Categories
Essays On Horology

Mido, A Storied History

I’ve been on the search for a watch and made the decision to go for the Mido Ocean Star Tribute timepiece.

Having stumbled upon a video by a talented watch repairman resurrecting a Swiss made Rolex Explorer from salt water damage. I was taken by the intricacies of the automatic components and listened as the skilled master explained that a lady inherited this watch from her father – who had lived an active life, competing in triathlons, and this watch had been his faithful companion – and now she would wear it as it carried with it the stories of her dad.

This is the testament to Switzerland’s excellency of watch making.

A seed was sown and, slowly at first, I began a search for my own durable Swiss timepiece. After comparing numerous pieces from various brands I came upon the 60’s styled Mido Ocean Star Tribute.

I knew almost as soon as I saw it that it was the one for me. It fit every criteria I’d laid out – and more so. The quality was beyond anything I’d seen.

This kindled a curiosity to uncover more about the company behind this elegant watch.

Mido Ocean Star Tribute 75th Anniversary Special Edition

Mido, a story unfolds

What I didn’t know at the time was that Mido made the first watch ever to offer the exact combination of qualities that were on my list almost a century later. In 1934 they released the world’s first antimagnetic, watertight, self-winding, and impact-resistant watch. They had created a durable and handsome do-it-all watch and it became a market success. [souce][source]

“In 1934, after a relatively short gestation, Mido introduced the Multifort [with the above mentioned qualities], and thereby sealed its reputation as a serious watch company.” [source]

Mido MULTIFORT

With more than a century of history, Mido was quietly writing an important story in watch making.

Horology, the study and measure of time, is poetically found within the name of Mido, which means “measure”.

Founded in 1918 by watchmaker Georges Schaeren and Hugo Jubert on 11 November; the very same day of the Armistice [source]. Simultaneously the Allies and the German Empire signed a truce bringing peace to the conflict of World War I.

It his believed that Georges Schaeren’s younger brother Henri Schaeren drafted the name Mido.

Henri Schaeren seemed to have a flare for business and in 1924 after serving for 5 years as head of sales at Omega joined Mido as a partner to focus on the commercial operations [source]. This would have freed Georges Schaeren, “an experienced and ingenious Swiss watchmaker,” [source] to concentrate on watchmaking as the company grew.

Mido Founder, Mr. Georges Schaeren

A little known fact is that Mido played a vital role in the early years of Citizen Watch Co.

The newly formed, now famous, Citizen watch company was struggling financially. Founded in 1930 they began assembling pocket watches but had little market success. “Finally the shift to the production of wristwatches saved the company and enabled its growth.” [source]

The first models marketed by Citizen were all in fact Mido models. Funded by bank credits until 1933, Citizen acquired a Swiss trading company importing Mido watches in 1932 and ultimately purchased Swiss machine tools in 1933. In the book Industrial Development, Technology Transfer, and Global Competition: A History of the Japanese Watch Industry Since 1850 author Pierre-Yves Donze writes, “Hence, Mido watches were the models of the three new watches marketed by Citizen until the end of WWII (1931, 1935, and 1941): all were imitations of Mido watches.” [source]

Mido’s early years (1918-1930)

Originally Mido made pocket watches and attractively decorated timepieces. Mr. Georges Schaeren was initially inspired by the art deco movement. [source] By the late 1920’s his pieces were heavily influenced by automobiles. [source] Even patenting the grill style watch case design that won them favour with car club enthusiasts in a flourishing automobile market. [source]

Scharen’s “radiator” watches were produced for various car brands (Buick, Bugatti, Fiat, Ford, Excelsior, Hispano-Suiza, etc), including Lancia, as club membership identification. [source]

*(“Kathleen Pritchard in her work on “Swiss Timepiece Makers, 1775-1975,” gives the year, 1886, for the start of Mido, and her reference is supported by the existence of an important pocket watch marked around the bezel with the name, Henry Schaeren, and signed on the dial, “Melik Mido 1886-1936.” [source] However, of possible coincidence, it’s worth noting Henri, George Schaeren’s brother, was born in the year 1886. [source])

Mido, on the forefront of Swiss self-winding, automatic movements.

Mido has many technical and horological achievements to its name. While I have not gone through the list in exhaustion, here are a few that caught my eye.

  • 1934High water resistance, using the later named “Aquadura” cork crown seal system. It combines an innovative case system that houses specially treated cork seals around the crown stem (a traditional weak point in the case) and meant that water was kept out. A first of its kind, with the case cork housing made by Taubert, and the cork seal made and installed by Mido. It’s still used in some Mido models to this day. Mido had this undergo arduous testing by the New York Electrical Testing Laboratories.
  • 1934 – Shock resistance, “Mido was one of the first watch companies to feature the Incabloc system, and the earliest Multifort watches used the prototype Incabloc system without the familiar lyre-shaped spring, [later] introduced in 1938.” [source]
  • 1934 – Unbreakable mainspring, “the very first time that any watch manufacturer utilized this type of spring within the marketplace.” [source]
  • 1934 – Anti-magnetism, Tissot was the first to introduce non-magnetic watches in 1930. Mido among the vanguards [source].
  • 1934 – Automatic wind, the first automatic wristwatch was released in 1928 by John Harwood under Harwood watches, who first patented the invention in 1923. Mido was on the leading-edge [source].
  • 1934 – MultiFort, first watch to be completely “waterproof”, as well as being anti-magnetic, shockproof and self-winding [source].
  • 1939 – Radiotime One-click Synchronizer, “it is the first watch rendering possible the simultaneous registrations of the exact time, minute, and second by simply pressing a pusher set in the crown.” However, it is exceptionally rare and is considered the holy grail for this watch collector. [source]
  • 1939 – Datometer, allowed the date to be displayed using an additional central hand. [source]
  • 1941 – Multi-Centerchrono, the first manufacturer to introduce a central-read chronograph whereby all the hands are arranged from the centre of the dial. [source][source]
  • 1954 – Powerwind, simplifying the design of the automatic power system down from 16 to 7 parts and providing a longer power reserve for the watch; it also reduced faults and led to easier servicing. [source]
  • 1959 – Front-loading waterproof backless watch case, like the Aquadura this was the result of a collaboration with Taubert. A watertight watch was patented in Switzerland by Bernard Taubert (their case manufacturer) the following year in 1958 and the patent published in 1960. [source]

These years established Mido as a Swiss watch company of reputable workmanship, an uncanny grasp of the future, with a flare for design.

Mido Multi-Centerchrono

Artisanship + innovation

Hindsight may be 20/20 but from the perspective of the time (“most people still had keep-fit hand-crankers” [source]) one may wonder how Mido, then known for artisanal workmanship, were able to introduce so many new technological advances.

Their approach to innovation was not unlike Edison’s invention of the lightbulb. Edison had a deep understanding of the component parts available at hand, foresaw how they could work together, and therefore understood the building blocks of the lightbulb. If one understood that a filament would glow when electrified, that placing the filament inside an inert gas like nitrogen would increase the time it would glow before burning out, and that one could enclose those within a glass bulb – they would have invented the electric lightbulb.

Mido’s style was similar at both discovering and bringing together emerging technologies where the whole was greater than the sum of the parts. As was shown in the Multifort.

“The extraordinary thing about the Mido Multifort is not that a single firm could manufacture such a “complete” technically advanced and durable wristwatch within a few years – indeed the fact is that Mido did not make this celebrated timepiece itself – but that Mido perspicaciously and cleverly put together no less than three, and then four, new horological and technical advances in watchmaking, invented and manufactured by other companies, and incorporate them into a single model.” [source]

Along with past technical advances, a rich and storied history unfolds.

