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MC How-To
Step by step: From general maintenance to complete restorations, we share tips and tricks for working on classic bikes.


KickMagic Pneumatic-Assist Starter Installation

 KickMagic system

As we get older, it’s a fact that our desire to ride our classic bikes can be in conflict with our ability to kickstart them. For some of our classic bikes, there are aftermarket electric start options. Some of the very last Triumphs, twins and triples, had electric starters. Until now though, there’s never been an aftermarket kit to retrofit earlier Triumph twins with an assisted kickstart. Those of us with artificial joints (hips, knees, etc.) who still want to ride but don’t want to risk physical injury due to kickbacks can finally find some relief. The Classic Bike Experience in Essex, Vermont, American importers of the Alton starter for Norton motorcycles, have developed an air-powered kickstart assist. Once installed, you will still be using the kickstarter, but the effort will be greatly reduced. We’ll show you how to install it on a 1968 Triumph Bonneville.

The installation of the electronic controls is fairly easy. Slightly more time consuming is the careful placing of the actuator itself. Keep in mind that though these machines left the factory fairly standard, years of modifications and restorations may have changed them. Be prepared to do some fitting. The instructions supplied with the kit are detailed and well illustrated.

It’s also helpful to have a compressed air supply available for testing this system during assembly. If you have a shop compressor, or even a small pancake compressor, that will do. Plan on a full day’s work, and as always, the relevant shop manual and parts diagrams are very helpful for parts identification and proper torque specs. The air bottle can be filled at your local scuba shop with high-pressure air. We had our bottle filled to 4,500psi before starting the installation.

For more information on the inspiration, design and prototyping of the KickMagic system, read an online exclusive story.

Watch this short video to see how easy our Bonneville started after installation.

KickMagic-peumatic-assist-starter

1. Here are the contents of the kit laid out before we get started. The leather satchel holds the air bottle. There are also several bags of nuts and bolts not shown.

disconnecting-battery

2. Start as always by disconnecting the battery. For this installation, it’s necessary to remove the battery tray so that the solenoid can be installed in the space below the tray. Continue and remove the side cover, gas tank and kickstart lever too.

removing-handlebar-bolts

3. Remove the bolts holding the handlebar P-clamps in place and raise the bars far enough to be able to pass the control cable socket under one side.

installing-control-panel

4. Install the control panel using the two socket head bolts from Bag D. Run the wiring harness forward under the bars and then left along the frame tube toward the side cover where they will connect to the control box. Use the supplied zip ties to tidy up the wiring.

test-fitting-solenoid-bracket

5. Test fit the solenoid bracket to the solenoid. Assemble the solenoid clamp and bracket to the frame down tube, leaving at least 1 inch of clearance under the battery box.

routing-inlet-hose

6. Route the 32-inch inlet hose up and back along the rear fender, clamping it to the rear fender brace with the supplied clamp. Thread the 20-inch outlet hose in front of the oil lines from the bottom of the oil tank and clamp it to the top engine mounting bolt using the supplied clamp.

connecting-main-harness

7. Connect the main harness to the solenoid assembly and proximity sensor assembly. Route the proximity sensor and cable to the right side of the bike following the outlet hose but leave it hanging for now. Run the power leads forward along the top frame tube.

fuse-lead

8. Our test bike has been converted to 12v negative ground, so our fuse lead is on the positive side of the battery. Regardless of how it’s grounded, red goes to positive, black to negative. In our bike, we connected the red lead to the white switched power lead on the ignition coil. The KickMagic is designed to work with both positive and negative ground electrical systems, just follow the instructions appropriate for your machine.

black-lead

9. The black lead was connected directly to a good frame ground, which we made from a ring connector and a female spade connector joined by a piece of copper wire.

supplied-rubber-strip

10. Fit the supplied rubber strip to the lip of the tool compartment. Carefully press the electronics module into the space formerly occupied by the tool roll. It’s a snug fit, so take your time and work it in place.

connecting-wireless-harness

11. Connect the wiring harness to the two terminals of the control module. The harness is keyed so you can’t make a wrong connection.

actuator-mechanism-mounts

12. The actuator mechanism mounts to the kickstart shaft and extends it so you can refit the kickstarter. It’s important to make sure the mechanism is a good sliding fit on the starter shaft. Due to years of use it may be necessary to use emery cloth, a file or a Dremel tool on the starter shaft to remove and smooth any burrs. Take your time and get it right without going too far. We were lucky; ours was in good shape.

tesing-electionics

13. Now that the controls are in place it’s time to test the electronics. Turn on the key and you should see the LEDs on the control panel sequence three times red, amber, green. Press the left button and the red LED should light. Hold the proximity sensor near a piece of steel and the amber LED should light. Press the right button and the green LED should light and you should hear the solenoid engage for five seconds.

boost-cylinder-mounts

14. The boost cylinder mounts over the engine plate, using the supplied spacers, and replaces the muffler plate. We found that the longest engine mounting bolt supplied was not long enough to reach through the proximity sensor mounting plate, through the rest of the kit and allow for a washer and the nylock nut on the inside so we used a longer bolt not shown here.

chain-alignment

15. After placing the booster assembly on the frame, snug down the bolts and carefully check the alignment between the boost cylinder and the chain. This is where the fitting we mentioned earlier will come into play.

attaching-air-hose

16. Attach the air hose to the boost cylinder using the supplied teflon tape and a 3/4-inch wrench.

installling-proximity-sensor

17. Install the proximity sensor and align it with the inner rim of the chainwheel. Pull the kickstart lever back slightly and arrange for a .040-inch gap between the sensor and the rim of the chainwheel.

installing-satchel

18. Install the satchel and air bottle and connect the air bottle to the air line. Turn the low pressure regulator knob until the pressure gauge reads about 50psi. Test the system again as in Step 13. This time you should see the air cylinder pulling the kickstart lever back.

final-calibration

19. Final calibration of the air pressure is trial and error. With too much pressure the air cylinder will try to initiate the kick without you. With too little you expend more effort than needed. After testing at 50psi (shown), set it to 85psi. That’s a good place to start and you can adjust up or down from there as needed.

test-start

20. Turn on the ignition, wait for the system to reset, then press the left button to arm the system. Slightly depress the kickstart to the point of compression, look for the amber light to be lit, then press the right button to charge the cylinder. With just an easy press on the kickstarter, the cylinder takes over most of the effort.

finished-installation

21. Here is the finished installation. At first glance you hardly notice the add-on, and it doesn’t look out of place when you do. If you need help getting your 650 or 750 Triumph twin started, this could be the answer.

