Wednesday, February 6, 2019

10 Years of Reviews - An Industry Perspective

Have fun asking Ruger for this
Limited Edition Mirror Polished SP101 9mm
10 Years and 650 Articles of Reviews - An Industry Perspective

2019 represents my official tenth year writing with over 650 published shooting industry articles. I was writing for another market for a decade before that, but the firearms and shooting sports industry has been a hoot and insanely entertaining. This writing thing that I do is thankfully not my real job and am not solely dependent on it to make a living. Over the years I started with just a few articles and it was Ruger’s Ken Jorgenson who first reached out to me and said “I love your articles, would you like to write for Ruger as an official writer?” He recommended me to a few other companies and that started snowballed into this whole journey. Today my reach includes writing for Shooting Sports Retailer, Tactical Retailer, Taylormade Media, All Outdoor Magazine, and recently I was also asked to start writing for Hunting Retailer, Predator Extreme magazines as well.  All that and I still have people wonder why I am not all about making Youtube videos full time for a lousy $5K a year in Adsense revenue. It is an interesting industry.

For me it has the equivalent of sitting on the top of a fortress with a cold beer and my binoculars watching everything happen during the zombie apocalypse. There have been some sad, happy and downright hilarious moments.

During that time I have seen pretty much everything from the good guys, the bad, and the grey area most people live in.  I have seen married industry guys “rent” hookers, drugs being done at SHOT, been called by suppliers A, B, and C asking if I knew anything about buyer D going out of business and stiffing them for millions of dollars. I have seen starry eyed me-too manufacturers spring up one year only to be dead broke and mentally crushed the next. There have been sex scandals involving coaches with their under age professional shooters, embezzlement, illegal overseas sales of firearms labeled as farm equipment (twice), and a whole boatload of grey-market and black-market skimming, theft, and embezzlement that occurring during the great firearm and ammo shortage. There is also two ladies fighting about who gets the pot of gold from a polymer gun empire. Here I am on the sidelines eating and throwing popcorn like I am having a night at the movies.

There have been some really great innovative ideas brought to the market including affordable precision rifles, amazing electro-optics, match grade triggers for everyone, and a shocking amount of innovation around our beloved AR format. Some of those truly amazing innovations for me include Proof Research Carbon Fiber barrels, SB Tactical Braces, anything from IWI, Hiperfire Triggers, the evolution of the piston guns thanks to PWS, along with dry feet and clothes thanks to really high tech fabrics. Other accessories I can not longer live without include the MagLula and MagPump loaders, affordable rangefinders, electronic game calls, shooting tripods, AR pistols and pistol caliber carbines.  There are also those sweet wonderful areas that have just continued to evolve like the 10/22 custom rifle market which now allows pretty much anyone to print sub-.5” 50-yard groups with thanks to Feddersen, Kidd, Volquartsen, Timney, and Magnum Research delivering amazing parts and rifles.

In that same time my contacts and industry executives have bounced from one company to another with the speed of a ping pong match. Sometimes it has delivered great things and other times people have just walked away from this crazy industry shaking their heads swearing.

About five years ago we really started to also see a trend with more and more women entering the sport than ever before. Girls and gals have thankfully been in the front line of competitive shooting, hunting, and media which has continued to draw in a the other 50% of the American public. Targeting to the female buyer has also moved the strategy of the yearly SHOT show from an indoor strip club to a real industry trade show like no other.

With the largest buying group since the Baby Boomers, the shooting industry either has a huge opportunity to resurge the shooting sports or the Millennials may be the last generation of gun owners. Talking to many knife retailers, Millennials are now buying knives at a record pace and that is a statistical indicator of future tactical firearms sales. These new buyers are both male and female and they are buying much differently than buyers in the past all based on a purchase behavior around the experience of using the product.

There are also the so-called “D-Grade” Youtube and TV celebrities of the firearms industry which no one really knows unless they are uber-into the firearms industry. There is the Miculek family of celebrity shooters who all seem like the nicest people on the face of the planet… and then there are others which do things like scream “do you know who I am” in the middle of the Ruger booth at SHOT show 2017. There is the beefcake and bimbos competitive shooter boom where anyone with a body worthy of branded spandex was gifted a professional advertiser funded sponsorship and 10,000 rounds a years of ammo to learn how to shoot. Meanwhile there have been some amazing shooters mature and grow up in the industry while doing the really hard work with the support of family and friends like Nate Staskiewicz. I personally sponsored Nate for years and he was invited to be part of the coveted competitive Army Marksmanship team after graduation - that was truly my honor to be a sponsor on his right shoulder all those years.

The last two years for me have been really telling with economist predicting a downturn. The only way for many in the firearms industry to survive by targeting the female and millennial aged shooters.  Without a significant political threat to our 2nd amendment freedoms, the next four years are going to be rough. The AR/MSR business is going to get even tougher with an estimated 1000+ companies manufacturing AR components up from just 29 in 2000. The market is not that big and all the big publicly traded and private companies like Ruger, Glock, Sig, S&W, Vista, and Mossberg are flooding product into the market this year just to keep sales numbers remotely close to previous years. I just bought a Shockwave 12-gauge for $250 which normally sells for $350 on sale, so don’t tell me product dumping is not happening.
Yeah I know, Barrett does not offer
stripped un-anodized lower.
But yet here one... actually I have three

This was an awkward year at SHOT show. Typically we see the little guys bringing the big innovation leaps to the market, but now SB Tactical is now not so small and neither is KAK/Shockwave. The large companies like Ruger, Mossberg and Sig are delivering real innovation on product customers actually want to buy. Companies like Brownells which have traditionally been distributing retailers are now also in the firearms and firearm parts game with innovative guns like Brownells Retro series of AR15s and competitively outselling the big box retailers. According to many other distributors, they are pushing hard for more distributor exclusive products that can retail margin and differentiation. Meanwhile conglomerates like Cerberus Capital Management (Remington) and Vista Outdoor are buying and selling companies at a shocking rate that is sure to destabilize a few of these brands.

