Alanf’s blog…
Scattered thoughts

Thursday, September 8, 2005

Box of Shame #9: When brakes break…

Author: site admin
Category: The Box Of Shame

It has been awhile since I posted a Box of Shame posting mainly because I have been running out of interesting parts to talk about. Well, I’m man of action. As someone who is always willing to do whatever is necessary to improve the blog, I decided to create a new item last week which I can add to the Box of Shame.

First, the background: Thursday night, a little over a week ago, I ended up being at work until late. I then got home late and was then up even later trying to get caught up on my back log of computer and blog duties. The bedside clock showed 2am when I finally staggered off to bed and that same clock wasn’t looked upon too warmly when it started blaring at me to get up at 7:30 the next morning. Even as I struggled out of bed on Friday, I told my wife that I was probably too tired to ride but since I needed to go into Denver that afternoon to watch the Iron Butt Rally checkpoint I decided to ride anyway. That faint sound you hear in the background is the ominous music portion of my life’s soundtrack starting to play.

Now I have a *great* commute into work each day. The first 17 miles are prime paved twisties which drop 3,000 ft of elevation from the town of Nederland to the town of Boulder. In addition to this route which I take nearly every day, there is an entire network of old dirt mining roads that criss-cross the area and offer alternative routes. This morning, despite feeling like I had a bag of cotton balls crammed between my ears, I decided to take an alternate route down one of these mining roads rather than the paved road that I know like the back of my hand. By the way, feel free to put in ear plugs right now if the ominous music is getting too loud.

Finally, I let the fresh morning air and the excitement of checking out the Iron Butt stuff get to me and I actually started having fun with the ride. Now don’t get me wrong I’m all for fun, especially on motorcycles, its just that there is fun and there is FUN. FUN often involves doing stupid things like riding too fast or taking unnecessary risks. Things that initially seem FUN might start with the famous “Hey Bubba, watch this…” intro. In a relatively short amount of time I went from having fun to having FUN on the big Beemer…on deserted dirt roads…while sleepy. Uh-oh. The end result is that after sliding the bike around a few turns, the FUN knob got turned up to eleven which resulted in the bike getting way out of shape around a gravel coated left hander. Despite doing everything wrong (panic, cuss loudly in helmet and chop throttle) I managed not to get high-sided off the mountainside but did get enough off course that I couldn’t gather things back up. I ended up bouncing along right at the edge of the road where the big rocks and gnarly ruts are located.

It was then that a very inconveniently placed 5 ft deep nettle-filled ditch called a halt to the proceedings. Dumping a 700 lb bike into a yawning abyss is not a good idea at the best of times. It is certainly not a good idea at 8am during a work week on an empty road in the middle of nowhere. The good news is that the mix of nettles, wild raspberry bushes and assorted other weeds which filled this drainage area where so thick they acted as a sort of spring mattress for the bike. The really good news is that an Aerostich riding suit offers equally good protection against thorn bushes as it offers against pavement rash. I would probably still be pulling stickers out of my butt if I’d been wearing jeans.

BMW master cylinder

It took me nearly 45 minutes to disassemble the bike (remove the tank bag, remove the saddle bags, remove the tank) and drag it up the incline to road level. Since the bike landed upside down in the ditch I wasn’t sure I could muscle the thing back upright, even with the gas tank removed, when a somewhat baffled truck happened to drive along. The owner thankfully helped me make the “flip” and then I spent another 10 minutes reassembling the bike. I then had to tear into the right hand instrument pod since the throttle was sticking. What I found when I took the various covers off was that the mirror mounts to brackets built into the front brake master cylinder. When the bike landed on the right side mirror, it broke that bracket which jammed metal into the throttle housing. I pried the chunks of metal out and put it all back together. The only other noticeable issue was the ABS computer was reporting a fault. I had no fun (and certainly no FUN) continuing on into work but at least the bike was rideable…its the old “any landing you can walk away from is a good landing” theory.

Once I got to work I called the local BMW shop and ordered a new master cylinder. Its a little known fact but apparently the Germans have found that solid gold makes a better material for building bike parts than the traditional materials. I don’t know how they manage to make a precious metal look like common aluminum but based on the price of a BMW master cylinder it would certainly seem to be gold. I also downloaded the necessary instructions from the Internet BMW Riders web site on how to reset the ABS computer. This past weekend I replaced the broken master cylinder, reset the computer and tried to buff out the various scratches. Other than a few new beauty marks, the bike is remarkably unscathed.

