Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Welcome to an alien world

I pondered treating this subject in verse because of the wonder.

This a 200 bhp Kawasaki ZX14 bike engine. Not a cutaway drawing but a photograph of an engine where metal has been removed to expose the innards. Cutaways have had a powerful, almost mystical, effect on me ever since childhood. Sounds pretentiously goofy, but just reflect.

Dismantling a mechanical device does not really reveal its secrets. One ends up with parts; the relationships between them are lost. But cutting down like this takes you into places where a human being has no right to be. Inside the cylinder head where temperatures may exceed 600 deg C. Down into the crankcase where the shaft rotates a hundred times a second. And a ringside view of how the shaft's rotation is converted into an up-and-down action to open and close the valves.

OK, none of these things will happen because of the surgery inflicted on this engine. But they're only an imaginary step away. Roller bearings, for instance, even out loads and reduce friction, preventing the engine from destroying itself. On their own they are simple, unexceptional metal cylinders. On a cutaway engine, however, I may see and touch them, set in their cages, their function obvious.

This little world is compact, purposeful, precise and shorn of unnecessary detail. Engines themselves are commonplace but their function is a series of interlinked actions that to a lay person are - or should be - minor miracles. And the cutaway allows us to look into this world as it is. It's not magic, it's real!


Plutarch said...

The relationship between parts is something to ponder on, the essence of design and a lot more. A piece of prose, this, which I half expected, perhaps through recently formed habit, to grow into a sonnet.

The Crow said...

I've loved cutaways ever since I received one of those books with transparent overlays that show the different layers of our anatomy, which led to a build-it-yourself model of the same. After all, we humans are machines, too. I like visiting science and industry museums for models that show you how things work, especially those geared toward kids, because they put the explanations in easy to understand language...plus, most of them are hands-on exhibits - pure heaven.

I relish learning how things work, and a cutaway is one of the greatest visual aids to understanding the mechanics of things. (I think there is magic of a sort in learning how things work, BB.)


marja-leena said...

I love how eloquently you express a sense of awe, wonder and appreciation for the beauty in the design and engineering in this machine. And what Crow said.

Lucy said...

It is a beautiful thing.

herhimnbryn said...

Beauty in all things. Just waiting for us to look. I hope avus reads your post bb:)

Barrett Bonden said...

Plutarch: I was on the brink of sonnetising, but I have a bigger verse fish to fry at the moment and concentration would have suffered.

The Crow: Should you ever step across the Pond, London's Science Museum would be a must. Even our two young daughters enjoyed Sunday afternoon trips there to "press the buttons".

M-L: I suppose it's yet another example of form following function. Things that work well well often look well.

Lucy: Can't do flowers or cathedrals but precision-cut metal races my motor.

HHB: I often think of him when I write.

Avus said...

A great post, BB (and thank you for "thinking of me", too!). I am with you all the way on it.
My brother in law and I were both volunteer motorcyclist trainers and both, at one time, worked in my father in law's blacksmith/engineering business. Together we sectioned an old BSA 500cc single engine (no where near the complexity of your Kwacker) - but it was great fun chopping out the bits to get a proper view of the works, and we painted the sectioning for clarity. Fitted a large handle to the crankshaft output so it would turn and we could demonstrate the full four stroke "Otto cycle" to the trainees. (I wonder where it is now?)

Barrett Bonden said...

Avus: I had a rigid-rear-end (I wonder what non-bike fans are going to make of that) 350 cc, single-cylinder BSA which was probably the bike I loved the least. Sectioning it would have accorded it too much dignity. I would have taken a great deal of pleasure in sharing your project, however, since there would have been the added pleasure of watching the push-rods go up and down. Are there any modern bikes with this form of valve actuation? Harleys, perhaps.