The founder of the iconic Bugatti, Ettore Bugatti, owned a Mido. Italian born French automobile designer and manufacturer, he had an eye for design. Recently his watch auctioned off in 2021 for $350,000 USD or “no less than 300,000 Swiss francs.” [source]

By the 1930s Mido founder Schaeren was determined to make beautiful watches that could also endure the “rigours of daily use.” [source] Current Mido CEO, Franz Linder, shared in an interview that in 1934, “It was all about being innovative. There was an emphasis upon not only quality, but also robustness and timeless design.” [source]

By the in 1960s their presence stretched from Brazil to Antarctica. In 1959 they were even sponsoring Miss Brazil [source].

The Mido Ocean Star was selected as the official watch in an “Antarctic expedition led by Warwick Deacock and sponsored by Edmund Hillary,” in 1965 [source]. They would require a reliable, durable and waterproof piece that could endure the hardships of the wet and cold journey. “By 1964 [Antartica] had been the object of a number of expeditions, but none reaching the summit of its 9000-foot volcanic peak ‘Big Ben’. In that year Warwick Deacock resolved to rectify this omission, and assembled a party of nine with impressive credentials embracing mountaineering, exploration, science and medicine, plus his own organization and leadership skills as a former Major in the British Army.” [source] Eventually summiting the mountain and returning to tell the tale.

Voyage to summit Antarctic volcano Big Ben

Establishing a reputation for waterproofness and quality.

A notable fact of vintage Mido watches is that many have withstood the test of time. While researching this article I came across the watches as being known for their waterproof qualities. “In not too distant history Mido were known as being the best manufacturer of waterproof watches.” [source] And I came upon anecdotal remarks by watch-repairers that when opened, Mido movements and dials are generally less corroded or pitted than expected for their age. Made even more astonishing given the fact a large number of vintage Mido’s were purchased for use in tropical climates.

The reason for this was because of the combination of the innovative cork sealing advancement (1930) that prevented water from entering the case through the crown stem and the absence of the case back introduced in 1959. “In fact the watch was so waterproof you could pull the crown out while underwater.” [source]

Aquadura cork crown seal system

With the aquadura system, “If you pull out the crown you still had 50 meters of water resistance.” [source]

Mido watches were resilient to not only submersion but humidity. The combination of aesthetic and durability gained Mido a strong reputation for quality and prestige. Mido “now had a firm footing in the market – still with a reputation for stylish watches but now also catering for a growing market for reliable, functional and durable wristwatches.” [source]

Mido and service personnel

In his memoire Friends and Exiles, Des Alwi Abubakar, Indonesian Diplomat, and son of Vice President of Indonesia recalled being gifted, “a Swiss-made, ‘Mido’ brand watch, which was the most expensive and most-wanted watch by Japanese military and civilian personnel. It fetched a price of three hundred to five hundred rupiah, on which one could live for 6 months.”

In a humorous account of a United States Navy Procurement Hearing, the businessmen given the right to provide the Navy with watches, were upset that Navy personnel were buying Mido watches and that the Navy Procurement office had “tried to procure these watches without our benefit.”

When asked the names of the watches they replied.

“These particular watches in question were the Mido watch – which is an automatic service-type watch – Empire, Hallmark, and Roma. They are all Swiss watches, imported, and they found particularly good favour among the personnel.”

[See the Subcommittee Hearings on Army and Navy Systems of Procurement for Post Exchanges and Ship’s Service Stores]

Mido watches were therefore sought-after by military and navy service personnel.

It is also noteworthy that Mido was, “Praised by pilots that used the Multifort during the Second World War.” [source] And that Walter Schaeren, son of the Mido founder and later to be company president, was in the Swiss air force in this period. As a result Mido also made pilot watches when Schaeren was president.

1945 Advertisement stating Airman depended on Mido

A “Be Bold” marketing campaign.

Mido was convinced of the quality of their watches and marketed them with confidence in the 50s and 60s. Boldly recommending their customers take their watches wherever they choose to go. “Be Bold!” was a phrase they used often. Or, “Expect to see a Mido where you wouldn’t expect to see a watch!” Even stating, “Mido is guaranteed 100% waterproof at depths down to 1000 feet. It’s self-winding, shock-resistant, and has unbreakable mainspring.” And reassuring, “They all have one thing in common: they’re rugged. Don’t worry about accidental knocks and bumps. Don’t worry about getting it wet (you can actually swim or go skin diving with a Mido because it’s fully waterproof.”

The Swiss watch manufacturer Mido had the watch undergo the official test of the United States Government in the early 1930s. [source][source] You read that correctly.

“To prove that the MULTIFORT functioned under extreme conditions, Mido had it tested by the New York Electrical Testing Laboratories Inc. Tests were conducted in freshwater and saltwater for over a thousand hours. The watches were then subjected to ten cycles of 15 minutes at 50°C followed by 15 minutes at -40°C. The winding crown was subjected to a test representing 34 years of use. Simulated tests of immersion to 13atm (120 m) and ascending to altitudes of 6,600, 13,300 and 16,600 metres were performed. One of the 6 watches tested ceased operating at 13,300 metres, but apart from that the watches seem to have passed the tests with flying colours.” [source][source]

Arguably the greatest test of durability comes from real-world use.

Mido seemed to understand this and shared letters they had received from happy customers who had used it for expeditions to Alaska, military service in tropical heat and heavy snows, and everyday use by professionals.

A Houston, Texas, man writes about his Mido Superautomatic watch: “I lost my Mido in the dirty salt water of a ship’s channel. Two years later while walking along the beach I found my Mito watch half-buried in the muddy bank, still running in perfect condition. The tidal action kept the watch wound.”

Needless to say Mido was confident in the quality of their timepieces.

In 1944 Mido trademarked the Ocean Star name.

“Its roots are traced back to 1942 when the brand marked its famous starfish trademark at its crest as a symbol of its advances in waterproof technology. Two years later, he registered another trademark, the name OCEANSTAR, and thus officially started the foundations for one of Mido’s most iconic collections.” [source]

Then with the ground-breaking front-loading case they incorporated in 1957 it wasn’t long before the Ocean Star became the “star” of their line. The solid case back further added to the water resistant quality of their watches. The Ocean Star line moved Mido towards an elegant and water-friendly lifestyle. Surf, sail, dive, and boating – all were encouraged with the Ocean Star. Even being used in the Antarctic expedition.

For such a stylish piece, the Ocean Star also embodied a playful side.

Don’t worry about getting it wet you can actually swim or go skin diving with a Mido because it’s fully waterproof.”

“Diner clothes or diving gear… it makes no difference to Mido “Ocean Star.” It takes to water like a marlin, adds its own note of elegance to the most elegant surroundings.”

It was the golden age of water sports and exploration. And Mido were inviting you to participate in style.

Mido carries on this tradition of playful and beautifully crafted watches in their Ocean Star series.

Mido’s history is rich, interesting and surprising. While the research for this article revealed a deep and long relationship with horology, I’ve read that the brand is appreciated by their enthusiasts for their understatedness and settled confidence. Franz Linder, CEO since the early 2000’s, has lead Mido well and helped continue it as a self-assured brand with a storied past and a positive future.

Categories
Essays On Brand

Brand & Watches

What can you learn about building a brand from watch manufacturers and enthusiasts?

I’m on a journey to buy a watch. An automatic mechanical watch to be exact. I’ve been fascinated by the beauty of self-powered mechanical machines for as long as I can remember. I bought my first wind-up clock on a family trip to the UK as an 8 or 9 year old.

I have a short-list of items that I’m looking for. A watch with an automatic mechanical movement, that I can wear day-to-day, that tracks time (for training), that is water-proof, that looks timeless, and that is durable.