No matter how much I complain about the cost of the GS, it is definitely a rugged bike. To get flipped upside down into a 5 ft deep ditch and come back out so lightly damaged is really amazing. The moral of this Box of Shame entry? Don’t have too much FUN, especially if your brain isn’t working at 100%. The second moral? No matter how clear your mental faculties, a 700 lb adventure touring bike is *not* a 200 lb dirt bike. I need to save the dirt track antics for the the DRZ.

[image from my photo collection.]

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Box of Shame #8: An alarming situation…

Author: site admin
Category: Computers, The Box Of Shame

Its been awhile since I did a Box of Shame posting so I decided to delve into the pile ‘o parts for something else with an interesting story…

When I purchased my GSXR 1100 in ‘90, I assumed it would be my sport bike for riding around north Georgia. However, in the tradition of the saying “Give a kid a hammer and everything becomes a nail”, I starting using the bike for commuting, cruising around town and even touring. Over the years, I rode the Geezer on multi-week trips up the Blue Ridge Parkway and halfway across the country to Colorado. I also did trips to most of the states in the southeast. By the time I moved to Colorado in ‘95, I’d put nearly 40,000 miles on the bike with only one major problem (a spectacular rear suspension failure…but that is another story).

In 1996, my riding buddy Ed Guzman suggested a road trip to the Pacific Northwest to attend the annual gathering of the subscribers to the Wetleather mailing list that was being held in Republic, WA that year. I decided to join Ed for the trip to Republic but then extend the trip to ride down the west coast to California before returning to Colorado. Ed then coerced Jim Franklin to join us, giving Gooz a riding partner for the return trip after the Gather. Since the GSXR was the only (running) bike I had at the time, it was once again drafted into touring duty. I threw on my well-used Chase Harper soft luggage, loaded up my camping year, threw in a bunch of tools, did a quick tune-up and headed out for a two week, 11,000 mile trip.

As it turns out, my quick tune-up was probably too quick and resulted in a stripped value cover bolt. In my defense, the GSXR head is soft aluminum and after three years of professional racing and then 40,000 street miles, the threads were pretty tired after all those value adjustments. Whatever the cause, the stripped threads allowed oil to steadily seep out and by the time we entered Utah was visibly dripping off the motor. The next two days of riding included a regular cleaning of the engine at each gas stop (along with a very slow, very smokey stop-n-go idle through a traffic clogged Salt Lake City) until I could get it temporarily repaired in Coure D’Alene Idaho with some JB Weld thread repair. We continued the ride to Republic for The Gather, with the problem apparently fixed (though the bike did pick up the nickname “Suzuki Valdez”).

Ungo alarm off the GSXR

However, this blog entry isn’t about a stripped bolt hole. One side effect of the oil leak was that the wiring harness which runs behind the back of the motor had been coated with oil. When I lived in downtown Atlanta, I’d added a bike alarm to the GSXR to help discourage bike thieves. Since I was working in downtown Denver after I moved to Colorado I left the alarm installed to keep the bike safe when left all day in dark parking decks. The Ungo bike alarm is very simple, just a mercury switch and a few wires to connect to the battery, a loud alarm speaker and some wires going into the wiring harness to cut the ignition and sound the alarm when the bike is lifted off the side stand. The splice into the ignition wiring was done “right” but after six years of riding engine heat had done a job on the shrink wrap protecting the splice.

Unknown to me, the oil that had misted behind the engine while burning across Utah and Idaho eventually managed to get into the splice. At first, the bike was just tricky to start, which made me think it was just a dirty start button. However, as the weekend in Republic went on, the starting problem became more and more pronounced. The morning that Gooz and I decided to ride up into Canada, the bike refused to start all together. Ed was nice enough to give me a push start and we were off for a day ride into Oh Canada! By the time we were back at the US border, complete with draconian border guard, even a push start was taking more effort than I (and particularly Ed) was comfortable with. I was having horrible thoughts of trying to push start a fully loaded touring GSXR on some deserted coastal road in Oregon so clearly I had to figure this one out that night.