The firearms industry is a wacky business run a “unique” cadre of people which it could not survive without. My friends… here is to another interesting ten years with the goal of passing the 1000 article mark. Cheers!

Monday, January 21, 2019

PWS MOD2 Custom Direct Impingement AR15 Pistol Build

PWS MOD2 Custom Direct Impingement AR15 Pistol Build

My all time favorite AR15 based firearms are the super trick looking lightweight forged MOD2 AR15s from Primary Weapons Systems. These long-stroke piston guns have delivered several thousands of trouble-free rounds without maintenance or even a drop of oil and they just keep running - neglect which a DI gun will not accommodate. PWS is most notable for being the long stroke piston operated AR-15 manufacturer and one which heavily emulates the functionality and reliability of the AK-47. The PWS Mod 2 long stroke gas piston system is absolutely incredible and arguably the most reliable AR15 format system made with quality surpassed by none, but I already have two of those and wanted to do something a little different the third time around with just their receivers.

With a sub-MOA premium stainless match grade Ballistic Advantage Hanson barrel in hand, what I really wanted to build a direct impingement gun for my third PWS based gun. PWS only sells piston systems and stripped lower but not their lightweight uppers. Luckily they have a sister company named Bootleg Inc which provides PWS upper parts for the direct impingement market. The result is that you can cobble together a PWS DI gun even though they do not make one. The lightweight forged upper and handguard are both Bootleg parts and the lower receiver is a PWS MOD2 stripped lower. 

PWS Receiver and Handguard - The handguard, upper and lower receivers, and CQB muzzle brake are all PWS. The PWS MOD2 MK107 receivers used for this build took all the great things about the original PWS MOD1 series pistols/rifles and built on top of that with refinements and additional weight savings through some creative engineering. For example instead of cutting a bunch of holes into the receiver to drop weight they designed the deep weight reduction reliefs into their own proprietary forgings while not opening the internals of the rifle up to dirt. 

Yes I did say forgings. The receivers on this firearm are not mil spec receivers PWS has milled down nor billet that has been milled. What we have here is a custom forged upper and lower made from PWS’ own proprietary forgings which come out of the forgings with all the reliefs you see featured. For the record that is a very expensive manufacturing path to develop proprietary forgings, but forging does deliver a stronger part pound for pound vs billet. Forged receivers by their nature are inherently stronger than billet due to hot metal grain structure flowing and aligning to the forging. 

The final metal grain structure is not linear, but instead flows with the contours of the shape which in theory delivers a stronger and more durable part. In the process of strategically lightening the receivers they ended up looking amazingly cool. The lower receiver features an integrated trigger guard, larger flared magwell, and inlets for all the extra ambi-parts. The upper receiver has been trimmed down though the reliefs, but also lightened with the omission of the forward assist. Other nice touches are beefing up certain areas to increase strength such as near the barrel extension union on the upper and also adding a captured ejection port door pin.

To assure the Ballistic Advantage Hansen Profile Match Grade ⅛ twist .223 Wylde barrel’s bark was redirected away from the shooter, a PWS CQB brake was attached. I have used this brake on many firearms over the years and personally believe any AR or AK intended to be shot indoors or adjacent to other shooters should not be without it. Only light earplugs are required for comfortable prone shooting all day. There is magic within that CQB flash hider that I have not found any other muzzle device to deliver. For short barreled guns, the flash hider seems to magically push sound away from the shooter.

The ultralight slim PicMod handguard is yet another PWS innovation which delivers standard picatinny rails which are also KeyMod compatible - Genius! PWS was able to also skim a few more ounces out of the new handguard design. The slim design also sucks in any attached lights into a narrower profile which limits snags.

Ballistic Advantage .223 Wylde Premium Series Barrel - This special .223 Wylde chambered 10.3 inch barrel is machined from 416 Stainless Steel with a bead blasted finish, Nickel Boron Coated Extended M4 Feed Ramp Extension, a proprietary BA Hanson tapered profile, match cut crown, and include a pinned lo-pro gas block. One particular note is that BA tunes their barrel gas ports to cycle reliably without being overgassed and assure this perfectly tuned function with an included gas block. The BA gas blocks are both screwed and pinned for reliable operation which will never loosen. The advantage of BA’s smaller gas port tuning on the barrel is that you really do not need an adjustable gas block to moderate an otherwise overgassed system, but the disadvantage is that these softer recoiling barrel gas ports are not designed to work with aftermarket piston kits as this usually require a bit more gas to operate. 

Over the years I have been writing for BA and using their barrels, they are definitely among the top tier of production AR15 barrel manufacturers and the Premium Series have always delivered sub-MOA. A great example here is that this 10.3-inch barreled rig with just a 1-5 Sig Optic delivers .75-inch 100-yards groups and 1-inch 125-yard groups all with just 40gr Fiocchi Vmax bulk pack rounds I use for predator hunting. If fed the really top tier match grade ammo from Hornady, Federal or Black Hills, the groups shrink further under .5-inch.

