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As you may have gathered from earlier columns, I do enjoy tinkering with my bikes. This goes without saying if one rides a less-than-very-new motorcycle. I have managed to make most of the common blunders while attempting general maintenance, and probably invented a few more along the way. I do however try to only make any given mistake once… twice for the same thing is embarrassing! But I do like to think that I have learned a few things along the way – albeit, usually the hard way!
I am no mechanic so for any work that I attempt with wrench in hand, there is always a good manual open at the appropriate page. But even the best manuals have occasionally let me down. Either the author assumes dexterity with tools that I do not possess, or items have been ignored completely. I don’t like this sort of surprise…
It would seem that all bike manuals assume that one is working in a clutter-free shop with a smooth cement floor. There is seldom mention made of the various wee bits that can fling themselves off to far distant corners of your workspace – sometimes to never be seen again. Switches are notorious for this sort of behavior and it is often best to take a defensive attitude before delving into the mysteries of on/off. Encasing the whole shebang in a large clear plastic bag and taping the opening securely shut seems to work... Cut slits for hand access and proceed. The phone will probably ring, your nose will start to run, or someone will come calling while you are thus trapped! No matter, the various bits will be captive before they have any chance of escape.
Any what about those irritating clips and washers that immediately dive into the bowels of the engine compartment? If you haven’t heard the tell-tale tinkle of metal on cement, the part in question has probably fled into the engine compartment. If extreme caution isn’t sufficient to capture the pieces in the act, an extendable magnet or magnet-on-a-stick can be your best friend.
Can’t see inside the cylinder/carburetor/transmission? A good fine-beamed flashlight of the LED variety is essential. Good light where you need it is a wonderful assistant to almost any job, and invaluable when working upside down with bifocals that won’t focus where you need them. Can’t see around a corner? Try one of those nifty little dentist’s mirrors on an extendable wand. Just remember that everything you see is reversed! Wonderful gadgets. I keep a couple of exceedingly strong rare-earth magnets handy too. There have been times when I needed a third hand for the mirror and a magnet on the bike frame has been just the ticket. Doesn’t work worth a pinch on the aluminum housing however!
A few of the “oversights” that I have encountered along the way are particularly annoying. Maybe these items are covered in a different manual, but I haven’t found the book!
When working on a BMW /5 - Battery Removal and Installation: “disconnect both leads, remove battery hold-down plate....gently remove battery being careful not to spill fluid”
This says nothing about barked knuckles, swearing, prying, jiggling and muttering! With every possible interference removed (seat, air-filter housing & tank). THE BATTERY WILL NOT EASILY COME OUT OF ITS NEST! Solutions vary from prying the frame apart with a very large pry bar, removing the upper subframe mounting bolts; filing notches in the frame (not smart). Another option, -- giving up in disgust and taking it into the dealer, dead battery and all! Removing the entire engine is slightly easier than battery removal. WHY?
On just about any bike... Tank Removal. “Ensure petcocks are turned to “off”,
Remove fuel line from bottom of petcock; undo tank anchor nuts...etc.”
Now, on any bike older than 4 or 5 years... and mine are considerably older, fuel lines are not easily dislodged from their moorings. Keep a length of spare fuel line handy in the shop and when necessary, slit the old line lengthwise at the petcock and remove gently without swearing. Replace with new fuel line and proceed. Much easier...
Another option is the nifty tool available from Snap-On that is designed to push between the hose end and the petcock. This works like a charm when all of the tugging in the world does nothing. A SS washer over the petcock at the end of the fuel line makes subsequent removal much easier – the washer provides a surface for ‘pushing’ on the fuel line.
I’m certain that there are other poorly defined procedures just waiting to sabotage the unwary home mechanic. And I am equally certain that BMW doesn’t have sole proprietary over omissions and awkward procedures. Next time that I find myself swearing at some reluctant part, or nursing a barked and bleeding knuckle, I will consider the cause. If it isn’t a simple case of utter clumsiness, I will try to remember to make notes for future reference.
I actually enjoy maintaining and tinkering with my bikes, I just don’t like it when they win! At the very least, I do always check tire pressures before a ride. It is vital for my safety and it hardly ever skins my knuckles! -- Alison Green