Once back at the campground, I started going through the bike’s electronics with a multi-meter and quickly traced the issue to the alarm’s ignition splice. Rather than re-wiring the splice, I borrowed a butane soldering iron from long distance rider Jeff Earls and removed the ignition splice all together. Quick fix and the bike ran perfectly for the rest of the trip. Sadly, Ed and Jim went straight back to Colorado and missed out on the trouble free riding I got to enjoy for a week on my return loop…a welcome relief after the four frustrating days that started the trip.

I am going to re-install the alarm with a new Ungo wiring harness now that I have the GSXR running again, but that simple problem could easily have ruined that two week trip. I keep the original oil covered ignition splice wire in my Box of Shame to remind me of that simple truth.

[image from my photo collection.]

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Box of Shame #7: Tuned beyond the limit…

Author: site admin
Category: The Box Of Shame

In 1992, the WERA roadrace organization had one of the coolest classes among any of the national level pro-roadrace clubs: Formula 3. The class was obstensively for 125cc GP bikes, mainly Honda RS125s and Yamaha TZ125s. However, to increase grid size and provide a race class for big four stroke singles, WERA also allowed thumpers up to 600cc in size to race against the 125s. This made for great racing since the two bike were so vastly different. The 125 GP bikes carried huge corner speed and had great drafting battles while the big singles relied on their prodigious torque to square off turns and get their heavier weight out of corners quickly. This made for interesting races, made all the better by the fantastic riders that were in the series at that time. Two unknown brothers named Tommy and Nicky Hayden were racing 125GP bikes, along with well known names like Keith Code, John Ulrich, Rodney Fee and the Himmelsbach family also on the little two smokes. The four stroke contingent included Allen Willis on a trick Woods Rotax, Eric Falt with a Honda VFR framed Rotax motor, Erich Fromm on a SRX 600 based bike and Bill Cardell on a RG framed SRX motor. This class was marvelous competition between true factory race bikes against do-it-yourself specials.

Into this race class waded a denizen of the usenet newsgroup named Ray Hixon. Ray started with a stock ‘82 Honda FT500 Ascot which he slowly modified throughout the year to get more and more performance from the motor and to improve other major items like the brakes and suspension. Early that race season, I saw a posting from Ray on the newsgroup asking for pit help at an upcoming race. I had been regularly volunteering as a corner worker at the area tracks but decided to skip the weekend of the WERA national races and help Ray instead. I met up with Ray at the track and immediately got along well with him. I’d spent a few years rebuilding ’60s muscle cars with my friends Troy and Dave, so I knew a bit about spinning wrenches. This turned out to be a very useful skill, since racing a big production based single cylinder bike means a lot of trackside work is required. I enjoyed working with Ray that weekend and volunteered to join his friend John and his father as his pit crew for the rest of the summer.

Throughout the race season, his engine builder Joe Hutcheson continued to get more power by first overboring the motor to 540cc and then to 591cc. The suspension and brake problems were solved by moving Joe’s mega-motor into a Yamaha FZR400 frame with Honda Interceptor forks. The bike was proving to be one of the faster bikes in the class and Ray was riding the bike really well. Race results varied from being a front runner to struggling in the pits with niggling problems caused by the combination of the hodge-podge of parts used on the bike. In order to get extra track time to iron out some of the mechanical problems and to be more prepared for the Pro races Ray started to race the Clubman class in the WERA regional series.

One particular weekend, the whole crew drove down to Savannah, GA for one of the regional races at Roebling Road. Ray was fast in practice and the bike seemed to be coping well with the roughly 60hp 591cc motor. When the Clubman race rolled around, we were optimistic and Ray was ready to stick it to the more powerful bikes in the class despite being gridded in the back since he wasn’t a regular in the class (it was gridded by current points of which Ray had 0). When the green flag flew, Ray immediately started moving forward especially through the really fast turn one. In the pits, we watched the bikes run through the back section and towards the final turn which led the bikes onto the long front straight. The whole pit crew knew that Ray had to get a strong drive onto the straight to have any chance to staying in the draft of the faster bikes. Just as Ray started onto the straight during one of the early laps he suddenly shot directly off the track in a cloud of smoke. Uh-oh, definitely not good.