Sharps XPB Carrier Group Complete in NiB-X - Plainly put, this is the most technically advanced Bolt Carrier Group available anywhere for the AR15. Sure JP, YM, and Barnes are all the reining top tier Bolt Carrier Groups made with a precision not found elsewhere, but the Sharps XPB takes it a few steps further. In addition to the high precision, XPB adds a whole lot of design and technology upgrades. The Sharps BCG starts with full super premium S7 steel for both the carrier and bolt, 4120 and 4340 steel for pins, and then tested with MPI and HPT. The entire design is float balanced for optimal neutral weight shifting during cycling to deliver a smoother and more reliable cycle. Then they NiBx (Nickel Boron Teflon) coat everything for a self lubricating function. The included Sharps ReliaBolt delivers a design optimized for reliability performance beyond the design capabilities of typical AR15 bolts. In short, if you are not running a piston gun and still want extended operation beyond normal maintenance cycles, then you really should be running a ReliaBolt.  Well worth the $189 Sharps is asking for these complete XPB BCG.

Law Tactical Folding Adapter -  The Law Tactical AR15 Folding Stock Adapter transforms that short little high performing AR15 pistol into something ever shorter that can easily be slipped into most backpacks. The Law Tactical AR15 Folding Stock Adapter effectively allows that pesky buffer tube to be folded out of the way when not in use. Great even on stowable rifle, the Law Tactical Folding Stock Adapter can be used on any AR15 or AR10 rifle to reduce overall transport length which made it perfect to slip into our Sneaky Bag.

My other two nearly identical MOD2 PWS pistols were equipped with Maxim braces. These are super cool, look really trick, and functional, but cold steel rods also are not super comfortable to check weld up to and lay down behind for extended periods on a ice cold hunt. The Maxim braces also are longer when collapsed than the very packable Law Tactical Folding Stocks which would allow a backpack carry option.

SB Tactical SBM4 AR15 Brace - SB Tactical currently has over a half a dozen different brace options. This one felt like the most comfortable option for a scoped rig that gets shot a lot from the prone position. The SBM4 is SB’s update to the original brace design with an overall slimmer, lighter, and more ergonomic design which slips securely onto any AR15 pistol buffer tube with a light spray of rubbing alcohol and stays put. This is a great option for those that do not want an NFA firearm and retain a pistol designation or those that want to try out a gun before getting married to is with an NFA Tax Stamp.

CMC 3.5lb Flat Bow Trigger - The CMC triggers are amazing and have been for a very long time. The feel of this trigger in this build helps me deliver some rather outstanding sub-MOA groups and full length rifle owner would be proud of. Easy drop-in install makes the CMC triggers one great option for an AR15 trigger upgrade.

Sig Sauer Whiskey5 1-5x20 Optic
- Aftering becoming sold on the value of high quality optics, I am convinced that precision accuracy is more dependant on the clarity of your optics than it is on the gun. Sig Sauer is bringing some phenomenal optics to the market with clarity rivaling optics up to twice what Sig is charging. This $550 street priced Whiskey5 1-5x20 optic delivers stunning clarity and allows me to still easily punch .75-inch 100-yard groups with only 5x magnification - I call that a win.  

For this build I opted for a simple crosshair Hellfire Triplex reticle with center point illumination. I really have no intent to mess with the turrets unless my zero changes considerably from my Fiocchi 40GR VmAx rounds to the Hornady Full Boar ammo. If zero’ed at 100-yards, I can connect with anything between 50-250 yards with less than 2-inch of variance which is good enough and very fast for predator coyote and hog hunting. The Whiskey5 1-5x20 was mounted via a Aero Precision Ultralight 30mm Mount which I found to be one of the best lightweight yet rugged AR15 optic mounts on the market. 

Sneaky Bags 27” SPYDER bag - The SPYDER has the look of a tennis racket bag which makes transport even into after-hunt restaurants low key. Let’s face it, truck cabs off no placed to securely stash anything. The SPYDER was a perfect single sling pack for the fully assembled PWS pistol with 20-round magazine loaded plus offered a ton of storage for up to two PDW firearms, pistols, magazine optics organization and plenty of internal MOLLE and hook & loop for customization. 

Miscellaneous Parts & Cerakote - Other parts included a Phase 5 Tactical ambi charging handle, Magpul Grip, CMMG Pistol Buffer Tube & Lower Parts kit, and KNS Precision anti-rotation pins.  The receivers, handguard, buffer tube, and optics mount were coated with silver grey Cerakote. I certainly could have gone nuts here with all the crazy cerakote jobs now, but I wanted a greyman type gun which was subtly custom without screaming it.

This gun continues to impress me outshooting many full sized AR15’s I own. It really does beg the question why I would want a larger gun. As a strong skeptic of AR15 pistols early on, I now get why so many people like this format. It can be light, fast fun and super accurate.

It may sound a little nuts to us a shorter barreled gun with a bipod, but what I found was that a shorter 10’ish-inch barrel AR15 with stowed bipod is very maneuverable during stalking hunts through tight woods, can still deliver amazing accuracy and energy out to 250 yards, and is a sweet spot for limiting the snap and boom of a very short barreled AR15s. The format also cases and stowes easily and is considered a concealed pistol in most jurisdictions. This transport feature alleviates the fear of leaving the gun in the back seat of the truck to potentially get stolen to and from a hunt. That size is a great compromise for the needs of 90% of shots on hunts where you only have a few hours to hunt. 