At first I saw a Seiko mechanical watch that fit the bill. However, due to the fact that I already have a Seiko, I thought this is as good a time as any to try something new.

And then the watch buying journey of twists and turns began.

Despite being a landlocked country, my first port of call was Switzerland. It is has a well established brand of making high quality watches.

My methodology was simple. Start with finding a watch that fit the criteria and then, because I’m not able to see these watches in person, research the reviews to see if it would be a good buy. This is where I began to face the labyrinth of brand.

I was first introduced to Hamilton watches and then Tudor, Delma, Tissot, Marathon, and Glycine. In that order. All Swiss watch manufacturers. Other than Tissot, all brands that were new to me.

Glycine Combat Sub

I’m not generally particular about a brand. I look at quality and function, begin to love a product after use, and only then I become curious about the company, story and brand itself. However, without first-hand experience, each review I read would turn me down towards a different path. Brand mattered to them.

One reviewer would speak of heritage and say that another brand was preferable. So I would start my search again with their recommended model. Or one name was more known than another which could impact servicing, so again I was introduced to a new brand. Another reviewer would say that another movement in a different watch is better or had been used for longer, which may impact durability.

As I am looking for a waterproof watch that could be used as a timer, I began to narrow my search around dive watches. It turns out, some watch manufacturers had a history of being deeply involved with diving, while others were not, this was important to the reviewer. Even when everything seemed comparable – history, technology, movement – suddenly the watches’ parent company would come into question.

I just wanted a durable, quality, mechanical, waterproof and timeless watch.

In these reviews I learned about exhibition cases, servicing concerns, “hacking”, power reserve, manual winding, tolerances, origin, and that all movements were different. Some, with much to be desired.

Finally, after going around in circles, I thought I would look outside of Swiss watches and came across Yema, a French watch manufacturer. They made dive watches. They have heritage and technology. But when reading reviews the customer service of the company was being called into question – a new one to me.

Yema Superman Dive Watch

It’s enough to pull ones hair out.

While out on a hike in the mountains and reflecting on all this new information, it struck me, there’s so much to learn about building a brand from watches.

In fact it was easy to categorize all the decision points into building blocks of brand.

A brand is the marriage between how a company presents itself and how the consumer perceives them. It is not one or the other. It is the intersection. And brand matters. It adds confidence to a purchase decision or introduces doubts.

We think of goodwill in business as the relationship, hopefully a positive one, between the business and the customer.

For example, a reviewer may make bold claims that a product is great or the service is terrible. But that statement alone does not make the brand. Lets say someone claims Rolex has terrible customer service. Do you think the Rolex brand will be tarnished? Of course not. Because there’s more to brand. But, another company, a lesser known one, may find it will take time to regain trust with their market after a statement like that is made.

So what is it that composes the brand?

When it comes to watches people care about honesty.

This came up again and again in reviews. Collectors didn’t mind if the mechanical movement was proprietary or if it was a 3rd-party movement. They didn’t mind if it was made in Switzerland or simply assembled there. What they did mind was if a company was misleading – claiming a component was made somewhere it wasn’t. If one part of the marketing story was found to be untrue, all was called into question. Integrity was lost.

Watch reviewers are very thorough. They’ll even go to a watch maker to have them dismantle the watch and inspect the parts to offer their opinion.

The opposite was the case as well, no pun intended. If a marketing story was found to be true, the brand would increase in appeal. The richer the story, the greater the value.

Story matters.

Brands that can boast having been in outer space, in battle, in the Navy, on explorations, or having innovated technology – all garner the admiration of the wearer.

Omega watch in space

In part, I believe because that’s the draw to a mechanical watch. The watch represents something. Both stylistically and idealistically. You’re respecting a moment, a demeanour, an accomplishment. But the story must remain intact.

Design matters.

Mechanical movements are becoming works of art, along with the dial, bezel and case. Watch enthusiasts care very much about aesthetics. But not in isolation. A well designed watch is one where the aesthetic matches the utility of the watch.

Here a dive watch looks and functions as a dive watch. The utility is in the design.

How this effects brand is when a watch company produces designs that are true to the function of the piece and their expertise. In other words, true to the heritage and roots of the company. Over time this design becomes iconic to that watch. Think of a Rolex Explorer.

A company that produces designs outside of their tradition, and without purpose, other than to reach a broader market – takes the company away from the brand they were establishing.

Whereas if a watch company works with the Navy, for example, to supply a new dive watch, this expands the brand as there is a strong sense of purpose behind the new design.

Even advertising matters.

Most marketers, especially digital ones, may think of awareness as brand building. Working to reach new audiences and make a logo known and trusted. But they advertise to get a purchase, rather than tell a story. That type of advertising is more in line with sales, and does not build brand equity.

Just like the watches themselves, every advertisement, every artwork, and every article produced becomes the brand’s artifacts over time. An advertisement may showcase a movement or a diver. The visual design of the advertisement must mirror both the character of the watch and the copy be true to the integrity of the story.

From what I can gather, one example where advertising backfired was when Tudor watches sponsored Lady Gaga as their spokesperson. The reason for this is that the person who purchased Tudor watches couldn’t relate to her, despite her success within the music industry and her gritty determination. It was off-brand. And the forums were not quiet about it.

The next thing that stands out is quality & engineering. And also quality control.

The piece must meet or exceed all expectations. One expects a Swiss watch, for example, to set the standard for craftsmanship. If play is found in the bezel or the band, a part misaligned, or a movement appears poorly assembled or unrefined, it is remarkable to the reviewer.

Quality and quality control are not the same thing, I learned. Watch reviewers seemed surprisingly accommodating of poor quality control issues, as long as the watch manufacturer was quick to remedy the situation by replacing the watch with a quality of engineering one would expect. Essentially, to stand behind their own brand.

Which brings us to customer care & service.

When buying a watch one does not expect an issue. It is assumed that in this day and age your watch will arrive beautifully made and performing within specification. There is a wide array of variance to specifications, depending on the watch, the movement, and the meticulousness of the manufacturer, which the buyer is responsible for knowing when choosing their watch. However, if an issue does arise, one does expect a courteous resolution. This was made clear by the comment threads. And it doesn’t take many negative comments to turn-off would be buyers new to a brand.

Because I’m new to automatic watches I hadn’t considered the future need of servicing one. So when looking to buy a watch, customer service wasn’t high on my list of considerations. So I was surprised to see reviewers mention it. But it is clear, that if left unresolved, poor customer service does tarnish an otherwise faultless brand. Ever more so in service-oriented businesses, whose brands are built on service.

In conclusion

Brand is not simply the perception of the marketplace. It is a product of the company – engineering, service, quality control & marketing – working together to create value and establish the company name firmly within the world. It’s simple; the product must live up to the hype. And demand will follow.

This constant forging of perception, with how a company presents its products and the public’s opinion of the end-result, either increases the brand’s value and draw or leaves it in the chasm of commonplace.

Which means a business that intentionally masters the key components of a brand, will eventually with determined effort, establish itself as the brand they aspire to be.

The key components are Integrity, Story, Design, Advertising, Quality, Service, Credibility, Innovation & History.

Great watch brands are amazing at presentation and imagery in story telling. Their websites and marketing reinforce the look, feel and narrative they are communicating. They leverage partnerships, such as sporting events, to establish credibility. When new to a subject or product one trusts the opinions of experts. If they are respected by the professionals and icons we respect, we feel they in turn can be endeared by us. They push the boundaries of engineering. Pioneering new innovations of power reserves, deep sea depths, and time keeping. There is an integrity to the way they build watches and market themselves. Under scrutiny there is a consistent and uncompromising adherence to honesty and quality. They are what they say they are. Their service is of the same quality as their products. Treating their customers with care and respect. Their advertising tells their story. With charm, gusto and beauty. And over time this creates a rich history of tradition, accomplishments and heritage.