Installing Norton Commando Lansdowne Adjustable Dampers

dampers-main 
Lansdowne dampers as delivered, with springs. One-piece fork leg collar and dust boots are installed with supplied pin tool.

In their day, Norton’s Roadholder forks were among the very best. First introduced in 1946, they performed better than almost everything else on the market and influenced fork design for decades, but they do have their limitations.

A damping-rod design, Norton Commando Roadholder forks employ a rod-and-piston damping tube with fixed orifices to control oil flow to regulate compression and rebound. They work well enough, but the design doesn’t allow tuning oil flow for different road and rider conditions.

About 10 years ago, U.K. Norton specialist John Bould designed the Lansdowne dampers (named after Norton founder James Lansdowne Norton). These feature multiple, small compression and rebound orifices, and an adjustable needle valve to vary oil flow. Further, Bould’s approach employs a dedicated compression damper for one leg and a dedicated rebound damper for the other. The needle valve is attached to the top fork nut in a threaded brass insert and passes through the damper rod to the damper body. It’s adjusted using a small, 2.5mm Allen wrench, turning the brass insert in the fork nut.

Bould passed away in January 2016, and that seemed to be the end of the Lansdowne damper until Norton enthusiast and specialty parts manufacturer Donald Pender of Triton Motorcycle Parts in the Philippines secured the rights to continue their manufacture.

Our subject bike is Tech Q&A man Keith Fellenstein’s 1974 Norton Commando 850. In addition to the dampers ($360, plus shipping) we got a set of Triton’s integrated fork leg collar/dust boots ($46/pair plus shipping, includes installation tool) and a set of Leak Proof fork seals ($22/pair plus shipping). Derided by some and loved by others, we’ve used Leak Proof seals with great success on a few Japanese bikes and thought it would be interesting to try them on the Norton.

needle-valve
The Lansdowne dampers incorporate an adjustable needle valve into the fork nut.

This is a relatively straightforward project and easily within reach of the average weekend warrior, but budget a full day to accommodate unexpected problems, like the broken fender-mounting stud we had to drill out of the left fork leg. Removing and disassembling the fork legs isn’t technically challenging, and the Lansdowne units go in as easily as the old ones come out. We did hit one minor snag, however. After securing the new dampers in the fork legs, the right leg went together in minutes, but the fork tube for the left leg started binding up as we pushed it to the bottom of the fork leg. Further inspection showed that the tip of the fork spring for that damper wasn’t trimmed square at the bottom end; it was snaggletoothed and catching the inside of the fork tube. To remedy this, we removed the damper assembly, removed the spring from the damper, and then hand filed the protruding edge. Upon reassembly, we put the “damaged” end of the spring at the top where it would be fixed relative to the fork tube, just in case. It then went together without issue. For fork oil, we used Lucas 10w synthetic. Note: Do not mix parts between the compression and rebound dampers; they are not interchangeable. 

With the Lansdowne dampers installed and adjusted to the suggested initial compression and rebound settings, we took the Norton out for a test ride, and the improvement in performance over stock was immediately apparent. Ride quality is vastly improved, the forks no longer over-compressing on hard braking or over-extending on abrupt acceleration, and Keith’s Norton feels planted in a way it never did before. In our first miles of mixed-use urban/rural riding we softened up the compression just a bit, adjusting the compression valve out counterclockwise a further half-turn, a quarter-turn at a time. Rebound is still as first set. We think it’s a bit slow, and we’ll play with it once we’re satisfied we have the compression where we want it. Our conclusion? If you actually ride your Norton, the Lansdowne dampers are a highly recommended upgrade. You’ll never look back.

As always, we recommend having a good shop manual on hand for parts identification and proper torque specs.

 step-1a

step-1b

1. Support the front of the bike with the front wheel off the ground. Remove the axle nut. Loosen the axle pinch bolt at the bottom of the left fork.

 step-2

2. Draw the axle out the left side and remove the wheel, making sure to collect the left and right side wheel bearing dust washers/spacers. Remove the nuts securing the right fender stay. Remove the two bolts securing the caliper to the right fork leg.

 step-3

3. Remove the caliper and wire it out of the way on the frame. Remove the rest of the fender-securing nuts and bolts. Remove the fender.

 step-4

4. If so equipped, pull the instrument boots down. Remove the instrument light bulb sockets. Unscrew the speedometer and tachometer cables.

 step-5

5. Using a 1-5/16-inch socket, loosen the top fork nut. Unscrew the nut completely.

 step-6

6. Push the fork leg up so the nut and the top of the damper rod and fork spring clear the instrument mount.

 step-7

7. With a 9/16-inch open-end wrench holding the fork spring retaining nut, use the socket to remove the fork nut. Collect the large washer and remove the instrument.

 step-8

8. Loosen the fork tube pinch nut on the lower steering yoke.

 step-9

9. Thread the fork nut back into the fork tube by at least five threads. Using a brass hammer or a block of wood and hammer, rap the nut hard to break the fork tube free of the upper steering yoke. Remove the nut.

 step-10

10. Pull the fork down and remove it from the steering yoke. Turn it upside down over a drain pan and drain out fork oil. Put the fork in a vise and loosen the damper rod-securing bolt at the bottom of the fork leg.

 step-11

11. Hold the fork over a drain pan, remove the damper rod-securing bolt, remove the damper and spring assembly, drain out any remaining oil.

 step-12

12. Put the fork back in the vise. Push the fork tube into the leg then pull up sharply so the lower fork bushing shocks the upper fork tube bushing and seal from the fork leg. It usually takes several tries. Clean the fork tube and leg.

step-13

13. The Lansdowne damper uses a special securing bolt, washer and fiber gasket. Remove the bolt and washer from the supplied damper, but leave the gasket in place. The locating stub of the damper is slightly tapered. The fiber washer will hold to it and push fully in place when the damper is installed.

 step-14

14. Insert the damper assembly with fiber washer in place into the fork leg. Ensure the damper locating stub is correctly positioned in the fork leg. Install the bolt and washer and tighten.

 step-15

15. Remove the fork nut and needle valve from the damper assembly. It’s hand-tight as delivered. If necessary, hold the nut at the top of the damper rod with a 17mm open-end wrench and remove the fork nut. Make sure to collect the spring underneath it, visible here.