PWS Upper - $180
PWS MOD2 Lower - $220
PWS CQB Brake - $149
Ballistic Advantage .223 Wylde Premium Series Barrel - $220
Sharps XPB Bolt Carrier Group - $189
Law Tactical Folding Adapter - $229
SB Tactical Brace - $120
CMC Trigger - $195
Sig Sauer Whiskey5 1-5x20 optic - $550 
Aero Precision 30mm Scope Mount - $99
Sneaky Bags 27” SPYDER Bag - $180
KNS Precision Anti Rotation pins $30
Misc Parts - $80
Silver Grey Cerakote $300
Total $2,741

Primary Weapon Systems -
Ballistic Advantage -

Friday, January 11, 2019

Feddersen Bronze Nickel Alloy 10/22 Receiver and Barrel Update

Feddersen Bronze Nickel Alloy 10/22 Receiver Review

Many of your know Feddersen from my numerous articles noting the mind blowing accuracy of his 10/22 barrels and also a review of his stunning Bronze Alloy 10/22 billet receiver I reviewed about a year ago. To catch everyone up in the event you have not read the above linked article, this building included:
- Feddersen 10/22 Receiver
- Kidd 1.5-lb Single Stage Trigger Unit
- Feddersen 16.25” Fluted Bull Barrel - Muzzle Threaded
- Kidd Charging Handle
- Kidd Match Bolt
- Victor Titan Stock
- The orignal Nikon 3-9 ProStaff scope worked well, but was not able to really allow this gun to stretch its legs beyond 75-yards accurately... yes beyond 75-yards.

I will save you the scroll ahead. This rig delivers sub-1" groups at 125-yards if I do my part. See attached 125-yard group with CCI Velocitor ammo. This is great news and allows me to not worry about my zero changing all while still delivered very tiny .116-inch 5-shot 50-yard groups with Lapua Center-X. Insane accuracy. I love this gun.

1-inch squares still seem a little large
for the precision of this rifle even at
Last weekend I was able to just shoot away the afternoon nestled into a friend's range on a gorgeous 60-degree day with a pack full of ammo. These days do not get any better than that when you are just alone on the range, quietly plunking away with your Ruger Suppressor muffling the snap of the Ruger 10/22 to a quiet "plunk". There is no better therapy.

I had decided to swap to a Lucid L5 4-16 optic with parallax adjustment and a very nice fine detailed BDC reticle design. Really more than anything I wanted a very fine reticle and also wanted the BDC so I could quickly snap shots of various ranges.  The Lucid 4-16 did that beautifully. 

At this point I know that I am zero'ed at 50-yards with SKPlus Standard two hashes down for 75-yards, four hashes down for 100-yards, and six for 125-yards.  It really is pretty handy and the precision is close enough to minute of rodent hits. Super precision is just a click of two off from those reference points. 

I have Kidd, Volquartsen, Tacitacl Solutions, Clark, Stock, Whistlepig, and even Force, but time and time again the Feddersen barrels are just problem free with ammo, consistant, and super easy to just pull a SwabIt through the bore and be done. Obviously the accuracy does not suck either. This is an 1/8" gun at 50-yards with the right ammo. The prefered subsonic ammo just cannot hold it together like a hyper velocity round like the CCI Velocitor which the Feddersen loves. 

The company is known by many names; Feddersen, R4,, and  Feddersen is a name people in the industry know very well. The company was founded in 1979 by Fred Feddersen and has become rather famous for his world record breaking patented R4 SIPR .50 BMG gun barrels.  Fred prides himself on offering the straightest bores in the industry all thanks to his patented process and machines. Each and every step of their in house barrel production is unique and in fact their entire process is patented and a trade secret process.

Unlike many barrel or firearms manufacturers, Feddersen is not buying pre-rifled blanks and just finishing them to their own specs, they are producing 100% of their barrels in house from solid round bar stock.  They have a special drilling process, a patented ultra-sensitive lapping/honing process, unique patented and proprietary SEPR - Single Edged Polygonal Rifling, and one of the few companies in the world which offer a barrel with near perfect centricity and straightness between the bore and profile. 

Amazingly enough their 10/22 barrels start at only $145, The voodoo that Fred’s patented design and trade secret process delivers superb accuracy which rivals the best barrels anywhere. The 10/22 is a pet project of Fred and he continues to deliver new products for the platform including a wide variety of barrels including take-down models and also these receivers.

Fred offers the receivers in two bronze alloys and aluminum versions. Fred decided on a high bronze content alloy to deliver several advantages.

The bronze nickel based alloys are considerably heavier than aluminum which delivers a stiffer and more substantial feeling 10/22 build which in turn should deliver improved accuracy. The Feddersen Bronze Nickel 10/22 receiver is also naturally slick and for the most part self lubricating. I can tell you that the Kidd Innovations Match bolt glides back and forth like it is on bearings - it is amazingly smooth.

Feddersen integrated an extended 1913 spec picatinny rail into the receiver. Another notable feature is the barrel trunnion v-block area is spec-ed to precisely fit a .920 bull barrel profile, so instead of a gap around the barrel, the trunnion actually provides support to assure there is no barrel droop without any special mounting requirements.

Feddersen now are in full production of the 10/22 receivers in Bronze Alloy, Bronze Nickel Alloy, and Aluminum billets versions.  The Bronze Alloy Nickel Alloy are $350 retail, this silver colored Nickel Bronze Alloy $375, and Aluminum $275 billets versions. All are available on his site -

The Feddersen barrels alone deliver stunning sub-¼-inch 50-yard accuracy which deliver tricks such as like slicing cards at 25 to 50 yards with the right ammo. The receiver did indeed tighten up my groups even further compared to factory receivers. For this build I choose a 16.5-inch fluted bull barrel with threaded muzzle to use suppressed. A Kidd Innovations match bolt, 1.5-lb single stage trigger, and V-block were used to complete the build along with a Victor Titan stock and Nikon 3-9 ProStaff optic with adjustable objective.

My a point of impact did not change when suppressed at 50-yards with my favorite SK Standard Plus round with my AAC Ti-Rant suppressor installed or removed.