Then when a consumer finds a product with design and engineering that appeals to them, they will purchase it with confidence. This is the power of brand, confidence.

Every company will have a brand that is unique to them. Just as every person is different, so is every business. And the individual values, positioning, and journey of each company will contribute accordingly and attract customers who resonate with it.

It is the responsibility of the company to produce great products. To tell their story. To communicate their values. To create partnerships that strengthen their credibility. And to market themselves in a way that aligns with their core message.

To this I say to brands.

“It doesn’t matter where you are, you are nowhere compared to where you can go.”

Bob Proctor

Time will tell your story.

Categories
mac Tutorials

How to clear your scratch disks on your Mac

Here’s how to free up space on your Mac scratch disks.

Have you seen the message when opening Adobe Photoshop? “The currently selected scratch disks are full. Please modify scratch disk preferences that will come into effect in the next launch.”

This means that your internal hard drive is full, or almost full. And some apps need a few gigs to run.

Here’s how to fix it

Step 1. Go to About this Mac

Click the Apple icon on the top left hand side of your screen. A list of dropdown options will appear. Then click “About This Mac”

Step 2. Click on the Storage tab

A new window will appear. Click the “Storage” tab.

Give it a minute for the Storage to calculate which files are using the space. The more full it is, the longer it will take.

Step 3. Next, Click the button “Manage”

This will open up a new window. Here you will see a list of things taking up a lot of space on the left hand column.


Step 4. Review your apps

You can see in my screenshot above the Applications are taking up 38.81 GB of space. There may be some apps that you just aren’t using. You can delete those from here.

Click on the app. Then click on the “delete” button.

Step 5. Next, review your documents

Documents is a common place where you will find files that are taking up a lot of space.

Click on the “Documents” on the left hand column. You will see a list of documents appear on the right hand side. Again, review your documents and click on the ones taking up too much space. And click delete.

Go throughout the list and delete anything you can.

If you are unsure what it is, click on Show in Finder to open the file and see what it is.

Step 6. Continue to review any other places that you have unneeded files

Step 7. Go to your trash bin and empty it out.

Step 8. Close out your applications. And relaunch them. They will now be able to run with your free space.

Congrats! You’re done.

Categories
Honda CB550 Journal

Honda CB 550 Motorcycle Build

In 2019 I purchased a Honda CB550 motorcycle. The year on the front plate is 1974. Which happens to be the first year the CB550 was introduced.

Honda had raced the 500cc in the World Grand Prix. But in 1969 the FIM introduced new rules (including weight minimums, a maximum number of cylinders and a maximum of six speeds). Honda walked out. And didn’t declare their return until 1977.

Soichiro Honda, the founder of Honda, loved racing and the progress in technology that resulted. The 500cc was the creme de la creme of GP racing at the time. But, having departed the GP, Honda was left without a production 500cc engine to advance. Surprise surprise, the following year Honda released the CB500 in 1971.

Honda spent a lot of focus on the 500 engine, releasing the CB550 in 1974, which replaced the outgoing CB500 with a larger displacement, faster acceleration, and the ability to mount dual front disc brakes. This may have been surprising to the motorcycling world. But Yoshimura, who lead Honda’s 500cc engineering return to the GP, joined Honda in 1972. Remarked, he was tasked, “to create something that would represent the very best in technology. We were determined to create an engine to surprise the whole world.”

Then in 1979 Honda debuted in the Grand Prix with a new 500cc engine. While 2 stroke engines were by now considered an advantage on the racing circuit, “Nonetheless, Honda wanted an engine that displayed a level of originality that fitted in with the business principles laid out by its founding father. The result was an engine unlike anything ever seen before in the racing world—a high-revving four-stroke, four-cylinder unit, with unique oval-shaped pistons that gave the visual impression of a V8.” [Honda]

The CB 500 and CB 550 are part of this story. The build:

I had purchased a 1982 Honda CB750 in 2013. But after a house reno and an undiagnosed electrical problem, the bike remained a non-runner 5 years later. So when I saw a running CB550 project bike for sale in the classifieds, I jumped on the opportunity.

Viewing the bike for the second time. It was frozen solid on my first viewing, so was inside to thaw

But it wasn’t without its issues. As I would soon discover.

Job 1: Clean the bike

It was covered with wax, dirt and everything in between. It was used in a film and the set crew had gone to town with it. Turned out to be a much bigger task than expected. And really the bike needed a total respray.

Job 2: It was running rich. So my first mechanical job was to sort that out.

I wrote a full post about tuning the carburetors over here.

Turns out that it was actually running lean with one cylinder running very rich. This was not the last I would see of these carbs.

Carburetors disassembled to clean and rebuild

Job 3: Deal with bondo cracks in the gas tank

I sanded the bondo to remove the cracked filler. Originally I was going to simply fill the holes, but the more I sanded the more damage was revealed.

Initial sanding of the filler

I took it to Bill a man gifted at paintless dent repair. He did an amazing job with the tank. So good that I was tempted to keep the tank metal and clear coat it. I may still do this in the future.

Return from Bill’s with a dent free tank

Job 4: Rebuild the forks

The front forks were rusted. So I decided to remove them to restore them and give them a full rebuild at the same time.

Unrestored front forks

After removing the rust and polishing them, I dissembled and cleaned the inner workings. The oil that came out of these forks was the most foul smelling stuff of legend.

Disassembled front forks off the CB550

I ordered new gaitors and reassembled.

Job 5: Respray the frame

The frame had been painted silver. Then over sprayed flat black, then sanded back to the silver. It needed respraying.

We were getting ready to move homes, so rather than doing an engine out powder coating, I purchased good quality caliper paint from Lordco and sprayed the frame in place. (I plan on doing a proper frame restoration down the road).

First step is to clean the frame from all oil, wax and grease. Use a good wax and grease remover. Step 2 is to sand the entire area you are painting. Remove any loose chips (this bike had many) and sand smooth. Step 3 is to wipe clean of dust. Step 4. Prime. Step 5. Apply your coat.

Frame looking fresh after the respray

My wife and I then went to the ski hill for a few days.

Job 6: Sell my old 1982 Honda CB750 bike.

There was a lineup of people wanting to buy it. Ended up meeting a really cool guy who rebuilt bikes. And he picked it up in his mini van. Hilarious.

Making bike friends
There’s a first for everything. CB750 loaded in a minivan.

Job 7: Rebuild the brakes

I had to replace the brake fluid cylinder, lever and all brake lines. Also replaced the brake pads. Topped up the brake fluid. I did learn a lesson. I mistakenly pulled the brake lever while testing it with the disc out. That was a fun job opening the brake again. With the wheel in, the brake adjusted we were good to go.

I don’t have many photos of this job. I did purchase the mounting kit and a second caliper and disc to convert the front wheel to a dual disc at the same time. Which I will post about when I do the conversion in the near future.

Measuring all gaps prior to rebuilding and cleaning the front brakes.

My bro and I then headed to Facebook’s F8 developer conference in San Jose California.

Job 8: Paint the tank

While the tank was painted maroon for the movie, the insurance papers for the bike shows the original color as blue. So rather than inviting an inspection when reinsuring it. I opted to paint the tank blue again.

Painting is fairly straight forward. Sand everything smooth. Fill any holes/scratches. Clean it with a wax and grease remove. Wipe clean with a lint free rag. Prime. Sand. Clean. Prime again. Sand again with a 400 grit wet sand paper. Clean. I used spray paint to spray the tank with the top coat. Be sure to spray it in a shady and dust free area. Flash drying in heat and direct sun causes cracks. Painting after the rain is a good time as it clears pollen. Do 3 coats of top coat. Light at first. The final coat makes everything smooth. Sand with 800 grit wet sand paper if desired. Clear coat.