 step-16

16. Slip the fork tube over the damper and spring assembly and insert the fork tube (lower bushing installed) fully into the fork leg. The bronze upper bushing is a press fit into the fork leg.

 step-17

17. With the fork right side up, push the bronze bushing into the leg, then drive it fully home. We used a section of 1-1/2-inch PVC pipe, chamfered at the end to fit inside the top of the fork leg, hitting it with a hard rubber mallet to drive the bushing in.

 step-18

18. Using the same technique, press the fork seal fully home. If you’re using the stock seal, make sure to install the paper gasket first.

 step-19

19. We opted to use Triton’s one-piece fork seal retaining nut/dust seal, which is tightened with a supplied pin wrench. For the stock retaining nut, tighten using a strap wrench and then install the dust boot. 

 step-20

20. Install the fork leg assembly, pushing the fork tube up into the top yoke. Secure it by lightly tightening the lower pinch bolt. Slowly add 150ml of 10w fork oil. We used Lucas 10w synthetic fork oil. Let it settle.

 step-21

21. Lift the fork leg up to reveal the fork spring/damper rod. Place the instrument followed by the fork nut washer over the spring/damper. Insert and thread the Lansdowne fork nut/needle valve and spring into the damper rod. Tighten with a 17mm wrench on the spring nut and a 1-3/8-inch socket.

 step-22

22. Thread the Lansdowne fork nut into the fork tube. Reattach the speedo/tach cable and instrument lights. Hold the instrument in the desired location and tighten the fork nut fully. Norton specified a torque of 40ft/lb.

 step-23

23. Loosely install the front fender. Install the brake caliper and tighten the securing bolts. Norton specified a torque of 26ft/lb. 

 step-24

24. Install the front wheel making sure the left and right wheel bearing dust covers are in place. Install the axle and axle nut and snug up but don’t fully tighten the axle nut.

 step-25

25. Here’s what you’ll see once everything is back together. We ended up with rebound on the left and compression on the right. It doesn’t matter which goes where.

 step-26

26. Using a 2.5mm Allen wrench, turn the adjusters clockwise until they just seat. You’ll feel it. Next, turn the adjusters out 3 full turns. Apply the front brake and compress the forks 10 times. This primes the dampers with oil. Next, turn the adjusters back in until they seat. Turn the compression adjuster out 1-1/4 turn. Turn the rebound adjuster out 1/4 turn. This is your starting point.

 step-27

27. Finally, tighten the pinch bolts on the lower yoke, followed by the axle nut and then the pinch bolt on the bottom of the left fork. Do not overtighten this pinch bolt. Now it’s time to ride. Experiment with small adjustments to rebound and compression, no more than 1/4 turn at a time until you find your sweet spot.

Setting Motorcycle Rear Suspension Sag

Measuring seat height
Understanding how to set suspension sag returns dividends: a better handling motorcycle.

Although most of us would rather spend our time riding rather than wrenching, motorcycles — especially the older bikes we talk about and ride at Motorcycle Classics — require dedicated rider input to get the best out of them. It’s important to understand how your bike works best and why, and when it comes to basic prep, a properly adjusted suspension should be right up there at the top of any Best Practices list. No doubt, any sort of tuning takes time, but once you’ve gone through basic suspension setup a few times, you’ll discover that it doesn’t take that long, nor is it especially difficult.

Setting sag is important because it’s a baseline for proper suspension performance. Too little sag — meaning the springs have too much preload and are already bound up tight — returns a rough ride with poor road contact. Too much sag — meaning the springs don’t have enough preload — results in a bouncy ride and poor road contact because the suspension moves too much for conditions.

For this discussion, we’ll focus on vintage street bike rear suspension. The basic process for determining sag is the same front and rear, the difference is in how you adjust sag on front forks versus rear shocks. Many modern forks let you dial in preload and, if equipped, compression and rebound. Ditto with many modern rear shocks. That makes suspension tuning on modern bikes a lot easier. However, those are features you’ll rarely find on vintage bikes of the type we focus on in Motorcycle Classics.

With vintage front forks, the most you can usually do is adjust preload and make changes in fork oil viscosity and quantity. For the front fork, adjusting preload requires installing shorter or longer spacers and can be an involved process, depending on the bike.

With vintage rear shocks, you’re typically limited to changes in preload only. However, as shocks are something riders regularly upgrade, lots of old bikes still on the road are sporting modern rear shocks equipped with either or both rebound and compression damping, enabling further tuning. The bike we’re setting up here is a 1995 BMW K75. Our K75 was originally equipped with a 3-position, preload-adjustable Boge mono rear shock, but now wears an Ikon 3610-1009 with threaded spring collar preload adjustment and 4-position adjustable rebound.

Setting Rear Sag

When it comes to setting suspension sag — front or rear — we follow Race Tech’s “Race Sag” method, as it provides the most accurate results. The basic calculation for setting Race Sag is:

Race Sag Calculation:
L1 = Measurement of fully extended suspension
L2 = Measurement of suspension with rider and gear, suspension settled after mild compression and release
L3 = Measurement of suspension with rider and gear, suspension settled after mild lift and release
Race Sag = average of L2 and L3 subtracted from L1

1. First, put the bike on its centerstand and extend the rear swingarm completely, making sure there’s no load on it. If you don’t have a centerstand, you’ll have to figure out some way to support the chassis so there’s no load on the suspension. On some bikes, you can lean the bike over on the sidestand and unload the chassis.

For the rear shocks, take a measurement from the center of the rear axle straight up to a fixed point on the bike’s frame or bodywork. If you can’t measure from the axle for any reason, pick a point immediately above as possible and make sure to measure as vertically as possible. Take your measurement and write it down under the legend L1.

2. Next, take the bike off its centerstand and have the rider — dressed in their regular riding gear — get on, both feet off the ground and in a riding position. The rider will need to hold onto something to stay upright, or have a helper hold the bike. If you’re planning on touring or continuous two-up riding, load your bike with your intended gear and/or passenger before checking sag.

This next bit is a little harder in that it’s somewhat difficult to assess whether you’ve done it right. It’s one of those things that gets easier/more intuitive with practice. What you want to do now is gently compress the suspension approximately 1 inch (25mm) or so, and then slowly let it settle back out. Don’t just let go; maintain downward pressure while letting up until the bike settles. It’s very much a nuanced, balanced process, so be patient and be ready to do it several times. Don’t bounce the bike. The point of this measurement is to take into account any friction in the suspension system that limits travel. With the rider steady on the bike, take another measurement and write it down under the legend L2.