We pushed the bike back to the pits as Ray gave a baffled story of having near ESP give him the feeling something was going wrong in time to pull in the clutch, lock up the rear brake and slide the bike off the track. Once back in the pits, we could see small bits of aluminum dust in the exhaust, clearly a sign of Bad Things ™. As we disassembled the bike to see if we could get it back together in time for an afternoon race, we started finding more and more signs that something was seriously amiss inside the motor. More metal dust was in the airbox and every attempt to turn the crank indicated the motor was locked up.

Now aware that the bike wasn’t going to race again that day, we instead switched over to investigating the depth of the problem. Joe the enginer builder lived south in Florida while home was north in Atlanta. We had to determine which direction that engine was headed that afternoon. As we removed the valve cover, everything still appeared okay, but as we removed the head we finally realized just how catastrophic the failure had been and just how lucky Ray had been to sense it so quickly. The Wiseco piston had failed where the wrist pin went through one side. On an upstroke the piston twisted sideways coming completely loose from the wrist pin and then rotated a 1/4 turn all while being driven upward from the inertia of the crank rotation. The piston crown, no longer parallel to the head, was driven upwards *through* the exhaust valves where it was embedded into the head. The con rod, with the piston no longer attached, slammed around in the cylinder a few times before wedging against the cylinder liner which then locked up crankshaft. The motor was a complete write-off. Thankfully, Ray was unhurt and after another infusion of money and parts, the bike was back to race again…

Ray went on to race the bike for two more seasons in AHRMA Sound of Singles, WERA Formula 3, WERA Clubman and various other classes. The bike continued to evolve with ever larger engine displacements, amazing amounts of titanium to keep it all together at higher rpms and wilder bodywork to get better aerodynamics. The bike became less and less reliable and eventually faster bikes like the Ducati Supermono required larger financial investment than was rational to keep the Ascot “Megathumper” competitive. Last I heard Ray was enjoying the career of a real life rocket scientist with NASA.

Broken Wiseco Piston chunk

I kept a small piece of the piston, found in the exhaust pipe, for my Box of Shame. The lesson from this one? Just that a heavily modified engine running at high rpm in race conditions contains a huge amount of barely contained energy. Just one little problem can unleash a tremendously destructive chain of events.

[image from my photo collection.]

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Box of Shame #6: Be wary of parked cars…

Author: site admin
Category: The Box Of Shame

My buddy Kreig pointed out that it has been awhile since I posted a Box of Shame entry…

Most of my Box of Shame stories have been about my long suffering GSXR. Some have been mechanical blunders on my part while others were just slack maintenance. This story, on the other hand, is more along the lines of a “wrong place, wrong time” story, so hopefully it won’t make me look as much the idiot as some of the earlier stories.

When I lived in Atlanta, there was a group of us that would gather every Tuesday night at Cafe Diem to hang out, kick tires and tell lies. Many of us hung out on the SERIDERS mailing list while a few other regulars were non-riding friends. Just a great group of folks, many of whom I still keep in touch with and of whom I have many great memories.

One of those friends was Andy, the owner of Cafe Diem, who always supported all of us bikers that would regularly visit his great coffee shop. Among the things he did for us was allowing us to park our bikes on the sidewalk in front of his patio so we could keep an eye on the motorcycles when hanging out there. I often got there first on Tuesday and got the “prime” parking spot on the sidewalk next to the entrance.

On particular rainy night, we were all gathered inside the cafe. We had a pile of wet rain gear dripping in the corner, a stack of helmets clearly marking our area and a big group of noisy folks around three or four tables all deep into our weekly B.S. session. A hesitant, nervous looking woman approached the table and asked if anyone there owned the white motorcycle parked out front. I owned up to being the owner and was shocked to hear her report that from her seat in the front she had watched the bike get hit by a car. Since the bike was a good 8 feet away from the road, protected by a 6 inch high curb and between big steel light poles, I thought that unlikely. In fact, my first assumption was that this was a joke someone was pulling by having a stranger report by GSXR was damaged.