Painting the tank outside.

Other jobs

Oil change, new spark plugs, new battery (twice), timing, tightened the cam chain, set valve clearances, synced the carbs, wrapped the exhaust, and replaced/installed missing or broken components (such as the tachometer, seat lock, ignition, you name it).

The bike is not showroom perfect, it has a ton of character, and rather than making everything like new, I’ve kept the original side emblems as they were, and the engine fins, which are chipped, are now clean, but not polished, as it tells the story. And honestly, I love it.

Build complete

I road the bike to my dad’s place to show him. He got real quiet. I was wondering why he was so quiet. Did he not want me riding a bike? Then he shared how he road an early 70 Honda CB250 bike very similar to this when my mom was pregnant. Coincidentally it had a blue and white tank, almost identical to the one on this bike. I knew none of this.

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Essays Honda CB550 Journal On motorcycles

Unearthing the history of a 1974 Honda CB550

Hints of the story behind a Honda CB550 that is what it shouldn’t be.

When I went to look at a cb550 after it caught my attention browsing through the classifieds, I saw a rugged, characterful and misused motor with some semblance of charm. It was icy outside, so after taking the bike indoors to let it thaw, I returned the following day to hear it run. With the tap of a button the engine roared to life. Within an instant a connection formed, almost like meeting an old friend after many years.

The year was 2019 and with 45 years under its belt, having been built in Japan and driven across North America, I knew it would have stories. If only it could speak.

Laden with dirt, grease and wax the bike looked worse for wear. Tom, the prior owner of the bike, mentioned to me that he had rented to it to a movie production and their costume and set team had had their way. I couldn’t wait to get a rag and some soap to it.

As the bike stood, February 13 2019

But that’s when hints of a story began to emerge.

I noticed that the badly painted gas tank (again thanks in part to the apparent movie set team) had bondo cracks. So I called Bill, a talented dent repair specialist, if he would be able to take a look at it. “Sure,” he said, being a fellow bike guy. But mentioned that gas tanks were anything but easy when it came to popping dents.

Well that night I began the arduous work of sanding the bondo from the tank and prepping it for Bill. Yet as I peeled away the layers of old repairs and paint, more and more dents appeared. Clearly this bike had seen adventure.

Bill’s face lit with amazement when I showed him the tank. But faithful to his word he did his best. I was blown away by the difference. The once brutally damaged tank was enhanced to a patina that matched its age. I could almost hear my new old friend smile.

Tom had mentioned the bike was running rich. So I carefully tore open the carburetors. Meticulously organizing as I went. Someone, long ago, had rebuilt these carburetors before me. And had used some sort of seal gasket glue on everything, filling critical pathways and even covering the holes of the drain screws – which had been glued closed. It was obvious that others had since tried loosening them. Fortunately I had this incredible cleaner on hand. It’s probably toxic and deadly but eats through anything, so I love it.

The tear down begins

I found the source of the fuel mixture issue. The number 4 gasket was missing the needle. That would do it. Clearly someone else had discovered this too. The piston in the same carburetor was dented and bent from what appears to have been the work of a nonsamurai master. Fortunately, a file and carb cleaner made short work of the worst of it and the piston was removed. After addressing any issues, fixing all bent components and bolting it back together the carburetor looked and functioned as good as new… almost. The number 4 exhaust was cold after firing up the engine. Fortunately I was able to quickly find a replacement piston on eBay and then the engine ran without fault.

I thought it odd that the inner workings of the engine seemed to be in better condition than the carburetor.

Later, I began the simple task of bleeding and rebuilding the front forks. I ran into my first snag. The fork screws were sealed with the same gasket glue as the carburetor. And then, to my surprise, the lower springs were missing. I quickly checked online to see if any CB550s came stock without lower springs in their forks. Sure enough the CB550f did. 

Earlier I had noticed the original color of the bike was said to be blue. According to insurance files it had always been blue. I searched online to see if any CB550fours were blue by stock. At first my search would turn up fruitless. 

The rear passenger frame mounts had long since been removed and I hadn’t checked the serial number of the bike. Suddenly I began to fear that my bike wasn’t what I thought it was. 

Grabbing my papers I ran to the garage and scanned the front of the bike. There it was, the number stamped into the front. But I couldn’t see the vin plate which concerned me. Turning the handlebars I saw thick black tape covering half of the front of the frame. More concerning still.

I pealed back the tape to reveal a shiny original vin plate matching the vin stamped on the frame and the vin of the papers. Anyone standing nearby would have heard an audible sigh of relief.

Now I began to wonder about the engine. Fortunately, I had noticed on the website of a European Honda parts supplier a document of all the frame and engine numbers. I compared the number of the engine with frame. The years matched. Then I noticed they also documented the carburetor number as well – which surprised me. 

But as I checked the numbers, the carburetor matched a CB550f, like the forks. Another story emerged. Clearly the forks and carburetor were most likely from the same bike and for whatever reason had replaced the original ones on this bike.

That would explain why the motor seemed in better shape than the carbs. And why I couldn’t find any traces of that gasket glue anywhere else on the bike or engine.

But again I wondered about the color. I knew a CB550f came in blue. Perhaps that was the confusion. But no, the fuel tank was a different shape, rather than having the classic styling with the chrome lid, the CB550f was a more modern shape and had a hidden cap. Secondly, while the frame is nearly identical between the bikes, the mounting points are not. And the CB550f side panels didn’t fit the my frame.

Then by happenstance I stumbled upon a 7 year old video on Youtube of an original blue CB550. It appeared to be the same year as my own. Curious, I went back to the garage and examined my parts. The side cover was cracked and beneath layers of primer and repaints, there as clear as day was a metallic blue. I flipped over my fuel tank as well, and sure enough I could see metallic blue overspray. So definitely the original tank. I did also spot green overspray as well. Perhaps there was an option to custom paint the bike when purchasing it? Or possibly they swapped a cb500 tank and side panels when purchasing the bike? Perhaps someone reading this would know if that is something that was done in the 70s.  

The bike also had a blue face on the odometer gauge with miles matching the papers. Every reference of the bike I can find in bike reviews say the gauges were green. Now I know that my odometer could have easily been changed. So I did some more research on forums, classifieds and Youtube and have since found many 1974/75 cb550s with blue gauges. So again, an unlikely surprise, but it looks to be original to the bike. 

Remember how the tank was badly dented? Well, the story continues. Excited to get into things I immediately began giving the old beast a thorough cleaning. There was dirt everywhere with sand and grit found in every crevice of the engine body.

The bike had been given an intentionally “rustic” paint job for the movie. Where black was painted over silver and then sanded back to reveal the silver in spots. Again, apparently to serve the look of the film. But, despite soap being thrown in its direction the bike still looked dirty after each wash. So a quick trip to my local auto paints store and I returned with high quality black paint for rims. Something that would endure the elements until I would be able to powder coat it down the road.

Well, removing the gas tank revealed a very silver frame indeed. All the hardware such as the battery holder and metal clips were also painted in silver. And the quality was too good to fit the work of the movie look. This had been done before.

The more I investigated the frame and paint the more I was impressed with the workmanship. Someone at some point in its history cared for this bike.

But the cleaning revealed something else too. I noticed some dents on the side of the engine fins. But as the wax was removed the dents turned into chips and cracks. This engine had been through war. The majority of the wear was on the same side where the gas tank had most of its dents.

Had someone used this as an enduro bike? It’s possible.