3. Next, gently lift the bike 1 inch (25mm) to extend the suspension from its resting position. Keep in mind that lifting off compression is usually a bit harder than compressing. The exact distance isn’t as important as ensuring the suspension actually lifts off of its resting position. Let it drop back to resting position slowly and take a measurement. Write this measurement down under the legend L3. Like your L2 measurement, the L3 measurement takes into account friction on the system.

4. The measurement between L2 and L3 is, theoretically, where your bike would come to rest if there wasn’t any friction or other element such as shock linkage acting on the suspension. Race Tech’s Race Sag setting protocol considers this, by averaging the two measurements. This is done simply by adding L2 to L3 and then dividing by 2; this measurement is then subtracted from L1, leaving your static or Race Sag measurement.

As an example, if L1 is 140mm, L2 125mm and L3 130mm, your Race Sag would be 12.5mm, calculated by subtracting the average of L2 and L3 (127.5mm) from L1 (140mm).

5. Finally, set your preload as necessary to achieve the desired sag (see discussion below for sag specs). Tightening the spring reduces sag, loosening increases sag. Whether you have a threaded collar for adjustment or a stepped preload adjuster, put your bike back on the center stand to reduce sprung weight before adjusting. You’ll likely end up going through the measuring and adjusting process several times before finding the right final adjustment.

How much sag is enough?

It’s important to point out that the preferred amount of sag is a subject of some disagreement among both manufacturers and riders. Race Tech, for example, says rear shocks on street bikes of the type we’re looking at — meaning old — should have their sag set at 28-35 percent of total travel with 28-37mm of Race Sag. The stock shocks on our subject 1995 BMW K75 are rated at 100mm or roughly 4 inches of travel. Following the Race Tech model, that equates to a preferred 28-35mm of sag. However, for our replacement Ikon shock, Ikon suggests setting sag at 30-40 percent of travel. Assuming the Ikon has the same 4 inches of travel, that means a sag of 30-40mm. However, the Ikon appears to have as much as an extra 1-inch of travel over the stock Boge, which translates to only 24-32mm of sag. Further, some manufacturers — including Ikon — suggest maximum compressed spring length on bikes for which they have data. In the case of our BMW shock, Ikon’s maximum suggested compressed length is 240-260mm; Ikon says that any longer is too soft. At the front, Race Tech suggests an almost identical sag calculation of 28-33 percent of total travel or 30-35mm of sag for street bikes.

That said, Race Tech’s suggested 28-35 percent of total travel is a good starting point. Final adjustment is very much an issue of rider preference, but without knowing where to start, it’s hard to find the point where you feel your bike is working at its best, which in return makes you a more confident and safer rider.

If you’re running vintage-style or original rear shocks with 3-position preload adjustment, your preload adjustment is limited. That makes it tough to really dial in your preload, but knowing something is better than knowing nothing, and once you’ve gone through the process you’ll have a better idea of where you want your shocks set, and why. If you’re running modern shocks with a threaded spring collar, you’ll be able to fine tune your shocks much better.

We know that plenty of people think that if they don’t notice anything distinctly “wrong” with how their suspension is performing, why bother? For the simple reason that until you do bother, you don’t actually know how your suspension is working, and most of the time you’ll be astounded by the improved performance of a properly set up suspension.

And yes, depending on how you ride, this is an exercise you’ll want to do regularly. If, for instance, most or your riding is solo but you’re planning a trip, you’ll want different settings for each. Once you’ve established your baseline in different scenarios – solo, two-up, touring, two-up touring – you’ll have the necessary info to make it easier to adjust to changing need. Finally, note that you can get static sag measurements without following Race Tech’s Race Sag averaging, it’s just not as accurate, which, especially if you’re racing, means you won’t be working with the best possible data to tune your suspension. Coming up next: Setting front suspension sag.

1977 Suzuki GS750 Charging System Upgrade

suzuki charging system upgrade

Charging systems improved markedly in the 1970s, both in terms of output and component quality. But age isn't always kind, and 40 years later, many of those systems are experiencing their share of issues. Burnt or corroded contacts in the charging system wiring are something of a silent killer, creating resistance that heats up the wiring, often leading to stator failure.

That was the case with our subject 1977 Suzuki GS750, which was suffering from low voltage output from the stator to the rectifier/regulator. One of the stator's three output lines was badly burnt at its connector. The rectifier and voltage regulator were working properly, but there wasn't enough voltage output to keep the battery properly charged. The problem most likely started with mild corrosion, then as resistance built and the wires heated up the connection started burning, to the point where voltage output from that phase of the stator was blocked, leading to more problems with the stator itself.

suzuki charging system upgrade

At the same time we were looking into the Suzuki's charging problems, we learned that Rick's Motorsport Electrics was introducing a new line of lithium-ion friendly rectifier/regulators to pair with lithium-ion batteries in vintage bikes. Incredibly light and with no corrosive acid — you can mount them upside down if you want — lithium-ion batteries make great sense, but their use in vintage bikes has been somewhat limited due to the high charging voltage output on many older machines.

In a 12-volt application, a typical lead-acid battery works well with charge rates up to around 14.5 volts, but lithium-ion batteries work best with a lower voltage charge and within a narrower range as they don't like large swings in voltage, something lead-acid batteries tolerate well. Working with lithium-ion battery specialists Ballistic Performance Components, Rick's has developed a line of rectifier/regulators specifically tailored to the voltage output required for lithium-ion batteries.

We wanted to try the new regulator/lithium-ion battery setup, but first we sent our stator to Rick's for refurbishment, getting back a freshly rewound stator with new output leads. The stator rebuild for the Suzuki was $175.95 (an off-the-shelf rebuilt stator is $200.95, with a refundable $50 core charge). The upgraded rectifier/ regulator was $129.95, and the Ballistic EVO2 8-cell lithiumion battery $169.95. You'll also need a side cover gasket, which we got from Z1 Enterprises for $4.95. Rick's one-piece rectifier/regulator replaces the stock separate items, and it also takes all three phases of the Suzuki's stator instead of one of them powering the headlight circuit, a common setup back in the day to provide dedicated voltage to the headlight.

