All posts by atomicalex

In October, I started a new task – I began learning Japanese. I’d discovered a sister plant to one of my three at work, a plant in Kakogawa, Japan, and decided that if the only thing holding back a lot of communication was language, that was not an excuse. It’s morphed into something I never expected – a new cultural experience that is augmented by two slightly Japan-nutty kids.

I’ll be writing more about the experience over the next few months.

Please check out Tom Nardone’s new project – Trash Fishing. Please go trash fishing.

We do this in the Rouge River behind our house with high boots and  laundry baskets, but Tom’s method sounds like a lot more fun. Laundry baskets remain key to the operation, so don’t forget yours. 

Possibly a strange habit, but I like to take cars as received to a track I know to get a baseline. Also a bit of a baseline for me as I’ve spent my track career in FWD VWs.

Saturday was the day for my bone stock ’18 PP BRZ.

Grattan is a challenging a fun track and is Michigan’s little piece of heaven. If you haven’t been there, imagine those videos of the Nordschleife and cut it down to just over two miles. It is truly a wonderful place to drive. I’ve got a lot of laps there, but the last time out there was about eight years ago. That is a lot of ground to make up.

One thing that helped me was that I was assigned to do the classroom for the novices. I actually love doing this. Club day, so we try to make sure no one gets in the (literal) weeds. No, seriously. The bottom of the track is a swamp, complete with turtles. For a first day out, it was actually really helpful to go through the routine with them and put myself in the novice mindset. I ended up basically driving control (this appears to be a motorcycle thing) and doing lead follow laps with all of the assorted novices. This had the side effect of forcing me to pay strict attention to my lines instead of just screwing around. I found myself able to go much deeper into the turns than I expected and what traction I had was useful for pushing turning.

One new challenge at Grattan is a repave of sections of the track with some very weird tar surface. Grattan is challenging enough dry, but this surface and water did not agree. I experienced something new to me – skittering. I have not experienced a car hopping sideways across the track before. That was rather unsettling, because it was a start-stop behaviour instead of a slide. There was not a whole lot of steering into it as that just caused the traction control (even light) to go nuts. I have not perfected the pedal dance yet, so getting rid of all of it was not an option.

I have to address that being new to RWD (except for about 5 years as a kid) cost me a ton of time. It’s like learning to drive all over again. I have a good feel for pushing the car, but not for sliding it yet. The skittering was really off-putting and once I figured it out, it was a matter of keeping two wheels on the old pavement at all times. I needed a lot of laps to get my reference points back (needed as the track drops away in several places) and I am a lot rustier than I had hoped. I’m pretty good everywhere except turn 3 now. 3 makes the Corkscrew seem like a walk in the park. It’s so blind (downhill and off camber left) that it is now officially the track exit, mostly because people freak out and drive off right there. I think it took me several days to get it the first time, so no crisis. I’m slow, it’s ok. I have the jump, the esses, the bowl, the bus stop, and the valley back in my brain now.

So enough about me and the track, now the car, with a brief weather report.

The day was cold (low to mid 50s) and rainy. Then came the hail. And more hail. Then more rain. Not the best conditions, which contributed mightily to my experience.

Holy hell, the stock tyres are hilariously bad. Forget worrying about brake updates, the first things that need to go are these stupid tyres. I have experience quite a bit of wandering on longitudinally grooved pavement here in MI, and after a few skitters, I was able to associate it with the rain grooves in the tyres themselves. They seem to be folding over and breaking traction, then catching it again. Like slideways ABS? NO. Like driving me batshit crazy. I think a fair amount of this was due to the weather conditions – summer tyres right at the thermal limit of performance. I had one session where the track was dry and this was far different than the rest of the day. The control was there, I was able to avoid ABS, no skitters, etc. That was a good session and instead of learning new ways to avoid engaging TC, I was building speed in the corners. My hope had been to practice entering little slides, but that did not happen.
Brakes never really got tested because I was never going that fast.  ABS is minimally intrusive – I prefer more feedback! It’s useless as a training aid if you can’t feel it. Again, the weather contributed.

Steering was tight and predictable.

The seat (which is outstanding for everyday driving) was ok, but a proper high seat and harness are going to be necessary. I’m spoiled in that all of my VWs have had harnesses, and some have had seats and cages. Trying to track a car without being attached to it is uncomfortable and less fun. I was seriously sore everywhere at the end of the day. Except my legs, which was nice. My upper body was feeling it from being in motion so much. I ordered a CGLock and then forgot to install it. It would not have helped with the upper body movement, though, and might have made things worse.