The Feddersen 10/22 receiver is something unique, delivers many features expected of top tier receivers plus the slippery benefits of bronze and the full support of a trunnion v-block area. The raw material look of the bronze alloy is also unique as nearly every other 10/22 receiver is aluminum and colored with some type of anodizing. I like there there is another high end receiver option for 10/22 builders to choose from beyond the typical options such as Kidd, Volquartsen, and Tactical Innovations. What I liked most from this receiver was that it delivered a solid tight beefy-ness to the build that no other receiver offers and with that the potential for improved accuracy - I am certainly thrilled with .116-inch 50-yard groups.

Nickel Bronze Alloy $375 retail

Feddersen 10/22 Receiver
Kidd 1.5-lb Single Stage Trigger Unit
Feddersen 16.25” Fluted Bull Barrel - Muzzle Threaded
Kidd Charging Handle
Kidd Match Bolt
Victor Titan Stock
Nikon 3-9 ProStaff scope

FJ Feddersen, Inc. -
Kidd Innovative Designs -

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Ohh Christmas Tree, Ohh Gun Themed Christmas Tree

Ohh Christmas Tree, Ohh Gun Themed Christmas Tree

After seeing well a little over a hundred gun locks collected over the years hanging from a shelf in the garage, Mrs Pandemic said “hey I can use those… for a Xmas tree” Perplexed, I asked if she was concerned whether someone would steal our tree. The answer was “no stupid, for tree decorations”, and thus began the quest for the remainder of the year to find firearm themed tree decorations. 

I will note that Mrs Pandemic did a beautiful job on the tree to the point that from a distance it looks like a regular decorated tree. 

Up close, holiday visitors will see about five pounds of black gun locks were hung with care on the silver and black themed tree along with stainless grenade and drink cooler bullets, peace and Christmas ornaments, and chicken wire ribbon. 

A couple of the coolest ornaments were the dozen 300 Win Mag nickel cases I seated black moly silver tip bullets, the Texas shooting star topping the tree which was a modified tree star with cardboard target circles cut out and stick on Birchwood orange targets attached. 

For those with sharp eyes, the apparent PWS Primary Weapons Systems theme may be obvious. The story behind that was purely accidental. During my last AR15 based PWS 9mm Carbine pistol build, a PWS keychain bottle opener was included in the box. 

After struggling to find little gun ornaments that “did not look like plastic garbage”, Mrs Pandemic scoped up the little cast metal bottle openers and asked can if I could get fifty more of these? 

 A call to PWS peaked their interest in what I would be doing with fifty of their bottle openers which lead to a discussion about the tree. This is a time being a writer has a few perks.

PWS not only offered up a volume discount for bottle openers, but threw in a few other overstock keychains from previous years, and also offered me an “overstock” deal on PWS AK74 CBQ brakes which were already on sale from $150, to $70. Ornaments complete.

For those familiar with the PWS CQB brake it is not only the best CQB entry brake on the market, fifteen of them hung via paracord make beautiful bomb-proof tree decorations and can be year around accessories as ornaments during Christmas, conversation pieces on desks, and of course excellent muzzle brakes for your next build. 
At least that was how PWS positioned it to me. 

A few of these may get stolen from the tree post holiday for non-ornament use thanks to some 1/2-28 to M24 and 5/8-24 to M24x1.5 muzzle adapters. Of course I placed two of my favorite PWS AR pistol builds next to the tree. If you need awesome ornaments, I would check out PWS and of course they make some mighty fine firearms as well.

We also found that you can get custom gift wrapping paper with your own image form It is not cheap nor fast, but it is premium quality.  They have a great selection of really good gun themed paper already, but we uploaded a few of our own including a PWS pistol and is looked awesome on the paper.

Continuing the theme, Mrs Pandemic found a Howitzer ammo crate which was decorated with led wire lights referencing all the fences we hunter cross during a hunt. Topping the crate are Champion Clays, a deer antler, and hunting themed nutcrackers. 

A glitter deer flanks the other side of the tree. It is great to see non-gun people see the tree and note how beautiful it is and then start to sputter a bit as they realized all that beauty is gun stuff. I did have to stop my wife from slipping her custom grade Benelli 828U under the tree, because we too believe this is a beautiful way to celebrate the holiday.

Merry Christmas everyone, God Bless, and have a wonderful 2018 and 2019!

Monday, December 3, 2018

BMW R80RT Badlands Cafe Racer Project Part 1

BMW R80RT Badlands Cafe Racer Project Part 1

This really is not a rags to racer story, but more of a jem to jewelry story that started over twenty years ago. This represents the Part 1 of the journey as I tear down and morph this BMW R80 into a cafe racer of my dreams.

During the time my wife and I were struggling through undergrad and graduate school, my wife said the only way I would get back into motorcycle riding was with my next wife and so the story went for about two and half decades. 

Mountain bikes and recently ebikes marginally satisfied my desire to get back on a motorcycle all while still remaining faithfully married - a load of fun, but not growling power of motorcycling. Eventually, she suggested restoring cars, but after noting we don’t have a spare three stall garage and my continual stream of whining, wailing, and annoyed her enough she relented to me restoring motorcycles. The caveat was ONLY if I could find my mythical later 80s or early 90s BMW R80.

Why a BMW R80? The BMW R80 (800cc) motorcycles were gentlemanly air cooled horizontally opposed dual cylinder bikes with enough power and torque to keep things very exciting. They were widely know to be just as comfortable puttering around town at 20 mph and 85 mph on highways all with enough stability and weight to feel planted on the open road. I wanted this era BMW Airhead because they are notoriously easy to work on for the garage wrencher, have shown to increase in value, can literally be infinitely rebuilt for 100s of thousands of mile, and deliver a heart throbbing sound of a tractor with two giant cylinders hanging out each side. Notably, pretty much any older BMW updated, restored, or even converted or chopped tend to bring premium values.