Despite my disbelief, I followed the woman outside and found my GSXR was in fact leaning up against the small picket fence surrounding the patio and a car was halfway up onto the sidewalk next to the bike. My bike had in fact been run-over but that is when things started to get strange. You see, the car wasn’t running and was, in fact, empty! What’s more, it had been backed over the curb (denting the rims and probably rashing the underside of the car) just barely missing one of the light poles. While I was accessing the damage to the GSXR a very shocked young woman walked out of Cafe Diem clearly not expecting to see her car on the sidewalk. As it turns out, the lady had taken a sharp right turn off the street and parked her car in the parking lot next to the cafe. Since she’d made the sharp turn, the steering wheel locked with the wheels turned to the right when she turned off the car. Whether she forgot to park the car in gear, I don’t know, but she definitely didn’t use the parking brake and the transmission ended up in neutral. The car started rolling slowly backwards down the entrance ramp into the parking lot but slowly arching to the right, eventually rolling out into the street, back around tothe sidewalk, up over the curb and straight into the side of my bike.

Bent GSXR fairing mount

The GSXR had the added misfortune of being knocked over onto one of the posts supporting the patio’s cute little picket fence. This post basically impaled the upper fairing busting through the fiberglass and bending the upper fairing bracket. The front brake lever was broken off, along with the front and rear right side mirrors. The lower fairing on the left side of the bike was cracked where the car’s rear bumper nailed it and the clutch lever broke in half where it contacted the trunk of the car.

I had one of my friends give me a quick ride back to the house to get a replacement brake lever, then returned to install the lever and ride the bike home. I then spent the next month getting the lady’s insurance company to pony up the money necessary to put new bodywork, levers, mirrors and fairing brackets on the bike. It turned into a $1500 tab a few months to track down all the replacement parts including some lighter (and cheaper, saving the insurance company a few bucks) Harris race glass bodywork. I still keep the bent fairing bracket in the Box of Shame to remind me that even parked cars can be dangerous!

[image from my photo collection.]

Friday, January 7, 2005

Box of Shame #5: Check your oil often…

Author: site admin
Category: The Box Of Shame

In the summer of 1998, my buddy Todd invited me to join our freinds Jim Bessette and Steve Johnson for a second trip around the White Rim trail in Utah. Todd and I had done the White Rim the summer before and I thought it would be fun to do it again. Besides, this time we’d have Jim’s R100GSPD and Steve’s TDM850 along to carry extra fuel, so we wouldn’t run out and be stranded like our first time. We loaded up Todd’s XR250 and my trusty ‘82 XR500 and headed out for Utah on a Friday evening after work.

Our little group did the White Rim Trail on Saturday, starting early and having a great ride with the usual awesome scenery, easy trail and few people. Todd and I both (again) ran out of gas but were able to siphon some off the big GS. We got back to Moab in the evening, after a 100 or so miles of dirt riding, in time for dinner and to relax.

The next morning, we got up and headed out to make a quick run up Pucker Pass before loading up and driving back home. This meant another relatively high speed ride out Potash Road and then a climb up the Pass. As we had the day before, we kept up a brisk pace. The road was a breeze and near the top we stopped for a photo shot.

When I suited back up and got on the XR, I noticed it was pinging and thus was obviously pretty hot but it was when I went to kick start it, and discovered the kick starter was jammed, that I began to realize I had bigger problems than just a warm motor. Now let me explain that the ‘82 Honda XR500 was a great bike. Reliable, stone simple and easy for a beginner to ride. However, any 15 year old dirt bike will require special attention and this plays into one of the weaknesses of the early XR design…a very small oil pan. Specifically, it only holds one quart of oil. Can you see where this is going?

The melted XR head

After the long day on White Rim, the aging motor had burned off some of its oil. Later measurements would show that it was down about 1/3 of a quart. Combine that with a couple of hours of high rpm riding on the asphalt and you get a seriously cooked motor. Another weakness of the XR was that the cam doesn’t ride on bearings or even bushings. The cam instead rides in machined cut outs machined into the aluminum head. Aluminum doesn’t like getting hot. In fact it tends to melt…and when it cools, it welds things together.