The best part of the day was that another BRZ driver was among my novices and he improved greatly throughout the day.  The second best was discovering that my old endurance car still lives and is actually the west side track rat for our VW club. I got home and found the title, we are going to plate that sucker. It is a beast – ABA swapped with GTI brakes, and caged with two seats and harnesses. It even has window glass now! It weighs all of 1820#. It is soooooo much fun to drive. Pure point and shoot.

There are no bad days at the track if you can drive home. It wasn’t a great day for me, but it was a great (new) start.

I’ll be browsing TireRack now…. 

emojis courtesy

My old laser pointer alignment trick was a big hit among my suspension tech friends, so I wanted to try a new tool and see if it ups the game.

Some time ago, I acquired a nice Bosch siting laser. This is used to determine if ground is level. You set it up in one location and measure down from the horizontal line to determine relative height of land, floor, whatever. You can also measure off a vertical line, and with a tape out from the laser pole, you can triangulate location.

The siting laser alignment process requires a siting laser, some Post-It notes, a plumb bob, a pen, a notepad (or use one of those Post-It notes), three measuring tapes (or one and some masking tape and a marker to mark your close measurement positions), and a scientific calculator (or access to one online).

The basic setup remains nearly identical to the old string alignment trick. In this variation, you set up the siting laser to throw a line out. Like the laser pointer trick, you can use your garage door as a target. Park so that your axles are about eight feet out from the door.

The siting laser is set up near the rear of the wheel. I found that it is really important to locate the laser so that the vertical is grazing the wheel surface. Any laser that throws a line will throw it in a way that can bend around a bit, so by using the vertical to locate the instrument, you can move it repeatedly and still be getting the same measurement.

Now, just like a regular string alignment, you set up your tape measures so that their zeros are at the center of the hub or the forward point on the tyre. Your choice. Note the distance to the garage door surface on your notepad. Locate a point about 24″ out and position a horizontal tape that is wider than your car. If you don’t have an endless supply of tape measure, put down a piece of tape that you can mark with your position from the next step. Drop your plumb bob, watching to see when the string crosses the laser beam. Take your first measurement of distance from the axle and the position on the side-to-side tape here and note the values on a notepad. Then head to the garage door and plop a Post-It note where the laser is visible (hard to see in direct sun, but it’s there) and make a mark where the laser beam ends. Label this mark A. Note that the mark here is off because I remembered to take the pic after the alignment was complete, not before. dur.

Now, relocate the laser to the other side and repeat. Same label, too. Measure the distance between the marks on the garage door and the distance from the door marks to your first mark. Now, measure the distance between the marks on the garage door.

Once you have the four measurements, the math is the same basic trig as the string alignment. You need to know the distance between your close mark and the garage door (should be about six feet or 72 inches) and the two measurements from side to side. Subtract the close measurement from the door measurement. If it is negative, you have toe-in, if it is positive, you have toe-out. Take that value and divide it by the distance between the close and door measurements and run an inverse tangent (tan-1) on a calculator. This will give you the degrees of toe in decimal. Once you know that, you can figure out where to go to set it.

Once you are done, repeat the process. Note that you will have to check both sides to get the fnal numbers. Because you labeled your first marks, you will know what is what.

What I didn’t do, mostly because it is nigh impossible without jacking this car, is a camber adjustment. However, the vertical beam of the laser makes camber measurement very easy, and if you have camber plates up top, super easy to adjust. You will need a really fine caliper to do the measurement, though.

To measure camber, set the laser out from the wheel a bit, about an inch or two. Positioning is critical, again, so you can repeat measurements. The whole thing benefits from having a level surface, too. Otherwise you will find that all of your camber is on one side of the vehicle, which is probably entirely false. I recommend switching to metric here, or at least using a caliper for the distance out values.

Check the distance from the outermost point of the wheel/tyre at the front and back of the wheel edge and adjust the laser until they are even. Using the horizontal beam, find the tallest and shortest points on the wheel edge and mark them. Now, measure to the laser line at the top and bottom of the wheel where you marked. Also measure the exact distance between the points you took the first two measurements. If you can access a hard point on the suspension, take a measurement to the laser vertical there, also. Do not use a spring, use a shock shaft/tube, the spindle upper, or something that is also equally spaced on both sides. This will enable you to split the camber as you will now know exactly how far off vertical you are from side to side.

The math is the same, top minus bottom (adjust for off-vertical here), divided by diameter of wheel and inverse tan. Adjust away.

This is a great way to do a one-person laser alignment. It’s a real alignment, and you used a laser. It’s primary value is that you reduce the number of things you need two hands or a second person to do.

A kid at the college autocross had this beat-to-crap old gen2 Supra that had these awful Chinese decals all over it. He said he was thinking of removing them, but kind of liked how silly they were. I said no, leave them, because they add character.


I posted this in the Women’s Forum at ADVrider, and I think it’s good enough for general consumption.