In many ways, rediscovering an old bike is like unearthing an archeological site. One must rely on the remnants of clues to share the stories long forgotten or untold.

Yet it’s these discoveries that hint to the story and soul of the bike. The peculiarities of the engine. The way it sits on the road. And the charm of its character. Much like an old friend. Battered, bruised but no worse for wear.

And also, much like an old friend. Occasionally they share stories that almost seem too interesting to be true. Yet they are.

Many movies are filmed in the area I live. Mostly small production indie films. Some of my friends are filmmakers. So when Tom remarked that this bike was used on set it didn’t grab my attention. That is, until I began discovering more about the peculiar hints of history that this bike seemed to have. An unlikely original paint color. An unlikely pairing of forks and carburetor. An unlikely speedometer. And even an unlikely turn of events – from the pride of someone’s garage to become what appears to be an enduro to then appear on a film set. All of which was unlikely. But evidence suggested otherwise.

And like all nagging thoughts it asked to be investigated.

It turns out it was in a movie, titled Endless. The movie was released in 2020. And stared Nicholas Hamilton (from IT) Alexandra Shipp (Storm on X-Men).

And surprise surprise, the bike is featured on the cover of the film. 

Alexandra Shipp, Nicholas Hamilton, and the Honda CB550 staring in Endless

Now I know that the bike was in a movie. I know that it was painted blue. I also know that it has a CB550f fork and carburetor. And I know that it was owned by a chef at some point. Tom told me. But I don’t know that it was used as a dirt tracker or that it was stored in a garage. I only have the clues. But isn’t that what great stories are. Just enough to guide you along and just enough to let your mind wonder.

My humble CB550 in a scene from Endless
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On Motorcycles Resource

Tuning a Honda CB550 carburetor with pods

Here’s how I tuned my 1974 Honda CB550 motorcycle with pods.

My bike came with pods when I purchased it. I will share the full story in another post for those who are interested. But in short, the choke didn’t work. The carburetor was a mess. One of the carb cylinders was bent and jammed with a missing needle. Some cylinders were beyond repair. Glue was in the carbs. And it was leaking fuel. If I can make this bike run well with pods, anyone can make their bike run nice.

Step 1: Clean and rebuild the carbs.

I disassembled and cleaned every nook and cranny of the carbs. It’s an easier job than you may expect. I had 4 sets of containers. 1 for each carb. And took notes and photos as I went. And noted the number of turns each screw was set to. Which made it very easy to reassemble everything.

Step 2. New spark plugs

Step 3: Tension cam chain

Step 4: Set valve clearance

Step 5: Set timing

Step 6: Vacuum sync carbs

When that is done. You are ready to tune the carbs for your pods.

Here’s the settings that are working for me

Set the carb bowl float heights to the stock 22mm

Size 115 main jets. For reference, I live at 1150ft elevation.

Size 42 slow jets (pilot jet)

Raise the sliding needle by moving the clip to the second lowest position. (Opens the needle)

Fuel/air mixture screw is set at 3/4 turns out. Stock is 2 turns out.

Here’s the settings explained

I set the carb bowl float height to the stock height to stop fuel overflowing. And to get a baseline across all carbs.

The main jets effects the amount of fuel you have at the top end. It was running lean. So upping to 115 solved that.

The slow jets effects the low end and idle. If it’s too rich at the low end you need a smaller slow jet. And vice versa.

The sliding needle effects the middle range of power. The more raised the needle the more fuel is being pulled from the main jet in the carbs. I have 4 into 1 pipes with a small muffler. Which increases the air flow. (Again it’s what the bike came with). By raising the needle the bike gets a richer mixture. Solving the “bog” feeling (too lean) when opening the throttle. If you’re sputtering and sluggish when opening the throttle (meaning too rich), then you will want to lower the needle. Another way of checking. If you hold your throttle at mid point and revs climb and run away, that’s lean. If your revs dip or sputter, that’s lean.

The fuel/air mixture screw was the final adjustment I needed to do. It fine tunes the throttle responsiveness and the idle on the low end. To find the setting that is right for you, warm up the engine, then give a bit of throttle and let the revs settle down. Adjust the screws 1/4 turn at a time. Turning the screw clockwise (inwards) enriches the mixture. Outwards leans the mixture. Blip the throttle and let the revs settle down after each adjustment. If it takes too long to settle down to idle then it’s too lean. If you hear backfiring then it’s too lean. If it sputters with throttle or dips below ideal idling (or just die) when settling down, then it’s too rich. Make adjustments to the screws accordingly. When you get the sound you’re happy with (Not lean, not too rich) that’s your spot. Make a note of how many turns you’ve set it to, so you can remember later.

Troubleshooting

If bike is running too lean/rich at idle to 15% throttle? It’s your pilot jet.

If bike is running too lean/rich at the top end? Hearing tinging, clanging, or overheating at full throttle? It’s your main jet.

If bike is sputtering/dying or bogging when giving a little throttle (20-70% throttle). It’s your main needle height.

If bike is backfiring. Adjust your fuel mixture screw.

Final note. Always err on the side of being too rich. A lean condition can be the kiss of death for a motor.

Thanks for checking this out. It’s been an enjoyable and rewarding project.

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On Vehicles Resource

Do 29 inch wheels fit a 2009-2013 Subaru Forester? 265 70R15

Sadly, no they do not… stock.

The largest wheel that will fit a 2009-2013 Subaru Forester is 28″ in diameter. If you own a 2014 Subaru Forester or newer, well then you are in luck. As rumour has it, your vehicle will fit the 29″ wheels.

This is because 2009-2013 have a pinch weld in the front fender well.

Is it possible to fit 29 inch wheels in 2009-2013 Subaru Forester?

Yes, happy to confirm it is possible. They can be made to fit with simple modifications.

Update, what’s it like driving after 4 months?

I love it. It took a while to sort out the wheel rubbing inside the front wheel well when turning at full lock. That sound really drove me nuts.

Now that it’s quiet, I love it.

Our city got hit with the most snowfall I’ve seen in recent history. My snowbanks were 4 feet high. The large Toyo tires are perfect for these conditions. Many side roads were not plowed and vehicles were getting stuck in the huge amount of snow we’ve had.

With the lift and tires I have 13″ of clearance to the sidewalls and 11.5″ to the rear diff. You’re capable of getting through anything winter throws at you with this setup.

Why I went with 29″ wheels?

The plan for this Subaru is a winter driver to get out to the backcountry service roads for skiing. So I needed all terrain tires that were good in winter. And I needed approximately 12 inches of clearance, to clear the center ridge of snow pack.

Toyo Open Country A/T tires fit the bill perfectly. They are winter rated, well reviewed and the right weight for a Subaru.

I also installed the Flatout suspension lift.

Combined I now how 13″ of clearance to the sidewalls and 11.5″ of clearance to the rear diff.

*If I did not have these requirements I go with a 28″ A/T wheel setup.

What to do?

Step 1: Add a 1.5″ lift. I went with 2.3″

I wrote a post on how I installed that.

Step 2: Trim or roll the front pinch weld. 

This is fairly straightforward. Ideally you will want to keep the pinch weld.

First, remove the rubber wheel well liner.

Then, using a heat gun, heat up the exposed metal pinch weld.

Next, using a 4lb metal hammer, hit the pinch weld until it folds flat. You can also use a grinder to grind relief cuts. Word has it that it makes it easier to fold the welds, without damaging the integrity of the pinch weld.

This is not my picture but used as an example of relief cuts, found on a forum.

Sand the area to remove any rough spots and prep the metal for paint. Then using a wax and grease remover or rubbing alchohol, clean the area thoroughly.