I ended up coasting about four miles back down Pucker Pass and parked the bike at Potash Road. Todd rode his XR250 on into Moab, picked up his truck and retrieved my poor bike. I had a spare motor at home, so I tore down the fried motor to find the bottom end was happy. I installed the head and cam off the spare motor and the XR lived again. I also got a brutal reminder about how important it is to check the oil before every ride. Now the ruined head sits in the Bog of Shame to remind me, should I forget that vital pre-ride task.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Box of Shame #4: Beware the temptation of the parts catalog…

Author: site admin
Category: The Box Of Shame

In the Spring of 1998, I brought my GSXR to a track day that our local riding group had put together. I’d prep’ed the bike but it was running poorly and seemed to be running really rich with the spark plugs fouling whenever it was ridden hard. It was also overheating on hot days, which seemed the opposite of what I would expect from an engine which appeared to be running rich. After a few laps on the track, the bike really began to degrade until eventually it didn’t have the power to out-drag a BMW K100RS on the front straight. Clearly this was more than just a jetting problem. Since I planned to ride the bike on an eleven day trip through the Pacific NW in July, this problem would have to be addressed quickly.

Back in my garage, I did a compression test and found that all four cylinders had very low compression. I added some oil to the cylinders and tried the compression test again, only to get the same numbers. Clearly, the valves were the culprit. I tried a valve adjustment, followed by another compression test, but the numbers didn’t improve much. Since that meant either valve seats or valve guides, I called my local shop and arranged to have the head rebuilt.

Just before I brought the bike in for its scheduled head overhaul, I got to thinking about how sloppy the second gear shift had been feeling. I called the shop back and asked if they could install new shift forks “while they were in there”. They said “sure” and that is when things started to snowball. The shop called me back the next day and mentioned that they might as well replace the transmission gears as well, after all once the transmission is apart for the forks there isn’t an additional labor charge to rebuild the whole thing. “Okay”, says I, “how much more can that cost?”

When I brought the bike in to the shop, I got to talking to the mechanic. Marv Rosencranz is an ace mechanic, responsible for building some of the rocket race bikes ridden by local fast guy Ricky Orlando. He’s worked on GSXRs for a long time and casually mentioned how cheap the Wiseco piston kits where for the old oil-cooled GSXRs. Well, now, how could I pass up something so cheap? I mean, after all, they already had the motor apart so how much more could it cost?

It turns out the root of the problem was worn valve seats. They’d finally been hammered into the head, reducing their contact with the valves. The seats needed to be replaced and re-cut. The valves were serviceable but the exhaust valves had definitely been cooked due to poor valve seat contact. Since I was already replacing half the motor anyway, I wasn’t about to put questionable valves back in the head, so I had them order up a new set of those too. Do you see where this is going?

GSXR engine leftovers

In the end, the motor was over-bored to the max allowable by the stock cylinder liners. New stock valves, valve seats and valve guides were installed. A five angle valve job was done. The cam was resurfaced. Wiseco pistons were installed, bringing displacement to 1110cc. New transmissions gears and shift forks were installed, along with a new shift star. New clutch plates and springs replaced the old ones. All new gaskets and seals. The bike was re-dyno’ed making a touch over 125hp, not bad for an ancient oil-cooled GSXR. The total cost was roughly the asking price for a good condition used ‘88 GSXR1100. Ouch.

All the old parts were put in the Box of Shame to remind me not to let projects get so out of hand in the future.

Then, one week later, I loaded up the bike and headed for the Pacific Northwest, were I re-learned the lesson about touring on a bike before you’ve found all the little problems caused by doing last minute repairs but that is another story…

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Box of Shame #3: Don\’t ride a strange handling bike…

Author: site admin
Category: The Box Of Shame

In 1995 I loaded up my trusty old GSXR (and a truck load of other bikes) and moved to the mountains of Colorado. The riding around Rollinsville, CO is incredible and since Colorado is in the middle of the country I could do some summer vacations to the west coast. As a result, the miles really started to pile up on the old GSXR since it was handling commuting, weekend sport rides and touring duties.

One Thursday evening in the summer of 1998 our local riding group decided to head into the mountains for a group dinner after work. This meant a “spirited” ride up one of the local canyons with everyone converging on a restaurant. I decided to head out with the faster of the riders so that we could do a slightly longer route with the intention of still arriving at dinner on time. My friend Todd led the group for most of the way with the line of bikes stringing out as we passed cars or just rode our own pace. At the top of one particular canyon (Hwy 7 at Raymond, for the locals) I decided to take over the lead and shot off down the road for the final stretch. The bike was feeling a little “loose” but I attributed that to the worn chain and the rear shock which was due for a rebuild.

