well. One of the local tire shops I do lots of business with would have mounted & balanced the new treads for a reasonable fee, but I decided to play with a little old school technology and balance them myself. It wasn’t easy.

Copyright © 2011 James Langan

From The Wheels UP

I’ve yet to post anything of substance about tires, but amongst my gearhead buddies I have a well-earned reputation as a light-truck tire aficionado. This started a few years ago when I was writing several articles a year for the Power Stroke Registry magazine, including a few tire reviews. It continued with a new Jeep, then a couple Toyotas, and in addition to my own wear data I’m collecting information from a couple guys running my favorite tread. But this is not a post about tires, it’s even more primal than truck tires; it’s about wheels.

Unless you want to constantly swap new tires on one set of wheels, the best way to test tires is to have more wheels. We have plenty of spare wheels for the older trucks in our small fleet of 4x4s, but the newest rig had only the set it came with. I was not actively looking for wheels when my friend Charlie sent me a message saying there were some wheels for my truck on our local Craigslist.

According to the advertisement these Toyota take-off wheels were previously listed for $500.00, far too much money in my book and that’s why he hadn’t sold them. The seller’s ad also mentioned how much the wheels would cost new from a dealer, which is irrelevant. The seller now had the rims listed for $375.00 or-best-offer. This was still more than I was willing to pay, and the rims were located in about 60-miles away. Considering the time and gas it was going to consume to procure them, I was willing to offer him $250.00. Like another buddy said, “all he could say was no”.

Right before I picked up the phone my new voice of frugality—which has been fighting for a place in my head, and likes to spar with the devil of buy-it-now—whispered in my ear; “what if there is a better set for sale, you better be sure before you buy.” I proceeded to read through all of the results for Toyota wheels, looking for a better deal. On the sixth and last page, listed over a month prior, was a set of wheels for $300.00, or-best-offer. These were the same 18×8″ size, but a different style Toyota aluminum wheel which I actually preferred, and instead of 60-miles away they were literally 1.5-miles near.

So I called the guy, confirmed he still had the rims and told him my situation. Essentially that I wasn’t looking to buy wheels but a buddy had told me to look on Craig’s List, and with a chuckle said, “We all know what that can lead to”. The gentleman said he had actually forgot they were listed on Craig’s List until that very morning, they had been for sale for over a month, and he probably needed to re-list them. Like many he had removed them because he added a spacer lift and new aftermarket rims to his truck, after they logged a mere 13,000-miles. I asked him if he would consider $200.00 and he said sure. I went to the bank and a couple hours later I was giddy with new wheels.

Copyright © 2011 James Langan

Oroville-Quincy Hwy/Bucks Lake Rd.

Bidwell Bar Bridge Lake Oroville

This time of year the high temperature in the valley could have easily been in the nineties, but on this day it was only climbing to eighty-four. But the temperature in the valley was of little concern as I was heading back into the foothills, then up and over the much cooler Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Just a few miles east of Oroville I was following a third-generation Chevy K30 crew-cab with a monster lift and 40-inch tires. There was an International Harvester Farmall sticker in the back window and a big dog riding-shotgun. It looked like a clean mid-eighties example except for the noticeable angle at which it was traveling down the highway, the front of the truck a couple inches left of the rear.

There was a 20-foot flatbed utility trailer for-sale along the highway and I stopped for a quick look. It would make someone a nice car-hauler, $1,800.00 or-best-offer, but not today, I rode on. I caught up to the K30 quickly, both of us stopped for a flagger, my third road construction break of the day.

East side of the Bald Rock Road detour.

A few miles past Lake Oroville there was detour forcing me onto Bald Rock Road. Although a nice twisty road, Bald Rock is mostly rural-residential so extra caution and reduced speeds are appropriate. Back on Bucks Lake Road after the detour, I drove through the community of Brush Creek and was ready to roll.

If I count the Bald Rock Rd. detour, this was the fifth construction delay of the day, but as with all things, a little perspective is helpful. I’d rather sit for a few minutes on a rural highway in the middle of a forest than be rolling fast down a multi-lane freeway.

This nice flagger girl walked back to warn me about the dirt ahead and a little bump in the road that she said they had smoothed as best they could. I thanked her and said it would have to be a pretty big bump to cause me concern, and asked if I could move to the front, which she allowed.