I can write a book but will try to keep it not too long. I am trained in patternmaking, that weird job where you create the flat fabric pieces that get turned into 3D shapes. It illuminates so many of our fit issues. Understanding your body shape can go a long way to finding gear that fits and knowing why gear doesn’t fit and might not even be tailorable to fit.

The basics

Women come in four basic shapes, combinations of two tops and two bottoms. Tops are either wide shoulders or narrow shoulders, and bottoms are wide or narrow hips, both measured with respect to waist measurement. When you combine them, you get the following:

Narrow shoulders and narrow hips: Column (sometimes called apple). This is the traditional boy shape. If you are a column, awesome, you can wear mens’ gear most of the time, unless you have big boobs. About 50%

Wide shoulders and narrow hips: Triangle. This is the athletic shape. You can wear guy stuff, too, But the size mismatches will get funny. Boobs usually fit, but jacket waists will be a mile wide. 5%

Wide shoulders and wide hips: Hourglass. Oh, you are screwed. You might look like Marilyn Monroe, but no one else does, so no gear for you! A very surprising 10%

Narrow shoulders and wide hips: Pear. This is the shape that is most confusing to designers, because it is the opposite of their runway models. You might have thighs, too. Yikes! Nothing fits well. 35%

How the shapes break down into patterns

Narrow shapes are based on drops (difference between hip or upper chest measurement and waist measurements) that are smaller – 6″ or less for pants, 3″ or less for jackets. These fits are often called ‘straight’ cut. Wide shapes are based on larger drops – 7″ or greater for pants, 4″ or greater for jackets. These fits are often called ‘curvy’ cut. Curvy varies from 7″ to 10″ and greater. The Silver Jeans website has a wonderful description of how these fits work for pants.

The pattern must be cut to account for the drop and enable the wearer to move comfortably. This practice is called ‘adding ease’. In straight cuts, the ease is added to the hips. For curvy cuts, it is added to the thighs. This is why curvy girls struggle with pants – low drop straight cut pants will give them swimming pool butt with large gaps at the waist, because their waists are so much smaller relative to their hips and thighs. Ladies with narrow hips will find everything is baggy below their waist, a poor choice for keeping armor in place. Ease placement is why it is so difficult to make pants fit when cutting them down at the waist. In reality, you also have to add at the thighs and reshape the entire butt. Not practical with technical gear.

The same applies to jackets, with one additional issue: backwaist. Backwaist is the measurement from the neckline to the waistine. Women are generally about 15-20% shorter in backwaist than men. It is actually a primary physical marker we recognize about women. A jacket designed from scratch for a woman will reflect this. It will also include boob room. Boob room is independent of shoulder room, though! Shoulder room is cut into the back of the jacket, boob room into the front. Boob room requires aggressive shaping of the waist line and is the bane of most patternmakers’ existence, honestly. One wrong grain line layout and nothing works. This is why many women’s jackets come with adjustable waistbands: it is possible to add boob room and still cinch the waist down to an appropriate size. Jackets are actually easier to tailor because the main issue is cutting down the waist. Note that actual shortening of a jacket generally requires it to be shortened at the waistline, not the hem.

Beginning your shapely adventure

Have a friend measure you. It works better. Stand tall, relax, and breath gently. Measure at your belly button, around your boobs, above your boobs (upper chest), and at your hips (7-9″ down from your waist). Know your drops. Know if you need boob room – typically anything over a B cup will need boob room. Bs can fit lots of places and As are lucky ducks. Look carefully at the sizing cards for gear lines. They will reveal a lot. However, they are guides and some manufacturers do actually have curvy fits.

Feel free to ask me anything about fit. Thanks are due to my mom, who still believes that a solid understanding of flat pattern is a required life skill.

My experiences….

Alpinestars Stella is pure straight fit top and bottom Size Chart

Dainese has both curvy and straight, you have to try stuff on Size Chart

Rev’It has both, try it on Size Chart

BMW has mostly straighter fits, but the new Tourshell is definitely curvier and GS Dry is too Size Chart

(German) polo – each brand line has a specific fit model, all are different

(German) Louis – same as polo, lots of variety

(German) Hein Gericke – all curvy-friendly

Olympia is big boob friendly, but no curvy fits Sizing link

Joe Rocket has some nearly curvy stuff, but the fits varied across sizes too much for my comfort Size Chart

Speed and Strength was a big surprise as they have curvy stuff Size Chart

Klim Size Chart

IXS generally straighter cuts, will note curvy styles on tag Size Chart

First Gear Size Chart

Aerostich they have not really figured out thighs yet, but seem to be trying Size Chart

Worse for Wear great jeans with well-defined fit models Size Chart

Icon Size Chart

Fieldsheer Size Chart

I will add as I try on other gear here and there.