A broadcast went out across a three state area to every dealer, bike collector, and friend of a friend I could dig up a number for - “please mister… could you spare a BMW R80?” In a part of the country which only recently got its first BMW and Ducati dealerships in the last decade, finding a thirty plus year old BMW was not expected to be easy. Nearly a year went by and then I got a call from the used powersports dealer just a few miles from my house. “We have a 1983 BMW R80RT, but the owner will only leave it here for six hours and… it is also in your price range.” The R80RT was the “luxury Race and Touring model” with all the bells and whistles, race and touring fairing, loads of storage, factory steering damper, and even had a clock.

Two hours later I was the proud owner of not “just a 1983 BMW R80RT”, but a third owner, full maintenance history, already had the top end work done, carbs rebuilt, purrs like a kitten, oil tight, and you can put 100 miles on this on the way back from your motorcycle driving test no problem 1983 BMW R80RT. The previous owner talked to me for over a hour about all the maintenance schedules he followed in such passionate detail that a German engineer would get teary-eyed. The $1900 flew out of my pocket - it was a steal about $3000 under book value, but the owner just wanted the bike to go to a good home.

The goal though was not to restore a BMW R80RT to its former glossy red Race Touring glory, but instead to create one of those super custom, clean and tidy Cafe Racer BMW R80s you see in European Pinterest posts. Obviously, starting with a perfectly functioning R80 put me way ahead on the project and delivered loads of fun before the build even started.

The overall strategy for converting any groovy older bike to a sleek badass cafe racer is to strip off the bodywork, remove all the unneeded parts, swap out old giant subframe for a short cafe racer subframe and seat, add on clip-ons, billet rearset, update the electrics, and finish it all off with some pretty high-tier billet goodies. Add in inspection of all the seals, a new set of tires, swap out all the fluids and filters, some fresh powder-coat and paint, and some shock upgrades. It sounds like a lot of updates and upgrades that can add up to $3000 easily when you also add in some well needed electrical upgrades. Stock BMW’s are increasing in value and custom BMW’s are selling for $9K+. Well maintained BMW Airheads can deliver well beyond 300K miles to owner so the investment is smarter than dumping that money in many other brands and a valid reason BMW R-series bikes are coveted and usually pricey.

As with any used bike, regardless of condition, the first thing to be done was replacing filters and all fluids. In this case everything looked great, but the filters and fluids were swapped anyway. The nearly bald circa 1990s tires were swapped to go anywhere knobby Continental TKC 80s. I love the look and also love the concept that the TKC 80 tire has no limits and still handles great on the road. The tire has proven itself globally as a all terrain on and off road tire even at 80+ MPH highway speeds and was perfect for my Major Pandemic Badlands Cafe Racer concept.

Initial issues were really around understanding the R-series BMW itself and its idiosyncrasies including how all the crush washers seal and the capacities. For example I was attempting to chase down leaks at my shifter input and the rear hub which was covered in oil after replacing my rear tire and rear transmission, shaft and hub fluids. The culprit was a barely out of balance rear TKC 80 tire which at around 60 MPH would vibrate just enough to shake oil out of the hub’s vent hole and vibrate oil out of the shifter input seal. With the wheel balanced the problem resolved itself even after topping off the oil levels. Another leak was resolved with understanding the right torque to keep the seals intact and leak-free. The $40 Clymer Manual was expensive, but the most important tool you can purchase when working on any bike. For the most part, these older carbureted bikes are both simple and frustrating at times with most issues caused by either rushing or overthinking the issue.

My style of building guns has been to have all the parts and then start the build. I absolutely loathe having to do partial upgrades one little bit at a time, tearing things down again and again. Some folks love this, but that level of patience escapes me. My preference with any build has always has been to prevent tearing everything down multiple times - usually this prevents a lot of damage and replacement along the way of finishes and fasteners.

If you have a new current bike, it is easy to just say you want to upgrade the muffler, or swap out some lighting. On an old bike one part swap typically has a cascading impact to many other components. Electronics upgrades are a good example of this. Old bikes tend to drain batteries much quicker than newer LED lite bikes thanks to the old high current incandescent lights and thirty year old electronics, but adding LED lights usually means adding extra resisters or even requiring an entire electrical upgrade. While doing that same exercise stripping down a fairing equipped 1983 BMW R80RT, requires all the blinkers to have additional LED conversion blinker resistors, all new new signals with mounts, and potentially all new wiring.

As builder, if you are going this care then a complete Motogadget m-unit electrical system upgrade is smart to improve reliability & looks while increasing features to a very modern level in the process, but requires a full rewire of the bike.

To further clean up looks, most builders opt for a tiny Antigravity lithium battery pack. These tiny battery replacements are about 1/10th the weight of OEM batteries and less than ¼ the size all while being easy to tuck out of sight. Upgrading to lithium batteries also has a cascading requirement to upgrade the rectifier so the new Lithium battery does not get overcharged. These old bikes are money pits, so be prepared.

Revzilla was a heck of a resource for my safety gear which included a Speed and Strength Hi-Viz versions of the Power and the Glory armored mesh gloves and Midnight express Jacket with included CE armor. Frankly the quality on the Speed and Strength products was great for the money and I also added one of their helmets which I added tasteful accents of reflective tape for even more visibility. Having ridden back in my youth and a whole crap load of street riding on bikes that if drivers cannot see you, they will hit you. As bicycle rider I generally am wearing a safety orange shirt which I can tell you has saved my butt too many times to count. The hi-viz jacket and gloves you can see me from over a mile away which is exactly what I wanted.