Product I used to clean the pinch welds

And then prime it using a rust inhibitor primer.

Rust inhibitor primer

Next, paint it with a good quality paint. I used a paint for brake callipers. It’s overkill, but better safe than sorry.

Brake caliber paint

Then, once dry apply a silicone seam sealant over the entire area to prevent rocks or other debris from building up or contaminating the area.

Once finished, reinstall the rubber wheel well liner. You will need to trim the area where the rubber used to overlap the pinch weld with a sharp utility knife.

Then using the heat gun, heat up the wheel well liner near the pinch weld and press it flat. Hold it there with leather gloves or a block until it is cold. About 5 minutes.

Now you should have enough room for your wheels with no rubbing. If you notice any rubbing from the front of the wheel well, you may need to heat those areas with the gun and press and hold them to create more space for your wheels.

Since installing them, I’ve had to do a few minor adjustments to the wheel well with a heat gun to eliminate the rubbing on full locked turns. It is taking me a few tweaks to get it right.

And now you can confidently drive with your 29″ wheels on your 2009-2013 Subaru Forester. Have fun.

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Adventure Vehicle Journal On Vehicles Resource

Installing Flatout Suspension on a 2009-2013 Subaru Forester SH

This past weekend I installed the Flatout Suspension’s GR-Lite coil overs and Rallitek spacers. They arrived packaged in the box.

There were a couple things that to note for the install.

  1. They are longer than stock suspension. They do fit. I had to disconnect the front sway bar links to drop the control arm low enough. Then used a jack to lift the control arm. After that I reinstalled all the bolts. And presto, it was installed.
  2. If you hear a spring recoil noise when turning your front wheel after the install, this means the bottom lockout rings need to be tightened. To do this place the provided locking ring wrench on the locking ring and tap it using a hammer to tighten it. You’ll see it snug up an additional quarter turn. After that, the noise is gone.
  3. The top dampening adjustment is set to 0. I counted the number of quarter turns to tighten them up. Divided that by half and then set all the dampeners to half way. This gave me a good baseline. I could stiffen it (for cornering) or soften the bounce (for going over corrugated gravel), but it is feels good at this setting.

Step 1

On level ground measure the current ride height from the ground to the centre of the wheel well. This will give you the baseline height. After the install, you will measure each wheel again and you will know how many inches you’ve raised or lowered the vehicle by. You can then make adjustments to the ride height accordingly.

Step 2 setup the suspension

Front suspension: I adjusted the lower struts so the inserts were flush with the bottom. And set the top lockout ring so it is at 0 preload. Basically spin the lockout ring until it is snug against the spring so there is no up/down movement, but the spring isn’t too tight so it can rotate freely.

Rear suspension: Adjust the top lockout right so it is at 0 preload. Same as above.

Installing the front suspension.

I started with the front to get momentum.

Step 1 remove the wheel

Loosen the bolts while the wheel is on the ground.

Then lift the vehicle with a jack. Be sure to put a safety stand under the vehicle once jacked off the ground, so it doesn’t fall on you if the jack failed.

Remove the bolts and take off the wheel.

 

Step 2 disconnect the bolts holding the brake line and sensor lines from the strut

*Tip: I don’t have an impact wrench, so what I do is spray nuts with WD40 and hammer a wrench using a 5 pound rubber mallet. This breaks the nuts loose without damaging them.


Step 3 remove the bolts and nuts holding the strut to the vehicle’s hub.

Note: The top bolt is used for adjusting camber. There’s a washer on the top camber bolt. Make note of the position of the camber bolt if you want to retain the original height. (I didn’t do this as I had an alignment booked at a shop, but would have been easier to set camber had I marked it).

 

Step 4 disconnect the nuts from the top strut mounts

Then with one arm on the strut drop it out

Step 5 Install the new front strut

Remove the top mount nuts from the new strut, install the front strut and screw the new nuts on top.

Step 6 Install the bolts and nuts holding the strut lower to the hub

*Note I had to disconnect the sway bar link to drop the control arm enough for it to fit.

Step 7 reconnect the brake line and sensor brackets.

Step 8* reconnect the sway bar link

Using a jack under the control arm hub, lift it up until the sway bar link lines up. Then reconnect. I found this step straight forward.

Step 9 reinstall the wheel.

Hand snug the bolts while in the air, then tighten them when on the ground.

*Once finished installing the suspension check the bolts on all the wheels use a torque wrench to tighten them all to spec

Step 10* check the height of the your wheel well

Do this step after all suspension is installed to ensure the vehicle is level. After measuring the height of your wheel well compare it to the heights you measured on step 1. Now you can make adjustments to the suspension to raise/lower it to your desired height.

To raise the suspension on the front twist the whole strut assembly, and it will unscrew. Using the locking ring as a guide, you can measure the distance you’ve raised it. You can also add preload using the lockout ring at the top if you need additional height. Again, use the lockout rings to measure the space adjusted.

Step 11. Tighten the lockout rings

Once happy with the heights of your suspension use a hammer and the lockout wrench supplied and tap all the lockout rings tight. You’ll see it tighten approximately a quarter turn.

Now do the other front wheel (repeat above steps).

Installing the rear suspension.

Step 1. Remove the wheel (see step above)

Step 2. Remove the nut and bolt holding the sway bar end link to the lower control arm

 

Step 3. Remove the nuts and bolts holding the shock to the lower control arm and the lower control arm to the vehicle’s hub.

 

Step 4. Open the trunk and remove the carpets and foam filler pieces

 

Step 5. Remove the clips holding the seat back carpet panel to the trunk and fold the trim forward

Step 6. Remove the plastic trim piece that covers the upper strut tower. (both sides)

Step 7. Remove the 2 nuts holding the strut mount to the strut tower and remove the strut from the vehicle

 

Step 8 Install the new rear strut

Remove the top mount nuts from the new rear strut, install the rear strut and tighten the new nuts on top.

Step 9 Loosely reattach the shock to the control arm

Do not tighten these bolts until the control arm is at ride height. Otherwise the rubber parts will twist and wear out sooner.

Step 10 Using a jack, raise the control arm 

The Flatout suspension is longer than stock, so raise the control arm using a jack until the sway bar end link and hub mount line up.

Step 11 Loosely reattach the sway bar end link and hub with the control arm

Step 12 Load the suspension using the jack until it is holding the vehicles weight. Then tighten all the bolts.

Tighten the sway bar, shock, and control arm with the hub.

(Now do the same to the other side).

Step 13 Clip the side panel piece back in place

Step 14 Attach the clips holding the seat back carpet panel to the trunk and fold the trim back in place

Step 15 reinstall the foam pieces and the carpet pieces.

And you’re done. Almost.

Step 16 after all suspension is installed check and adjust the heights of your suspension around the vehicle. 

With the vehicle on level ground measure the heights from the ground the centre of the wheel well.

After measuring the height of your wheel well compare it to the heights you measured on step 1. Now you can make adjustments to the suspension to raise/lower it to your desired height.

To raise the suspension on the front twist the whole strut assembly, and it will unscrew. Using the locking ring as a guide, you can measure the distance you’ve raised it. You can also add preload using the lockout ring at the top if you need additional height. Again, use the lockout rings to measure the space adjusted.

To raise the suspension on the rear simply rotate the locking ring using the locking ring wrench. Use the lower lockout ring to measure the distance raised.

Once complete reinstall the wheels and torque to specs.

Congrats, you’ve installed your new Flatout GR Lite suspension.

I also installed the Rallitek subframe spacers to help center the rear wheel. I may add another article to walkthrough how I installed those. They were somewhat straightforward to install.