This is a straightforward job, easily within the capabilities of the average weekend warrior. No special tools are required, although we highly recommend having the correct JIS "Phillips" screwdriver for removing and installing the side cover. We used a JIS impact driver as the original side cover screws are notoriously stubborn to remove. We still ended up with several damaged screw heads, so we replaced all the sidecover screws with stainless steel Allen-head screws.

We did experience one unexpected issue that had nothing to do with the install: A corrupted memory card resulted in the loss of all of our photos of the disassembly phase. However, owing to this job's relatively simple nature, we're confident that if you read through our assembly, you'll have a clear idea of how it all comes apart. Remember those manuals that always said, "Assembly is the reverse of disassembly"? Well, this time, just turn that phrase around!

With the new system installed our Suzuki started on the button, which it didn't before as the system wasn't supplying enough voltage to maintain the battery. A check with the engine running, with the headlight on, showed a charging output of 12.8 volts at idle, 13 volts at 2,000rpm and 13.5 volts at 4,000rpm, just where it should be. As always, we recommend having a good shop manual on hand for parts identification and proper torque specs.

suzuki charging system upgrade

  1. The original stator from our Suzuki. Note the burned connector on the white/blue output lead, the source of our problems. As always with any electrical work, the first step is to disconnect the battery, and in this case remove it.
  2. suzuki charging system upgrade

  3. The stator cover removed, revealing the alternator rotor and starter drive. The stator is contained in the cover. During removal, we disconnected the stator leads at the rectifier, then pulled them gently with the stator and cover, not appreciating you should first remove the sprocket cover, as you'll see.
  4. suzuki charging system upgrade

  5. The stator is held to the cover by three screws. The stator output leads are secured in their routing in the cover by three metal plates. Note the relief in the stator; it must point down for the stator to fit its mount in the stator cover.
  6. suzuki charging system upgrade

  7. The stator loosely positioned in the stator cover. Note the orientation of the output lead harness, which tucks into a channel cast into the cover. It follows a clear routing path. The molded wiring grommet should be pressed firmly in place in its recess in the cover.
  8. suzuki charging system upgrade

  9. The stator firmly screwed into place. Note the metal bracket at roughly 12 o'clock securing the stator leads and keeping them clear of the alternator rotor, and the two additional brackets at roughly 2 o'clock and 3 o'clock holding the stator leads in place.
  10. suzuki charging system upgrade

  11. Next, we installed the new gasket, with just a dab of sealant to hold it in place. We then fished the stator leads through the opening in the rear cover up into the recess for the starter. We had removed the starter cover earlier, but at this stage we still didn't appreciate that we'd have to remove the sprocket cover.
  12. suzuki charging system upgrade

  13. The stator leads pass from the starter recess along a channel cast into the engine case before exiting on their way to the rectifier. This is why the cover should be removed first, a point we didn't appreciate during teardown.
  14. suzuki charging system upgrade

  15. With the stator leads properly routed we removed the stock rectifier, which is screwed to the side of the battery case. We had already disconnected its leads: yellow=stator; white/blue=stator; white/red=headlight circuit; red=power.
  16. suzuki charging system upgrade

  17. The stock rectifier (right) and the new combined rectifier/regulator. The stock setup sent one leg of the stator's output (white/green) directly to the headlight circuit and then to the rectifier (white/red). The new setup directs all three phases of the stator's output directly to the rectifier/regulator. The white/green and white/red in the wiring harness are simply left unused.
  18. suzuki charging system upgrade

  19. The stock voltage regulator is mounted under the battery box, which must be removed to access the regulator. The yellow lead went to the old regulator and the black ground lead is secured by the front battery box screw.
  20. suzuki charging system upgrade

  21. To remove the battery box, first unscrew the starter solenoid; the right screw secures the solenoid mounting panel to the battery box. Lift the mounting panel up to release it from the battery box and leave it free.
  22. suzuki charging system upgrade

  23. Remove the three battery box mounting screws, two at the rear and one at the front. Note the two ground straps secured at the front screw, one of which goes to the regulator. Pull the battery box straight up and out.
  24. suzuki charging system upgrade

  25. The battery box removed, with the stock regulator clearly visible. Remove the two screws securing the regulator and remove the regulator.
  26. suzuki charging system upgrade

  27. Using the two Allen-head screws supplied with the new regulator, secure the new regulator in place in the same location as the original, ensuring the leads will exit to the left side once the battery box is installed and with the regulator's green ground wire securely grounded at one of the mounting screws.
  28. suzuki charging system upgrade

  29. Reinstall the battery box, making sure to secure the ground lead at the front mount. Slip the starter solenoid mounting panel back in place and secure the solenoid and panel to the battery box.
  30. suzuki charging system upgrade

  31. Connect the three leads from the stator to the three yellow leads to the rectifier/regulator. It doesn't matter which goes where. Connect the red lead from the rectifier/regulator to the red lead from the bike's wiring harness.
  32. suzuki charging system upgrade

  33. With the new combined rectifier/ regulator installed the white/blue and white/red leads for the lighting circuit are no longer used. We put heatshrink tubing on the exposed bullet connector of the white/blue wire to make sure it was isolated.
  34. suzuki charging system upgrade

  35. Install the Ballistic lithium-ion battery. It's much smaller and lighter than the original. We used foam blocks to take up space and keep the battery secure. A plastic tool tray sits over the battery, so there's little risk of it moving vertically. Reconnect the battery.

Installing an Alton Norton Commando Electric Starter

how to

The Norton Commando is one of the most popular classic motorcycles ever made — and they made lots of them, an estimated 60,000 over an almost 10-year life span. Endowed with excellent handling and a torquey, train-pulling twin, they were the Superbike of their day.

Although electric starting was planned at least by 1970, the first electric-start Commando didn't appear until 1975, the last year of full production. That means that most Commandos, whether 750 or 850, were kickstart only. The Norton lump can be a challenge to kick over, and as the Norton faithful aged, the market for an electric-start conversion grew. There are now several available, including the one from Alton in France that we installed in our subject 1974 Norton Commando 850 MkII.

Applicable to pre-1975 750 and 850 Commandos (except early Fastbacks with the ignition at the rear of the timing cover), the Alton kit uses the stock chain-driven primary and can be used with many belt-drive conversions.