There was no pilot car and when it was time to go she simply said to stay on the left. Proceeding forward there were lots of big construction equipment moving about and the proper path was not obvious. I’m not easily confused or disturbed by road construction, though it became apparent that I was on the left side of the left lane and on the wrong side of a several inch high berm. When I came upon the rear of a water truck in what I would have considered the left side of the road, I stopped at the driver’s window and tried to ask if I was proceeding correctly. This is not easy with a full-face helmet next to an idling ten-wheeler with construction equipment in the background. He nodded a friendly yes to my shouting and I proceeded, stopping briefly to turn the front tire at a sharp angle to get on the right side of the berm. It was nice not to be on a sport-bike with a small front tire and limited ground clearance. After 100-yards, I was back to pavement and road travelin’.

Big Bird the Mascot & Fearless Traveler

Now I was able to let the bird fly, about one hour of non-stop sport-touring. Up on top there were wildflowers, volcanic rocks and appealing distant views that would have been nice for a picture or two. But my afternoon progress had been slow and dinner was to be at to be at home with my family. Darn, I guess I’ll have to ride.

There was one last short, clean dirt section, no flagger or delay other than me pulling my camera out of my tank bag. I rode past Bucks Lake, then slowly through Meadow Valley and Quincy. After several miles on State Route 70 I turned right on Highway 89, then stopped for a small snack, water, and the last photos of the day.

Copyright © 2011 James Langan

La Porte Road, Plumas County, California


I should have called this trip a day of road construction as before I was able to reach La Porte Rd. near Quincy, California, I had already waited about thirty minutes in two construction zones on State Route 70. Once through the construction and on La Porte Rd., traffic was light until I reached the foothills west of this small town.

Traveling solo has advantages, and one of them is how quick and easy it is to stop for photos. The only person you’re delaying is yourself, no need to communicate the desire to stop, just stop. Ready to go, GO, so simple.


Slowly I rolled through La Porte, population twenty-six, and continued west, twisting downward into the great Central Valley of California. In the small community of Challenge, California, I got behind a small funeral procession of three cars, a hearse and two other vehicles. Though I don’t usually like to follow cars, particularly on twisty roads, I was not in a hurry to pass. I just slowed my pace to that of the procession and several miles later we all reached a small, rural cemetery beside the highway.

The two cars pulled off the road to park, while the old hearse stopped and waited to turn left into the cemetery gates. I was stopped directly behind the hearse, a flag-draped coffin lay inside, and on the right shoulder an elderly foreign war veteran exited his car, putting on his VFW hat. I was amongst a couple of our greatest generation; I was thankful.

Continuing southwest I came to the four-way intersection of La Porte Rd. and Oroville Bangor Highway, and almost met my third road construction delay of the day. As I was rolling up to the stop sign the construction flagger had just let his stopped cars proceed and he let me go too, pointing to my right and left as my only options. I turned right, north on the Oroville Bangor Highway, heading for Oroville, California.

Just a couple blocks into the east side of Oroville looking for a place to eat I stumbled upon a Dutch Bros. Coffee. Dutch Bros. is big in the northwest and my wife and I usually get our Dutch Bros fix when we are in Oregon, but there are more Northern California locations all the time. A double iced americano would help energize the motorcycle bunny that is Redline, while I asked for a local lunch spot recommendation. Nothing special was suggested so I grabbed a cheap, quick foot-long sub sandwich, filled Big Bird with premium and headed east on Hwy 162, also knows as the Oroville-Quincy Highway.

Copyright © 2011 James Langan

Back On Two Wheels


Plumas National Forest

After a few years of very sporadic use, and exactly zero miles over the past twelve months after changing the oils last July, it was time for Big Bird to fly again. Big Bird is my 2001 R1150GS, which I also sometimes refer to as the No BS GS. This bike has covered about 38,000 miles since new, but far too few have been logged recently. With all the high mountain backroad passes open after a long, wet winter, there was no valid excuse to not go for a day trip.

In a rush to get going, I almost left without checking my tire pressures, a cardinal sin in my book. Once underway I was a bit cool traveling seventy miles-per-hour in 65-degree weather with only a T-shirt and a textile moto jacket, forgoing my liner, as soon it would be warm.

As much as I have been modifying, using, and writing about 4×4 trucks in recent years, travel powered by two wheels is really my first love. Typically all on-road, but my preferred terrain and style is not what many street motorcyclists would find pleasurable. The narrow, tight, twisty, and sometimes rough back roads are my favorites, and often the pavement is in less than perfect condition, making an adventure-touring bike a good choice.

Compared to early riding-season trips in prior years, La Porte Road was very clean. However, the sandy debris in the right wheel-track in the photo above is a nice reminder that surface appraisal is critical. Even if you ride briskly it’s very important to stay below your personal maximum speed and skill level so you can artfully avoid hazards.

Fun stuff. Anyone can ride straight, turning and stopping is where the fun and challenge is.

Copyright © 2011 James Langan