The Subaru Forester build:

From the beginning

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Adventure Vehicle Journal On Vehicles Resource

Do 15 inch Method 502 wheels fit a 2009-2013 Subaru Forester 2.5XT?

Yes!

The 09-13 Subaru Forester 2.5XT has bigger front brakes than the non-turbo Forester. So I was unsure if they would fit. Method’s website say they clear 300mm callipers. I checked the owners manual and the Subaru Forester’s are 300mm.

Hopeful they would clear the brakes, I nervously placed the order and waited patiently. And today they arrived so I pulled off the stock front wheel and test fitted them with success!

There’s plenty of clearance for the brakes and the gold/bronze looks like a dream with the white. Very happy.

Test fitting the 15 inch method 502 wheels on the Subaru Forester xt

The beginning of the Forester build is taking shape.

I went with 15″ wheels so that I could have more sidewall on the tire. This will allow me to deflate the tires more when needed driving over snow, sand and rocks. As well, the additional sidewall makes it less likely to hit the wheels when driving over pot holes, curbs or rocks.

Method 502 15x7 wheels on a 2009 Subaru Forester 2.5xt

 

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Adventure Vehicle Journal On Vehicles Resource

09-13 Subaru Forester XT – The start of an adventure vehicle

I’d been considering setting up an adventure vehicle to access the backcountry roads for ski touring. A 2009 Subaru Forester 2.5XT sat stored at our property for a year. It was my folks’ and then my younger brother’s until he got married and moved to the UK. It needed some work so they offered it to us. Finally the day came. Do we insure it? Or do we sell it?

Then it hit me… what’s better on the snow than a Subaru? All it needs is clearance for driving the winter forestry roads where I go.

Subaru is world renowned for their rally racing having won 47 World Rally Championship races. In Switzerland there’s a saying, “Subaru is the farmer’s Ferrari.” Which, when translated, means Subaru’s powerful AWD has a reputation for holding up on difficult terrain.

Subaru Rally

A mostly stock Subaru Forester took on the Sunraysia Safari Rally and nearly won. It lead the race up until the last 3 miles of day 3.


In 2009 the Subaru Forester XT won MotorTrend’s Sport/Utility vehicle of the year. MotorTrend wrote that the stock 8.9” clearance bested the stock Land Rover LR2, Toyota FT Cruiser, Ford Expedition, Honda Pilot, among others. Along with that, it has a surprising 63.0/30.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the front/rear seats. And the AWD system impressed MotorTrend with its capability.

2009 MotorTrend SUV of the year

There are a few other things that make the 4 speed Subaru Forester XT an interesting vehicle for enthusiasts. For one, the WRX/STI parts swap right in to the Forester XT. And even without modifying anything the vehicle can be tuned to increase gas mileage, horse power and torque. But… given the opportunity with a new exhaust and a couple of mods it can easily make 300hp. Why stop there? With the WRX/STI parts you can tune it for 400hp. Yet mere mortals drive 400hp. So some people tune it to 500hp – all with bolt on parts.

While handy when you’re late for work – for the adventure vehicle that I require… this is well beyond my needs. And not only that… maybe the most important feature of any adventure vehicle is reliability. So while I like the idea of tuning it for more torque at the low end – I think 500 horses ripping through the forest may be a bit much.

But arguably its single best trait is its low centre of gravity. This is due to the boxer engine, which not only reduces vibration because of the horizontally opposed pistons, it spreads the weight of the engine lower in the engine bay. It’s the thing that makes a Subaru so stable at high speeds and in rally races. In fact, the Subaru Forester is the only SUV that was not required to add a “risk of rollover” warning label when it entered the market.

In an ideal world the wheels stay on the ground while cornering

There are other features that make this candidate stand out. The turning diameter is only 34.4 feet. That’s 10 feet less than the very capable four door wrangler and 2 feet more than the nimble 2 door Suzuki Jimny. That’s outstanding for a four door SUV and simply means you’ll find it easier to manoeuvre while on the trails..

It has a multi-plate transfer case that distributes power to the front and rear wheels – while non-traditional in that it is not a differential – over the years it has proven faithful. What’s most interesting is how it splits the power. Is sends power from 60/40 to 50/50 front to rear. In other words, the front and rear will always be fully engaged with a 10% variation depending on the terrain. For example, while driving uphill 50% of the power will be sent to the rear wheels and while going downhill 60% will be sent to the front. And what’s incredible with this model year is that no matter the situation both the front and rear wheels will have a minimum of 50% or 40% power. That’s essentially the same as what a locked centre diff does and along with the VDC explains why it handles so well in loose gravel hill tests.

Gravel hill test

Feel free to watch the climb on Youtube here.

The Subaru has a unibody. Manufacturers are moving towards unibody chassis – think Hummer EV and new Land Rover Defender. The Subaru frame has been thoroughly tested in rally races and by enthusiasts alike. It’s torsionally stiff and lighter than a body on frame chassis. But if plan to add recovery points or a winch, it’s best to first mount a solid steel front or rear plate to distribute the load evenly across both sides of the frame.

Reinforced Steel Plate on the front bumper

Now you’re good to add a winch and build something fun like this.

Having owned the 2010 Subaru Impreza I know first hand how it drives in the snow. It’s incredible. I’ve also owned the 1999 Nissan Pathfinder R50 and the Mercedes GLK350. Between these three the Subaru is by far the best on the snow. It would spring to life in the winter taking on a personality all of its own. This is really what they’re known for.

 

Then the question for my purposes is… will it lift?

The stock 8.9″ of ground clearance on the Subaru Forester 2.5XT is fine. But ideally I would like more ground clearance for driving logging roads in the winter. The last thing I’d want is to find myself high centered out in the back country.

Well fortunately the answer is yes. There are suspension spacers and suspension lifts available giving you anywhere from 0.5″ to 4″ of additional clearance.

Flatout Suspension makes an adjustable set with spacers for the Forester that will give it an additional 2 to 3 inches of suspension lift. Not only will this give you more clearance, it will also increase the articulation of your wheels. Excellent.

To put this in perspective check out the RTI score, which is a measure of wheel articulation for a given wheelbase length. These are articulation scores a few vehicles get:

Gladiator Rubicon: 623
TRD Pro: 492
Colorado ZR2: 489
TRD Off-Road: 468
Colorado Z71: 410

With a 2” suspension lift the Forester gets a score of 535. That’s pretty impressive. The higher the score the more your wheel can lift vertically while the others stay on the ground. Helpful as you navigate obstacles as you’ll have more traction to roll over lumpy terrain.

There’s another area for improved clearance. Increased wheel size. I’ve seen people fit 31″ tires on a Subaru Forester with a lift and some finagling.

31″ wheels with a lift and some finagling

I’ve chosen to go with 29″ wheels as that will give me an additional 1 inch of ground clearance and it fits without any modifications required. The stock wheels on my Subaru Forester are 27″

All-in-all together with the suspension lift this should give our Forester a combined ground clearance of between 11.9 inches to 12.9 inches. Plenty for my needs.

But speaking of needs there is a world of options that allow you to modify this vehicle as your needs require. This is where the community supporting Subaru stands out.

To list a few of the more notable mods.

  1. A rear automatic diff lock by Torq Masters is available
  2. Lo/Hi dual range conversion is available by All Drive Subaru
  3. Cobb tuning kit to increase the stock mileage and power

The list goes on…

In conclusion the 2009 Subaru Forester 2.5XT may be just the adventure vehicle I’ve been looking for – and the funny thing is that it was right in my own backyard, figuratively speaking (it was actually parked on the side). It’s affordable, capable, easy to work on, comfortable, reliable, light weight, decent fuel mileage, and fun. While I’ve taken it on gravel roads locally I’m most looking forward to exploring the backcountry this winter.