This is a comprehensive and extremely well-designed conversion. The replacement inner primary cover carrying the small but powerful electric starter is beautifully cast and nicely machined. The starter sprag clutch and drive setup seems very robust, and the Alton alternator, rated at a maximum output of 150 watts and 90-95 watts at cruising speed, should provide ample charging. The kit is available for either positive or negative ground systems.

You'll need a higher output battery. U.S. distributor The Classic Bike Experience in Essex, Vermont, where we sourced our Alton starter, suggests an Interstate FAYTX20HL sealed lead-acid battery (pre-1971 bikes require a smaller battery; call CBE for options). We found one locally for $85. CBE also suggests replacing the crankshaft seal. It's cheap (typically only $2 or $3) and easy to replace while the primary cover is off. You'll note that we did not, however, as the seal had been replaced just a few months earlier during a clutch overhaul.

The kit does not include an outer primary case locating dowel. We had to heat the stock case quite hot to break one of the dowels free, and it was a slightly loose fit in the Alton cover, requiring a dab of RTV sealant to hold it in place. New ones are cheap (about $2.50), but this is one item we think should be included with the kit. We'd also suggest having new woodruff keys ($7 to $10) and a new clutch hub locking tab (about $1) on hand. You'll need a puller for the crankshaft sprocket, a clutch hub locking tool, a clutch spring compressor, and a torque wrench.

On post-1971 Commandos the stock switchgear has an unused button, usually the upper right side. Legend says this was included for a proposed starter. You'll have to remove the gas tank, then locate the white/red wire coming out of the switchgear, which terminates in one of the connecting blocks on the frame. It's basically plug and play, but it's a good idea to clean the switch first. Pre- '71 bikes require a separate switch.

This is a detailed job. Give yourself a full weekend and have a Norton service manual on hand; it will help immensely during disassembly. The Alton kit comes with a comprehensive installation guide, with photos to aid installation, and it stresses important points like properly setting the alternator stator air gap and making sure everything is absolutely correct before you attempt to start the engine the first time.

And when you do, you'll probably be as thrilled as we were. The Alton starter spins the Norton engine over easily, providing effortless, reliable starting — without kicking. As a further bonus, when you order your kit from CBE it includes a nice CBE pint glass (gotta have a beer to celebrate when you're done!) and a two-year membership to the International Norton Owners Association.

The kit retails for $2,450. That's hardly an inconsequential sum, but if you want your Norton to start at the touch of a button, we think the Alton kit's quality design and straightforward installation with no permanent alterations make it a good value.

how to

1. Disconnect and remove the battery. Remove the left footpeg and brake pedal assembly. Place a drain pan under the primary cover. Remove the center holding bolt, then the primary cover. Use a rubber mallet to shock the cover free.

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2. Remove the three nuts securing the alternator stator. Remove the stator. Wedge the plastic block supplied in the kit between the primary chain and the crankshaft sprocket to lock the crankshaft, then remove the rotor nut. Using flat tire irons pressed against the back side, leverage the rotor free. Remove the rotor, the woodruff key and any shims.

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3. Remove the clutch adjusting screw, then the clutch diaphragm and clutch plates. Fold back the clutch hub nut washer tab. Lock the clutch hub and remove the clutch hub nut. An air impact wrench will remove the nut without having to lock the clutch hub.

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4. Using a puller, break the crankshaft sprocket from its taper. Protect the crankshaft threads by placing a washer between the puller and the crankshaft stub. The sprocket can be stubborn to remove. Lightly shock the puller bolt with an air impact wrench or rap it lightly with a hammer to break it free.

how to

5. Once the sprocket is released from its taper, remove the sprocket, clutch drum and chain as a set. Remove the crankshaft woodruff key. Remove the shims and the clutch locating collar on the transmission mainshaft.

how to

how to

6. Trace and disconnect alternator wires at the main harness. Pry back the tab washers on the three bolts securing the primary cover to the engine. Remove the bolts, washers and the cover. Clean the engine case. Remove the primary cover central locating stud and fit the new Alton stud finger tight.

how to

7. Clean the engine case. Remove the primary cover central locating stud and fit the new Alton stud finger tight. With a straight edge against the engine case, check the distance between the straight edge and the stud's locating flat. It must be 22mm. Shim if necessary.

how to

8. Install the Alton inner primary cover and lightly tighten the securing bolts with washers. There's a slim chance the new bolts could contact the crankshaft counterweight. We positioned the crankshaft and measured the distance to possible interference against the length of the bolts and found ample clearance.

how to

9. Even so, with the Alton primary case in position we slowly turned the engine over to ensure the crankshaft counterweight did not contact the securing bolts. If it does, you have to shorten the securing bolts.

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10. Remove the primary case. Apply blue Loctite to the new central primary case stud threads and tighten it fully with the new coupling nut. Make sure the crankcase mating surface is clean and apply a film of gasket sealant. We used ThreeBond Gray.

how to

11. Reinstall the Alton primary assembly. Alton suggests using Loctite on the securing bolts. We opted for Permatex Copper RTV sealant to ensure no oil migration through the threads, a somewhat common problem on Commando engines.

how to

12. Install the clutch locating collar on the transmission mainshaft with the cupped side facing the transmission, followed by the shims. Turn the engine so the crankshaft sprocket keyway is at 12 o'clock and install the woodruff key.

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13. Install the clutch drum, crankshaft sprocket and primary chain as a set. Install the clutch hub tab washer. Apply blue Loctite to the mainshaft threads, then the clutch securing nut. Lock the clutch drum and torque the nut to 40ft/lb. Fold two of the tab washer flats to lock the nut.

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14. Install the clutch plates, clutch diaphragm and circlip. Loosely install the clutch adjusting screw and nut. Turn the engine over to bring the alternator rotor keyway slot to 12 o'clock.

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15. Install the woodruff key and check the fit of the Alton sprag clutch assembly on the crankshaft. It should be a sliding fit. If not, polish the crankshaft with fine emory cloth. If it catches on the woodruff key, carefully file the key as necessary to achieve a smooth sliding fit.

how to

16. Remove the sprag clutch. Remove the sprag clutch drive gear from the primary cover. Pull it straight out, then up to clear the primary chain. Remove the woodruff key, install the sprag clutch spacer stepped end out, then reinstall the woodruff key.

how to

17. Install the sprag clutch, the sprag clutch drive gear and chain as a set. An extra set of hands helps to ensure the woodruff key stays in place while positioning the drive gear and pushing the sprag clutch onto the crankshaft and the drive gear into the primary case.

