Billy Joel, The Barn Job and the Long Highway — Part Four

As promised, I started riding this motorcycle every day. I rode a round trip of 70 miles a day to my job. In traffic, and on country roads, the bike was a blast to ride. Give it enough throttle in the first 3 gears and it would lighten the front end pretty easily. It cornered well, cruised well and stopped even better. The only fly in the ointment was a fuel delivery problem of some sort at very top end – extended large throttle openings at maximum RPM and the bike would eventually starve for fuel, stagger and lean out and slow down. It only showed up after 8 to miles of operation above 75 miles an hour, or on extended steep upgrades.

It should have been an easy thing to figure out, but it wasn’t.

All of the symptoms and analysis suggested it was fuel flow.  All of the symptoms and analysis were, of course, completely wrong.

Thinking it was fuel flow, I changed, then removed the inline fuel filters I routinely fitted to my motorcycles.

It got better, but it didn’t completely fix it.

I discovered the DelOrtos had little hidden fuel screens built in to their fuel inlet fittings. I pulled mine and discovered the nylon threads that made up the screen were visibly swollen, and all gone rock hard from the effects of being immersed in the modern chemical goo that passes for fuel in America.

I obtained some replacement DelOrto fuel inlet screens, and changed mine out.

It got better, but it didn’t completely fix it.

The petcocks in this tank were original, and after I took a close look at them they had a fair amount of debris in their screens, and upon disassembly, in their valve bodies as well. The rubber parts of the valve bodies were also swollen – reducing flow, right? – so I tossed all of it and got new screens and petcocks.

It got better, but it didn’t completely fix it.

I pulled the fuel filler cap off the gas tank, and ensured that the pinhole fuel vents were completely clear. There was some crap that I was able to remove, so it was possible it had been affecting fuel flow under maximum demand.

It got better, but it didn’t completely fix it.

You can understand, at this point, how I might have been getting more than a little bugged about this.

Identifying each new operational theory and avenue of investigation was not instantaneous. Obtaining parts – carb parts from Italy!!! – was definitely not instantaneous.  Wrenching, by definition, is not instantaneous.

I might have had weeks, or more likely months of this, and maybe even years, with apparent simple solutions receding off into the far distance over and over again.  I was getting to the point where the amount of money I’d dropped unsuccessfully chasing the problem could have bought me a fine running small Honda. I was having spooky nightmares where lumps of dull alloy were assaulting me, speaking Italian. I was starting to have that wild-eyed, hunted animal look. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t focus. I was developing a bad nervous twitch.

If I didn’t figure this out and fix this soon, somebody was going to have to fix me, too.


Remember how I told you that the R90S was trying to tell me the previous owner was a danger to life, the universe and everything whenever he took wrenches in hand?

Remember how I told you that I was a little slow on the uptake on that particular point?

Well, this, it seems, would eventually be revealed to be one of those.

The ‘eventually’ part comes in because it was never clear at the outset where “Mr. Poison Wrenches” had actually set foot. It was only after totally disassembling something that I would realize that it wasn’t set up the way it had left the factory, and by reverting to some form of stock configuration would wave Tinker Bell’s magic wand, pixie dust the snot out of everything, and balance in The Force would be restored.

At some point in time I decided I would get as deep into the DelOrtos as is advisable for an Italian Carb Noob to get. I checked the accelerator pumps, and they appeared to be working perfectly.

Then I looked at the needles, and realized that Ham Fist Had Been In Here. One must assume that installation of the ‘Performance’ Exhaust had caused some ‘drivability issues’, and our man had started changing things at random.   I could tell someone had been mucking about because the throttle cables were routed incorrectly – the DelOrtos require someone assembling them do some righteous contortions to get the cable, the main jet needle, and retaining clip all in their proper relationships to each other.

These weren’t, ergo, Ham Fist.

I’m sure that would sound really sonorous and authoritative in Latin, but I haven’t got the skills.

No matter.

So what had Ham Pugnus been trying to accomplish? What the Eff Else might he have counterproductively touched?

The needles had lowered in the clips, resulting in leaner running up top than the stock setting.

Then I looked at how the floats were set, and it was apparent they were set so that the fuel level in the bowls was much too low.

A micro miniature mushroom cloud appeared behind my eyeballs.

I reset the tabs on the floats so that the fuel level would be correct. While I was in there I fixed the cable and clip routings, put the slide needle back where it belonged, and ended up cutting about two coils off the throttle return springs, as the effort level on these carbs was Popeye Armed, He-man silly.

I reassembled everything, and pulled on my jacket to see if this time, I had really slain the beast.


I rumbled out through the neighborhood, going through the customary process of getting the DelOrtos and the metal intake venturies warmed up enough to actually vaporize fuel effectively.  I headed up US 340 toward Frederick, over the ridge that separates Jefferson from the rest of the valley, and began to give the bike more throttle in brief bursts, just to try and feel things out.

Generally, things felt better. Throttle response seemed to be much crisper. There was much more torque – more thrust – available.

I tiptoed through Frederick, and picked up I-70 Eastbound. Once I cleared Frederick city limits, where the speed limit stepped back up, I rolled things open and waited to learn.

The previous fueling issue only appeared after 8 or so miles of running up top.  Today, the S felt stronger than it ever had. 8 miles came and went. I opened the grip a little more — I suspect I had the beginnings of a creaky Charlie Brown smile growing inside my helmet.

9 miles came and went.

10 miles came and went. Not a stumble.

At the 12 mile mark, I was doing the full blown happy dance inside my head.

I was ecstatic, clocking about 80, and rolled the grip open to fully experience, for the very first time, what it really was about an R90S, and what was really up there. The power came on and kept coming, and things were headed for hyperspace, Luke.

It was at this very moment that I was introduced to Trooper Cooper.



All things considered, Trooper Cooper was a lot cooler about the whole thing than anyone had any right to expect, and probably way more than I deserved.

I was already on the shoulder, dismounted and with my helmet off by the time Mr. Cooper pulled his Maryland Black and Brown up behind me.

I was also laughing so hard that it may have helped to somewhat defuse the situation.

“Good afternoon, Sir. I am not going to cite you because you are the first Motorcyclist this week that has not tried to run from me. May I see your license and registration, please?”

I explained that I would be happy to comply, and that running had not really a live option when he had a 700 Horsepower Interceptor and I was riding an Antique.

He looked over and saw the Maryland Historic license plate fitted to the bike.

“I’ve got to tell you, Trooper, why I was laughing, and why this so goddammed funny.”

He got the short form version of my MotoTuners Alice’s Restaurant, with the years of chasing the problem and the pictures with the circles and lines and arrows on the back and the twenty changes and then the golden moment when it was finally fixed I opened it up all the way up and there he was right on time buddy like it had been ordained ‘zackly that way ever since the world began.

Trooper Cooper was a disciplined man, a professional man, but there was just the hint of a smile underneath the shined patent leather strap of his cap.

He agreed that it was funny, and cheerfully handed me my written warning.

“Oh, and Sir?

Please slow down.”

“Oh yes Sir, Trooper Cooper. You can count on it.”

I was still laughing too hard when I pulled back out onto the Interstate to be capable of speeding, even if I had wanted to.


6 thoughts on “Billy Joel, The Barn Job and the Long Highway — Part Four

    • You are, of course, completely correct.

      This is what happens when one tries to use Google Translate with one hand while writing with the other…and fatfingers ‘first’ in place of ‘fist’.

      Festina facit vastum. 😉

  1. Pingback: Ham Fists, Low Seats and Toilet Parts | Rolling Physics Problem

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