To keep the distracted driven thing to a minimum and also provide for music and the ability to communicate with other riders I choose to add a Sena SMH-10 Bluetooth Headset. For just over $150 it is an excellent add on which I think adds a margin of safety from a communication perspective.

SEAT - After a month of agonizing over a myriad of upgrades, styles, and looks, the start of any cafe project is getting the seat and rear subframe right. This typically involved shorting the long seat subframe while delivering a retro look. A lot of builders break out the angle grinder and a welder to take an almost three foot stock subframe down to around 18-inches. The usual process after the chop and weld is then to top with a cafe racer seat and rear cowl. That simple process takes lot of experience to get right. With that noted, Pinterest delivered loads more bad frame chop jobs than good ones. Several used bikes I looked at were destructively butchered.

The safer...and easier route is to go with one of the many bolt on replacement subframes and yes, there are a dozen various aftermarket BMW R-series cafe racer subframes on the market. There are also a variety of cafe subframes for other non BMW vintage brands such as Yamaha and Honda. Unbolt the factory subframe and bolt on the new aftermarket cafe racer subframe and matching seat kit and the rear end is done in about the same time as replacing a slip on muffler. This sounds like it takes out some of the fun, but the reality is for around $500 the bolt up subframe/seat solution delivers an easy professional option that is done in about twenty minutes.

I decided on a Vonzeti cafe racer T92 subframe, T67 seat, and seat base to deliver the cafe racer look. Vonzeti products are very highly regarded, all handmade with options for various seat fabrics, cowl colors, and are also available in completely custom subframe designs. I choose the T92 subframe and T67 seat but upgraded to a synthetic microsuede with a custom square sewn seat pattern.  Vonzeti also sells a matching flat metal seat base which allows an otherwise rounded hollow seat cowl house ugly electronics out of eyesight under the seat. Vonzeti is based in England and will ship anywhere to most countries around the world. About two months after ordering, I had my custom made order in hand and it is gorgeous.

ELECTRONICS - Everything on this 35-year old bike worked, but beyond a replacement regulator, the electrics were all original stock and delivering heavy battery drain. The older the electrics are, typically the less efficient and reliable they become. The headlight and signals were really quite dim compared to modern lights and from a safety perspective were due for an upgrade. Though a relatively new battery was installed just a few years ago, about once a month the battery required a boost on a battery charger/minder. Many old R80 owners know the stock alternator is not super high output and unless longer rides are the norm, this kickstarter-less R80 will end up with a dead battery - so I ordered an Antigravity Micro-Start XP-1 to tuck into a pocket for a little insurance.

The OEM set of two horns sounded pitiful since one horn was nearly dead it made the sound of a loud dying cow. Kind of a Beep-ooooohhhhhh sound. I also noticed that every time I used the horn that the next ride my battery would be dead. I replaced the dual horn set up with a insanely loud Denali Soundbomb Mini Horn and OMG are these loud.

With the new breed of aftermarket electronics available for the vintage builder, it is hard not to consider a top-to-bottom electronics and a wiring upgrade to improve reliability and drop the current load off the battery. The $310 Motogadget M-Unit and $380 M-Unit Blue are the most well regarded vintage cycle digital electronics upgrades on the market. These premium tier German electronics are about half the size of a deck of cards, include modern digital self-resetting breakers for all of your electronics which eliminates often problematic fuse boxes - and can be completely programmed with a variety of features including special flasher modes, fault programing, built in alarm, loads of automated safety features, configurable outputs, and even a smartphone keyless start on the m-Unit Blue model. 
The Motogadget m-Units are actually cheap considering all the deliver including the most reliable vintage bike possible. Motogadget also has a full line of premium quality custom level mirrors, high output LED signals, tachometers and speedometers all of which I included in this build.  If you do go this route, I highly recommend buying the Motogadget wiring kit as well as it is a spectacular time saver and not a bad deal for all that color coded wiring.

For my build, I used the Motogadget m-Unit Blue, bar end LED signals, bar end mirrors, rubber grips, and a retro vintage style Motorscope Speedster speedometer to greatly clean up the electrics, reduced the overall power consumption, and delivered a super clean customer look. The bar and LED signals are particularly trick in that they are directionally designed to optimize super bright light output to everyone except the rider. The rider just sees a subdued flash.  Revival Cycles super bright $15 LED Supernova Turn Signal & Brake Lights rear brake and indicators we used at the rear. Paired with the Motogadget m-Unit these tiny ¾-inch combo LED indicators deliver brake, fade-in/fade-out, flash emergency braking, left and right signals all in a tiny super clean design that is annoyingly bright and sure to get and keep drivers attention - a super custom but huge safety upgrade.

The stock 7-inch BMW headlight is a huge but was built with 30+ year old technology and needed an LED upgrade. The ugly headlight bucket is attached via an even uglier mount hidden under the fairing. I removed the OEM headlight mount and used EMGO fork mounted aluminum headlight bucket mounts and swapped out the stock headlight and bucket with a HogWorkz 7” LEO Halomaker and new Bikemaster headlight bucket. This added a bit of modern look to this otherwise classic themed build and drops the overall current draw by about 40%.

The Midwest is either blisteringly hot or cold much of the rideable season so I did add Symtec Heat Demon Heated Grips. Sure the goal is to reduce current draw, but these on low setting are not a huge draw on the electrical system and are typically only used on longer rides when the charging system is humming along anyway. Probably the best money spent on this entire build.