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18. Put the rotor nut on hand tight. Position the drive gear steady plate, passing the bushed end over the end of the sprag clutch drive gear.

how to

how to

19. Apply blue Loctite to the central shouldered bolt and tighten lightly. Apply blue Loctite to the three steady plate screws and tighten. Tighten the shouldered bolt.

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20. Remove the rotor nut and apply blue Loctite to the crankshaft threads. Lock the crankshaft using the supplied plastic block and tighten the rotor nut to 60ft/lb.

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21. Install the alternator stator. Fit two of the three screws loosely. Insert the supplied plastic shims between the windings and the rotor to set the air gap. If necessary, adjust the air gap by moving the stator sideways. Once set, tighten the two screws, then install and tighten the third screw.

how to

22. Ensure the air gap clearance is consistent. We marked the rotor face with a black felt pen and checked the air gap every 120 degrees of engine rotation. Connect the stator wires to the two wires in the primary case. It doesn't matter which goes where.

how to

how to

23. Connect the alternator wires to the factory harness. It doesn't matter which goes where. Locate the factory white/red starter switch wire and connect it to the supplied jumper wire.

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24. Install the battery and the starter relay. Connect the starter switch jumper wire to the spade connector off the relay. Bolt the relay ground wire to the frame. Connect the starter motor cable and the relay to the battery cable. Connect the negative and positive battery cables.

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25. Install the new primary case rubber seal (trim as needed) with the joint at the top. Remove a locating dowel from the original primary case and install it in the Alton. Ours was a loose fit. We secured it with RTV sealant.

how to

26. Adjust the free play in the clutch and lock the adjusting screw nut. If it won't adjust properly, remove the inspection cover above the kickstarter for the clutch operating lever and confirm the lever is in place. If it has slipped out of place, loosen the clutch adjusting screw, put the lever in place and readjust the clutch free play.

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27. Install the outer cover and add 200cc of 20w/50 motorcycle oil or ATF. Avoid most automotive oils as they are loaded with friction modifiers. Test the starter with plugs out. Install the plugs, test again, then start up and enjoy!

1968 Triumph Bonneville Voltage Regulator Upgrade

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Making sure your charging system is working to full capacity is important on a number of fronts. To begin with, there's the simple issue of generating enough voltage to keep your lights bright. This is particularly important on vintage bikes, which generally have low-capacity charging systems and run low-output headlights, which tend to be dim even with full voltage. And even if your lights are off, there's the issue of generating enough voltage for proper ignition. If you own a decades-old British twin, chances are good you've already ditched the stock ignition points for electronic ignition, a highly recommended upgrade to ensure steady, reliable firing of the spark plugs. However, some electronic ignitions are very sensitive to voltage supply, dropping completely out of circuit if the voltage drops below a certain range. Boyer electronic ignitions, for example, will drop out below 10 volts.

On Sixties and Seventies British bikes, the original Lucas charging system can be prone to failure. By the mid-Sixties, most British motorcycles were using Lucas charging systems with Lucas' silicone diode rectifier for AC to DC voltage conversion and a Lucas zener diode for voltage regulation. Although relatively simple components, after 40-50 years of vibration and exposure, the voltage regulator and rectifier are ripe for replacement. The original-style components are still readily available, but there are better products on the market that deliver superior performance and reliability, like the Podtronics voltage regulator/rectifier we recently installed on Tech Q&A man Keith Fellenstein's 1968 Triumph T120R Bonneville.

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Keith's Bonneville didn't have any particular charging issues, but with a fresh Pazon electronic ignition upgrade, and wanting also to convert to 12-volt negative ground from positive ground, Keith considered it a good move. Adding to the appeal, it's also a relatively cheap and easy conversion. The Podtronics unit was $57 (before shipping), and while we did opt to clip off what became redundant ground lines from the old rectifier to the battery and frame, had we wanted to, we didn't have to make any permanent changes to the original wiring. Keith's bike already had a replacement wiring harness, so we didn't feel bad about altering it in any way as it's not original.

We also like this upgrade because A) it delivers superior performance over stock and B) the only way anyone will know the charging system has been changed is if they lift the seat and see the new Podtronics unit in place of the original Lucas silicone rectifier. On 1968 and up through the mid-Seventies Triumphs the Lucas regulator (the zener diode) is housed in a large, finned aluminum heat sink attached to the bottom of the lower fork yoke. You can leave it in place to preserve your bike's original looks, as we did, or remove it. For the conversion, we isolated the wiring to the zener diode and then tucked it into the headlamp shell.

We also switched the Bonneville's electrical system from 12-volt positive to 12-volt negative ground. The Podtronics will work either way, as will the Pazon electronic ignition. Switching from positive to negative ground is easy, requiring no permanent changes. Finally, we upgraded to an LED headlamp and taillight. The taillight was a Sylvania Zevo 2357R red LED ($24.95 at O'Reilly Auto Parts). We got our H4-style headlight shell ($44.95) and 80-watt LED bulb ($59.95) from Donelson Cycle. You'll also need an H4 headlamp socket and pigtail ($3-$5 at O'Reilly). The lights are much brighter and with a significantly reduced amperage draw, and they'll basically last forever.

As ever, we recommend having a good shop manual on hand for parts identification and proper torque specs.

how to

1) Disconnect the positive lead to the battery, followed by the negative lead. The stock silicone diode rectifier is located behind the battery box. Remove the nut securing the rectifier. Remove the rectifier and disconnect the electrical leads.

how to

2) The zener diode, which regulates charging voltage, is housed in a large heat sink located on the lower fork yoke. We left it in place to preserve our bike's original look, but it must be taken out of circuit. Remove the ground strap from the bottom of the heat sink, then resecure the heat sink to its mount.

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3) Next, reach behind the heat sink and unplug the brown/white lead running to the zener diode.

how to

4) We left the wiring to the zener diode in place, isolating it from the system by sealing it in heat-shrink tubing.

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5) Next, we routed the now isolated wires into the headlamp bucket to keep them out of the way.