Coming through one particularly tight left hand curve with the throttle screwed on pretty hard, I suddenly felt the bike jerk to the right and heard what I thought was the chain skipping over the sprocket teeth. Now I know the chain was worn but I didn’t expect it to be that loose, so I immediately pulled over to check things out. Todd was right behind me and had seen/heard the same thing, so he pulled over as well. We both looked the bike over and everything, including the chain tension seemed okay. Perplexed, I got back on the bike (as the rest of the group had caught up by now) and we all headed on to the restaurant. The bike did the same thing once more but when I got to the dinner spot I again couldn’t find anything wrong.

When I got back to my garage, I put the bike up on the rear wheel stand and again went over the chain, sprockets and shock but couldn’t find anything wrong. The next week, I went to the shop and bought new wheel and swing arm bearings. I already had new chain and sprockets I could install and figuring it wouldn’t hurt to replace the bearings since they were 5 years old and I was thinking perhaps a bad bearing was what was wrong.

The following weekend, I hoisted the bike up onto a garage rafter and started to dismantle the bike to replace the bearings, chain and sprockets. When I removed the plastic cover that hides the swing arm pivot bolt I got a horrifying shock…

The broken axle

…the end of the swing arm pivot bolt fell off, where it had cracked completely through. I’d been riding, and riding hard, on a bike with a swing arm that was mainly held in place by the rear shock mount. Yikes!

I bought a new swing arm pivot bolt from the local Suzuki shop and installed that along with the bearings, chain and sprockets. I then reassembled the bike, at which time everything felt and worked perfectly (though the shock still needed a rebuild). I then pulled the engine and had it rebuilt by a local race shop, but that is another story.

The moral of this one is just that if a bike is handling strange, there is a reason. Don’t give up looking until you find the problem. I keep the broken swing arm pivot bolt in the Box of Shame to remind me of the importance of that lesson.

Tuesday, December 7, 2004

Box of Shame #2: change your sprockets…

Author: site admin
Category: The Box Of Shame

In the summer of 1994 I was helping out a few friends that were racing in the WERA and AHRMA roadrace series. One of these was my buddy Ray Hixon who was racing a heavily modified Honda FT500 Ascot (in an FZR400 frame, with a strange combination of Harley and Honda bodywork). One weekend, there was a WERA regional race at the Talledega Grand Prix track near Anniston, Alabama and I agreed to be part of Ray’s pit crew for the day as a warm-up for the Pro races later in the summer.

As it just so happens, there are some great roads for riding motorcycles near there in the Mt. Cheaha State Park, so some friends and I decided to ride over in the morning so we could enjoy the roads and then we could all help Ray out during the races. My GSXR was in need of some routine maintenance, including a new chain and sprockets but I didn’t have much time. Instead, Saturday night I did an oil change and just stuck on the new chain and figured I’d replace the worn sprockets when I got back. Just in case, I threw the sprockets into my tank bag.

Myself, my friend Troy and his brother Dean left Atlanta early Sunday morning and took some back roads to the Alabama border. There we met up with my friend Michael, who drove down from Huntsville, and the entire group of us headed to the track over the twisty roads in the State Park.

Despite being surrounded by tools and having some down time during the day, I was too focused on the racing to install the new sprockets at the track. At 4pm, the racing shut down for the day and we started the return trip. Michael went north but the three of us from Atlanta decided to ride back over Mt. Cheaha then pick up I-20 east for our return trip.

Rather than taking it easy I went into full “attack” mode on the curves around Mt. Cheaha at which time I started hearing strange sounds when getting hard on the throttle. I pulled over at the visitor center and discovered that the front sprocket (hidden beneath the hydraulic clutch cover) was so badly worn that the chain was skipping over the rounded off teeth. Apparently the roller spacing on the new chain didn’t match the spacing of the worn teeth on the old sprocket and basically shaved down every tooth. Uh oh.