The Motogadget Motoscope Tiny Speedometer packs an accurate digitally controlled and calibrated stepper motor speedo, integrated warning, turn and signal lights all in a tiny 2-inch wide speedo. Again the Motogadet Multi-Conductor Cable is recommended for simplified hookup. One missing component was a tachometer which was fulfilled with a Motogadget Motoscope Mini which was tucked under the handlebar controls. At only 2.32" L x 0.85" W x 0.51" H, the Motoscope Mini can disappear on the big all while offering full digital speedo, tach, clock, trip & total odometer, trip timing, and rev limit warning. I do tend to wind up this R80 into the lively redline and needed insight into where I am precisely in my rev range.

All those gauges into
one little 2-inch gauge
in Oshmo billet beauty Clamp
FOOT CONTROLS & BILLET - Oshmo is an outstanding beautiful custom builder of BMW related accessories for the vintage builder. Several of the very cool accessories are BMW R-series specific top clamp with integrated Motogadget Motoscope Speedster speedometer and the rear foot controls used to slide foot placement back about six inches. For Beemer bike guys, Oshmo’s billet bits are not just me-too mass produced imports, they are amazing premier quality CNC machined parts made here in the US. I opted for the mirror polished top triple clamp which increases fork stiffness and collapses all the speedo and warning lights into a super clean single piece of billet. Even when new the factory steering damper does little other than to help the bike track with crosswinds, so I locked it in high position and removed the adjustment knob to clean up the overall look of the top clamp. Later, a modern steering damper may be added to the chassis.

The Oshmo rear sets are a true work of art with curves that minimic the curves of the BMW and come complete with billet polished shifter input and connecting linkage. There are a variety of imported BMW R-series rear sets, but these are simply stunning.

To get the lowered look of a cafe racer without wrist breaking discomfort, I chose high-rise Tarozzi clip ons for “the look” while preserving the comfort of a low-rise straight handlebar. The Tarozzi multi-mount setup delivers class leading mounting flexibility with complete adjustability. The mounts were machine polished to match the Oshmo billet top triple clamp.

Racing style Monza gas caps have been a fixture of cafe racer builds mainly due to their long history as the style of gas caps used in aircraft and then racing. The style dates back the 1930s and is neither light nor the worlds best gas cap, but it is crazy cool looking and prevents a lot of refueling scratching to expensive paint jobs. The OEM BMW cap is also notoriously failure prone often locking itself in place. Having had a few issues already with my cap, a replacement was due.  There are the many BMW compatible versions, some cheap and some solid billet. This version is the $180 later version which installed historically backwards, just to be a smart ass. Triumph recently introduced a faux Monza cap on a new bike installed backward allegedly to improve safety in accidents and Monza induced scrotum ripping (Google it). The direction of the Monza cap is a conversation piece.

ENGINE, BRAKES & EXHAUST - The engine was in great shape with the exception of a tune up, but I upgraded to re-pop vintage peanut style valve covers from Bob’s BMW which I machine mirror polished along with new exhaust nuts. The factory exhaust was wrapped with black titanium 2-inch wrap, secured with stainless wrap ties, and tipped with chrome Dime City Cycles Norton Commando 19.5-inch exhaust. The $160 peashooter style muffler set is inexpensive, but deliver the delightful grumble from the BMW that we love paired with great looks.

The front brake rotors are still in good condition, but brake pads were upgraded to EBC High Performance Brake pads for the duel disks and the rear drum. This upgrade delivered a sizeable increase in stopping power with just a brake pad swap.  Apex cycle Shop makes a billet aluminum brake reservoir cover that updated the look of the integrated factory hand controls just a bit. The reality of the dual front disk and rear drum is that the rear does very little unless you are literally standing on the rear brake pedal. The rear brake is better with new drum shoes, but I wanted a lot better brake bit up front than what a dual piston caliber can offer. Currently I am working to retrofit a set of used R1100RT Brembo four piston calipers to further increase braking performance and will post how that works out.

SUSPENSION UPGRADES - The thirty-five year old front suspension was in delightfully great condition thanks to the previous owner’s meticulous maintenance, but I really wanted a vintage look bike with modern suspension. The seals were good, the shocks were smooth, and there were no leaks. The easy route was just a simple shock fluid swap which was done shortly after purchase, but if a builder wants a more modern and advanced race suspension feel, aftermarket suspension upgrades are available.

It used to be that you were stuck with whatever front fork setup the bike came with but now, we have other options to upgrade the existing valving to modern compression and damping levels. My plan is to use RaceTech Gold Valves which are one company that offers a stock suspension Gold Valve upgrade insert which adds adjustable compression and dampening to a stock BMW R80 front shocks. The RaceTech upgrade delivers nearly the same performance as a new advanced fork. Instead of a $3000 Suzuki GSXR front shock swap, as is often done, a builder can drop about $700 for a complete front fork upgrade with RaceTech including upgraded progressive springs, seals, valving, refinishing and anodizing the fork stanchions - in essence a new fork set. As the build progresses, the fork will go to Racetech.

At the rear, the process is more of an easy shock swap to an upgrade to a current suspension.  I am still deciding between the $500 YSS and $800 Ohlins rear shocks which deliver tunable preload adjustment. The Ohlins are kind of winning in my mind. With the RachTech and Ohlins suspension setup this has delivered a giant jump in both ride quality and cornering confidence for other builders.

PAINT & FINISHING TOUCHES - The next steps after all the components were fitted and needed mounting tabs were added, removing any extra OEM factory tabs were ground off to clean up the frame, the frame will get powder coated. Yes, it is a pain in the butt to strip the frame and replace all the bearings, reassemble and re-wire but there is nothing else that transforms a bike like a strip and powder coat. In the case of this old BMW’s which has a few areas which have been brush painted over the years, powder coat will be a substantial upgrade to the finish.

Stay Tuned for Part 2