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6) We also converted our Triumph from positive ground to negative ground, which required swapping the blue/brown and brown/white leads to the ammeter in the headlamp housing, shown here as they were positioned originally, with the brown/white lead already disconnected.

how to

7) Next, we mounted the new Podtronics regulator/rectifier, securing it with a single bolt to the same locating point as the original rectifier.

how to

8) We then connected the black lead from the Podtronics to the red ground lead from the wiring loom that previously ran to the ground post on the stock rectifier, wrapping the red lead with black heat shrink tubing to color code it as negative ground after first removing the now unneeded extra red leads that ran from the rectifier to the frame and battery.

how to

9) Next, we connected the brown/white lead (which we marked with a "+" for positive) previously disconnected from the stock rectifier to the red lead to the Podtronics unit.

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10) Connect the green/white and green/yellow alternator leads that ran to the Lucas rectifier to the yellow leads to the Podtronics unit. The alternator output is AC so it doesn't matter which alternator lead goes to which yellow lead to the Podtronics.

how to

11) We installed a 15-amp blade-type fuse to the blue/brown power lead from the wiring loom after covering the blue/brown lead with red heat shrink tubing. The eyelet will run to the positive side of the battery.

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12) Here's the battery back in place, with the now red fused power lead running to the positive side of the battery and the formerly red but now black-sheathed ground leads running to the negative side of the battery.

how to

13) Our Triumph was already running a Pazon electronic ignition. The Pazon will work with either negative or positive ground. With the conversion, the red and white leads had to be swapped.

how to

14) As wired for positive ground, the red lead from the Pazon ran to the "+" side of the left ignition coil and the white lead ran to switched power. The red lead running rearward from the coil goes to ground.

how to

15) With the conversion to negative ground, switched power connects to the "+" side of the left coil. The red lead running to ground connects to the white lead to the Pazon.

how to

16) We replaced the stock headlamp and taillight with LED bulbs. For the headlamp, that meant getting a complete shell compatible with H4-type halogen bulbs, but fitting it with an LED bulb. The replacement headlamp is on the left, the stock to the right.

how to

17) For the taillight we used a Sylvania Zevo 2357R red LED bulb, which directs the light to the reflector. Like the LED headlamp, it's brighter and uses less power than the standard incandescent bulb, and should last basically forever.

how to

how to

18) The ammeter gauge tells the tale, the current draw with lights on dropping from 4 amps-plus (top) to less than 2 amps (above).

Having a Blast Using our TP Tools Skat Cat 40 Blast Cabinet

Before and after: The Laverda SF2 fork yokes were pretty rough, but after media blasting they’re ready for fresh paint. Photos by Richard Backus.

We’ve wanted a good media blast cabinet for, oh, like forever, so actually having one makes us almost giggle every time we find an excuse to put it to work. We picked up our TP Tools Skat Cat 40 blast cabinet about a year ago, and since then it’s become a central piece of equipment in the Motorcycle Classics garage, an alchemist's dream that lets you magically turn lead into gold by transforming time-worn parts into like new forms, ready for refinishing. Just recently, we blasted our way through a trio of steering bits; two motorcycle related and one bicycle.

First up was the upper fork yoke on my daughter’s 1980 Moto Guzzi V50. The original plan was to replace the Guzzi’s pitted fork tubes and leaking fork seals. The upper yoke had to come off to pull the tubes, and it seemed pointless to put it back on with its scruffy and worn black paint. Guzzi seems to have gone back and forth on yoke finish at the time, sometimes painting them black and others leaving them in a natural aluminum finish. On the V50, the bottom yoke was a natural aluminum finish and the top was black, so I opted to take the top yoke back to a natural finish.

Previously, I would have used a chemical stripper to remove the original paint. That works OK, but it’s slow and tedious compared to having a blast cabinet, and there’s a fair bit of clean up and final prep to get to a finished result. Using the TP Tools blast cabinet, it took maybe five minutes tops to completely strip the yoke. Once stripped, I worked it over with a buffing wheel, starting with Brown Tripoli compound before moving to White Rouge. That took longer than stripping the yoke, and maybe even a little longer than had I opted to repaint it, but the result is a clean, natural aluminum finish, and it looks excellent back on the bike.

The Moto Guzzi V50 fork yoke before blasting.

The Moto Guzzi V50 fork yoke midway through blasting.

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The Moto Guzzi V50 fork yoke blasted and polished.

Next up was refinishing the ugly off-white handlebar stem on my road bike. The stem was a freebie from a friend, but I wanted a natural finish and was actually on the cusp of getting a new one when I did the Guzzi. I went through the same process as with the Guzzi’s steering yoke, and like the Guzzi, it only took a few minutes to strip. And being a smaller piece, it was a pretty quick job to polish it up. I didn’t go for a mirror finish, but could have if I’d wanted to put in a little more effort.

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The painted bicycle stem.

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The bicycle stem after blasting.

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The bicycle stem after polishing.

That was hardly done when I turned my attention to replacing the steering head bearings on a 1974 Laverda SF2 750. Pulling the yokes off, the paint on the upper yoke was much worse than on the Guzzi, and the lower was no better. Unlike Moto Guzzi, Laverda was consistent with the final finish on the yokes, painting all of them something between a flat to satin black. The paint on the Laverda yokes was thicker than on the Guzzi, so it took a little longer to strip them, taking maybe 10 minutes each to get them how I wanted them. I took both pieces to get powder coated, but haven’t collected them yet. I’ll post picks of the finished yokes shortly.

A quick note on blast media:
We started with TP Tools’ suggested blast media, Skat Magic Abrasive crushed glass. That gave excellent results on aluminum, which is what we’re mostly working with, leaving a perfect base finish ready for primer and paint. When it was time to restock media, we turned to our local Tractor Supply Co. store, where we picked up a 50-pound plastic drum of their house brand U.S. Minerals crushed glass media. Both are rated as medium grit, and both work well, although we think the TP product performs better and lasts longer, and with less dust, which is a downside to crushed glass versus glass beads. The upside? Crushed glass cuts faster. The price was nominally the same, the Skat Magic priced at $31/50 pounds and the TSC glass media priced at $33.99/50 pounds. We’d go back to the Skat Magic if we could, but shipping costs pretty much kill that option for us. Next time around, we’ll stock up with glass beads to see how that media performs relative to the crushed glass. And finally, we’ll also order another air filter for our Skat Blast HEPA Vacuum ($27.95 for a standard filter, $42.95 for HEPA). We’re on our second so far, and we’ll be curious to see if we get longer filter life with glass beads, as the filter seems to load up quicker than we’d expect given our blast cabinet’s relatively light work load. — Richard Backus







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