The dead sprocket

I tightened the chain and proceeded on at a much more cautious pace but the damage was already done. By the time we got to I-20, the chain was slipping regularly and as we neared the Alabama/Georgia border, it was starting to slip more often than it would grab. Fortunately, there was a truck stop there so we pulled off and I started to disassemble the bike.

I borrowed some tools from the truck stop (their shop was closed for the day), including a long freakin’ breaker bar, so that I could swap the sprocket out in their parking lot. Fortunately, I had brought along the correct metric socket with my own tools! As with my first “Box of Shame” story, the real screw-up is that one mistake is followed other mistakes. In this case, I was working on the bike at night, in a parking lot, with borrowed tools and working faster than I should have so that I wouldn’t hold up my riding buddies any longer than necessary. As a result, I didn’t pay attention to the small lock nut which prevents the large front sprocket nut from backing off. I applied the big freakin’ breaker bar to the socket so I could remove the sprocket nut and promptly stripped the last few threads off the sprocket shaft when the lock nut was pushed off as the sprocket nut rotated. Argh!

It took about half an hour to clean up the threads on the sprocket shaft with a pocket knife before I was able to install the new sprocket (fortunately, the truck stop’s junk box contained a replacement metric bolt that would work as a temporary lock nut), tighten the chain, re-install the bodywork and get back under way. I finally got home about 10pm at night, a good two hours later than originally intended. The following week I had to buy the correct lock nut and re-cut threads on the shaft. That’s a lot of time and work which I’d have been better off spending replacing the sprockets when I did the chain in the first place.

Well, no one was hurt and the rounded off sprocket looks pretty cool in the Box of Shame.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Box of Shame #1: EZ Outs aren\’t always easy…

Author: site admin
Category: The Box Of Shame

I’ve been riding, and wrenching, on bikes for a long time now. This has led to a lot of “learning experiences” and those have sometimes resulted in broken parts or repair bills. I keep a “box of shame” in my garage, containing worn/broken parts, as a reminder of the lessons I learned during those moments.

I decided it would make for an entertaining series of blog entries if I related some of those tales.

I bought my ‘88 GSXR1100 in ‘91 from a race team after it had survived three hard years of endurance racing. Thus I was given a head-start on the educational experience that is bike repair. I learned a lot quickly, especially things like fairing repair, replacing worn/bent parts and daily lessons in metal fatigue. By 1993, the bike had 20,000 street miles on it and most of the niggling problems from the race days were over.

However, after a weekend street ride, I discovered that the end of one of the front left brake caliper bleed nipples had broken off. I don’t know if this was because it got hit by a stone or whether vibration caused it to crack but the end result was having the shaft of the bleed nipple stuck in the caliper with no obvious way to remove it.

Since I’d worked on old cars before, I knew the solution. I headed up to the hardware store for a set of EZ-outs - reverse threaded studs which can be inserted into a hole then turned to extract the bolt. Normally, a drill bit and a T-handle tap wrench are required bit in this case the bleed nipple was already hollow so no drilling was required. I figured I’d just use a crescent wrench and save the $10 for the T-handle.

Big mistake. The T-handle allows you to apply constant, even pressure while turning the EZ-out. A crescent wrench, on the other hand, causes a twisting and bending motion. Additionally using a big f’ing crescent wrench can create enough torque to snap off the end of the EZ-out inside the bolt you are trying extract. In addition to causing a lot of cussing, this also expands the bleed nipple enough that it won’t ever come out again. Care to guess how I discovered this information?

The cooked caliper

To make matters worse, I brought the brake caliper to a local shop to see if they could help. They tried to use a cutting torch to get things to expand but overheated the thing, basically welding the bleed nipple in place. To fix that, they drilled out the nipple but drilled too deep, scoring the “dished” portion inside the caliper which allows the bottom of the bleed nipple to seal when tightened down. To fix that, they milled off 4mm from the top of the caliper but that resulted in too little thread contact on the shaft of the bleed nipple to prevent leaking. By the time I got the caliper back, it was discolored from the torch, required teflon tape to prevent brake fluid from leaking out and had a huge flat spot from the milling machine. Soon after, the brake piston seals on that caliper failed, possibly because they too had been overheated by the torch.

I eventually bought a used caliper to replace the damaged one and thus started my box of shame.

Needless to say, I should have sprung for the $10 T-handle in the first place…